Today’s article was written by James Ritchie. He provides some commentary on his recent performance at an MCQ in Stansted. Enjoy!
The MCQ was the second major event I’ve played since coming back to Magic after nearly 3 years out of the game, the first being MagicFest Birmingham, where I posted the relatively ignominious result of 2-4 drop followed by 1-2 in the Modern double up, in which my one win was against the 10-minute opponent non-attendance clock. Oddly, I felt better about my performance at Birmingham than the other similarly dismal performances I’ve put up recently, and coming into the MCQ I was strangely optimistic. The final event headcount was 196, which, following the Hogaak summer, I feel is a good recovery, especially with the unbanning of a card as influential as Stoneforge Mystic.
As for my choice of deck, I was originally playing UW Control, but I’ve been feeling more and more down on my ability to play the deck competently – as I’ve only come back into Magic semi-recently, I have fewer games on the deck than most other pilots, possibly making it one of the worse choices for me. I decided on 4 Colour Whirza, partially after speaking with Alex Roebuck, and partially after reading and hearing multiple people point out that being proactive is better than being reactive. Who’d have thought, trying to win games is easier than trying to stop people winning games!
There have been some lists floating about utilising Stoneforge Mystic in Whirza, and after much deliberation, and with the small amount of testing I had done, Stoneforge Mystic felt a bit like a trap include in the deck. Sure, the card is really strong, and the ‘fair’ element it brings is incredibly powerful, but there are a number of factors that eventually pushed me to follow the proven and successful path. I kept envisioning the strategy Stoneblade employs in Legacy, where you just wallop someone over the head with a Batterskull Germ or an evasive 3/1 carrying Sword of Fire and Ice. However, I picked up on a number of key differences between the two decks, most of which contributed to my decision to not include Stoneforge Mystic in my 75 for the MCQ.
The first is that your Sword carriers are worse. Vendilion Clique is not True-Name Nemesis – you can actually kill it with conventional removal spells. That leaves us with Stoneforge Mystic and Urza, Lord High Artificer and his Karn-Struct token. None of these are evasive, and none of them are particularly resilient to removal. All of them can be dealt with by Fatal Push and Path to Exile, they all enter play at sorcery speed, and they are all prime targets for removal without them having a Sword strapped to them. ‘But!’ I hear you cry, ‘What about your Thopters!’
That leads me to the second point. You basically never want to search for anything but Sword of the Meek with this deck. Any time you have a Thopter Foundry in play, Batterskull and (as dubbed by Sam Black) Sword of Whatever and Who Cares become blank cardboard in your hand and deck. The people who can’t handle your Batterskull also can’t handle Thopter Sword. The people who can handle Thopter Sword can also handle Batterskull.
This handily segues into the final point. People are prepared for Stoneforge Mystic. People are running Kolaghan’s Command. People are running Thoughtseize. People are playing Tron. Burn is playing Skullcrack. If people are playing hate for a particular subset of cards, don’t play into it, go one step above it. For Whirza, right now, Goblin Engineer does so much more for the deck.
I took Harlan Firer’s list and made a couple of small changes. I wanted a way to win instantly after assembling the infinite Thopters, infinite life, infinite cards loop that also provided some utility in games where you are prevented from comboing off. I also cut 1 Ceremonious Rejection for 1 Timely Reinforcements as an additional nod to Burn, which has been gaining popularity.
4 Colour Whirza
4 Arcum’s Astrolabe
2 Chromatic Star
1 Ensnaring Bridge
1 Ichor Wellspring
4 Mishra’s Bauble
4 Mox Opal
1 Mystic Forge
1 Nihil Spellbomb
2 Pithing Needle
2 Sword of the Meek
4 Thopter Foundry
1 Welding Jar
3 Goblin Engineer
4 Urza, Lord High Artificer
1 Ghirapur Aether Grid
2 Galvanic Blast
3 Whir of Invention
1 Breeding Pool
4 Polluted Delta
1 Prismatic Vista
4 Scalding Tarn
4 Snow-Covered Island
1 Snow-Covered Mountain
1 Snow-Covered Swamp
2 Spire of Industry
1 Steam Vents
1 Watery Grave
1 Damping Sphere
3 Assassin’s Trophy
2 Ceremonious Rejection
2 Fatal Push
1 Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas
1 Tezzeret the Seeker
2 Collective Brutality
1 Timely Reinforcements
I came into this event having played precisely 0 games with 90% of the cards in the deck. Despite this, I felt instantly more confident with the deck than I had in any of the tournaments I played with UW Control. My aim going into the day was predominantly to get game experience, but naturally, doing some winning would be nice.
