Azorius Basterds

My name is Lt. Aldo Raine and I’m putting together a special team … Through our cruelty they will know who we are. And they will find the evidence of our cruelty in the disemboweled, dismembered, and disfigured bodies of their brothers we leave behind us. And [they] won’t be able to help themselves but to imagine the cruelty their brothers endured at our hands, and our boot heels, and the edge of our knives. And [they] will be sickened by us, and [they] will talk about us, and [they] will fear us. And when [they] close their eyes at night and they’re tortured by their subconscious for the evil they have done, it will be with thoughts of us they are tortured with. Sound good?
— Brad Pitt as Lt. Aldo Raine, Inglourious Basterds

Those that know me can probably tell you that nothing is more frustrating to me than not being able to hit all my colors and cast all my spells. I am generally a fan of consistency over power. Even in a Standard format with as much fixing as is currently available, I hesitate to play a three color deck.

That said, I’m pretty sure that playing a U/W control deck in this format requires at least a splash of some kind, be it red for Pillar of Flame (as seen in week one from Todd Anderson), green for Thragtusk and Farseek (like the Bant control deck suggested by Chapin), or black for access to Ultimate Price, Lingering Souls, and Sorin (such as the deck that Shaheen Soorani piloted to win Virginia States).

Clearly there are several ways to bastardize the Azorius deck, and personally I’ve run the gamut. I think splashing for Pillar early on was correct—even necessary, considering the saturation of Zombies that was expected. However, the majority of the Zombie population has since died out (“died out again?”), and if you’re going to go with red, I think the midrange/tempo strategies are probably a better fit. The format-defining beast that is Thragtusk, plus the addition of a “Mind Stone” in Farseek was very enticing, but the need to hit green mana on turn two to get the most out of Farseek (i.e. resolve Jace, Architect of Thought on turn three) required more than just a splash of green. In addition, playing Thragtusk in a white deck just begs for the inclusion of Restoration Angel (and to a slightly lesser extent, Angel of Serenity), which also plays nicely with cards like Centaur Healer. All of a sudden, instead of an Azorius control deck splashing green, you’re playing a Selesnya creature deck splashing blue. While both Bant Control and U/W/R Midrange are strong and valid strategies, neither is really my style.

Last Thursday, I read Shaheen Soorani’s articleahem—”Pledge to Lingering Souls,” and my interest was piqued. Then on Friday, Gerry Thompson featured an Esper deck by Michael Hetrick (_ShipItHolla) in the SCG Premium Newsletter:

4 Azorius Charm
2 Think Twice
2 Ultimate Price
2 Syncopate
3 Sphinx’s Revelation
13 Instants

4 Lingering Souls
4 Terminus
8 Sorceries

4 Detention Sphere
4 Enchantments

4 Jace, Architect of Thought
3 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
2 Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
9 Planeswalkers

4 Drowned Catacomb
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Island
4 Isolated Chapel
2 Nephalia Drownyard
4 Plains
26 Lands

Both of these lists were right in my wheelhouse. Counters, removal, card draw, and the one-two planeswalker punch of Jace + Tamiyo. Initially I wasn’t completely sold on Sorin, but I resolved to give it a shot in an Esper control build. With the above two lists as reference points, I came up with the following:

Azorius Basterds

2 Snapcaster Mage
2 Creatures

4 Azorius Charm
2 Syncopate
2 Dissipate
2 Ultimate Price
2 Forbidden Alchemy
2 Sphinx’s Revelation
14 Instants

4 Lingering Souls
3 Supreme Verdict
1 Terminus
8 Sorceries

2 Detention Sphere
2 Enchantments

4 Jace, Architect of Thought
2 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
2 Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
8 Planeswalkers

