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Mythic Versus Control

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[Hello, everyone 🙂 This is an offering from Brook Gardner-Durbin as a Guest Author. I know he's looking to write more regularly, and it's in part up to you all to determine whether or not that will be at Quiet Speculation! When you're done reading, please don't be shy about commenting below on whether you liked it or not. Here's a hint though: It's some really good stuff. -Dylan]

Ahh, Mythic, how I love thee - let me count the ways. I would actually count, but me counting from one until my keyboard broke would be a fairly boring read, so I'd like to talk about how to beat Control decks instead.

I started playing Mythic when it was Standard, right after I saw Zvi Mowshowitz's first list, playing Rafiq of the Many and Finest Hour. While I normally prefer U/x Control decks, the ability to win the game on turn 4 or grind out a long game with a Control deck is quite appealing. At the end of the season I had switched to the Eldrazi Conscription build, and was sad to see it go. When Extended season rolled around recently, I hoped that it would be able to mount a comeback. To my delight, it appears it has.

Here is the list that got second in a Magic Online PTQ on 01-02-2011, played by Celldweller:

The first thing most people familiar with last Standard season would notice is that this looks almost identical to the list when it was Standard. Other than the Scars duals, every card in this list was in Standard, which shows what a beast this deck was.

The deck is built around the Sovereigns-Conscription combo, which allows you turn a superfluous Bird or Hierarch into a 10-power behemoth with haste. While the Annihilator doesn't trigger the first time it attacks, because both Annihilator and the Sovereigns ability trigger when the creature is declared as an attacker, an attack with Sovereigns in play is usually good game. Even if the first attack doesn't kill them, you have a 4/5 to block with and the second attack will always finish them, as you can search a second Conscription up, and the Annihilator of the first will now trigger.

The rest of the deck is support staff. There are Birds and Hierarchs to accelerate, along with Lotus Cobra and Knight of the Reliquary. While Knight alone only produces one mana per turn (by sacrificing a tapped land and putting an untapped one into play) with Lotus Cobra she can make three.

The Knights are also a large threat themselves, which can go along with the Elspeths, Colonnades, and Dauntless Escorts to present an army that is not dependant on the Sovereigns combo to win. The Escorts also serve as protection against Wrath effects or other disruption, along with the Mana Leaks. Jace, the Mind Sculptor does what Jace always does, allowing you to put a Conscription back into your deck if you draw it, dig for a Sovereigns or whatever else you need, keep an opponent from topdecking their out with his +2, or even as an alternate win condition if the board gets clogged up too much.

Against most decks, your plan is simply to race them. You have Leaks to disrupt them a little, and your clock is about turn 4-5, so you can race with the best of them. The deck isn't very hard to pilot once you have a few games under your belt, so I'm going to talk about the more interesting games - those against Control.

When playing against Control, you have two possible plans. If you have the draw for it, you can go for a quick game and try to kill them as soon as possible. That draw, however, doesn't happen very often. You need the mana for a quick Sovereigns and multiple Mana Leaks to protect your the Sovereigns when you cast it and your attacker for two turns, long enough to kill them. This plan usually isn't very good against Control, because even if you have the mana producers for an early Sovereigns and the Mana Leaks to protect, they have multiple chances to disrupt you. They can fight you over the Sovereigns when you cast it, leaving you tapped out, then untap and Day of Judgment or use spot removal on the Sovereigns. Even if you got in an attack before they died, thats not going to kill your opponent, and a Wrath effect will usually leave you far behind. A manland or another creature or two can finish the job, as a single attack with a Sovereigns in play is going to deal at least eleven damage, but I generally prefer to go for a slower game.

One thing I think many people underestimate is Mythic's ability to last in a long game, which is its biggest asset against Control. Between your Planeswalkers and manlands, it's not hard to have a significant board presence with only one or two creatures committed. The Knights, in particular, are frequently quite large, which lets you play out a single threat at a time and make the opponent answer it before committing another.

Your biggest advantage against Control is that you have the ability to tap out, and they don't. If you tap out for a threat and it is countered, you can simply untap and try again the next turn. On the other hand, if the Control player taps out for anything, you can play a Sovereigns on your turn and hit them immediately, or force through a Jace or Elspeth. There are few things that the Control player can tap out for that are as bad for you as what you can do back to them. Cruel Ultimatum is the most widely played one.

