Let’s finish what we started. In the previous article I wrote about my tournament experience with the UG polymorph deck. As the deck seems like a potential contender at the National Qualifiers as well as at the Grand Prix in Washington DC, I will share some of my insights and offer different alternative strategies that the deck could adopt. So this article is going to cover such topics as the cards going in the maindeck, what could go in the sideboard, what are the different match-ups and the strategies against them and finally what are the hate cards that could hurt the deck the most. Writing the last section feels a bit like providing other archetypes the weapons to deal with UG polymorph, my pet deck of the moment, but it is none the less necessary, so you can prepare for it. In my conclusion, I will give some general advice about tournament preparation and how I make sure that I can compete to the best of my abilities.
Before going further on the topic, I would like to mention that a lot of people in the forums and MTG writers have strong feelings about the deck. It seems that either people love it, and it has been, admittedly, the flavor of the month, or people hate it, saying that it has been there pre-ROE and that the deck did not change much. Two factors made the deck better at the time of the first PTQs post-ROE. First, the decrease of the importance of aggro decks in the metagame, due to their bad match-ups against UW control, the deck that won the first three online PTQs of the season. The UW control only got better with Wall of Omens and Gideon Jura. UG polymorph can struggle against fast aggro decks and a metagame of control decks is more favourable to its proliferation. The second reason why the deck got better, other than a changed metagame, is the new tools it received in ROE. Awakening Zone, Deprive, Emrakul and See Beyond which all helped the deck to increase its power.
Let us examine the content of the maindeck and the sideboard that I modified since the last article. For reference, here is my current list that I am running:
4 Halimar Depths
4 Khalni Garden
4 Misty Rainforest
1 Verdant Catacombs
1 Scalding Tarn
1 Iona, Shield of Emeria
1 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
4 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
3 Into the Roil
4 Awakening Zone
2 Vines of Vastwood
2 Garruk Wildspeaker
1 See Beyond
3 Spreading Seas
1 Iona, Shield of Emeria
1 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
1 Spreading Seas
2 Spell Pierce
2 Eldrazi Monument
1 Telemin performance
2 Pithing Needle
2 Reality Spasm
As you can see if you read the last article, I changed only one card from the maindeck, removing one See Beyond to add one Awakening Zone. The sidedeck is quite different, and may still change after further testing. One card missing from the deck that I have seen in a lot of other decklists, Kenji’s list for instance or the lists on magiconline, is Rampant Growth. The card sure is good, but I do not think it is better than Explore in this deck. Explore helps you to draw into your combo parts and with Jace you can make sure you will get enough land if it manages to stay in play. My list has three Into the Roil, and this card is a solution for so many problems that it is not where you should be looking when cutting cards. It slows down aggro decks, bounces a bird or two, deals with O-rings and sometimes Jace, and it often draws you a card. With all the library manipulation in the deck, you have good odds to draw it if you look for it. I was even thinking of adding one in the side, but decided not to.
The two Garruk provide an alternate win condition, a way to get tokens, and as well a way to cast polymorph with two mana untapped as an insurance. I decided to play Deprive over Negate, which is another choice you have to make when you play the deck. I was satisfied with Deprive, allowing me to bounce Halimar Depths or Khalni Garden if I needed to, and gave me a hard counter against many important threats in the metagame, including Sovereigns of Lost Alara, Baneslayer Angel and Siege-Gang Commander. The Awakening Zone is really helping and with two in play you can stabilize against aggro decks. Against control decks, two Zone in play may allow you to hardcast Emrakul, which happened to me twice during the tournament. The two Vines of Vastwood allow you to protect your tokens when you cast polymorph, but can also be used to protect Iona against Jace, which is backbreaking against UW control. You can use them to finish off your opponent, kill a planeswalker with a token or even use them as pseudo-removal against Bloodbraid Elf or Knight of the Reliquary.
