The best baseball teams have something in common: they have a great pitcher who can come out of the bullpen and close the game. It doesn’t matter how big the lead is, a team can still lose a game if it doesn’t have a closer to seal the deal.
Competitive Magic is similar – you can be dominating the early rounds of a tournament, but if you cannot win those last few matches, your top 8 hopes will be dashed. I started the 292-player, 9-round TCG $5K this past Saturday 6-0, but I failed to close the door on my last opponents and lost both of my win-and-ins for top 8.
6-3, 31st place. Extremely disappointing. I got 50 bucks and a playmat, but I blew my shot at $1400. What follows is a round-by-round analysis, but let’s start with the deck I played.
3 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
4 Jace, Architect of Thought
2 Kiora, the Crashing Wave
4 Sphinx’s Revelation
3 Last Breath
2 Celestial Flare
4 Supreme Verdict
4 Detention Sphere
1 Elixir of Immortality
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Temple of Enlightenment
3 Temple of Mystery
3 Temple of Plenty
2 Temple Garden
1 Breeding Pool
3 Archangel of Thune
3 Brimaz, King of Oreskos
2 Revoke Existence
1 Fated Retribution
1 Blind Obedience
2 Glare of Heresy
1 Pithing Needle
A few notes on certain card choices:
Kiora, the Crashing Wave – this card is bonkers good. The format is fairly slow and full of midrange decks that play one threat at a time. Kiora shuts down that threat, be it Blood Baron of Vizkopa, Desecration Demon, Stormbreath Dragon (once in play), and only takes 3 unchecked turns to ultimate and become a win condition. I boarded her out against decks with multiple haste/flash creatures and aggressive decks since Kiora would not have reliable targets.
Some pro players advocate to play three Kiora, but I found I only wanted to draw the card when I was fairly in control of the board, and almost never did I want to play her on turn 4. Against decks like monoblack, she buys a turn by shutting down a threat and then eating a Hero’s Downfall (which is great, since then I have a clear Jace or Elspeth to come down a turn later to stick for a bit). When she doesn’t get removed, she takes all heat off me for a few turns, and most of the time she ended up making Krakens and winning me the game.
No Azorius Charm – Azorius Charm is bad now. With 10 scry lands I can manipulate the top card to be something relevant (or at least potentially not a bad draw) so the extra draw isn’t as necessary as it was pre-Temple of Enlightenment. Celestial Flare is a better version of Charm’s removal mode, especially against Mono-Black and decks like Red-Green Monsters that tend to only have one creature swinging in per turn.
Flare is a good answer to Mutavault too, which is harder to eliminate than pretty much any other creature an opponent could play. It was never upsetting to take 6 from a Desecration Demon in exchange for a Mutavault getting sacrificed to Flare – I can beat the Demon easier than the Mutavault, especially long game. Celestial Flare also gives me an element of surprise, since it’s virtually nonexistent in Standard right now, and it allows me to have a potential out against Obzedat, which my deck is weak to.
No Aetherling – I went back and forth on this and decided a third Elspeth is just better in the overall metagame than an Aetherling. Aetherling is amazing versus the control mirror, but nowhere near as powerful as Elspeth. Kiora is a solid finisher against control so I’m not totally lost in that matchup, and many other control players are sidelining the blue blinking beast as well.
10 Scry Lands – On first glance you’d think 10 lands that come into play tapped would hinder the deck’s base UW-control shell, given that part of UW’s allure was all the untapped lands. But in practice, the amount of scry in the deck more than makes up for having a couple more slow lands. There are plenty of untapped lands (like basics and shock lands) in the deck that will still easily allow turn 4 Supreme Verdicts and turn 6 Elspeth’s as long as land drops are made in a thoughtful order.
Elixir of Immortality– I still can’t get off this card. I love it as a pseudo-win con against the control mirror, and being able to ensure that I’ll get a Kiora back if both of them are Thoughtseize’d or destroyed before they get to ultimate. Plus it’s hard to lose a card that will let you win by chaining Sphinx’s Revelations. I might consider subbing the Elixir out for a main-deck Fated Retribution if Green-Red monsters gets more popular than Mono-Black, but for now the Elixir is fine and the instant Wrath of Gods can stay in the board.
