The Other Sphinx

As I mentioned on Yo! MTG Taps!, I have been thinking quite a bit about the “other” Zendikar sphinx, Sphinx of Lost Truths. While I think this was the first sphinx to get any love (Gavin Verhey included it in a Sphinx Control list just after Zendikar’s release, and it was in a deck that made the top 8 of a Last Chance Qualifier for Pro Tour Austin), it seemed to quickly be overshadowed by its bigger untouchable brother, Sphinx of Jwar Isle.

True, it did see the light of day in a few Dredge lists at Pro Tour Austin, but I can’t help but think there’s great potential for this guy in Standard.

First, let’s take a look at Gavin’s deck:
Maindeck:

Artifacts
4 Courier’s Capsule

Creatures
3 Sphinx Of Lost Truths

Instants
4 Lightning Bolt
3 Negate
2 Terminate

Planeswalkers
3 Chandra Nalaar
4 Jace Beleren

Sorceries
3 Cruel Ultimatum
4 Pyroclasm
4 Wretched Banquet

Basic Lands
4 Island
5 Mountain
4 Swamp

Lands
4 Crumbling Necropolis
1 Dragonskull Summit
4 Drowned Catacomb
1 Magosi, The Waterveil
4 Scalding Tarn

Sideboard:
4 Countersquall
3 Essence Scatter
1 Negate
2 Terminate
2 Liliana Vess
2 Haunting Echoes
1 Magosi, The Waterveil

This was the list I originally planned on running when Zendikar first hit the stores. However, Richard Feldman presented such a great argument for his URW “Rembrandt” deck that I switched to his list before I even got a chance to try Gavin’s. After feeling like the Feldman list was lackluster, I switched to a Kyle Sanchez version of Izzet Control (UR), cutting the white for more mana consistency. Of course, as I stated a few weeks ago, that version seemed to be a bit deficient as well. I never felt like I had the right answers in my hand.

Last week I asked Gavin whether he felt his Sphinx Control deck was still a viable choice for Standard, and he pointed me to Patrick Chapin’s Wafo-Grixis build (it’s technically Guillaume Wafo-Tapa’s Grixis list, with a few modifications by Chapin).

While the list is from a StarCityGames Premium article (and I encourage everyone to sign up for SCG Premium, it’s well worth it), I am going to justify posting it here because I just found the list easily without even visiting the StarCity site (thanks Google!):

Wafo-Grixis (as modified by Patrick Chapin)
Maindeck:

Creatures
3 Sphinx Of Lost Truths

Instants
2 Countersquall
2 Essence Scatter
3 Flashfreeze
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Terminate

Planeswalkers
2 Sorin Markov

Sorceries
3 Cruel Ultimatum
4 Divination
3 Earthquake
4 Sign In Blood

Basic Lands
2 Island
2 Mountain
6 Swamp

Lands
4 Crumbling Necropolis
4 Drowned Catacomb
4 Dragonskull Summit
4 Scalding Tarn

Sideboard:
1 Pithing Needle
1 Relic Of Progenitus
3 Malakir Bloodwitch
2 Siege-gang Commander
1 Sphinx Of Jwar Isle
2 Countersquall
1 Flashfreeze
1 Negate
2 Deathmark
1 Thought Hemorrhage

If you read Lloyd Frias’ tournament report, you might recall that this was the list that he used as the basis for his States-winning deck.

In the meantime, I’ve been working on my own build of Cruel Control, which—after suggestions and playtesting—has slowly evolved to be quite similar to the lists above.

