The Terror of the Skies

“Can I read Thundermaw Hellkite?”
– Unsuspecting opponent during M13 Standard

I spent entire months of the previous Standard format playing U/W/R Midrange with a certain hasty Dragon. I enjoyed the deck, but it had to come to an end with the rotation of [card]Blade Splicer[/card], [card]Ponder[/card], and [card]Sun Titan[/card] – or so I thought.

[deck title=”U/W/R Midrange by Todd Anderson”]
[Creatures]
4 Snapcaster Mage
4 Geist of Saint Traft
4 Restoration Angel
2 Thundermaw Hellkite
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
4 Pillar of Flame
2 Unsummon
4 Azorius Charm
2 Essence Scatter
3 Searing Spear
4 Syncopate
2 Detention Sphere
1 Dissipate
[/Spells]
[Lands]
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Steam Vents
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Sulfur Falls
4 Clifftop Retreat
1 Plains
1 Island
1 Mountain
1 Moorland Haunt
[/Lands]
[Sideboard]
2 Purify the Grave
2 Negate
2 Sundering Growth
2 Dissipate
3 Dungeon Geists
3 Supreme Verdict
1 Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

It didn’t take long for the original Japanese list to get noticed and filed down into this current version that made up one-quarter of the Top 16 at the latest SCG Standard Open tournament. And my feeling is that this deck is here to stay. It has flexible answers with [card]Azorius Charm[/card], [card]Syncopate[/card], and [card]Detention Sphere[/card]. The manabase is clean and consistent. While some of the spells, high-end threats, and sideboard cards will continue to evolve, the creature line-up of [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card], [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card], and [card]Restoration Angel[/card] is the foundation that gives the deck strength.

As I alluded to in my article last week, there are pretty slim options in Standard for dealing with [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card]. The best chance for control decks are Edict effects, [card]Rolling Temblor[/card], or their own Geists. Even in aggro matchups, you need a clock; a way to get your opponent dead quickly before they can overload you with damage. It’s often necessary to spend a turn getting the Geist on board, taking some damage, and catching back up in the race later.

Having played U/W/R Midrange before the rotation in a significantly more powerful format, I’m used to [card]Restoration Angel[/card] doing absurd things like making a 3/3 first-striking Golem token and killing a creature or two in combat. In the current lists, most of the time it’s simply a Flash creature that allows you to hold up counterspell mana, and then attacks for three. Occasionally, you’ll get some extra value off of a [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card], but the Angel is less about synergy with creatures and more about synergy with instants.

Playing such M13 Limited all-stars as [card]Searing Spear[/card], [card]Essence Scatter[/card], and [card]Unsummon[/card] is a tribute to [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card]. Snapcaster requires a quantity of cheap, efficient spells, and while these spells aren’t the most glamorous or powerful effects in Standard, they allow you to use all of your mana every turn and stay ahead on tempo.

[card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card], a huge beater whose stock has risen in the last couple weeks, is a great curve-topper for this kind of deck. Most of the commonly played removal spells either don’t kill it or come at sorcery-speed, and good answers, like [card]Selesnya Charm[/card] and [card]Ultimate Price[/card], don’t match up well against most other creatures. (Though, people are starting to catch on and run a couple [card]Ultimate Price[/card]s.)

With seven maindeck counterspells and more in the board, this deck also looks to punish others in the format for not playing [card]Cavern of Souls[/card]. If your hope is to resolve a [card]Thragtusk[/card] or [card]Angel of Serenity[/card] against this deck, you’re in for a rude awakening.

I’ve talked up this deck enough, by now – so, how do you go about fighting it?

Going Underneath – Until U/W/R Midrange adopts something like [card]Bonfire of the Damned[/card], decks like Zombies and Mono-Red can win with a flurry of one-drops and [card]Brimstone Volley[/card]s, while the midrange deck often leads with “tapped Shockland, go.” [card]Unsummon[/card], [card]Essence Scatter[/card], and [card]Searing Spear[/card] are at their worst here when trying to fight multiple [card]Gravecrawler[/card]s, [card]Rakdos Cackler[/card]s, and [card]Rakdos Shred-Freak[/card]s.

Going Over the Top – [card]Epic Experiment[/card] with Dispel backup comes to mind here. Though, something as basic as casting [card]Thragtusk[/card] off of [card]Cavern of Souls[/card] is a reasonable plan.

[card]Thalia, Guardian of Thraben[/card] – The U/W/R Midrange deck had a good showing at SCG New Orleans, but it didn’t win. What did? A G/W Aggro deck with Thalia. The 2/1 first-striker stops [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] and demands a removal spell, and taxes the opponent’s mana while doing so. Expect G/W and U/W Humans with maindeck Thalia AND [card]Cavern of Souls[/card] to stir up trouble.

