Power of Scrubland; my PTQ-winning deck tech

Hello, welcome in.  Have a seat.  Make yourself a drink.  Get comfortable.  I’m doing this whole Magic article/blog/deck tech thing for the first time, so thanks in advance for checking it out.  Feel free to give me some feedback after the fact or tell me how much it sucks, etc.  I’ve never had the audacity to think that writing about my Magic lists was warranted before.  However, after winning the PTQ in Fargo to qualify for Pro Tour Dragon’s Maze, I’ve had a few folks ask for my list and some explanation of how it plays.  The deck is something I’m pretty proud of, since I brewed the first version of it myself back before GP Chicago in November 2012, and made day two with it right away after very little testing.  Four months later, though, and after countless hours of playing, testing, researching, etc., I feel like it has been tuned to be a legitimately extremely good fit within the modern metagame.  I apologize ahead of time if this is too long or detailed, but I wanted to be extremely thorough.  And since the modern metagame spans a whole lot of popular decks, I wanted to make sure not to omit anything important.  That being said, feel free to ask me about any matchups I didn’t explicitly list; I assure you I’ve run across it at some point.  I realize this may be written a little simplistically for most upper-tier Magic players, but again, in the interests of being thorough I put in a lot of information.

Anyway, to save space, I’ll link to the actual deck list on my Deckbox page: http://deckbox.org/sets/139297

It’s built how I prefer to make decks–lots of four-of’s to ensure consistency with as much synergy and value as I can possibly find.  For the most part, the cards should I think be fairly self-explanatory.  For those who are curious about any card choices, though, here’s the rundown:

Obviously Squadron Hawks and Lingering Souls plus Honor of the Pure is nothing I invented, but it is quite powerful.  The amount of evasive, cheap, and resilient offense and defense you can pump out within a tight curve is very impressive.  In addition, the four Hero of Bladeholds are not to be underestimated.  In the metagame of so many Lightning Bolts, she dodges a whole lot of removal, and very frequently takes over a game singlehandedly.  She only gets better with other creatures out to benefit from battlecry and its own tokens benefitting from Honors.  The 10 discard spells (Thoughtseize and Inquisition, plus Tidehollow Sculler) allow you to consistently pick apart opponents’ hands with ease.  Frequently this involves getting rid of Path to Exile, as it is the only truly commonly played removal spell that can get rid of a Hero by itself.  Otherwise you just take your opponent off of their game plan and get rid of whatever threats they may need to be able to win.  Speaking of Path, having four in the mainboard to get rid of virtually any creature in the format is extremely helpful.   Dark Confidant should be pretty obvious, but aside from Jund, Mr. Bob tends be a very underutilized card in my opinion.  The low curve means you’ll never be taking a lot of damage from him, and since most cards are high value for the cost, the extra draws put you at a huge advantage.

There were a few things that I had considered running other colors for, but in the end, having a simple two color mana base was something I really liked.  Again, one of the main goals for the deck was extreme consistency, and it’s extremely rare to have color issues with the deck.  It also allows for four colorless sources in the mainboard (two Tectonic Edge and two Vault of the Archangel) that can end up being extremely important.  In any “fair” matchup, Vault frequently will take over games as long as you have a few creatures on the field.  And modern is a format where greedy three (or even four) color decks are common.  Punishing bad mana bases is not only easy, but very effective.  That’s not to mention the plethora of man-lands and tron decks that exist which can be abused with Tec Edge.  The last part of the mana base that I love, and not everyone immediately grasps, is the singleton Mistveil Plains.  It’s fetchable by any of the five fetch lands in the deck, and being that it’s the only land that can never come in untapped, I always fetch for it when the mana isn’t immediately needed (or a black source isn’t necessary).  If you know the synergy with Squadron Hawk, feel free to skip ahead.  Otherwise, scenario: Play a hawk, fetch hawks to hand.  Play second hawk (or any other white card).  Hawk dies and goes to graveyard.  Play another hawk from hand, search trigger on the stack, activate Mistveil plains and put the dead hawk on bottom of your library.  Search trigger resolves, hawk goes back to hand.  Obviously you don’t have to do the Mistveil activation with the hawk trigger on, but it is an option that a lot of people don’t always see or expect.  Aside from recurring Squadron Hawk infinitely, there is more synergy in that you can tuck back whichever card in the yard that is most valuable at the moment, and with free shuffles from Hawk triggers or fetch lands, it means you get to add whatever ammo you want back into your deck.

