How to Play Against Hostage Taker

Let’s start with a deck list:


If you read some of my previous work here on Gathering Magic, you probably recognize many of the cards here as cards that I advocated playing in Two and a Half Ixalan Cards You Should be Playing.

Here are some of the reasons you might want to try this deck:

  1. It’s the best deck in Standard
  2. By that I don’t mean it is the most powerful or does the most powerful things (which it isn’t, and doesn’t), but rather that it beats most of the other decks at a rate that far exceeds how often it is beaten; meaning you have outsized expectation when wielding it
  3. One of the main ways it does this is by artfully removing the opponent’s will to continue playing
  4. Maybe I should have just said it’s “my favorite” deck in Standard. Maybe.

Thaumatic Compass
It was not intuitive for us that {U}{B} Control, for example, would be a good matchup. But it is! You would be surprised how consistently the front side of Thaumatic Compass competes with either side of Search for Azcanta; and then, when the time is right (usually after turn seven), the back side prevents them from being able to actually win. Remember: They can only field three or so bodies — total — the entire game (because The Scarab God is a Legendary Creature), so if you can long game all your Thaumatic Compasses, you never actually need to draw another card to win.

And by “win” I mean “not lose” . . .  Because they, the usually card-advantageous Blue deck, will just run out of cards.

Other matchups are more intuitive. A Temur Energy deck, for instance, is just a bunch of creatures. Your deck is a bunch of creature removal. Their peanut butter; your high quality, imported, Swiss chocolate . . .  The decks were made for one another! I mean, from your perspective at least.

The Temur Energy matchup goes something like this: They play something, you either kill it or neuter it temporarily. The latter is actually better because, when you are using the defensive ability on Gideon of the Trials or passing with an open Spires of Orazca, the opponent is forced to commit more materiel to the battlefield in order to progress. That makes Fumigate, Settle the Wreckage, and Sweltering Suns even better.

Mono-Red is more problematic than you might suspect [for a deck full of Magma Sprays for Earthshaker Khenra and so many direct answers to Hazoret the Fervent] but we at least have a super aggressive sideboard of Authority of the Consuls and Regal Caracal.

How Do You Play BBC?

The Boros Board Control (BBC) deck is largely composed of good cards; that is, you look at the cards and say “I would be willing to play that card” up and down the starting sixty. Okay, maybe not Thaumatic Compass. Yet.

Its strength is not in its card quality, which is largely equivalent to everyone else’s. It is in the context, strategy, and approach to playing — or not playing — those cards. The difference between this deck and, say, the Sunbird’s Invocation deck1 is that we aren’t trying to do anything. We’re more trying to prevent the opponent from doing their thing. This deck is very Draw-Go, mostly utilizing its resources to acquire more resources or play efficient defensive exchanges. Can it be out-strategy’d? Out card’d? Yes and yes. But not by most of the decks you expect people to play. A Temur deck isn’t going to deck you. A Dimir Control is not suddenly going to be able to remove an enchantment.

Perhaps the BBC’s strongest do-nothing advantage is simply not playing creatures. Most decks play dedicated creature removal like Harnessed Lightning or, even worse, dedicated creature permission like Essence Scatter. Those are all dead draws against the BBC.

But “dead card advantage” is nothing new. Weissman innovated it before I ever played a sanctioned DCI tournament. Ho. Hum. Thoroughly uninteresting.

The only thing that is interesting here . . .  And by “interesting” I mean in terms of Chinese curse May you live in interesting times . . .  is the Sultai matchup.

Sultai and Not-Dead-Cards

Hostage Taker
When I first made this deck, I found Hostage Taker a curious opponent.

Hostage Taker is the rare card that flips the BBC’s Standard paradigm; okay, I guess Abrade does too, but not nearly to the same extent.

As we said, the BBC has a great matchup with Temur and a great matchup with Dimir. How is it that it would be so challenged by Sultai, which has neither the pure offense of Temur nor the fortress-like long game of Dimir?

One thought is that Sultai has much of Temur’s tempo but more ability to interact (again, attributable to Hostage Taker); and a more diversified long game than Dimir, with fewer dead cards.

But really it is about Hostage Taker.

When Roman Fusco used the BBC to make Top 4 of a PPTQ a few weeks ago, he told me he lost to Sultai when it mattered . . .  But beat a different Sultai to get there. The Swiss Sultai complained after Game 1 that he had a bunch of dead Hostage Takers in his hand.

Roman, of course, had abused him all game with both Thaumatic Compass and Treasure Map. That Pirate takes both creatures and artifacts, chum! (The opponent apparently didn’t know that.)