One of the advantages with that tech was that nobody saw it coming and it allowed me countless successful polymorphing and had many opponents staring in disbelief. It is no more a secret tech but I am sure it is going to surprise some more opponents. A last comment about the maindeck is the presence of two fetch lands that can only get one color. These are there to provide additional shuffling effects, working really well with Jace, Halimar Depths and Ponder. That means that you should not crack them if you do not need to, you keep them as long as you can as they are invaluable when you need to put away the useless cards you have just seen on the top of your library. You often play Halimar Depths first turn, select the best card and put it on the top. If there is nothing else you need, you play a fetch land second turn and you shuffle the other cards, then play Spreading Seas, Ponder, or Explore then Ponder, or even See Beyond. You sometimes play Into the Roil on their first threat, gaining a turn or two to set up the Polymorph.
Let’s talk about the sideboard now. One Iona and one Emrakul allow me to change to the one that is appropriate depending on the match-up. Like I said in the previous article, Iona is good against UW, UWr planeswalker and RDW, Emrakul is often better versus Mythic and Jund. I thought a lot lately about the different other critters that we could bring in to deal with the changing metagame with sideboards better prepared for UG polymorph. With more O-ring, Jace, Sarkhan the Mad and Executioner’s Capsule around (the latter hurting the deck quite a bit), it could be a good idea to bring in Progenitus or Inkwell Leviathan. Progenitus is a turn- two clock that would make a lot of hate cards pretty much useless. Day of Judgement can deal with it, but if your opponent thinks you want to go for the Iona plan they may well side out their Day, giving them no out against this monster. Sphinx of the Steel Wind is also a monster I considered for match-ups like RDW and Ally. I decided however to stick with the Iona plan for now.
The fourth Spreading Seas should help against match-ups with intense mana-requirements, like Jund or Ally. Spreading Seas is also useful against decks with blue as a way to shut down their manlands. I usually keep two against decks with Colonnade. The two Spell Pierce and the Negate are usually what I bring in against a lot of decks if I think they are going to side in counters and creature removals. The two Eldrazi Monument are a cute tech that I took from the polymorph deck of Randy Williams who finished seventh at a PTQ in Richmond (here is the decklist: http://www.wizards.com/magic/magazine/events.aspx?x=mtg/daily/eventcoverage/amsterdam10ptq/0508richmond). I played them maindeck but found them a bit clunky. They are however an interesting alternate win condition and they work wonders with Awakening Zone and Polymorph.
The important thing to know is the interaction between the Monument and Polymorph. Polymorph will still resolve even if you target something that is indestructible; I checked on the Gatherer just to make sure. You can as well stack the effect at the upkeep so you sacrifice the token produced with the Zone that turn, allowing you to attack with the other if needs be or keep them to block. I have only one Telemin Performance left in the sideboard because they are useful only in the mirror match and against decks that are going to side out their Walls of Omen against you, and it is difficult to know for sure what your opponent is going to do. Against Grixis or Esper it can be useful as well, getting a Sphinx of Jwar Isle or maybe even Emrakul if you play against the Brilliant Ultimatum Esper deck that is getting more popular on magiconline. The card can empty the library of decks without creatures, like Turbofog post sideboard, RU Pyromancer Ascension decks, or some Open the Vault decks. For the last one, however, they may have only four creatures and you may not have seen them in the first game, so it would be quite risky to bring it in. The last thing you want to do is to fill their graveyard with an insane number of artifacts.
Pithing Needle is also a card that is flexible and can be used in different match-ups. With all the planeswalkers around a casting cost one solution seems quite nice, and it can shut down manlands and Jace, if you managed to play Iona and that their only out is bouncing it with Jace, which is a situation that is quite common. Pithing Needle does wonders against Open the Vault, shutting down Time Sieve or Tesseret. The Needle can as well stop Executioner’s Capsule, which is in the side of quite a few decks, or even Cunning Sparkmage, another one that is brutal versus UG Polymorph. Reality Spasm is one that I did not try yet, but that in theory seems to help out against RDW. They play a haste dude with mana open to respond to your polymorph, you then tap their threat and their remaining lands, and after that you polymorph without worry. Craig Wescoe in his article on SCG of last week thought it would be a good idea in the sideboard and Randy Williams used them in his sideboard as well. I am not sure if it would be useful in other match-ups, but I will give it a try. The last cards remaining I have in the sideboard are 2 Fog. They buy you time against RDW and they cost only 1, and are able to prevent a lot of damage. You do not want to draw too many though so I put in only two.
