Raka Control in the new Standard – Spread the Sickness with Grant Hislop
The receptionist at my work is a funny lass. She’s 18 years old, and has been talking about getting a tattoo for the past couple of months. For those who’ve never met me, I’ve got quite a few tattoos myself. She’s been sounding me out over the past few weeks for recommendations of places to go to get it done, and whether her ideas are any good (they’re not). She’s settled on an idea, which is to get ‘YOLO’ tattooed on the inside of her lip [editor: seriously wth?!?).
She mentioned the idea to me, and I said to her that I thought it was daft to get a meme tattooed on you, and that as a first tattoo, I could think of few places worse than the inside of the lip. I’ve got mine done, and have ‘Bevvy’ inside my mouth, which I got when I was younger and foolisher than I am now, and in addition to not feeling particularly nice, it faded away really quickly, so there’s only traces of it left. Also, as a first tattoo, it’s pretty scary to see the machine for the first time, and to have it right in your face is unlikely to be a pleasant experience for the first-time plain-skins…
The misuse of YOLO (You only live once) upsets me no end, as it’s seemingly been adopted by hipsters everywhere as something they say before they do something moronic, ie ‘Just found out I’m pregnant by my cousin, oh well, YOLO’, rather than a more sensible approach like ‘I’ve upped the fibre count in my diet and started exercising, because YOLO’. In either case, it sounds moronic, but at least there’s some foundation of truth in the second attempt at it, rather than the first, which is just nasty.
I’ve got to admit, I’m not really up on my memes. I find most of them pretty tiresome if I’m being truthful. There are a few funny ones, but they’re only generally amusing the first time you see them, before being hammered into the ground by internet simpletons. The YOLO one kind of struck a chord with me when considering my Magic playing though. In any given tournament, you indeed only live once, so playing anything other than that which gives you the best chance of winning is just plain wrong. I’ve recently been on the ‘play the best deck rather than the deck that beats the best deck’ plan, going so far as to play Jund in a small local Modern tournament, which marks the first time in a couple of years I’ve not sleeved up any Islands.
I ended up winning our four round tournament, which further cemented my decision to continue down this path. Admittedly, it was a small event, but outside of Stevie Galbraith, all my opponents were competent (Sorry Stevie :P).
The deck I’m advocating today is a Standard deck, and I’m pretty sure that if it’s not the best deck in the format, it’s reasonably close. I’ve thrown it together on Magic Online, and I’ve got a ridiculously positive record in two-man queues.
The main hurdle when considering this deck for yourselves is the cost. In order to buy all the cards for it, it would cost you somewhere around £infinity. While for me, card availability isn’t really an issue any more, I appreciate that for many readers, it would be. The cards I’m using are all format staples though, so if you were sufficiently on-the-ball, you’ll already have a large chunk of these stored away in preparation. As I said though, if you’re playing in a tournament, you owe it to yourself to give yourself the best possible chance of winning, and I honestly believe that this deck affords that, even if your wallet balks at the thought.
Last weekend, there was a tournament in Japan called the Lunatic Moon Convention, and a deck similar to the one I’m talking about today made Top 8. It’s not a tournament I’ve heard of, but former World Champion Makihito Mihara Top 8’d, so there’s at least some degree of pedigree to the event, even if I’ve never heard of the rest of the listed competitors. The deck that interested me the most was the Raka Control (Not %#”$’ing American Control!!!) list that a gentleman named Ryuichi Arita played. In fact, I liked it so much that I haven’t changed a single card in the Main deck, as it seemed really tight, and I was able to work out why every card was included, and used the vast majority of them.
I messed around with the sideboard a little, though again, it was very good before my tampering, and ended up with this:-
2 Angel of Serenity
2 Snapcaster Mage
3 Azorius Keyrune
4 Detention Sphere
2 Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
4 Jace, Architect of Thought
3 Essence Scatter
3 Izzet Charm
1 Pillar of Flame
2 Sphinx’s Revelation
1 Supreme Verdict
4 Think Twice
4 Clifftop Retreat
2 Desolate Lighthouse
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Steam Vents
4 Sulfur Falls
As I usually do in this type of article, I’ll talk you through some of the card choices, and explain their inclusion.
