Frank Analysis – Block Constructed in Atlanta

I played BUG Control at Pro Tour Journey into Nyx where I made Day 2, but didn’t win enough matches on Saturday to finish in the money. I’m really happy for Josh Utter-Leyton that his hard work on the deck paid off in an impressive Top 4 finish, so congratulations to him!

The BUG deck

I’m sure Josh will tell you all about the deck in his tournament report, so I’m just going to skip ahead and give you the deck as I would build for an upcoming Block Constructed tournament:

This update is what you get after taking my list from the Pro Tour, replacing Dissolve with Reaper of the Wilds, and swapping some cards between sideboard and main deck.

My build at the Pro Tour was a few cards different from Josh’s build, but I was happy with my tweaks. I had the 25th land, as I felt that 24 could be a little land-light sometimes. I also had Mistcutter Hydra instead of Gainsay, which was a much better way to pressure an opposing Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver or Kiora, the Crashing Wave. You don’t have to keep up two mana at all times, and it leaves behind a sizeable threat. It bashes through Prognostic Sphinx, too. Mistcutter gave the deck an additional angle that the opponent was often not prepared for.

It is similar to Reaper of the Wilds in that regard, which is a card we didn’t have at the Pro Tour, but which I think deserves a spot in the main deck. Hexproof means that Hero’s Downfall or Kiora cannot stop it, and deathtouch means that it can attack into Prognostic Sphinx. Moreover, Reaper of the Wilds is one of the best answers to opposing Reaper of the Wilds and Fleecemane Lion. To make room for them, I moved the 4th copy of each planeswalker to the sideboard. Ashiok comes in against midrange and control, while Kiora comes in against aggro decks.

I had Dissolve in my deck on the Pro Tour, but I cut it from the list above. In a three-color tap-out control deck with 12 scry lands and limited ways to interact before turn 3, countermagic doesn’t really fit, as having to keep mana open in fear of a threatening spell may hamper your own board development. Moreover, assembling double-blue is far from trivial in this mana base. If you expect to face a lot of Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, then you may still need the countermagic to interact with that, but I felt like the card didn’t suit the deck very well.

Tips and Tricks for BUG Control

There are plenty of interesting situations that come up in games with BUG.

When you plan to play Thoughtseize and a Temple in the same turn, it is often better to cast Thoughtseize first. You can then use the information of your opponent’s hand to make a better decision for your scry land. This is almost always more valuable than sequencing the cards the other way round. There are exceptions to this rule—for instance, when you are holding multiple Hero’s Downfall in hand and are scrying toward your second black source regardless of your opponent’s hand—but generally, it’s better to Thoughtseize first and scry second.

When your opponent has Courser of Kruphix in play and you have Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver in hand, then you may be able to put the “Ashiok lock” on your opponent. Basically, if you see a good card on top of your opponent’s deck, then you should +2 Ashiok. If you see a bad card, then you should minus Ashiok or even pass the turn without activating.

For instance, when you are about to ultimate Kiora, the Crashing Wave in a few turns and you know (thanks to Thoughtseize, say) that your opponent doesn’t have an answer to it in their hand, you may consider activating the +2 ability on Ashiok only if you see Hero’s Downfall on top of your opponent’s deck. Any other non-threatening card? Just leave it there.

You cannot target your opponent’s Sylvan Caryatid, and targeting their Prognostic Sphinx is futile. However, you can target your own creatures. So, next time your opponent’s has multiple Sylvan Caryatid in play that are holding back your Coursers, just Bile Blight your own to clear the way. And if your opponent is attacking you with multiple Prognostic Sphinx for the kill, remember that you can Bile Blight your own Sphinx and won’t take any damage.

Suppose that you are about to lose on the next turn and know (thanks to Courser of Kruphix) that there’s a land lurking on top of your deck, while you need to draw Hero’s Downfall or Silence the Believers to stand a chance. Then, you could go for the last-ditch effort of shuffling your own Courser of Kruphix into your deck to get another chance at a good draw step.

An often overlooked fact is that this can also exile from graveyards. This was particularly relevant during one game at the Pro Tour when my opponent had Whip of Erebos in play, Ashen Rider in the graveyard, and only lands in hand.

Any combination of two of these cards interacts favorably.

Sphinx + Kiora: If you scry a powerful card to the top, then you can immediately draw it with the planeswalker.

Sphinx + Courser: If you leave a land on top after scrying with Sphinx, then you can play it as a free land drop with Courser.

Kiora + Courser: If you’re lucky enough to find two more lands on top after using the -1 on Kiora, then you may be able to play both with Courser.

Getting all three cards out at the same time can lead to beautiful turns. For example, suppose that after drawing for the turn you see Silence the Believers on top. You attack with Sphinx and see Silence, Forest, Swamp. In that case, you could switch around the order to Forest, Silence, Swamp, play Forest via Courser, draw Silence with Kiora, then play the Swamp from the top as well, and use all that mana to strive away your opponent’s board. Games like those really made you warm up to the deck.

