Brutal Honesty

Posted in Top Decks on December 4, 2015

By Luis Scott-Vargas

Luis Scott-Vargas plays, writes, and makes videos about Magic. He has played on the Pro Tour for almost a decade, and between that and producing content for ChannelFireball, often has his hands full (of cards).

This week's column is a little different than what I normally do. There will still be decks, and they are certainly good enough to be "top decks," but instead of focusing on a particular event, or even format, I want to look at an individual card.

That card is Painful Truths, and it's rapidly becoming one of my favorite cards. It's getting the most play in Standard, some in Modern, and surprisingly enough, a fair amount in Legacy. It turns out that paying three mana and 3 life to draw three cards is very good, and getting three different colors of mana isn't difficult in this day and age. Plus, you have the option of only paying two life if your life total is under attack or your mana isn't perfect, which adds more flexibility to an already-powerful card.

Painful Truths has played well enough that I believe it's underrated, and I wanted to showcase some of the decklists where I think it fits well. Over the next year, this card is going to be a major player in Standard, and I highly recommend trying out the lists that are running it now. For even longer than that, I suspect this is going to see play in Eternal formats, which is an impressive feat for a card from the most recent set, but the power you get is well worth the price you pay.

Let's start with Standard and work backward in terms of format age, as we examine the benefits of brutal honesty in every format.


The deck I like Painful Truths in the most right now is Dark Jeskai, which may come as no surprise, since that also happens to be the deck I like the most. The format has shifted enough that I no longer think it's unquestionably the best deck, but it's certainly still a good one.

LSV's Dark Jeskai

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Painful Truths has replaced one of the Dig Through Times, and I like it so much that there's even a third one in the sideboard. I have to give Gerry Thompson credit for moving to three Truths, as I had been on two for quite some time, and don't know if I would have gotten to cutting Dig without his recommendation.

Past the Painful Truths, this isn't that different from a regular Jeskai list. I'm happy with Negates in the main deck, and even have a Duress in there as well. Cheap card draw rewards cheap answers, and cards such as Duress, Roast, and Fiery Impulse play very well if you draw and refill your hand regularly.

Jace, Vryn's Prodigy is another reason I like Truths, as Jace plus Dig Through Time is a little harder to get going. I've flashed Truths back many times with Jace, and it doesn't require anything but a few extra mana and a flipped Jace to make sure you never run out of gas.

Dark Jeskai does a very good job of flipping between control and aggro, both sides of which like drawing extra cards. It's kind of funny that the aggro draws don't care about the life loss, but also don't need the cards quite as much, while the control draws desperately want the cards but can't always pay the life. The life gain from Soulfire Grand Master and Ojutai's Command help the latter problem, with the former problem being solved by Painful Truths being cheap enough to fit into most aggressive draws.

The basic game plan of this Jeskai deck hasn't changed since the format's start. It's playing a ton of powerful and efficient cards, and just overwhelms the opponent with quality and quantity. Mantis Rider applies pressure even without backup, and the wide array of removal (plus Commands, Digs, Truths, and Jaces) makes sure the deck always has a ton of interaction.

It is possible to play Painful Truths without Jace, or so I've heard, and Akihiro Okawa made Top 8 at Grand Prix Kōbe with exactly that strategy.

Akihiro Okawa's Orzhov Control—Top 8, GP Kōbe

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White-Black Tokens is a deck that went from niche to an established piece of the metagame in just a few weeks, and at this point I'd expect to face it about once each tournament. It's about as midrange as midrange gets, but I'm willing to overlook that (I kid—there was an era where midrange was code for "terrible," but nowadays there are tons of great midrange options).

What I like about this deck is how resilient all of its threats are. Every attacker in the deck provides card advantage of some kind, in the form of free lands or various creature tokens, and the rest of the deck is just highly efficient removal. Once again, cheap removal and good threats combine well with Painful Truths, and Truths is why I think this style of deck can succeed.