This became an increasing dilemma for me, mentally.

Our advantage is that the opponent is lousy with dead cards. We have dead card advantage.

It is not just that Hostage Taker is good. A +1 187 is just a thing Wizards2 have had to deal with for circa twenty years; since Uktabi Orangutan, Knight of the Mists, and the original Reflector Mage, Man-o’-War. But Hostage Taker is worse.

It’s not just that they get a 187.

It’s not just that they get a 187 on our card advantage engine.

They get the card advantage engine for themselves!

If you’ve never had to play against your own Treasure Map, let me clue you in on something: It isn’t easy. This isn’t a Blue control deck with all the Hieroglyphic Illuminations into Torrential Gearhulks to dig yourself out. That 2-mana artifact was it. And now they have it.

If this deck is to be viable.

If you want to play the best deck in Standard (or at least what I think is the best deck in Standard).

You need to add one particular skill: How to Play Against Hostage Taker

How to Play Against Hostage Taker

Playing against Hostage Taker in an essentially creatureless deck is an important skill not just for the BBC. For example, just last night (practicing for this weekend’s Invitational) I sided in Treasure Map in my Approach the Second Suns against a {U}{B} Midrange deck with Liliana, Death’s Majesty and Gonti, Lord of Luxury. That is a pretty hard combo to play against with control cards, by the way.

I had some advantage in the first game due to his many dead creature removal spells but narrowly lost to a Gonti’d Supreme Will. In Game 3, with two counters on my Treasure Map, he played Hostage Taker and basically nuked me with a seven-for-one.

There are different ways to play against Hostage Taker depending on how much mana the opponent has access to, and what tools your deck has.

Turns 1-3:
Generally you are open to cast your artifacts. They can’t play Hostage Taker yet.

Turn four (really 4-5):
At this point, they can play Hostage Taker but not cast your artifact in the same turn. On the play it is okay to play and get hit if your recourse is to untap and play Fumigate. Playing Fumigate on a single Hostage Taker might seem awful, but remember that the downside risk of losing a Thaumatic Compass or Treasure Map is a tremendous swing in card advantage. That doesn’t matter for every deck, but a deck like the BBC relies on very long games and progressive card advantage. Giving your main strategic edge to the opponent is a problem.

Depending on your mana situation, you can do stuff like use your Thaumatic Compass in response to the Hostage Taker’s trigger, or flip your Treasure Map to invalidate the trigger.

If you have appropriate instant speed removal (and the mana to use it) you can take advantage of Hostage Taker’s text wording.

Compare Hostage Taker’s wording to Mesmeric Fiend’s:

Hostage Taker
Mesmeric Fiend

Mesmeric Fiend has two different triggers. Killing it in the wrong order will have you re-drawing a card that hasn’t got gotten yet (i.e. no card at all), but result in losing your card forever. The chase rare in question says “until Hostage Taker leaves the battlefield” as a single ability which means that if you kill it with the ability on the stack, your opponent will never have the opportunity to cast your stolen artifact.

Turn six or so:
Assuming the opponent has six mana, they will be able to cast Hostage Taker and cast your 2 mana artifact the same turn.

If they can do that with a Thaumatic Compass, they can get one free card out of it before it flips, or if they have some discipline, a couple of activations by missing land drops.

This is when you want to know those Hostage Taker v. Mesmeric Fiend timing rules! Abrade, Lightning Strike, and Cast Out (the last one especially for {W}{U} and other non-BBC decks) will keep your opponent from crushing you by having two free mana.

Turn seven+:
Thaumatic Compass gives you a freebie on turn seven. You can play it, use it, and flip it before the opponent can even cast Hostage Taker.

You do not have the same advantage with Treasure Map. (You’ll need to know your timing and probably have an instant speed removal spell you can cast in your hand if you are facing Hostage Taker).

Wait a Minute . . . 

** shakes head **

Yes, Hostage Taker can target artifacts.

RTFC?

This article, to the dude Roman beat for Top 8, complaining about his horrible Game 1 matchup, while showing him three Hostage Takers stuck in grip.

Hope all this helps you play with, and against, Hostage Taker to the best of your deck’s potential!

LOVE
MIKE


1 Heads up we have a good Sunbird’s Invocation matchup due to all the copies of Gideon, Cast Out, Demystify, and of course Djeru, With Eyes Open that can play fast interaction with the opposing deck. Plus, our regular development is much better because of all our 2-mana artifacts. Not that anyone plays Sunbird’s Invocation.

2 “The preferred term is ‘Master of the Mystic Arts.’” -Stephen Strange, M.D., 2017


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