Hope Eternal—Clash of the Titans

It’s been a while since I actually made it to a Modern event. I love Magic, I love the format, but sometimes life gets in the way. But I made it this week, and I got to finally take this UW Titan homebrew thing out for a run in the wild. It performed well!

The best thing about having brewed your own deck is the freedom to tweak the list. Sometimes, with a netdeck I feel a little more hesitant to change things, since I assume the original brewer had a really good reason to privilege some cards over other ones. But with my build I knew the reason each card was in there, and in the weird numbers I was running, so I felt free to switch things up. And switch things up I did, adding in two Shadow of Doubt and another Phantasmal Image main, and moving the Supreme Verdicts to the sideboard. Here’s the list I was running this week.

Titan UW

Creatures:
3 Kitchen Finks
2 Phantasmal Image
3 Restoration Angel
3 Snapcaster Mage
2 Sun Titan
2 Vendilion Clique
3 Wall of Omens
Spells:
4 Cryptic Command
1 Detention Sphere
2 Jace Beleren
2 Mana Leak
3 Path to Exile
2 Shadow of Doubt
3 Spell Snare
Lands:
4 Celestial Colonnade
4 Ghost Quarter
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Hallowed Fountain
2 Island
2 Mystic Gate
1 Plains
4 Seachrome Coast
 
Sideboard:
2 Blind Obedience
1 Detention Sphere
2 Mana Leak
2 Negate
1 Path to Exile
1 Ratchet Bomb
2 Spellskite
2 Stony Silence
2 Supreme Verdict

Here’s why I made the changes I made. First off, as I may have mentioned in previous articles, I have a mad-on for Tron at the moment. I hate losing to that deck! So I wanted a main-board plan that didn’t just roll over to Tron and Shadow of Doubt is a lot better in that matchup than Supreme Verdict. Plus, the card cantrips, so it seemed like the worst it could possibly be would be a cheap draw spell during an end step I had to keep up mana. But it also works really well with Ghost Quarter and Path to Exile, and that synergy seemed worth it occasionally being a useless card. Meanwhile, I cut one Path to the sideboard in favor of adding in the third Snapcaster Mage. There are some matchups in which Path is basically a dead card, and I decided I’d rather have the ability to rebuy my spells and ambush my opponents than be running a full playset of a potentially dead card. I shoved Blind Obedience to the side in favor of Wall of Omens, again because worst case it cantrips, but I still think Blind Obedience is a super strong card in Modern.

Anyway, I got to the tournament ahead of time. This gave me the opportunity to run a few test games against Zach (whose new column is definitely worth a read), who ran my FourTron deck against me; FourTron is basically my name for the RG Tron deck that runs a bunch of fours of all its key cards, since I feel like it needed a catchy name. We played out two games, and I think I took both of them. Neither one was short, that’s for sure. In the first game I survived him casting Emrakul by tapping it down with Cryptic Command on the turn it was going to attack, and then dispatching it with Detention Sphere. The second game I won through the ridiculous combination of Sun Titan, Phantasmal Image and Ghost Quarter. Combined we must have gained about 100 points of life that game, what with his Wurmcoils crashing into my Images, but eventually I pulled it out. I managed to Shadow of Doubt his Expedition Map one game, though, which made me feel pretty good about running that card; it’s basically the only way I have to counter that card, since it comes down turn one and I am not running Mana Tithe.

I went into the tournament feeling like against all odds I had built a version of UW Control that was positioned well against my most hated matchup. Luckily I didn’t have to test my theory when it counted!

Round 1: Jon, UWR Geist

I did not end up matched against any random people this tournament; I had played everyone before, and I knew most of their play tics. Jon, for example, is generally a good guy to play against. He’s affable, talented, and is shooting up the learning curve rather quickly. I do not take anything for granted when playing against him. Our games were pretty tight; game one he knocked me down to three life, well within range of any of his Bolts or Helixes, before I managed to drop a Finks to get me out of the red zone.

Game two I had an early Vendilion Clique, which ate removal and then showed me a hand of two Helixes, a Bolt, a Cryptic and a Tec Edge. I took the Cryptic, in what I felt was a fairly obvious choice. There were a couple of points where I tried to bait out the Bolt, since I was more afraid of it than the Helix (I kept my Spell Snares in post board, and had one of them and a Snapcaster), but he played smart. Still, pure UW is favored in this matchup, since he runs out of gas before I do, and he got me down to six before my Finks and Images took me back out of range.

1-0, 2-0

Round 2: Li, Scapeshift

Between rounds one and two Li and I jammed two games and split the results. It’s a very skill intensive matchup, since he has a hard time dealing with my Titans once I manage to land one, but it’s really dangerous for me to ever tap out. So when it turned out the rounds were incorrectly generated, and instead of playing a Tron deck I’d be up against Li again, I had some mixed feelings! These feelings were amplified when he stomped me game one. I kept a loose six with not enough lands, since cards are really important in this matchup, and I never quite got there to be able to keep up Cryptic and protection for it. I sided in a bunch of cards, including Negate, Mana Leak and Spellskite, and then we went on to game two.