R1: 0-2 vs Devoted Devastation (On Draw G1)
I learned a lot in these two games, namely that if you don’t aggressively mulligan, you don’t get what you need. Not a huge amount to otherwise comment on from this match. I mulliganed to 5 in game 1 and kept a hand that didn’t do anything. I should have mulliganed harder, and I was punished by my opponent, who comboed off on turn 4.
In game 2, I kept an interactive 7-card hand while my opponent mulliganed to 5. I Thoughtseize‘d a Noble Hierarch, but got beaten to death by tiny men because my draws were anaemic and I needed every piece of my engine before I could actually do something. Bit of a wash really, but an important step in learning what, to me, is a very new archetype.
R2: 2-0 vs UW Spirits (On Play G1)
Both of us mulliganed once and lead with fetch lands. I cracked mine for a Watery Grave, then followed up with a Snow-covered Island and Arcum’s Astrolabe, then spewed Opal, Bauble, and Thopter Foundry into play. My opponent grabbed a Hallowed Fountain without interacting with any of my plays, then deployed a Celestial Colonnade and an Aether Vial. I spin wheels for a couple of turns while he assembles a team of beatsticks, but I draw into Whir of Invention and start spitting Thopters onto the board. A few turns later and I’m overwhelming his board state pretty handily.
In game 2, we both kept seven cards. He came out of the gates really quickly with a collection of assorted dudes, but I kept Foundry and Engineer plus Opal/Bauble. On turn 2 I play Foundry into turn 3 Engineer with 2 mana backup and a spare artifact and slowly accrue Thopters while holding onto a slew of interaction, namely Galvanic Blast, Fatal Push, and Assassin’s Trophy. I gum up the board before eventually Galvanic Blasting him in the face for lethal after a couple of attacks.
R3: 2-0 vs Mono Green Tron (On Play G1)
Another wash match, but this time in my favour. In game 1 he mulls to 3 in face of a turn 4 infinite loop. Game 2 is a little closer, but my hand is on the board before he can resolve a Thought-Knot Seer (which he later reveals is in his sideboard, making my decision to board Ensnaring Bridge out look a little wonky), and I’m just rolling through topdecks to find Sword or Urza. His draws are pretty limp, and I eventually find Urza and beat him over the head with a small collection of Thopters and a giant Construct.
R4: 1-2 vs Mardu Shadow (On Draw G1)
Probably the most enjoyable match I’ve played since coming back to the game, it boiled down to my opponent picking apart Thopter Sword from my hand before pressuring my life total.
In game 1, they knew I had Galvanic Blast in hand and were forced to take their time when ending the game, as metalcraft gave me exactly the extra turn I needed to stabilise at 3 life with Ensnaring Bridge plus Welding Jar. There was a cool interaction where I got to Bauble myself, then return the bauble to play using Goblin Engineer by sacrificing an irrelevant Pithing Needle naming Street Wraith, drawing into both Jar and Bridge. Eventually, I drew into both Foundry and Urza and won the game.
Game 2 was my first exposure to ‘generating mana correctly.’ The game turned into a grindfest very quickly as he ripped the combo from my hand while I kill his first Shadow. The game then settled into a situation where I have Mystic Forge in play and am trying to dig for Thopter Foundry. I have 7 mana available, as the game has gone pretty long at this point, and tap mana for Mystic Forge, immediately realising after I cast the first Bauble off the top that I’ve tapped all of my snow mana. I then play another Bauble, exile a land with Forge, then get stuck with Astrolabe on top and a replacement Opal in hand with my life at 2 facing down a zombie fish and a Shadow. I might not have drawn the Foundry, but I closed the door on the possibility of doing so, which would have allowed me to make 2 blockers and then take over the game. Instead, I was violently beaten to death by assorted nasties.
In game 3, my opponent again disrupted my hand, but this time attacked my mana as well, hitting Mox Opal with Kolghan’s Command and keeping me off Urza for 3 turns. The play bought them enough time to kill me with a Death’s Shadow.
