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Giant Sized Regionals Primer: Blue-Green Madness!


Wednesday, April 23, 2003
 

I have been doing preview articles for upcoming Constructed tournaments since before the dawn of this decade. Usually I do them in single article form, but this year's Regionals metagame is so diverse and leaves so much room for deck interpretation, I think that the better strategy this time around will be to lay out several articles looking at the specific mechanics and interactions of each major archetype individually.

To begin the series, I wanted to start out with what is largely considered the Cadillac of Standard decks: u-g.

A Brief History

Though not necessarily the most popular deck to show up (in the current environment, it seems to trail both g-r and Psychatog), u-g may be the most consistent performer. With its roots in Odyssey Block Constructed, where in its breakout tournament, it won the whole shebang, the typical u-g deck looks very much like a block deck, generally playing only City of Brass to smooth out its sometimes erratic mana base.

The build of u-g that took Pro Tour-Osaka was played by Ken Ho, and hybridized the madness and threshold mechanics:

Ken Ho
PT-Osaka U-G Madness
View a sample hand of this deck

Main Deck

60 cards

13  Forest
Island
Tarnished Citadel

23 lands


Aquamoeba
Arrogant Wurm
Basking Rootwalla
Werebear
Wild Mongrel

19 creatures
Circular Logic
Roar of the Wurm
Squirrel Nest
Standstill
Upheaval

18 other spells

Even at the debut tournament, this build of u-g was considered pretty unusual. Not only did Ken run the much maligned single Tarnished Citadel, but he chose not to play the ubiquitous Careful Study. This build ran the most powerful cards in the format, Squirrel Nest and Upheaval and didn’t run the most expected card: Aether Burst.

Aquamoeba
In a format where Antonino DeRosa has been called a genius for innovating the inclusion of Deep Analysis and his cohorts both from Italy and the American Northeast flaunted their mirror advantage with both this card and Cephalid Looter, Ken merely won the Pro Tour. His attention to redundancy should be noted… at the very first opportunity to play with the blue and green cards, he ran a full compliment of Aquamoebas and Wild Mongrels… which he used to churn out and equally full load of Arrogant Wurms, Basking Rootwallas, Circular Logics, and Roars of the Wurm.

After its victory at PT-Osaka, you would think that the average Regionals player would pick up the idea that a pure Odyssey Block-based u-g deck would be an effective weapon, especially given the Standard additions of Yavimaya Coast and Merfolk Looter and the successful transitions of decks like Masques Block Constructed Rebels to Standard success. But they didn’t. American players had the chance again, with a Midwest Standard Grand Prix prior to the National tournaments of the summer 2002 Championship series, but a different modified Block Constructed deck (Counter-Trenches) won there.

Finally, the geniuses of Hampton Court Palace brought u-g – which was anything but a secret deck, remember – to the forefront at English Nationals. The archetype deck that would prove the template for this archetype for the better part of a year was called Deep Dog:

Deep Dog
by Ben Ronaldson
View a sample hand of this deck

Main Deck

60 cards

Centaur Garden
Forest
Island
Yavimaya Coast

22 lands


Aquamoeba
Arrogant Wurm
Basking Rootwalla
Merfolk Looter
Wild Mongrel

18 creatures
Careful Study
Circular Logic
Counterspell
Deep Analysis
Roar of the Wurm

20 other spells

Gary Wise will tell you all about Deep Dog here.

The summer PTQ season came and went. U-g was unconditionally the most successful deck in terms of earning players qualifications to the Pro Tour, but it was probably also the most played. After much hyping of a new card-drawing engine named Quiet Speculation, an inefficient 2/2 creature for four mana instead became Judgment’s most important addition to the deck’s backbone (he who had Wonder won the mirror). Not surprisingly, u-g continued its successes, and stormed into the modern Standard, now sans Yavimaya Coast.

The Good Stuff

To my mind, the modern u-g deck realistically comes in one of two flavors, the latter much more popular than the first.

Ken Ho reemerged at the Chicago Masters with essentially his Osaka u-g deck. Borrowing the Merfolk Looters of the more recent builds, Ken kept his early game Standstill/late game Upheaval plan to come in second place in this exciting event.

