After losing to miss Day Two in Atlantic City, I decided now would be the perfect time to start testing Constructed. I might as well figure out what I wish I would have played, right? What actually made me want to get back into Constructed (both Modern and Standard) is that I’ve been playing less Magic than I’d like recently, and most of the Magic I have been playing has been solely to test for a specific event.

The net result of that is that I haven’t really been playing Magic just to play Magic, or even (as strange as it sounds) for fun. Reducing my Magic time to focused testing also means that when I do poorly in the events I test for, I feel way worse than I used to. As I’ve told many people before, if you go to a tournament where you’ll only be satisfied if you do well, you are setting yourself up, and that’s where I’ve been for the last few months. Granted, I’ve also done worse than I used to, but that’s likely connected to the amount I’ve been playing as well.

As a result, this week I decided to just play whatever Magic Online had to offer, make some videos, and see what happened. I wasn’t preparing for any specific event, and had no goal except to pick up 15 QPs by the end of the current MOCS season (I of course then saw that the MOCS is the same day as the Gatecrash prerelease).

I consider this experiment a success. Not only did I have a lot of fun playing Magic, I actually got two decks tuned to the point that I would have played them at a Grand Prix, if I had the option. In only slightly more time than I spent preparing for AC, I managed to figure out a Standard deck I like way more than the one I ended up playing—though, admittedly, built on the testing I did for AC and the results from that event.

Still, instead of rushed testing and trying to figure everything about the format out, jumping from deck to deck, to just select a deck I liked and tune it was way better. This Standard format has so many viable decks, we would have been better off last week to just pick anything and tune it, instead of surface-level testing on six or seven different archetypes.

For upcoming events, I’ll probably try this. I’d rather pick a deck that seems good to begin with and play 30 matches with it, rather than play 5 matches with six different decks. You do miss out on discovering something broken (and I’m not advocating this for something like Legacy, where the decks vary wildly in power level), but this seems like an effective tool for Standard.

I also played a sweet Modern deck, and even convinced Andy Cooperfauss to run it in a PTQ (though he was already somewhat interested). He went 5-0 before losing to back-to-back GP Champions to miss Top 8. You can CTRL-F “Conley Woods” to skip right to it, if you desire.

Standard

UW Control

I started by talking to Matt Nass, a bold move (Elves aren’t a deck in Standard, after all). In AC, he played the Geist deck he played at the Starcity Invitational a few weeks earlier:

[deck]Main Deck:
4 Azorius Charm
3 Sphinx’s Revelation
4 Augur of Bolas
4 Restoration Angel
1 Cavern of Souls
4 Thought Scour
4 Snapcaster Mage
3 Moorland Haunt
4 Geist of Saint Traft
2 Feeling of Dread
4 Glacial Fortress
1 Think Twice
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Plains
8 Island
4 Unsummon
2 Dissipate
Sideboard
3 Supreme Verdict
3 Knight of Glory
3 Purify the Grave
3 Jace, Memory Adept
3 Dispel[/deck]

While he didn’t Day Two the Grand Prix, I watched some of his post-board matches, and we both agreed that the sideboarded control version of the deck was awesome. After that discussion, I decided to try it out. I kept the [card augur of bolas]Augurs[/card], [card snapcaster mage]Snapcasters[/card], [card restoration angel]Angels[/card], even some of the [card]Unsummon[/card]s, and added [card]Supreme Verdict[/card]s and [card jace, memory adept]Jaces[/card]. [card]Jace, Memory Adept[/card] is insane right now, reflected in how much his price has gone up recently.

Here is the list I started with:

[deck]Main Deck:
3 Supreme Verdict
3 Sphinx’s Revelation
4 Azorius Charm
3 Snapcaster Mage
4 Augur of Bolas
4 Restoration Angel
3 Jace, Memory Adept
1 Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
4 Thought Scour
2 Think Twice
2 Dissipate
2 Unsummon
1 Rewind
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Hallowed Fountain
2 Moorland Haunt
1 Azorius Guildgate
5 Plains
9 Island
Sideboard
3 Dispel
1 Detention Sphere
1 Oblivion Ring
2 Terminus
2 Purify the Grave
1 Supreme Verdict
3 Geist of Saint Traft
1 Staff of Nin
1 Angel of Serenity[/deck]

I jumped right into a Daily Event, which I recorded. I was pleased with the deck. [card snapcaster mage]Snapcaster[/card], [card augur of bolas]Augur[/card], and [card restoration angel]Angel[/card] are a potent combination, and even though you would think that [card supreme verdict]Wrath[/card] and [card jace, memory adept]Jace[/card] don’t pair with them as well as [card]Runechanter’s Pike[/card], more bounce, and [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card], I really liked it.

