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Valuable Lessons – Super Ghouls and Ghosts

Welcome back to Valuable Lessons. Last week we explored UWR—I walked you through my creative process, and together we arrived at what I feel is an optimal list for Standard’s best control strategy. This week, we’ll be exploring the non-[card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card] side of Standard.

Don’t get me wrong—I still think [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card] is the most powerful card in Standard. However, the current format doesn’t give you much wiggle room, especially on Magic Online. In many live tournaments, the aggressive decks are underrepresented to the point that its extremely rare to face a deck like Gruul Aggro or Naya Blitz. Magic Online is very different. There’s a hyper aggressive deck in your face just about every other round when you hop into a Daily Event. I’ve probably played against Gruul/Blitz/Mono-Red in about half of my matches in heads-up queues this week.

The aggressive and midrange decks of Standard all pose unique questions to the control deck. Sometimes the Revelation player needs double [card]Pillar of Flame[/card] or [card]Pillar of Flame[/card]/[card]Snapcaster Mage[/card]. Other times [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] is the only card that can solve the current problem. This makes it very hard to leave countermagic mana open on turns five and six, which is probably where your opponent is going to resolve a [card]Thragtusk[/card], [card]Obzedat, Ghost Council[/card], or [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card]. Then you’re on the back foot, and your mana will be tied up dealing with the board and further threats from your opponent’s hand. If you draw enough lands to make [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card] worthwhile in the midgame, then you’re probably just dead, if you draw the right mix, then you’ll probably just be tapping out for a Revelation for 3 when your opponent has a resolved threat that requires a specific answer.

UWR is still a strong deck, but I was growing increasingly frustrated with [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card], often losing games with more than one copy in my hand. I decided to check out the last week’s Daily Events in an effort to find something that felt stronger given the current state of the metagame. I enjoyed playing Jund for over a month earlier in the season, but I found myself losing to the [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card] decks and not even being in the game against some of the aggro decks when I was on the draw. I wanted a deck that played similarly to Jund, but that wasn’t weak to haste creatures. I eventually stumbled upon this list.:

Scream (4-0)
Standard Daily #5593497 on 06/24/2013

[deck]Main Deck
4 Blood Crypt
2 Cavern of Souls
4 Clifftop Retreat
4 Dragonskull Summit
4 Godless Shrine
4 Isolated Chapel
4 Sacred Foundry
2 Aurelia, the Warleader
4 Blood Baron of Vizkopa
4 Boros Reckoner
2 Obzedat, Ghost Council
2 Olivia Voldaren
4 Vampire Nighthawk
2 Assemble the Legion
2 Blasphemous Act
2 Dreadbore
2 Mizzium Mortars
4 Pillar of Flame
4 Warleader’s Helix
Sideboard
3 Liliana of the Veil
3 Rest in Peace
2 Rolling Temblor
2 Sin Collector
2 Sire of Insanity
3 Slaughter Games[/deck]

This I can get behind. All the cards are absurdly powerful. Midrange and aggro matchups look like the easiest things ever. Against the control decks, we can just Cavern out hard-to-deal-with threats like [card]Obzedat, Ghost Council[/card], and our sideboard is a control deck’s nightmare. I put the deck together on Magic Online and won an 8-man right off the bat. I decided that this would be my deck for at least the coming week.

[draft]blasphemous act[/draft]

I continued playing with the deck and, while consistently impressed with its ability to win, I noticed a few changes that I felt would make the deck better. First, [card]Blasphemous Act[/card] was only good against Midrange-y decks without spot removal. I was pretty much never able to use it as a [card]Wrath of God[/card] for value, and whenever I 13’d or 26’d my opponent with it, I was almost assuredly going to win the game anyway.

The aggressive matchups were extremely easy when I was able to draw two or more removal spells in the early turns, and the removal spells, with the exception of [card]Pillar of Flame[/card], were playing fine against the control and midrange decks too (Don’t take this the wrong way and cut Pillar. You absolutely NEED four copies of the card to compete in this format if your deck doesn’t put anything on the table until the third turn).

I cut the [card]Blasphemous Act[/card]s for another two copies of [card]Dreadbore[/card] and have been very happy with the results. [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card] is picking up a lot of steam lately and it may be worthwhile to change one or two Dreadbores into instant speed removal spells. I haven’t tested this yet and I’ve definitely [card]Dreadbore[/card]d my fair share of Tamiyos, Garruks, Jaces, and Vraskas, so I wouldn’t just sleeve that up before a PTQ, but it’s worth testing.