3 Island
3 Plains
1 Swamp

4 Glacial Fortress
4 Drowned Catacomb
4 Isolated Chapel
4 Hallowed Fountain

2 Nephalia Drownyard
1 Vault of the Archangel
26 Lands

These lists are obviously very similar to each other; more than living in the same neighborhood, I think they share a three-bedroom apartment. I like a lot of Shaheen’s numbers, but I don’t really want to play with Runechanter’s Pike. It’s too much of a threat and not enough of an answer. I like my cards to either be able to get me out of a bad situation (spot removal, counterspells, sweepers, card draw) or ideally double as both threat and answer (Lingering Souls, planeswalkers). It’s just a one-of in Shaheen’s deck, and I certainly can’t fault him for playing it—he did win VA States, after all—but equipment is not where I want to be. I also decided to cut the Augurs, which I don’t feel are as good with so few zombies around to scare off (not to mention how demoralizing it is to whiff, even if it’s rare).

Hetrick’s list leans just a touch too heavy on the miracle plan for me, with 4 Terminus and zero maindeck Supreme Verdict. I prefer Shaheen’s split of 3 Verdict, 1 Terminus. Again, it’s a Power vs Consistency thing, with Terminus being more powerful and Verdict being more consistent. Since I’m only playing one copy of Terminus main, Forbidden Alchemy gets the nod over Think Twice. [Note: Hitting a miracle with Forbidden Alchemy does not trigger miracle, as you are not “drawing” the card, you’re putting it into your hand.]

Despite my initial reservations, Sorin has really been pulling his weight. The comparisons to Elspeth, Knight-Errant are inevitable, yet fairly warranted in the context of this deck. In most cases I find myself making a Soldier Vampire token to defend myself and my planeswalkers, and in this way Sorin is better than Elspeth (lifelink!). Sorin also threatens to go ultimate a turn faster. While his second ability is clearly weaker in the sense that it costs loyalty rather than adding it, the actual effect in concert with Lingering Souls can act as a pseudo-Overrun of sorts. If you’re not under a ton of pressure, it’s often correct to hold Sorin until you’re able to play Lingering Souls and flash it back in the same turn; then play Sorin on the subsequent turn, make an emblem, and crash in for 8.

Azorius Charm is another card that has surprised me somewhat. When the Return to Ravnica Charm cycle was initially spoiled, most put this one somewhere in the middle in terms of playability; however, just the “Condemnory Lapse” mode (as I like to call it) makes the card worth playing. That you can “cycle” it is just icing, and the third option is like remembering to grab a napkin. I always forget to grab napkins, but often find myself in situations where I wish I had one handy.

If you haven’t played a Sphinx’s Revelation yet, you’re missing out. The card is really good. I’ve mostly cast it for the lifegain and ended up with 4+ cards as a bonus. It’s like paying a lot of money for a good meal at a nice restaurant, and being given a free iPad on the way out.

I’m still fiddling around with the manabase, primarily the numbers on the utility lands. Currently I’ve got two Nephalia Drownyard, one Vault of the Archangel. I don’t want more than three in the maindeck, and I’m considering cutting one of them for either a Swamp or an Evolving Wilds. With only four counterspells main, this deck isn’t extremely vulnerable to Cavern of Souls, but a Cavern could still hurt. Ghost Quarter may be worth consideration, if only for the sideboard, with the added effect of bolstering your game against opposing Drownyards, Kessig Wolf Runs, etc.

A couple of other cards I’ve got my eye on are Drogskol Reaver and Cyclonic Rift. Shaheen does a great job espousing the virtues of Reaver in his article, so I won’t rehash that here. Rift just seems like an excellent catchall that can double as an additional sweeper—an incredibly powerful, lopsided sweeper at that. SCG’s own Glenn Jones once referred to Sleep as “the blue Bonfire,” and I think Cyclonic Rift is an even better fit for the moniker. I’m seriously considering it for a slot in the maindeck, but it’s a tough call on what to cut.

