THE PLAYERS
-Matt, aka Viperion
Resident Blogger at Misadventures In Magic.
-Mr. P
Resident pithy commentator extraordinaire right here at GDC.  My partner in crime in all things EDH (and occasionally otherwise), and a deck construction master.  If you caught my Thraximundar contest, you’ll have seen:
A) His winning decklist
B) My awful starting decklist, which should be reason enough as to why he’s onboard for this one…
-Me
(I’m the one on the bottom…)
This guy:
THE CHALLENGE
Matt recently asked a few of his partners in the blogosphere to do a “Deck Doctor” challenge.  The request: Take one of the current decks he runs that he feels are underperforming; dissect the deck, root out the issues, make suggestions that improve the deck, and toss it up on our sites for the world to see.  (For reference, Thaumaturge did a hell of a job on Matt’s Doran deck over at The Command Zone already.  Nice job, Thaum!) 
THE REWARD
Fame.  Fortune.  Glory?  Er…blog material? 
Right!  Moving on…
THE SETUP
I had to know more before going into this, so I grilled Matt over a series of e-mails.
What’s up with this thing, Matt?

“It is built pretty much around the general, and I decided pretty early on that all the creatures that are in it should be fliers – I think this has hamstrung me unnecessarily, and I’ve got some pretty bad creatures in here as a result…I’ve gone through four or five versions of this deck, but in each case rather than change the theme of the deck I’ve just added what I consider to be better and better flying creatures.
The issue with the deck is that it doesn’t really apply any pressure at any stage of the game, and like all creature based decks is somewhat vulnerable to mass removal. This deck has more counterspells than any other deck I have…and yet I still have issues pushing damage through and keeping guys on the board.”

Right on.  Seems reasonable.  U/W Skies is a pretty tough thing to pull off in EDH; you’re in possibly the worst colors for straight aggro, you don’t get the ramping or buffing from green, you miss out on the combat tricks and haste red provides, and you lose out on the tokens and bigger, better beaters in green, red AND black. 

So you’re stuck playing counters and mid-sized guys.  I can see why it doesn’t apply pressure.

Any particular themes or strategies you like or dislike?

 Please Don’t Add:
-Any mass land destruction
-Any combo which locks other players out of playing”

Hallelujah.  If you ever find yourself on the east coast of the U.S., drop by for a game.  You’ll fit right in with us.

Any cards you have a deep-seated attraction to in the current list that you’ll go through withdrawals if we pull?

Please Keep:
Rimefeather Owl (and the Snow mana base)
Sky Hussar
Stonecloaker
Dovescape

We’ll see what we can do there.  I appreciate the utility that Stonecloaker provides for sure, but I’m a little suspect on the others.  Rimefeather is incredibly expensive for essentially a vanilla flyer, and Sky Hussar is usually either a combo enabler or a mediocre beater with a utility ability stapled to his back that really should be useable at instant-speed.  I appreciate Dovescape for the bomb that it is, but it isn’t a great control card for a deck that actually wants its counters and draw spells active and tends to be outclassed by creatures in other colors. 

For you, though…I’ll try to be nice.  I can’t guarantee Mr. P will, but I’ll see what I can do for you.

Matt also gave me a light budgetary constraint; he was not adverse to trading for anything, but would like to keep a soft ballpark limit of around $10 for cards, with an extreme ceiling of $25 if absolutely necessary. 

Both myself and my credit card bill admire your restraint, sir.  

Before we get started, talk to me a bit about your metagame.

“I’d say we lean more towards competitive…there are a lot more decks running Primeval Titan than ones running Brown Ouphe, if you know what I mean 🙂 Which is one reason why Isperia is underperforming so much – it’s a fine theme deck but it just can’t compete with Titans and Commands and Ultimatums 🙂


Decks I play against regularly-


-5 colour control, extremely occasionally casting Progenitus. In reality this one is a “play Brilliant and/or Cruel Ultimatum as much as possible” deck
-Mono-Black control, using Kiku. All the good black and colorless spells.
Stonebrow super-stompy with some extra combat step goodness
-5 Colour Angels
-Dragons
-Kill everything Akroma (12 wraths + angels)”

Perfect.  With that, I think we’re in business.

