For the entire Standard qualifier season for Pro Tour Seattle, I’ve watched PTQ after PTQ go by as I attempt to win with decks such as Frites, UB Heartless Summoning, and Mono-Green Infect. Building your own unique deck for a tournament sure is a lot of fun and sometimes can really pay off. However, if you are serious about winning, going rogue can be completely unnecessary if there is a dominant deck that you can pilot well. Since the PTQ season came to a close this last weekend, I knew it was time for me to pull myself together and finally play a more established deck.
The previous Saturday I watched John Kassari pilot Wolf Run Blue to 2nd place at the Riverside PTQ. The next day, Reid Duke won the Washington D.C. StarCityGames Standard Open with the same deck. Here is Reid Duke’s winning decklist from that tournament:
After discussing the deck with John Kassari, I decided to play this deck in the online PTQ last Saturday, with a few changes. I was rewarded with a Top 4 finish. Overall I’m happy with how the deck performed in the tournament, even though Top 4 in a PTQ doesn’t exactly get you much.
John, the original creator of Wolf Run Blue, has been playing variations of the deck in Standard since December of last year. After Reid’s win in Washington D.C. last weekend, he decided to make a few very important changes to the deck:
In Wolf Run Blue, Ponder is sometimes very good. It allows you to smooth out your mana in the early turns of the game. With a multitude of shuffle effects, Ponder allows you to pick any one card you need and get rid of the rest. Ponder also lets you set up your library to miracle Bonfire of the Damned or Temporal Mastery the very next turn. Ponder does all this for the price of one blue mana, and it doesn’t even cost a card! With all these great uses, why is Ponder no longer in the deck? Truthfully, it’s just too slow and unnecessary.
Wolf Run Blue really isn’t that different from traditional RG Ramp, and Ponder costs the deck time that it really can’t afford. The deck’s nut draw consists of a turn two ramp spell, a turn three Solemn Simulacrum, and a turn four Titan. Reid’s deck only has four lands that tap for blue on the first turn, and the list I played in the PTQ only has three. If the deck can’t reliably play Ponder on the first turn, relying on Ponder to help you find your key cards can set the deck back an entire turn.
The solution to this issue is just to max out on the cards you’d want to find. By running the full set of Frost Titans in addition to the four Primeval Titans, the deck functions a lot like the traditional RG Ramp decks. RG Ramp doesn’t need Ponder to function, instead it just runs all 8 Titans (4 Inferno Titan and 4 Primeval Titan) in order to draw them reliably.
In this version of the deck we opted to run Sphere of the Suns over Farseek. Although Farseek is less vulnerable to disruption, the consistency offered by Sphere of the Suns makes up for that. In a three color deck with so many colorless lands, you will occasionally get the awkward opening hand without a green mana source. Sphere of the Suns lets you keep otherwise unkeepable hands.
Reid Duke ran the full set of Rampant Growths and Farseeks. In order to support these cards, he had to put two of the Cavern of Souls in the sideboard. Since Cavern of Souls doesn’t really do much to fix your mana until after turn four, it isn’t a terrible idea to split the Caverns between the main deck and the sideboard. With Sphere of the Suns, however, I really feel like the deck can afford to run all the Caverns in the main deck.
There are way too many viable decks in Standard right now to discuss the matchups and sideboarding plans for each and every one. Instead, I’ll go over the general matchup strategies for what I consider to be the top two decks in the format right now: UW Delver and Birthing Pod. I’ll then explain the sideboard in more depth to give you an idea of what is useful against the rest of the field.
This is the matchup where the 4 main deck Cavern of Souls really shine. Overall this is a favorable matchup, and it really rewards correct play. In the PTQ, I went 4-0 against UW Delver in the swiss, eventually losing a close match to UW Delver in the semi-finals. Cavern of Souls is the most important card and will always be played naming Beast (for Thragtusk) or Giant (for Frost Titan/Primeval Titan). The matchup is usually determined by how much life you can gain. Between Thragtusk and Primeval Titan (searching for Glimmerpost), you want to just keep dropping life gain threats until your UW Delver opponent is dead. Runechanter’s Pike is one of the more problematic cards since it can allow UW Delver to take big enough chunks out of your life total to effectively race you.