PT-Chicago Masters: U-G Madness
Ken Ho
View a sample hand of this deck

Main Deck

60 cards

City of Brass
10  Forest
10  Island

23 lands


Arrogant Wurm
Basking Rootwalla
Merfolk Looter
Werebear
Wild Mongrel
Wonder

19 creatures
Careful Study
Circular Logic
Roar of the Wurm
Standstill
Upheaval

18 other spells

Though extremely unorthodox, given the influence of the Deep Dog design over basically all u-g decks to this point, Ken’s deck shows off a number of powerful innovations that allowed him to reach the finals. First and foremost, his deck has a crazy number of copies of Callous Oppressor and Equilibrium. These sideboard cards allowed him to trounce opposing green decks that were not similarly armed. If one player has Equilibrium and the other doesn’t, I’m not sure that even Wonder (the historical breaker in the mirror) will matter very much, given time. Callous Oppressor can also prove incredible, but only if the opponent doesn’t have a lot of dedicated bounce himself.

Psychatog

Has Dr. Teeth lost some bite?

The other half of Ken’s sideboard is the four Composts that he used to tear apart Psychatog. This Regional’s Dr. Teeth decks are not the Aether Burst/Standstill breed that you would have had to tangle with a year ago. Psychatog packs removal and it can pack a lot of it. It kills creatures dead rather than bouncing them back to hand and the color of spell that it uses to kill creatures is black. Much as it would serve against a monoblack control deck, Compost allows a u-g player to keep his stream of threats flowing even as his opponent is dealing with them one-for-one. It is not going to bail him out of an Upheaval kill – the Psychatog player’s black removal spells can be thought of as impractical bounce spells that are just buying time – but it can nevertheless go a long way.

All of that being said, for all of the innovations that Ken’s sideboard showed off, I wouldn’t suggest copying it as is; there are a number of vulnerabilities that will show up over the long rounds of a Regional championship. It can’t remove an enchantment (read: Astral Slide) and relies on Upheaval to deal with Ensnaring Bridge.

Possibly the more influential build of u-g belongs to Jeff Cunningham.

The u-g deck that you have probably been testing or testing against looks more like this (though it has been recently modified, separately, by both Zvi Mowshowitz and Cunningham himself):


U-G Madness
View a sample hand of this deck

Main Deck

60 cards

City of Brass
10  Forest
12  Island

23 lands


Aquamoeba
Arrogant Wurm
Basking Rootwalla
Wild Mongrel
Wonder

19 creatures
Careful Study
Circular Logic
Deep Analysis
Quiet Speculation
Ray of Revelation
Roar of the Wurm

18 other spells

Though it has taken most players a while to realize this, Cunningham’s philosophy is to replace Merfolk Looter card drawing with Quiet Speculation and Merfolk Looter’s body with the more offensive-minded two drop Aquamoeba (remember him from PT-Osaka?). This deck is a pure puncher. It is designed to discard extra lands to deal damage and keep an early lead on the back of Circular Logic. It is not built to last, and in any case, Cunningham would say that in any long game, you are going to be outclassed by a superior control deck anyway if you are banking on Merfolk Looter.

Quiet Speculation
The removal of the Looter hurts the mana base a bit; where State Championships era decks were able to smooth out their early draws with the two-drop Jalum Tome, this deck has to draw the right number and color of lands all by itself. At the same time, the addition of Quiet Speculation gives it new options in other situations. Against aggressive decks, this build can load up on Roars and against the problem matchup of Astral Slide, it can steal a game with Ray of Revelation. After sideboarding, it can go for the Acorn Harvest, a card that will give monoblack control and Psychatog fits, a little life in exchange for two Innocent Bloods.

Cunningham carries over the Equilibriums that we most recently saw in Ken Ho’s sideboard, but instead of Callous Oppressor, he uses Turbulent Dreams. The reason for this is that while Turbulent Dreams is also pretty good in the mirror match, Callous Oppressor is itself weak against bounce; most importantly, Turbulent Dreams is a realistic foil to Ensnaring Bridge. There is nothing worse than having a decided advantage on the board with huge 4/4 and 6/6 Wurms, but be totally unable to attack, while the other guy is picking off your precious life points with a Grim Lavamancer.

Overall, this deck is a huge improvement to what we have seen beforehand.

Interactions

The most important interactions for any deck in this environment will be in the Big Three matchups, other u-g decks, Psychatog, and G/R beatdown, so we’ll start with those.

