Last week, I talked about three deck ideas for Pioneer and I mentioned how excited I was to be hosting the video coverage of CommandFest Chicago. Well, it was an incredible weekend, with every day hitting between 500 and 700 players of Commander, and I was very pleased by how much joy I got to witness in the room, and the incredible people I got to meet, such as the kind folks over at the MagiKids charity.
There was a lot of variety in the room, as is to be expected from Commander, but it certainly got my brewing muscles moving. Pioneer has the most room to explore, so that's largely where I settle in, especially as I waited to hear back from people about the NerdRageGaming Pioneer event in Madison happening at the same time as CommandFest.
As Pioneer gets explored, week after week, we are bound to see a ton of changes hit the format. We've already seen our first set of bannings after that NRG event and a Magic Online metagame that began to be heavily dominated by Green Devotion, and these new bans heavily knee-capped that emerging deck. One of the exciting things about Pioneer is this initial flurry of regular changes, and knowing that you may be a part of making that next big change - which might be basically immediately!
Another exciting element of Pioneer is brainstorming on decks that you've loved in the fairly recent past and reconfiguring them in an attempt to take them up to a next level. I don't know about you, but one of the things that I've definitely had be a part of my experience as a brewer and lover of Magic has been to find a deck that I really loved, but to have it desperately want a card that either didn't exist yet, or didn't exist any longer.
One of the best examples of this is one of my pet cards, Aetherspouts.
I love this card. It was a huge part of both the reason I made Top 8 at Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir and several other events in that era as well. It has been such an effective controlling card for me, I've even occasionally included it in a few Modern decks. And so, later, when I was working on the deck I affectionately called "Blue-Lamog" (or "U-Lamog"), I was saddened by having to include Engulf the Shore when it was Aetherspouts that I kept knowing would do exactly what I was looking for. For that matter, I was also sad to be missing another key card in my Dragons of Tarkir era Standard deck:
This second card, Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, was actually one of the cards that had gotten my brainstorm churning toward Blue-Lamog in the first place. Ugin, the Spirit Dragon is just such a fundamentally powerful card, it can change games all on its own. I wanted to try out a deck with Ugin and counterspells, and this got me thinking about Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, and my Blue-Lamog deck I'd taken to two solid Grand Prix finishes.
The key about that 2016 Standard deck was simple: solid colorless mana acceleration, and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger.
Dropping an Ulamog would usually be enough to end games. Amazingly, it is also the case that dropping an Ugin ends games, and that task is so much easier.
Updating that old deck was interesting because there were so many new cards to try out!
Here is where I ended up:
Blue-Lamog | Pioneer | Adrian Sullivan
- Creatures (11)
- 2 Conduit of Ruin
- 2 Drowner of Hope
- 4 Walking Ballista
- 1 Emrakul, the Promised End
- 2 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
- Spells (17)
- 1 Commit // Memory
- 1 Unsubstantiate
- 1 Warping Wail
- 2 Spatial Contortion
- 2 Supreme Will
- 3 Aetherspouts
- 3 Clash of Wills
- 4 Hedron Archive
- Lands (28)
- 12 Island
- 1 Blast Zone
- 1 Castle Vantress
- 1 Sanctum of Ugin
- 1 Shivan Reef
- 2 Desert of the Mindful
- 2 Spawning Bed
- 4 Mage-Ring Network
- 4 Shrine of the Forsaken Gods
Let's do a quick breakdown of the things that are new to the deck, in sections.
The Old New
Here are a few spells that existed before Blu-Lamog was around:
These two cards are so important because they essentially bring the kind of sweeping effects that you need to make a controlling deck work well. Both cards can clear the table of trouble, and they can buy time needed for a finish to happen. Even if an Ugin is killed after cleaning up the board, that mere act can buy enough time for the next powerful plan. Importantly, both Ugin and Aetherspouts will leave your own cards well enough alone.
Also huge is that Ugin is fairly cheap, all things being equal. turn five Ugin isn't likely, but can happen, and turn six Ugin is actually a fairly common occurrence. When you add in a smattering of countermagic or other resistance, this can be enough to take a game over, something that Ugin, the Spirit Dragon is completely capable of doing.
Aetherspouts has been a favorite pet card of mine for as long as it has been printed because it is an incredible cheap mass removal effect as an instant. While it doesn't take out utility creatures, as removal, it is excellent because of timing rules, as well as taking out indestructible creatures, monkeying with cards that care about the graveyard, and the removal of cards that are only temporarily creatures, like Mutavault or many Gideon planeswalkers. I'd consider a fourth copy of the card, though I simply ran out of room.
The New New
These spells came about after Blu-Lamog's departure:
Walking Ballista is basically a coup.