Yes, sometimes you have Wraths and creatures out, but the creatures you play more often lure the opponent into over-committing. You aren’t really even looking to kill the opponent with the [card restoration angel]Angels[/card], as [card jace, memory adept]Jace[/card] does a fantastic job of finishing games. Once you have a [card jace, memory adept]Jace[/card] out, cards like [card]Unsummon[/card] and [card]Azorius Charm[/card] become awesome, since all you need to do is stop the opponent from killing [card jace, memory adept]Jace[/card] for two turns and they are usually dead. Multiple [card jace, memory adept]Jaces[/card] combine well as a result.

Sideboarding isn’t too tough. I love taking out counterspells against the decks that easily blank them (Rakdos, Mono-R, Humans, Hexproof), and those are generally the matchups where more Wraths come in. You can often cut a [card jace, memory adept]Jace[/card] or two, since the aggro matchups really come down to resolving a [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card] after stabilizing—actually killing them is trivial.

Against control and midrange, [card]Unsummon[/card]s almost always get cut, along with Wraths against the creature-light decks. [card staff of nin]Staff[/card], [card geist of saint traft]Geists[/card], and [card angel of serenity]Angel of Serenities[/card] usually come in here, as well as the two [card]Oblivion Ring[/card]s. I like the one actual Ring (to rule them all) because it kills [card]Detention Sphere[/card] against Bant or UW, and them Sphere’ing your Jace is a fairly common play. [card]Dispel[/card] also comes in against decks with a ton of counters, since it is the best way to win a counterwar aside from [card]Counterflux[/card].

Lastly, I ended up switching [card purify the grave]Purifies[/card] to [card]Rest in Peace[/card]s, just because Purify was too low-impact. [card]Rest in Peace[/card] does turn off [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] and [card]Moorland Haunt[/card], but the upside of being incredibly effective is worth it.

While I do like this deck against most of the field, the rising popularity of a couple decks in particular gave me pause. Both Hexproof (which BenS rightfully calls Ghost Pants, or just Pants) and Esper control are tough, and Reanimator isn’t far behind. Basically, against any deck where blocking with [card restoration angel]Angels[/card] and [card augur of bolas]Augurs[/card] isn’t good, this deck is a worse version of UW or Esper control. That does mean I like it against Mono-Red, any midrange Naya-type deck, and even Bant control (which has [card]Thragtusk[/card]s to interact with), but I was facing way more Pants and Esper than I wanted to see.

I still really did like Jace+Revelation+Wraths, so I decided to explore another option.

Not-Esper

I keep calling this Not-Esper, but in reality, it’s moved far enough towards Esper that I guess it qualifies. It is very light on black, but there are enough black spells between main and board to make it a true 3-color deck. I found a cool deck in the Daily Events that played 4 [card]Dramatic Rescue[/card], with all Wraths and only 2 [card]Ultimate Price[/card] and 3 [card nephalia drownyard]Drownyards[/card] as black spells. After testing it in a few events, I ended up at the following list, which I would instantly play in a tournament if only I had one to attend:

[deck]Main Deck:
3 Snapcaster Mage
1 Augur of Bolas
3 Azorius Charm
2 Dramatic Rescue
2 Think Twice
2 Ultimate Price
2 Dissipate
2 Detention Sphere
4 Supreme Verdict
3 Terminus
4 Sphinx’s Revelation
2 Jace, Memory Adept
2 Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
1 Jace, Architect of Thought
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Isolated Chapel
4 Drowned Catacomb
4 Hallowed Fountain
3 Nephalia Drownyard
4 Island
3 Plains
1 Swamp
Sideboard
3 Rest in Peace
3 Tribute to Hunger
2 Negate
2 Dispel
1 Curse of Echoes
1 Psychic Spiral
1 Duress
1 Dramatic Rescue
1 Terminus[/deck]

I played this list in a Daily Event (with -1 [card]Dispel[/card], +1 [card]Negate[/card], though I’d go with 2 and 2 now), and have played it in a bunch of 8-mans over the last couple days. For the current format, this is exactly where I want to be.