Round 1: Blue-White Control, 2-0 (1-0)
I mulled to 6 on the draw, but my opponent got stuck on four lands for a few turns, while I kept hitting land drops. I won game one with both Kiora and Elspeth Emblems; my opponent played Supreme Verdict three turns in a row, but that doesn’t beat an 11/11 flying Kraken coming out every turn. In game two Brimaz, Archangel, and Elspeth combo’d to beat up my opponent who was playing the older control sideboard with Jace, Memory Adept and more counterspells (fun fact: Gainsay doesn’t stop Brimaz, Archangel, or Elspeth!).
Round 2: White-red aggro, 2-1 (2-0)
This was basically a white-weenie deck splashing red for boros charm and a few other cards. My hand was shaky for this opponent (unknown to start the match) and I was behind for most of the game. My turn 6 Supreme Verdict hoping to stabilize was met with Boros Charm and I scooped. Archangel of Thune brought me back from 4 life to win game two, and Jace’s +1 ability for a billion turns held down any potential aggression in game three.
Round 3: Green-white midrange, 2-0 (3-0)
Game one was really strange. My opponent mulligan-ed to 5 cards on the play, and passed turn one (he kept no lands). I had three lands in my opener, including one scry land, Kiora, Supreme Verdict, Jace, and Celestial Flare, so I felt like I had just won the Magic lottery. Except I didn’t draw anything but Elspeth and Sphinx’s Revelation for several turns (even after scrying one down with the Temple) and my opponent started ripping lands. I won the game, but it was an actual fight after my opponent had several turns to build back to a normal board state while I discarded cards and begged for any of the 24 land left in my deck.
In game two I ultimated Jace to take his Ajani, Caller of the Pride and play an Archangel from my deck (with an Elspeth already in play) and enjoyed the shenanigans of a double-striking Archangel boosting an army of Soldier tokens against a deck that has no answer to any of it.
Round 4: Mono-black Devotion, 2-0 (4-0)
Mono-black Devotion is my most favorable matchup. Game one can be overwhelmingly in my favor since I have cheap answers to anything in their deck, but black can still get there on the back of a key Thoughtseize or two, and chaining Gray Merchants when I don’t have counter magic. In this case, it was the former, with Kiora quickly ultimating in game one, and Elspeth ultimating in game two made easy work of the Standard format staple.
Round 5: Green-White flash, 2-1 (5-0)
This deck was similar to the green-white midrange deck I faced in round 3, except most of the creatures were played at the end of my turn – Boon Satyr, Advent of the Wurm, Selesnya Charm all gave the deck a stronger flash and token-based approach, as opposed to the Fleecemane Lions and Ajani-style plan. I got stomped game one by playing poorly and not using my life as a resource as much as I should have. I was still at 16 life, and should have taken 8 from two Boon Satyrs and Detention Sphere’d them on my next turn instead of blocking one with Mutavault and being a land behind the rest of the game – which ended up being crucial when I didn’t get the land I needed to play Elspeth that would have stabilized the board. There wasn’t anything my opponent could have done to kill me on that turn or the turn after I took 8 from the Boon Satyrs, so I could have taken the damage and shrugged it off with my next plays.
I managed to squeak out the next two games thanks to my sideboard creatures (Kiora came out in this matchup), so the game one mistake was a learning opportunity instead of a crushing blow.
Round 6: Mono-Black Devotion, 2-1 (6-0)
Kiora was a champ in game one with some help from Jace’s +1 keeping Pack Rats from doing much harm. My opponent had three Thoughtsieze and a Duress early in game two while multiplying a Pack Rat, so I didn’t really have a chance there. But in game three Kiora proved once again to be the right call as she gave me an emblem and I released the Krakens.