The deck wanted early removal, and it made do with Spatial Contortion (of which there are still a few), but Walking Ballista takes the cake because of how incredibly powerful the card is. In an early game, a Spatial Contortion can be harder removal, but the scaling on Walking Ballista can shut down games. I've considered a split of three and three instead of four Ballista and two Contortion, but this distinction is probably a metagame consideration.
Commit // Memory, Unsubstantiate, and Supreme Will all serve as a versatile suite of countermagic and disruption that take the place of the much more cumbersome Void Shatter that used to exist in the deck. Supreme Will also takes the place of Anticipate. These cards combine with the other cheaper plays in the game just to make it such that one survives for the bigger cards to hit.
Emrakul, the Promised End is a great one-of in the deck, sometimes stealing a game outright by forcing a horrible play from the opponent. Tutorable with Conduit of Ruin and Sanctum of Ugin, a single copy of Emrakul is quite likely to be able to get involved in any game where it is needed. Amusingly, once I included Emrakul, I ended up "downgrading" Syncopate to Clash of Wills, just so I could be more likely to get a cheaper Emrakul!
The Rest of It
On top of the new inclusions, there are small intricacies to the land mix.
First of all, the deck absolutely wants sixteen Blue mana to support the cards that it is playing. Islands make up the bulk of that, but there are a few other cards in the mix as well. Castle Vantress can be supported by the twelve Island, but those few Desert of the Mindful are there to mitigate flooding; it is possible that this Desert count could go up or down by one.
Shivan Reef serves as a "dual land" of sorts for colorless and Blue in the deck, helping keep that colorless land count high enough at thirteen plus four Hedron Archive. If you're feeling too much pain from this, you might be able to get away with another Island, but be cautious because you still want enough for the sideboard cards demanding colorless as well. If you end up building the version of the deck, you'll want four of this card to support Kozilek's Return.
The rest of the colorless producing land are mostly designed to build up your mana or have utility in another way. Sanctum of Ugin feels perfect to me as a one-of because it is so powerful in a late game when you might not care to lose a land. Similarly, Blast Zone is powerful as a late-game effect, though it can be painful enough an early game loss, I've considered cutting it. Should either get cut, Spawning Bed is the next card to add copies of; it isn't a great boost in mana, but it is enough of one that I'm playing as many copies as I can find room for. Shrine of the Forsaken Gods and Mage-Ring Network are easy four-ofs, both making the top end of this deck all the more likely to hit.
The sideboard included a "heavy hitter" plan, where you can shift to a Reality Smasher/Thought-Knot Seer beatdown if wanted. Reality Smasher is especially powerful in two ways: if you are low on time, it can close the game incredibly rapidly, and in addition, many decks skimp on removal after sideboarding, making Reality Smasher especially painful to fight. Thought-Knot Seer is a less necessary part of this plan, though it is also just generally good disruption.
Kozilek, the Great Distortion is an excellent card for a long fight. Refilling the hand is an uncounterable ability, which is incredibly powerful in a late game, and should it resolve, the activated ability to counter spells often is just lights out. At the same time, this is an incredibly late-game spell for the deck, so I wouldn't find it troublesome if this card were replaced by a card like Dispel or Negate, even though Kozilek could be tutored for.
Karn, Scion of Urza is an awesome card-advantage card that can come down quickly and help run away with the game. For a deck like this, just making extra land drops is very powerful, so even if the opponent just keeps feeding you land, this is still meaningful. In turning the corner on a win, Karn, Scion of Urza can close out by itself very fast as well, making it a decent card to use in any resource war. That being said, like Kozilek, I find this card to be potentially replaceable by other choices, should your metagame demand it.
The last cards, all Blue instants, I think are largely untouchable.
Aether Gust has been an incredible card for me. It has so many targets, it is only just barely shy of being playable main. As both a pseudo-counter spell and a removal spell, it helps get you to the next stage in your game, where your more powerful spells can come online. Dispel and Negate serve similar purposes, with Dispel being more powerful enough in its narrow way to get the nod over Negate; in your specific metagame, if you aren't finding yourself in need of this, you can swap the numbers to lean more towards Negate, but I prefer the other configuration right now.
All told, this deck is a huge blast. Making huge colorless threats and casting counters come together to make a really cool deck. I had a lot of fun with this deck and I'm sure you will too!
I won't be in Richmond this weekend, but I'll be rooting luck for all the awesome people I know out there, especially everyone from Wisconsin, as well as the newly crowned Hall of Fame member and fabulous Good Guy, Reid Duke! Congratulations, Reid! Well deserved!
There might not be any Eldrazi in Richmond, but they can still be here in our hearts!
Follow me on Twitter! @AdrianLSullivan
Follow me and subscribe on Twitch! /AdrianLSullivan