Just playing mono-Wraths and planeswalkers is awesome, with [card]Azorius Charm[/card]s, [card]Dramatic Rescue[/card]s, and [card]Ultimate Price[/card]s to prevent early deaths. [card]Dramatic Rescue[/card] is pretty sweet, and you can even play [card snapcaster mage]Snapcaster[/card] and bounce it with [card dramatic rescue]Rescue[/card] after blocks, for a free block plus 2 life.

I’m not 100% sure on the mix of 2-mana spells, since they all serve slightly different roles, but I think a 3-2-2-2 split of [card]Azorius Charm[/card], [card]Ultimate Price[/card], [card]Think Twice[/card], and [card]Dramatic Rescue[/card] covers your bases best against the mix of control and aggro I’ve seen. The two whose numbers can change are [card]Think Twice[/card] and [card]Dramatic Rescue[/card], as they are the most targeted, with both of them being great against control or aggro, and near-dead against the other.

In this deck, I like [card]Detention Sphere[/card] over [card oblivion ring]O-Ring[/card]. Not only is it in the main deck, it also has [card nephalia drownyard]Drownyards[/card] to kill with, so freeing Jace isn’t as important as before. The one [card jace, architect of thought]small Jace[/card] is to have another 4-drop that affects the board, especially given that [card]Restoration Angel[/card] is no longer present.

Against aggro, you are really well set up. You have all life gain, Wraths, and removal, along with some planeswalkers. I’ve been very happy with the Mono-Red and Rakdos matchup, though losing to [card]Zealous Conscripts[/card] on planeswalkers is pretty annoying. There isn’t as much sideboard against aggro, though [card tribute to hunger]Tributes[/card], the 4th [card]Terminus[/card], and the 3rd [card]Dramatic Rescue[/card] do a pretty solid job. As usual, I just end up cutting counterspells most of the time.

Against control, this is much better than UW because of [card nephalia drownyard]Drownyard[/card]. It’s the best way to win the control matchup, and makes up for the fact that most of your deck is blank against control.

Post-board, you have some really sweet ones. [card curse of echoes]Curse[/card] I’m not as sure about as [card psychic spiral]Spiral[/card], but resolving a [card curse of echoes]Curse[/card] is tough to deal with. It blanks all their counters and [card Sphinx’s revelation]Revelations[/card], putting you in a pretty good spot.

[card]Psychic Spiral[/card] has been amazing, especially once you side in the counters and [card]Duress[/card] to protect it. The fact that it can just get milled and you get to [card snapcaster mage]Snapcaster[/card] it back is crucial. Every time I’ve cast this, I’ve won the game, except for one game against the mirror where he was able to then cast his. When they tap out to Drownyard or [card]Sands of Delirium[/card] you during your end step, Spiraling them right out is awesome. I could see going to two, if the metagame demands it.

Midrange is slightly harder than with UW, just because Angel is so good against them, especially if they have planeswalkers, but the matchup is still pretty sweet. [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card] just goes over the top of midrange so hard, and is part of the reason I would recommend against playing Naya in general.

Facing the combo-ish decks in the format isn’t tough either. Both Reanimator and Pants are vulnerable to Wraths (Pants much more), and against both of them you have awesome sideboard options. [card]Tribute to Hunger[/card] is very good against all the hexproof nonsense, and just playing 3 [card]Rest in Peace[/card] lets you face Reanimator on a much more level playing field.

Given the current metagame, I like this deck, and would highly recommend it.

CONLEY WOODS (Modern)

Conley has nothing to do with this deck at all, but he seems to like yelling his name, so I thought I’d help out.