No sideboard as of right now, as I’m still tweaking the maindeck, and I’m also of the opinion that sideboarding should be tailored to each specific tournament. I will say that in the wake of Brad LeBouef’s win last weekend in New Orleans with three maindeck Cavern of Souls, the Essence Scatters that I was considering are looking a lot worse. It seems to me that you’re better off dealing with creatures using removal and sweepers than by trying to rely on narrow counterspells.

For the moment, this is my favorite deck in Standard, and it has a lot of wiggle room and potential to evolve with the format. Not only that, but Gatecrash will be sneaking up on us in just a few months, bringing with it Watery Grave, Godless Shrine, and likely a host of Dimir and Orzhov goodies that will only make the deck stronger.

Jace, Architect of Thought – Fact or Fiction?

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Jace, so when it was announced at the MTG panel at San Diego Comic Con that there’d be a new version of Jace in Return to Ravnica, I was pretty pumped.

Over the weekend at PAX, Wizards revealed this guy:

I’ll be honest; my first impression was disappointment. A Fleeting Distraction effect without the cantrip? A weak Fact or Fiction? A better Bribery that requires a planeswalker to sit around on the table unmolested for four of my opponent’s turns?

That’s what it looked like to me at first, but then I started thinking about it a bit more.

Let’s break it down. Jace’s first ability gets better the more creatures your opponent has on board, thereby discouraging the use of cards like Lingering Souls and Moorland Haunt (both of which have been Standard all-stars since being printed). In fact, it really just discourages strategies relying on small creature swarms entirely. Creatures with 1 power are rendered completely ineffective. Immediately going up to 5 loyalty means it’s going to take a lot of small dudes (each with at least 2 power) to handle Jace if your opponent decides it’s in her best interest to try and get rid of him ASAP.

Alright, so Jace can deal with the swarms of little guys just fine. What if you’re facing down a fatty? IT’S TIME FOR SOCKS WITH SANDALS!

Sticking a Jace alongside Tamiyo, the Moon Sage will be a nightmare for creature strategies. Tamiyo locks down the big threats, and Jace makes sure the little guys are more like kids wearing Halloween masks than actual scary monsters.

Superfriends aside, Jace does not match up well against larger creatures, so you’re going to have to find another answer. Fortunately, Jace’s second ability is great at helping you dig for a solution. While it’s not exactly Fact or Fiction, it’s closer than you might think.

At the same converted mana cost, an unmolested Jace lets you see six cards (where FoF only showed you five). It also gives your opponent an additional opportunity to make a poor split. Back when the original Fact or Fiction was in Standard, there was a guy at my local shop who would cast FoF and simultaneously reach into his bag and pull out a bottle of Advil to offer to his opponents. A cheap gag, sure, but anything that gives your opponent the opportunity to make an error is a good thing. (It’s important to note that cards in the pile that isn’t chosen are put on the bottom of your library, not in your graveyard, so you’re unable to abuse Jace with Snapcaster—but then again, that’s what Forbidden Alchemy is for!)

The bottom line is, Jace’s -2 either gives you a) two cards or b) the best card in your top three—and sometimes it’s going to be c) both. A freshly cast Jace is going to give you the option of doing this twice unless your opponent decides to spend resources to get him off the table.

In my original reading of the card, I thought Jace’s ultimate said “each opponent,” not “each player.” Getting the best spell out of both my own deck and my opponent’s seems like it should be a game-ender, but like most ultimates, the win is only implied; it’s still left up to you to do the work (Note: whatever spells you decide to cast can still be countered!). I have visions of playing free Nicol Bolases, but until we know more about what the post-RTR Standard format looks like, there’s really no telling what the best targets for Jace’s ultimate could be. Being that it’s not the most likely thing in the world to happen, I’m content to sit back on his first two abilities to help buy me time and resources to win the game, rather than rely on activating his ultimate.

While the Architect of Thought is certainly no Mind Sculptor, I’ve come a long way from my initial disappointment. It’s a card I’m excited to try, and I think there’s a reasonable chance it sees play in the new Standard format post-rotation. I expect the first place I’ll put it is in a U/W Control deck alongside some cards with the new Azorius mechanic, Detain. That plus new Jace and Tamiyo seem like a recipe for an excellent late game.

