Deck Tech: BUG Control in Standard by Roy Raftery

Deck Tech: BUG Control in Standard by Roy Raftery

Deck Tech: BUG Control in Standard by Roy Raftery

Hello! Welcome to another Raf gaff,

Each week I try to do something a little different, I hate boring mundane articles or when writers say something like “omg Sphinx’s Revelation is the real deal!” My first article was a tournament report with a difference, I didn’t want to simply list who I played and people responded to the approach well.

Last week was a slightly rushed financial report on my monthly outgoings of which I’ll be doing once every 3 months. This got a lot of people’s attention and I had tons of constructive criticism and people wanting to discuss the issue face to face, of which I’ll write about in the coming weeks.

This weeks article is slightly behind, what with it being Christmas, the potential end of the world and the end of term but this week I wanted to focus on one of my favourite topics, Standard!

Why Standard Is So Good

mtg tournamentSo there’s tons of good reasons to be excited about Standard at the moment, the format is very diverse, UK Standard is very different from the rest of Europe and the US and basically, UK MTG players have had their prayers answered. For years we’ve been moaning about not getting Starcity Opens or an event equivalent but finally on January 14th we have a Starcity Open in Doncaster which will be the current Standard, i.e. Standard without Gatecrash (I want to mention this as its staggering how many of my good friends just haven’t heard about this!).

Just a couple weeks later, pro tour gatecrash begins with the new set which will undoubtedly impact the format but there’s always that issue of card availability and people simply updating existing strategies because of time constraints which means picking a deck now, practising with it intensely and checking spoilers for possible updates is more of a necessity than Tezzeret having oil on him at all times.

When Return to Ravnica made its debute I was all over my favourite shard and strategy, Grixis control. To my friends dismay and disgust I can’t help but cast Nicol bolas, Pplaneswalker in standard and the look on their faces when they glance over at my table and hear me say “plus 3 and blow up your Kessig Wolf Run” always makes them roll their eyes, the same is true when I joyfully and fully state the cards full name in a ‘can everyone hear me voice’.

When I started brewing the deck this is what I played for about 3 weeks:

Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker

3 Pillar of Flame
1 Bonfire of the Damned
4 Izzet Charm
3 Snapcaster Mage
3 Desperate Ravings
2 Cyclonic Rift
1 Dreadbore
2 Forbidden Alchemy
3 Vampire Nighthawk
3 Jace, Architect of Thought
2 Barter in Blood
1 Olivia Voldaren
2 Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
1 Curse of Death’s Hold
2 Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius
1 Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker

Desperate Ravings

3 Blood Crypt
4 Steam Vents
3 Sulphur Falls
2 Dragonskull Summit
3 Drowned Catacomb
2 Evolving Wilds
3 /mountain
3 Island
2 Swamp
1 Desolate Lighthouse

The list was fun to play and me and a mate put up decent results with it but a huge problem with control strategies is they get outdated super fast. While still toying with the idea and keeping a vigil on what was doing well state-side I decided to pick up the WUR tempo deck (Geist of Saint Traft, Thundermaw Hellkite etc) for the Ravnica game day. I crushed a Delver player round one and then went on to lose the next 3 rounds and dropped, that deck certainly wasn’t for me.

While my efforts turned to the PTQ season of Sealed, Standard was always in my mind. The meta game hasn’t had very many shocks since the UW flash deck by Adam Prosak and later updated by Gerry Thompson, Zombies of all the varieties got a make over and so did the only viable control deck Bant and with Reanimator being either or Thragtusk I knew It was time to start brewing.

