How to Kill the Boogeyman

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

Standard usually evolves and crystallizes until it produces a ‘Best’ deck – let’s call it ‘Deck A’.  In a healthy format (perhaps the ideal format), Deck A has a predator, let’s call it ‘Deck B’.  So B beats A the majority of the time, but loses to ‘Deck C’.  ‘Deck C’ is of course completely destroyed by ‘Deck A’.

ref: The Big Bang Theory

Like this, but with less Spock

The problem right now is we have a specific Deck A – you know the one I’m talking about – that just crushes all the other decks.  If you play anything else, you’re probably wrong.

There are of course decks that do beat this Boogeyman I am referring to – but they all lose to each other.  There is a sea of ‘Deck B’s that all beat each other.  And these decks don’t have a good enough matchup against the top dog to justify running them in this metagame.

So deck A continues to dominate, and we all are forced to choose – play the bad guy, or play against it?  Play some of the best cards in Standard or take 3 damage over and over again?

Let’s assume we fight the good fight – I like a challenge.  The most recent tournaments have all had around 50% (or more) in the top 8, and unless something changes this is unlikely to stop.  So how do we stop the Boogeyman?

How do we beat Jund?

Standard players, circa 2009-2010

My apologies for deliberately misleading you into thinking I was referring to Delver. (- I regret nothing!)  But I wanted to call your attention to 2 things:

1 – Delver is the best deck and all of its potential predators don’t have enough room in them to devote narrow hate, and without this narrow hate they won’t win.

2 – This situation is not unique.  We have been here before.

In order, going backwards until I tire of it:

  • Caw-Blade (2011)
  • Valakut (2010)
  • Jund (2009)
  • 5 Colour Control?  Black-White Tokens? (I admit I’m not sure what the best deck was midway through Alara block, I basically took the year off to finish my Engineering degree)
  • Faeries (2008)

And so on, into the past.

Let’s focus on Jund.

Cascade was a mechanic that was printed in part to fight against oppressive counterspell-laden blue decks.  The concept was that it was 2 spells in one card, so if they countered one of the cards, you still got the second one.  It was a literal 2-for-1 mechanic, although with the caveat that you couldn’t choose the second spell with perfect accuracy.  This made counterspells pretty miserable.

How did control decks adapt?

A control deck with no counterspells in the maindeck?

 What?

For many people, control means countering spells, playing sweepers and then sticking a hard to answer threat that wins the game.

This is not the only way to play control.  This is not the only way to play control well.  Some metagames demand a different approach, such as the UW Tapout decks of old.

—|||—

On April 2, 2012, Lingering Souls and Intangible Virtue were banned in Block.

This sure caught my attention.  Do you know what the last 3 cards were that got banned while they were Standard-legal?

Jace insisted on being listed first.

Let’s just say that they are in good company.

Yes, I realize these 3 cards were banned in Standard (and older, more powerful formats to boot), not in block.  But my point remains valid!  Standard is essentially a battle of 2 blocks bridged by a core set.

Lingering Souls in particular has made a splash in a much higher powered format:

Lingering Souls is one of the top 10 cards in Standard, on power level.

Sure seems like a card we should be playing more of, doesn’t it?

Like Cascade spells, Lingering Souls is resistant to counter-magic.  If you counter it the first time, I can still cast it from the graveyard.(exception – Dissipate)  These flying tokens also block a certain one-cost menace reasonably well, as well as the Moorland Haunt tokens that get produced ad nauseam.

The Esper Spirits lists made good use of this fact to trounce traditional Delver decks, but they were a little all-in on their fliers plan – which made them vulnerable to Corrosive Gale, a card that everyone packed into their sideboards for 3 weeks or so just to teach them a lesson.

What's a Colour Pie?

When Mono-Black-Zombies has a deadly bullet for you, it’s probably time to alter your strategy a little bit.

So what is the right shell for Lingering Souls?  What’s the best way to fight Delver, who likes to land an early threat and protect it with counter-spells?  Is it time to revisit Tap-Out Control?

I would say: yes.

This was a midnight brew – literally – in collaboration with Evan Berry, we played 74 of the same 75. *

Right when Innistrad first launched, Solar Flare was a deck that enjoyed some popularity, but never made a very big splash.  I piloted the deck as soon as I could acquire the Lilianas for it (anyone else remember how absurdly expensive that card was a week or two after release?) and I made top 8 of Provincials in Ontario (those of you in the US may know it as States, and the sticklers among you know that it was technically called ‘The 2011s’) with Solar Flare, and promptly lost to Canadian National Champion Marc Anderson in the Top 8 piloting Mono-Red.

That deck had some weaknesses:

(Listed in order of severity)

  • The mana was TERRIBLE.  Some games you could just lose to your own manabase.
  • The Mono-Red matchup was no better than 50/50, at best, and Mono-Red was reasonably prevalent as it was the beginning of the format.
  • Every deck had access to Surgical Extraction, and Snapcaster decks could even flash them back.  Since Solar Flare was generating a lot of buzz, everyone came slightly over-prepared.
  • There weren’t a lot of low cost cards that affected the board.  The deck spent the first couple of turns playing draw spells and hoping to hit a Day of Judgment or hoping to find counterspells for the crucial turns, and when it didn’t find them, it often just lost the game.

