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Decknology: Cincinnati Calling

Written by LegitMTG Staff on . Posted in Competitive Magic, FNM, Standard

Last weekend I was lucky enough to head out to Grand Prix Richmond. I jammed a pretty standard UWR control list to a frustrating 6-3 record. I was knocked out in round 9 by Gaudenis Vidugaris and his Storm deck. He was gracious enough to discuss the match and generally agreed with my lines, but it was a rough end to a pretty good day. Overall the weekend was fun, but now it’s time to return the focus to Cincinnati and the Standard format.

I haven’t done much with Standard since a lonely PTQ in Canton a few weeks ago. I played an R/G monsters list with a small white splash for Selesnya Charm. The deck didn’t run well, and I dropped the deck pretty quickly. Domri Rade is a powerful card, but the monsters lists still feel clunky to me. I have been searching for a deck since rotation. I played my baby, Big Boros, for pretty much the entirety of last format. The deck was good to me and the Standard meta did not change much from PT Theros to the release of Born of the Gods. Unfortunately the first few weeks of the new format were not kind to Big Boros. Gone were the smattering of small creature decks and devotion lists that the deck preyed upon. Instead it was U/W control and mono-black variants that now were running white with access to Revoke Existence. Both of these decks had a much better game against Boros than anything in the preceding months, and I was forced to switch decks.

I began scouring lists across the internet, and struggled to find a strategy that piqued my interest. That isn’t to say there aren’t good decks, but I wanted to play something that had a powerful strategy like U/W, but could also win the game aggressively. Essentially, I wanted the Big Boros game plan in a new, shinier form. I finally came across a list championed by Caleb Durward and Josh Silvestri, both of Channel Fireball. The base list was an Ephara, God of the Polis U/W list. It had elements of devotion, aggro, and control. I was intrigued. For reference, here was the list:

This list really got my creative juices flowing. It had a good proactive game plan backed up with the Ephara, which is a sweet card drawing engine. It has the some of the best Planeswalkers in the format and passes the test of doing powerful things. However, I felt it was lacking in a few areas. Firstly, Silvestri had discussed moving away from some of the more unexciting white weenie aspects of the deck. He cut a number of Brave the Elements and Judge’s Familiars from the initial list. I strongly agreed with this, but was confused as to why even the small bit of it remained. I am not a fan of these kinds of singletons in an aggressive list, as they usually won’t show up when you want them to. Control can play powerful singletons because they generally do more when they show up. Compare Fated Retribution to Brave the Elements for example. I decided to move the list a bit more into the midrange direction. I liked that the deck could present a clock while still going over the top of a lot of other lists. Here is my update:

I decided to go a bit bigger with the list overall. To my previous point about singletons, I really liked the Lavinias and the one-of Angel of Serenity is the kind of draw that just wins games by itself. I also added a couple of Sphinx’s Revelations as a way to recover against U/W and mono-black. When they were good, they were really good, but they consistently didn’t do enough in aggressive matches. It may be right to cut one. Overall the numbers felt right, and I was able take 4th in a local IQ with the deck’s first run.

The deck itself may not look that intuitive on paper. In fact, the one card that probably looks very odd is Jace, Architect of Thought. Jace offers some card selection that the deck desperately needs. Additionally, it allows the deck to switch gears between control and aggro in certain match-ups. Lastly, it offers two devotion for Ephara, which a different draw spell would not do. Beyond Jace however, the deck does really flow quite well. The glue here is Ephara. Many of the creatures in the deck offer multiple ways to trigger the god of the polis. Once you get that engine going, it can be very hard for the opponent to recover. You are able to add to your board position while also drawing cards (something U/W generally has to choose between), which is hard for many decks to get around.

Those that know me as a deck builder know that I am all about well-positioned sideboards. This deck’s sideboard is able to complement either portion of the deck that is necessary. Need to hedge against creature decks? Hey look there is the fourth Reckoner, Essence Scatters, and Supreme Verdicts. Paired against control? There is more counter magic and Planeswalkers to tip the scales into your direction. That isn’t to say the deck doesn’t have its weaknesses. Stormbreath Dragon is a card that can be tough to deal with. We have to use less than clean options like Rapid Hybridization to bring it down. Additionally, like many traditional midrange decks, you can draw the wrong cards game one at the wrong time.

This deck rewards tight play, which is why it is so appealing to me. The deck has the ability to recover from some pretty disparaging board positions, and it rewards you for not overextending. The deck also has some clunky draws, so sequencing your lands is key. A general rule of thumb is to hold your Temple of Enlightenments for as long as possible. Additionally, make sure you play Mutavaults in a way that doesn’t impede your ability to cast future spells.

A variant of this list is more than likely what I will be looking to jam in Cincinnati. As I stated, the deck allows me to play a deck with a proactive game plan, than can still be the control. As with Big Boros, recognizing what position you are in during a match is a key component to piloting this deck consistently. I would highly suggest sleeving this deck up and taking it for a spin. The deck is fun to play, and honestly Ephara is better than I ever could have guessed when I first saw her spoiled.


While I still think Big Boros is poorly positioned in the Standard metagame, it doesn’t mean that I haven’t been working on it. Many people have been asking about an updated list, and I do think it is possible to change it to better address the current field. So without further ado, here is Big Boros Redux.

Note that Assemble the Legion is no longer good enough to be in the main deck. Additionally, Young Pyromancer has gotten a lot worse. There are still some things to be excited about though. First off, Brimaz and Purphoros are best friends. Additionally we are now running all four Stormbreath Dragons in the main. The deck has a lot of powerful endgame tools, with a strong complement of burn to get us there. I am still hesitant to run this just yet, but if the format continues to feature a heavy dose of R/G monsters while the control decks return to Esper colors, then it may be time to dust off the elemental tokens.

Either way, Cincinnati looks to be a great time. Come find me and let me know if you opted to try out one of these strategies!

-Mike Keknee

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