Mr. P and I dug right in as soon as Matt sent over his list. My first insistence was that we try to stay as close as possible to the theme and the layout of the original list; I envisioned a toolbox approach with a control game that was to lean toward aggro, leveraging copy and steal effects over straight counters and removal. (Matt was noticing he was being outclassed by other decks, so I figured…why not just take them?)
This wasn’t going to be the case for long.
Mr. P took a first pass; the Isperia toolbox shed some ineffective weight and picked up some stronger control options; in went cards like Sower Of Temptation and Karmic Guide. Most of the ‘knowledge of opponent’s hand’ cards left in the first pass, owing to the fact that they made for terrible late-game topdecks (“Hey! Look at the Cruel Ultimatum I’m about to target you with!’) and were generally trumped by cards that actually played the control game instead; the theory was that if you got through with Isperia, you’d probably be able to do it again while having better cards in hand. In went Treachery and Reins Of Power.
This was about the moment Mr. P and I stopped to take another look from a distance, and it was not encouraging.
“It still lacks any haymakers.”, he said.
“What about Rite Of Replication?”, I offered.
PITFALL #1 – THE TURBONOTHING SLANT
To give props where props are due, Mr. P was dead-set against letting this deck fall into territory known as affectionately as “Turbonothing”. I referenced this in the last post, but for those of you not aware of the term, let’s look deeper at the colors Isperia brings to the table.
BLUE: Blue loves counters. Steal and copy effects. Card draw. Decent-sized flyers. It bounces things fairly well.
WHITE: White is fantastic at removal. Er…decent-sized flyers? It’s great at removal too. Uhh…did I mention removal?
Combine the two in one deck, and you’ve got the potential to basically say “no” to people…and that’s nearly it, if you’re not careful. It gets even worse at the intersection of the two colors, where you see combat inhibiters like Propaganda and Ghostly Prison. What a hoot; by “hoot”, I mean narcolepsy-inducing.
Turbonothing, roughly translated, means “I’m a sadistic douchebag that enjoys preventing anything at all from happening ever.”
We’ve both got miserable stories about facing decks like this, and we were determined to steer clear of them at all costs in this build; Mr. P almost militantly so:
“Rite seems fine. I excluded it because I’m #$%&ing tired of that card.”
Reasonable. There’s a reason I’ve upgraded it to “game-ending” status. Still…we were looking at making this deck better, and with an aggressive control game plan, it seemed like a no-brainer.
The mana-base became cause for concern next. Mr. P logically called for more lands, shooting for 38 in addition to a host of other accelerators like Sol Ring and Armillary Sphere. I’m traditionally stingy with my land; I believe my decks average 36 lands, so I called that into question.
“Do you really feel 38 lands? I still think we could cut one and be okay here, especially with the Armillary Sphere include.” I suggested.
“That’s only 37 lands. Am I happy with that? Not really. This deck really wants Land Tax, or something to ensure that it is hitting land drops. This deck needs to play a land every turn. In fact, we should cut something for Land Tax.”
Of course, he’s correct. Control decks live and die by having the maximum amount of available mana at all times, in order to leverage threats with the appropriate control elements. In a multiplayer format, this is all the more important. In went Land Tax.
PITFALL #2 – The Five Truths, and The Path To Enlightenment
Around this time, Mr. P and I lost a fairly grueling game to a U/W Hanna, Ship’s Navigator list that involved a massive amount of enchantment-based control, Attunement as a draw/mill engine, all the fun Propaganda effects that we discussed already, and a combo-ish win condition that involves Replenish, Opalescence, and possibly boring the entire table to the point of heart-stoppage.
“Aura Thief is going in this goddamn thing right now.”, I declared.
Mr. P agreed, and had some other ideas.
And with that, we discovered what I feel is the Five Truths Of Playing A U/W General.
Truth One: Your deck will be a combo deck. People will ask you to play something else fairly frequently, and make vague threats involving punching you in the groin.
Truth Two: Your deck will be a theme deck. You will want to punch yourself in the groin after watching it under-perform a few times.
Truth Three: Your deck is a Turbonothing hero. People will suggest you re-add a game-ending combo to speed things up; alternately, people will suggest you go gargle broken glass.
Truth Four: You just know you can make this mid-range aggro thing work out, despite the fact that you’re missing out on the two most-important colors for aggro. Hey, look! You just ate another Avenger Of Zendikar beatdown for enough damage that your grandchildren will auto-lose the first nineteen games they ever play.
Truth Five: Welcome to Goodstuff.dec.
