Play Patterns: Bluffing, Angle Shooting, and Ethics

The strategy of chess and the variance of poker, all wrapped up in a fantasy medium.

The strategic implications of Magic are intricate and complicated. The fantasy medium we all love is woven into the fabric of the game with its amazing art, lore, and role-playing. The variance aspect of the game however, can be somewhat polarizing. It means that even the worst player in the world with an intro deck has a chance to beat the best player in the world with a tier-one deck. For some, this is part of what makes Magic great; for others, this can be the most frustrating part of the game. But Magic and poker have more in common than just variance and statistics. Sometimes the way we execute the game in person can also be borrowed from poker, as Magic often does, through bluffing and angle shooting.

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Everyone bluffs in Magic. If you’ve ever held onto a land as your only card in hand, you’ve bluffed. If you’ve ever glanced at an irrelevant card in your hand just before saying “it resolves,” you’ve bluffed. You attempted to communicate to your opponent that you have interaction when you don’t and you did it intentionally to deceive them.

Don’t worry, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Bluffing is an important part of the game and it can come in many forms, to include body language, words, speed of play, and concealed information (like the land you kept in hand). Even though bluffing comes about through misleading your opponent and deceiving behavior, it isn’t frowned upon or scrutinized for damaging the game’s integrity. This is because no rules are being broken and it’s ultimately up to the opponent to decide how much they want to rely on information derived from your cues. They can ignore it, or they can draw drastic conclusions based on it.

Games can be won and lost on a bluff, all based on information that we’re collecting from our opponent’s, or false information we’re trying to convey. At the end of the day, it’s hard to ignore that there’s a human element to a game that involves an opponent sitting directly across from you.

Spike, Tournament Grinder

Blue mages separating their mana into groups of two and four (the four showing their ability to pay for Cryptic),  players picking up their graveyard after a draw to imply they drew a Snapcaster, and seemingly bad attacks that suggest combat tricks are all examples of bluffing. These are all very small actions that are meant to subconsciously lead you to draw conclusions based on unreliable information.

I’d like to go over a couple more examples of bluffing and the variety of ways they can express themselves and be implemented that I’ve experienced personally, and perhaps you have as well.

In a recent SCG Regionals I had an Affinity opponent that had a pretty intimidating board to include a Ravager, an Inkmoth Nexus, and more than enough artifacts to sacrifice for the Inkmoth combo kill. I had two lands in hand, that’s it. I was of course holding onto them so that I could try and convince my opponent that I had interaction, that I could disrupt the combo and punish him if he went for it.

He fired up the Inkmoth, attacked, and waited for me to pass priority.

I fervently studied my cards, let out a quizzical, “Hmmm…” as I pondered my options.

Put my fingers through my hair, deep in thought.

I sat up, began to tap my lands, then slouched again and untapped the lands, redacting my previous thought.

Again, I analyzed the board and then passed priority.

My opponent thought for a moment and then allowed for damage to happen; only one infect damage. On my upkeep, Dark Confidant reveals a Bolt.

I bluffed my way out of a deadly situation and lived long enough to find the interaction I desperately needed.

The most important thing about this bluff was that it didn’t break any rules. I was very clear in communicating what phase we were in, what I was doing, and in the end my opponent chose to use that information to make an educated guess about what I was capable of.

Deception

Bluffing is usually more subtle than the theatrics I pulled against my Affinity opponent but the cues are still there for you to notice. I once had a Scapeshift player play the namesake card and waited patiently for me to scoop, but I had already Fulminator‘d two mountains and there were many on board so I said, “Okay, show me the mountains.” He searched through his deck, and conceded.

The “Are you really going to make me go through the motions of my combo?” bluff is nothing new. Players have been doing this one since combos have existed. Usually this means they don’t have access to their win condition and are looking to shortcut, a common courtesy we give combo players sometimes, to convince the concession. In Competitive REL (Rules Enforcement Level) , always make opponents show you the combo before you scoop. You never know when it’s all just a bluff. The exception to this is if they have demonstrated a loop.

“The Pen Trick” is another common bluff. This is when your opponent is looking to declare attackers and you go to pick up your pen to record the impending damage as if you are accepting whatever comes your way. Your opponent may attack incorrectly or poorly based on this only to have you put down the pen and interact with their board.

Now, let’s imagine a scenario where a player names Krark-Clan Ironworks with Pithing Needle.

Does it accomplish anything? No.

Pithing Needle doesn’t stop mana abilities, but maybe the opponent doesn’t know that. KCI is still a legal card you can name with Pithing Needle even though it won’t stop the ability. This bluff is testing the opponent’s knowledge of how Pithing Needle works in the hopes to trick the opponent into not using the KCI. Bluffing is defined as misleading by a display of strength and confidence, and this certainly fits the bill. Cheating on the other hand is an act of dishonesty as a means to gain an advantage. This becomes cheating only when the KCI player goes to use the KCI and is stopped by the Pithing Needle player. In that situation the Needle player is trying to break the rules by claiming that Pithing Needle achieves something it cannot.

