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Standard Update with Game Walkthrough

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The letter I!n the following table, the Top 8 results from last week's Magic Online Online Standard Premier Events (nine in total) are compiled. You can click on a deck name in the first column to view a decklist and short explanation of the deck in my deck-o-pedia forum thread. I gave that deck database a through revision recently, using the Regionals Top 4 decklists and decklists from Magic Online Online players that my helping hand Josh – on the "DeckMaster" account – collected. So now you can find a representative list with Future Sight updates for most popular Standard decks in my deck-o-pedia again. The second column in the table you're about to view shows the popularity percentage, which is a measure of both Top 8 appearance frequency and Top 8 playoff performance. Simply put, I add up the earned match points of each deck rather than allocating points on a one-point-per-Top 8 basis. Therefore, a high popularity percentage indicates a deck that many people play and win with.

Deck name Popularity
1. Dralnu du Louvre ■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■ (16%)
2. Gruul Aggro ■■■■■ ■■■■■ ■■■■ (14%)
3. Zoo ■■■■■ ■■■■■ (10%)
4. Solar Flare ■■■■■ ■■■ (8%)
5. U/R Perilous Storm ■■■■■ ■■ (7%)
6. Mono Black Rack discard ■■■■■ ■■ (7%)
7. Mono Blue Pickles ■■■■■ ■ (6%)
8. Dragonstorm ■■■■■ (5%)
9. NarcoBridge ■■■■ (4%)
10. Angelfire ■■■■ (4%)
11. Mono Black Korlash midrange ■■■ (3%)
12. Glittering Wish Control ■■■ (3%)
13. GhaziGlare ■■ (2%)
14. B/R/U Korlash Control ■ (1%)
15. Izzetron ■ (1%)
16. U/R Vore ■ (1%)
17. U/G Scryb&Force ■ (1%)
18. B/G The Rack discard ■ (1%)
19. Red Deck Wins ■ (1%)
20. Orzhov Discard Aggro ■ (1%)

The last time I featured a Standard metagame tabulation in my column, Dragonstorm, Dralnu du Louvre, and Gruul Aggro were the clear top 3 decks to beat, The Regionals results showed a dominance of Gruul Aggro and Dragonstorm. There were some Dralnu du Louvre in the Regionals Top 8, but not in the numbers that Magic Online Online (and I) predicted. Strangely enough, today we see that Dralnu du Louvre is still the number one online deck. So the Regionals results and the Magic Online Online results are quite different with respect to Dralnu du Louvre.

Zoo is in a surprising third place. Now that the Sulfur Elemental trend has withered down, the Savannah Lions can come out and play again. Aggro decks seem to be making up a reasonable chunk of the metagame, and the usage of Tarmogoyf (always good against other Zoo/Gruul decks, although in the few games I played against other match-ups Tarmogoyf was an unreliable 1/2 too often for my liking, but maybe I was just unlucky) and Greater Gargadon (with the advent of Korlash, Heir to Blackblade, Tendrils of Corruption has become more popular, and Greater Gargadon can fizzle it) is increasing.

Solar Flare has gotten a boost lately, while Izzetron is taking a plunge. NarcoBridge has replaced G/B Dredge decks, but Golgari Grave-Trolls still aren't dominant, because everyone still has graveyard hate in their sideboards. Mono Black Korlash mid-range and particularly B/R/U Korlash Control are fairly new decks with lots of potential. Korlash, Heir to Blackblade is a very strong card with an awesome Grandeur ability, it is (one of) the most influential cards in Future Sight. So it comes as no surprise that decks are built around him (just click on the deck names in the table above for sample decklists; all deck-o-pedia entries are updated).