The last thing in the deck is the mainboard Auriok Champions, which is a saucy addition that I made very recently before the PTQ and I honestly believe it is the piece that pushed it over the top, along with a few sideboard adjustments.  The format has so much red right now that even while being overcosted, the champion is just a serious problem to have to deal with.  Not only is it immune to essentially any removal outside of Path (sound familiar?), but it blocks a whole lot of good creatures.  The life gain is generally nothing more than a nice bonus, but against aggressive decks, it certainly matters.  In addition, it gives you a pretty nice pre-emptive answer to the myriad Deceiver Exarch style combos.  The value of protection from red in the format right now is also prevalent in the sideboard, and it’s something I feel moved the deck up from being just very good to a legitimate top-tier list in the current metagame.  Speaking of the sideboard, I’ve listed below basically every popular deck I can think of in the current format (fifteen decks) along with my general sideboard plan and a quick explanation on how to play the match.

For reference, the decks I played against in the PTQ are as follows, in order: Swiss – RG Tron (W), WRU Splinter Twin (W), WRU Control (W), RG Valakut Ramp (W), BUG Infect (L), Tribal Flames Zoo (W), WRU Splinter Twin (W); Top 8 – Gruul Aggro (W), WRU Splinter Twin (W), Melira Pod (W)

TRON:
-2 Auriok Champion
-4 Squadron Hawk

+2 Tectonic Edge
+4 Stony Silence

Obviously a lack of red creatures and red spot removal make Auriok Champion pretty unimportant here.  We also don’t care to be playing 1/1’s for 2, even if they do get value like Hawk.  All of our other creatures should be able to get in for damage, so we can just ride them to wins, especially if you can jam a Hero of Bladehold.  Stony Silence shuts down their Expedition Maps and draw/filter eggs which is good, but just as importantly it turns off Oblivion Stone which is easily their best card against us.  The blue version also uses the Slaver lock as a win condition so that’s another plus.  4 postboard Tec Edge should allow us to keep them off of getting tron assembled, especially if you can pick off their land search ability with discard and see their hand to know which land is the weak spot.  Use the Edges aggressively, particularly if you know they only have one of a specific piece.  The red/green versions can cause us a bit of headache with Firespout/Pyroclasm, so you’ll hopefully be able to get that out of their grip with discard if they have either.  Even if they do resolve one, neither kills Hero, so it’s not the end of the world.  We should be favored here but you need Tec Edge and discard (and for them to not have the nut).

AFFINITY/ROBOTS:
-1 Hero of Bladehold
-1 Tidehollow Sculler
-4 Dark Confidant

+4 Stony Silence
+2 Dismember

Generally speaking, just by jamming up the board with Hawks and Lingering Souls, they can’t get damage through easily, and Signal Pest/Vault Skirge/Inkmoth become horribly awkward for them to be trading far down in value.  Fun fact, though, we have literally no answer to a resolved Etched Champion with an equipped Cranial Plating, so make sure to use your discard early to get them off of that set-up.  None of our cards are “bad” against them, but hitting multiple Heroes does nothing for us, and Sculler is pretty mediocre late off the top since they just hand-dump early.  The 1-mana discard stays in because on turn 1 it will still hit their cards that actually matter (Plating, Ravager, Etched Champion, Master of Etherium) as well as hitting Whipflares later.  Bob is out because you want guys that you can block with profitably, and our life total here can definitely matter.  Stony Silence on turn 2 is basically an auto-win, so don’t be scared to mull even a decent hand to get an extra chance at hitting one in your opener, and snap-keep the opener with at least 2 lands and a Stony.  Dismember comes in as extra game against their couple of dudes that might matter, like a Master of Etherium, which is still pretty good even after a Stony.  Game 1 is kind of a crapshoot, but post-board this matchup becomes basically a bye.