Here it is, Super Sphinx Bros.:
Maindeck:

Artifacts
3 Courier’s Capsule

Creatures
1 Sphinx of Jwar Isle
2 Sphinx Of Lost Truths

Instants
4 Lightning Bolt
2 Flashfreeze
2 Essence Scatter
2 Countersquall
4 Terminate
3 Double Negative

Sorceries
3 Cruel Ultimatum
2 Earthquake

Planeswalkers
3 Jace Beleren
1 Sorin Markov
1 Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker

Basic Lands
6 Island
3 Mountain
4 Swamp

Lands
2 Crumbling Necropolis
4 Dragonskull Summit
4 Drowned Catacomb
4 Scalding Tarn

Sideboard:
4 Spreading Seas
1 Sphinx of Jwar Isle
1 Telemin Performance
2 Malakir Bloodwitch
2 Flashfreeze
2 Chandra Nalaar
1 Earthquake
2 Pithing Needle

As you might expect, the deck is constantly evolving. The most recent changes were cutting Sign in Blood for Courier’s Capsule, and shaving a Countersquall and a Double Negative to fit Sorin and Bolas. (These changes came after talking to Lloyd about his card choices on Yo! Ep 6). So far, so good. I’m liking Sorin and Bolas, but I haven’t played Capsule enough to notice a big difference between it and Sign in Blood.

On the Top8Magic podcast, Mike Flores mentioned that when he designed Naya Lightsaber, he made sure not to run any lands that didn’t at least have a good chance of coming into play untapped (ie., the M10 duals). The more I thought about this strategy, the more I wondered: Why couldn’t this work for a control deck? The resulting manabase I’ve come up with has only two lands that enter the battlefield tapped (Crumbling Necropolis). For me, this—along with running a sizable amount of instants—has worked WONDERS. Being able to interact in the early game has been crucial. By allowing me to have an impact before my big spells are online, this mana configuration forces my opponents to keep applying pressure in order to have any chance of winning, and helps set me up for the late game, where the deck shines. There is even the possibility of a turn 5 Sphinx of Lost Truths, turn 6 Sorin (drop them to 10, swing for 3), turn 7 Cruel Ultimatum + swing or ping with Sorin for the win. Obviously, with only 1 copy of Sorin in the deck, it’s not going to happen regularly, but the potential is there.

     

This deck just feels so much more powerful than the Rembrandt and Izzet versions. I no longer have to rely on attacking with Sphinxes to win games; I have Sphinxes, Planeswalkers, and oh, that’s right, Cruel Ultimatum. Before, I was playing my ‘walkers out of necessity, because there was a threat that needed to be answered. Chandra was there to kill a Baneslayer and then die to any Llanowar Elf that was in the mood for a tussle. Ajani Vengeant (while still awesome), was difficult to protect when my own life total was in danger. But in this deck, the ‘walkers are threats in and of themselves.

Now, just a few stories from tonight.

Iona, Shield of Emeria is REALLY frustrating to play against. My opponent was playing a GW Summoning Trap deck, which would ramp up into Summoning Trap or, more often, Iona herself. It seemed like every time I tapped out for something, he would have the Iona or the Trap. With so much mana, hardcasting either spell was not a problem. In one game, I tapped out for Nicol Bolas and stole his tapped Rhox Meditant (my other choice was Birds of Paradise). At the end of my turn he plays Summoning Trap and gets a Rhox Meditant. On his turn he hardcasts Iona (naming black) and then attacks with Meditant into my Bolas, putting him on 1 loyalty and leaving me unable to deal with Iona. In two separate games I managed to destroy his Iona, only to see another one hit the board on his subsequent turn. I kept wishing for Into the Roil (which I had just removed from the sideboard because I had yet to use it). It’s likely I’ll remove the Spreading Seas from the ‘board to make room, because so far it hasn’t impressed me.

Also, tonight I had the opportunity to play against the Jacerator (TurboFog) deck that’s been seeing a lot of play. In game one, he rolled me. I tried to put up a fight, but I just had too many dead cards against that strategy (Flashfreeze, Terminate). In game two, however, I won on turn 5. You see, I had noticed the 1 copy of Telemin Performance in Lloyd’s sideboard, and I thought it was a decent card to try out. I sided it in for this matchup expecting to steal a Sphinx of Jwar Isle, which I knew my opponent was running. But lucky for me, he had sided it out. On his turn 4 he tapped out for Font of Mythos and passed the turn; I untapped and played Telemin Performance, and that was game. He had zero creatures in his library. Very exciting. It’s rare that one single spell wins the game on its own in one turn. WOW.