[draft]assemble the legion[/draft]

[card]Assemble the Legion[/card] was pretty bad against everything except Jund, UWR, and Esper. I tried cutting a few copies in favor of [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card], but I found myself getting overwhelmed by my opponent’s removal/[card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card]. The deck doesn’t apply enough early pressure or have the disruptive elements necessary to make [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card] an auto-include. I found the aggressive matchups to be painfully easy even with the [card]Assemble the Legion[/card]s in the main and I eventually decided that one copy at least was worth the slot.

[card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card] and [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card] were giving me more of an issue than I expected. Hypothetically, I should be able to race these cards with lifelink and Obzedat triggers, but it never worked out that way. I would win some games, but I kept losing whenever my opponent curved into a strong/hasty top end that wasn’t [card]Hellrider[/card]. I decided that a singleton [card]Curse of Death’s Hold[/card] would drastically swing the Aristocrats matchups for me. I’m already a four [card]Blood Baron of Vizkopa[/card] deck, so the matchup is already pretty easy, but it’s important to interact with more than my combat step, especially in the first five turns.

[deck]Main Deck
2 Cavern of Souls
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Godless Shrine
4 Blood Crypt
4 Clifftop Retreat
4 Dragonskull Summit
4 Isolated Chapel
1 Rakdos Keyrune
4 Pillar of Flame
4 Dreadbore
2 Mizzium Mortars
4 Warleader’s Helix
4 Vampire Nighthawk
4 Boros Reckoner
2 Olivia Voldaren
4 Blood Baron of Vizkopa
3 Obzedat, Ghost Council
1 Assemble the Legion
1 Aurelia, the Warleader
Sideboard:
2 Liliana of the Veil
3 Sin Collector
1 Sire of Insanity
1 Rolling Temblor
1 Curse of Death’s Hold
1 Assemble the Legion
2 Slaughter Games
1 Rakdos Keyrune
3 Rest in Peace[/deck]

The deck crushes aggressive decks without mercy and battles control strategies by constantly churning out extremely resilient threats. Cards like [card]Assemble the Legion[/card] and [card]Obzedat, Ghost Council[/card] can usually only be answered by one to three cards in the opponent’s deck. [card]Blood Baron of Vizkopa[/card] is usually only answered by [card]Supreme Verdict[/card]. I’m sure you’ll be happy with the deck if you give it a chance. It is painfully easy to play—just slowroll your Cavern until you need it against control decks, do some arithmetic against the aggressive strategies, and you should be able to pilot this deck optimally.

Here’s how the matchups play out:

Against Burning-Tree Emissary Decks:/h2>

The most aggressive decks of the format are very easy matchups. Basically every card in the deck short of [card]Assemble the Legion[/card] is a nightmare for them. The double or triple [card]Burning-Tree Emissary[/card] draws are still nightmarish for any deck, but [card]Rolling Temblor[/card] can turn those games into auto-wins.

Remove

[draft]1 Assemble the Legion[/draft]

Add

[draft]1 Rolling Temblor[/draft]

Against Jund

This is a lot like a mirror match. Their [card]Thragtusk[/card] is quite good, but you can mostly ignore it once you have [card]Obzedat, Ghost Council[/card] or [card]Blood Baron of Vizkopa[/card] on the battlefield because they’ll be losing the race if they start attacking you. [card]Liliana of the Veil[/card] is very strong against us because we play one creature at a time, and we don’t start doing so until the third turn.

Don’t be afraid to 3-for-2 yourself by using [card]Pillar of Flame[/card] on a Liliana with two counters. Once you get an [card]Obzedat, Ghost Council[/card] or [card]Blood Baron of Vizkopa[/card] to stick through an untap step, you’re usually way ahead and should just start using your mana in the most efficient way possible to prevent them from drawing out of their hole with a Primal Hunter or something. I haven’t tried it, but [card]Slaughter Games[/card] naming [card]Thragtusk[/card] could be an effective plan.

Remove

[draft]4 Pillar of Flame[/draft]

Add

[draft]2 Liliana of the Veil
1 Assemble the Legion
1 Sire of Insanity[/draft]

Against Esper

This matchup can be incredibly difficult in game one if they’re stacking up [card]Far // Away[/card], [card]Devour Flesh[/card], and [card]Tribute to Hunger[/card]. If their removal is mostly targeted, then Blood Baron can do some work here, but it’s usually dead before it gets a chance to attack. Just try to force an early enough [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] to resolve [card]Obzedat, Ghost Council[/card] or [card]Assemble the Legion[/card]—that’s the best path to victory.