Wonder
U-G
In game one, the mirror match is going to be about exactly one thing: tempo. For most games, tempo means slamming with all of your creatures with Wonder in the graveyard while the other guy is still digging for his. By and large, u-g games come down to one player with a fleet of flyers and one player with a very low life total. In this sense, Cunningham’s build may be at a bit of a disadvantage. Zvi Mowshowitz has gone on record saying that the fourth Wonder belongs in the deck.

Tempo is also about cheating on how much your spells cost. Because of this (and because of the relevancy of being able to discard Wonder early), he with the early Wild Mongrel will tend to win. Turn 2 Wild Mongrel, turn 3 Arrogant Wurm is a powerful set of spells. Because of the lack of true removal in this archetype, the ability to play out fast, powerful, threats first generates almost irreversible tempo.

Getting the other guy to tap out needlessly is also a strong way to generate tempo in the mirror. Justin Gary played an unusual build of u-g in both the Chicago Masters and the Boston Open, sporting three Counterspells and a Boomerang. His theory was that, in the mirror, if he could Counterspell or Boomerang his opponent’s Roar of the Wurm with an otherwise superior board position, he would win every time, even if the other guy had set up the Roar with Quiet Speculation.

All of that being said, if you want to win the mirror, draw Wonder. Then discard it.

G-R
In my experience, u-g is generally advantaged in the g-r matchup. It isn’t a blowout by any means: g-r is a fast deck with some impressive cards, after all, but over the course of many game ones, my testing says that u-g will win between 60 and 70%.

Wild Mongrel
The key cards in this matchup are Wild Mongrel and Roar of the Wurm. Wild Mongrel is fast, and he most reliably enables your important Madness elements. He is also extremely difficult to kill via red removal.

In the early game, if the g-r deck gets Wild Mongrel and you don’t, you had better hope you have quick access to your other important card: Roar of the Wurm. If the early board has Wild Mongrels on both sides, yours will tend to perform better. Sure, the g-r mage can hassle your Mongrels with Volcanic Hammer, but overall, you have many times the reasonable dumps (Basking Rootwalla, Arrogant Wurm, Roar of the Wurm, Wonder) that he does (Basking Rootwalla and Violent Eruption).

As I said before, your other all star is going to be Roar of the Wurm. He’s just big. Everything in the g-r deck is much, much smaller than he is. Barring an Elephant Guide + a burn spell, he will be an insurmountable-yet-hungry wall or a flying death machine that chomps down the opponent’s life total with a ferocity matched only by the speed of its kill.

As far as problem cards on the other side of the table, Wild Mongrel is the big one. As in your deck, Wild Mongrel serves as the best bear ever for everyone who plays him. He is the enabler of Violent Eruption and the hardest hitter overall.

Volcanic Hammer
Volcanic Hammer can be a real annoyance. In the first three turns of the game, it can either play Gerrard’s Verdict when sent at your Wild Mongrel or just kill anything you play. While it has a minimal effect on its own against your huge men, the Hammer is still respectable when paired with other red cards and might even take down a Roar of the Wurm.

The most interesting card to talk about in this matchup is Elephant Guide. Most u-g decks don’t have any creature sanction in the main. If you are playing one of these builds, Elephant Guide can be a nightmare. Paired with a Wild Mongrel, Elephant Guide will tear apart Wurm tokens at a minimal cost in cards. It makes their best threat better, and even when it trades, it leaves a reasonably-sized threat. On a Phantom Centaur, Elephant Guide is a true nightmare. Your best case scenario is to get the Centaur down to its normal size of 5/3, and in order to do so, you will likely lose three creatures. In many matchups Elephant Guide is g-r’s best weapon and if you play without creature sanction, it may very well have this role against you; Elephant Guide is considerably less impressive against decks with blue bounce, and I would be surprised if any g-r players left it in sideboarded, when you will almost certainly have your Turbulent Dreams, if not your Equilibriums in.

In sideboarded games, the average g-r player is going to try to lock the ground with Ensnaring Bridge and then burn you out. You have deck advantage, but it is not overwhelming. In order to win, you have to either deal with their Ensnaring Bridges or hope they don’t draw any. The most obvious card to bring in is Turbulent Dreams, which will allow you a single, lethal, Wonder-powered alpha strike, or at the very least, pick off an elephant token or two. If you don’t draw Turbulent Dreams, don’t forget that you can play Deep Analysis on the opponent to fill his hand in order to neutralize the Bridge.