The Angel is far, far better than I initially gave it credit for. In my Return to Ravnica set review, I initially dismissed it as overhyped, with the caveat that it might work as a control deck’s finisher. Ladies and Gentlemen, this is that control deck. While it’s obviously embarrassing that I called the very first card in the set wrong, I’m a big enough man to admit when I’m wrong. The Angel of Joss Whedon is absolutely the real deal, and it’s very difficult to lose after resolving her. This deck has pretty impressive through-put with Jace, Think Twice, Izzet Charm and Sphinx’s Revelation, so it’s not unreasonable to expect to get to a stage where you’ve got a couple of your opponent’s creatures under this as well as another Angel of Serenity. If that ever happens, it’s really difficult for your opponent to ever gain any sort of traction again, and it’ll probably be all over but the shouting.
The best way to have game against Zombies is to have access to Snapcaster Mage + Pillar of Flame. Adding in Augur of Bolas as well would help, but the primary way I’ve found has been Tiago + Pillar. We don’t have the space for four Pillar of Flame in the Maindeck, but we have access to all four post-board. At this stage, while Zombies is likely to be the most popular deck, it doesn’t seem to be putting up the numbers to suggest that it’s the winning’est deck, and I’m comfortable enough with my Zombies matchup in G1 without the full burn suite that I’m happy enough just shoring it up for game two than going in all guns blazing with an anti-Zombies strategy.
At this stage, I shouldn’t need to tell you why Snapcaster Mage is good. He has synergy with just about every card in the deck. While he’s good though, this isn’t a Delver deck, and we don’t get to use all of the Buffalo, so his 2/1 body is largely irrelevant, and you’ll be using him primarily to get extra use out of one of your spells, and then chump block until a Wrath of God appears.
I’m including the Keyrune in here, as it makes slightly more sense here than anywhere else. While I’d prefer a Celestial Colonnade, the Keyrune actually accelerates us, and in a deck where we’re just trying to survive until we can start throwing Haymakers, that is very relevant. I’ve got to be honest, when running this deck, my primary win condition has been Keyrune beatdown, so I’d consider upping these to the full four, but for now, three seems fine. They’re so good in this deck, as they dodge the majority of removal that people are playing – Pillar of Flame, Ultimate Price, Dreadbore etc, and it seems that very few creatures fly, so they’ve been able to live through my Wraths and keep pecking away at my opponent. If any single card in this deck has overperformed way above my expectations, it would be Azorius Keyrune.
I’ve played against a lot of tokens recently. Detention Sphere is insane against tokens, clearly. It’s been so good, for a while, I was looking at Emancipation Angel longingly, though I don’t think this deck is right for it. Worth considering for more aggressive Azorius strategies though. There aren’t any decks that people are playing in standard that doesn’t have any Detention Sphere targets, and the versatility of it is why we’re playing the full four. If Golgari Charm starts seeing any amount of play, this might need to be re-considered, but for now, I’ve seldom been unhappy to see a Sphere in my opener.
Essence Scatter has been really good. People aren’t able to play the full four Cavern of Souls, for the most part, due to the individual tribes not being quite there in terms of linear aggro card quality, so it’s only really seeing play as a one to two of in Zombies decks, though there are some Human outliers on the fringe of playability that could feasibly make use of the full four. Fortunately, our five Wraths maindeck makes that matchup a piece of cake as well, and you can still scatter the essence of their Sublime Archangel. It’s been another surprising over-performer. Who said Counterspells were dead?
Izzet Charm does it all. I’ve primarily used it to Shock and as a bad Mana Leak, but the dig has come up before. Especially in a deck with Think Twice, the card disadvantage can be somewhat mitigated. Izzet Charm enables our Terminus on the opponent’s turn, which is important to remember, and has been my favourite Snapcaster target so far, with Sphinx’s Revelation a close second.
Pillar of Flame, as previously discussed, is part of our anti-Zombie plan, but is also used as a part of our kill-condition against opposing control decks. It’s really fun to ultimate Tamiyo, and Shock an opponent to death over the course of a couple of turns. My opponents haven’t quite shared my enjoyment though. I wonder why.
Terminus and Supreme Verdict are my reset buttons. I’d play five Terminus if they let me, but obviously, I’m not allowed, so Supreme Verdict does a reasonable impression. It’s a lot worse against Zombies, as obviously, a lot of their creatures don’t mind dying, and the horrible things in the Reanimator decks are a lot better on the bottom of the library in the graveyard, but for the most part, it’s fine. Again, we’re stalling for time until our late game engine goes online, and we can establish full control of the board, and sometimes a turn is all it takes.