The conclusion that we came to finally was that U/W has a really hard time not being terribly un-fun by either running combos, excess control, or just being crappy. All is not list, however; the key in playing the best stuff these colors offer is in leveraging interaction; If I learned one thing recently with my Sisters Of Stone Death experiment, it was that games were way more fun if you were constantly playing them, instead of playing a dude, passing, and waiting until your next untap step came. Enlightenment through taking the tools you have and using them to play the game, instead of ending it on the spot or grinding it to a halt.
I think we finally had come to terms with where we needed to go, when the word came back from Matt:
“I have a spare Sword of Fire and Ice lying around, but aside from that and the Jitte that’s already in the deck, I don’t have any swords to spare. (Hardly any at all actually; I have a Sword of Light and Shadow but it’s in Doran now.)
Beautiful. Mr. P was enthused.
“I’m glad this dude seems positive on the changes, because we’re cutting all of his pet cards.”
Indeed. I figured I’d ask the question one last time:
“How far down the rabbit hole do you want to go here? I can give you something that is an improvement on what you have without straying too far from home, or I can give you the 2.0 Upgrade that will be a departure, but will hang with the best of them and be a contender all the way. What do you think?”
Matt said the magic words.
“A strong list is what I’m after; I’m too involved in the deck to make big changes, that’s why I’m trying to get other people to do my work for me!
I’d like to see both lists, but if you don’t want to write up huge tracts of text on them, do the better version on your blog, and send me the lesser version.”
. . . . .
THE ISPERIA TOOLBOX
ADDITIONAL UTILITY CREATURES
9 x Plains
. . . . .
First off, an apology to Matt. I know we essentially fixed your problem by basically taking your general and tossing it on a completely different pile of 99 cards, but I know we both feel that this is a stronger showing than your original list, and given your metagame, I think this stands up a whole lot better, and I think that’s the point of this exercise in the long run.
Some of the original elements were absolutely correct inclusions, such as Stonecloaker (Hey! We kept a favorite after all!) and Consecrated Sphinx. From there, we bolstered the power of the toolbox over the extra helping of random includes; cards like Aura Thief and Keiga stay on theme while offering answers to critical threats, while you gain extra utility from Chancellor Of The Spires and Twilight Shepherd.
Outside of the toolbox, you gain two critical tutor paths in Stoneforge Mystic and Trinket Mage; the former allows you early protection for your general via Greaves or access to the Sword suite, which are important both for getting extra punch from your general, but also provide passive card advantage once they get going, which is critical for a control deck. The latter gives you access to acceleration (Sol Ring), card draw (Top), graveyard hate (Relic), or mana fixing/land utility (Map.)
Moving into spell territory, you got some big-time upgrades. Rite Of Replication and Gather Specimens are fantastic answers to creature-heavy strategies like Avenger Of Zendikar and Primeval Titan, and you get some proactive answers in Bribery (Hello Ulamog!) and Desertion. You’re drawing at instant speed for the most part with cards like Fact Or Fiction and Blue Sun’s Zenith, and you’re now leveraging a better mass-removal suite as well. There are a good amount of cantrips in there too – the deck is filled with little subtle synergies. Instant-speed tricks like Ghostway and Momentary Blink play double-duty with your ETB creatures as well. Quicksilver Amulet lets you leverage your mana for control elements on other people’s turns while still getting your creatures down whenever it works for you. Great in a list like this.
Thirty-seven lands round out the list; important utility cards like High Market and Winding Canyons are here; Mystifying Maze sticks around to protect, and Academy Ruins gets you your Swords or Oblivion Stone back. Land Tax, Armillary Sphere and Thawing glaciers find you what you need, while Sol Ring and Thran Dynamo boost you into your bigger spells.
Is it perfect? Certainly not. In fact, Mr. P and I will both readily admit that this style of deck is not one we’re typically comfortable with, either on the design end or at the table. (Hell, I’m sure some of you readers are probably sitting on better lists as we speak.) I know we kind of stretched things in places, such as with the Swords (Pull SoLS out of Doran! It’s better here!) and cards like Land Tax and Bribery; certainly feel free to use this as more of a reference to build off of. But I think what it does well is leverage the toolbox tutor ability of the general, while giving you a stronger threats and options across the board. At the very least, it should give you some new ideas that you might not have considered before card-wise or direction-wise. Certainly don’t feel bad about throwing your beloved Dovescape or the snow suite back in there!
I hope we didn’t completely ruin your life here with a ground-up redesign, Matt. I know we got rid of a boatload of your pet cards. I assure you our intentions were nothing but the best at all times. I’d love to hear your thoughts! (that’s true of anyone…light us up in the comments!)
In closing, I’d like to thank Matt for the challenge and experience, and extra thanks to Mr. P for really taking this to heart and running with it; awesome job, and much appreciated.
Until next time-