Here is what I could side against different match-ups:
RDW: -2 Jace – 3 Spreading Seas – 1 See Beyond – 1 Emrakul – 1 Ponder
+ 2 fog + 2 Reality Spasm + 2 Spell Pierce + 1 negate + 1 Iona
If it is the version with black for Blightning maindeck and some removals like Deathmark and Doom Blade in the sideboard, you should bring in Emrakul instead of Iona, for obvious reasons.
UW control and UWr control:
– 1 Spreading Seas – 1 Garruk – 1 Emrakul – 1 Ponder – 1 See Beyond – 1 Vines of Vastwood
+ 2 Spell Pierce + 1 Negate + 1 Iona (naming usually white) + 2 Pithing Needle
If you want to go for the Monument plan, you should also remove one Deprive and one Vines of Vastwood and then add the two monuments.
Mythic (old school and conscription): – 1 Spreading Seas – 1 Iona – 1 Vines of Vastwood
+ 1 Emrakul + 2 Spell Pierce
Polymorph (UG, UWg or UR): – 3 Spreading Seas – Emrakul – 1 See Beyond (Maybe – 1 Garruk – 1 Into the Roil)
+ Iona (naming blue) + 2 Spell Pierce + Negate + 1 Telemin Performance (Maybe + 2 Eldrazi Monument)
Jund: – 1 Iona – 1 Garruk – 1 Jace – 1 See Beyond – 1 Ponder
+ 1 Spreading Seas + 1 Emrakul + 2 Spell Pierce + 1 Negate
This is my sideboard strategy for now against the main decks that I expect to encounter. Against decks that are more control, I may consider bringing in the Monuments, for instance against Grixis or Esper. As I said, I am not convinced still with the Monuments, but it helps to add threats to the deck. Some cards did not make it into the sideboard but may well get in there. Ice Cage and Narcolepsis are both interesting removals that could slow down aggro decks and deal with the early threats. Playing some of each could as well avoid backbreaking Maelstrom Pulse from Jund opponents. Mind Control and Domestication is another game plan that I considered and that quite a few pro players have chosen. A resolved Knight of the Reliquary makes it hard though for this strategy, having to play around the Seijiri Steppe.
Craig Wescoe tried a transformational sideboard strategy versus RDW, the decks worst match-up, and sided in 4 Pelakka Wurm and 4 Overgrown Battlement, giving up on the polymorph strategy; it is an interesting plan but it takes a lot of sideboard space and according to him it was not that successful. Flashfreeze is another sideboard strategy that can be used but I don’t really like it against Jund because it does not counter Doom Blade, Consuming Vapors and Duress that may come from the sideboard. At last, Jace Beleren might get in there, as the games against other control decks often come down to who manages to put its upgraded version into play and protecting it. Jace Beleren could allow the deck to win «the Jace War».
What about the opponents’ sideboard plans? People are now going to be a lot more prepared than they were in the past, knowing the deck and allowing a few sideboard slots to beat it. What cards can we expect to face, what hate will we have to deal with? Thought Hemorrhage is something we may face, but it can easily get countered with everything we bring in from the sideboard. Executioner’s Capsule is a lot harder to deal with, and will have to be bounced. If this tech is becoming standard with Jund, I may consider putting two Progenitus in the sideboard. Bringing in Pithing Needle against that possibility does not seem worth it, because there are not many other great targets in the deck. Sadistic Sacrament is possible if you play against Vampire. If you suspect it, you may bring in Iona and Emrakul from the sideboard, making sure one of them will be left if they choose to remove the creatures. Consuming Vapors could be something you see as well, but it is not that scary, because it can be countered easily, it costs 4, and you may have other tokens out so it will not take out your kill condition.
