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Building Blocks: U/B and U/W

Zvi Mowshowitz

The last two successful deck types were designed as answers to some of the first four. First up is Fujita's version of U/B:

Tsuyoshi Fujita
U/B - PT Tokyo 2001

Main Deck
11 Island
4 Salt Marsh
9 Swamp

2 Phyrexian Scuta
4 Ravenous Rats
2 Urborg Shambler
4 Addle
4 Exclude
4 Fact or Fiction
3 Prohibit
3 Recoil
2 Repulse
2 Spite
4 Undermine
2 Yawgmoth's Agenda
4 Gainsay
4 Nightscape Familiar
2 Phyrexian Scuta
2 Spinal Embrace
2 Urborg Shambler
1 Yawgmoth's Agenda

Fujita's deck knows what it wants to do, which is beat B/R and R/G, and the results indicate it did its job quite well. What it isn't well prepared to do is deal with some other strategies, as the final match made clear. If a creature has Protection from Black, the only solution this deck has other than counters or Addle is to use one of its two copies of Repulse on it. Urborg Shambler is in the maindeck because of Pyre Zombie, but it definitely causes issues with the deck's other creatures. The lack of a third color makes the deck's cards less powerful.

But that's why this was a metagame version, although B/U isn't necessarily a metagame deck by definition. Warren Marsh played B/U from our team, the only one not to use The Solution, and he felt it was the formats' best deck outright. I would definitely disagree with that, but I also wouldn't automatically call all versions 'metagame decks' or as Kibler calls them 'foil decks.' Why does this version do so well against B/R and R/G? The key is not falling behind. Prohibit, Addle and Ravenous Rats all have the same purpose, which is to make sure the deck doesn't fall behind without sacrificing too much long term power. Ravenous Rats in particular is amazing against good builds of R/G because they have both Thornscape Familiar and Blurred Mongoose, making it next to impossible not to either trade off for them or waste a Flametongue Kavu or Thornscape Battlemage's ability to take the little Rat out. Addle doesn't affect the board, but it lets the U/B mage know what's coming and normally will allow him to break up the R/G deck's mana curve at some point. Prohibit will counter every turn two play and all but one turn three play (Raging Kavu), so when this deck goes first it should never fall behind. If it never falls behind, cards like Fact or Fiction and Yawgmoth's Agenda should carry the day.

Against B/R, the deck has a vulnerability to Blazing Specter. Says David Williams: "If Blazing Specter catches him with no cards, his deck has no way out." But again, the B/R deck is forced to win and win quickly. Its long term game is only Pyre Zombie, and the Urborg Shamblers pretty much guarantee that will rarely be enough. That's what they're there for. At that point, Blazing Specter has to save the day, and against Addle and Exclude and Undermine that won't happen all that often.

The sideboard Fujita used is a tuning sideboard. It has eight slots devoted to alternate creatures, but it will rarely use them to mob its opponent. Instead, he will choose which are better in any given matchup and swap Scuta for Shambler or Rat for Familiar. Gainsay is a natural for blue matchups, probably often trading for Prohibit, but that takes up all but three sideboard slots! A third Agenda is also a tuning card, which leaves only Spinal Embrace as a 'real' sideboard card.

What's the best way to beat this deck? Like most metagame decks, the key is basically not to walk into its trap and then beat the deck on its merits. The problem is that this deck's merits aren't bad. Only Exclude can't be turned back on just about any deck it faces, and after sideboarding everything should be useful. The first problem is Protection from Black, which is how The Solution tries to beat the deck, and its close companion the creature rush. The key to the rush is not just to come out fast enough to get in under the quick countermagic which will start after U/B has two lands in play, it requires those creatures not have problems with Nightscape Familiar and Ravenous Rats. The second alternative is to fight the control war, and use the abilities of a third color to make a better deck. Lobotomy didn't fit into this deck, so already that's an opening for an opposing control deck: Fujita's deck has Agenda but otherwise can't really put the opponent away. Add to that either Void or Dromar's Charm, and there's already a very good foundation for long term superiority.

Now, with all the other good decks out of the way, it's time for the deck I won Tokyo with:

Zvi Mowshowitz
W/U - PT Tokyo 2001

Main Deck
4 Coastal Tower
10 Island
10 Plains

4 Crimson Acolyte
4 Galina's Knight
4 Meddling Mage
4 Stormscape Apprentice
4 Voice of All
4 Absorb
4 Exclude
4 Fact or Fiction
4 Repulse
2 Aura Blast
3 Crusading Knight
4 Disrupt
3 Gainsay
3 Pure Reflection

First, let me make one thing clear. I did not design this deck. John Ormerod designed this deck. From his build, Scott Johns switched Sleeping Potion over to Fact or Fiction (almost always a good idea in case it comes up for anyone else), which gave us the exact maindeck. My main contribution was to put the Crimson Acolytes back into the deck after they were taken out for a while. John Ormerod is also the one who found Pure Reflection. So before everyone refers to it as 'Zvi's deck,' keep in mind who built it. Thank you.

On to how the deck works. First and most importantly, this is a metagame deck. It was built on the assumption that the mirror matchup didn't exist, no one would see the deck coming, and that the decks to beat were B/R/U, B/R and R/G. That turned out to be pretty much accurate. That's not to say that this is a bad deck in the absence of a metagame. It's got a lot going for it, it's just not as good a pure deck as the three decks we planned to take down. The key realization was that all the removal in this format would be red, and that Protection from Red would take care of all of it except for Thornscape Battlemage and Void.