All in all, my opponent played the match very well, but game 1 demonstrated how resilient Whirza can be. I had no business winning, but I managed steal the game from basically nothing. The main lesson from this match? Snow is basically a colour – make sure to keep snow lands untapped if at all possible.
R5: 2-0 vs TitanShift (On Play G1)
This matchup feels very much tilted in my favour. In game 1, both of us have fast, but not quite our fastest, hands and I have him dead while he’s still at least 1 turn away from being able to Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle me to death. Game 2 is pretty much identical, except their hand was a little slower as they’d brought in things to interact with my gameplan. My only changes were to remove bullets that did nothing, like Nihil Spellbomb.
R6: 2-1 vs Jeskai Control (On Draw G1)
Game 1 was something of a blowout. I jammed a turn 2 Thopter Foundry, which resolved, followed by a Pithing Needle naming Stoneforge Mystic and stranding a Batterskull in my opponent’s hand. I suspect my opponent had a hand full of lack-lustre removal, and the game is over a few turns later.
In game 2, my opponent resolves an Ashiok, Dream Render the turn before I was going to Whir for Foundry, and eventually follows it up with a Batterskull. I had sided all of my Galvanic Blasts out, which in retrospect was probably a mistake anyway, particularly against a deck with Colonnade and Mystic. Pretty embarrassing game really.
In game 3, my opponent aggressively uses Force of Negation to counter a Thopter Foundry and follows it up with Surgical Extraction, to which I remind him of the exile clause on Force. They decided to make this play instead of playing Stony Silence, which allowed me to rip it away with Thoughtseize on my turn instead of having to use Assassin’s trophy further down the line. I assembled Thopter Sword, and a second Thoughtseize allowed me to safely drop Urza.
R7: 2-1 vs Jund (On Draw G1)
Game 1 was a perfect example of what makes this deck pretty disgusting. My opponent cast Thoughtseize and takes Urza, then uses Inquisition of Kozilek to take Thopter Foundry. They then proceeded to play a Liliana of the Veil and Wrenn and Six while I durdle around dropping random artifacts onto the table. An activation of a Mishra’s Bauble targeting myself allowed me to draw Urza and Thopter Foundry in the same turn after having previously cast Goblin Engineer to find Sword of the Meek the turn before. I then assemble a near lock and end the game.
In game 2, my opponent shreds my hand while simultaneously beating me over the head with the king of green, Tarmogoyf. I proceeded to lose in short order as my blockers were picked apart with Fatal Push, Assassin’s Trophy, and Liliana of the Veil.
My opponent’s keep was pretty shaky in game 3, their only real answers being two Plague Engineers and a Nihil Spellbomb. I kill the preemptive Engineer naming Thopter with a Galvanic Blast, twiddle around spitting Thopters out to block his Tarmogoyf, then jam Urza. I start comboing off before checking my sideboard, realising I took out Ghirapur Aether Grid and stopping before I mill myself to death. My opponent plays the second Engineer, again naming Thopter. I float a thousand mana, allow all of the Thopters to die, then use mana as he attempts to leave phases to flip cards with Urza. He responds with Assassin’s Trophy, to which I make another 1000 Thopters in response. There’s some confusion on his part on how I’m doing it and which phase we’re in, and I suspect mental fatigue is setting in, as once he announces his confusion I begin to doubt myself. A judge clears things up and explains the situation. He acknowledges his position, pauses, then concedes.
R8: 0-2 vs Mono Green Tron (On Draw G1)
In game 1, both of us are partially getting there. My opponent moves for turn 4 Tron, and I name Ugin, the Spirit Dragon with my preemptive Pithing Needle while assembling Thopter Sword, only missing Urza. My opponent resolves Karn Liberated and attempts to exile Foundry. I respond by making 2 Thopters, 1 with a Sword, and kill Karn, but I’m still missing Urza. He plays a Wurmcoil Engine, I play another Thopter Foundry, and he finds Ulamog off Ancient Stirrings to take the game.