Oblivion ring is getting quite popular to deal with planeswalkers, so your opponents may use it to remove your Emrakul or Iona; however, you may have a counter or Into the Roil to deal with it. To bounce it at the end of their turn with Emrakul underneath is quite brutal. Cunning Sparkmage may as well ruin your day if it comes into play. You may bounce it and if it is their sideboard plan, like in Naya, Naya Allies and some Jund, you will have to bring in Pithing Needle to deal with it. If your opponent has Telemin Performance and it resolves, it is pretty much over; however, with the counter package brought from the sideboard, you will probably counter it and then they may be tapped out, allowing you to act as you please. Lastly, Meddling Mage naming Polymorph is not pretty either, and most of your counters will not do anything about it, so you will need to bounce it with Into the Roil or Jace. As you have seen, Into the Roil is really good against a lot of hate cards the opponents bring in and you may want to play another one in the sideboard.
That wraps it up for sideboard strategies. There is a lot more to tell but I have to keep things short for the sake of this article. So good luck for your National Qualifiers and I may see you if you play in Montreal this weekend. If not, I am going to Washington Dc Grand Prix with members of my team (team Farfadets) so I may see you there, with hopefully not too much hate in your sideboard if you are not playing polymorph. A last word on preparation: Of course you should playtest a lot and avoid changing to a radically different new deck before a tournament. If you already have experience with UW control, and you switch to UWr control, for instance, it is not too much of a change that you cannot handle it, as the two decklists share more than three quarters of the same cards. Or, if you switch to an updated version of a deck that you already have a lot of experience with, for example an updated aggro Jund version, when before you played a more mid-range Jund version.
Also, I always try to get myself in the right mind frame before the tournament, trying not to worry about other stuff, so I can concentrate fully on what I am doing. You often have to play for more than ten hours of Magic and you need a calm, focused frame of mind so you do not give away games you should have won. If I can, I am going to do exercise before the tournament, running, cycling or even swimming. That way I increase my energy level and my confidence, as well as feeling relaxed and on top of things. I avoid foods and drinks that are going to hinder my concentration, like junk food and soft drinks. I also avoid coffee and chocolate, as they increase my energy for only a short time, before leaving me feeling a bit more tired than I was before. A lot of my friends do not take this advice seriously, and that does not bother me in the slightest; however, it works for me.
I came to these conclusions after several tournaments where I did not play to the best of my abilities and I looked for reasons to explain my poor performance. So I eat light meals for lunch and dinner, and healthy snacks such as nuts and raisins when I need an energy boost, as well as drinking plenty of water. The thing is, I was ready to make these sacrifices and change my diet because one thing was clear in my mind, winning is what I wanted most, and I was ready to do a lot of small changes so I could improve my odds. In the last rounds of long tournaments, people tend to get more tired and sometimes play more sloppily; I had to find a way to avoid it being me, so I observed my energy levels and noticed what was affecting it.
Another useful technique I found effective is that during rounds and between rounds I try to remain calm by breathing slowly and not thinking about the possible outcome of the current game or tournament. I used to get overexcited if I was getting close to getting into the top 8 of an event, and that feeling burnt up my energy and distracted me from what was really important, which was the turn I was playing right now and the state-based situation of the specific game I was in. When Zac Hill managed to get into the top 8 Pro Tour Honolulu, he wrote on his hand FOWDRN, so he could remember to be totally absorbed in the game. It means Focus On What you are Doing Right Now (check the report on http://www.wizards.com/magic/magazine/article.aspx?x=mtg/daily/eventcoverage/pthon09/fm9). I think it is an essential part for competitive Magic and it may help you to win more often during your National Qualifiers. Have a nice, friendly and competitive tournament and until next time, I wish you all the best.
tvincent on magiconline.
Blind_Hordes on MWS.