Project X did reasonably well in Regionals, but since you have to click through the combo loop over and over again on Magic Online, no one wants to play it there. And strangely enough U/R Perilous Storm has surpassed Dragonstorm, but that appears to be just an online phenomenon. The Regionals results show that Dragonstorm is the superior combo deck in these colors and I have to agree with that assessment. I think that most players just want to try out new goodies, and when everything settles down the proven Dragonstorm deck will return. Rounding out the metagame we have Angelfire and Mono Blue Pickles, which have been steadily hovering around 3%-5% for a while now.

So what would I play in this metagame? I told you two weeks ago that I would take Dralnu du Louvre. I haven't changed my mind, since I prefer to play control decks, although I wouldn't mind trying out one of the many possible Tri-Color Control decks with Signets, Damnation/Wrath of God, card advantage like Aeon Chroniclers, etcetera. We have Solar Flare, Angelfire, and B/R/U Korlash Control, and they all seem appealing.

Walk the walk

Last week I concluded with a poll, asking you which deck I should write an interesting game walkthrough with that explains turn-by-turn explanations and decisions. It felt like a nice plan, but it didn't exactly come together as I had hoped. Due to an unexpected delay I didn't have the poll results yet over the weekend, which put me in a pretty awkward situation, since I pretty much didn't have time to write on Monday. But still ... I promised a walkthrough, and I will still give one. But since I didn't have the poll results to work with in time, I have the following solution. Based on the forum responses and on the Standard metagame popularity table, I figured that a walkthrough with Dralnu du Louvre would be most desired, so that's what I am going to show today. Otherwise, I won't ignore those poll results; I will write a walkthrough on the deck that came out on top in the poll in a later week. Here's how the poll actually came out.

Which deck should I write a game walkthrough about next week?
Combo: NarcoBridge 1618 19.4%
Control: Dralnu du Louvre 1147 13.8%
Aggro: Satanic Sligh 1034 12.4%
Combo: Perilous Storm 980 11.8%
Aggro: Zoo 867 10.4%
Control: Angelfire 849 10.2%
Aggro: Gruul 718 8.6%
Control: Solar Flare 680 8.2%
Combo: Dragonstorm 437 5.2%
Total 8330 100.0%

I played a couple 8 mans with Dralnu du Louvre, trying to find a good game that shows some interesting concepts. After some thought, I figured that a control-on-control mirror – and now I'll be talking about a match-up between two decks with lots of counterspells in particular –was the best to show. Most players can intuitively play control versus aggro well, but control-on-control mirrors are way more difficult if you lack experience. I see that players are on the wrong strategy or on the wrong game plan far too often. With the popularity of Dralnu du Louvre, Mono Blue Pickles, and very similar decks in Block Constructed, running into a mirror match-up will be inevitable and knowing how to approach those games is very important. In this article, I will show a framework that is – in my opinion – the best way to play those games. Control mirrors are not even all that hard to win, as long as you uphold the following rules of thumb (most of these should already be familiar to the more experienced control players, but I hope that the less experienced players can learn something valuable).

1. Never do anything ever, unless your opponent gives you a window of opportunity. I would rather discard a good spell than cast it. This may seem odd, but in a control mirror of two counter decks, usually the first player to make a move loses. This concept is most easily understood with a simplified example; take two decks with 28 lands, 2 Mahamoti Djinn, and 30 counterspells. Player A starts by casting Mahamoti Djinn, then a counterwar will ensure which player A will lose since he already spent 6 mana on his threat and he doesn't have enough lands to counter back often enough. After the counterwar, player A is tapped out. On player B's turn, he can resolve a Mahamoti Djinn of his own unopposed, and thus he wins the game. Real decks are more complicated, but the concept is still applicable.