BURN/MONO-RED:
-2 Tidehollow Sculler
-4 Dark Confidant

+2 Auriok Champion
+2 Kor Firewalker
+2 Go For the Throat

This should probably be fairly obvious, but bringing in your protection from red guys that gain life is pretty insane.  Some people say that Thoughtseize should come out, but getting their creatures is still usually a good call, even if it costs you two life.  Also, if they bring in anything techy out of the board it’s almost always worth the life loss.  Sculler isn’t great because they’ll get killed easily by their burn, but there is still some value to be had there since it’s one less spell to your face.  As far as Bob, clearly losing life is not what we want to be doing in this matchup; we get enough value from our other spells to not need greedy draw spells.  Depending on whether they’re very burn-heavy vs. creature-heavy, there have been times where boarding out 1-2 more cards like a single Tec Edge, Thoughtseize, Sculler, or Hawk can be worth it to stick in a Dismember or two.  Or if they’re basically creatureless we can keep the Scullers in and not add the Throats, but for the most common lists what I have above seems correct.  Like affinity, this can easily go either way game 1, but 6 pro red life-gain guys after boarding tilts this pretty far in our favor.

RWU/AMERICA CONTROL:
-4 Tidehollow Sculler
-4 Dark Confidant
-1 Fetid Heath

+2 Kor Firewalker
+2 Auriok Champion
+3 Dismember
+2 Tectonic Edge

Otherwise known (to me, anyway) as the Bolt/Helix/Path deck, our pro-red guys blank most of the deck’s spot removal, which seems to be their primary game plan.  The life gain also means it’s REALLY hard for them to just burn our face to death.  Granted, they run Path to Exile, but our discard spells can get those out potentially.  If not, using their Paths on 2 mana dudes means they aren’t using them on our Heroes, which dodge Bolts naturally and are a one (wo)man wrecking crew.  Speaking of Bolts, Sculler and Confidant will never live through anything, so they’re gone.  Our mana becomes slightly greedier here by dropping the Fetid Heath, but we punish their even greedier 3-color mana base with the Tec Edges.  Sometimes you can keep them off of red altogether, otherwise focus on getting their Celestial Colonnades since they’re a primary win condition and killing them can make it tricky for them to play their Cryptic Commands.  Dismember also kills Colonnade as well as their other small amount of creatures like Restoration Angel or Baneslayer Angel.  These games tend to get grindy as they can slow us down quite a bit, but with our removal and life gain it becomes almost impossible for them to actually kill us.  A lot of the time you’ll end up riding small amounts of damage from Squadron Hawk and Lingering Souls to win long games, but since they virtually can’t win, we’re pretty highly favored.

JUND:
-4 Tidehollow Sculler
-4 Dark Confidant
-1 Fetid Heath

+2 Kor Firewalker
+2 Auriok Champion
+2 Tectonic Edge
+2 Go For the Throat
+1 Dismember

We want to blank their spot removal as much as possible (nice Bolts and Terminates, bro) and deal with their relevant threats.  Since we can also block their red/black guys all day, we basically just need to make sure that we have good removal for Tarmogoyf.  Dismember is less good because our life total matters and it doesn’t always get Goyf, but Go For the Throat ends up being surprisingly awesome.  Deathrite Shaman is usually a pain, so hitting it with discard or removal early can be key.  It can stop us from flashing back Souls (unless you play and flash right away since they never get priority to use the ability) and also prevent us from using our Squadron Hawk-Mistveil loop.  Be aware, though, that Mistveil can be used to counter their activation if they target cards in our graveyard.  Use Tec Edges to either keep them off of a color (particularly good if they don’t have a Deathrite in play) or else to keep their man-lands at bay.  As with the America deck, the amount of Bolts and Terminates they play won’t kill all of our guys, but you certainly won’t keep Sculler and Bob in play very often.  If you feel bold, you can try keeping Bobs in for value and slow-roll them after their removal is gone, but they generally aren’t necessary.  I don’t feel bad about this matchup, but as it seems to always be with Jund, it will come down to who draws better a lot of the time.