While Angel of Serenity would probably be at home in here, we’ve covered her previously, so we’ll focus on the Planeswalkers.
For those who’ve not seen Jace in action yet, you owe it to yourself to play with him. However good you thought he was, he’s better. He’s been an absolute joy to play with. While his ultimate has been somewhat underwhelming, I’ve rarely been in a position where I’ve NEEDED to use it. I have stolen a Griselbrand, Psychic Spiraled an opponent to death among other things, but that’s pretty much the only time I’ve used anything from my opponents deck to good effect. For the most part, it’s just been take my Angel of Serenity from my deck, clear the board for free, take some rubbish out of their deck. The mini Fact or Fiction has been stellar. In this deck, I seldom don’t take the pile of two cards. Whether that will be the same for other Jace decks remains to be seen.
Tamiyo is similar to Jace, in that her first two abilities have some overlap, but seeing as they won’t let me have two Jace’s on the battlefield at the same time, we have to make do. Tamiyo’s ultimate is something that I actively work towards though, unlike Jaces, as it’s just so good with the rest of our deck. Izzet Charm then draws two cards for two mana, Pillar of Flame becomes our kill condition etc. She’s been a joy to play with, and hopefully you’ll have as much fun as I have.
The Think Twice suite:-
Desperate Ravings isn’t really right for this deck. I considered it, but never really felt the need to make the switch. It’s possible that that’s the route the deck wants to go, but for now, I’m happy with this. For the most part, you want to draw a card when you’re able to leave White mana open, in case you draw Terminus, but you’ll be able to tell when you don’t need to pretty easily. It’s not rocket science.
Thirteen White and Red sources and seventeen Blue sources easily fulfil our colour requirements, and enable us to run a couple of colourless lands with impunity. We’ve opted for Desolate Lighthouse over the other real option, which would be Ghost Quarter. The Loothouse provides more throughput for our deck, as well as being a recurring way to enable Miracles on our opponent’s turn. I don’t really feel the need to experiment with Ghost Quarter, as there are very few lands I care about enough to want to sacrifice a land, and Loothouse has so much synergy with Terminus.
The deck only runs twenty-five lands, which might seem like it’s too few, but it’s seldom been an issue. The three Keyrunes function similarly, and as I’ve previously mentioned, the deck cycles through itself at a fair pace, so hitting land drops is seldom an issue.
In a new metagame, it’s important to keep your answers as broad as possible. While decks like Delver decks from last season could afford to play narrow answers because the rest of the deck was so powerful, we aren’t in that position. While our cards are individually powerful, we’re not operating on an engine on the level of Ponder, Snapcaster, Gitaxian Probe and Vapor Snag, so we need, need, need general purpose answers rather than dealing with specific cards, especially in a metagame as unexplored as new Standard.
It should be relatively obvious what we want these cards for. A basic guide for the matchups I’ve had experience in is below.
I like this matchup pre-board, and it gets better after. BG is slightly more difficult, but for the most part, I’ve been comfortable vs Zombies. Clearly sometimes they have the three two power guy on turn two draw, and you don’t Miracle a Terminus in time, but for the most part, this has been a good matchup for me.
Depending on how cautiously they play, and what they’re reanimating, this can vary. I like any deck that’s not reanimating Craterhoof Behemoth, basically. Tamiyo is your best card here, so protect her accordingly.
vs Creatureless(ish) Control decks
Up the Jace count, and cut the useless removal. God, it’s like it’s two years ago all over again… If you fear Geist of Saint Traft from the opponent, leave your Supreme Verdict in, and consider upping to two.
vs Creature decks – Selesnya, WW, Humans etc
You might want more Pillar of Flame over Detention Sphere, but I’m not sure. This basic swap has been fine. You can cut the Essence Scatters here, as they’re likely to have Cavern of Souls and/or play around the Scatter anyway. You’re built to prey on these decks, especially those without any reach, like Selesnya.
Those are the only matchups I’ve really had any in-depth experience with, and as always, this shouldn’t be taken as a set-in-stone list of rules, but as a suggestion. This is close to what’s been working for me, usually, but you probably play differently to me, so your mileage may vary.
Bonus Top 5 list:-
Top 5 Coldplay songs:-
(Get it? Cos they’re all awful.)