Game two was a lot more harrowing. We both started off on a mull to six, and I had to knock myself down to 18 to keep up countermagic. 18 life is a dangerous place to be against a deck that kills you in increments of three, since that’s the amount of damage done by the earliest Scapeshift. I dropped an early Spellskite, but it provided no pressure and we spent a bunch of turns staring down each other over an increasingly large pile of mana. Luckily, I got Li to tap out at one point in an epic fight over a Farseek. Basically, he cast Farseek and I responded with Shadow of Doubt. He responded with Dispel, which I Negated. He Remanded the Dispel, and I Mana Leaked the Remand. With four lands open he either needed to play another counter or tap out. So he decided to pay for it (not that I think he had another counter), and paid the three for the Leak, got back his Dispel and a card, Dispelled my Shadow with his last land and then searched up for his Farseek. I untapped and slammed a Sun Titan with one land left untapped. Li of course had the Scapeshift. Neither of us was sure if it was lethal, since I was at 17 but he was running low on Mountains and my Spellskite was complicating the math. He sacrificed nine lands to search out seven mountains and a Valakut, having run out of mountains in his deck. I paid for one of the triggers with my land, and the rest of them in life, knocking me down to a paltry five life. From his hand he dropped another mountain (a Steam Vents, I think), taking me down to two. He did not have the Bolt. I untapped, trundled in with Sun Titan, and got back my Spellskite. Despite being at two life, the game was basically over.

After that, Li was like “oh, you run Spellskites!” and proceeded to change up his sideboard. I didn’t think much of it, and kept my deck as it had been: free of anything you could consider creature removal. My hand was a little light on counters, but it had a Clique, Finks, and Image, so I decided to go in on the beatdown plan. Things were going well, with me safely at 22 life, when Li dropped an Obstinate Baloth and then revealed a Wurmcoil Engine to my Vendilion Clique. The math had changed! But he was at 16, so the Clique took him down to 13, and then when I knew he wasn’t cracking back with the Baloth both my Finks came in to bring him down to seven. He had the Bolt for my Clique, and ended up only taking two off the tiny Finks, but at five life he was dead unless he could land a Wurmcoil, and he missed his sixth land.

It was one of the tightest rounds of Magic I’ve played in a long time. Our decks were evenly matched, as was our talent (if I am to pay myself a bit of a compliment in that regard), and it energized me going into the next round.

2-0, 4-1

Round 3: Value Gifts

Any joy I had going into this round was almost immediately sapped. Not knowing what I was up against I kept a hand loose on interaction, and my opponent proceeded to punish me for it with an early Deathrite followed by a Liliana. I got slaughtered in two games. It seriously would not be interesting to recount; Value Gifts is a deck that’s all about having all the answers and winning off threats that double as its lands, acceleration, or recursion, and my opponent played the hell out of it.

What I would like to mention, though, is a minor issue of etiquette. If you are piloting a deck and feeling somewhat insecure with it, it’s generally not great form to keep talking about how many “mistakes” you’re making. Like, if afterwards you want to talk things over with your opponent, that’s cool, as is pointing out specific errors in your gameplay as you make them. But! If you keep saying this while you are stomping your opponent, it makes you seem like an ass. And it’s worse when you’re not actually making anything that counts as an actual play mistake. I don’t subscribe to the notion that there is a perfect line of play with a deck that offers the number of decisions that Gifts does; variance exists in Magic, and thus every decision you make is going to be banking on percentages and your read of your opponent. There are situations where it’s probably the right play to use Go for the Throat instead of Abrupt Decay on my Clique, for example, such as if I am tapped out and the Decay is better saved for when you put me on a counterspell. But if I then drop a Restoration Angel, you’re probably going to wish you had the Go for the Throat, even though it was probably the “right” play to use it when you did. That specific example didn’t happen in our game, but it’s situations like that that make me dislike the concept of “perfect play” when it’s applied to certain decision-filled archetypes.

Anyway, my point is that it kept putting me on tilt when my opponent would ruin my world while complaining about all his mistakes. After the game, the only “mistake” he could point to was not sideboarding out his Abrupt Decays, a “mistake” he noticed when he had two in his opening hand game two. I was running a Sun Titan deck. Abrupt Decay hits all but five of the non-land permanents in my deck, and fucks my rather extensive counterspell suite. NOT A MISTAKE! So that round left me in a really bad mood, which was made worse by the fact that this particular player is a super nice guy and wasn’t really trying to put me on tilt. It was thoughtless, not malicious, but I still think it’s poor form that should be particularly stifled when you’re winning the game.

