I unintentionally overslept the Saturday prerelease this weekend, but I was able to make the Sunday Sealed flight. I could still taste the alcohol on my breath from a long night of live metal and the Wonder Pets drinking game, but I’ve played under worse conditions.
The pool that I received was really underwhelming. Pretty much all of my playable cards cost four mana and I had very few tricks in any color. With my pool being as boring as it was, I started looking around the table to see if anybody else was doing something sweet. I wasn’t wholly disappointed.
The gentleman sitting across from me was working on a blue/white deck with a red splash. Splashing is one of the more interesting aspects of Magic to me, as opinions tend to vary widely over what is worth splashing and when. One of the three red cards that my potential opponent intended to splash was the mighty Goblin Arsonist. Truly I was in the Presence of the Master.
The deck that I played was an unimpressive pile of green and black cards that, for the most part, were horribly inefficient. I got stomped pretty hard by Akroma's Memorial in round one. Did you know that it gives pro-black? Yeah, me too, but I was still mad about it.
Between rounds I birded a couple locals playing some Standard. One was playing an awful version of mono-green aggro and the other was playing some RUG good cards concoction.
Of course, what he meant was every card that his opponent played in games that he didn’t win was too good - such is the nature of the scrub. Still, I couldn’t help but be bothered by his poor card evaluation.
Sure, Ponder is restricted in Vintage, and I don’t wholly disagree with that, but it’s far better in Vintage than it is in Standard. In Standard there are virtually zero shuffle effects and not a single restricted card to dig to. Realistically, Ponder is at its strongest in Standard when it allows you to shuffle away three cards that you don’t want. I mean, if you’re keeping all three cards then how much of a difference does it make to draw one a turn or two earlier?
In fact, the weakness of Ponder as compared to draw spells like Compulsive Research and Careful Consideration is the exact reason that I haven’t been keen on playing any manner of control deck recently. Ponder doesn’t generate any card advantage, which is what a control deck needs to deal with the fact that they spend the majority of the game playing from behind.
I know, I know, players have been having notable success with Esper lately. I will grant that Chris Anderson’s Esper midrange deck looks very solid, but it’s not what I look for in a controlling strategy. The Esper deck makes up for the lack of good draw spells by jamming a lot of powerful cards that fill similar roles. There’s not much difference between a turn three Blade Splicer or Lingering Souls. I like that the deck generates strong board positions and can go over the top with Sun Titan, but there’s just something missing…
It doesn’t durdle enough.
I just want to sit back, draw cards, kill my opponent’s stuff and eventually win somehow. Restoration Angel just isn’t that appealing to me. It’s a little too good at its job.
Historically I’ve been pretty big on the type of U/R/x control decks that are commonly referred to as “counterburn”. I love drawing cards and I love having reach. Why make a million Golem tokens when I can just kill my opponent dead with Bonfire of the Damned while grinding them out with six cards in hand?
When Avacyn Restored launched I was very excited for both Desolate Lighthouse and Tamiyo, the Moon Sage. I brewed up a blue/red pile that featured these cards alongside some Bonfire of the Damned, some permission and some Snapcaster Mages. As I suspected, the deck ended up being a little too inconsistent/slow to compete with Delver and I shelved it.
Augur of Bolas might be exactly what it was missing.
To be entirely honest, I wasn’t initially impressed by Nicol Bolas’ fish friend, but that’s because I was looking at him through the wrong lens. I was asking myself if Augur of Bolas fit into any existing archetypes and I didn’t’ feel like it did. It has a body that is pretty out of place in Delver and the Esper Midrange deck is a little too heavy on creatures. On the other hand, he’s right at home in a durdly pile of spells. I’ve been playing the following deck on the MTGO Beta all weekend:
It’s pretty clear that I’ve made a lot of concessions to the aggressive decks. I’m not excited about game one against anything controlling, but I feel like I have a serious edge against aggressive decks. Bonfire of the Damned is an insane Plague Wind variant, Augur of Bolas is a solid blocker and the rest of the removal suite does its job pretty well.
Some of the card choices might appear a bit odd, so here’s a brief overview of why I made certain calls the way that I did:
Frost Titan over Consecrated Sphinx
This is probably the choice that I feel is most debatable. By that, I mean that everybody else is going to say that I’m just wrong for not picking Sphinx.
The choice that I made hinges largely on the fact that Frost Titan is a lot better at closing games than Consecrated Sphinx. This deck is already very good at drawing cards and the “ice” ability is surprisingly powerful. Further, Phantasmal Image-ing a Titan is considerably more back-breaking in most situations.
Frost Titan is also a concession to both Cavern of Souls and the deck’s general difficulty in dealing with high-toughness creatures. Frosty does a wonderful job at pulling you back into games when you’re behind and is much more difficult for Delver to just ignore via Vapor Snag.
That all said, I fully intend to pack a couple Sphinxes on my sideboard, which isn’t listed only because it’s a work in progress. I think that it’s fine to have more heavy drops in sideboarded games when I can take out cards like Pillar of Flame or Mana Leak in the matchups where they’re not very good, whereas I want to have a higher volume of cheap reactive cards in the maindeck.
Whipflare over Slagstorm
I honestly wouldn’t fault anybody for wanting Slagstorm, but I feel that Vapor Snag and Dismember can get you there against Splicer a fair amount of the time, with Whipflare being considerably better against opposing Geist of Saint Trafts. With Splicer showing up a lot more these days I may end up making the switch or going for a split.
Vapor Snag over more actual removal
Vapor Snag is really good at buying time, which is all this deck really needs against aggressive decks. It’s also helps out with Restoration Angel, which is variably problematic depending on whether or not the opponent has Cavern of Souls. I almost want another Dismember over one of the Snags, but the life loss is kind of tough. All I know for certain is that whatever I’d cut a Snag for would have to play well against opposing Angels.
Think Twice over Desperate Ravings
I’ve never been huge on Desperate Ravings. I get that it digs deeper than Think Twice, but I really hate the idea of randomly discarding my Bonfires or Titans with so few ways to kill my opponent in the deck. Ravings enthusiasts and/or lucksacks should certainly play Ravings in this slot, but I’m not huge on it in a deck with few win conditions and minimal ways to play out of the graveyard.
Of course, the most pressing question isn't about specific card choices…
Is this deck even any good?
I’m not about to tell you that this deck is going to turn Standard on its head. What it does do is beat up on deck like GR aggro, Zombies and assorted garbage like the mono-black decks that have been popping up. It’s entirely possible that the current list is too soft against Esper and Restoration Angel in general, but only more testing and the development of the metagame in coming weeks will tell if it has any place in Standard competition.
What I can tell you definitively is that Ponder and Augur of Bolas play extremely well together. Having the two makes it easy to dig very deep into your deck if you’re searching for a specific instant or sorcery. Additionally, you can leave an instant or sorcery on the top of your deck with Ponder in order to ensure that your Augur cantrips, or just use your Augur to put the cards you didn’t want from Ponder on the bottom of your deck.
I’ll either be running something close to this deck or Delver this weekend in St. Louis. I’m really hoping that I’ll be able to work the kinks out of dURdles though, because the Ponder + Augur of Bolas engine has been very solid thus far in my testing, and is exactly the kind of Magic that I like to play.
Wish me luck.