[Modern] In Testing: Pre-Worlds Updates to Flash Delirium

If you haven’t read my last post regarding the genesis of this deck, check it out here).

Here’s my most recent list:

4 Mana Leak
3 Path to Exile
3 Spell Snare
1 Familiar’s Ruse
3 Cryptic Command
3 Punishing Fire
3 Thirst for Knowledge
20 Instants

3 Spellstutter Sprite
4 Snapcaster Mage
4 Tarmogoyf
2 Vendilion Clique
13 Creatures

1 Sword of Feast and Famine
1 Vedalken Shackles
1 Engineered Explosives
3 Artifacts

3 Island
2 Hallowed Fountain
2 Breeding Pool
2 Steam Vents
4 Scalding Tarn
4 Misty Rainforest
3 Grove of the Burnwillows
3 Mutavault
1 Academy Ruins
24 Lands

In anticipation of a more aggro-heavy format, I went back to the Punishing/Grove combo, and also added Tarmogoyf back into the deck. While it doesn’t fit the instant-speed theme, it seems necessary for both early defense and added pressure. One of the things I found was that the deck wasn’t enough of a draw-go control deck to sit back and pick away at an opponent’s life total with a 1- or 2-power dude. Tarmogoyf fills the role nicely.

Another massive hole in the previous version was the lack of card draw. The Ninjas and their curiosity were great when they worked, but they weren’t reliable enough to provide the card advantage/selection that I found myself craving in many of my games. In a word: Cute. Thirst for Knowledge is making a noticeable impact in the games where I’ve seen it. While I’m discarding 2 cards far more often than I’m dumping an artifact, it hasn’t really been a problem (due in part to Snapcaster Mage, who can get use out of any instants or sorceries you decide to dump). One of my favorite “tricks” is to use Thirst mid-combat as a pseudo-pump spell for Tarmogoyf. They rarely see that one coming.

Obviously, these changes demanded some casualties from the previous version. I’m still loving the miser’s Familiar’s Ruse, so for the moment it’s staying. The 2 Ninjas, Venser, and a Vendilion Clique all bowed out to make room for 4 Tarmogoyf. The artifact count has been reduced to just one of each (although I’m likely including more in the sideboard), and a land was cut to make room for 6 more instants (3 each of both Punishing Fire and Thirst for Knowledge). I noticed I kept getting flooded, and since the deck can run reasonably well off just 4 lands, I felt safe doing this. With that in mind, however, I shaved the 4th Cryptic Command, which made room for the aforementioned miser’s Familiar’s Ruse.

The addition of both Tarmogoyf and Punishing Fire required a reworking of the manabase. The new color requirements meant that the 4th Mutavault was the first to go. I considered cutting the Academy Ruins, but having cut down to just one of each artifact, in addition to newcomer Thirst for Knowledge, I’ve kept it in for now. Watery Grave seemed unnecessary (I don’t think I ever needed black mana, not even once).

The Modern format is fairly difficult to grasp at the moment, especially post-bannings. It hasn’t had much of a chance to get any momentum, but I’m hoping Worlds and the upcoming PTQ season will help cement this format in the hearts of players, like Legacy before it. I’ll be keeping a close eye on the Modern decks coming out of Worlds this week, as this is most likely to have the biggest influence on the upcoming PTQ season. If I had to guess, I’d say the format will initially revolve around Punishing Fire and Grove of the Burnwillows. The best decks will be those that can use the combo most effectively, and those that can best neutralize its effects. (Honorable Mention goes to Spell Snare.)

  

Further updates to come. In the meantime, keep an eye on my Twitter account (@AffinityForBlue), as I’ll be tweeting from Worlds this week. You can also expect some content on Episode 87 of Yo! MTG Taps! (coming up after Thanksgiving).