Pithing Needle

Rystic Studies has a great video showcasing a scenario with Pithing Needle. In the video, the opponent has tons of countermagic in hand, with a Dark Confidant, and three uncracked Polluted Deltas on the battlefield. The Pithing Needle player calls over a judge and asks, in front of his opponent, if Dark Confidant is a card they can name with Pithing Needle. The judge says yes, and the player casts the Pithing Needle. The opponent lets it resolve assuming they’ll name Dark Confidant and the player names Polluted Delta instead. This bluff reverses the role of the last example, playing as if they didn’t understand how the Needle worked to trick the opponent into letting it resolve. The Pithing Needle player mislead with a display of apparent ignorance rather than strength.

Mulligan body language can be another excellent opportunity to bluff. You can snap keep when the cards are horrible or you can ponder the hand meticulously when if fact the hand is easily keep-able. If you’re on the play and get to resolve your mulligan decision first, you can sometimes affect your opponent’s decisions. If you act as though it’s very strong, they may reevaluate the strength of their own hand. If you act as though the hand is close or not very good, they may keep a mediocre hand for the sake of keeping seven.

There are many more examples that I could list, but I think you get the point of what a good bluff can look like and the many different forms it can present itself in. The common theme among all of these examples of bluffing is that despite the intention to deceive or mislead the opponents, no rules were broken and the integrity of the game was upheld.

In Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica, Luis Scott Vargas made one of the most amazing bluffs we’ve seen on camera at the top level of competitive play. Jeremy Dezani is trying to figure out how he wants to attack and is obviously struggling to find the best line. LSV motions for a lifelink token which goes hand in hand with the bluff he’s already set up with his mana. By separating three of his lands from the Andanto, the First Fort, he’s already communicating the possibility of activating to gain an additional blocker. Dezani ignores it at first but then reaches for the token himself to aid in his combat math. After Dezani makes his attacks, LSV throws the token aside, knowing full well he never intended on activating the Fort, and plays Settle the Wreckage to wipe Dezani’s board.

j_DHya

The interaction was widely controversial, and LSV was criticized by some for fooling Dezani with false intentions, but it was really Dezani’s decision to allow the bluff to affect his actions that lost him the game. This is an honest bluff, and a card like Settle the Wreckage requires a certain amount of bluffing to play to its full potential. How does this example compare to a scenario where the equity of the game is actually being degraded?

Let’s say Dezani turns all of his creatures sideways, doesn’t say anything, and rests his hands under his chin. Then, LSV plays a Settle the Wreckage. Dezani could then say, “Woah, woah, wait. I’m still thinking about my attacks and I haven’t passed priority.”

In this example, Dezani has purposefully created an ambiguous situation where we are unsure what phase we’re in and who has priority as a means to gain an advantage. Now he knows LSV has a Settle and can play around it for the rest of the game. In this instance, Dezani has demonstrated what we know as angle shooting. Through underhanded methods, angle shooters can take advantage of unclear situations in order to deceive the opponent into breaking the rules or revealing information they normally wouldn’t.

phenax
“Phenax, God of Deception” by Ryan Barger

In poker, rules have been put in place to punish certain ways of angle shooting. In Magic, we have no such rules, so opportunities for angle shooting can often be taken advantage of without punishment. Good angle shooting will often be so ambiguous that it can be impossible for a judge to prove malicious intent, especially if the angle shooter is a good actor.

Another perfect example of this can be seen in plays involving Vendilion Clique.

A Vendilion Clique player cast their Clique and waits patiently remaining silent. The popular Clique target is of course the opponent, to get information and trade out their best card. While targeting yourself may be the less popular play, the Clique player is still a legal target. The opponent may assume that, as in most Clique scenarios, the target is them and the Clique player is simply waiting for them to reveal their hand.

Vendilion Clique

The opponent reveals their hand and then the Clique player explains that the Clique hasn’t resolved yet and is just waiting for the opponent to respond to it if necessary. Unfortunately, the opponent has already revealed their hand and given away important information, something that cannot be undone. Now the Clique player can decide to either target themselves or the opponent with perfect information. The Clique player wanted their opponent to be confused about whether the Clique had resolved and/or targeted them so they could take advantage of their opponent’s assumptions.