Psychatog
In the Chicago Masters, Neil Reeves said that this matchup was very simple. The Psychatog player’s plan is to kill all of the little creatures that the u-g deck throws at it. If it succeeds, it inevitably wins. If one of those creatures lives, the u-g deck wins. In Chicago, Ken Ho’s u-g deck won.

More even than u-g itself, Psychatog may be the most customizable deck in the format. It can be played with or without Cunning Wish, with or without Duress, based on sorcery-speed black removal, or run a mix of Ghastly Demises or even Aether Bursts. It can run twelve permission spells or as few as seven. It can play with Compulsion or double its count of 1/x creatures for 1 ManaBlack ManaBlue Mana. It pretty much always wants to resolve Upheaval with nine mana in play.

In your matchup against Psychatog, there are many factors that will affect the outcome. If you allow the opponent to block with Psychatog, you will generally fall behind… its ability to eat the graveyard makes this creature even more dangerous in the early game than Wild Mongrel. Because of this, Wonder is going to be a key to your attack plan, despite the fact that the opponent may play with as few as three creatures in his entire deck.

Basking Rootwalla

Come out hard and fast.

The early game should belong to you. I have heard onetime-Psychatog innovator Zev Gurwitz say that he could not deal with Basking Rootwalla and Wild Mongrel remains, as always, the best bear ever. Your offensive abilities far outstrip the opponent’s, so you have to seize the initiative early, before he can punish you with his superior card advantage.

This is not the year 2001. Psychatog players no longer have the luxuries of Repulse and Fact or Fiction. For the most part, if they are going to draw cards or deal with creatures, they are going to take these actions on their own turns. They have to tap out for Concentrate, which is good. Their creature removal is far superior, which is bad… but at least you know, for the most part, when it is coming. With more cards, the Psychatog player will have more creature removal to deal with your threats and buy more time to hit his magic number of lands (nine).

Once he gets to nine mana, the Psychatog player will seek to play Upheaval and Psychatog in one turn, leaving open a newly-played island, which will represent Force Spike or Circular Logic. He will win almost every game where he is able to pull this combination off.

Circular Logic
One of your main advantages will be Circular Logic. When the opponent spends six or more mana for his threat, and you pay a single mana to foil it, he is giving you an opening. For that matter, countering Concentrate or other card drawing may also reward you, depending on the situation. This is not the Psychatog mirror match, which is a battle of exhaustion; if the Psychatog player is tapping out on his own turn, you can usually bet that he is digging for land, or creature kill, or trying to keep his Atog big enough to block your more impressive creatures. Unless you have the Genesis version of u-g, you cannot win a drawn-out exhaustion war… your advantage is speed and tempo and you should approach the matchup as such. Essentially, your plan should be to deter the Psychatog player from killing your creatures and resolving Upheaval while smashing him with flyers. Do what you have to in order to make that happen. He has nothing on the order of Mutilate, so you have no incentive to hold back anything. Remember, if one of your boys sticks around, you will probably win the game.

The sideboarded games are a lot less rosy these days than when Ken Ho stormed through with Compost against the many black removal spells he expected out of the Psychatog opposition. For one thing, Psychatog players have adapted, and now have access to Alter Reality, which essentially counters two Composts. That said, even if you have Compost going, it may not even be relevant. Even if you are drawing extra cards, the Psychatog player will not be wholly unhappy as long as he is preserving his life total. His long-term plan is still going to be to Upheaval the board and besides Circular Logic, it doesn’t really matter how many cards you have in hand when Upheaval resolves. Recently, Zvi Mowshowitz has spoken out against Compost in the u-g sideboard for reasons similar to these. Moreover the Psychatog player is going to have Persuasion, which does not trigger Compost, but may very well take your best creature.

Alter Reality

Compost isn’t what it used to be.

One card that has a lot of application in this matchup, but that hasn’t been getting much attention recently, is Phantom Centaur. Phantom Centaur has a similar function to Compost (it hoses black), but it still works and works pretty well, even if the opponent has Alter Reality. If he doesn’t, it plows right through Psychatog. A fourth-turn Phantom Centaur is almost always fast enough to win the game one turn faster than an Upheaval. Phantom Centaur is a great card in other matchups, such as the mirror, where it is trumped only by Roar of the Wurm and even then, not always.

Paul Jordan recently suggested to me that Ray of Revelation may have some play against a sideboarded Psychatog deck. The Psychatog player will invariably bring in Persuasion, and a single Ray can handle both of the opponent’s copies of that spell. Its worst case application is to pop off Compulsion, which is, itself, not bad.