[Modern] In Testing: Flash Delirium

When Snapcaster Mage was previewed at Pro Tour Philadelphia earlier this month, it was the talk of the tournament floor. Personally, I was excited to fit it into as many decks as possible. I already had Modern on the mind (it being the format of the Pro Tour), so the wheels were immediately turning in that direction.

I was already testing a Previous Level Blue style deck with the Punishing Fire + Grove of the Burnwillows combo, but was somewhat unimpressed. The manabase felt clunky, and the Punishing/Grove combo was not as strong as I’d expected. Not to mention the fact that the deck was clearly too slow for the then-current environment, which was saturated with blazingly fast combo decks that made it difficult for a control deck to thrive.

The bannings announced on September 20 changed all that. The loss of a key accelerant (Rite of Flame) plus the two best one-mana cantrips in the format (Preordain, Ponder) should significantly slow things down, providing an opportunity for control to get a grip on the format.

I decided to dismantle the deck I was testing and start from scratch, using various Previous Level Blue decks and Mystical Teachings decks as inspiration. Here’s what I ended up with.

Flash Delirium:

4 Mana Leak
3 Path to Exile
3 Spell Snare
4 Cryptic Command
14 Instants

3 Vendilion Clique
4 Snapcaster Mage
2 Ninja of the Deep Hours
3 Spellstutter Sprite
1 Venser, Shaper Savant
13 Creatures

3 Sword of Feast and Famine
3 Engineered Explosives
2 Vedalken Shackles
8 Artifacts

4 Hallowed Fountain
1 Watery Grave
1 Steam Vents
1 Breeding Pool
4 Mutavault
4 Misty Rainforest
4 Scalding Tarn
1 Academy Ruins
5 Island
25 Lands

The result leans towards Aggro-Control, something like a pre-Bitterblossom Faeries deck (did those even exist? Sure they did. Just ask Zvi). The amount of synergy in this deck is somewhat staggering. Not only are the individual cards powerful on their own, they work together to provide quite a bit of versatility. This is my kind of deck.

Of the 35 non-lands in the deck, 27 of them can be cast at instant speed (or pseudo-instant speed in the case of Ninja of the Deep Hours‘ mid-combat ninjutsu ability); hence the name, “Flash Delirium” (the name of one of my favorite MGMT songs).

Speaking of Ninja of the Deep Hours, its inclusion may seem questionable, but it fuels one of the trickiest (and, frankly, coolest) interactions in the deck. With so many flash creatures with enter-the-battlefield abilities, Ninja acts as a one-use Riptide Laboratory that draws you a card (sometimes more than one) and allows you to return and reuse any of the other 11 creatures. Value! For the moment I’m going with the Ninja, but another idea I had (which doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive) is to play a copy or two of Familiar’s Ruse, which gives you a similar effect without the need to attack.

Moving on to the sorcery speed portion of the deck, Sword of Feast and Famine should be no surprise to anyone. With this many instant speed options, the deck is able to fully capitalize on the Sword’s untap trigger, while the protection the Sword offers can facilitate ninjutsu in a pinch, or help a Ninja slip by and draw you a card.

  

The manabase is built to take full advantage of both Vedalken Shackles and Engineered Explosives. Nearly every land is an island (or can fetch one), ensuring that the Shackles fit any creature you might encounter. The inclusion of all four blue Ravnica-block dual lands allows you to go to the full 5 Sunburst counters if necessary. Mutavault, while not an island, is a faerie, which can be relevant alongside Spellstutter Sprite (as anyone who plays Legacy or who played Standard when Lorwyn was legal will tell you). Lastly, Academy Ruins is there to pick up any broken Swords, Shackles, or dead Explosives that might have found their way into the graveyard.

This is still a rough and somewhat untested list, but it’s what I’m currently working with. I haven’t yet come up with a sideboard (it sort of depends on how the format shapes up), but I’ve got my eye on the usual players: Thoughtseize; Krosan Grip; Pithing Needle (and possibly Trinket Mage to fetch it; can also grab Explosives); Wrath of God; Lightning Bolt (or possibly Helix, but it might be a stretch). I’m also considering an Elspeth, Knight-Errant or two.