Frost Titan is another card that really pulls its weight in this matchup. The ability to tap down Insectile Aberration helps win a lot of races. Another very common line is just to play Frost Titan tapping down a land, forcing the UW Delver player to tap out to deal with the Titan. UW Delver wins a lot of its races because of its ability to deal with opposing threats while advancing its board state. Since Frost Titan makes opposing Vapor Snags cost two extra mana, you can really take away a lot of the tempo the Delver deck relies on. There will be many games where the Delver deck won’t have the five mana required to Snapcaster Mage a Vapor Snag on Frost Titan, especially if Frosty tapped a land the previous turn.
For games two and three, you get more answers to the early creatures as well as two more Thragtusks. If you draw Cavern of Souls, racing becomes even easier with four Thragtusks and four Primeval Titans.
Temporal Mastery is still a fine card against the Delver decks, but it’s just not necessary after sideboarding. You never want Temporal Mastery to get stuck in your opening hand, and even as an Explore later on in the game, it is unimpressive. The plan against Delver is just to throw down as many threats as possible as quickly as possible, and you don’t really need extra turns to do so. Temporal Mastery is really at its best when it gives you a crucial extra attack step, and there are very few situations where you need an extra attack against Delver. Two attack steps is usually enough to finish them off especially with a Kessig Wolf Run, since they will often already be low on life from casting Phyrexian mana spells.
Although there are many variants of Birthing Pod, all the matchups play out similarly. That being said, the Birthing Pod decks with red (Naya, RUG, 4 color) are typically a little more difficult due to Zealous Conscripts. But as long as you are aware that they will have Zealous Conscripts, and play around it accordingly, it really doesn’t make much difference.
If the Birthing Pod deck doesn’t draw Birthing Pod, there isn’t really anything to worry about. Some of the Pod decks are capable of getting a semi-aggressive start without Birthing Pod (mainly Naya Pod), but this is easily dealt with via Primeval Titan or Bonfire of the Damned.
If the Pod decks draws an early Birthing Pod, the whole dynamic of the matchup changes. If they are playing blue, you will almost always want to get Kessig Wolf Run with your first Primeval Titan trigger. With Kessig Wolf Run, you can target their Phantasmal Images to kill them when you need to. Since Birthing Pod can essentially turn all their mana dorks into Phantasmal Images (usually copying a Titan), you want to be able to off them quickly before they get out of hand.
Frost Titan is one of the best cards to have against them since it shuts down their Birthing Pod before it can get out of hand. However, Frosty can be a liability in this matchup. If they have Phantasmal Image, they can copy your Frost Titan and then keep it tapped down so you won’t be able to attack with it. Having Kessig Wolf Run in play to kill their Image usually keeps you from getting stuck in this position for too long, but it can still be quite the setback. If you ever draw multiple Frost Titans the game gets a lot easier, since you can just use the second one to target their Image, leaving you with two Frost Titans that they will be forced to deal with quickly.
The sideboarded games are a little bit easier since you get to bring in real answers to Birthing Pod, and you get to max out on board sweepers. Between 2 Whipflares and 3 Bonfire of the Damned you will often be able to get rid of their first couple mana creatures to slow them down for a turn or two. Crushing Vines is spectacular against the Pod decks. Not only does it kill Birthing Pod, but it kills Restoration Angel and even Birds of Paradise if necessary. Beast Within is just a great all-around answer that can completely mess up their plans when they attempt to blink something with Restoration Angel or copy something with Phantasmal Image. It is also another quick way to get a Birthing Pod off the board before it can do much damage.
Many of the cards you want to sideboard in for either UW Delver or Birthing Pod have uses against other decks as well. For instance Thragtusk is the best card to have against Zombies, and Whipflares are great against most of the other green decks such as Infect and Green Summer. The rest of the sideboard was built with the intention of having at least one or two important cards to bring in against every deck you could face.