In my experience, this matchup favors Psychatog, but a lot of what happens will depend on the build of each deck; as I said, these are probably the two most customizable archetypes in this very diverse environment.

Astral Slide
Outside the Big Three, Astral Slide just won the Pro Tour and it will be on people’s minds. This deck is a horrendous matchup for u-g players everywhere. Your deck is a bunch of creatures that draws into more creatures. Their deck is a bunch of creature kill that draws and draws and draws into more creature kill. And then draws some more cards.

Wrath of God
Game one is particularly horrendous. You have the Ray for their Astral Slide, but their trump cards are many. Wrath of God is obviously very strong against you, but Exalted Angel is the real problem. Even if you weather the Wraths and destroy one of their many key enchantments, the Angel is always waiting for you, at the end of a long chain of powerful spells, any one of which might win the game itself. I’ve seen a cocky Angel morph and swing on turn four, only to be mugged by a Wild Mongrel pitching Wonder and Arrogant Wurm, but I wouldn’t count on this kind of play if I were you. Your only real creature that stands up to Exalted Angel is Roar of the Wurm, and it does not match up against Astral Slide whatsoever.

The key to winning game one is speed. Slide should win literally every long game. They have some number of Wrath of God effects greater than four, and should never realistically be manascrewed. You have to toss excess lands to your Wild Mongrels and Aquamoebas in order to constrict the length of the game. If you can mise the Ray of Revelation, it will go a long way, but it is unlikely to win the game all by itself. While speed is paramount, you have to worry about over-committing to the board due to their Wraths and you should always be wary of their Renewed Faiths, and possibly Teroh’s Faithfuls, which can make your tempo discards look silly.

After sideboarding, your road is still a steep path. You should definitely have all your Rays of Revelation in and if you play Upheaval, you should have access to that as well (see below, way below). While killing the enchantments is not actually going to win the game, at the very least, it can keep your Roar tokens alive and prevent the Slide player from protecting his Exalted Angel once you’ve set up Upheaval.

Even given all of these negatives, even given the fact that I’ve probably communicated that I don’t like this matchup very much, don’t forget that your u-g deck has a trump of its own. Like every teenage girl on every date across this great nation, you have the right to say “no”. The Slide deck is ostensibly the control deck in this matchup, but you are the guy with the permission spells. If you are to win, countering their morphs and Wraths early is a good start. They should be taking a beating until they stabilize and when they tap a bunch of mana to do so, telling them that it is not going to happen will go a long way in buying you that next packet of damage. Draw multiple Circular Logics and your win percentage should go up considerably.

Dissenting Voices

Naturalize

If you’re afraid of the Bridge, you may want these.

Latin Dance and Pro Tour Champion Osyp “Joe Black” Lebedowicz has recently gone against the grain in his u-g design, running no Quiet Speculation engine at all, sacrificing any access to main deck or sideboard Rays of Revelation in favor of sideboarded Naturalizes.

Like Boomerang-packing Justin Gary, Lebedowicz is rightfully frightened of losing to Ensnaring Bridge and Naturalize is a good answer to that sideboard foil. Realistically speaking, he can use the slots devoted to the extensive Quiet Speculation engine main deck for more threats and more cards that are good in the mirror. Like many players, he found that no matter how tuned a u-g deck is, in real tournament games, most victories go to the player with Wonder. Playing all four copies and additional search go a long way in ensuring that you are the player with an incarnation in your graveyard.

Bless His Soul

In a far off country, there live giants. Magical giants. Giants who have won three or more Pro Tours. Giants who have won only two Pro Tours, but also happen to tower over nearby regular-sized players and have also taken the far off country’s National Championships.

In that far off country, the threshold version of u-g that I posted in Single Forest, Double Island has taken a Regional Title! Woo hoo!

Playing exactly the list that posted after the Boston Open, Andreas Kruschel, has earned the right to go up against Budde, Baberowski and Blume at German Nationals this year.

Check out a very different take on u-g here.

Like the title says, this primer was and will be Giant Sized. Next up: another Giant Sized analysis!



Mike has been a leading voice in the game's strategy for as long as there has been a Magic Internet. He is the former editor of The Magic Dojo and a sometime Pro player. Michael J. Flores: Deckade, is a compilation of Mike's first ten years of strategy and theory (i.e. before he joined magicthegathering.com), and is available at http://www.top8magic.com.



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