SPLINTER TWIN:
-4 Tidehollow Sculler
-4 Dark Confidant
-1 Vault of the Archangel

+2 Auriok Champion
+2 Go For the Throat
+3 Dismember
+2 Tectonic Edge

I feel a little lucky and relieved when I win game 1 against this deck, but we have a pretty legit game plan post-board, which involves slow-rolling them like crazy any time they could possibly have the combo in hand.  Discard is extremely vital here not only to get their combo pieces out, but also just to see their hand and know if or how they can combo us out.  If it’s even possible, we just want to always play well behind curve after turn 3 and keep at least one removal spell up at a time, usually two.  With 9 of them in the list, we should have enough answers, even through a Dispel or two.  We also have the benefit of having Auriok Champion being a built-in answer to Deceiver Exarch or Village Bell-Ringer being used to combo, since the life gain from its triggers is exactly the same as their damage output.  If they’re playing straight blue-red, they won’t really have many (or any) answers to Champion, either, so we mostly just need to make sure to kill Pestermite.  If they’re playing the newer white splash version, we also have to worry about Restoration Angel with Kiki-Jiki.  In that case, though, we have the benefit of abusing their mana with Tec Edge.  It’s not hard to keep them off of either white completely, or triple red for Kiki.  Otherwise as with the RWU control deck, getting their Colonnades is always a good call.  And destroying lands in either RU or RWU is a big plus because it leaves them less mana to back up their combo with counter magic, Snapcaster, or other tricks.  These games will get grindy and slow, but we can usually take them off of their win conditions and slow-roll value them to death.

KIKI-POD:
-4 Squadron Hawk
-1 Tectonic Edge

+2 Go For the Throat
+3 Dismember

I hate this matchup, not necessarily because it’s “bad,” but because I never feel confident that I’m good enough to make the right decisions.  I’m sure in a better pilot’s hands this would be a better match, or at least someone who was more familiar with the options that the deck has.  Also, the board plan is somewhat awkward because every card in the 75 does something against them.  But from testing it seems like the best plan is just to try to get rid of their creatures from hand and in play to avoid them doing any pod shenanigans, rather than trying to use Stony Silence to shut off Birthing Pod itself.  That being said, Pod is a great discard target when you can get it.  There’s basically no way they can beat you playing a fair game of Magic, so we just need to keep them off of going infinite with Kiki-Jiki.  Getting rid of Restoration Angels and Kiki itself usually stops them from going off.  You want to play a similar style of game as the Splinter Twin list.  Keep up removal if there’s even a chance they could go off and you should be fine.  Fortunately they don’t get counter spells to back it up so it’s less critical to have more than one at a time.  Because of mana dorks and Pod itself, their mana isn’t super critical, so we can shave a Tec Edge without too much problem.  And Hawks don’t do enough against a deck with virtually no removal.

MELIRA-POD:
-1 Squadron Hawk
-2 Inquisition of Kozilek
-2 Auriok Champion

+2 Go For the Throat
+2 Dismember
+1 Stony Silence

I like this matchup better than Kiki Pod because with disruption and removal it seems to be tougher and slower for them to combo off, at least from my experience.  Which means the straight-up beatdown plan is totally viable and they can’t do a ton to stop us.  Obviously discard and Path to Exile are MVP’s against the persist guys, and we want to use the other removal on their combo enablers.  We can also try to get their Pod(s) with discard.  Inquisition gets cut because a lot of the relevant spells in the deck are four-drops so it becomes awkward quickly.  We shave a Hawk because you should never need to play more than 2-3 in a game before it ends one way or another.  Stony as a singleton isn’t great but it’s better than what we’re cutting and a third Dismember seems unnecessary, however you can go either way depending on which cards you see in their list.