Problems of the BUG Deck

Although BUG Control deck was filled with powerful cards and put up decent results, it also had a number of issues.

Firs, the mana was not great. With 12 scry lands, you basically start the game with a Sphere of Resistance in play, and aggro decks may run you over. Moreover, assembling double-green and double-black early in the game is difficult.

Further, the deck had almost no way to get real card advantage. When you’re trading everything 1-for-1, it’s easy to fall behind to Eidolon of Blossoms or Ajani, Mentor of Heroes.

At the same time, the deck was filled with reactive cards and situational removal spells. As a result, you were sometimes stuck with the wrong answers in hand.

The deck didn’t have a lot of win conditions either. Games are often grindy, and it can take forever to win. Closing out the game with Prognostic Sphinx in particular tends to take a while, and this can translate into unwanted draws. The games (especially the Courser of Kruphix mirror matches) tend to be mentally draining: You are scrying four times times a turn, while figuring out how to use your planeswalkers, remembering to gain life after playing a lands from the top, and keeping track of the cards in your opponent’s hand. Finally, you are by no means guaranteed to beat Elspeth, Sun’s Champion or Whip of Erebos in the late game. All in all, it was not the type of deck that I enjoy playing.

These days, I prefer to attack with aggressive early drops. Control decks were nice back in the day, but creatures have gotten so much better, and you need them to pressure opposing planeswalkers. I admit that the BUG Control deck is more of a proactive protect-the-planeswalker kind of deck as opposed to a traditional stall-and-draw-cards kind of control deck, but it is still not a deck that can end the game quickly. I mean, every single one of your creatures has more toughness than power!

What this also meant is that there were no free wins. If the opponent would stumble on mana, then we didn’t have a reliable, efficient way to pressure them and punish them for it.

So Why Play BUG Control?

Good question. I knew the deck wasn’t really right for me, and I was worried about the issues I described above. I had actually been working on aggro decks most of the time, and I had traveled to Atlanta with the intent of playing a synergistic, powerful aggro deck. The lack of a Supreme Verdict effect in the format (even though Drown in Sorrow, Silence the Believers, and Anger of the Gods did reasonable impressions) also drove me toward aggro.

However, I didn’t get these decks to a spot that I felt was good enough, especially after sideboarding, and then there was simply no time left. As the entire team was locked into BUG Control on Thursday morning, I decided to make the switch as well. In hindsight, I regret doing that—next time I’m in a situation like that, I’m just going to pick a deck that is a better fit for my playing style and that I have more faith in. It certainly worked for Patrick Chapin!

The aggro decks I liked best in early testing were RW Heroic and Mono-Black Aggro, so let me tell you a bit about those decks, in case you don’t want to grind out Courser of Kruphix mirror matches at Grand Prix Manchester.

RW Heroic

Martin Juza and I made this deck very early in testing, and the final build looked like this:

The starting point for this deck was Prophetic Flamespeaker. The card is absolutely unreal, but it just runs into Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix. So, you need some spells to boost it. Red cards like Mogis’s Warhound and Titan’s Strength certainly work well, but they also make you vulnerable to black removal. That’s where Gods Willing comes in for protection.

White also gives us access to Hero of Iroas—a strong, individually powerful card that goes very well with the various pump spells. The deck basically built itself from there, and it featured explosive openings like turn-1 Favored Hoplite into turn-2 Ordeal of Purphoros, which is great against creatures like Agent of Fates, Prophetic Flamespeaker, and Fleecemane Lion.

We tried Phalanx Leader/Launch the Fleet, but it wasn’t working well enough. Flooding the board with creatures leaves you vulnerable to Drown in Sorrow, and Phalanx Leader was difficult on the mana base.

The deck is similar to UW Heroic, which has Aqueous Form and Stratus Walk to get past blockers, but I preferred to be making bigger monsters, and the red cards were all performing very well.

We considered Magma Jet and Lightning Strike, but they don’t match up well against Courser of Kruphix and Sylvan Caryatid and they don’t target your own heroic creatures. It may be strange to see Fall of the Hammer over Lightning Strike in a Constructed deck, but synergy is that important.

The split of pump spells between Coordinated Assault and Titan’s Strength was meant to keep opponents guessing. We also considered Ajani’s Presence in these slots, but it is weak as a pump spell and doesn’t actually protect from most removal spells: Silence the Believers and Banishing Light don’t care about indestructability.

As for sideboarding, the plan was to board Ordeal of Heliod and Chained to the Rocks against aggro decks, taking out Dragon Mantle and Titan’s Strength. Against control, all other 11 cards would come in, and you’d take out a bunch of the situational targeting spells (Ordeals, Coordinated Assault, Titan’s Strength, Fall of the Hammer) as well as several Satyr Hoplite.