Thoughts? Ideas? I’d love to hear ’em.

Follow me on Twitter @affinityforblue.

UPDATE: A lot of people have been asking about the list, and while it is my intention to write up a full post after some more testing, I figured I’d throw out a few updates. After discussing the idea with Mike Flores, we both determined that the deck is likely lacking two things: more power/pressure, and probably more card draw as well. I’ve shaved some numbers, cut the Ninjas from the deck entirely, and added Tarmogoyf and the Punishing/Grove combo back into the deck (as Shaheen Soorani pointed out in his recent article on SCG, the format is looking fairly aggro-heavy). I’m currently playing with 2 copies of Familiar’s Ruse as well, which has been stellar. Next on my agenda is to get a few copies of Thirst for Knowledge into the deck. Theoretically, Snapcaster Mage will mitigate the downside of discarding spells off of a Thirst. I’m considering shaving a land, because it feels like the deck gets a little flooded more often than I’d like. More details to come.

Why I’m excited for Venser (and you should be too).

I mean, first of all, it’s freaking Venser.

Remember how good the original Venser was a few years back? Of course, the new Venser has little to do with his previous Legendary incarnation, aside from representing the same character. However, this version may have even more of an impact on Standard than the Shaper Savant.

Venser, the Sojourner was the first major card spoiled from Scars of Mirrodin. Being a huge fan of the first Venser (shocking, I know), I was super excited to see what his planeswalker self would be capable of. However, to be honest, I was sort of let down at first.

A Sorcery-speed Momentary Blink? Hm, okay, what else?

Make my creatures unblockable? What creatures? Baneslayer? Celestial Colonnade? They don’t really need it, being that they have Flying.

What’s his ultimate? Exile stuff. Seems spicy, but so does every other planeswalker’s ultimate ability. To be playable, his non-ultimate abilities need to have an impact in case he never reaches his ultimate.

So, with my initial impression out of the way (“he’s okay, but really needs to be built around to be any good”), I moved on to other Scars of Mirrodin spoilers, which were pouring forth at an alarming rate. Elspeth Tirel, Koth (KOTH!), Mox Opalman, Elspeth seems so good!Geez, how am I gonna deal with this Koth guy? Should I just play red?

But when I stopped for a little while, for whatever reason, Venser kept scratching around on the inside of my skull.

So I took a (figurative) page out of Patrick Chapin’s book (Next Level Magic, which you can buy here!) and took another look at Venser from a different perspective: What would make this card good?

I sketched out a list based on an amalgamation of Next Level Bant and U/W Sun Titan Control, trying to get the most possible advantage out of Venser while not relying too much on him. (Looking back, I was definitely overcompensating for Memoricide and therefore wanted to diversify my threats.)

2 Preordain
2 Condemn
4 Mana Leak
1 Journey to Nowhere
4 Wall Omens
4 Sea Gate Oracle
3 Jace Beleren
2 Tumble Magnet
3 Day of Judgment
1 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
2 Sphinx of Lost Truths
3 Venser, the Sojourner
1 Elspeth Tirel
1 Baneslayer Angel
2 Sun Titan

4 Celestial Colonnade
4 Glacial Fortress
6 Island
5 Plains
1 Arid Mesa
1 Scalding Tarn
4 Tectonic Edge

Here is the (entirely unedited) e-mail I sent to Bigheadjoe (my co-host on my podcast, Yo! MTG Taps!—but you knew that already, right?) in the wee hours of the morning on September 10:


○ Condemn, Mana Leak, DoJ, Journey, Tumble Magnet – disruption
○ Preordain – card quality + cantrip
○ Wall, Oracle, Beleren – cantrips, blink targets
○ Sun Titan – gets back all the cantrip permanents, also gets back Journey and Tumble Magnet (if destroyed or discarded to SoLT or something). Sick blink target.
○ Sphinx of Lost Truths – can throw just about any of that stuff into the ‘yard & then I can just get it back w/ Sun Titan. Another blink target.
○ Venser – can blink almost everything to good effect (Wall, Oracle, Sphinx); resets Beleren and Magnet too.
○ Elspeth T. & JTMS – to assist & be alternate win conditions (considering how many cards I’m drawing, I’ll see them fairly often, but don’t need them to win)
○ BSA – because the only relevant ability she lacks is vigilance, and with Venser in play, she has it 🙂 Another win condition.

The interesting thing is I built the deck around Venser, but he’s not the win condition, so the deck is inherently strong against Memoricide (a lot of diversity).

There are a whopping 14 win conditions!:
Titan x2
Sphinx x2
Venser x3
Elspeth x1
JTMS x1
BSA x1
Colonnade x4

Tumble Magnet + Walls and Oracles force over-extension into DoJ or Elspeth’s ultimate. I can DoJ on turn 4, then on 5 do any number of things: SoLT, BSA, Elspeth; with a Condemn in hand, I can play Venser, blink-untap a land, and if a haste creature tries to attack the unprotected Venser, I have mana up for Condemn. Turn 6 a Sun Titan starts bringing back whatever creatures of mine that I may have wrathed away on turn 4.

Venser can also move the Journey to more relevant creatures if I want, and can blink himself to dodge Elspeth’s ultimate. Tirel also destroys Journey and Magnet, but Titan brings them both back. With a Venser in play, on turn 6 I can play Titan, get back a Wall or an oracle, blink the Titan, get back another Wall or Oracle. Plenty of protection for Venser and meanwhile filling my hand with spells for if/when I can use his ultimate. Tectonic Edge w/ Sun Titan & Venser is just sickening. Kill 2 nonbasics a turn. Then start exiling lands with Venser’s ultimate.

I’ve got a confession to make: I have yet to actually try this list, although I still feel it may have potential (I think it’s at least worth trying). Side note: If anyone actually does give this a try, I’d really love to hear your feedback.

So, that was 3 weeks ago, and since then I’ve come to the realization that Venser doesn’t actually need to be built around. Sure, you want to have targets for his blink ability, but the great thing about Venser is how well he already fits into the synergies of U/W Control! The most recent iterations of classic U/W are already playing cards that have a natural affinity for Venser’s blink ability: Wall of Omens; Sun Titan. Give your Baneslayer (or Wurmcoil Engine) faux-Vigilance, or save it from the Day of Judgment you’re about to cast. Move your Journey to Nowhere onto a more relevant target. Untap a land to keep counter-magic or removal mana open.

It only takes three activations to put him on his ultimate. Forget about the minus ability (although it’s there if you can capitalize on it). If you can protect Venser for just three of your opponent’s turns—not such a tall order if you consider the type of cards you’re likely already playing—you’ll be exiling permanents every time you cast a spell (whether that spell resolves or not).

Here’s a rough list, which I’ll be testing a bit this weekend:

2 Condemn
4 Preordain

3 Sea Gate Oracle
4 Wall of Omens

1 Negate
4 Mana Leak
1 Deprive
1 Stoic Rebuttal
2 Journey to Nowhere

4 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
3 Day of Judgment
2 Venser, the Sojourner

2 Sun Titan
1 Wurmcoil Engine

4 Tectonic Edge
4 Celestial Colonnade
4 Glacial Fortress
6 Plains
8 Island

No sideboard as of yet, but I’d expect to play the usual suspects: some number of Flashfreeze and/or Celestial Purge, and possibly Oust (for Fauna Shaman and other problem creatures that don’t tend to attack and thus are not susceptible to Condemn).

Other cards to consider (main or side, probably main) are Into the Roil and Ratchet Bomb. Into the Roil seems like it would be particularly strong in an unknown metagame as a nice catch-all. Ratchet Bomb is retrievable with Sun Titan and seems like just the type of card that you might want to reuse.