Remove

[draft]4 Pillar of Flame
2 Olivia Voldaren
4 Warleader’s Helix[/draft]

Add

[draft]2 Liliana of the Veil
1 Assemble the Legion
1 Sire of Insanity
3 Sin Collector
2 Slaughter Games
1 Rakdos Keyrune[/draft]

Against UWR

A lot of these players aren’t casting [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] anymore. This drastically increases the power of [card]Blood Baron of Vizkopa[/card], but it also means that they’re able to successfully race you with [card]Restoration Angel[/card] and [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card]. Against this deck, I almost always jam my biggest spells on every turn. Obviously we’ll be playing around cards that are being telegraphed, but I don’t think you have the time to answer questions, you want to be the one asking them.

Remove

[draft]4 Dreadbore
4 Pillar of Flame[/draft]

Add

[draft]1 Assemble the Legion
1 Sire of Insanity
3 Sin Collector
2 Slaughter Games
1 Rakdos Keyrune[/draft]

Against Unburial Rites strategies

These decks can be rough in post-board games where [card]Acidic Slime[/card] ruins lots of days. It’s not unreasonable to sideboard in [card]Slaughter Games[/card] and go for [card]Acidic Slime[/card], [card]Thragtusk[/card], or [card]Angel of Serenity[/card] depending on how your opponent is playing the game. [card]Warleader’s Helix[/card] isn’t very good here, but we have plenty of cards that can come in.

Remove

[draft]4 Warleader’s Helix
1 Assemble the Legion[/draft]

Add

[draft]1 Rakdos Keyrune
3 Rest in Peace
1 Slaughter Games[/draft]

Against Junk Aristocrats

This deck has a lot of trouble with your game plan. Generally speaking, creature-based white/black decks are going to have a problem with four copies of [card]Blood Baron of Vizkopa[/card]. [card]Rest in Peace[/card] is beautiful here. [card]Obzedat, Ghost Council[/card] can’t do much work against them and you may find yourself getting chumped for an unbelievable number of turns while your opponent establishes control with their two- and three-card combos.

Remove

[draft]3 Obzedat, Ghost Council
1 Assemble the Legion[/draft]

Add

[draft]1 Curse of Death’s Hold
3 Rest in Peace[/draft]

Against Act 2 Aristocrats

[card]Blood Baron of Vizkopa[/card] is still a boss here, but [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card] has the potential to run you over. [card]Rest in Peace[/card] isn’t great in this matchup like it is against the Junk version of the deck. The enchantment interacts with [card]Young Wolf[/card], [card]Blood Artist[/card], [card]Strangleroot Geist[/card], [card]Voice of Resurgence[/card], [card]Doomed Traveler[/card], [card]Varolz, the Scar-Striped[/card], and [card]Lingering Souls[/card] out of the Junk deck, but it really only interacts with [card]Doomed Traveler[/card] and [card]Lingering Souls[/card] out of the Red version.

Remove

[draft]1 Assemble the Legion[/draft]

Add

[draft]1 Curse of Death’s Hold[/draft]

Against Bant Hexproof

I’ve gotten to play against this deck a few times, and it feels surprisingly easy. Our lifelinkers excel at racing and our removal is good against their [card]Strangleroot Geist[/card]s and [card]Voice of Resurgence[/card]s. [card]Invisible Stalker[/card] draws are very good against us, but [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] really needs to be combo’d with [card]Ethereal Armor[/card] if we have [card]Vampire Nighthawk[/card] or [card]Spectral Flight[/card] if we have [card]Blood Baron of Vizkopa[/card]. I’m 2-0 against this deck, obviously not much of a sample, but it bodes well for the matchup.

Remove

[draft]1 Assemble the Legion
4 Dreadbore[/draft]

Add

[draft]2 Liliana of the Veil
1 Rolling Temblor
2 Sin Collector[/draft]

This is probably one of the best decks available for heads-up queues on Magic Online that are overpopulated by [card]Burning-Tree Emissary[/card] decks. The deck gives you a lot of play against the field right now and I feel like we will begin to see more RWB midrange decks in the coming weeks. It’s a very powerful strategy that demands unique effects like [card]Renounce the Guilds[/card] to interact. I’ll have more insight on Standard’s trajectory after Grand Prix Miami and I look forward to dissecting the format with you guys again next week!

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