.   .   .   .   .
A quick note before we get to the list –  I decided to make this an organic process, rather than stick to the traditional once-over of a list, followed by a suggested improved one.  I wanted to keep changing things as they progressed to ensure that things would head in a direction Matt liked, and also because I wanted to make sure that I could bring something back to the table for Mr. P when I inevitably and quickly ran out of good ideas myself.  Per usual, Mr. P and I would be talking and e-mailing quite a bit about revisions, suggestions, and tech, but I also wanted to keep Matt in the loop as well as the process progressed so we could audible if needed.  (I’ll make sure some of the juicy details of the conversations on both sides end up in here.)
THE FIRST LOOK
Here’s the initial list:

GENERAL

Isperia the Inscrutable

THE ISPERIA TOOLBOX
Angel of Flight Alabaster
Angelic Arbiter
Archon of Justice
Aven Mindcensor
Aven Riftwatcher
Baneslayer Angel
Belfry Spirit
Cerulean Sphinx
Consecrated Sphinx
Conundrum Sphinx
Crookclaw Elder
Draining Whelk
Emeria Angel
Faerie Swarm
Glen Elendra Archmage
Godhead of Awe
Kangee, Aerie Keeper
Kor Skyfisher
Hunted Lammasu
Meloku the Clouded Mirror
Mulldrifter
Patron of the Moon
Pride of the Clouds
Riftwing Cloudskate
Rimefeather Owl
Serra Angel
Serra Sphinx
Sky Hussar
Spiketail Drakeling
Spirit of the Hearth
Sphinx of Magosi
Sphinx of Uthuun
Stonecloaker
Storm Elemental
Thieving Magpie
Vengeful Archon
Voidstone Gargoyle
Windreaver

ISPERIA ENABLERS
Spy Network 
Curfew
Peel from Reality
Remand


CONTROL
Dream Fracture
Faerie Trickery
Lay Bare
Rewind
Overwhelming Intellect 

RESOURCES, REMOVAL, AND ASSORTED GOODIES
Condemn
Darksteel Ingot
Dismantling Blow
Dovescape
Fact or Fiction
Ghostway
Gravitational Shift
Momentary Blink
Mystic Speculation
Plumes of Peace
Return to Dust
Sensei’s Divining Top
Swords to Plowshares

MANA
Azorius Chancery
Boreal Shelf
Calciform Pools
Coastal Tower
Evolving Wilds
Halimar Depths
Lonely Sandbar
Mistveil Plains
Mouth of Ronom
Nimbus Maze
Prahv, Spires of Order
Secluded Steppe
Scrying Sheets
Terramorphic Expanse
10 x Snow-Covered Island
11 x Snow-Covered Plains 

.   .   .   .   .  
I think Matt nailed it with his critique.  We’re essentially looking at a mid-range aggro deck with a soft general-driven tutor theme and a control package.  The only nod to a “bomb” is the inclusion of Dovescape; otherwise, the deck appears to be pretty vanilla in appearance and of a reasonable if not strong control performance level.  There isn’t enough card advantage built into the list, and there’s not enough horsepower to fend off a table of players at one time.  I would imagine it would be much better in 1-vs-1 play than multiplayer games; in any case, Matt plays in a self-described “competitive” environment, and I can’t see how this would stand up to that as much as I’m sure Matt wants.
We could immediately see a huge issue with the design; as far as either Mr. P or I could tell, (and with no intended offense to Matt), it just…well, it didn’t appear to do much of anything, in the vein of the old “Turbonothing” control variants.  There are several sub-par flying inclusions (due to the theme), some limited removal and a a few counters, and some creature-buffing enchantments that serve to make incremental improvements to Matt’s team.  There are also some inclusions that have to be holdovers from earlier incarnations, because they don’t exactly make sense.  (Jitte, I’m looking at you…)  
And there’s the kinda-cool sphinx subtheme.  Points for that, although it might just be part of your problem. 
Mr. P and I both agreed that the fundamental issue here is there isn’t a particularly strong way to apply any pressure to the board.  I think this is the fundamental issue with a “U/W Skies”-style builds in any multiplayer environment, and subsequently the biggest hurdle we’ll need to overcome.
We’ve got our work cut out for us.  Matt, I really hope you’re not afraid of change…
Coming Next:
-Part 2!  Mr. P and I make a few passes, discover a few truths about U/W aggro, lay down a few options for Matt, and hit the ground running on an epic rebuild.  It’s also possible that Mr. P does a boatload of work after I get confused and overwhelmed and wander off to make a sandwich or something… 
àDJ