Fear the Sp(h)ear!

fear the sphear

by Steve ‘DDT’ Giannopoulos

It’s Friday and  I’m looking for some kind of tournament, preferably one that will allow me to test my standard deck. I decide to avoid the one store that runs such Standard on Friday nights because I will probably run into a lot of these guys at the 2013’s Provincials tournament tomorrow. I go to another shop in order to draft. Unfortunately, the draft started at 6 pm instead of 6:30 pm. I can either go home and just get some good old fashioned sleep or wait until 9 pm and get some draft action in. My friend Ronald is at the store and just barely made it for 6 pm. himself. He drafted a RUG deck and opened some value in the form of Purphoros and Temple of Abandon. I sort of help him with deckbuilding, but not that much. He is clearly the better limited player between us. Sure, I did OK in sealed play at the Theros prereleases, but draft is a completely different beast.

Ron goes 2-1 during the draft and lets me have his packs. I gamble on in a ‘Power Pack’ mini-game in which players take turns revealing mana costs from their decks until you beat the previous high score. It then continues until there is only one winner, who then gets everyone’s packs. I get eliminated last, losing the Temple of Triumph I opened (which didn’t contribute much to the mana costs total). A second draft is announced and I hastily register. As we are opening our first booster, someone proposes we run a third draft after this one. I was not really 100% confident in my Standard deck and this made me consider just sticking around to draft with the guys over ‘wasting’ 25$ on maybe Top 8’ing/Top 16’ing the Saturday Standard tournament. Top 16 would get half a box of Theros, which is still decent value. The voices in my head duke it out and this time ‘Reason’ prevails. I take off at 1 am. and rush to my apartment. The subway system had closed by that time and I’m forced to take the bus to another station so that I can grab a night bus home from there.

While on the bus I notice that I was headed towards another Montreal shop and was unsure if my friend who was working there would maybe still be there. He usually closes late and there may have been enough people left over from the FNM to test with. I text him and he informs me that he an help me with my sideboard and perhaps get some playtesting in.

Once at the store, I notice that all the Standard players are gone and there are only some Commander players left. My friend and I go over the sideboard and we both decide that Solemn Offering and Rest in Peace have no business in there. I am fairly sure that almost anything would be better than Solemn Offering, but I attempt to stand my ground on Rest in Peace. What if some random wacky reanimator popped up? Vince (my friend) convinces me that there will probably not be any reanimator as no one will be throwing their money away to randomly catch people off guard. I’m still not convinced and I ask if he has a better suggestion. He likes the Glare of Heresy and thinks that two might be a good number. It will get rid of opposing Elspeths and Detention Spheres, perhaps even the odd Fleecemane Lion. I agree with his assessment and quickly make the appropriate changes.

fleecemane lion

You don’t want to be on its bad side!

We go over my Theros and Standard trade binders in order to search for a good sideboard alternative over the Solemn Offerings. I joke about Fiendslayer Paladin until we realise that it’s exactly what the sideboard was missing. It’s great versus Red and removal-heavy decks, nets some life and more importantly: it contributes 2 white mana towards Heliod’s devotion requirement (as well as Nykthos). We figure that three is a good number. It’s really too tight to run a fourth. In retrospect however, I may have wanted to cut the Jace, Memory Adept for the fourth Fiendslayer.

fiendslayer paladin

MTG’s Jedi Knight

Here’s how the final list ended up:

UW Sphere Control

4 x Azorius Guildgate
4 x Hallowed Fountain
2 x Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
10 x Plains
6 x Island

26 Lands

2 x Heliod, God of the Sun

2 Creatures

3 x Sphinx’s Revelation
3 x Supreme Verdict
3 x Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
2 x Gideon, Champion of Justice
2 x Spear of Heliod
4 x Sphere of Safety
3 x Martial Law
4 x Blind Obedience
4 x Detention Sphere
4 x Security Blockade

32 Other Spells


2 x Jace, Memory Adept
3 x Fiendslayer Paladin
2 x Gainsay
2 x Negate
3 x Celestial Flare
2 x Glare of Heresy
1 x Pithing Needle

