Winning New York States with UB Control
Winning any tournament is a combination of luck and skill. I won New York States this weekend, in large part due to my deck choice. Here is the list:
The week leading up to States had a huge amount of influence on my performance. I tested a lot, primarily with U/W control. My biggest problem with the deck was that a resolved Primeval Titan was impossible to beat, and Summoning Trap meant that they could usually get one into play. I was expecting a lot of ramp in States, so I tried some other ideas.
The first was Spreading Seas in the U/W deck. Wall of Omens was definitely under-performing against most decks, and was an easy swap for Spreading Seas. While Spreading Seas definitely won you some games, it would most often just slow them down a turn early, costing yourself two sorcery-speed mana. Where it was bad, it was terrible, and tapped you out so that they could play another Forest and cast Cultivate. Even with Venser shenanigans, I was unimpressed, and moved on.
Next was a Bant flavored U/W control deck, replacing Wall of Omens with Explore, and essentially no other green cards. The idea here was that we still wanted a cantrip, but instead of attempting to slow them down a turn, we sped ourselves up. I thought I would most often be playing Explore on turn 3 so I could still represent 1U, but the manabase had too many taplands to make that dream a reality.
I thought Memoricide would be a great pro-active plan against Primeval Titan, so I briefly considered splashing black in the deck. My experience with Explore told me that I didn't like how many lands came into play tapped, so the idea ended up getting scrapped before it was even put to practice.
A week ago, if you asked me to cut Day of Judgment and all the white planeswalkers just for Memoricide, I would've laughed and responded with "Have you ever cast a wrath?". I started thinking more about it though, and really liked Memoricide, so I decided to sleeve up U/B Control. My initial list went through a lot of changes, but it began as a direct port of my U/W deck from the 5k. I replaced the removal with Doom Blades, added a singleton Consuming Vapors, and used the Wall of Omens slot to max out on Everflowing Chalice. The chalices were put in to help me cast my endgame of Wurmcoil Engine and All is Dust. Wurmcoil Engine replaced the planeswalkers and the Sun Titans, while the All is Dust was a Day of Judgment that killed their walkers, and even kept your Wurmcoil Engine around. The problem here was that 6 and 7 mana is a lot when you aren't already casting Day of Judgment.
The night before States I find Gerry T's blog, which has a sweet U/R list with no less than 9 cards that start with "Jace". It is a high-velocity Frost Titan deck with 14 draw spells, 10 counters, plenty of 1 mana removal, and a set of Pyroclasms post board. This deck looked like everything I wanted. It was love at first sight, and I immediately aborted my plans and sleeved up the list. I live pretty close to the site, and had a few friends staying with me, so finding someone to battle late on Friday night was an easy task.
I played some games against a Fauna Shaman deck and made some quick observations. First, the mana was much worse than U/W or U/B. I did like the immunity it had against Tectonic Edge, but not having manlands was just as bad of a drawback. After losing a few games to Fauna Shaman due to my inability to find a red source early enough, I was back to U/B control.
It was late so I went to bed while still attempting to refine the deck. I liked the concept of Gerry's deck, but not the mana. Frost Titan was incredible, and so I mentally replaced the Wurmcoil Engine + All is Dust package with a set of titans. I also loved how Gerry's deck was all Jace and counterspells postboard, which is exactly what I wanted to be doing against Eldrazi, Valakut, and U/W. I pushed the number of Jaces to 6 main, with the 7th in the board, and added 8 counterspells to my sideboard.
In the morning I was the most excited I had been all week, finally happy with my deck. The rest of the sideboard rounded out with Nihil Spellbomb, 2 more Memoricide (I had already decided to play the miser's copy main) and some more removal so I could go up to 8 removal spells against creature decks.
The split of Flashfreeze, Negate, Spell Pierce, and Dispel was all untested. I knew I wanted that many counterspells, and I knew I wanted a variety so they could never play around any particular one. Having multiple one mana counters was important against Summoning Trap, while also being able to lead to complete blowouts in the control mirror.
Heading towards the site, I was unsure of what to expect. States is a unique tournament. Many people think back to the days where States was sponsored by Wizards, and they remember the glory that came with the title of state champion. I started playing competitively a little over two years ago, and I missed States both of those years. This was going to be my first States, and I thought it would be just like a PTQ. It came as a surprise to me when New York states was about a third of the size of your average north-east PTQ, clocking in at 70 people.
I went undefeated on the day, and about half of my games can be summed up with "I cast a Jace and then countered/removed every relevant spell/creature for the rest of the game as Frost Titan attacked." I'll go over the most interesting situations, and my sideboard plans.
