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WHY TO PLAY UW LANDSTILL

WHY TO PLAY UW LANDSTILL

The biggest Vintage tournament of the year just happened and the question on everyone’s mind is what to play now that the dust has settled?

Frobots and the big brown machines have been more than 30% of the metagame for the past few months and Hangerback Walker has just made the deck even better. While it doesn’t get to play the best magic cards ever printed, it has the advantage of being extremely synergistic and attacking the format where it is weakest, it’s mana.  If you are a fan of the Workshop based decks, it has to feel extremely satisfying to know that your strategy continues to be validated over and over again whereas for many years a lot of people felt like your deck wasn’t quite good enough. If you wish this deck would just go away and let you play your Gush’s or Dig Through Time’s this is not so good for you.

I am not particularly well versed in the intricacies of the Workshop mirror matches so if you are considering bringing the Shops to a tournament, all I can tell you is play a version of shops that has a good mirror match and bring enough sideboard cards to win ¾ of your sideboarded mirror match games. Your deck is already tuned to have a strong match vs. Blue decks, but no matter what you do there isn’t anything you can bring in to stop cards like Pulverize or Ingot Chewer, so all you can do is pack some Grafdigger’s Cage’s and some extra threats to help close out games quickly.

For the rest of us who don’t like lands that tap for 3 mana, we find ourselves in quite a quandary.  In the past, if Workshops decks were less than 10% of the field (and it often was) you have a few sideboard cards and maybe 1 maindeck Hurkyl’s Recall or Rebuild and just roll the dice. Maybe you see zero or one Workshops over 6 or 7 rounds, and even when you hit Workshops you roll the dice and see if you come out lucky or you just pick up a loss and move on.  That strategy doesn’t work when you expect to face the deck 3 or 4 times in an 8-9 round tournament and then again in the Top 8.  Interestingly, I think blue decks were actually in a better spot against Shops several years ago before all these new blue counterspells were printed.  Mental Misstep and Flusterstorm are completely dead cards against Shops, but they are so good against everything else people are playing these cards in their main deck. I’ve seen lists running 4 of each, but more often decks are averaging 4-5 of these two cards combined, which really hurts their win percentage against Shops.  So what’s a blue mage to do?

Well, one option is to stop playing so many of these narrow cards that are good against other blue decks. This may seem crazy, but follow me down the rabbit hole for a minute.  Take this UW Landstill deck:

 

UW LANDSTILL

4 Flooded Strand

4 Wasteland

3 Mishra’s Factory

3 Tundra

3 Island

1 Plains

1 Scalding Tarn

1 Strip Mine

1 Black Lotus

1 Mox Sapphire

1 Mox Pearl

1 Sol Ring

2 Monastery Mentor

1 Snapcaster Mage

4 Standstill

4 Force of Will

4 Swords to Plowshares

3 Mana Drain

4 Mental Misstep

2 Jace, the Mind Sculptor

1 Decree of Justice

1 Balance

1 Misdirection

1 Flusterstorm

1 Spell Pierce

2 Dig Through Time

1 Treasure Cruise

1 Ancestral Recall

1 Time Walk

1 Brainstorm

1 Crucible of Worlds

Sideboard

2 Kataki, War’s Wage

3 Supreme Verdict

4 Containment Priest

2 Ravenous Trap

2 Stony Silence

1 Disenchant

1 Energy Flux

It is seeing some play on Magic Online where it was 3-1’ing a lot and Eric Froehlich brought this deck to the Vintage Super League Season 3 where he took 2nd.  It is playing 4 Mental Misstep, 1 Misdirection, and 1 Flusterstorm, (6 dead cards game 1 vs. Shops) but he still beat every shops deck he faced for a few reasons.  1) this deck is playing 20 lands instead of just 14-16 like most of the blue decks; 2) it has at least 6 cards it wants to bring in from the sideboard against Shops and 3) it is just inherently setup better to fight against Shops even with 10% of the deck being totally dead game 1.

Some people have tried adding the Red, but I don’t know if Red adds enough to the deck vs. the cost of playing all those extra red lands and far fewer basics.  Is Kataki really so much worse than Ingot Chewer? I don’t think so

MENTAL MISSTEP

mentalmisstepfull

So the first thing I looked at is why am I playing Mental Misstep? What is this card doing for me? Without trying to have an exhaustive list, the cards I’m interested in countering are: Ancestral Recall, turn 1 Delver of Secrets, Brainstorm, Ponder, Preordain, and Mental Misstep’s on my 1 mana spells. If I’m being honest with myself, I’m countering the draw spells because I don’t want them to find something I can’t counter, not because it really matters if they replace their cards one for one most of the time. So really, it’s the Ancestral or Delver on turn 1 and their Missteps on my 1 mana spells that I care most about. Fortunately, Delver is on a significant downturn and is seeing almost no play, so the opportunity to counter their turn 1 Delver is at an all time low.

Right now I’m playing 4 Misstep’s to stop 1 Ancestral (which I can stop with a Force or Misdirection as well), their Delvers (if they are even playing them, which almost no one is), and their Missteps.  What in my deck are they casing Misstep on? Ancestral Recall, Brainstorm, and Swords to Plowshares; that’s it. Swords is great against Shops because it is an inexpensive answer to their creatures, especially because it gets Hangerback Walker (one of the most important cards in the match up). Swords is also fine against the blue decks as an inexpensive way to remove Monastery Mentor and Young Pyromancer, but you have these great Supreme Verdicts to bring in against the blue decks so these are so much less important in games 2 and 3. Given everything I’ve just walked through and rationalized, it makes me want to try cutting these Misstep’s and find new cards to play, preferably ones that aren’t one mana spells.