My mind was cast back to the spoiler season, Caleb Derwood wrote a spotlight article on Jace, Architect of Thought with a sample deck list that he said put up solid results. After pondering the card selection I decided it was very close to what I wanted to be doing in Standard. This was his list, for reference:

BUG control

Nephalia Drownyard

2 Nephalia Drownyard
3 Swamp
6 Island
4 Drowned Catacomb
4 Overgrown Tomb
3 Woodland Cemetery
4 Hinterland Harbor

3 Augur of Bolas
4 Thragtusk
3 Ultimate Price
1 Golgari Keyrune
1 Tribute to Hunger
3 Jace, Architect of Thought
2 Sever the Bloodline
2 Syncopate
1 Staff of NinCurse of Death’s Hold
2 Think Twice
4 Forbidden Alchemy
3 Curse of Death’s Hold
3 Abrupt Decay
2 Cremate

2 Negate
2 Jace, Memory Adept
1 Staff of Nin
1 Syncopate
2 Golgari Charm
2 Garruk Relentless
1 Cremate
2 Victim of Night
2 Pithing Needle

I liked a lot about this deck, Cremate seemed worthwhile in a reanimator heavy field, while catching a zombie player off an undying trigger or Gravecrawler recursion to burning a Snapcaster target in tempo decks. The fact that it cycled and was cute with a flashed in Snapcaster just added bonus points to it. Curse of Death’s Hold was another card I liked, it’s a great answer to Falkenrath Aristocrat, great against rouge token decks and hoses mana dorks and souls. The card isn’t all roses though and I’ll explain that later

The changes I made and why were:

-1 Island, +1 Nephalia Drownyard (a win con against other control decks)

-1 Golgari keyrune, +1 Vraska the Unseen (I wanted to try this girl out, on paper she seemed strong, let them tap out for a threat she can deal with, say a Jace or a Thundermaw Hellkite, then drop her nuking their play, she dealt with a permanent and is still on the board)

-1 Forbidden Alchemy, +1 Syncopate (self explanatory, I had so much card draw and thought the extra counterspell was needed.

-1 Curse of Death’s Hold, +1 Tamiyo, the Moon Sage (I’ve always been a believer of Tamiyo and I’ve never lost a game when I ultimate her)

Abrupt DecayAs you can see the cards I cut and added were the same types or cards that wouldn’t affect the Augur of Bolas count but after a bunch of games I realised I wasn’t a fan of the Auger and cut him for 3 Snapcaster Mage, the deck has inherently strong cards which make him better. I was very impressed with the deck, I played a bunch against UW flash and fell in love with Abrupt Decay.

Cards are either good or OK against certain match ups, Decay was either stellar amazing or great, let me give an example, against UW flash they play very conservatively with their mana waiting for you to slip up and then pounce. With Abrupt Decay you can’t slip up, it answers their Runechanter’s Pike and can’t be countered. Stellar. Against opposing control decks it hits Lliliana of the Veil which is always a problem for control decks, it also hits Ajani, caller of the pride, a card people were playing in UW/WG humans. Stellar.

Against Rakdos decks and reanimator strategies it was a great one for one buying you time until you got to the late game, hitting a flipped Huntmaster of the Fells and Rakdos Keyrune from Jund was always good news. Great!

One last point, having a win con like a big Planeswalker Detention Sphered is rough beats, end stepping it with a Decay makes it a useful card against decks it should be bad against, like the WUR control deck Todd Anderson was playing at the start of the season. This card stops the rules of magic, it turns off the philosophy of a colour, anything like that is always good.

ThraguskUltimate Price is another card that impressed me. It’s the best answer to Thundermaw Hellkite bar none and is solid in end stepping a Thragtusk so you can Sever the Bloodline the token, which is a play I don’t mind doing with Snapcaster or wrath effects, this was also done to bate an Aristocrat activation so it could be killed later with a burn spell. I think the removal is so sweet in this deck, whilst pricey, Sever the Bloodline is the best answer control decks have against Thundermaw, Aristocrat and Messenger and in this lies its strength of versatility.

Staff of Nin is also what I like to call a ‘Roy special’, a card that is good but people shy away from, I was even playing this in my original Grixis control list from last season when Delver was ruining people’s day. The applications are self explanatory, the problem was this deck didn’t need help with card drawing or dealing with X/1s and while missed, it was ultimately cut for my favourite dragon overlord.

