Deck Building for Barcelona

Posted in Reconstructed on May 8, 2012

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.

The blinding sunlight sends your body into sunshock as you step outside of the airport. It's about 70 degrees, or at least that's what the sweat rolling down your brow would have you believe. The air smells like a mix of blue ocean and copper city stench rolled into one.

You squint—hand blocking the sun—toward the landscape, dotted with older brown buildings and newer gray buildings, each swirling together to form a mental cacophony of past and present. A rich green of bushes and trees is what glues the two together, filling in the horizon's holes.

Further in the distance, a trio of tall towers creep upwards, casting a majestic shadow across the spinning greens, grays, and browns. You can't see it yet, but you know somewhere out there is clear blue water that invites you to take a swim.

And yet, as you take the view in, all you can really think about is your Constructed deck.

Welcome to Barcelona.

Pro Tour Avacyn Restored; May 11 – 13 in Barcelona, Spain

Our goal for this week is to fill that need. Building off of what we learned last week, we're going to take a more competitive tack, looking at a decklist for the Pro Tour this weekend.

This is the decklist we'll be working with today, courtesy of Dustin Vanderhoof.

Dustin Vanderhoof's Red-White-Blue Control

Download Arena Decklist

    The Battle Plan

In a format comprised of only Innistrad and Dark Ascension, a blue control deck has been almost completely unseen. Beatdown and midrange decks have been ruling the day. With Avacyn Restored, however, that looks to change.

Drogskol Reaver | Art by Vincent Proce

Some players at the Pro Tour will be basing their Block knowledge off of what they have seen on Magic Online—a deadly mistake. Avacyn Restored significantly facelifts the format by providing several of the control cards players have been lacking.

With many of the most popular decks unprepared for cards like Terminus and Bonfire of the Damned, Dustin has correctly identified a hole in the format. A deck like this has "well positioned" written all over it. (Well, not actually—but give me time and a crayon...)

This deck plays out in a typical control fashion, killing creatures, drawing cards, and stabilizing. It notably has the sweepers needed to survive an early wave of tokens or green threats. Eventually, it will either cast Drogskol Reaver or Entreat the Angels for a sizable flight of Angels and take the game from there.

Of course, this is the Pro Tour! We won't be the only ones to figure this out; other players will have reached a similar conclusion and be trying to exploit the same holes. We need to make sure our deck both continues to be well positioned against the beatdown decks and also has tools to beat white-blue and red-white-blue mirror matches.

Let's take a look at the individual cards.

    Card Breakdown

Snapcaster Mage

Snapcaster is very important to a Block control deck like this one. He lets you reuse everything from Pillar of Flame to Terminus, and he can occasionally just Ambush Viper your opponent out of the game. Dustin definitely passed the "how many Snapcaster Mages should I play?" test.

Angelic Wall

The wall is very, very interesting to me. A 0/4 wall for two isn't exactly the first item that comes to mind when you think of building a control deck, but it has a lot of potential. It blocks Strangleroot Geist and Delver of Secrets over and over again. For two mana, it has a lot of room to help you live until the late game.

The downside, however, is significant: it's a creature. It turns on all of the Sever the Bloodlines and Fiend Hunters sitting in the opponent's hand, and it also decidedly does not combo well with Terminus. When I'm playing a control deck, I don't want to risk turning on my opponent's removal spells in the early game. I'm going to likely shy away from using these main deck, but I will definitely compliment Dustin on some good thinking here.

Drogskol Reaver and Entreat the Angels

Have you ever attacked with a Drogskol Reaver? If you haven't, imagine casting Kiss of the Amesha every turn. Oh, and you also hit for 6. Reaver can pull you out from terrible situations, providing you a gigantic life boost each turn while also finding you the control elements to deal with any enemy creatures. Unlike Gisela, Blade of Goldnight, you quite meaningfully permanently gain life.

Entreat the Angels | Art by Todd Lockwood

At seven mana, would I rather have two 4/4s from Entreat the Angels or a Reaver? It depends. Reaver and Entreat the Angels can both be Severed, but Reaver is also susceptible to cards like Fiend Hunter and Brimstone Volley. Entreat also has the upside of a miracle cost: drawing one on turn five or six can be game-ending in a way Reaver isn't.

The correct answer seems to be some number of each, like Dustin has done here. I think I'll likely want two Reavers for this deck because there are times when they are way better and the life swing is crucial. An even split with Entreat might be more appropriate than the current 3/1 split currently here.

The Sweepers

These cards are what make this deck work.

The addition of two huge board sweepers, all of which are effective against Invisible Stalker no less, gives you plenty of ammo against the aggressive decks. The two miracles are great to miracle early against beatdown, and even if they start in your hand they work just fine.

I'd play a six-mana Day of Judgment that dealt with Vorapede and Strangleroot Geist, and the miracle is just a nice bonus. While the miracle on Bonfire of the Damned is where it's at, a turn-three Bonfire for 1 is still very potent against the ever-so-popular Red-White Humans deck.