The deck I started playing in Modern was the one a bunch of us played in Columbus last year. We played Pod, and although it was decent, it felt like there were a few too many combo decks and control decks for it to be awesome. I lost to both combo and RUG Delver twice, as did others on our team. This time around, Jund is a way higher percentage of the metagame, and I actually think this version of Pod is solid against it. It plays more [card kitchen finks]Finks[/card] than it used to, and less expensive [card chord of calling]Chords[/card], along with cards like [card]Obstinate Baloth[/card] and [card sigarda, host of herons]Sigarda[/card] in the sideboard:

[deck]Main Deck:
4 Restoration Angel
1 Linvala, Keeper of Silence
4 Wall of Roots
1 Deceiver Exarch
2 Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
1 Ethersworn Canonist
1 Izzet Staticaster
1 Aven Mindcensor
1 Harmonic Sliver
1 Spellskite
1 Murderous Redcap
1 Zealous Conscripts
1 Phantasmal Image
3 Noble Hierarch
3 Kitchen Finks
1 Eternal Witness
4 Birds of Paradise
2 Chord of Calling
4 Birthing Pod
1 Mountain
1 Plains
1 Gavony Township
1 Hallowed Fountain
1 Temple Garden
1 Steam Vents
1 Stomping Ground
2 Fire-Lit Thicket
2 Copperline Gorge
4 Razorverge Thicket
4 Arid Mesa
4 Grove of the Burnwillows
Sideboard
1 Melira, Sylvok Outcast
1 Path to Exile
1 Sowing Salt
2 Obstinate Baloth
1 Sigarda, Host of Herons
1 Avalanche Riders
1 Glen Elendra Archmage
1 Ancient Grudge
1 Dispel
1 Rule of Law
1 Dismember
1 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
1 Qasali Pridemage
1 Combust[/deck]

This deck has gone through a couple iterations in the last week, and I recorded two Dailies with it, both with slightly different lists. I put together the original list after looking through recent results, though the deck hasn’t changed fundamentally from when we played it at the Grand Prix. The general idea has been the same throughout, but I keep moving around slots of hate cards, and adding sweet things like [card]Izzet Staticaster[/card] (she’s awesome). I’m also debating cutting 1 [card]Obstinate Baloth[/card], just so the sideboard can actually be 15 one-ofs.

I like that this deck has the tools to both make the game unwinnable for almost every deck, and the potential to kill very quickly. The vast majority of games where you have Pod active, you can either just win the game or fetch the right combination of cards to lock your opponent out. That sort of speed and flexibility is very appealing to me, along with all the potential for very sweet plays.

One of the downsides to this deck is that it takes a ton of practice. Knowing what you can tutor for, when to get it, and all the interactions is pretty tough, though rewarding once you do learn it (and insanely fun). Here are some of the more relevant scenarios (and for an in-depth look at the deck from Columbus, Josh wrote a useful piece about it)

[draft]Birthing Pod
Wall of Roots
Birds of paradise[/draft]

Birthing Pod + 1-drop + 2-drop + 4 or more mana (and 8 life, if you only have 4 mana)

Sacrifice [card wall of roots]Wall[/card] to get [card]Deceiver Exarch[/card] -> Untap [card birthing pod]Pod[/card].
Sacrifice [card birds of paradise]Birds[/card] to get [card]Phantasmal Image[/card] -> Copy Exarch, untap Pod.
Sacrifice Image to get [card]Restoration Angel[/card] -> Blink Exarch, untap Pod.
Sacrifice Angel to get [card kiki-jiki, mirror breaker]Kiki-Jiki[/card] -> Win.

[draft]Murderous Redcap
Birthing Pod[/draft]

Sacrifice [card murderous redcap]Redcap[/card] to get [card]Zealous Conscripts[/card] -> Untap [card birthing pod]Pod[/card].
Sacrifice Redcap to get [card kiki-jiki, mirror breaker]Kiki-Jiki[/card] -> Win.

[draft]Kitchen Finks
Birthing Pod[/draft]

Sacrifice [card]Kitchen Finks[/card] to get [card]Restoration Angel[/card] -> Blink Finks -> Profit.

I only mention this because it’s one of the most common lines of play. Whenever you go turn one Birds into turn two Finks into turn three Pod, you have to at least consider this, and will likely end up running it against all the non-combo decks. You end up with an Angel and a full Finks in play, plus a Birds, and that usually puts you far enough ahead even if they have a kill spell on their turn.