     

In game 3, he sided in Quest for Ancient Secrets to deal with the possibility of another loss to Telemin Performance. We battled back and forth a bit, and in the end, I was able to come up with enough burn to end the game before he could put together his combo. Because I hadn’t played any creatures thus far in the match, he sided out his removal and most of his fogs. I got there with Sphinx of Lost Truths + 2x Lightning Bolt + Earthquake (and a few timely counterspells, including a Double Negative for his Negate when he tried to counter my game-winning Earthquake).

     

Overall, a really fun evening of Magic. For the first time since Zendikar’s release, I feel like I have a deck that both fits my play style and has cards that I enjoy playing. Here’s to hoping Worldwake has some goodies in store for us island-lovers.

On one final note, I just wanted to mention the upcoming Baltimore Open, hosted by GoneToPlaid Games. I won’t be able to make it as I’ll be out of town, but this looks like a great option for anyone who can attend. Here’s the info:

$1,000 Standard Tournament
Followed by
$1,000 Extended Tournament

Saturday, December 19th 2009 at the Sheraton Inn Harbor Hotel
In the Inner Harbor of Baltimore

Entry fee for each tournament is $25

Prize structure:
1st – $400
2nd – $200
3rd-4th – $100
5th-8th – $50
$1,000 purse is guaranteed, additional prizes will be awarded based on attendance.
Doors open at 9:00 a.m.
The Standard Tournament will start at 10:00 am
The Extended Tournament will start at 1:00 pm

For more information, visit BaltimoreMTG.com.

CURRENTLY READING: Jonny Magic & The Card Shark Kids: How a Gang of Geeks Beat the Odds and Stormed Las Vegas.

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5 responses to “The Other Sphinx

  1. Great article. Here’s the list I’ve been playing, incorporating a number of elements from all the lists I’ve been reading.

    1 Sphinx of Jwar Isle
    1 Sphinx of Lost Truths

    4 Lightning Bolt
    2 Cancel
    4 Terminate
    2 Negate
    3 Double Negative
    3 Essence Scatter

    3 Cruel Ultimatum
    2 Earthquake

    4 Courier’s Capsule

    1 Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker
    1 Jace Beleren
    1 Chandra Nalaar
    1 Sorin Markov
    1 Liliana Vess

    2 Crumbling Necropolis
    4 Dragonskull Summit
    4 Drowned Catacomb
    4 Scalding Tarn
    5 Swamp
    4 Island
    3 Mountain

    Sideboard

    4 Spreading Seas
    4 Flashfreeze
    2 Pyroclasm
    2 Pithing Needle
    1 Telemin Performance
    2 Malakir Bloodwitch

  2. Yeah, I definitely like the idea of including Liliana. How’s Cancel been working for you? When I first saw it, I thought you might have just replaced Double Neg, but I see you’re running both. Has that been a problem at all?

  3. Hey, Joe, I’m glad that Telemin Performance worked so well for you. I never got the chance for a true test of the card vs Jacerator. I got the idea from Pedro Rodriguez’ article on tcgplayer. http://magic.tcgplayer.com/db/article.asp?id=8679

    Against Jacerator did you also sideboard in Pithing Needle? You can shut down Jace, as well as the Quest meant to counter your Telemin Performance.

    Here’s my question: How is Essence Scatter working for you both?

    I didn’t use Essence Scatter on the grounds that I felt I had enough removal maindeck as well as more versatile counters that running such a narrow card is unnecessary. I was also concerned with drawing an Essence Scatter after a creature resolves.

    • Yes, I sided in Needle, and actually drew both of them and played them naming Jace and Quest 🙂 That was game 3 (didn’t draw either in game 2, but obviously I didn’t need them).

      I like Scatter for opposing Sphinxes of Jwar Isle, Broodmates, & Thrinax. I agree I’ve got most creatures covered, but Shroud is a problem, as is any creature with a CIP ability. I figured running 2 was a decent compromise. When I’m playing vs Jund I know to hold them for Broodmates/Thrinax. Also, though I didn’t have one in hand at the time, it would’ve been nice to have countered Iona, since very little can deal with her once she’s on board (if your opponent is smart enough to name black, anyway). 🙂

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