From the Other Side of the Table (Guest Feature)
It helps to learn from your opponent. With respect to that, I’m starting a new article series featuring a different guest writer each time who is playing one of the other archetypes in Standard. Hopefully this will help you play those matchups better and also get a breather from my writing style. Enjoy!
From the Other Side of the Table (October)
The man who heard the call as he rose above the Mountains. He heard it from on high, the very rocks that he rose above, the smoldering wreckage beneath him. They spoke to him, he heard them whisper, “Tell us your secrets, tell us how you rise above the rest, and avoid joining them as a part of the ashes.”
That minor visual provided above, is reminiscent of how I came to write this article for this site. I play Magic often with the proprietor of this site, and the games are very back and forth, with trash talk, thought and respect transferred often back and forth as the currency of these exchanges. My name is Darrel Feltner, and I am pleasured to join you all in this installment of From on The Other Side of the Table.
We are all brought together by this wonderful game we play, and my story of immersion into it is relatively simple. I used to play Yu-Gi-Oh competitively and travel for it, and eventually when I was 13 I got bored of the game, and sought something more challenging and slower paced (the games ended very fast), and I found Magic. I learned one hard knock at a time like all of us has, and I cut my teeth on the most complicated decks. I played U/G Madness at the start, but really cut my teeth on the deck of Dr. Teeth himself.
“Scary isn’t he? Try learning this complex game on his back!”
Well, having cut my teeth on a deck that plays that beautiful monster, counterspells, removal, and card draw, I clearly was built as a control player at heart. Trying to play every permutation of the best wrath effects, card draw, and trying to end the game with the cheese standing alone. The lone threat, rising above the ashes, avoiding succumbing to becoming part of the Burning Earth, the smoldering ground where many of the opponents to our Mountain wielding friends have laid people to rest.
I can imagine one saying, “Enough with this intro and poetics though, let’s get to the clear cut content. How are you helping me as a red player?” Patience my aggressive friends. I respect your cackling, setting the trees on fire and rising like the phoenix, but patience is what I am going to teach you, the view from the other side of the table, setting a delicate table, to carefully move through and weather your opponents onslaught, and soon move to closing the door on them, strangling their resources and grinding them into submission. Lock yourselves in, because it may be boring trying to learn the life of the other side, because as Sun Tzu says, ”It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.”
Today, on The Other Side the enemy is: ESPER CONTROL!!!!!!
Maindeck (60 Cards)
Instants and Sorceries (25)
4 Supreme Verdict
4 Sphinx’s Revelation
3 Devour Flesh
3 Azorius Charm
3 Hero’s Downfall
3 Psychic Strike
1 Merciless Eviction
3 Jace, Architect of Thought
1 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
2 Detention Sphere
1 Elixir of Immortality
4 Watery Grave
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Godless Shrine
2 Pithing Needle
1 Glare of Heresy
3 Doom Blade
2 Jace, Memory Adept
1 Merciless Eviction
Now, one would see this list and say, “This isn’t the latest version, are you budget constricted? There are no Temples, Ashioks, and only one Elspeth…” and to all of these I would say no, and will discuss them in a moment. I believe this deck is the strongest deck for this format because it has the tools to fight every matchup. You have counterspells to fight the mid and late game threats that can resolve and make a game crumble, you have early removal and sweepers to stymie the early threats and stabilize at a reasonable life total, and you have one of the strongest late games and card advantage engines:
Stroke of Genius is meh, Stream of Life is terrible, but you staple them together, you get the strongest card in the Meta
I will address the main differences in my list and the stock lists and then we will get on to the juicy part: The Mono Red Matchup! First off let’s address the Planeswalker counts. Three Jace: This is a very strong card in the deck, but it is also very clunky. If you cast it when you opponent has one 2/2 on board, you are either fogging and trying to draw cards and losing Jace, or +1ing Jace and hope you opponent doesn’t Hero’s Downfall/Dreadbore/Detention Sphere it and if they don’t you are very far ahead. If there are more creatures on the board then you are just forcing a 3-5 damage exchange, and if they ship everything at Jace it is the best card in your deck, but if they ignore it, then you know you spent a turn doing nothing and are in for a world of hurt. No Ashiok: I have discovered that this card is pretty underwhelming. It comes into play and you mill them, and they then send a guy or 2 at it, and burn it or just attack it down, and it is terrible. It is a card I could see being a 1 of, but not a 3-4 of. We don’t actually want to play this on turn 3. This card is best played into an empty board, then using it to mill your opponent and steal their threat to kill them. This is possible if your opponent has an empty board, but if they one to three 2/2s on board, it is pretty terrible. So to try and be a little better against Aggro game 1, I chose none of these. 