Medicine, Cure, (Worse?)… More Medicine

Posted in Top Decks on April 4, 2013

By Mike Flores

Michael Flores is the author of Deckade and The Official Miser's Guide; the designer of numerous State, Regional, Grand Prix, National, and Pro Tour–winning decks; and the onetime editor-in-chief of The Magic Dojo. He'd claim allegiance to Dimir (if such a Guild existed)… but instead will just shrug "Simic."

Once upon a time, there was Delver of Secrets; sometimes it would blind-flip on the second turn with a Mana Leak, and other times you had to put in a little elbow grease (or tap for a Ponder) to produce an Insectile Aberration. In any case, it was a 3/2 flier for just one mana and won a laboratory full of tournaments... and was perhaps a little too good, at least for what it cost.

"This Delver of Secrets seems to be winning a lot," commented one overlord of Research and Development.

"Agreed," agreed another. "Best put a bullet in that one (and it's little dog too)."

The little dog being, of course, Vapor Snag.

A solution was rendered and it was good.

At first, the many mages didn't know what to make of the beastly five-drop. A 5/3 for five? I guess that is okay. And 5 life too? I guess that seems aesthetic*.

Thragtusk was a beastly Beast that got along well with the lands that could cast it. Cavern of Souls gave the five legs against counterspells where otherwise it might be on the wrong tempo-end.

Kessig Wolf Run gave it the ability to trample over annoying 1/1 creatures. No chump blocking for you, little Spirit. Thragtusk, unassuming at first, played well with the tools surrounding it, and won out of the gate with Birthing Pod.

But more than any of these interactions or synergies was a little self-contained capability. What could be worse for a five-mana Beast (even one that gained 5 life and could, at least when in concert with Cavern of Souls, always resolve) than being bounced back to hand by a Vapor Snag for just ? Not only was Thragtusk fundamentally resilient against regular removal, but not even a bounce spell, Oblivion Ring, or good block would generally prove effective against it. Thragtusk always left a little something behind.

A solution to Vapor Snag was rendered and it was good.

Vapor Snag
Oblivion Ring

Was the medicine perhaps too good for the problem at hand?

A solution was rendered and it was good. Perhaps a little too good. But at least it didn't cost just .

Although, of course, today, mages jump through all kinds of hoops to make Thragtusk cost less than five. Oftentimes it is the target of an Unburial Rites. Other times the big beast sacrifices itself to Garruk, the Veil-Cursed to (I presume) find another Thragtusk. One thing is for certain: Thragtusk continues to battle on, while tumbleweeds roll past Delver of Secrets's house in Standard.

"I am thinking perhaps there is something that needs to be addressed in the Thragtusk-department," whispers one overlord to another.

Boros Reckoner

"Are we thinking Red Elemental Blast here; Circle of Protection: Black; or, I dunno, just a Great Sable Stag?"

"I was thinking Sable Stag."

"3/3 it is!"

And so, a solution presented itself.

And perhaps, again, the solution would become a flagship.

Boros Reckoner could lock arms with Blasphemous Act, a one-minotaur bloodbath-to be, or join forces with Azorius Charm and Boros Charm, a triumph of resilience and life itself. It could be played in all different kinds of decks: beatdown, control, other beatdown,... even midrange! Although an ostensibly offensively packaged card, Boros Reckoner was perhaps more effective against offensive strategies when played in control decks: a veritable stop sign.

Might we in some future state require a solution to Boros Reckoner?

Arcbound Ravager
Kataki, War's Wage
Sudden Shock
Lingering Souls
Thundermaw Hellkite

Maybe. Probably not. But if so? There is, after all, a long and proud tradition; and it is not always obvious.

Some nineteen years ago, I was consuming my first blink of Magic: The Gathering strategy. It was, if memory serves, the liner notes to the Revised rulebook, an apology as to why Berserk had not been reprinted. I am paraphrasing here, but it said something like, "Failure to have a Fog doesn't mean you should lose on the spot," (or some such).