15 cards

The singleton Pithing Needle was to shut down cards like Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver pre-emptively. That card is a total beating against us and we need something other than a Detention Sphere (that is already working overtime) in order to contain him. The other change, this time in the maindeck, is +1 Plain, – 1 Island. Vince was quick to notice that aside from Sphinx’s Revelation, no other spell really required 2 blue sources. Sphinx’s Revelation was never really cast early in the game, so it was fine to be on one blue mana until like turn 6. The changes all seemed for the best and I was somewhat more confident going into Saturday’s tournament. I got back home at 4 am, which gave me about 4.5 hours of sleep. Clearly, this was not enough sleep. It would however have to do,  if I was planning on playing in tomorrow/today’s tournament.

detention sphere

As good as it is, we can only run 4

It’s 8:30 am and I’m just getting up. I add the appropriate tokens to my deck box and verify that all the main deck and sideboard cards are there. I quickly checkout my trade binders and make sure I’m to date with prices and what cards I’m low on so that I know what to trade for. I never really like strictly trading for value as I’d much rather know what cards I’m mostly looking to get. You lose focus and will almost settle for any random advantageous trade instead of picking up stuff you may be missing.

At 9:20 am – I am grabbing the subway for 12 stop run until the tournament location. I get out of the subway with 10 minutes to spare, but I need to walk uphill a bit and then there’s another 5 minute walk to the hotel. “Be there in 5 minutes”, I text my friend. “Tell them to wait up a bit for me, or register me. I’ll pay you back”. I don’t get any quick replies and it makes me walk a little faster to the event. Once there, I am trying to remember if it was upstairs or downstairs of the hotel venue. I assumed it was downstairs like the previous events held there. Nice! I guessed right and now I just need to register. Unfortunately for me, I have to go back upstairs with the portable POS device as it does not properly obtain a signal all the way down the hotel. I finally get through all the formalities and it’s time to write my decklist. Thankfully for me, I used up my time in the subway productively. I had typed down the decklist on my ‘smartphone’ and was ready to transcribe it to the DCI Registration Sheet.

Before pairings are called, my friend Charles asks me for my decklist. He knows I’m playing a ‘troll’ deck and he hands me over his list for review. We quickly mock each other’s lists and joke about how low we are on win conditions. Pairings go up and I’m informed that I’ll be playing against someone I know. I go sit at the last table to a familiar face: it’s Maxime playing a RB Control build. I recalled that it won with Master of Cruelties or simply with Desecration Demon swings. He is pretty sure his matchup against me is bad, but I’m rather scared to go to 1 life when his Master of Cruelties connects. Sure, I can make him pay a lot to attack but he does not need to attack with more than one creature.

round 1 banner

vs. RB Control

I win the die roll and start off with the usual Azorius Guildgate. Not much happens early on, aside from the odd Detention Sphere on Desecration Demon. Turns later, I find myself at one life. Ouch! Anything can pretty much finish me off. He then plays a Chandra, Pyromaster in order to seal the deal. He pings me, but I have a Security Blockade in play. Who would have thought? I stay alive for a few turns thanks to Blockade, cast a Sphinx’s Revelation to grab more cards and temporary life. My life total quickly goes back down to 1 thanks to Master of Cruelties (who had initially brought me down to 1). I later establish more board presence and gain some more life, making my opponent concede that game.

Game 2 is not at all the same as I get off to a better start. I believe I get 2 Security Blockades in play this time. I get a Elspeth Sun’s Champion into play and she is protected from harm thanks to the Security Blockades. Chadra’s +1 ability being prevented won’t allow Elspeth to lose any loyalty. I rally my little Soldier tokens behind Elspeth and turns later -7 for the win!

elspeth emblem

Elspeth Emblem # 2

Record: 1-0

It really sucks that I had to face Max this early as we both obviously wanted to face some random players we didn’t know in the early rounds.