It's also nice that the deck gets to splash blue for free, as Prairie Stream and Sunken Hollow let Flooded Strand and Polluted Delta get both black and white mana. Negate, Dispel, and Dragonlord Silumgar in the sideboard make the deck much stronger in attrition matchups, and help shore up some of the weaknesses that black and white have.

Part of the reason to play this deck is that it's extremely resilient against removal spells. It lacks the fast clock of Mantis Rider or the pure power level of Jace, but in exchange it shrugs off every spot removal spell, and that's a significant upside.


Moving on to Modern, I've got an Abzan deck that can be quite frank when needed.

LSV's Abzan

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Speaking of midrange...

Abzan is one of the grindier decks in Modern, so it's no surprise that I'm interested in adding draw-threes to it. I like one Painful Truths main deck and two in the sideboard, as you can't guarantee that you will face an attrition matchup (unlike in Standard, where they are the bulk of the field).

Noble Hierarch helps the deck play out more rapidly and fights the clunkiness that Abzan sometimes suffers from. We played Abzan with Nobles at the most recent Modern Pro Tour, and I'm still a fan of what they provide. They do make the deck a little more vulnerable to Lightning Bolt, but I think it's worth it. The amount of speed they give you when you are facing one of the non-interactive decks is critical, and those decks are often encountered in the current Modern format. Plus, if you've never gone Noble Hierarch into Fulminator Mage, you haven't really lived.

Post-board, you get to tailor your deck for each matchup, and having a good sideboard is one of the best features of Abzan. Even in this format full of great cards, Painful Truths is what I (and others) have leaned on for the mirror matchup and against decks like Grixis Control.

This is the best candidate for Painful Truths in Modern, and so far I haven't found another shell where I really like it. Abzan has the right combination of life gain, cheap removal, and board presence to really take advantage of a sorcery-speed draw spell, and in decks like Grixis I think you'd rather have an instant. It's possible, though, that Grixis Control wants to sideboard Painful Truths, and I could see playing one next time I play the deck.


The last format I want to talk about is Legacy; Painful Truths hasn't quite made its way to Vintage yet, I'm afraid. At the most recent Legacy Grand Prix, Patrick Chapin, Tom Martell, and Matt Sperling all played Esper Mentor with multiple Painful Truths main.

Esper Mentor

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Tom Martell wrote an article about how they arrived at such a deck, and it's an interesting look at the process.

In what's becoming a common refrain, this Mentor deck takes advantage of Painful Truths by playing cheap interaction such as Spell Pierce, Force of Will, Cabal Therapy, and Swords to Plowshares—the last of which can also double as a life gain spell in a pinch. It may seem redundant to bring that up with every deck, but my goals are twofold:

  1. I like pointing out reasons to play each deck, and cheap interaction ranks very high on my list.
  2. By emphasizing why each of these decks runs Truths, a card I think is underplayed, I can provide a guideline to anyone else interested in making a deck with the card. If you are putting together a deck or deciding whether to include Truths in a deck you already have built, seeing which cards line up to my examples could provide some real value.

Otherwise, this deck is basically Dark Jeskai in Legacy form, as odd a statement as that may seem. It's got the cheap removal I mentioned, plus threats that can end the game by themselves. I actually played Mentor over Mantis Rider in the Jeskai deck we played at the Pro Tour, so this seems like a very fair comparison. The deck even has a Jace, too. Sure, it might be a slightly larger Jace, but a Jace is a Jace is a Jace, right?

The card filtering is better in Legacy, as only makes sense, and the Ponder plus Brainstorm combo means that this deck can look for the perfect one-of to answer the opponent's threats (which is also why it plays so many one-ofs).

I like this deck, and not just because it has the card of the day. Monastery Mentor is another card I think isn't getting quite enough play, and that's one that's even broken into Vintage in a big way. Using Deathrite Shaman and the best cards from four different colors is a pretty sweet approach, and this can be tailored for almost any metagame.

I hope you've enjoyed a focused look at Painful Truths today, even if that focus was card-specific and took us through a variety of formats as a result. I truly think the full impact of this card has yet to be seen, and looking at the decks that are already using it successfully can give us clues as to where we might see it pop up in the future.


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