Round 7: Red-Green Monsters, 0-2 (6-1)
And here’s where the cookies begin to crumble. Game one started with me on the play taking a mulligan to five cards, and naturally, I got obliterated. I was exhausted from the long day already (not an excuse, just a fact) so my tilt-resistance was lower than normal, so the mulligan etched away my resolve a bit. I made some mistakes near the end of the game that might have given me a chance to extend the game a few turns, but the sheer power of an unchecked Domri Rade combined with Courser of Kruphix taking lands off the top kept my opponent’s hand full of good stuff.
For game two, I sideboarded poorly, mainly due to my inexperience with the new version of green-red. I didn’t bring in the Archangel of Thune (HUGE mistake) and boarded out Last Breath (why? Courser needs to die IMMEDIATELY). I brought in the Negates, Pithing Needle, Fated Retribution, and Blind Obedience, which is most of what helped my matchup against the monster menace prior to Born of the Gods. This green-red version is NOT the pre-Born of the Gods deck and should not be viewed as such. I was decimated in game two, similarly to the manner I lost in game one (although I had seven cards to start the game instead of five) and I found out the hard way that Blind Obedience is terrible against this deck, since it does nothing to stop the card-advantage machine.
One of the keys to beating this deck is to keep them off Domri Rade +1 activations and letting Courser pull the lands off the top of their library. The pair effectively gives the player three cards a turn (draw for turn, land off the top from Courser, and creature off the top from Domri) – Green decks CANNOT be allowed to have card advantage or it’s lights out for the control player. After you stop the machine, you’re back to struggling against your old nemeses Mistcutter Hydra and Stormbreath Dragon, but with Archangel of Thune and Elspeth it’ll be a little easier.
This was a good learning experience, but I wish it hadn’t considering the implications it had on my tournament standing. Going forward I’m sideboarding two Fated Retribution and the Blind Obedience is gone, and I’ll be bringing in Archangel of Thune all day against this deck to help fight back Domri/Xenagos and in general fight to stabilize my life total.
Round 8: Mono-Black Devotion, 0-2 (6-2)
I was in 4th place going into this round, so I sat comfortably in the win-and-draw-in position. I knew my opponent was on Mono-Black Devotion (my best matchup), so I felt good about my chances, especially since I won the dice roll….and then proceeded to mulligan to 6, played a land tapped, and was Thoughtseized. Not the greatest start, but I can still come out of it against Mono-Black, that’s just how good the matchup can be for game one.
After lots of Jace -2 activations and a Sphinx’s Revelation for 3, I was back in the game and standing a fighting chance. Several turns later, I was at five life staring down a Nightveil Specter. My opponent had two cards in hand with 10 land in play and I had a Sphinx’s Revelation with nine land in play (so I could Rev for 6). I also had Elspeth at 6 loyalty and a small army of Soldier tokens. My opponent played Gray Merchant (to suck my 5 life) and I Rev’d for 6 in response, tapping out and going to 6 life after the Merchant’s effect resolved. Then my opponent showed me his last card, a second Gray Merchant (for 7 life) and we moved on to game two. I’m not sure what I could have done in that game to give my opponent the opening to chain the Merchants – I don’t remember the details of the game, and it’s possible he just played well by holding them both back most of the game until he had the chance to dome me for 12+ at the end there. Usually control players are masters of their destinies and generally lose close games because they made a planning mistake, but it’s also likely he just happened to have exactly what I needed.
For game two I was fighting back some super tilt and made a crazy error that required Judge involvement (listen to the Podcast this week to hear the story), but it was just a funny incident and didn’t affect the game state except for pushing me more on tilt. This game added an interesting dimension to the Mono-Black matchup – how important is killing Nightveil Specter because of it’s exile ability? I was at 20 life still, with Supreme Verdict in my hand and plenty of land in play (I was getting a bit flooded) facing a Specter. I thought about 1-for-1’ing the Specter, but opted instead to just let him have the card and take the 2, and assume he’ll likely play another creature to add pressure (and if he didn’t, I’d see another card and Verdict the Specter next turn with hardly and real loss). Except the card the Specter exiled – Sphinx’s Revelation – turned out to be extremely relevant, as the next four cards I drew were land and I couldn’t really do anything as my opponent followed an Underworld Connections with an Erebos, God of the Dead, and then another creature to make Erebos a creature and quickly finish me any my top 8 hopes.
