Sunday, November 25, 2007

Examining Blue: Sonic Boom

The Standard metagame is pretty much defined by now, with loads of deck lists in from States and GP Krakow. Despite the diversity of the field, only one color caught my attention; blue. As a control player, I'm glad to see all the successful blue decks performing in the current metagame. To start off my preparation for Worlds, I chose Wafo-Tapa's Sonic Boom Mono Blue Control. The deck managed to get a respectable 2nd place finish in GP Krakow piloted by Frenchmen Amiel Tennabaum, only to lose to another blue/white control, which I will discuss in the next article. I bought the required cards like Cryptic Command, Guile and others in Magic Online and started my research. Without further ado, here is my updated version of Sonic Boom:

Main Deck:

3 Guile
2 Sower of Temptation
3 Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir
2 Venser, Shaper Savant

4 Ancestral Vision
4 Cryptic Command
4 Faerie Trickery
2 Pact of Negation
4 Remove Soul
4 Rune Snag

4 Desert
2 Dreadship Reef
2 Scrying Sheets
18 Snow-Covered Island
1 Tolaria West
1 Urza's Factory

2 Dreadship Reef
2 Jace Beleren
4 Phyrexian Ironfoot
3 Razormane Masticore
2 Serrated Arrows
2 Sower of Temptation

At first, I copied the exact list and started testing. Then I noticed an issue with the deck; the lack of lands. Sure, Think Twice is considered half a land and earns an extra card, but most of the time you are tapping your mana for Rune Snag, Faerie Trickery, Cryptic Command and etc. There is simply no time to cast Think Twice in the Mono Blue versus aggro matchups, and you must hit the 5th and 6th land drop. However, Think Twice shares its benefits in the control matchup, where you never have to tap your mana anyway in the early game. Still, I don't fancy Think Twice's existence in the deck. There must be something that is as good as a land as well as a good resource against control.

Enter Scrying Sheets. This is one of my favorite standard cards, not to mention I've won my Nationals Championship with it last year. It is pretty underplayed this year, and strangely, I find its place in mostly non-blue control decks like Monored Chandra Control, Monogreen Treefolk and Monowhite Control which I don't quite understand. To start off, I added 2 Scrying Sheets and an additional snow island to the deck and loved it instantly! Not only did I have 28 lands, which is a huge advantage against control, I could consistently play my 5th and 6th land while using my mana to counter threats every turn. Of course, there are turns where your opponent just passed, and it makes little difference if you activate Sheets or cast a Think Twice, but it really matters when you needed the land drop. You are playing mono blue, and you simply can't stall on 3 lands and rip the 4th land to play Wrath of God. You simply need to drop lands every turn to ensure you could play all thecounters in your hand and drop the Teferi and Guile.

Another major change I did to the deck was adding the maindeck Sower of Temptation and cutting the remaining Think Twice and a Pact of Negation. I like the main deck Sower of Temptation a lot, as most people do not expect it and it could single handily win games on its own, as the astounding numbers of counters in the deck ensures that he survives. Sower is also one of the few efficient answers to resolved threats in the deck. The reason I cut a Pact of Negation is due to the redundancy of the deck. There are quite some numbers of cards that you do no wish to draw multiple copies, for example Teferi, Guile and Pact of Negation as well. The difference between them is that, you really need to draw one Teferi and/or one Guile, but you do not necessary need to draw a Pact of Negation for the win and holding 2 Pacts is really bad compared to holding double Teferi or Guile. Sure, Guile+ Pact of Negation is the “combo” of the deck, but most times you still win anyway if the game state is in your favor.

The difference between my main deck and the basic version is;

+ 1 Snow Island
+2 Scrying Sheets
+2 Sower of Temptation

- 4 Think Twice
- 1 Pact of Negation

Strategy Guide

Versus Straight Aggressive Creature deck( Kithkin, Monored, Elf, Faerie)

+ 4 Ironfoot
+ 3 Razormane Masticore
+2 Sower of Temptation
+2 Serrated Arrows

- 3 Teferi
- 3 Guile
- 2 Faerie Trickery
- 2 Cryptic Command
- 1 Urza's Factory

You bring in the hate creature package and takes out all the expensive creatures and cut down on expensive counters. You do not sideboard in the Ironfoot against the flying troops of Faerie though and keep Teferi because they do have countermagic which he could shut down. The reason I cut a land because sideboarded games are slightly slower than it is, and you have a greater defense base to stall out and you never activates Urza's Factory in these matchups. Ultimately, it was strange that I've found Scrying Sheets is pretty relevant in this matchup post sideboard due to Razormane Masticore. The interaction between Serrated Arrows and Desert is insanely powerful, usually killing most of the threat by using an arrow counter and an activation of Desert. This matchup is not favorable before boarding, but favorable after boarding with all the hate except for Elf, which I would explain later.