If they don’t, you can Pod [card restoration angel]Angel[/card] into [card zealous conscripts]Conscripts[/card], untap Pod, Pod [card kitchen finks]Finks[/card] into Angel, blink Conscripts, untap Pod, and Pod Angel into [card kiki-jiki, mirror breaker]Kiki[/card] for the win. Ta-da!

[draft]Deceiver Exarch[/draft]

As shown above, Exarch can always let you hop from 2 to 4 with Pod, which comes up often. It also untaps all sorts of other things, and is another option to consider with [card chord of calling]Chord[/card].

[draft]Zealous Conscripts[/draft]

This one doesn’t come up quite as often, and involves you having any permutation of two [card]Birthing Pods[/card] (or one and a way to untap one) and a 4-drop, or Conscripts in hand plus one Pod. The whole idea is to take their creature and sac it to your Pod, and I have killed multiple people with lines of play that end there. Not only do you win, you get incredible value!

[draft]Izzet Staticaster[/draft]

Be aware that there are many ways to get repeated uses out of the Staticaster, from [card]Restoration Angel[/card] to [card]Deceiver Exarch[/card] to [card kiki-jiki, mirror breaker]Kiki-Jiki[/card], and you can often Pod or Chord into multiple activations.

[draft]Phantasmal Image[/draft]

Keep this in mind as a possible tutor target. It’s cheap enough that you almost always have access to it, and its uses include killing opposing legends, getting ETB triggers, copying a casting cost to sacrifice to Pod, and more. It’s one of the more flexible cards, among an army of them, and part of what makes the deck so powerful.

[draft]Eternal Witness[/draft]

If you have just a Chord, it’s often right to Chord for Witness and bring back Chord, after which you can Chord for Angel or Kiki in order to get more Witness triggers, and assemble the kill from there. Going from just Chord (and to be fair, a lot of time/mana) to the kill is awesome. You can go from being empty-handed to winning the game in the span of a turn, especially if you have some [card wall of roots]Walls[/card] to help out.

There are many more interactions, and besides checking out Josh’s article from above, I recommend you spend time playing with the deck. There really is no substitute for practice, and with enough games under your belt you will get comfortable enough with the normal lines of play that you won’t have to spend too much time thinking about them. This will leave you with more time to consider all the less-normal lines of play, since this deck has an incredibly large amount of them.

Once you have played with the deck, and get a sense of what you expect at whatever tournaments you plan on playing (I’m assuming PTQs, since the season is Modern and all), you can swap out the hate cards in the main and board. These are the slots you can definitely change, if you expect more or less of the decks they are targeting:

[draft]spellskite
aven mindcensor
izzet staticaster
harmonic sliver
murderous redcap
linvala, keeper of silence
glen elendra archmage
melira, sylvok outcast
qasali pridemage
avalanche riders
thalia, guardian of thraben
ethersworn canonist[/draft]

Clearly I think these are good right now either in the main or board, but none of them are incredibly crucial to function of the deck (although you should have a 4-drop with persist of some kind, and I don’t mean [card]Grazing Kelpie[/card]). I can’t imagine a metagame that demands none of these, but the priority on each should rightfully shift according to each metagame.

Booked!

Before I conclude, I’d like to mention the e-book that I worked on with Paulo, Brian Kibler, and Craig Wescoe. You may have seen Paulo’s preview article from last week, but I thought I’d throw in a few words as well. It was fun to dissect a bunch of pick 1s, and reading through the other authors’ reasoning was pretty cool too. RtR is a deep format, and knowing the implications of how the other cards in the pack affect what you should take is very important.

While the timing isn’t optimal, there is plenty of general draft advice and information, and we are planning on doing this again for Gatecrash in a much more timely fashion. You can find the book on Amazon: Ten Packs: A Return to Ravnica Draft Strategy Guide

(Even if you don’t have a Kindle, Amazon has an e-reader app for either your phone or computer.)

As for me, I’ll be back in the Bay next week for the Gatecrash prerelease, at the ChannelFireball Game Center in San Jose. If you are local to the Bay, you should come down, as I’ll be spellslinging along with other members of Team Fireball.

I look forward to the new set, to playing more Magic, and to hopefully figuring out exactly how I can prepare for events given the time available. Next up is the Pro Tour in Montreal, and luckily I’ve been training for the cold here in Denver, so I’ll likely survive.

LSV