Blasphemous Act, while not new, is a card some decks were even splashing before. Having access to a board sweeper in this format is just that powerful.

Are nine sweepers the right number? That might fall a little on the high side, but I would definitely prefer to start many powerful ones in this fast format and then sideboard them out as necessary.

Devastation Tide

This one isn't in the sweepers section because it is operatively different. Resetting the board can be very effective against tokens and some of the slower green decks, buying you plenty of time. Plus, there's always the dream of this card in conjunction with Snapcaster Mage. However, with so many miracles and various board sweepers already in the deck, there's not room for everybody. This is one I feel comfortable letting go.

Pillar of Flame, Brimstone Volley, and Geistflame

These are some of the premier removal spells of the format.

Pillar of Flame makes Strangleroot Geistdead dead, deals with an early Champion of the Parish, and also "combos" with Snapcaster Mage to quickly demolish your opponent's board. Geistflame, while less effective than Pillar, also helps shut down early Champions and tokens.

Brimstone Volley hits larger creatures, although this deck might not need Volley as much with so many sweepers around already. There is certainly some value in being able to Snapcaster a 3-damage spell to take out huge Geist-Honored Monks, Planeswalkers, and otherwise, but it's far less crucial to this deck. You want some cheap removal like Pillar and Geistflame to deal with the early threats, then let your sweepers deal with the rest. Having a couple Volleys might be okay, but there are likely cards that fit better in this deck.

Desperate Ravings

Ravings is the primary card-drawing engine for this deck. This deck is going to want more copies to ensure it can hit all of its land drops and find action in the late game. Plus, added ways to miracle on the opponent's turn is always sweet.

This card's playtest name was Insanity Lessons—a name I adore—and this card kind of does just that: teach you to embrace something insane. Random discard is bemoaned by many players but, when played properly, seeing an extra card over Think Twice is quite valuable. In this deck, the ability to discard excess miracles definitely pushes it over the top of Think Twice.

The key to having a good insanity lesson is that it's not always a turn-two play. If your hand is set on lands and spells, you don't need to cast Desperate Ravings. You want to be casting this card while you're looking for something. While that something you're looking for could be randomly discarded, the extra card is so valuable that it's a small risk worth taking.

Vessel of Endless Rest

This might look a little peculiar at first glance, but a Manalith—and one with relevant upside, no less—is certainly reasonable for this deck.

First of all, the mana is a little rough, requiring double white, double red, and constant blue for cards like Desolate Lighthouse. Second, accelerating a turn in a deck full of expensive cards and X-spell miracles is very advantageous.

The enters-the-battlefield ability is easy to discount, but quite relevant in this format as well. Putting a flashback card or potential Snapcaster target on the bottom can often be equivalent to making your opponent discard a card, at which point this card looks quite enticing for only three mana.

I don't want to draw a ton of these, but drawing exactly one by turn six or so will help out most draws. Two feels like the right number.

    Updating the Deck

As you saw above, the main deck has mostly solid components. However, there are two cards missing that I'd like to main deck. They are:


Yes, Cavern of Souls exists. However, contrary to popular belief, that hasn't obsoleted countermagic. While you might not be able to counter Huntmaster of the Fells as well as you once could, a lot of the cards Dissipate really wants to hit are noncreatures in the first place. This kind of control deck taps out a lot, and so you're not going to be Dissipating a lot of early cards in the first place.

Dissipate | Art by Tomasz Jedruszek

Where Dissipate shines is in slower mirrors. Hitting theirEntreat the Angels, for example, is absolutely gamebreaking. Once you've drawn a Dissipate, Snapcaster Mage allows you to hit the next large spell too.

Even against creature-based decks like Jund, there's plenty to do. Your opponents' Cavern of Souls won't always be on the right type. If they Cavern to resolve their Huntmasters, that might mean their Vorapedes or Wolfir Silverhearts are plenty counterable. Planeswalkers are also great cards to Dissipate.

Since this deck does tap out a lot, I'd only want to start a couple. After sideboarding, I'm going to want access to the full four copies for the mirror match.

Tamiyo, the Moon Sage

Tamiyo is just the Planeswalker this deck is looking for. While Tibalt isn't that attractive to me for this deck because his mana cost isn't reliable early on and he doesn't really fix a problem, Tamiyo is a different story.

First of all, she is a de facto removal spell. While she does cost five, after you deal with the opponent's first few threats with Pillar of Flames, she can come down and lock out that Vorapede that would give you trouble otherwise.

With so many board sweepers in this deck, it is practically built to punish people who overextend—and Tamiyo forces people to do so. Only have one creature? Lock it down. Have multiples? Draw cards and clear the board. A common line of play will be cast her, lock down one creature, untap, draw two or three cards, and then Terminus away the board.

To top it all off, in a deck with so many sweepers, you can threaten her ultimate fairly consistently. Although this deck is a little threat light, once her ultimate goes off it means that all of your burn spells become recursive routes to victory.