ZOO/GRUUL:
-4 Dark Confidant
-4 Tidehollow Sculler

+2 Auriok Champion
+2 Kor Firewalker
+2 Go For the Throat
+2 Dismember

You should be fine post-board by sticking a bunch of protection from red guys out to block everything and using discard and removal to get their green (or white) creatures and non-red removal (for the lists that play Path or Dismember).  After that, it’s just a matter of throwing out some Hawks and Souls and hopefully riding an Honor of the Pure over the top to an easy win.  This matchup is generally quite good for us unless we draw almost completely dead.

SCAPESHIFT:
-4 Path to Exile

+2 Tectonic Edge
+2 Kor Firewalker

You may want to vary this a bit depending on whether they’re running much red spot removal and such.  If so, shaving a Squadron Hawk and a Vault to add in the other two Champions might be worthwhile.  Otherwise against the straight blue/green lists we’re pretty much putting in Firewalker only because they have two power.  However, this matchup has been pretty good for me both pre- and post-board.  After a discard spell or two and putting some power on the field, it usually comes down to them playing all-time defense with Cryptics and Remands while waiting to die or hoping to rip the win off the top.

GIFTS UNGIVEN:
-2 Auriok Champion
-1 Fetid Heath
-1 Squadron Hawk

+2 Go For the Throat
+2 Tectonic Edge

We really just need to focus on getting Gifts out of their hand.  Nothing else they play is of serious consequence.  Their game plan is going to be to cheat an Elesh Norn or Iona into play, both of which are potentially devastating to us.  By the time they can hard cast either one, they should be dead.  This is especially true after bringing in extra Tec Edges to keep their total land count down and get rid of Colonnades.  Having extra removal spells on top of Path is obviously good for Elesh, but also having BLACK removal options for Iona is important since they will choose to blank you out of white spells if they have any clue what they’re doing.  If you’re lucky enough to stick more than one Honor of the Pure also, especially with a Vault in play, you can actually just bash straight through Norn without much problem. This match is not actually as bad as it initially seems, and in fact I’ve been riding a very high win percentage against it.

EGGS:
-4 Path to Exile
-2 Vault of the Archangel

+4 Stony Silence
+2 Tectonic Edge

This should be super obvious.  Having 10 discard spells is pretty solid against them, and Stony Silence is a literal must-answer, so this matchup tends to be pretty good as long as you can put a decent clock on them in game 1.  Tec Edge rarely matters but since Vault does literally nothing here, we might as well just make the swap.  Unfortunately we have no answer to opening hand Leyline of Sanctity, so we just have to play the numbers and hope they don’t have it, or don’t rip an answer to Stony Silence before we put lethal on them.

INFECT:
-2 Auriok Champion
-1 Vault of the Archangel
-2 Hero of Bladehold
-1 Vault of the Archangel

+2 Go For the Throat
+3 Dismember
+1 Tectonic Edge

We very much become the control deck against infect.  Making lots of Hawks and Souls for blockers is really good as long as they don’t have the Rancor or we can make them discard it.  We are not favored pre-board, but adding more removal definitely helps.  Keep them off of creatures and swing back with anything that’s not needed to block their guys.  Not complicated, but you will need to draw well or they will punish you for not having the right answers.

BOGLES/ENCHANTRESS:
-2 Auriok Champion

+2 Go For the Throat

We basically need to be on the play, have the discard in our opener, and make them get rid of all their hexproof creatures, and have them never draw any more to win this match.  In other words, you need them to run terrible and we need to run like God.  None of our board cards actually do anything relevant to the hexproof guys; all we can do is take out the enchantresses and pray.  Luckily this isn’t super popular at the moment.

LIVING END:
Again, luckily this is a very fringe deck.  I wish I had a legitimate sideboard strategy here but honestly nothing I’ve tried really works.  Your only real chance is to discard out the cascade spells and hope they don’t draw any more by the time you can kill them.  With no graveyard hate, though, all they need to do is cycle a few guys and resolve one cascade spell off the top and you basically have no chance since it also wipes your team.  I suppose it would be possible to load up on removal and hope you can kill enough guys to make a recovery after the fact but that seems pretty tough.

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