In game 2, I have to mulligan pretty hard, but my 5 is good. Needle, Astrolabe, Engineer, Tarn and Spire of Industry. It’s a little shaky because I need to resolve Engineer, so I crack my fetch for a Steam Vents. I can’t afford to durdle, so I go straight for Sword of the Meek. They destroy it, and since they’re packing Surgical Extraction, I no longer have any Swords. His hand is pretty durdly, and I do some twiddling about with Thopter Foundry, making some Thopters to keep Karn’s loyalty low before I have to do some Goblin Engineer shenanigans to stop an Oblivion Stone. He finally assembles Tron, and I know I’m in real trouble when he drops Emrakul, the Promised End, meaning I have to sac my Foundry. My draw during my (their) turn is a fresh Foundry, which he casts, sacrificing my Needle and Foundry and chewing up my Engineer with Emrakul. I draw Whir, but the game is a formality at this point.
Takeaways from the event:
1) I need to be more aggressive with my mulligans. I learned quickly from round 1 and definitely mulliganed better, but I need to understand what hands can and can’t be kept.
2) Pay attention to how you tap your mana. Snow is basically a colour, don’t snow screw yourself.
3) Focus more on being proactive, even in post-board games with interaction. You don’t have the tools to hold people off forever, you need to just go for wins.
4) Having access to Aether Grid was useful, but there’s almost certainly a better alternative. Alex is sold on Time Sieve, and I think he might be right, as you can go infinite with it with 5 mana and Thopter Sword, and when things aren’t going optimally, you can probably just take an extra turn to try and spike combo.
5) There are a few cards I’m unsure on. Mystic Forge felt insane, and I definitely won a couple of games because of it, but it’s quite slow. Very good when you need to grind though, so I’m going to keep running with it for the moment.
6) Galvanic Blast felt super medium all day, but is possibly a necessity. I’m going to look into whether just more silver bullets or tutor type effects might be better, but for now, will continue running it so I’m not just dead to the creature combo decks and Burn.
7) Spire of Industry felt mostly irrelevant and was actively worse than a basic in at least 2 games. However, I played against very few decks with Karn, the Great Creator, Stony Silence, or Collector Ouphe all day. It’ll likely stay in.
8) A number of cards in the sideboard were decidedly average to poor. Trophy was a necessity, but I used it precisely once against a target that wasn’t targetable by Abrupt Decay. That being said, that matchup was against Tron, which, based on common consensus, is a pretty awful matchup. Collective Brutality was never cast, but I didn’t really play that many matches where it was relevant. Timely Reinforcements is likely better against the decks it’s meant for, namely Burn and Zoo, however, those matchups already have some play, where Tron honestly felt pretty awful when my opponent actually did Tron things. Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas was fine, but again, this is based on a small amount of data, as I saw him precisely once. Similarly, Tezzeret the Seeker is probably fine, but I’d rather play the second Agent.
These also factor in some changes written about by Harlan Firer mainly concerning mana considerations to play around Stony Silence and Field of Ruin.
-1 Polluted Delta
-1 Scalding Tarn
-1 Spire of Industry
-1 Ghirapur Aether Grid
-1 Whir of Invention
+1 Inventor’s Fair
+1 Prismatic Vista
+1 Snow-Covered Forest
+1 Chromatic Star
+1 Time Sieve
-1 Tezzeret the Seeker
-1 Timely Reinforcements
+1 Ceremonious Rejection
+1 Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas
Some final things I want to say is that coming back to Magic after a long time off has highlighted just how great this community is. I’ve missed playing Magic, and most of all I’ve missed the sense of belonging it’s given me. A few names in particular I want to drop:
Jordan Griffin, who has consistently loaned cards to me and has never failed to point out the spicy cards. Really sorry there’s no pure spice in this list.
Alex Roebuck, who I’ve (incessantly) bounced ideas off, and who has also loaned cards out to me. Thanks to his love of Deutsch, he is now the proud owner of 4 Urza, Erster Fürst der Handwerker, Arcums Astrolabium, and Mishras Brosche. One of the comments he made was that this deck honestly felt like ‘fixed KCI,’ leading to the creation of the following meme:
“And I would have gotten away with it too!”
John Hawkins, who reminded me of the existence of Ghirapur Aether Grid and loaned me a copy for the event.
Rikki Walker, the absolute saviour for me this weekend, who loaned me Mox Opals despite having met me twice. People like you are a huge part of why I came back to Magic.
Thanks James! If you liked today’s article, consider becoming a patreon via the link below!