The idea behind that sideboard swap was to make the deck more resilient to the onslaught of removal spells that you’d face after boarding. Eidolon of Countless Battles is far from great against Silence the Believers, but they only have 4 of those against your 8 bestow creatures and 4 Gods Willing, and bestow creatures are much better than Ordeals against Hero’s Downfall or Banishing Light.

Unfortunately, the matchup against the black decks was still not great even after sideboard, and the deck lacked a good way to punch trough blockers after opponents removed your big guy and then stabilized. Overall, the deck put up reasonable results in testing, but I didn’t like it enough to play it.

Mono-Black Aggro

This was the list as I had it the day before the Pro Tour:

This deck is filled with great cards, devotion synergy, and a good mana curve.

Mogis’s Marauder is the best card in the deck. It allows you beat Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, enable the inspired trigger on Pain Seer, and win damage races. It’s similar to Gray Merchant of Asphodel in that way, but 5 mana is a lot for this deck (especially when you have to take 5 from Pain Seer and already have 5-drops in Herald of Torment) so that’s why I like to get in for a lot of unexpected damage with Mogis’s Marauder instead.

The deck is basically pre-boarded against Courser/Caryatid/Elspeth decks. You don’t want Hero’s Downfall against them; you just need to be aggressive. Boon of Erebos is better—it allows your Tormented Hero to attack into Courser or Caryatid and can take them by surprise. Basically, if you spend all of your mana and develop your board with hard-hitting threats while they are fiddling around with their scry lands, then you can beat them. If you slow down and try to answer their cards, then that usually won’t lead to victory.

I wasn’t sure about Brain Maggot and Master of the Feast. Brain Maggot offers useful disruption, but does not come with an aggressive body and is horrible against Drown in Sorrow and Anger of the Gods. Master of the Feast has an unreal body for three mana, but it is a risky maindeck inclusion because it matches up poorly against Hero’s Downfall; Kiora, the Crashing Wave; Unravel the Aether; Ordeal of Heliod; and so on. It is still good against decks with many blockers and few removal spells, but it feels weird to board it in because even in those matchups, it becomes worse after sideboard as everyone adds cheap instant removal spells against Mono-Black Aggro for games 2 and 3.

Speaking of sideboard, let me quickly share what I had in mind.

Against BUG Control, put in Read the Bones to dig toward your Mogis’s Marauder and Herald of Torment. Take out Brain Maggot because it is not aggressive enough and dies to Drown in Sorrow.

Against RG Elspeth and Junk Constellation, put in Master of the Feast, taking out Brain Maggot. You need the flyer to get past all of their ground dorks in the late-game and just have to hope that their have had to spent their removal spells on your early threats.

Against any aggro deck (be it Mono-Black Aggro or UW Heroic), board into a control deck. That is, put in all the removal spells and take out Mogis’s Marauder, Boon of Erebos, and some of the early drops (Tormented Hero, Gnarled Scarhide, and Spiteful Returned).

The deck was consistent and aggressive, but susceptible to mana flood (you need to draw the right amount of lands or you’ll lose) and to blockers (sometimes you draw all 2/1s and are unable to push through). Since I was the only person in the team who was considering playing this deck and I didn’t want to figure out the final main deck and sideboard slots all by myself in the final day, I chose not to play it.

Deck Recommendations Going Forward

All three decks described above (BUG, RW Heroic, and Mono-Black Aggro) are all perfectly acceptable choices in my view.

Raphael Levy’s UB Inspired deck is also fine. Wrapter built a similar deck, which was a little more all-in on the King Macar combo, with 4 copies of the legendary creatures in addition to Disciple of Deceit and Thoughtseize (instead of Omenspeaker and Brain Maggot) to transmute for Springleaf Drum. The deck was quite unique and a lot of fun to play. It just didn’t perform well enough against the aggro decks in our testing.

I loved Patrick Chapin’s Pro Tour winning deck. I tried to get Fleecemane Lion to work in many different shells, but Pat nailed it, and it paid off for him with a well-deserved victory. His deck is very much the type of deck that I’d have liked to play.

But if you ask me for a recommendation on what to play in Grand Prix Manchester in two weeks from now and don’t want to get into endless Courser of Kruphix mirrors, I would recommend this deck:

RG Aggro

 

This is the deck that Marcelino Freeman, Carlos Becerra Reyes, Ricardo Landeta played to an impressive combined 20-10 record. Even though I haven’t been able to play a single game with this deck, I like the look of it. It’s filled with powerful, effect creatures that can pressure the opponent early on in the game, but it also has a reasonable late-game presence with Stormbreath Dragon, along with Golden Hind to ramp into the monstrous creatures. The sideboard contains a bunch of cards I like as well, such as Mistcutter Hydra against the blue planeswalker decks and Magma Spray against other aggro decks.

The deck also looks reasonably easy to pick up and play, even if you are not extremely experienced at Block Constructed, so I think it will be a good choice for Grand Prix Manchester.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll be back next week with my Journey into Nyx pick order list!

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