Out of the sideboard a card I loved was Golgari Charm, one of the most satisfying things was killing an entire X/1 army with Craterhoof Behemoth on the stack, it was another answer to tokens and Aristocrat and the destroy enchantment mode was exactly what’s needed when token decks have Collective Blessing or Intangible Virtue.

The Problems

Geist of Saint TraftOne of the problems I faced was being one turn too late, dropping that Curse the turn after Aristocrat came down so you couldn’t surprise them or giving them a window to sac something and more importantly get smacked for 4. Against Gavony Township, you allowed them to pump their guys by being on the draw with the curse on the stack.

Similarly, a turn 5 Vraska or Tamiyo could be good or meh while a turn 4 one would be very good.

The deck also had problems with Geist of Saint Traft. It only has 5 ways to deal with it, the misers Tribute to Hunger and the 4 Thragtusk as they need two removal spells to run into it (that’s why I count the Tusk and not Snapcaster). Geist was an inherent weakness, in my testing group I’m fortunate enough to have good players, a good friend of mine Bart Tomiczek (top of the standings for Planeswalker points in the UK at the end of the first season) was playing the WUR tempo deck, in one match he mullinganed to oblivion (4) on the play but a second Geist was enough to kill me stone dead.

My new sideboard addresses this by adding Liliana of the Veil and Barter in Blood, Barter is very good right now.

So this is my current list that I’ve really enjoyed playing:

2 Nephalia Drownyard
2 SwampSnapcaster Mage
5 Island
4 Drowned Catacomb
4 Overgrown Tomb
3 Woodland Cemetery
4 Hinterland Harbor
1 Steam Vents

3 Snapcaster Mage
4 Thragtusk
3 Ultimate Price
1 Tamiyo, the moon sage
1 Tribute to Hunger
3 Jace, Architect of Thought
2 Sever the Bloodline
Jace, Architect of Thought3 Syncopate
1 Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker
2 Think Twice
2 Forbidden Alchemy
2 Curse of Death’s Hold
3 Abrupt Decay
4 Farseek
1 Vraska, the Unseen

2 Golgari Charm
3 Vampire Nighthawk
3 Liliana of the Veil
3 Appetite for Brains
1 Cremate
1 Negate
1 Nephalia Drownyard
1 Barter in Blood

As mentioned the deck was often one turn too slow, Farseek helps solve that problem whether you were on the draw or play, fellow mtgUK writer and good friend David Inglis suggested it to me saying its a pillar of the format and he was very right. With the addition of Farseek I’m able to splash a single red source via Steam Vents and play Nicol bolas, Planeswalker, the dragon goes over a lot of cards you can face and with Abrupt Decay you have a lot of answers to the outs people can pay against him. I do think he’s worth it, while my friends don’t agree, I’ve never lost a game where I’ve used his ultimate or even just stolen a Thragtusk.

liliana of the veilThe board addresses problems raised earlier and I’m starting to consider Liliana of the Veil main deck. I have a lot of flashback cards to mitigate her plus one, Mr. Inglis also suggested adding white for Lingering Souls and Sphinx’s Revelation, souls working particularly well with her.

I was advised against main decking her by another, saying I’m helping some decks out by using her plus one, i.e reanimator but if they’re pitching a card they were going to play anyway then it decreases the number of times you have to deal with it, an example is, my opponent has a Craterhoof, an Unburial Rites and two other cards. If they discard the Unburial Rites there’re only casting it once, not twice, meaning you only have to answer it once. I also really like Liliana’s ultimate so I may move her in.

I may also switch a Drownyard for an Alchemist Refuge, I’m finding I hardly ever win with the mill strategy and one of each may be better, I could be wrong, only more testing will tell.

I’ve found boarding with this deck very easy, against Rakdos, which seems to be public enemy number one I board out slow cards and counter spells for cards that soak up damage (Liliana) and cards that can slow the game down or provide a threat (Nighthawk).

That’s it for this week. Next time I’ll be covering shenanigans on the Modern PTQ grind, starting with the first PTQ of the season Chesham.

small thumbs upMerry Christmas and a happy new year.

Roy Raftery

Twitter: @Roy_Raf


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