2. Use the opponent's end step to overload his mana. The best way to approach a control mirror is to assemble cards and mana for a long time, doing nothing, and hope your opponent doesn't know the first rule of thumb and foolishly makes a move too soon, spelling his doom. But if he doesn't, then eventually you are both discarding because no one is doing anything, and someone has to break the ice at some point. You have to aim for another strategy. The bottleneck in control mirrors is often the amount of mana in play, not the amount of counters in hand. Imagine your opponent has 4 Cancel in hand but only 6 Islands in play. Then he can only counter twice on a given turn. The gist of the idea is that at his end of turn, you play a threat. The opponent counters. Play another threat; countered again. Now, on your turn he is tapped out, and you are free to resolve a game-winning card as you see fit. The name of those threats is not all that relevant; it could be Bogardan Hellkite, Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir, Goryo's Vengeance, or whatever is appropriate. This strategy also works for mid-range decks versus counter-control decks, and I used it nicely to beat blue counter decks with my Gifts Ungiven decks at the time of Kamigawa Block. My game plan starting from Turn 1 would be to aim for one huge turn, where I would cast Gifts Ungiven and 2 Goryo's Vengeances at the end of his turn, then 3 Dragons on my subsequent own turn, and my opponent would never have enough mana up to counter all of that. This works.

3. Don't expose yourself to Draining Whelk or Brine Elemental. Don't mindlessly cast an end of turn Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir or Mystical Teachings, only to see your opponent casting Draining Whelks or flipping Brine Elemental which you cannot answer. So most of the time, the best strategy is to still don't do anything. Why did Guillame Wafo-Tapa win the last Pro Tour? He is one of the most patient men alive.

4. Try to get as much mana in play as possible, and make sure to put enough lands in your deck, as that will allow you to win counter wars and simply do more than your opponent. An extreme story is the following. Rogier Maaten kept a 7 land opening draw in GP Strasbourg, because he was in the draw bracket and figured he was most likely facing another UBw Control deck. Strange as it may sound – but believe me – a 7 land opening hand is close to the god draw in that mirror matchup, since hitting a land drop on every turn is so important, and it seems like a fine keeper if you are in the draw bracket. The ending is not exactly relevant for the discussion at hand, but still funny. Rogier's opponent did not play the UBw Control deck that he was hoping for. His opponent suspended a turn 1 Rift Bolt. Ouch. Somehow, though ... Rogier still won that game. Such a lucksack. Now, place yourself in the shoes of the red player. If your opponent tells you he kept a 7 land opening hand in the game he won, how would that make you feel?

5. Don't counter the opponent's card draw. Carlos Romao won the World Championships in Sydney a couple years back with the strategy of never countering Fact or Fiction in the Psychatog mirror match. The strategy worked; Carlos just kept the counters for the real threats (which are often limited in number for these type of decks) and always won big counterwars since he still had more counters in hand.

6. Have a fast computer and internet connection and/or don't try to win on Urza's Factory when there is an Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth in play (this one is courtesy of Tiago Chan after he just lost 2 games on time out, and his frustration can only be understood if you play Magic Online).

This is the deck I used for the game, which will illustrate some of the above points (unfortunately I never got an exciting tense game that I was hoping for, but beggars can't be choosers):

It's the same base deck as I showed 2 weeks ago. I made a couple very minor tweaks; I added 1 Careful Consideration main instead of 1 Think Twice, because it can be fetched to deck reckless dredge players. Furthermore, I cut 1 Slaughter Pact and 1 Haunting Hymn from the sideboard (almost never used them) in favor of 1 Tendrils of Corruption and 1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth (pretty good against the Zoo and Gruul aggro decks that are rising in popularity). Okay, on to the game!

It is Round 1 of an online 8-man Standard queue. We play thran alves, who wins the die roll and chooses to play first. He keeps his opening hand. We see the following opening hand:

Five lands, Cancel and Spell Snare. It is great in a control mirror, because we have 5 lands and 2 storage lands, which essentially makes even more mana. In any other match-up the hand is weak, but still keepable, since we have some cheap countermagic for early threats, and if we draw a Mystical Teachings then we have enough mana to abuse it. So the verdict is to keep it.