When I was testing with this deck I found I actually wanted 1 extra land, so +1 Mishra’s Factory would be my first add.  The next three were a bit tougher.  I liked the idea of adding cards from my sideboard to the main deck to really beat up on Shops, so I tried bringing 1 Kataki off the bench as another creature to drop early before trying to stick a Standstill.  The last two cards were tough to figure out. For testing I made my own split card Flusterstorm//Spell Pierce to test which I was happier with and in which situations. I found was that even though Spell Pierce isn’t actually dead against Shops, it’s not useful about 75% of the time.  I found myself feeling obligated to cast it on Spheres when I really didn’t need to just because that was all the value I could expect to get out of it.  The times it felt useful were when I was countering either Tangle Wire or Chalice of the Void, but sometimes Tangle Wire just wasn’t an issue because they had no pressure. So, even though Flusterstorm is 100% dead against Shops, I was actually happier having that in my deck than I was having Spell Pierce for game 1.

Finally, I found myself wanting 1 more threat to help me close out games, so I tried an extra Snapcaster Mage, and I hated it. So I switched it to the third Monastery Mentor, and it was ok, but a lot of times I ended up with 2 in my hand and didn’t need both. So then I sort of went outside the box and added a The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale to my main deck, and I loved it.  It really constricted my opponents mana, especially against Shops, and it made it tough for my blue opponents to go too nuts with either Mentor or Young Pyromancer because of how few mana sources they usually have. My own Mana denial strategy also plays nicely with the Tabernacle.

THE TABERNACLE AT PENDRELL VALE

legendstabernacle1

I would strongly recommend testing this yourself, because the other good options for lands that do stuff were Maze of Ith or Library of Alexandria. Maze was better against Delver and Shops than Tabernacle but worse vs. the token making creatures, Library was better against the other blue decks because we now had another source of card advantage outside of Standstill, but was often either do nothing or win more vs. Shops whereasTabernacle was sort of in-between. The other card I considered trying was Vendilion Clique, but I liked my Tabernacle too much to even bother.  With a few more tweaks here is where I ended up

REVISED UW CONTROL

JOSEPH BOGAARD

4 Flooded Strand

4 Wasteland

4 Mishra’s Factory

3 Tundra

3 Island

1 Plains

1 Scalding Tarn

1 Strip Mine

1 The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale

1 Black Lotus

1 Mox Sapphire

1 Mox Pearl

1 Sol Ring

2 Monastery Mentor

1 Snapcaster Mage

1 Kataki, War’s Wage

4 Standstill

4 Force of Will

4 Swords to Plowshares

3 Mana Drain

2 Jace, the Mind Sculptor

1 Decree of Justice

1 Balance

1 Misdirection

2 Flusterstorm

1 Spell Pierce

2 Dig Through Time

1 Treasure Cruise

1 Ancestral Recall

1 Time Walk

1 Brainstorm

1 Crucible of Worlds

Sideboard

1 Kataki, War’s Wage

3 Supreme Verdict

4 Containment Priest

2 Ravenous Trap

2 Stony Silence

1 Disenchant

1 Energy Flux

1 Flusterstorm

I found playing this deck against Shops was fairly straightforward, but it took some adjustments to find the right way to pilot this against other blue decks. I found I really wanted to save my countermagic for their kill cards and my Flusterstorm to protect counter magic or important spells. If I had a clock I was happy to fight over Standstill but I often wouldn’t spend a Force of Will to resolve one as long as I had anything else to do. Spell Pierce underperformed overall for me, and given the popularity of Shops a real good option is to move the second Kataki, War’s Wage up to the maindeck and play an extra Ravenous Trap in the sideboard to help vs Dredge.

Two of the other cards I tried a lot were Chalice of the Void and Meddling Mage. Both served as additional sideboard cards vs. bandovetinh maps vietnam blue, but I couldn’t ever make the numbers work to get enough of either to make them useful.

The basic principle’s of the deck are solid and it can be tweaked to accommodate any metagame.  If you are expecting more like 20%-25% Shops because no one in your area likes shops, maybe the Kataki should go back to the sideboard. But no matter what the metagame percentages looks like, I really like this deck because in a lot of ways it attacks the other blue decks in a very similar way as the Shops decks by constraining their mana.

Another route I considered was to move the Missteps to the sideboard and play 2 Kataki, War’s Wage and 1-2 more of the sideboard cards in the maindeck to essentially be preboarded vs. Shops and still have access to the Missteps for the blue decks. The reason I didn’t go this route was I found I just didn’t miss having Mental Misstep vs. the blue, and I preferred to  have access to 3 Flusterstorms.

Even if you don’t want to play UW Standstill (and I understand if you don’t), whatever you play should be prepared with a plan to beat the 35-45% of the field playing Shops decks; and have a plan to beat the rest of the fractured blue metagame that seem to be leaning heavily on red to try and beat Shops. If you can find something that does both of those things reasonably well, then you are in a good position to rack up the wins online or make a deep run at a local tournament.

Until next time,

Joseph

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