For this PT, Justin Cohen wanted me to take a more prominent role in the Team Channelfireball Fire and Team Mutiny Constructed testing process, analyzing the metagame and telling us where we should focus our decks to attack, and identifying which decks we thought people were likely to play.
For most of the time, that meant Mardu Vehicles. Mardu Vehicles was left completely untouched after the bannings, and became public enemy number one. With Felidar Guardian gone, midrange decks could reenter the fold. Decks like Aetherworks Marvel and B/G Energy also popped up on our radar, as well as U/R Control. At the end of the day, I think we did a reasonable job of pegging the expected metagame. Our teams played the following decks:
- 1 Temur Aetherworks
- 1 Mardu Vehicles
- 1 B/G Aristocrats (Matt Nass)
- 3 U/R Control (Paul Cheon and myself)
- 11 Zombies (Pat Cox, Josh Utter-Leyton, Martin Juza)
Paul Cheon and I usually test together at night, and both of us were really into the U/R Control deck. The addition of Magma Spray to clean up recursive threats like Scrapheap Scrounger, and Censor to keep your opponent honest in the midgame, made building up to 6 lands to cast a Torrential Gearhulk and turn the game around much easier. With these great additions, however, also came new challenges.
First and foremost, the control deck needs to answer what’s coming at it. Thus, to register a control deck, you need to have a good understanding of what you can expect to face.
We started testing the Gods. Kefnet stood out to Paul and me as a powerful card, and we tried it in a few different blue shells, and up until Tuesday I had 1 copy in my main deck. I think the reason to omit this card from the main deck and have the God in your sideboard is that you really need to address the problems of the deck. You struggle to make it to 6 lands and take over the game. You aren’t struggling to draw cards. Between Torrential Gearhulk, Glimmer of Genius, Hieroglyphic Illumination, and Pull from Tomorrow, if you want to draw cards, this Standard format is for you! Thus, we moved away from Kefnet in the main deck.
We tried Bontu in a number of different shells. We eventually determined she was just slightly too weak for us to worry about her in Standard for a couple of reasons. The prohibitive mana cost on her activated ability made it too difficult to turn her into a creature. Second, her keyword wasn’t especially relevant in this Standard format. Outside of Whirler Virtuoso, there aren’t a ton of tokens running around unless you’re playing against one of Sam Black’s daily brews. Oketra fell victim to the same fate, where it was difficult to have the mana to turn her ability online, and thus we were left looking at Hazoret and Rhonas.
Both of these Gods impressed us, but their supporting cast was unimpressive. The power level of the format is such that you cannot be putting cards like Insolent Neonate or Tormenting Voice into your deck, and playing a card like Crocodile of the Crossing is just not on par with the other 4-mana spells of Standard, as sad as that is.
Thus, we knew we didn’t need exiling removal, or many cards like Aether Meltdown to minimize these threats. As the metagame started playing out in our testing, we needed to be able to answer 4-mana sorceries (Bounty of the Luxa, Chandra, Torch of Defiance, Aetherworks Marvel, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar) and small creatures (Toolcraft Exemplar, Relentless Dead, Dread Wanderer). The metagame had solidified by the second week of MTGO results, and in our testing, Mardu and Marvel did a good job of beating up the cool decks we could come up with. Thus, if we could develop U/R to tackle these threats we’d be in a good place.
Fighting the Zombie Apocalypse
Come Tuesday, Zombies was our team deck. Paul and I began working on ways to fight the Zombies, as they were terrorizing the Leagues on MTGO and everyone that picked up the deck in our AirBnB was winning 10-game sets pre- and post-sideboard. The deck was really powerful, and we liked our maind eck but needed to figure out the sideboard. Meanwhile, I contacted Paul and said we’re going to run some Chandra, Flamecallers. The 6-mana ‘walker was really a Pyroclasm effect for this deck that doubled as a way to win the game and cycle to your answers in a pinch. This card allowed us to defeat a resolved Liliana’s Mastery as the Zombies would mostly have 3 toughness, and would also usually force the Zombies pilot to tap out, leaving their Relentless Dead vulnerable.
Little did we know, other players would also have this technology, and the Zombie pilots were ready. My experience watching the PT and playing it is that the Zombies players really knew the matchup. Chandra, Flamecaller was great, but didn’t just win the match like she did for me in the two days leading up to the PT. We needed a little more on top of this to swing the matchup. The Marvel matchup is also slightly more difficult than we anticipated, and this was because of the counterspell suite we chose. If I were to play the PT over again (I am streaming the MOCS this weekend), I would register the following list:
Updated Deck List: U/R Control
The big changes to the sideboard are to counteract Zombies. We were considering Dynavolt Tower late on Thursday night, but on limited testing were afraid to pull the trigger. It’s good in the mirror, and you can slot them straight into the slots Kefnet the Mindful occupies. The Aether Meltdown in the deck is mostly to help out against Scrapheap Scrounger and Heart of Kiran.
Dragonmaster Outcast and Glorybringer are additional threats to bring in after sideboarding. I bring in Dragonmaster anywhere I can get my opponent to board out most of their removal. This is essentially everywhere except for against Zombies. Glorybringer shines against the decks with planeswalkers as it can generate massive amounts of card advantage by killing a creature and a ‘walker and then eating some form of interaction from the enemy.
Chandra is mostly for Zombies and decks where you don’t need to worry about a haymaker spell that goes over the top of her. Thus, I’d bring her in against Mardu as well. Sweltering Suns is for Humans and Zombies. The additional counterspells come in against basically any blue deck or someone you know is bringing in planeswalkers, like B/G Delirium or Mardu.
The Tournament Itself
I was relatively happy with our main deck. I got stuck on five lands in multiple games in game one, and that’s bound to happen. I could have sequenced sto cycle my cards more effectively to mitigate this problem. One of the keys with this deck is to make sure lands number 2-4 enter the battlefield untapped, and that land 6 enters the battlefield untapped. These are the key turns of the game for the U/R deck.
This means that, depending on your opponent and their deck, you need to know when to cycle a card like Censor to hit a land drop, and potentially scare your opponent off of playing a spell, and when you need to hold onto it to counter a key card. This is not an exact science, but in my experience, it’s more important to hit your land drop than to counter a medium spell. I would rather hit my land drop cycling Censor and let my opponent have a Rogue Refiner than counter the creature, all things being equal in a game 1.
As for the matches I played, most of my losses were to poor play. I split matches against Mardu. I lost a great three-game set to Brian DeMars playing Temur Aetherworks. I also lost a feature match to U/W Flash, which I think is a great matchup, but I boarded poorly, and then lost in round 8 in a close three-game set to Zombies. The tools exist for U/R to beat each of these decks not only in the short run but very consistently. Therefore, for the next few months you can expect me to be piloting the control deck in Standard, and I highly recommend it for those of you looking for a deck that’s not one of the notoriously popular decks in Standard right now. The deck is powerful, counters a large number of spells, kills a large number of creatures, and really does draw all the cards.