Fog is mighty!

At least that is what I was thinking back then.

Berserk was good. No. Berserk was great. So great it was too powerful to print! And Fog was the solution to great Berserk. And—this meant something to me at the time—a fairly budget solution. Berserk was good (no, great) and Fog was trump (for cheap).

Four Fogs went into many a 1994 Flores deck.

It turns out, at least at the time, that Fog might not have been the best solution. Yes, it kept a man from dying for a turn, but it often amounted to discarding a card. But apparently, in 2013, its window has opened!

BReal2's Fog Control

Download Arena Decklist

BReal2 finished second at a recent Magic Online Standard PTQ with a Fog deck!

From one angle this is a WU Control deck that happens to play the card Fog (rather, Fog and Clinging Mists, and Snapcaster Mages to re-buy the Fogs and Clinging Mists). But while this is a true statement, the deck has many layers of synergies that make the whole more powerful than any one part.

So... why Fog?

We have spent many editions of Top Decks in recent months recounting the adventures of Naya Blitz, Experiment Jund, and The Aristocrats. Quite simply, when the format starts with Champion of the Parish and Experiment One, powers out Burning Tree Emissary and Flinthoof Boar on the second turn, and wants to mop up with Ghor-Clan Rampager or Falkenrath Aristocrat... that is a lot of rumbling in the red zone. Games can end very quickly with the right Cartel of attackers. Many of these decks do a great job at one thing—offense—but that hyper-specialization might leave them exposed to defenses that are good at stopping that one thing.

Bigger decks—Ramp decks and Tokens decks for instance—might not get there quite as quickly, but they are largely locked down by the same anti-strategies on account of Fog knows where they live (or rather where they are trying to go). How does a big Kessig Wolf Run deck win? Attacking. What about a Gavony Township making lots of little guys bigger and bigger? Card advantage they might have... but in order to finish the game, they still have to attack.

Can it really be Fog?

Honestly... not just Fog.

Even if Fog is good against Boros Elite—rather, it cuts Boros Elite and its triple-creature battalion beatdown down a peg, for a turn... it can really be thought of as... discarding a card.

The genius of this deck is that it doesn't just use Fog (and Clinging Mists) to keep you alive for another turn, but to keep your sidekicks alive as well. Look at all those Planeswalkers! Most decks interact with Planeswalkers by—you guessed it—attacking them. And what is this deck good at doing? Keeping attackers at bay.

Against a singular creature, there isn't much in the world you would rather have than Tamiyo, the Moon Sage. Tamiyo, the Moon Sage can force the opponent to play multiple creatures, which can set up card advantage with Supreme Verdict.

Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
Supreme Verdict

From the very first Return to Ravnica Standard tournaments we saw how effective Jace, Architect of Thought and Tamiyo, the Moon Sage could work together: the Batman and Robin of defensive Planeswalkers. Add in a little Azorius Charm, a pinch of Fog, and a couple of Clinging Mists? The red zone remains decidedly un-dangerous, while the opponents' creatures have serious problems gaining any traction.

Azorius Charm
Clinging Mists

Of course, Augur of Bolas and Snapcaster Mage are the glue that makes the cheap defensive instants at all compelling. What is better than Fog? How about two Fogs thanks to Snapcaster Mage? Perhaps followed up with a Snapcaster Mage suicide dive keeping Tamiyo, the Moon Sage on the table? What is better than the synergy between Fog and Planeswalkers? How about an Augur of Bolas that not only finds the Fog for you, but jumps in front of an attacker headed for your Jace?

Sphinx's Revelation is still good; as an instant, it is in fact very good at finding more defensive instants.

...but what is really new and special and different about this Planeswalker configuration is the card Gideon, Champion of Justice.

