How to Get There ∙ Playing Awesome Cards + Hitting Land Drops ∙ … and Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre
My Playtest Copy of Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre:
Photo Credit: Brian David-Marshall, aka @Top8Games
Anyone who has read my previous posts on Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, or perhaps my comeback article at TCGPlayer.com knows that I am completely confused about which Eldrazi giant is which, which ones have which powers (or whatever); so even if I am playtesting, the one I have is just “Eldrazi Guy”.
But which Eldrazi guy?
I originally wanted to actually full-on game with Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, but Josh Ravitz and Sean McKeown explained to me that I would only get to fifteen mana in a dream world. The other option was the draw-four Eldrazi guy (whatever his name is); however the situations you want any Eldrazi guy basically amount to 1) not getting decked, and 2) killing the other guy’s copy of Jace, the Mind Sculptor. When you play Ulamog, even if the opponent counters your “finisher” you get it (and everything else) back; but you can kill his Jace no matter what.
So what is the deck where in we are playing ye olde Ulamog?
Raka XXX aka tBVotBD
4 Everflowing Chalice
3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
3 Mind Spring
4 Spreading Seas
3 Ajani Vengeant
3 Day of Judgment
1 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
3 Martial Coup
2 Oblivion Ring
4 Wall of Omens
3 Arid Mesa
4 Celestial Colonnade
4 Glacial Fortress
3 Scalding Tarn
1 Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre
2 Scepter of Dominance
1 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
1 Ajani Vengeant
4 Baneslayer Angel
1 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
2 Oblivion Ring
The original version of this deck — with which I did most of the playtesting — had no Wall of Omens; they don’t have Wall of Omens on MTGO. That version had one more copy of Martial Coup, Mind Spring, Cancel, and Island.
I had to shave four cards to fit four Walls but didn’t know which ones initially. I felt like four copies of three different X-spells was super sexy; but even with Critical Mass, I made key changes to cards we played for deck naming purposes at the 11th hour to improve performance (if I hadn’t cut some Gnarled Masses for Consuming Vortexes, I wouldn’t have beaten Tim in the Top 4 of the PTQ, for the slot). Wall of Omens is certainly good enough to warrant cutting stuff.
The X-spells went under the Thomas Dodd school of “when playing a Flores deck, cut the most expensive card”; Cancel went on account of being an unplayably bad piece of poop, and with four more cantrips, I could afford to cut a surplus Island. Grok? Good.
So why is this deck tBVotBD?
Basically I started with the super successful Tapout U/W decks and realized that as good as they are, they are structurally unsound decks. These are decks that have to win with creatures, but they are themselves full of Wrath of God, playing in rooms full of Wrath of God. By substituting mediocre cards like Sphinx of Jwar Isle with awesome sauce like Ajani Vengeant, we can create, basically, King Hulk.
King Hulk, the Green Scar
We all know that Hulk is the Strongest One There Is. The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets. Hulk’s main flaws are 1) he is an idiot, and 2) he is counterbalanced by a pantywaisted genius. However when Hulk perceived a betrayal by Earth’s leading heroes resulting in the death of his wife, he was able to manifest a version that was in complete agreement with itself. Both Hulk and Banner were loved by her, and so in seeking a mutual revenge they felt a solidarity of purpose. Moreover the loss of his wife made Hulk madder than ever; limitless rage equating with limitless potential.
King Hulk was able to defeat basically every hero on the planet Earth, up to and including the Sorcerer Supreme — the king of all Magic — Dr. Strange. That’s how awesome sauce he was.
And with this deck we have the commensurate King Hulk manifestation in Magic: The Gathering. A U/W deck that is not at odds with itself. It plays a high level of threats but doesn’t destroy them itself. In fact, with a larger Wrath of God count, including Martial Coup which is the strongest one of them all (kind of the Hulk of Wrath of God variants), it can overpower regular Tapout U/W decks planning to win with Knight of the White Orchid beatdown, et al.
That is the baseline theory of the deck.
The practice of the deck is to constantly refill its hand with cantrips and card drawing while engaging in mana-profitable activities, like trading one card for many cards or activating Planeswalkers to awesome sauce effect.
Because these are probably easy concepts for readers of this blog to understand, I won’t belabor them; expect a longer exploration of the deck on Monday. For now, I will just explain some of the more unusual card choices:
You basically have to play two Counterspells in a deck like this. I would prefer to play Countersquall but these colors don’t let you play Countersquall. So the other option is Negate, which is basically a terrible Countersquall.
Aside on Countersquall v. Negate
When [someone] was in [his] mid-20s [he] dated mostly women in their 30s. [This person] dated a fair range, from not-quite-20 to late 30s.
Countersquall is a stunning thirtysomething, the fine wine of permission. Initially you will look at Countersquall and see a Negate with some disincentive. The Black mana nags at you for a moment until you realize that given your resources, there is basically no difference between BU and U1. So once you get past that Black you see that Countersquall is actually just the Negate that knows what she is doing, knows what she wants, and gets there aggressively.
Negate on balance is only a sometimes-Countersquall, and when she is a Countersquall, a less effective one. Negate isn’t sure who she is, and is in fact sometimes Essence Scatter — almost the opposite of what you want — and sometimes a Flashfreeze, which is a whole other story.
In sum, Negate can give you the benefits of Countersquall, but not really help you get there (you still have to do about one [absolute] mana more work without getting one mana more value); and a fair amount of the time, Negate isn’t even Negate.
Negate can drive you crazy.
Countersquall gives you basically exactly what you want, and does so expediently.
You see, the Counterspells in Standard are so bad that you really only want to counter one spell (maybe two if you count Cruel Ultimatum) and that spell is Mind Sludge. That is why you want Countersquall. Unable to play Countersquall I refused to play her penniless wannabe twentysomething [toothless] cousin, so opted for two Cancels.
I figured that sometimes I might have to Counterspell an Eldrazi giant, so mize.
That said, Cancel is without a doubt the worst card in this 75, so it was a not difficult cut when I had to go Wall of Omens, even if it put me behind the default two copies of Mind Sludge on the head-to-head.
Easily the best Blue card in Standard — yes, better than Jace, the Mind Sculptor — and the only reason this kind of a deck is so dominant (yep, I said it) against Jund and Red Decks. Had this been Treasure Hunt or See Beyond, we could lose to level up or Raging Ravine. Instead we draw cards while putting the opponent further and further behind on the battlefield so that he can commit more and more resources into our…
Scepter of Dominance
This card will be Staple in White decks following this weekend. I originally brainstormed it for the Borderland Ranger deck as a method of 15/15-suppression that also had other functions. This card basically does exactly what you want… Smashes Hell’s Thunder, forces creature decks into over-commitment, protects you from Celestial Colonnade after you play Wrath of God on Mythic, laughs off Gideon Jura, and gets the opponent into the complete lockdown. Do you know how many times I have gotten the triple Spreading Seas, Ajani Vengeant, Scepter of Dominance manascrew draw? Once. That’s right — once; but it was freaking awesome.
Like I said I will report more on Monday, but I wanted to make sure my sicky sick loyalists had the sauce for tomorrow.
I plan to win. You should now, too.