My usual plan when I play Mythic against a Control deck is to go ahead and play out my mana and try to put out a single threat at a time, making them answer it before committing anything else to the board. You can put yourself out of Mana Leak range fairly quickly, which makes them either use two Leaks to counter your threat or use a Cryptic Command. If you have a Leak of your own, you can use it to force through an important spell and ride the resolved threat as long as you can. Eventually they will have to tap out to answer it, which will give you another window to force through another threat or two. The spells most worth fighting over with your counters are your Planeswalkers and Knight of the Reliquary - everything else is worth using as a test spell to soak them out of counters. The Planeswalkers are important because they create a continuous advantage and can't simply be Path to Exiled in the end step, and the Knight is your biggest threat besides Sovereigns. She can add mana, protect herself or another creature from spot removal by searching up the Sejiri Steppe, and represents a significant chunk of the opponent's life total.

Sideboarding

Celldwellers had seven cards worth considering when sideboarding against a Control deck - the two Spell Pierces, the two Jace Belerens, and the three Kitchen Finks. The counters are good for forcing through your threats and countering their Wrath effects or other threats; the Belerens can come in before their counter shields are up, especially if they have Vivid lands or you have a turn one accelerator, and Jace Beleren allows you to outdraw them into the late game; the Finks can provide additional defense against both board sweepers or spot removal.

That leaves the question of, "What to take out?" Because I prefer trying to grind the Control decks more than trying to beat them in the early game, I take out the Birds of Paradise. Bringing out the Birds obviously lowers your chances of a quick game, but that's fine with me since that isn't my plan anyway. Their absence also increases the value of your topdecks later in the game, ensuring you are drawing action instead of blanks. By cutting your Birds you are also lowering your vulnerability to Volcanic Fallout, which can be a blowout if you have too many accelerators in play.

After bringing out the Birds and putting in the two Pierces and the Jaces, I swap one Sovereigns of Lost Alara for one Kitchen Finks. It would be nice to put in the others, but I'm not sure what else could be cut. I could see an argument made for cutting one of the Conscriptions for another Finks, but I am always worried about drawing one naturally without a Jace, the Mind Sculptor to put it back, especially because you are bringing in extra small Jaces. Bringing in the small Jaces means you are drawing more cards, which increases your chances of drawing the Conscription, and more importantly it means you may end up in a situation where you have a small Jace in play with two or three counters and a big Jace in hand that you can't cast to put back the Conscription in your hand.

Other options for the sideboarding include Vendillion Clique, Cryptic Command, or Qasali Pridemage, or of course additional Spell Pierces or Jace Belerens. The Clique serves as an additional way to win the counter war, as three power with flash is nothing to sneeze at. The fact that it can strip away a Wrath effect or something similar is icing on the cake. Pridemage could be used to destroy any Oblivion Rings they might have, as well as giving you a two-drop. With the Birds gone, you don't have much to do on the second turn if you don't have a Hierarch, so another two drop helps with the curve. There aren't many Oblvion Rings in most control decks at the moment, however, and the mana curve argument isn't as strong as some other, so I wouldn't be sideboarding the Pridemages just for control. Rather, I might sideboard them for other matchups, such as Wargate or Faeries, and consider bringing them in against control if I decided they were better than something else.

The Cryptic Commands can allow you to stick a bear of some sort, then sit back and attack with it, holding up your counter mana for anything threatening. They probably aren't as good at this as an additional Spell Pierce, so while useful, I'd see them like I see the Pridemages - worth considering if they are already in the board for other matchups, such as a creature mirror, but I wouldn't sideboard them for Control alone. The triple Blue mana cost is also worth noting, as that could be a problem if your mana dorks are killed.

Here is another list, which got fourth place at another recent PTQ, in the hands of Sean McKeon:

I feel like a kid on Christmas morning! Sean swapped the Dauntless Escorts for maindeck Vendilion Cliques, cut the Mana Leaks for Thoughtsiezes, then cut the six Planeswalkers for two Cryptic Commands, three Chameleon Colossuses, and an extra land.