round 2 banner

vs. Red/White/Black

My opponent has no idea what this deck is and is under the impression that his hand is good. Once he begins to slowly realize that this is a UW Enchantress deck rather than a UW Control deck, he knows he is in trouble. Clearly, he has some Merciless Evictions in the sideboard. Judging by the fact that he cast Anger of the Gods to kill my soldier tokens and Hero’s Downfall to take out Espeth, I doubt he has much more steam left. I get a Gideon, Champion of Justice to stay in play, growing by 4 loyalty a turn. He’s being protected by Sphere of Safety but I know I need to win soon or face a soul-crushing Rakdos’s Return later on. I get Gideon to 21 and go -15 (ultimate) on the following turn. I had floated some mana which allowed me to Detention Sphere his Rakdos Keyrune afterwards. This was probably the turning point in this game, he never drew a second mana in order to cast Dreadbore on my Gideon. I just kept attacking with Gideon on an empty board in order to take Game 1.

gideon ability 3

Yes, it sometimes happens

Game 2 is much different in that we both make some really bad mistakes. The worst of the mistakes ends up being his: forgetting to exile Obzedat at end of turn would allow me to exile it with Glare of Heresy. I made some other mistakes like not killing my opponent off with an all out attack on him combined with a double extort trigger had I cast my Jace, Memory Adept. He kills my Jace and gets ahead with a Blood Baron of Vizkopa. I draw Elspeth and consider making tokens. A little voice inside my head tells me that I’m about to make a big mistake here and that I should slowly reconsider my options. I re-read Elspeth and decide I would much rather do her -3 ability this eliminating Blood Baron and the Desecration Demon that were in play. I’m at 10 or so and one land + Rakdos’s Return away from dying. I draw my card and see that it’s a Negate. My opponent is in top deck mode. I say F* it! and just cast Spear of Heliod with double extort and respond to my own spell with a Negate double extort. That’s one expensive Warleader’s Helix that ends up winning me the game.

Record: 2-0

We discuss our mistakes afterwards: I clearly made more of them, but his Obzedat one was clearly the most costly.

round 3 banner

vs. Black/White Human aggro

here’s a sample of what cards I was up against:

Xathrid Necromancer

Soldier of the Pantheon

Tormented Hero

Rakdos Shred-Freak

Rakdos Cackler

Bascially, a bunch of dudes that can end the game before I can say : ” Supreme Verd…”. You get the picture.

He wins the die roll and starts of aggressively from the get-go. Tormented Hero is joined by an unleashed Thrill-Kill Assassin and later a Mogis’s Marauder. I do my best to contain him, but I hit no 2-for-1’s on my Detention Sphere and they end up just being Oblivion Rings instead. I get a Heliod in play and somewhat stabilize, but end up scooping when he lands another Mogis’s Marauder. I had also gotten double Thoughtseized somewhere in there as well, losing an Elspeth and a Security Blockade.

mogis marauder

Apparently a real card now …

I get off to a good start in Game 2. Turn 2 Blind Obedience into turn 3 Fiendslayer Paladin. This is pretty sweet! I land a turn 4 Martial Law and follow up with a Sphere of Safety next turn. I eventually draw a Heliod and he does what he does best: make little tokens that make it increasingly harder for my opponent to attack me (the tokens are also enchantments). I get a Nykthos (which roughly means ‘the night’ in Greek) into play and it’s night night for my opponent.

nykthos shrine to nyx

Now also a ‘thing’

My opponent comes out swinging in Game 3. He gets a Tormented Hero on Turn 1 and a Rakdos Shred-Freak on Turn 2. My first two turns are tapped lands (Azorius Guildgate and Hallowed Fountain). He Thoughtseizes me afterwards and gets rid of one of my Detention Spheres. I get to play a Security Blockade to ‘stabilize’ on my turn. He gets a Xathrid Necromancer later on and has me at 10 life. I draw and now have a pretty tough decision to make:

A) Play Detention Sphere on his Xathrid Necromancer and take 4 next turn, but play the Supreme Verdict next turn without running the risk of a huge backlash.

B) Play Supreme now, hope that he doesn’t play 2 creatures on his turn  (he had 3 cards + whatever he would draw), then play a Detention Sphere to take care of the Zombie tokens created by Xathrid Necromancer.

