The Captain’s Log: Play What You Know!
As is tradition for me before any big road trip I am currently testing and trying to decide on the best list to sling at the SCG Invitational in Indianapolis. There are various different lists I have been thinking about in the past month or so. With a format as wide open as Standard is right now I don’t think there really is a bad choice. What is important for any tournament that you really want to do well in is playing what you know.
Now that may be tough in standard with the ever changing landscape. That is both the positive and negative thing about Standard. These are truths that have remained the same since I began to play standard. There are aggro, control, and combo decks. Now these are very crude categories to put all decks into, but the basics remain true today. There is aggro such as Naya, UW humans, and GW. Control variants such as URW midrange, UW Flash, and Bant control and what I will call combo by today’s standards in reanimator.
The reason why it is so important to play what you are familiar with is because throughout a long and grueling tournament there will be many opportunities to both show off your great play skill and also punt harder than the Buffalo Bills in a time of need. If you go into a tournament with an archetype that you are familiar with you will feel more comfortable with the decisions to be made. You will also be able to see patterns between games you have played before and the game at hand. Being able to play so many different decks only works in a format like the one we have now. If you look at SCG top 8s and other big tournaments there is a flurry of different great decks always at the top. It isn’t 6-8 slots all occupied by Caw-Blade or Delver. There isn’t a clear cut defined winner yet. Because of this play skill is at an all-time high. So play what you know!
What I know is control. I have no shame in saying it and I am quite proud of that. It’s to the point that when people ask me what I am playing at a local FNM they will answer their own question before I even do. This came from my days starting with “Keeper” in local vintage to where I am at now. I am at my most comfortable drawing a bunch of cards and doing nothing more than playing a land on my turn. All the while biding time for that one crucial turn your opponent loses focus for that split second. Then I get to tap out and give them a Cruel Ultimatum.
I have been able to see patterns between standard to vintage decks from way back and know the importance of being able to adapt to information previously learned. Considering all of this, my choices lie between two control decks. One is a more traditional control deck stocked full of counterspells and utility creatures. The creatures are designed to gain incremental value each turn all the while providing speed bumps for those pesky aggro decks. The other choice is a newer concept, a “tap out” control deck based on card advantage through planeswalkers and going big.
This is the deck that I have been piloting the most as of late. As usual I have to put a little of my own touch on the deck. Most notably my addition to the deck is Ghost Quarter. This card is my answer to the problem that is most infuriating to me when playing this deck, Cavern of Souls.
Cavern is not getting a tremendous amount of play, but I expect that to change with the recent success of this particular deck archtype. I am not willing to accept the line of thought that “maybe they just won’t draw their Cavern”. When the opponent has a Cavern set to Beast or Angel you have to just sit there and watch as Thragtusk, Restoration Angel, and eventually Angel of Serenity hit play. This is simply just not acceptable to me or the success of this deck. Admittedly this answer is not the most ideal because often times your opponent will get at least one use out of their Cavern and the value that entails from the uncounterable creature entering the battlefield, but it gives you outs. Ghost Quarter gives you the ability to Azorious Charm the creature to the top of their library then Ghost Quarter the land shuffling it away. Or sometimes it allows you to simply unsummon it and then counter it on its second time through.
Other options to beat Cavern of Souls include Tamiyo, the Moon Sage. This is an awesome answer. Always being able to tap down that land allows you to counter anything you want. There is only one problem with this, Tamiyo goes into a different type of deck shell. A shell that is not too worried about countering those creatures thus it doesn’t have great synergy. Just think about this scenario… you want to tap out to play a Tamiyo at best realistically on turn four, but then that leaves your opponent free to play anything they want. Giving them that window is not something I am too thrilled about, but may be something I have to concede. The shell that Tamiyo shines the brightest in is one like this:
This deck gets its card advantage a little differently than UW flash. This deck aims to totally abuse come into play and leave play triggers of both angels. This deck clogs the board with creatures that you are getting a great amount of value out of immediately. This allows blocking when necessary, but all the while tries to remain on the board to continue to get value out of every Restoration Angel you draw. This deck aims to put power cards in play a turn earlier due to Farseek.
This is a powerful Strategy that Patrick Chapin talks about quite frequently when discussing his love affair with Jace. He would use Everflowing Chalice to put out Jace, the Mind Sculptor a turn earlier, thus placing the burden on his opponent to beat him through his sheer card advantage. The other value you got out of Everflowing Chalice was that later in the game it could be cast for absurd amounts of mana making your Celestial Colonnades much easier to animate.
Unfortunately since these cards are not available in this format, we get a card that helps us out in a different way, Farseek. Farseek provides you mana fixing and acceleration which can be a huge gain for this deck. Late game when you draw this card however it usually is enough to send you to tilt town. A card that pulls you out of this tilt a little bit and I think there should be more of in the list is Sphinx’s Revelation. This card is so huge for this deck. It does two things that this deck surely wants, it buries you in card advantage and also erases damage they have worked so hard to deal. Each subsequent Sphinx’s Revelation gets bigger and better, thus me wanting to run three.
Both of these decks are very different type of control decks and require a different type of play style to master respectively. Each deck has its strengths and weakness and should be given the proper amount of thought when deciding on a deck. With Cavern of Souls becoming more and more popular the proper deck choice may actually be Bant control. It simply doesn’t care if your creatures are uncounterable because it will play those same valuable creatures. It can get more out of those creatures or simply just go bigger with Angel of Serenity. I personally don’t like to enter into tournaments running only two counterspells main deck. It makes me feel as if I do not have control of the match or the ability to gain that control, but this thought process is just not right anymore. The Bant control deck looks to shift the game into a situation where you are getting much more value out of your cards while your opponent has to overextend into a board sweeper. There is a control element to this deck it is just different than your typical control.
This has been a tough choice for me to make because of the ever-changing meta, but there is absolutely a right choice to be made. Because of how popular UW Flash deck has become and a recent first place finish at a SCG event I think people will be packing more and more Cavern of Souls, as they should be. This makes traditional counterspells just not as effective. Knowing this I think the right choice has to be Bant Control, mainly because it has the raw power to go over the top and be more powerful.
Thanks for reading and hopefully I will have a tale of success next time.