Hoping for a Flood – Like the U/W Delver decks of old, most losses occur when the U/W/R Midrange deck draws too many lands. As an adversary, this isn’t something you yourself can control, but something you can identify and capitalize on. Flooding with this deck is absolutely miserable, with only [card]Azorius Charm[/card] to help cycle through your deck. After playing U/W/R Midrange, I found myself wanting to try out a single copy of something like [card]Amass the Components[/card], [card]Izzet Charm[/card], [card]Thoughtflare[/card], or [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card] to give the deck some more action. Though, adding too many expensive spells, Planeswalkers, or board sweepers would turn the deck into something totally different and is not something I’m looking to do.

Going forward, this is how I would tweak the deck:

[deck title=”U/W/R Midrange by Alex Bianchi”]
[Creatures]
4 Snapcaster Mage
4 Geist of Saint Traft
4 Restoration Angel
2 Thundermaw Hellkite
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
4 Pillar of Flame
2 Unsummon
3 Azorius Charm
2 Essence Scatter
1 Izzet Charm
3 Searing Spear
4 Syncopate
2 Detention Sphere
1 Dissipate
[/Spells]
[Lands]
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Steam Vents
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Sulfur Falls
4 Clifftop Retreat
1 Plains
1 Island
1 Mountain
1 Moorland Haunt
[/Lands]
[Sideboard]
2 Erase
2 Purify the Grave
1 Saving Grasp
2 Negate
2 Dissipate
2 Dungeon Geists
3 Supreme Verdict
1 Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

[card]Izzet Charm[/card] isn’t great in any of its three modes, but provides an extra bit of flexibility that I like. I played one copy of [card]Izzet Charm[/card] in Modern U/W/R Delver, and it impressed me a lot. It’s another answer to problematic creatures like [card]Thalia, Guardian of Thraben[/card] and [card]Ash Zealot[/card], a way to filter through the deck, and a [card]Spell Pierce[/card] when you need it to be.

I find the cheaper and easier-to-cast [card]Erase[/card] to be better than [card]Sundering Growth[/card]’s Populate upside that requires you to cast it during combat with a [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] attacking. I’m not looking to be cute, I just want my sideboard card to get the job done. [card]Erase[/card] is also a permanent answer to [card]Rancor[/card].

Having faced a lot of [card]Supreme Verdict[/card]s, I like having [card]Saving Grasp[/card] as a safety measure for when I cast my [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] on Turn 4. It also allows you get more value out of [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card]s if you have extra mana to use.

I believe that U/W/R Midrange is the best choice right now to run in an unknown or varied metagame, with its flexible spells and powerful creatures. Most decks aren’t prepared to handle [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] yet, and the metagame remains soft to counterspells.

I leave you this week with another decklist that caught my interest. Jund Midrange decks have also started to hop on the [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card] bandwagon, and this Jund list, in particular, might be an even better home for the “Terror of the Skies.”

[deck title=”Fervor Jund by Evan Nelson”]
[Creatures]
4 Strangleroot Geist
4 Dreg Mangler
3 Falkenrath Aristocrat
1 Olivia Voldaren
4 Thragtusk
2 Thundermaw Hellkite
[/Creatures]
[Planeswalkers]
1 Garruk Relentless
[/Planeswalkers]
[Spells]
4 Pillar of Flame
1 Dreadbore
4 Farseek
1 Mizzium Mortars
1 Golgari Keyrune
2 Rakdos Keyrune
2 Sever the Bloodline
2 Bonfire of the Damned
[/Spells]
[Lands]
4 Blood Crypt
4 Overgrown Tomb
4 Rootbound Crag
4 Woodland Cemetery
6 Forest
2 Kessig Wolf Run
[/Lands]
[Sideboard]
2 Deathrite Shaman
1 Tragic Slip
1 Dreadbore
1 Golgari Charm
3 Vampire Nighthawk
1 Garruk Relentless
2 Garruk, Primal Hunter
2 Bonfire of the Damned
2 Rakdos’s Return
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

Just something to hopefully get you excited for my next article. As always, thanks for reading!

Alex Bianchi
Gemmanite on Twitter and MTGO

2 thoughts on “The Terror of the Skies”

  1. I'm trying slayers stronghold right now instead of the moorland and have work great also +2 bonefire -2 pillar and sent the pillars to the sb as less people is playing zombies.

    Reply
  2. I am almost positive that the biggest problem that uwr faces, as you mention, is the issue of mana. With that in mind- I do not see what your changes achieve. I'd be more inclined to try out running more cheap draw spells. (Ravings is not a card that I am excited about, but with augurs and a few pikes, it does a better job than most other spells that can help with early land drops and recoup lost card advantage).

    Reply

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