Versus Aggro-Control Strategy ( mostly Mannequin decks)

+4 Phyrexian Ironfoot
+3 Razormane Masticore
+2 Serrated Arrows

-3 Guile
-1 Teferi
-2 Venser
-3 Faerie Trickery

This is a favorable matchup before and after boarding. They play their games by resolving 187 card advantage creatures, and most of your card stops them from gaining advantage. They does not come out blazing fast, and their turn 2 plays are weak against Teferi and you can counter basically anything that is threatening because their relevant plays starts on turn 3, for example, drawing 2 cards by evoking Mulldrifter, casting Shadowmage Infiltrator. Faerie Conclave does no harm to you because of Desert, although Mouth of Ronom is a pain for you. After boarding, you can hardly lose this matchup. 1 Ironfoot stops 4 Shadowmage, 4 opposing Ironfoot and 4 Shriekmaw (they can't kill Ironfoot nor passes through it). Serrated Arrows kills Shadowmage (literally), dudes with Mannequin counter, Fairie Conclave. Razormane usually seals the game, but do beware of Profane Command because that is the card that will turn the game around. Try to hold on to your Masticore until you can protect it because once it sticks, they can hardly win. This is a battle of Attrition instead of speed; therefore I kept all Cryptic Command and remove most Faerie Trickery.

Versus Control Strategy (all types of blue control)

+2 Dreadship Reef
+2 Jace Beleren

-1 Rune Snag
-1 Desert
- 2 Venser

You only bring in 4 cards in this matchup because most of your card is good and there are few to bring out. There is only 1 scenario that you would be happy with an all land hand or heavy land hand; the control mirror matchup, because literally both player only plays land and it is common knowledge that whoever makes the first step often loses. I increased the land count to 29 after boarding, to ensure that I have more probability of hitting land drops and adding the count of storage land is also significant because you really want to see one on your side of the table by turn 2. Jace Beleren is a cheap and efficient card drawer where you punish your opponent after he had exhausted on resources after a counter war. Tolaria West is a key in finding Scrying Sheets in this matchup.

Against Non-Blue Control Strategy (all sorts of Monogreen,Monored and Monowhite variants)

+2 Dreadship Reef
+2 Jace Beleren
+2 Sower of Temptation

-2 Desert
-4 Remove Soul

These decks are light on creatures and feature some card advantage engine and some creature control element. Therefore, Remove Soul is petty useless on them and you actually want them to resolve their big and expensive creatures because you can steal it with Sower of Temptation and protect it to victory. They are the active player in this matchup and you are the reactive player. They often have to play spells before you do; hence it is unnecessary to add up the land count, although you still do the Desert swap for Dreadship Reef. Again, Jace Beleren makes sure you have enough answers for them.

The conclusion

I took the deck to the 8-man queue and been cashing in some wins. So far, I've played approximately 8 times, with 2 wins, 2 split in the finals, 3 semifinals lost and 1 quarterfinal lost. After all, it is not a bad profit ratio. Of the 4 loses I incurred, 1 was a mirror match where I made a mistake in using the wrong counter in the counter war, thus costing me the match. The other 3 loses? Green-Black Elf and I lost all of them 0-2.

It is hard to imagine that the tiny green men actually run me over and over again. Mostly is due to the die roll where I lost most of them, and they go land mana elf, land imperious perfect/elvish champion/ vanquisher. Combined with Treetop Village, they don't find a hard time to kill me in game 1. After boarding, I brought in the suite of hate against it. Unfortunately, Elf has the perfect answer to all of my threats. Riftsweeper for Ancestral Vision, Eyeblight's Ending for Sower of Temptation, and even Viridian Shaman for both Razormane Masticore and Serrated Arrows. If they managed to draw any 2 of their hate that answers our threats, it is often game for them. Not to mention Garruk Wildspeaker is a headache on its own. Pithing Needle is a fantastic card to try out, but I have not figure out the right slot to make space for it.

by Terry Soh