Our opponent starts with Watery Grave. We play Island (not the Watery Grave tapped, since we might be up against Solar Flare and we want to Spell Snare a potential Turn 2 Signet). Our opponent just plays Snow-Covered Swamp and passes on Turn 2. Looks like we're heading for a mirror match. We play Dreadship Reef as our second land, planning to charge it up at end of turn. Even if I had Think Twice in hand (I don't, but let's just pretend so that I can explain something), I would rather still charge up the land. I believe that counters on storage lands are more useful than quick card draw. Mana is that important.

Our opponent plays Terramorphic Expanse (fetching Snow-Covered Island), Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, and Snow-Covered Island over the course of the next few turns. We play Watery Grave tapped on turn 3 (no need to keep mana open for Cancel, since if this is the mirror match then there is nothing that we would want to counter anyway), Dreadship Reef on Turn 4, and Island on Turn 5. No one is doing anything, but we are charging up our storage lands, so we have the best position.

Our opponent then misses a land drop, and we punish that by playing an Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth of our own in order to destroy his with the legend rule. The next turn he plays another Urborg. Right now we're 7 turns into the game. Nothing has happened yet (that's the usual pace of this match-up), and this is the game state on our turn:

Since mana is so important, and our opponent has missed a land drop, I choose to transmute Tolaria West for another Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. Then we play it to destroy his, for the second time this game.

Our opponent, on his turn, then plays another Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth! Argh, number three? Well, I only run two copies, so okay, okay, you got me. Perhaps in hindsight we would have been better off by not transmuting for Urborg last turn now, but there was no way I could predict he had a third Urborg in hand. Oh well, we just keep activating the Dreadship Reef. On our turn we play Island and pass, and charge up both Reefs at the end of thran alves's turn.

We move into his discard step, and since he was holding 8 cards, he has to discard. He tosses out Damnation. Do you see what is going on? Because nothing ever happens in this match-up and both of our hands are clogged up with creature removal and counters, we can cast nothing, and eventually if we don't have any lands to play anymore we have to discard. There is not much you can do about this in-game, but this might help you to understand why so often control decks have 27 or 28 lands. It's a lot, but if you run less, you probably have to discard at some point, wishing that you ran more lands. Since I have access to more mana, I will always win a counter war and eventually I can cast more threats per turn than he can answer.

I still see no need to do anything, by the way. You may wonder why I don't cast Mystical Teachings or Teferi at the end of his turn. Remember the golden rule of control mirrors; never do anything. There is just no need. I would rather charge up both storage lands for a net gain of 2 mana at some point than to play something irrelevant (Teachings fetches something I don't really need now, and Teferi will just bite removal or counters at this early point of the game) at the end of his turn. Furthermore, there is a good chance that he just Rewinds it and then doesn't have to discard. Nah, the game is going fine as it is. Perhaps if I didn't have any storage lands then I would cast Mystical Teachings for Think Twice to draw extra lands, planning to run out a Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir at the end of his turn in a few turns. But since I have inevitability with my storage lands – that's why you can easily see up to 6 of them in a good control deck – I just sit back and relax.

Our turn again. This is the game state:

What to do with the Tolaria West? I see two main options: either transmute for Dimir Aqueduct (since that's basically 2 lands in one, and mana is important), or go for Urza's Factory. In my experience, many of these control mirrors are decided on Urza's Factory advantage, and it is pretty hard to beat an active Urza's Factory. It doesn't look like the game will come down to Factory tokens, as it looks more probable that I will win on Teferi beatdown, but it might play a role in the late game if it comes to that (and I want to make a point that Factory advantage is vital in these match-ups in general), so I just fetch the Factory and play it. Thran alves plays Snow-Covered Island, and we charge up the Dreadship Reefs.

We draw Mystical Teachings and either have to discard or play Careful Consideration. It's a pretty close call. Playing Considerations might draw us a land so that we don't miss a land drop, and therefore casting it is not the worst. I don't play it here though in order to make a point. It is too risky to do anything in your main phase. We would tap low in the process, and our opponent might start posing threats at the end of our turn, tap us down low in a counter war, and that might get us in trouble. I'd rather just discard something irrelevant and toss out an excess Mystical Teachings that clogs up storage land mana.