So the end result is a deck full of creatures with Protection from Red. The basic plan against R/G is to trade aggressively and keep Acolyte on the table. Nullify the red removal, name Thornscape Battlemage more often than not on the Meddling Mage to keep everyone safe, and then trade off while winning the game off Exclude, Fact or Fiction and their dead cards. The only long term problem the deck faces here is Keldon Necropolis, which forces it to go more offensive than it would like. When the deck loses in that matchup, it's normally either Necropolis or a quick blowout. Red/Black is a similar matchup but there the worries are Void, which is what to name, and Blazing Specter coming out too soon. Against control decks The Solution goes into aggressive mode from turn one.

The sideboard has a very strange looking card in it. Pure Reflection turned out to be wonderful against the R/B/U deck we expected to show up in large quantities, with its kill not being Pyre Zombie. At that point, Pure Reflection creates a creature that can't be killed with removal and made the matchup acceptable. Crusading Knight was for two color decks only, with it being too small against true B/R/U, but it turned out to be worthwhile against the lonely three Swamps of Federico Bastos in testing the night before. It turned out the deck was better off just going for the throat, and even a 2/2 was better than a Fact or Fiction. It was a fundamental misunderstanding, with the original belief that the long game could be won giving way to a new understanding that the early game was much better than we thought but the long game was a lost cause.

Again, the focus here will be in defeating these decks. The Solution's name gives a very good hint to how to deal with it - don't be part of The Problem. The more problems a deck has with Crimson Acolyte, the more problems it will have. Being able to kill or even bounce with other colors is a big plus. I'd break down the opposing decks' job into a few options. Option one is speed, but that's difficult. This is actually the only deck in the format with a real honest one drop and not just a fancy tapped land. There are as many two drops as a Red/Green deck has. Still, there's the potential to take this route. First, the deck has counters, so that gives it a chance to not be able to catch up or take advantage of a turn sometimes. The best is when the deck holds back to counter and the other deck gets a Blurred Mongoose. The other method is threatening the deck too much for it to play creatures. If a R/G deck goes first and plays a Thornscape Familiar on turn two, can I afford to play a Meddling Mage without naming Flametonge Kavu? It's tough. If there was enough mana for Thornscape Battlemage then that becomes a threat.

The other method is to play something that ensures that if there was a long term series of exchanges that the W/U deck will lose, and then make sure that things last long enough for those exchanges to happen. Keldon Necropolis is one method, but normally this deck will be fast enough to finish things off before it gets that far. Still, it will work every now and then. More reliable is to use a control deck that has more ways to generate card advantage (see article three). In that case, the key once the winning spells have been planted in the deck is to insure that an early swarm of creatures doesn't take the deck out before it has time to work. A similar method is to plan to trade off and win with something like Pyre Zombie, and use non-red removal to insure that the W/U deck won't win that way.

The key to remember here is that this deck may be very solid and well positioned in the metagame, but it doesn't have the inherent strength of the previously discussed decks. That means that if someone decides to beat it, they will. Perhaps the deck could then adjust again, perhaps not, but certainly not as well as it did the first time. The basic assumption of the deck is severed when the opponent knows about it and therefore puts in off-color answers. However, the deck can't die totally. Why not? Because it takes a non-zero amount of metagaming to keep it away. In a world without a Solution, The Solution is the right call. But in a world where people prepare, it's a really bad idea. This is the concept of a 'deck in being,' with another example being ID19 (Show and Tell/Yawgmoth's Bargain) when three people in the world could play it properly. Its main effect isn't that it is played, it is that it could be played and others don't want to lose to it. Therefore they must deal with it. The name comes from the use of an inferior naval force of keeping it out of harm's way, so that the enemy must always guard against it coming out and smashing anything left vulnerable. That in turn kept the opposing navy from going nuts and blockading every port in the known universe, which would happen if this wasn't a problem.

Black/Blue is more likely to survive, because it's not based on any strange assumption the opponent can correct but rather on a set of good cards that work together and happen to match up against the field well. In this case, the key is to exploit this deck's inability to deal with more than one threat at a time. Anything that a 1/1 or two can't stop basically has to be dealt with by a separate spell, and most of them aren't all that cheap. Some of them are bounce spells that let the opponent keep all his threats out of the graveyard. Therefore the approach to winning many matchups against it is to present too many independent threats for it to deal with, either in the same turn or over many turns. There's no Void that's going to come and punish an overextended player - there isn't even such a thing as an overextended player!

On the flip side, a control deck going up against B/U uses the fact that it will have a third color and therefore more powerful spells, and that unlike B/U it has more bombs than just Fact or Fiction and Yawgmoth's Agenda. At least, it hopes it does. The additional flexibility of having Void as an option is huge, for example. Still, these matchups will probably come down to a lot of the same cards on both sides.

Finally, before abandoning the format, a salute to Domain. Domain was a great idea and a very important deck in being in Tokyo, with everyone who was unable to make Domain work wonder if they'd simply built it wrong and were due to get their face smashed by insanely powerful cards. The problem is that Domain's base has never worked, and here I'm not talking about the five colors. I'm talking about running the 30+ mana sources these decks end up requiring and all the 4+ casting cost spells. That plan is what's never worked out, although five color decks have and with less justification than this one. The extra colors just make the deck even less reliable than before. In addition, the versions in Tokyo were poorly tuned and can clearly be improved. The question is whether they can be improved enough to make them viable, and I doubt there are many people who aren't worried someone will find a way. I also doubt there's very many who think they've found it, but good luck to all who want to go searching. It's a ton of fun.

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