Hey everyone, my name is Noah Whinston. For those who don’t know me, I’m very involved with Magic strategy content. I’m a paid writer for tcgplayer.com, a podcaster for blackborder.com and I maintain one of many Magic blogs at Tends Towards Infinity. There, I do something that I haven’t seen all that much anywhere else: I provide MTGO Constructed walkthroughs by recording games as I play them along with my commentary and thought process. I’ve also recently started doing Deck Techs with the decks I use in the videos so that viewers can get a better idea of the specific cards in them. If this sounds like something you’d be interested in, don’t hesitate to check out my work.
My history with Quiet Speculation is shorter. I first started reading the site just before Kelly made his Bushwhacker Breakthrough, as I like to call it. After Boros top 8ed the first Star City Games 5k, Kelly was kind enough to discuss the deck with me, and provide me some excellent quotes for my first article on TCG Player. From then on, I have been one of the sites many devotees, and base all of my card investments on it. I’ve wanted to write a guest spot for the site for a long time, but have never found the time until now, so I’m glad to finally be here.
The main topic I wanted to talk about today is a financial response to the Standard portion of the recent Star City Games 5k. The winner was Louis Scott-Vargas, well known for his appearances in Pro Tour top 8s, piloting a UWR Control deck. The deck put another copy into the top 8 in the hands of Jeff Huang. It is built around a defensive shell of Wall of Denials, cheap spot removal like Lightning Bolt and Path, and counterspells like Flashfreeze. After getting itself out of the early game, the deck takes control of the board through Earthquake and Ajani Vengeant, keeps its hand full with Jace and Mind Spring, and finishes off the opponent with Sphinx of Jwar Isle.
I don’t know how many of you are familiar with the theory behind stages of a game of Magic, so here it is in a nutshell. The game starts off in stage 1, where players play out their first few turns, build up their mana, but do little that affects the board. In stage 2, the midgame, the board becomes more cluttered as players drop reasonably sized creatures. And in stage 3, the finishers come down to end the game.
To give an example of this stage theory, Mono Red is a deck that is heavily focused on stages 1 and 2. It wants to come out of the gates quickly and finish off the opponent before it can get outpowered.
On the other hand, a control deck wants to get out of the early stages of the game as fast as possible so that it can deploy its undeniably more powerful cards, but to do so it needs the tools to make sure it is not overwhelmed in the early game.
So as an immediate aftereffect of these results, the number of people playing UWR will rise, perhaps even more than normal because they see a well-known pro playing it. To look at how to exploit a metagame full of UWR Control and Jund (because that, as we know, is ever-present), we need to use Stage theory to exploit these two decks’ weaknesses. Both Jund and UWR Control have a weak stage 1. Jund decks rarely run Putrid Leech anymore, so their first board presence is going to be a turn 3 Thrinax at the earliest. UWR Control is in the same situation, but starts out with a turn 3 Wall of Denial. Because of both these decks weak early games, a fast aggro deck seems like a good way to attack these strategies. Here, our two options are Boros and Mono-Red. Boros has been falling by the wayside as of late. It has a poor matchup vs. Jund, due to Boros’ inability to recover from having its first two threats Bolted. Mono-Red, on the other hand, is well-known to have a good Jund matchup. Mono-Red has seen a large rise in play, up to the third most popular deck at the 5k, because of this Jund matchup, but it’s matchup against UWR is less good. Why? Because Wall of Denial is really good against 6/1s that die at end of turn. What Red lacks is a way to push through late-game damage amidst a barrage of counterspells and Planeswalkers. To deal with this weakness, I’ve been brainstorming up a Red deck fast enough to out-race Jund, but still having late game threats that can deal with a Control deck. I introduce to you, Big Red:
4 Arid Mesa
4 Scalding Tarn
3 Teetering Peaks
2 Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
4 Goblin Guide
4 Plated Geopede
4 Hellspark Elemental
4 Ball Lightning
4 Hell’s Thunders
2 Obsidian Fireheart
2 Siege-Gang Commander
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Burst Lightning
I based this list off of an article by Adrian Sullivan on Star City Games. In it, he talked about some of his ideas for Mono-Red at States, and his innovative use of the late game card slots opened my eyes. Prior to then, all of the Red decks I had constructed, and most of the ones putting up good results at tournaments, used their 4 drops for 4 Quenchable Fire, an understandably fine choice in a format with no Blue. With Blue back in the metagame, it’s a much better strategy to have a late game consisting of repeatable damage sources.
Obsidian Fireheart is the first of these. Fireheart is not only excellent against Control if you can get it to stick, as it will become uncounterable burn turn after turn, but is also decent vs. Jund and other midrange decks. The base power and toughness of a creature in Standard at the moment is 3/3, and having 4 toughness makes Obsidian Fireheart one of the bigger bodies on the board. Sullivan’s original list ran 2 copies of Elemental Appeal instead of my 2 Siege-Gang Commanders, but to fit the theme of repeatable damage and card advantage, I think Commander is a better choice. It’s very good against Control because if it resolves, only a Day of Judgment or Earthquake can really clean up the board. If you can untap with it, you can likely convert it into 6 points of direct burn.
By replacing cards like Quenchable Fire with Commander and Fireheart, we remove effective card disadvantage from the deck. If you point a Quenchable Fire at your opponent’s head and it doesn’t kill them, you have achieved nothing unless you have the ability to kill with the remaining cards in your hand. It’s the last burn spell that kills you.
On the other end of the spectrum, we can exploit weakness in Jund’s and UWR Control’s stage 3. Grixis Control has a tremendously powerful lategame, one that can take out both Jund and opposing control decks. Grixis decks have the ability to run the card advantage titan Cruel Ultimatum, which outpowers any other deck in the field when it resolves. Cruel Ultimatum combined with Sorin Markov and the nigh-immortal Sphinx of Jwar Isle give Grixis the undisputed best late game in the format, but getting there is sometimes half the battle.
How can you capitalize on these metagame fluctuations? One of the most overlooked tools in a trader’s arsenal is the ability to predict trends not just one step ahead, but two steps ahead of everyone else. For example, if Dredge wins a Pro Tour, buying up not just Dredge cards, but anti-Dredge sideboard cards is a smart move. While it’s true there’s more risk involved in trying to be that far ahead of the curve, the rewards available for reaping are so much the greater. So if UWR wins a 5k, while everyone else may be buying up their Ajani Vengeants and Jaces, you could be looking ahead to your Cruel Ultimatums and Ball Lightnings. Using this strategy, you can be on the bleeding edge of the metagame at all times and always be trading in relevant cards.