I chose what I believe was the better option: A

I go ahead and cast D-Sphere and pass the turn. He doesn’t get a Shred-Freak in play this turn and swings for 4 (instead of the 6 had I chosen option B).

supreme verdict

Finally ..

I’m super-psyched that I finally got to contain him slightly and cast my Supreme Verdict. I’m about to breathe a sigh of relief, but then …

“In response …”

Are you kidding me?

What response can you possibly have in this Black/White Human aggro deck to a Supreme Verdict?

Well, it turns out that Renounce the Guilds is also a card. Yes, Renounce the Guilds! I’m not sure about you, but this is the first time I felt like getting myself DQ’ed for grabbing an opponent’s card and shredding it to pieces. Ok, I’m probably exaggerating but you can imagine how I felt. the people to which I described the scenario were pretty much all in agreement that this is the last card they would have expected.

The guy did not see any other multicolored permanent on my side of the battlefield, yet he found it ‘appropriate’ to side in a Renounce the Guilds. Riiiight … I would have accepted a Rootborn Defenses, but this? Really?

renounce the guilds

Words cannot describe the horror

I know what some of you are thinking: “But he won!”.

Yes, but he was clearly already ahead and well on his way to probably winning that one. He basically just sided an odd card that might do something, sometime. This is technically not a good call. You are lowering your deck’s threat-density for a reactive card to ONE of your opponent’s answers. I would have preferred he played a Sin Collector on my Supreme Verdict instead as that would have shown more proper planning.

I hold no ill will towards him, but I do hope he plays better on the Pro Tour and wish him luck. He had won a Pro Tour Qualifier with Naya Blitz (he loves the aggro) and is probably already in Dublin at this time. Bonne chance Mr. Beland!

Record: 2-1

round 4 banner

vs. Mono Red Aggro

I’m sitting in front of a kid. I know him from a local store close to the West end of Montreal. We’ve played an traded before. I know that he usually plays super aggressive decks and was unsurprised when his first land drop was a mountain. “Mono red?” “Yup!”

I ‘curve out’ with my deck as of Turn 2: Blind Obedience, Security Blockade and Heliod, God of the Sun. My opponent is rather annoyed at the amount of defensive cards. This is the reaction I was hoping to get from him, hopefully it was genuine. I then get the Martial Law in play. He’s basically got to attack me, only that he’s attacking into a 5/6 indestructible creature. I continue to mark my territory with more permanents and slowly start churning out these lovely tokens:

cleric token theros

My little Gandalf the Grays! You will not pass!

Between these guys and the Security Blockade constantly reducing direct damage, I am at a healthy twelve or so. A few turns later, Nykthos happens and he quickly concedes (4 Cleric tokens a turn). He is clearly frustrated by the lockdown/prison style deck and knows that he probably has to side in extra burn over creatures if he wants to pick up a quick win.

Game 2 is different, but not the way you would think. He gets a Firedrinker Satyr and a Mutavault in play by Turn 2. I go Blind Obedience, Blind Odedience, Blind Obedience and Sphere of Safety. Is it safe yet? You bet it is! I then play pretty much anything with triple Extort, basically making any spell I cast into a Lightning Helix. My opponent stumbles a bit on mana but it’s already to late. At this point, I just wanted this game to end quickly. I triple extort a Sphinx’s Revelation for x =0 and respond to it by 3 x extort Negate. I was going mad with all the power and becoming a master extorter.

blind obedience

Oh yes!

Record: 3-1

round 5 banner

vs. WB Trading Post Shenanigans

I’m playing against a friend that I then have to go eat sushi with later in the evening. We need to make this epic so that we can have something interesting to talk about during our supper. It’s Charles, the guy that glanced over my deck list while I did the same with his. We know what each other has, but we don’t know how well each other’s decks play out.

Hint: Mine wins wayyyy quicker.