Gideon, Champion of Justice

This might be the first time we've really seen Gideon in a competitive deck. Interesting note here: Gideon is not only a Planeswalker—synergistic in its way with Fog and Clinging Mists, capable of hand-holding into a Super Friends-like battlefield position with other Planeswalkers—but offers a great way to win that pushes the envelope specifically against the kinds of opponents where the deck should already be effective.

Here is a deck that is well set up against just one or two creatures. One Lightning Mauler or Burning-Tree Emissary? You can trade with your Snapcaster Mage or block all day with Augur of Bolas. Tamiyo, the Moon Sage can lock down one bad guy, even if it is an absolutely huge Champion of the Parish or seemingly unkillable Experiment One. No harm, no foul, no problem at all as long as that thing stays tapped.

So the opponent has to commit more and more to the 'field. Not only is that very good for Supreme Verdict, but it allows Gideon to level up quickly... and, of course, Gideon can attack for however big he is. Or, you can use your Fogs and Clinging Mists to protect Gideon and other Planeswalkers, manage how many lands you play (versus how many permanents the opponent is committing), and destroy quite a lot of material once Big G goes ultimate. What might not be obvious if you haven't played with a lot of Fog effects is that preventing all combat damage really means –ALL– the combat damage... no matter where that damage would have ended up. Ergo, one Clinging Mists can defend, say, Gideon, Jace, and Tamiyo, the Moon Sage simultaneously. (And you!)

For the beatdown: Misery.

For the control? Not so much. At least not main deck.

While this deck is obviously positioned against a particular kind of way to win—attacking—whether that is a fast Experiment One, a reasonably fast Craterhoof Behemoth, or a slow Angel of Serenity... it might be quite a bit less effective against other routes to victory (e.g., decking).

Nephalia Drownyard is a clear threat to this strategy. In the main deck? The only recourse is really to race. Nephalia Drownyard isn't a spell, so you can't point the one Dissipate at it. And not only does it not attack, but cards like Urban Evolution and Sphinx's Revelation just let the opponent kill you faster. You've really got to race. You know, with your three 1/3s and your two 2/1s.

The sideboard can offer some solutions (or at least put some distance between now and that point in the future when you would have been decked by a Nephalia Drownyard). Witchbane Orb prevents the opponent from targeting you, meaning he or she can't point the Nephalia Drownyard at your library. Psychic Spiral does one better. Say the worst has happened and most of your deck is in the graveyard...

Witchbane Orb
Psychic Spiral

How about putting most of the opponent's library in his or her graveyard? With Snapcaster Mages, you really only need the one.

Both cards give you some resistance to Human Reanimator as well!

The rest of the sideboard can be thought of as catch-all cards with a number of different and unique functions. Curse of Echoes is awesome against opposing Sphinx's Revelations... Dispel, Dissipate, and Negate are great against control (and in some cases Reanimator) as well.

Centaur Healer and Thragtusk are good blockers that buy time and kind of counterspell a Searing Spear or Brimstone Volley.

Detention Sphere makes problem permanents disappear. Ready to have your mind blown? You can play a Detention Sphere on your own Planeswalker just moments before you blow up the world with Gideon, Champion of Justice. The Detention Sphere will go the way of the dodo, and your powerful Planeswalker will return to the battlefield alongside Ultimate Gideon. When there is nothing else on the table, it is hard to imagine a better re-upped turn one.

Jace, Architect of Thought
Detention Sphere

The Fog deck, I hope, gives you something a little bit different to chew on after all this time of blitz decks and Reanimators (and infinite Reanimators). Although clearly a little bit different from some of the other decks you are used to looking at (even the various other flavors of Bant Control), it is a deck that has already proven capable of a second-place finish in a 354-person PTQ.

Firestarter: How do you feel about giving this brew an actual first at FNM... or a shot at the biggest game and a passport to Pro Tour Dragon's Maze?

Speaking of Dragon's Maze: Starting next week, Top Decks will bring you the latest in the long line of Cryptic Command, Flame Javelin, and Sphinx's Revelation!

* Not actually a great use of the word "aesthetic," to be honest. (return)

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