Thran alves plays nothing, and right before he discards we can either activate Urza's Factory, or charge up our lands, or attempt a Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir. I think that activating Urza's Factory is best here. Our storage lands are charged full enough now. Playing Teferi doesn't seem all that good, since he will just counter it (thus he won't even have to discard), and we can't take advantage of him tapping low for a counter war at the end of his turn; we don't have a big follow-up threat on our own turn. However, if we start churning out tokens every turn, then he has to make a move at some point. He has to answer the Factory tokens. That moves the initiative on him, and once he taps out to answer them, then the time is right to start doing stuff. The first player to make a move loses, and by activating Urza's Factory we force him to make a move. That's what we do, and thran alves discards Slaughter Pact.

We draw Damnation, attack, and are ready to discard. However, before that thran alves plays Mystical Teachings (no point in countering it) and reveals Repeal. He then Repeals the Assembly-Worker token.

This was more or less expected; he has to answer the Factory token game plan at some point. Now I see two feasible options. Plan 1 is to just say okay and keep on making tokens. Plan 2 is to play Teferi (now unopposed since he is tapped out). He will probably cast Damnation, but we have Cancel plus Snare mana up to deal with it. Then, on our turn we cast Careful Considerations and are safe in the game with a full grip and enough lands. I think the second option gives us a better chance of winning. It is a bit aggressive and greedy, but we might as well end it quickly now that he's tapped out.

Our opponent untaps, draws, and then plays Persecute. I expected Damnation, but this is just about as bad. We Cancel, with one mana up for Spell Snare just in case. He doesn't counter back and we sink the one mana in our storage land, removing zero counters in order to avoid mana burn. He continues with Compulsive Research (discarding Dreadship Reef). It doesn't look like we're playing an exact mirror; normal Dralnu versions don't play those sorceries.

Now the game is basically ours. He tapped low to make a move, we managed to resolve Teferi, and now he is tapped out, and we have more mana and cards than him. All that remains now is the execution. We play Careful Consideration in our main phase, discarding Spell Snare and Damnation. Note that we drew two lands but don't discard any. Lands are more important commodities than any other cards, and I think this is important enough to mention again. We play Island and pass.

Our opponent then plays Tombstalker, removing a bunch of cards from the game.

Bad news. We Rewind it. He Repeals Teferi. We don't care as we just replay it. On the next turn he flashes back Mystical Teachings, revealing and casting Sudden Death. We shrug as we just play the backup Teferi from our hand (and charge up the storage lands again, of course).

On our turn we execute an obvious but cute trick by charging up Dreadship Reef, tapping Island, then playing Dimir Aqueduct and returning Island to play. This way you don't have to return an untapped land, which would be a pity.

He plays Persecute on his turn. We Rewind, untapping Dimir Aqueduct and the Dreadship Reef that we already charged in our turn. It's probably not relevant anymore in this game, but these cute Rewind tricks can net you an advantage. He plays Compulsive Research. Sure, that resolves. We have a Rewind, but unless the opponent has 1 or 2 cards in hand, never counter the card draw. He discards something irrelevant, plays a land, and passes. Now it is the end of our opponent's turn. We have Mystical Teachings in hand. Is there any play that we can make to instantly win the game?

Actually, there is! Remember that we have Teferi in play, so our opponent cannot interfere with anything. The solution here is to Teachings for Aeon Chronicler, suspend it (this is possible with Teferi), and then swing for enough damage on our turn. Thran alves wisely concedes.

Concluding

The most important things we see is that my strategy is to sit there and never do anything. I want to have more mana in play because I have more in my deck or I place more value on storage lands. Urza's Factory is also an important element of these control mirrors. The player without one usually has to make a move first, since he is in a worse position and has to try and change it somehow. And the player to make the first move often loses. Control mirrors are strange. Next week: Block Constructed.

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