I get to start things off in Game 1 and do not fail to disappoint with my deck’s slow start. Yes, this deck has no turn 1 plays and that’s just fine. Turn 1 is reserved for not having to play any lands tapped later on. Pour on the Azorius Guildgates early on so that they don’t have to be land # 4 when you need to absolutely cast Supreme Verdict. Charles hits me with a Thoughtseize and nabs the Elspeth, Sun’s Champion that I have been concealing from him. I cast another Elspeth later on, make some tokens with her +1. Unfortunately, she is taken out with a Hero’s Downfall (such a good card!). He buys himself some time here and there by drawing cards, ‘ramping with artifacts’ and gaining some life. Heliod jumps onto the battlefield and ends Game 1 rather quickly (before Charles can cast a Merciless Eviction to turn the tide).


Part Gideon, part Elspeth – Fully awesome!

Game 2 is quite different from the first – a lot more things happened. Charles gets an Angelic Accord into play, which I quickly dismiss with a Detention Sphere. I know it’s the only one in his deck and this card is one of his main win conditions. It definitely warranted a Detention Sphere. I now get to decide which one of my planeswalkers is going to eat a Hero’s Downfall . I know he has it or will have it and as such need to sort of ‘play around it’. I decide that Gideon will be the first to get hit, which he does, one turn later while trying to attack.

Charles gets an Obzedat in there, but for some weird reason forgets to exile it at end of turn (I think this is the misplay that began the streak of misplays he will later make later in the afternoon). I profit from his error by casting a Glare of Heresy on his stray Obzedat. Just or the record: Obzedat would never have attacked in the current board state. I had a Blind Obedience in play, but he would be re-entering the battlefield each upkeep and draining me for 2 life. This could have made me lose the game over a long period of time as I don’t really have much lifegain in this deck outside of Fiendslayer Paladin, a card that is sort of average versus this deck. Charles then plays a very odd card that is deceptively good: Akroan Horse.

akroan horse

It allowed the Greeks to beat the Trojans, so it can’t be that bad, right?

Sadly, this card is fairly good against me. He gets to amass a little army, chump block my attackers and get value by sac’ing his soldier tokens to Trading Post. tThis gets very annoying very quickly. I need to establish board presence without committing too many enchantments only to lose them to Merciless Eviction.

merciless eviction

Ack! the bane of Magic Spheres everywhere!

Charles eventually casts Merciless Eviction, taking out about 5 of my enchantments. I did however resolve a Sphinx’s Revelation in response, which netted me 8 cards (thanks Nykthos!). It was a minor setback and perhaps a more permanent one if only he played the little bit of tech that I spotted in other various trading post decks:

codex shredder

Note: this is not a joke. Please do not LOL!

Basically Codex Shredder is your 5-mana recurring Regrowth spell. It is recurred via Trading Post every other turn by making a Goat Token then sacrificing it or by simply sacrificing the Soldier tokens you get from Akroan Horse. It can allow you to repeatedly Merciless Eviction Enchantments, planeswalkers and sometime creatures. You probably never want to call artifacts though … I then re-spam a few more enchantments and am holding a Sphinx’s Revelation. I figure that I can probably stand to lose a few more then rebuild. A third Merciless Eviction might do me in though (he probably sided in the third one from his sideboard). Fortunately, I get Elspeth onto the battlefield. I do the usual +1 ability 3 times and get her to 7 loyalty. Charles is forced to cast a Merciless Eviction (losing his Akroan Horse in the process) but for creatures this time. He would later admit to me that he did not know it could hit planeswalkers. It does not take long for me to rebuild my army, -7 Elspeth and win.

Record: 4-1

Just before Round 6, pairings are posted, I walk up to Kyle who is playing Esper control and ask him if he will draw if we were paired against each other. He’s first in the rankings and I’m third. He already played against the second place guy, who is incidentally the BW aggro player against whom I lost earlier. He tells me that he’s not out to dream-crush anyone and would not mind drawing into Top 8.


round 6 banner

vs. Esper Control

I go sit at table #1 in front of Kyle, we shake hands and sign the Results slip. We wish each other good luck in the Top 8 and go around the room looking for trades. I more or less help a guy build a midrange BW deck, nothing great but it’s better than what he brought to the event. It’s also much easier to build these things with Wi-Fi access and Gatherer. I scout some of my potential Top 8 opponents.