With all that said, here is the updated decklist:

The Red, The White, and the Blue

Download Arena Decklist

While normally I dislike so many two-ofs, in this case they are mostly splits on other cards, so they don't actually function like two-ofs. Drogskol Reaver and Entreat the Angels split win conditions, Blasphemous Act and Bonfire of the Damned split sweepers, and the Geistflames add more cheap removal effects.


You might notice the sideboard received some updates. The quick rundown:

Geist of Saint Traft makes for an excellent foil in any sort of mirror match. He can be swept away but isn't susceptible to spot removal. Unanswered, he deals tons of damage. Even if your opponent has to use up a Snapcaster Mage to block (and you don't have Geistflame), the trade is favorable for you.

Although the Green-Blue Mill deck should be a very good matchup for this deck, Undead Alchemist backed up by countermagic should ensure that's the case. He might not be necessary at all considering how strong the matchup is, but your opponent will be sideboarding in cards as well, so having some elements to fight those cards is important. I wouldn't even bring in Grafdigger's Cage against these decks. You can beat Gnaw to the Bone and shutting off Tracker's Instincts isn't worth it.

The place where I do want Grafdigger's Cage is against Reanimator or Burning Vengeance decks. Those could both be very tricky matchups, and so having Cage available is crucial.

The rest of the Dissipates are crucial against control decks. They are ways to deal with Planeswalkers and game-breaking miracles. Lost in the Mist serves as a fifth Dissipate, which also conveniently combines well with Snapcaster Mage.

Geistflame and Blasphemous Act are added removal spells for when fighting against the token deck.

Let's run over the sideboarding plans against beatdown, control, midrange, and combo.


-2 Dissipate, -1 Drogskol Reaver
+2 Geistflame, +1 Blasphemous Act

You have so many sweepers here that you just want to play a very controlling game. Kill off the creatures and blow up the board, then finish it off with a threat or Tamiyo's ultimate. Be wary of Zealous Conscripts after sideboarding. Some people are starting to play that card and you absolutely do not want to run Tamiyo's ultimate into it. It's as disastrous as it sounds. That's why a Reaver—which is better in the matchup—is cut instead of an Entreat.


-4 Pillar of Flame, -2 Blasphemous Act, -1 Bonfire of the Damned
+4 Geist of Saint Traft, +2 Dissipate, +1 Lost in the Mist

You want to keep in some of your board sweepers because they cleanse the board of enemy Entreat tokens or Geist of Saint Trafts. Take care to not let their Planeswalkers stick around. This matchup goes very back and forth, so unless you get Geist advantage early, be prepared to play a long, drawn-out game.


-1 Geistflame
+1 Dissipate

This really entirely depends on the style of midrange deck. If the deck has a lot of Planeswalkers, you might want the full set of Dissipates. If it's heavy on Cavern of Souls, you might not want any at all.


-2 Geistflame, -1 Pillar of Flame
+2 Dissipate, +1 Lost in the Mist

Combo in this format is mostly Reanimator and Green-Blue Mill. Against both decks you will want the full boat of countermagic. After that, they begin to differ.

Against Green-Blue Mill, you will want your two Undead Alchemists. For those, remove two more Pillar of Flames.

Against Reanimator, you will want all three Grafdigger's Cages in exchange for three Pillar of Flames. If the deck has a lot of creatures or is putting a lot of creatures into its graveyard, you can cut the other Pillar and a Tamiyo for both Undead Alchemists. If the deck doesn't have many creatures and you think you can tempo it out, you can consider cutting both Reavers and two more Pillars for all four Geist of Saint Traft.

    Honorable Mentions

These were some of the other top Block choices from this week:

Morimacil's RUG Control

Download Arena Decklist

Anonymous's Naya Ramp

Download Arena Decklist

Chriss Cahill's Reanimator

Download Arena Decklist

Frank Gilson's White-Green-Black Control

Download Arena Decklist

Cody Hammer's White-Blue Skies

Download Arena Decklist

    Barcelona and Back Again

This red-white-blue deck looks quite good to me—and I'm not just saying that because I worked on it! If I were heading to the Pro Tour this weekend, this is definitely the kind of deck I would consider. It fights all of the top decks in the format very well, and people who haven't played as much with Avacyn Restored might just not be prepared for it. I'm going to stay tuned to the coverage all weekend to see how decks like this one do.

But before Barcelona, it's time for another round of deck building submissions! After two weeks of block, let's head back to Standard now that you've had some time to play with Avacyn Restored.

Restrictions: None!
Deadline: Wednesday, May 9 at 6pm Pacific Time
Send all decklists via email by clicking the "Respond via Email" link at the bottom of this article

That's right, no deck-building restrictions! Send in whatever Standard deck you've been working on, playing, or thinking about, and one of you will end up as the main feature of next week's column.

As always, you can reach me on Twitter (@GavinVerhey) with any questions or comments you have. I'll be tweeting about the Pro Tour all weekend while watching it unfold—it should be an exciting one!

Screen Shot, Fantasy Pro Tour for Facebook

Until next week, may your Pro Tour—whether fantasy or reality—go well.


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