Whether you like Venser or not, Scars of Mirrodin has brought with it a TON of options, in addition to pushing some huge players out of the format (remember Bloodbraid Elf?). Now is a great time to not only look at the new cards but to also take a look back at the cards that might not have been as practical in a format like AlaraM10Zendikar Standard. There may be some hidden gems amongst the cards we all passed over while trying to fight against a turn-two Putrid Leech. I know a certain Dragonmaster who’s been eyeballing a modern-day Ophidian for its new-Standard potential…

On Deprive

If you haven’t yet heard, the following is a card rumored to be in Rise of the Eldrazi (unconfirmed; rarity unknown):

EDIT: Confirmed.

Initial thoughts:

What makes this better than Cancel?

1) You can play it on turn 2.
2) You can play it late-game effectively as “Counterspell.”

In the first example, playing it on turn 2, you’re now behind; yes, you traded with their 2- or 3-drop, but now on turn 3 you need another counter to deal with their 3- or 4-drop, which is likely better than whatever card they played on turn 2. So do you play ANOTHER Deprive (assuming you have it)?

Honestly, I don’t even think this is worth playing on turn 2.

Let’s say you don’t play it on turn 2, but you hit your first three land drops and then want to counter something. What’s better in this situation? Cancel or Deprive? Cancel, obviously. Deprive leaves you with 1 mana open which will likely go unused. In the meantime, now you’re set back a turn and you’ve likely wasted any advantage that Deprive provided you.

So, okay, late game then. This is where Deprive is at its strongest. But when is it really going to be that much better than Cancel? Really only when you’re returning something like Halimar Depths, as far as I can tell. It allows you to tap all but 2 land, unlike Cancel, but is that really such a huge deal?

For the moment, I’m going to predict that if Deprive sees play in Standard decks akin to UW Chapin Control, it’s going to be in numbers less than 4, as its early game drawback just seems like too much for a deck whose strengths lie in getting to Stage 3. However, I can see it being a possible staple in some sort of UG deck that can recover from the tempo loss using the myriad of mana accelerants available in Standard.

On Gideon Jura

For those of you that haven’t seen the latest planeswalker to be spoiled from Rise of the Eldrazi:

I’m more excited about Gideon than any other card from Rise that I’ve seen spoiled so far. On turn five, you can use him as removal to take out whatever creature your opponent just used to attack you. Or, using his first ability you can stall, and unless your opponent is able to do 8 damage in one swing (or swing + burn), he’s pretty safe (in that way, he reminds me quite a bit of good old Veteran Bodyguard). In a deck like UW control, which keeps the board relatively clear, you can +2 him even when your opponent has no creatures, just to boost his loyalty a bit so that you can use the 2nd ability more often, or to keep him further out of range of attacking creatures coming his way. With something like Wall of Denial, he basically ends up being the Icy+Assassin combo of old (I force your creature to attack, I block with Wall, neither die; next turn I use Gideon to destroy your tapped creature).

And here’s a cool rules interaction to exploit: If your opponent has an Eldrazi in play, you can +2 Gideon, and when the Eldrazi attacks, sacrifice Gideon to the Annihilator trigger. Since the attack was declared at Gideon, the Eldrazi will deal no damage to you on that attack, even though Gideon is gone. Not game-breaking by any means, but it does save you from that Eldrazi for a turn.

His last ability (his “ultimate”) is really exciting. Just like the manlands, he’s safe from Day of Judgment, but—unlike the manlands—costs 0 mana to activate, so you can still keep counter mana up. You can effectively Wrath your opponent’s side of the board and then swing in unimpeded.

The more I think about Gideon and consider the possibilities, the more I like him. He’s a noncreature win condition that can fit right into UW Control alongside Jace. He’s already pre-selling on eBay for $20+, and I fully expect his price to rise in the coming months.