I might end up meeting the RWB deck that I had beaten in round 2 or his opponent who is playing Gruul aggro (it’s a so-so matchup). Other possibilities include: Charles (WB Trading Post), his opponent (playing Azorius control), an Asian guy playing a ‘Dark Naya’ deck  or Chris playing GW aggro.

Record: 4-1-1 and

the 2013's playmat

Yep! Top 8

round 1 banner

vs. GW Aggro

I’m playing versus Chris, who snuck into the top 8 at 4-0-2 (he was 2-0-2 and almost eliminated a couple of rounds back). I saw his game versus Azorius Control and I was astounded by the speed with which he won his ‘win and in’ game. Some other guys wish him good luck versus my deck, indicating that the matchup is terrible for him. I would tend to agree that may be true for the main deck, but I am in trouble once he sides in his Rootborn Defenses and Glare of Heresy.

Game 1 is the habitual start of me getting pounded early on by Experiment Ones, Dryad Militants, Scavenging Oozes and Boon Satyrs.  I slowly stabilize with some Detention Spheres and a Sphere of Safety. I begin to Extort a little and spam Security Blockades to get a blocker in case my opponent ever gets to attack. I’m still not getting any win conditions and this allows my opponent to actually get some swings in. I’m at 8 life when I cast Elspeth, Sun’s Champion and +1 her for three consecutive turns. My opponent thinks hard, activates the -3 ability on Ajani, Caller of the Pride on a Boon Satyr and attacks. He says : “It’s good? Game 2?” to which I respond: “Prevent 1 damage with my land ?” (thanks to Security Blockade). His reaction is priceless as he scoops up his cards, realizing that he is very much dead on the back swing.


the amount of damage you deal with your Soldier Tokens after making 9 and going -7 on Elspeth

We get to Game 2 and I know what’s coming. I was not aware at this point that he is not playing Sundering Growth, but I know he is playing Glare of Heresy. I’m very scared of Advent of the Wurms and anything else that may have trample, such as a Monstrous Fleecemane Lion. Creatures flood the board early on and I am forced to keep mana up to futilely cast some Celestial Flares in order to stay alive. I catch a ‘lucky break’ when I get to play a Detention Sphere on a couple of Voice of Ressuregence, but it’s almost too late. I pray for a timely Supreme Verdict, draw and notice that the Theros Gods are not with me for this game.

advent of the wurm

The new Restoration Angel

I side in some Fiendslayer Paladins, hoping to get some way to contain the GW aggro. The paladin is not big enough most of the time, but the lifegain and ‘crowd control’ it can provide are decent. It keeps their Dryad Militants, Voice of Ressurgences and Boon Satyrs at bay. Other than that, it can provide me some sweet devotion. I also sided in some Negates in order to counter stuff like Rootborn Defenses, Advent of the Wurm and Boon Satyrs (only when Bestowed). I draw an OK opener, nothing to write home about but keepable nonetheless. Chris mulligans his hand though. His hand may have been sub-optimal plus he’s not the one who’s forced to survive the early game.

I had a couple of Detention Spheres in my opener and I can’t skip a turn to not cast it on something like a Loxodon Smiter. Of course it sucks that he casts a Loxodon Smiter on the following turn. Chris is no scrub though, he would have cast something else had I not Detention Sphere’d his pachyderm. He gets an End-of-turn Advent of the Wurm to connect the very turn I play a Sphere of Safety. I get hit a few times by the wurm tokens until I draw another Sphere of Safety. I calculated that he needed to pay 6 per creature to attack and he only has about 7 mana in play. I have another turn to spam more enchantments or draw a Supreme Verdict. Sadly, he casts a Boon Satyr in Bestow Mode on his Wurm token. It’s pretty much over at this point.

boon satyr

Ugh… I have a love/hate relationship with this card

Final Standing: 6th place

sphere of safety

Now that the surprise factor is gone, I’m not quite sure it’s safe anymore

The GW deck ends up winning the whole thing too, beating Charle’s BW Trading Post in the Semis and MonoRed in the Finals.

Not just yet …

I’ll be back to post Charle’s BW Trading Post deck with some random tech explanations (as best I can).

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