1 Elspeth: This was a concession to the fact that AEtherling closes games so much faster, Hero’s Downfall is a card, and Control can’t beat a resolved AEtherling unless their opponent goes brain dead. No Temples: I am a huge fan of tempo being a Legacy player, where all the lands come into play untapped, do everything, and every single shot at every mana matters. Having the ability to cast a two mana spell on turn two without taking damage is so important, especially with Aggro decks in the format. Because of this, hands with a couple Temples and a couple Shocks easily have you starting the game at 18-16, and then they get a few hits in with Cackler/Zealot/BTE, and all of a sudden you are saying the following phrase: “Hallowed Fountain, untapped, go to 4, Supreme Verdict” and resting on your laurels, praying that there isn’t a planeswalker or haste creature coming towards your face in a rapid fashion. Plus it gives the Esper deck the ability to fight the R/x decks (Ramp or Aggro) that use Burning Earth as a sideboard card. Manabarbs is unbearable for Control, and they reprinted it in a “fair” way, that if you don’t fill your deck with rare lands/guildgates (if you have to) then you can evade it. We are obviously rewarded by being U/W here, but I would rather have access to black removal and Thoughtseize for other matchups. That is all of the stylistic portions of the show, now to get to the nitty gritty analysis for the matchup.
The Red Matchup for Esper is typically in the Red player’s advantage if they know how to not overextend. The plan is pretty obvious for game 1 though; we want to kill all of the creatures using our spot removals, and then cast Supreme Verdict on turn 4. Then play a Jace, Architect of Thought into an empty board. Hit your land drops as often as possible, and fire off a Sphinx’s Revelation for X=3-5 Range. Once we have done that, we are typically at what I would call a comfortable life total (10-12) and then take control of the game by slamming the door shut with an Aetherling/Walker, or Revelation for x=6+, which typically prompts a concession.
The Important Cards for Game 1
All spot removal (low importance, but need it early to protect your life total)
Supreme Verdict (critical to hit on turn four, and get a 2+ for 1)
Sphinx’s Revelation (very important; gaining life is important against the aggro deck)
Elixir of Immortality (five life is nothing to scoff at, and occasionally getting back removal to draw at again is a good deal)
Jace, AoT (relatively mediocre. It can shrink your opponent’s guys, but it is important to bridge the gap to Revelation)
From the Red Side:
Mutavault (This card is killer; it hides from our Verdicts, and when we tap out for Verdict on four, if we see multiple Mutavaults to have to fight after, sadness ensues. This can be a drawback, however, if they are on the early Mutavault attacks plan and we kill it and they are mana light. Otherwise, very painful)
Hammer of Purphoros (Having haste creatures is terrible for the protection of the life total for Control, making all of your creatures hasty, and then having a 3/3 golem-factory is back breaking. We have to invest cards to kill tokens that aren’t worth cards)
Chandra’s Phoenix (Haste, as noted above, is painful, plus recursive if they burn us. Recursive is bad too, like killing a token from Hammer. This 2/2 is killer for us)
So, GG, you guys won Game 1, but I am ready to go to the boards, because I feel like that shores up the matchup.
Out of the boards for me: We for sure bring in the Doom Blades because killing creatures is important, we bring in Far//Away, because it can buy so much tempo. Finally we are bringing in Pithing Needle. Mutavault is very backbreaking and we can’t have it do anything other than be a colorless land, and being able to make Hammer do less and Chandra do nothing. Out goes the Psychic Strikes (three mana counters are too slow), the Elspeth, the Merciless Eviction, and one Azorius Charm (killing better than putting on top). This is the plan most of the time and doesn’t really deviate on the play/draw. Needle is the only debatable card, but if you see Mutavaults or Hammers then you bring them in for sure. The red player’s play style doesn’t actually do anything to change the cards in the deck, it just changes how and when I use my removal spells. If our opponent is more aggressive, we want to save our spot removal for post wrath to pick off their threats. If our opponent is more conservative, then we will spend our 1-1 removal spells to take the pressure off of us, and when they feel the pressure mount on them, and play multiple creatures, we go for the throat with Verdict.