If the Specter exiled a land, it was no big deal. I also had multiples of every card in the deck, so taking even one Elspeth, Sphinx’s Revelation, or Kiora wasn’t the end of the world. But considering that I drew dead for so long, should the possibility of the top card being relevant be a good-enough reason to use a Verdict on the Specter? I think the fear of Specter being relevant beyond just 2 damage a turn and adding 3 pips to Gray Merchant is a legitimate reason to kill it by any means necessary. However, when I’m down to just one card and it’s my most powerful removal spell (for card advantage, at least) and I know my opponent needs to play another creature to actually kill me, it seems easy to hold back a turn and reassess my options next turn.
However, and a really big HOWEVER, is the fact that it was game two against Mono-Black. He could have played a Duress or Thoughtseize and then I would have really been screwed. That is a huge reason to just throw down the Verdict – use it before you lose it! So I think I should have played the Verdict, I would have drawn Sphinx’s Revelation (which I could have done it for 4 at least at the time, pushing me through those dead land cards) and the game would have been entirely different from then on. Regardless of what I could have drawn, the fact that I could have lost the Verdict without killing anything should have been reason enough to play it immediately.
Regardless, this loss pushed me out of Top 8 contention, after completely dominating the day for 6 rounds.
Round 9: Black-white control, 1-2 (6-3)
Having been knocked out of the real money, I was still facing a match for top 16 and $75. It wasn’t locked that I would make top 32 ($50) with a third loss, so at the time it looked like I might be playing just to win something at all.
I completely dominated game one, with Kiora ultimating with ease after all several Hero’s Downfall were directed at earlier Jaces and Elspeths. In game two I saw one of my biggest weaknesses hit the table – Obzedat, Ghost Council. He came down on turn 6 and I didn’t have a counterspell to deal with it, however I did have a Celestial Flare in hand. I played Jace on my turn and -2 looking for a Revelation or an Elspeth to help race the blinky ghost, and I revealed (and subsequently acquired) my second Celestial Flare (although my opponent did not know I had one in my hand already). Fortunately, the sight of the Flare was sufficient to keep Obzedat from entering the red zone for a few turns until my opponent had found a Mutavault. I was at 8 life when he attacked with his mutavault and Obzedat (with zero cards in hand), and I played both Celestial Flares to my opponent’s chagrin. I drew my Elspeth, made some dudes, and passed the turn (with no counterspell in hand). My opponent drew a card and played the Obzedat he just topdecked, and I didn’t draw a Revelation to save me from 3 more turns of blinking. Elspeth was at 7 loyalty when I died, and I had 9 soldiers in play – my opponent was at 26 life after Obzedat’s trigger resolved to kill me. Do that math.
In game three Obzedat made another appearance, and for six turns I was pecked away two life at a time while every Elspeth I could draw was met with Hero’s Downfall and my two Jace -2 activations yielded me nothing relevant. I would have died sooner had my opponent not been afraid of the Celestial Flares from game two, so at least I know that card can be a great answer to Obzedat. The second Fated Retribution now in my sideboard will also be helpful to deal with the Orzhov leader, and the matchup in general isn’t as bad as many people seem. It’s basically just Obzedat that is the problem.
6-3, 31st place. $50 and a playmat are nothing to scoff at, but based on how well things were going for so long on Saturday, it is extremely disappointing to fall short. There are definitely things I’ve learned from this experience – both in my own abilities to keep my mental stamina up and avoid tilt, and in specific matchups and card interactions – that I can take forward to the next events.
I’m not changing any of the cards in the maindeck, as I feel the deck is solid and ready to take on the general Standard metagame. I may make a few changes to the sideboard (aside from adding the second Fated Retribution), but for the most part I think I’m ready to handle anything that Standard can throw at me (except Maze’s End, but that’s another story).
Thanks for reading this insanely long article, and I hope it has given you some insight into the UW+Kiora deck and its matchups. Good luck!