We can also see angle shooting in action when people try to go for the “Fake Scoop.” This is when an opponent, who is dead on board, scoops up their lands as if they are conceding the match without verbally communicating it. You assume that your opponent is throwing in the towel since they are dead on board and you begin to scoop up your permanents as well. Your opponent then claims that they are just rearranging their lands and try to make it appear as though you are in fact the one scooping to them. Again, the person faking the scoop is creating a confusing situation that takes advantage of the opponent’s assumption that by picking up their lands they are conceding when in fact they’re not.

I do my best to uphold the equity of the game, but even I’ve angle shot someone before. It was an accident, but that doesn’t mean the integrity of the game wasn’t damaged.

I had cast a Bloodbraid Elf and cascaded into a Thoughtseize. My opponent only had one card in hand and I knew it either had to be a Collected Company, a Path to Exile, or a land. Nothing else made sense as they would have simply played it on their turn otherwise. As I’m putting these pieces together in my head and coming to the conclusion that I shouldn’t cast it, my opponent waves a Path to Exile over the board. I quickly looked away and held out my hands trying to keep my opponent from saying or doing anything more. I explained that I was still considering whether or not I would cast the Thoughtseize and hadn’t put it on the stack yet. The damage was done though, I knew what they had in hand, and put the Thoughtseize on the bottom.

I had accidentally created an ambiguous situation where my opponent was unsure if the Thoughtseize had been cast or not and whether they had priority or not. We had an incredible game up to that point and I felt terrible that I had not communicated better with my opponent. He was thankfully very understanding as we talked about it more afterward.

Malicious Intent

I don’t think I can touch on every aspect of angle shooting without mentioning rules lawyering. Rules lawyering can be another ethical grey area and depending on your moral compass, some rules lawyering is fair game while others are frowned upon.

Did you know that Rest in Peace has a triggered ability when it enters the battlefield? Most of us associate the card with its static ability but the initial exiling of cards currently in the graveyard only happens when the ETB resolves. If you don’t announce it, you may run into a situation where the cards currently in graveyards aren’t removed from play on a technicality. This is a trigger that can be missed, and simply moving your graveyard to exile assuming the trigger has resolved is not the same as announcing the trigger when it happens.

“Chalice Checking” – referring of course to Chalice of the Void – involves the opponent of the Chalice player casting a spell into it to see if the Chalice player will remember the trigger that counters it. We all know how Chalice should work, but it’s still the controller’s responsibility to remember and announce the triggers. This is one of those plays that people proclaim to be straight up cheating, especially since on MtGO it does it automatically as a trigger that cannot be missed. There are a lot of triggers that do not say ‘may’ that can still be missed in paper, to include Noble Hierarch’s Exalted trigger and Dark Confidant’s reveal trigger. Just because it happens automatically online doesn’t mean it can’t be missed in paper. I’d be surprised if the same people saying Chalice checking is cheating would remind their Dredge opponent of their Prized Amalgam triggers. Chalice checking is not cheating, it’s rules lawyering. The only time this becomes cheating is when the Chalice owner tries to cast into their own Chalice. In that scenario, the owner of the Chalice is purposely ignoring their own trigger to make way for a play that would otherwise be countered.

Coming back to Pithing Needle (isn’t it such a fun card?), most will remember when Brad Carpenter named Borborygmos to turn off Bob Huangs Grishoalbrand combo. The problem was that even though we all know that Carpenter meant Borborygmos Enraged, the integral piece of Bob’s combo, a judge ruled that since an actual Magic the Gathering card was named in Borborygmos, that Borborygmos Enraged could still activate its abilities.

The difference between rules lawyering and angle shooting is that the intent is very clear when you are trying to win through technicalities. The motive in trying to gain these kinds of advantages cannot be misinterpreted and are very deliberate. The crossover comes simply by trying to manipulate the rules to your advantage, whether that’s based on ambiguity or on technicalities.

Rules Lawyer

Both bluffing and angle shooting are achieved through deception, so why is one frowned upon and the other okay? The answer is simply ethics; the moral principles that govern a person’s behavior or the conducting of an activity. Gaining advantages at the cost of our opponents misunderstanding of board states is pretty unsporting. Trying to corral opponents into a situation where they are breaking the rules by playing cards when they don’t have priority or skipping phases is pretty unethical.

But, shouldn’t we be doing everything we can to win?

Of course, but only up to a certain point. After that, upholding the integrity of the game becomes more important than winning. Obviously, this is a point that is lost on people who cheat, but it’s up to the rest of us to defend the game’s honor. Without it, you’re tipping the scales to a disadvantage for those who play fairly and pushing them out of the game. That will eventually foster a hostile environment that will end with Magic’s decline in popularity and ultimately its demise.

When both players sit down to face each other at a tournament, it’s with a mutual understanding of what the rules are and what’s considered acceptable behavior. Deviating from that will earn you a less than an ideal reputation in the community with little to show for it.