The best cards that you as the Red player can have are dependent on lists. Most Esper Control decks (PT decks etc.) are playing 1/3 of their lands as basics. As a result, Burning Earth is typically a very powerful sideboard card against the Esper decks, and will cut them off of black mana to keep them off of their Doom Blade variants. Against my build of Control, it hurts less, but not enough to be ignored. Skullcrack is also a very powerful card against this deck, because the way I try to shut the door on you is to gain seven; draw seven. But if they can create a ten point swing by negating that life gain and then deal three damage, they have crippled the stabilization process, which is very valuable to closing the door on us in reverse. Mutavault, Hammer, and Chandra, Pyromaster are three cards that give the Control decks fits, because they are hard to kill, create repetitive threats, and draw cards respectfully. When you are trying to keep the board at parity and then pull ahead with cards in hand, this is crippling when they keep filling the board.
The deck moving forward has some changes that I could potentially make, but I like sticking with a list until a card shows that it’s not useful. The only card that has proven to move on its way out is Azorius Charm. The ability to do something in both Aggro matchups and Control matchups is wonderful, but I just feel like the card is inefficient for what it is trying to do. I think that the deck needs a card that is just a powerful effect, and not try and flirt with flexibility. The Jace, Memory Adepts are on the chopping block, because it is never a card I am excited to try and kill my opponent with, and may become a Psychic Strike and something else. The Doom Blades are always in flux with Last Breaths and Ultimate Prices, trying to find the correct collection of removal spells to close on the biggest threats in the Meta, which is a flavor of the week assessment. I would also like to try a second Elspeth in the Main, but Elspeth is very slow and closes the game poorly in some matchups, yet is infinitely better in others. It is a very polarizing card, and I am willing to give it a shot either way. The deck itself is ever evolving however, because of the fact that it is a Control deck you have to make your choice of what you think is the most popular selection of decks and prepare for them, and be willing to be caught with your pants down in a matchup or two. I think that the Aggro meta with Master of Waves at the helm makes this deck a reasonable choice as long as you figure out how you want to beat Thassa, and may cause the deck to play Gainsay because of it. I believe that soon the B/W Midrange and G/R Monsters decks will now come into prominence. Since Control won this weekend, and with Master of Waves on top, Doom Blade is a powerful card which means there will be Doom Blade and Control decks. I think that Mono-Red is going to have a tough run here in the next couple of weeks with the pro red army in a can and the all Doom Blades and 6/6s decks on top. Once Control jumps on top again, then Esper will come out to play geared for U/W/x Mirrors, and then the Red mages can light the earth on fire again and cast their four mana enchantments to make people with bad mana bases sad.
Now you shall never falter in one hundred battles, you know your enemy, and I assume you as the Red player know yourself, and you should feel better equipped to see your way into the mind of the controller, and take back control yourself. WE know this game is a game of competition, but I would love to leave you with a story where fun was had, and the game was more than a grind.
I was playing a game of EDH recently that may or may not have gotten a little out of hand. I was playing my Zedruu the Greathearted EDH Deck, and we were having quite the game. I littered the board with enchantments that made combat a nightmare for anyone who wanted to do it, and then I casted Akroan Horse. Everyone’s favorite draft Rare from Theros, gave it away, and everyone got a soldier! Then things got a little bit confusing. I casted Confusion in the Ranks (go ahead and gatherer that one kids) and passed the turn to the player with the Akroan horse. Tokens came into play, triggers went onto the stack, people got confused and people got sad. The confusion in the ranks that was created at our table was glorious, and the next turn, I drew eight cards from my Commander. So much value, and so much entertainment trying to watch three other people resolve all of the triggers that resulted from every spell they casted! I embraced the insanity, and we had a ball playing the game, a game I am sure no one who participated will ever forget!
Enjoy yourselves everyone, and I hope that being on The Other Side of the Table was educational, and I would be more than willing to take you under my wings and bring you over to this side permanently!
Hope the read was wonderful! Feel free to leave any criticism so that my writing can get better!
– Darrel Feltner