The Champion's Path

Posted in Reconstructed on October 8, 2013

By Gavin Verhey

When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he dreamt of a job making Magic cards—and now as a Magic designer, he's living his dream! Gavin has been writing about Magic since 2005.

Theros. Dublin. Standard.

The future.

We are just a few days away from seeing the stage set for the next several months of Standard. The Pro Tour right after the Standard rotation tends to be one of the most impactful of the year, as the best players in the game reveal the strongest decks they can bring to the table. This time is no exception, as all eyes focus in on one of Magic's premier shows.

As is ReConstructed tradition on Pro Tour weeks, it's time to take a competitive look at Standard. Let's work on a deck with the intention of getting it into a shape similar to what I would actually consider sitting down with the morning of the event.

Today's offering comes by way of Blaine Johnson. It's a deck that certainly had a strong buzz around it when Theros released, but no top-level list seems to have popped up yet: Red-White-Blue control. Let's take a look!

Blaine Johnson's RWU Control

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The Battle Plan

At its core, this is a control deck. It has a lot of the trappings you would expect in today's age: removal, card drawing, Planeswalkers, and finishers.

But there's something a little unique about how this deck plays compared to traditional control decks you might be used to. Unlike some control decks that aim to lock down the game and then plop down a finisher on turn twenty-six, this control deck can try and grab the aggressive reins out of nowhere. While not quite a complete "tap-out"-style control deck thanks to a number of powerful instants, Elspeth, Sun's Champion means this deck can just kill your first couple of plays and then land an Elspeth that will carry you to victory. Some decks are hard-pressed to defeat an Elspeth with any kind of backup.

Another thing to keep in mind is balancing your wide cabinet of answers. You want to fight Gods, Stormbreath Dragons, Polukranoses, quick starts, slower starts, Planeswalkers, and more. It's a careful balance of having all of the right tools.

Let's move into the analysis, shall we?

Deck Breakdown

It's time to take a look through the deck and decide what should stay and what should go. Let's begin!

Elspeth, Sun's Champion

Ah, Elspeth. The chosen one. The faux-creature this deck has picked to bring into battle.

I'm a big fan of Elspeth overall. Although she does cost six mana, her effect on the game is fairly pronounced. She can hold off ground creatures pretty well (save for something like a Ghor-Clan Rampager) and also immediately pick off any large creatures your opponent has. And, as mentioned before, she can quickly spin the game so you're the aggressor. A common chain of events is to slam Elspeth on turn six, make three tokens to block, and then untap, clear the board, then make tokens, and be in an utterly commanding position.

Three is the number Blaine has chosen, and it's the number I like as well. I'd like to add a fourth win condition as well, however, just for control matchups where it might be easy for Elspeth to fall prey to a sequence of Hero's Downfall or similar. That card? Ætherling.


If Ætherling hits the board it's practically impossible to deal with as long as you leave mana up. It's a card you can play for in the long game thanks to Sphinx's Revelation. And, while a majority of the time you will want Elspeth, there are plenty of situations an Ætherling can bail you out of as well. I only want one—but the difference between one Ætherling and zero is tremendous.

Supreme Verdict

Board sweepers are control mainstays—and in this format filled with chunky creatures like Polukranos, World Eater that can hit the table early, you're going to need them. And, as a control deck with white, Stormbreath Dragon is a natural enemy; Supreme Verdict is one of your cards that can take the Dragon down. I want to up the numbers to the full four here: Supreme Verdict is a card you want to draw in a lot of matchups and is crucial to have early in the matchups where you want it.

Detention Sphere

With the infusion of a bunch of Gods and three new, powerful Planeswalkers into Standard, the importance of cards that can exile anything just went way up. Detention Sphere answers nearly any threat your opponent might cast, making it an incredibly useful tool. I want to draw these in practically every matchup—they're even good at fighting control's Planeswalkers! Like Supreme Verdict, let's bump these up to four.

Speaking of catch-all answers, a card I like a lot in the post-rotation world is Pithing Needle. Practically every deck has targets to name. Whether you're naming a Planeswalker like Domri Rade or Ashiok, a God, an opposing Ætherling, or even Mutavault to stop your opponent's beatdown, there's almost always a use for a Pithing Needle. I'd like to play one main deck, and then sideboard more for the matchups where they're really important.

Pithing Needle

I've always been a fan of Magma Jet, and it's exciting to see it back in Theros. The big question for me is: how relevant is 2 damage in this format?

The answer? "Somewhat." There are definitely plenty of cards to target, which is good. However, there are quite a few creatures sitting just above 2 toughness that are must-deal-with cards. Fleecemane Lion, Stormbreath Dragon, Loxodon Smiter, Boros Reckoner, Kalonian Hydra... the list goes on.