Since then, a couple of things have happened:

The original build played counterspells (as Mana Leak had to go in a control deck, this fact was sacrosanct) (but don’t tell Medina, he cut them when he made his Top 4) but slowly over time, the metagame became one where the only good counterspells were mostly those which you used to protect your permanents (for example, in a deck like UW Delver or UW Humans).  Without the need for blue mana on turn two, Solar Flare’s manabase could de-emphasize Blue and become much more consistent.

Lingering Souls is also an amazing card to discard to Liliana or to put in the graveyard off Forbidden Alchemy.  It blocks Delver and Spirit tokens.  It does so much – most importantly it gives you tools to survive until the late game, where you start landing haymakers.

Solar Flare is a fantastic tap-out deck.  As if Sun Titan into Phantasmal Image wasn’t strong enough – now we are in a metagame where Phantasmal Image itself is well-positioned!  I killed many a Thrun and Geist of Saint Traft this weekend, not to mention gaining 2 life and creating a 2/2 Wolf token against Green-Red decks.

By the way, did you know Sun Titan can kill both Invisible Stalker and Geist of Saint Traft with a Dead Weight?  It’s true!

Ratchet Bomb is also well positioned, with all the transforming cards and tokens running around (Huntmaster of the Fells costs 4, Ravager costs 0).  Sun Titan returning Ratchet Bomb is nigh-unbeatable for decks running Lingering Souls, Moorland Haunt, or Huntmaster of the Fells.

Since the deck no longer durdles until turn 4, the blisteringly fast aggro decks are no longer a tough matchup, now they are winnable matchups.

Here was my PTQ experience this past weekend:

Round 1 – Junk Tokens – Win 2-0

Round 2 – RG Ramp – Draw1-1-1**

Round 3 – RG Aggro – Win 2-0

Round 4 – Delver – Win 2-0

Round 5 – Esper Spirits – Win 2-0

Round 6 – RG Ramp – Win 2-0

— So at this point I was 5-0-1, 2 rounds left to go, win either one and I should be in. —

Round 7 – Delver – Lose 0-2 to the eventual winner, he mostly nut-drew me

Round 8 – Mirror – Lose 1-2 a giant punt in game 1 on my part, I drowned in lands game 3 while he drew a million cards and the game still took forever.  Still, with tighter play I would have got there.

There were two copies with near-identical lists to mine in the top 8 (shoutout to Andy Peters), and Evan Berry went 6-2 at this same event with the same list.

It’s unfortunate that the format is about to change since I believe this to be the most well-positioned deck at the current time.  A couple of notes going forward:

  • If you believe that Cavern of Souls is going to kill control decks – this is a control deck that doesn’t run counters.
  • If you still think Delver is going to be around, this deck has a matchup that is pretty good.  If you lose the match, it’s most likely because you didn’t mulligan aggressively enough.  Five drops and higher tend to be ‘mulligans’ against Delver unless you really think you can resolve a Liliana. (in which case they become insane with Unburial Rites)
  • Usually mana flood isn’t a problem since you get to run Forbidden Alchemy, and mana screw is rare since the deck runs 27 lands.
  • I personally think Tamiyo could have a spot in the sideboard, against the non-blistering-aggro decks.  Keeping Birthing Pod tapped down seems quite strong.
  • This is a deck that could very comfortably play Griselbrand.
  • I found myself wanting a pair of Doom Blades in the sideboard, for the mirror and for Ramp.

If anyone tries out this exact list I’d love some feedback! Or feedback on the article in general! (no flaming please)  Writing is not my day job.

Is it finally time for “Soul”-ar Flare to be the best deck?  We’ll see.

Thanks for reading!

Johnathan

@JohnMBent on Twitter

fightingmongoose on MTGO

* Our lists differed in that Evan didn’t play Vault of the Archangel because I couldn’t convince him how amazing it is (it won me two games) and in its place he played Ghost Quarter #3.

** At the end of turn five, my opponent had no cards in hand, no nonland permanents and no Inkmoths, and was at 2 life, I had four cards in hand and had 24 power on the board.  He didn’t give me the win and I didn’t try and shame him into doing so.  I should have conceded sooner in game two or played faster in game 1 I guess.

Additional Notes: at this tournament I got to witness what I might call the ‘New World Order’ – under the new rules, if you attack with Geist of Saint Traft, and let your opponent go to blockers without referencing the fact that it makes a token, you have missed your trigger and it is up to the opponent to let you have it or not (hint: probably not).  This ruling was correct as per the wording in the new tournament rules.  If there is not an Angel token in play and if the trigger was never referenced, and there was no pre-agreed upon shortcut, you have missed your window to resolve your trigger.  You have been warned.

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