The Escorts and Cliques are similar in purpose, as both allow you to protect your army from Wrath effects. The Escorts are better against other creature decks if you are unable to find a Sovereigns, but the Cliques Flash and Flying seem better against Control. The Cryptic's ability to tap an opposing team seems more than able to make up for the points you lose against other creature decks from choosing Vendilion Clique over Dauntless Escort, and having a counterspell effect in the main helps against Control, especially considering the next change - from Mana Leaks to Thoughtsieze. The Thoughtsiezes again serve a similar funtion to the counters, but like the change from Escorts to Cliques, it is a change from reactive to proactive. The mana doesn't seem like it would be particularly difficult, as this list is playing eight saclands that could get the one Murmuring Bosk in addition to the Birds and Lotus Cobra. I haven't had a chance to play with this list yet, so I'm not entirely sure how to evaluate the difference between the Planeswalkers and the Chameleon Colossus. Even if you only have the mana to double the Colossus' power once it will still be a significant threat, and if you ever get to eight mana it will become a question that must be answered or they die. With Cliques and Thoughtsiezes to strip away those answers, it's easily conceivable that it could go the distance alone, as the Planeswalkers it replaced could. I would probably rather have a Colossus than an Elspeth against other Black-based decks in the format, such as Jund or Fae, so that is another change I couldd agree with, at least for now.

I don't think it is a coincidence that Celldwellers list looked almost identical to the old Standard lists and came from the first PTQ, while Sean's list was from a later date and has added a full color to the deck, in addition to making other significant changes. Mythic is a deck that normally plays three colors, and can easily add another due to its flexible manabase, which allows for an incredible number of options. Just as 4CC can customize itself to have nearly any answers to the expected threats, Mythic can change to present the questions not expected to be answered. The fact Mythic's raw power level is above average for current Extended and it is easily customizable to any predicted metagame, combined with its good matchup against the Control decks, makes it one of the best decks in Extended today and an excellent choice for any upcoming PTQ or other tournament.

Before I go, here are a few tricks when playing with the deck:

Murmuring Bosk is a Forest - remember you can get it with any of the fetchlands, or sacrifice it to Knight of the Reliquary.

Knight of the Reliquary can sacrifice a tapped land and search for one to put into play untapped, allowing you to make an additional mana if you want it. Not only can this be used to accelerate you, you can also get some opponents when they cast Mana Leak into your two sources of mana and Knight.

Knight can also search for non-basics, allowing you to search for fetchlands, and use those to get another land to sacrifice the next turn. If you have a Lotus Cobra in play this is three mana (turn a tapped land into fetch, making a mana off Cobra, sacrifice it to put another land into play and make another off the Cobra, then tap the land you searched for).

The Knight can also search for a manland at the end of turn, giving you an extra attacker on your turn.

Sovereigns is a may ability, not a must. If you suspect/know they have targeted removal in hand, you can attack them with a bear and choose not to search until they are at a low enough life total they have to pull the trigger.

If you have put two cards you don't want on top with Jace, the Mind Sculptor and don't have a way to shuffle with a Knight or fetchland, you can search with Sovereigns and fail to find the Conscription if you don't want to (or can't), just to shuffle them away.

Exalted and Chameleon Colossus pumps - put them on the stack in the right order, kids.

Qasali Pridemage can be sacrificed after its Exalted trigger is on the stack, before blockers are declared, if the opponent has a blocker that is an Artifact.

Elspeth, Knight-Errant gives flying. I promise.

Noble Hierarch doesn't cast Thoughtsieze, but Lotus Cobra does.

Valakut checks both when the ability triggers and on resolution, so you can respond to the trigger by searching up your Tectonic Edge with Knight and killing the Valakut, which means you will take no damage.

Thanks for reading!

Brook Gardner-Durbin
@BGardnerDurbin on Twitter

14 thoughts on “Mythic Versus Control

  1. Very well written Article. It is nice to see someone explain a deck as opposed to just rramble on how good it is. This guy would be a great addition to any site. I look forward to seeing more of his musings.

  2. Definitely a solid read. Always good to get more perspectives from people who have studied and tested particular decks. Never have been a mythic fan, played it a few times, obviously strong but I feel like the extended deck has potential to be just as dominating as its standard counterpart.

  3. Nice article mate. Definitely enjoyed playing Mythic when you had thrown it together for me earlier last year and having been missing the sillieness of KoTR and Lotus Cobra. Glad to see its still a contender. Makes me wonder if other decklists from previous standard can make the cut.

  4. Tec Edging the Valakut isn't going to prevent the damage from it; if they had 5 mountains when they triggered it, they're still going to have 5 mountains afterwards. Just no Valakut.

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