2-1, 4-3

Round 4: Brook, Bant Geist

Brook and I split, which nicely settled my stomach after being so completely on tilt after the previous game. But we were there to have fun, so we played it out anyway just to see how the matchup goes down. Brook had played next to me in one of the earlier rounds, so we both knew what the other was playing; it meant our games were less focused on feeling the other one out and more focused on playing as tightly as we could. Game one wasn’t particularly close though. Brook didn’t see a Geist, and while he dropped a large number of exalted creatures that eventually battered through my Wall of Omens, eventually I dropped Sun Titan and started stripping his deck of lands. I had an Image in hand, but I sandbagged it on the off chance that he didn’t know I had it for game two, and I managed to win without it.

I sided out my Cliques and Paths and sided in Supreme Verdict, Blind Obedience and Detention Sphere.

Our game two was fairly epic in its scale. Brook had the Geist and what felt like a million Vapor Snags to keep me from being able to block or ambush it, and he dropped a Sword of War and Peace and equipped it post-combat to keep up removal for any blockers I might have had. With five lands I dropped an Image to legend out his Geist, and then D-Sphered the Sword. He dropped a Thrun with regeneration mana up, and I dropped a Sun Titan to bring back the Image. It ate a Path. But by this point I had all three Restoration Angels in hand, and drew into a bunch of Cryptics and Snapcasters. Brook’s final turn was ridiculous. He cast a Geist and I played out a Resto to flash my Snapcaster and counter the Geist with a Cryptic in his graveyard. He was out of plays, so I flashed in a second Angel to reset my Wall of Omens for another card. I untapped and swung in with the two Angels, a Snapcaster, and a Colonnade, and that basically did it.

3-1, 6-3

Suffice it to say, I feel a bit vindicated by my brewing skills. Modern is a particularly good format to brew in, I think, because the wide range of archetypes and ridiculously deep card base mean that there are more viable strategies out there, and I think there are archetypes yet undiscovered. Admittedly, UW Titan isn’t exactly a new archetype, but it hasn’t been putting up numbers lately because it’s theoretically weak to Tron, and that deck’s in vogue right now. But it just goes to show you, there are a lot of ways to slay a giant, even one as reliable and consistent as Tron.

Comments
12 Responses to “Hope Eternal—Clash of the Titans”
  1. Justin says:

    I knew you were on some U/W Sun Titan thing – and I wasn’t too keen on facing it to begin with since I’m not experienced in the matchup – but after seeing your decklist (4 Ghost Quarters, damn), I’m definitely glad they had to redo the pairings. I assume Shadow of Doubt was better for you than Mindcensor in testing?

    • Jess Stirba says:

      Yeah actually, Mindcensor is good and all, but Shadow of Doubt is always live, and sometimes Mindcensor just dies to a Lingering Souls token. Plus, against Tron Shadow of Doubt lets you have a shot against that turn one Expedition Map, which is usually the play that gives me the most trouble (because it almost always means turn 3 Tron, which means Karn).

  2. Matt Jones says:

    I LOVE THIS IMAGE!!!

  3. Tim says:

    Curious about your thoughts on Blind Obedience (“I still think Blind Obedience is a super strong card in Modern”). What makes it good? Has the extort been a crucial component in your experience, or is it just there to hose eggs and slow down twin by a turn?

    • Jess Stirba says:

      I don’t think it’s crucial, but it did win me a game. I tended to side one in when I had a hole and needed a generically good card to add to it, or against flash-based decks. It gives you a way to gain life other than kitchen finks, and makes your spells that much better, basically. But it just stops Eggs and Reanimator combo, and slows down Twin enough to be worth having. And again, I really like it when you’re interacting with your opponent primarily through spells and need to have some way to make your finishers more effective.

      • Tim says:

        Oh, right, I forgot about the Goryo/Breach decks. But yeah, what I was mostly curious was the effectiveness of extort in this format.

      • Justin says:

        It doesn’t stop Goryo’s Vengeance/Through the Breach, they can just cast these at the end of your turn to get around Blind Obedience.

        It’s pretty interesting in Burn lists though: http://legitmtg.com/competitive/at-this-point-burning-desire/

      • Jess Stirba says:

        It does stop those two, they’re templated “at the end of turn” not “at the beginning of the next end step” so they die in the cleanup phase. We’ve been playing around with that list and they need to have the counter for it or they’re just dead.

        But yeah, I like that Burn list! It seems like extort is great in situations where you’ve got a deck that’s casting spells and is vulnerable to flood/getting all the mana.

      • Justin says:

        Nope! Read the oracle text…

      • Jess Stirba says:

        Whaaaa? Why would they do that? It’s templated perfectly for the cleanup step!

  4. Justin says:

    Who knows. Pretty awesome though. Btw Memory Jar works the same way.

    • Jess Stirba says:

      I mean, I am looking through the wording now and it seems so weird that they’d change that. To me it seems like it should be more like act of aggression than mimic vat, but it looks like at some point they decided it was a trigger you could respond to and not just a state-based thing, I guess? But then how is act of aggression not a triggered return?

      Confusing! Still, I’m down with making it harder for that deck to win… slowing it down is often enough to give you a chance to have the right counter at the right time.

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