While the scry is certainly valuable, I'd rather have something that can pick off some of the other aforementioned threats. The card I'd like to put here is Mizzium Mortars. Additionally, Mortars also has the upside of serving as another wrath effect in the late game when necessary. Although it can't go to the dome, it's not all that relevant in this deck except for ticking down Planeswalkers—and that's not enough to get me to play Magma Jet instead. I'm happy moving up to the full four.

Mizzium Mortars
Sphinx's Revelation

One of the marquee cards from the past year, Sphinx's Revelation is still plenty good in this Standard format. Blaine is absolutely right to include it—the only question for me is three or four copies?

I've found this to be a common point of discussion, and different decks will want different numbers. In this deck, I'd rather have four. It has so much removal that I just want to be able to aggressively remove my opponent's creatures and then Sphinx's Revelation back up. (And if your opponent doesn't have many creatures, you're in a matchup where you'd rather have all four Sphinx's Revelations.) I'm going to bump the count up by one.


Dissolve is the hot new counterspell from Theros. With Theros, you, too, can now Dissolve every form of matter. While Cancel is certainly nothing to write home about, adding scry 1 helps push some virtual card advantage your way to make biting on the always-available Cancel fishing line much more enticing.

However, between Verdict, Sphere, and Jace, this deck tends to tap out a lot early. And even with many of its instants, it doesn't really want to leave mana up to counter something—Azorius Charm demands to be cast on a creature before the postcombat main phase, and both Helix and Sphinx's Revelation are mana intensive. Dissolve conflicts with this deck a bit too much. While cutting them does weaken you a little to control, the sideboard can be used to help even the odds. In this deck, Dissolve is going to, well... dissolve.

Warleader's Helix

Sphinx's Revelation can put you ahead on life in the late game, but Warleader's Helix helps you recoup after you've been under pressure. Firing one off on a threat after killing an opponent's first couple of creatures can put you in a dominating position, sending back your opponent's progress considerably.

But it's not just killing creatures where Warleader's Helix shines. It also helps fend off opposing Planeswalkers, sending away Xenagos, the Reveler; Domri Rade; Jace, Architect of Thought; and more.

While this deck has to be careful to not get too many cards sitting in the four-mana slot, Warleader's Helix is something I'm willing to take that hit for. Let's play four.

Jace, Architect of Thought
Steam Augury

Although these are fairly different cards, they occupy a similar space for me in this deck. They sit on the four-mana slot and offer you card advantage. This deck already has a lot going on at four, and when you get much higher Sphinx's Revelation is going to do the job just fine. As a result, I'd like to trim this down to three if possible, instead of the two and two it is now.

Steam Augury is nice for digging deep, serving as a way to go several cards into your deck and end up plus a few cards. However, there's no guarantee you'll get what you want. It also doesn't have any other effects, like Jace, Architect of Thought does. I still like having one Augury since a lot of the time I would rather draw one of each for the versatility than two of one, but Jace is going to be better more often. I'm going to cut an Augury here.

Celestial Flare
Azorius Charm

These cards both fill the space of a two-mana card that is strong against attacking and blocking creatures. In a vacuum, Azorius Charm is the better card: it can cycle away, and often putting a creature on top is similar to getting rid of it in the amount of time you need to buy. (Plus, you deplete your opponent of whatever he or she would have drawn anyway.) However, Celestial Flare can hit Stormbreath Dragon and creatures with hexproof. That makes Celestial Flare a potentially good metagame call.

A lot of this comes down to how you might expect the metagame to shake out, but in general I would lean toward the more powerful card. (Especially at a Pro Tour, where you could face any manner of things.)

However, in this case, I would like a fifth card in this slot, to help have redundancy in the early game, that can also fight off Stormbreath Dragon. So, Celestial Flare?

Not quite.

Instead of Celestial Flare, in a deck with access to both red and blue, Turn & Burn, serves a similar role while also carrying other versatility. It can kill off mana Elves on turn two, deal the last little bit to Planeswalkers, and even make Master of Waves loses his lord ability. The fuse instant nabs the last spot here for me.

Aurelia's Fury

While there is certainly allure in having a removal spell that can also hit the opponent in the very long game, it takes a lot of mana to make this good. At that point, I would usually just rather have another Elspeth or something similar.

While you can always set up for a game-ending finishing Aurelia's Fury for 16 or something, that's not even reliable to end the game in the control matchups thanks to Sphinx's Revelations. While it's a neat idea, it's not going to be better than other cards often enough to warrant a slot.

Elixir of Immortality

Elixir of Immortality is a safety valve for if you're concerned about decking out before you can win. Wanting to go through the immortality gate is tempting, but 5 life isn't worth it on its own, and you can't afford to draw the Elixir when you're staring down a bunch of creatures early. I don't feel the concern of running out of cards with this deck, considering three Elspeths and an Ætherling (plus two Jaces that can go ultimate if necessary) so I'm fine cutting Elixir.