Round 1: Omar Hernandez, U/R Control
He was playing Gerry's exact list that I had just tested, so I had the advantage of knowing what to expect.
We had a weird game 1, where he played Jace Beleren on turn 3 which stuck around for the next 10 or so turns. Despite the Jace advantage, his deck simply didn't run enough win conditions, so my Doom Blades were must-counters. The game came down to his burn spells being dead while all of my spells were live, and neither of us wanted lose the Frost Titan war. Elixir of Immortality ensured I would never run out of relevant spells, and I win the game with him having less than 20 cards left in his library.
The next game I stuck a Mind Sculptor.
Round 2: Mike Flores, Pyromancer Ascension
I knew what he was playing beforehand, with his Pyromancer deck that was planning on winning with Archive Trap, to which my Elixir of Immortality was unbelievably good. He knew I had Elixir and maindeck Memoricide, so he couldn't have been too happy to see me.
Game 1 he triple Archive Traps me to 12 cards on turn 3 after I cast Trinket Mage for an Elixir of Immortality. I assume he has the Negate to stop the Elixir, so I try to bait it with a Jace TMS, but it resolves. I hold the Elixir while I try to find the last Mana Leak in my library with Jace. When I draw the Mana Leak, I am able to cast the Elixir into his 3 open mana, and it surprisingly resolves. My Jace unsummoned the Trinket Mage, re-fetching Elixir, and after casting a Memoricide on Call to Mind, he has no ways to kill me.
The next game was much less exciting, as I just resolved multiple Memoricides.
Rounds 3-5: Valakut Ramp
All of these matches blend. I lost a single game between all of them, and I cast Memoricide in game 1 in two different matches. After they get Primeval Titan removed, the deck is a whole lot of do-nothing.
Doom Blade allows you to kill Avenger of Zendikar with the "make some plants" trigger on the stack, so they have to kill you with Valakut. Valakut without Primeval Titan is unimpressive at best, especially through Elixir of Immortality.
These sideboard plans differed a bit, and against versions with Joraga Treespeaker I would keep in some more removal, but this was my general plan.
I drew my next 2 rounds with a Mono Red and with U/W.
All 3 of my top 8 matches were against U/W variants. I sideboarded essentially the same for all of them:
Top 8: Jessica Stirba, U/W/r Venser control.
Game 1 I counter her Jace TMS and resolve my own. At one point I cast Memoricide to try to bait the counter, probably naming Venser if it resolved, but the real benefit would have just been to see her whole deck. I have a Mana Leak and an Into the Roil when she Volition Reins my Jace TMS on 9 counters, so I let her take it. She fateseals me and when I end of turn Into the Roil, she is put on a 1 turn clock to deal with Jace. When I show her the Mana Leak, her library gets exiled.
The next game she locks me out of black mana while I counter every relevant spell to win.
Top 4: John Alvarado, U/W
He resolves a turn 4 Mind Sculptor in game 1, and then proceeds to fateseal me out of the game, giving me my 2nd game loss of the day.
At one point in game 2, we start to fight a tap-out war. With him tapped out to put us both to empty boards, I untap with 6 mana and have the option to cast Frost Titan, or Jace Beleren with Mana Leak backup. I ended up casting the Jace, but spent a lot of time wondering if I was just playing too conservatively.
After I win a mind-numbing game 1, he starts off with double Leyline of Sanctity in game 2. At this point, I am extremely confused and relieved. He knew I had Memoricide and Consuming Vapors, but I boarded them both out. I had no Duress anywhere, and his Leylines basically meant he was starting on 5 cards. Exactly one thousand turns of me playing mono islands later and I win the match with 4 counterspells in my hand, becoming state champ.
A lot of my games throughout the day felt exactly the same, unlike my U/W deck, where every game involved a long grind of value. If you win all of your matches and all of your games felt the same, it's a good indication that your deck choice was a good one. I got lucky to see Gerry's blog the night before, even though I didn't play his deck – it was where most of the structure came from.
I'm going to be attending the $10k in Boston this weekend, and will likely be playing U/B control. I make no promises (unlike last week), as you can see now my mind changes pretty frequently on what I'm going to be playing. However, I will put 50 to 1 odds on whatever I end up playing including Jace, the Mind Sculptor.
If you are going to play this deck, my first suggestion would be to cut the Grave Titan, it was too cute, and almost strictly worse than Frost Titan. Doom Blade is absolutely amazing right now, and even though I boarded at least one out every single match, they were pivotal to my success.