Spellskite is the best card against Mono Green Infect. They usually don’t have many ways to deal with, and even if they do, it often slows them down enough to give you the time to slam a few Titans and win the game. Spellskite shuts off almost all of their pump spells such as Rancor, Mutagenic Growth, Titanic Growth, and Revenge of the Hunted. Since your life total doesn’t matter to the infect deck, you can use Spellskite‘s ability whenever you want to redirect every targeted spell.
Although Spellskite was first included to help beat Mono-Green Infect, it turns out to be very good in the mirror match too. Spellskite trumps the majority of cards used in the mirror to gain an edge. It redirects both Karn activations and Wolf Run activations, it keeps Frost Titan from tapping down important permanents, and it will even eat a Beast Within when necessary. When playing Wolf Run Blue against RG Wolf Run or another Wolf Run Blue deck, the games are often decided on the back of Inkmoth Nexus + Kessig Wolf Run. Spellskite is able to stop your opponent from killing you that way, which makes it an important card to have here.
The additional two Karn Liberated in the sideboard generally come in when playing against any control deck (Esper Control, Solar Flare, BW Sorin’s Vengeance decks), any ramp deck, and any Zombie deck. It’s no secret that Karn Liberated is a fantastic finishing card that can win the game all by himself. In this kind of deck where you can play Karn on turn five, or occasionally on turn four, he is a great tool to have against any of these slower decks. Even though Zombies is not a slow deck by any means, Karn is still a good tool to have in that matchup since Karn is a very effective way of removing Geralf’s Messenger. When combined with Phantasmal Images and Blood Artists, Geralf’s Messenger can easily take down the whole game if not dealt with.
The last two cards in the sideboard are fringe cards with specific uses. Blue Sun’s Zenith is an extremely impactful singleton that can give you a huge edge in the Control and Ramp matchups. In the past, some RG Ramp decks have run Garruk, Primal Hunter as a way to draw extra cards in the mirror. Since Wolf Run Blue is able to cast Blue Sun’s Zenith, you can dig deeper than Garruk typically can, and you do it all at instant speed.
Surgical Extraction is a really strong card to have against Solar Flare. You never want to draw more than one, and you don’t need to see it super early in the game, but it’s nice to have the singleton, so that it’s at least in your deck for that matchup. Solar Flare isn’t a very hard matchup, but it gets a lot tougher if they get a Sun Titan/Phantasmal Image chain going. Since Phantasmal Image is already good against a deck with eight Titans, when Sun Titan starts recurring them things get out of hand pretty quickly. This is where Surgical Extraction helps a lot. Once you extract the Phantasmal Images from their deck, it is much smoother sailing for the rest of the game. Just like when playing against Pod, make sure to get Kessig Wolf Run out early so you don’t get your Frost Titan locked down by a two-mana Frost Titan of their own!
I am deeply grateful to John Kassari for giving me his latest decklist. I think this deck might just be more fun than any other deck I’ve playing this Standard season. Considering the wacky brews I’ve been fooling around with, that means quite a lot! This deck is extremely powerful and has game against every major deck in Standard right now, as well as the ability to adapt to beat any other deck you might face. The PTQ Seattle Standard season has now officially ended, so I probably won’t be playing much more Standard for a while now. Although I’m happy that it’s over (I’m getting tired of playing so much Standard), I wish I had discovered this deck earlier on in the season. If I had been working on this deck earlier, I believe I might have been able to win a PTQ at some point this season after all. Yet, all I have to show for the whole season is a Top 4 during the very last week.
If you still are going to be playing Standard for the next couple months until Return from Ravnica changes the format, I would VERY strongly recommend this deck. If you have any questions about this deck, whether or not I covered it in this article, please feel free to leave a comment or send me an email. I hope you have as good of a time playing Wolf Run Blue as I have!
Thanks for reading,
greyknight7 on MTGO