With all of those changes in mind, it brings the deck to:

Gavin Verhey's Elspeth the Riveter

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Instead of running down the sideboard card by card, let's go over the primary functions: how it plays against beatdown, midrange, and control, respectively.

Your beatdown and midrange matchup is great, and you can just bring in the Archangel of Thunes for a little added threat density so you can close quicker, since opponents will likely cut most of their removal. That's fairly clear cut.

Archangel of Thune

Control is a lot more tricky.

Game 1 against control you tend to be a little unfavored depending on how the control player plays and the deck's build. Fortunately, there's a sideboard for that. You can cut a lot of your excess creature removal (although leaving in 3 Supreme Verdict to help contain any threats your opponent may have) and move into a much more controlling deck.

The post-sideboard games tend to be a big dance over how much countermagic there is and what the threats are. However, most of the control finishers—whether a Planeswalker or Ætherling—are going to be susceptible to Pithing Needle. You can use those to trump your opponent, and Wear & Tear any Detention Spheres he or she tries to get rid of your Needles with. (Not to mention, blowing up opponents' Needles!)

Your whole game plan revolves around resolving a finisher and protecting it. With six solid pieces of countermagic and answers to Detention Sphere, you're in good shape to do that. You also pick up a second Ætherling and a Jace, Memory Adepts to help increase your threat density even higher. (Keep in mind that if you Pithing Needle something you can't use it either, so variety is your friend—as is strategically blowing up your own Needles.) The black versions of this deck will have Thoughtseize, so you need to have a high enough density of everything so that your opponent can't pull it apart.


In any case, if I was playing on the Pro Tour this weekend this is definitely a deck I would highly consider. I like white-blue-base control a lot, and Warleader's Helix and Mizzium Mortars are two huge cards that the red splash affords you.

But this isn't just for the Pro Tour players—for all those playing in FNM this weekend and looking for something competitive to roll with, this is worth giving a try. Have fun!

Honorable Mentions

I received a fantastic batch of decks this week. Let's take a look at some of the most notable submissions.

John-Mark's Medomai of the Millions of the Millions of Turns

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Joe's Twiddle Manaburst

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Brakken's Unlimited Worth

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Brakken's Unlimited Worth

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Noctisincendia's Marauding Minotaurs

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Christian's Barely Boros Initiative

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Diorge's Have a Token

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Jack Watters's World Eater Fires

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Josh Truskowski's Corrupted Evolution

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David Baird's Deep Sea Devotion

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Paul Wilhelm's Rakdos Devotion

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Matthew Gottshall's 4-Color Control

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Ryan Inzana's Wee Chimera

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Hiroya Kobayashi's Monster Jund

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Adrian Bearsark's Combo Heroes

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Andre Judd's Mono-Black Midrange

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Time of Heroes

Two weeks from now is Heroic Week! Your mission: send me a deck that uses heroic. Let's see what you can come up with!

Format: Standard
Restrictions: Your deck is built around triggering one (or more!) cards with heroic
Deadline: Monday, October 14, at 6 p.m. Pacific Time
Submit all decklists by clicking on "respond via email" below. Please submit decklists using the following template. (The specific numbers below are arbitrary, so please don't feel a need to use them—it's just how an example of how a decklist should look when laid out.)


20 Land
20 Land
4 Creature
4 Creature
4 Other Spell
4 Other Spell
4 Planeswalker

Ah, heroic. What will you come up with? I'm excited to see for myself.

If you have any feedback or thoughts on this article, feel free to post in the forums or send me a tweet. It's great to hear your feedback!

Pro Tours are some of the most exciting parts of the year for me, and I can't wait to see what decks shake out of the Pro Tour this time around. Don't miss it being shown from Dublin, as all of the exciting action is broadcasted live!

City Friday Saturday Sunday
Dublin 9 a.m. 9 a.m. 11 a.m.
Los Angeles 1 a.m. 1 a.m. 3 a.m.
Chicago 3 a.m 3 a.m 5 a.m.
New York 4 a.m. 4 a.m. 6 a.m.
Rio de Janeiro 5 a.m. 5 a.m. 7 a.m.
London 9 a.m. 9 a.m. 11 a.m.
Paris 10 a.m. 10 a.m. Noon
Berlin 10 a.m. 10 a.m. Noon
Moscow Noon Noon 2 p.m.
Tokyo 5 p.m. 5 p.m. 7 p.m.
Sydney 7 p.m. 7 p.m. 9 p.m.
Find other corresponding start times around the world here.

I'll be back next week with a Theros-inspired Modern deck. Talk with you then!


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