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“Marked by Honor” by David Palumbo

The best way to keep yourself from accidentally angle shooting, being the victim of angle shooting, or even some rules lawyering, is to have impeccable communication. These confusing situations can only be misinterpreted if you allow them to be. Make sure you announce everything you’re doing as you’re doing it so that both players are on the same page. Just as you are communicating your own actions, be sure to reiterate what your opponent is doing if it’s unclear.

I still announce my discard targets and Liliana of the Veil edict targets even though it’s obvious what my intentions are when I play them. I don’t want there to be any possible way my opponent can misinterpret what I’m saying, doing, or take advantage of a situation. Don’t assume anything but instead be sure you know exactly what is happening.

I always offer my deck after shuffling and never proceed until they say they are good with the deck otherwise. I once had an opponent abstain from cutting after an end step shuffle when I motioned the deck towards the end of the playmat in his direction and then call a judge when I slammed a Siege Rhino off the top for the win. The judge ruled that because I didn’t explicitly present my deck and verbally ask him to cut, that I had shortcut past his opportunity to do so. I had to shuffle the Siege Rhino in and take a fresh draw step. I doubt he would have fussed if I had drawn a land.

The same goes for effects like Bloodbraid’s Cascade that puts cards on the bottom of the library randomly. Even if it’s two cards, I randomize the best I can and then ask my opponent if they are content with my shuffling. I usually get some scoffs and laughs at that, but I take this kind of player to player communication very seriously as to not taint the honesty of the game.

It’s worth analyzing how you’re playing the game and becoming more self aware. Think about how you are appearing to your opponent and the signals you may be sending, because every little thing you’re doing or not doing is being digested by your opponent and being used against you.

Of course all of this information requires a little bit of context as well. At FNM, I think it’s extremely important to allow for learning opportunities. This means talking through lines of play while we’re playing, allowing take-backs within reason, and having constructive conversations afterward. Bluffing is still a part of the game that you can practice and talk about at FNM but people should really avoid rules lawyering and under no circumstances should you ever angle shoot.

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Magic is a fantastic game with deep and complex strategies paired with immersive fantasy components. The human element allows us to bluff and bend the variance of the game in our favor when we draw the short straw. It allows us to get inside our opponent’s mind and play this secondary game beyond what’s happening on the table. If you’re not using it, you’re missing out on the opportunity to gain small advantages throughout your matches.

Bluffing is as much a part of Magic as it is of poker, a tool for us to use and importantly doesn’t hurt the integrity of the game. You can’t always have the best opening hands or run hot every draw. Sometimes, you gotta take something mediocre, or even slightly bad, and turn it into a win.

“[It’s] not always a matter of holding good cards, but sometimes, playing a poor hand well.” ― Jack London 

 

Strategy & Sideboard Guide: U/W Control

The feeling of hopelessness.

The fear of endless possibilities represented by open mana.

Knowing that, while technically you are still alive, you’ve all but lost the battle.

It’s one of Magic’s most accomplished color pairs, with variations in every format since its inception and cares very little about winning so long as you lose. It may even take pleasure in continuing your torment for as long as you’re willing to suffer under its thumb and refuse to scoop.

The deck of course, is Blue-White Control.

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Few decks can trace their lineage all the way back to Alpha, but U/W Control is certainly one of those decks. Serra Angel, Counterspell, Swords to Plowshares, Control Magic, Balance, Ancestral Recall, Time Walk, Wrath of God, and many more composed the early iterations of the deck that were terrifyingly formidable. For some people, this deck is more than just a good meta call, it’s nostalgic.

Of course this archetype has come a long way since Counterspell and Serra Angel were printed but the core goal of the deck has not changed. The mission: to stop their opponents from doing anything relevant, allow only what will amount to nothing, and to exhaust their resources before ultimately deciding it’s time to win.

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“Teferi, Hero of Dominaria” by Chris Rallis

In Vintage, the win conditions revolve around Monastery Mentor, Tinker, or Standstill while getting to play all the blue Power 9 cards like Ancestral Recall and Time Walk. The remnants of Legacy’s once dominating Counterbalance/Sensei’s Divining Top Miracles deck still exists and has Entreat the Angels as its finisher. Both Vintage and Legacy variations get to play powerful card manipulation spells like Ponder and Brainstorm, can interact for free with Force of Will, and can handle any resolved threat with Swords to Plowshares.

In Modern, it’s a bit of a different story. There is no Ponder or Force of Will and the options for permission and card manipulation are much worse. Opt and Search for Azcanta act as card selection while Cryptic Command is the main piece of permission with a sprinkling of Mana Leak, Logic Knot, and Negate. While it may not have access to Swords to Plowshares, Path to Exile does an excellent job of dealing with any threat at a very efficient cost. Modern is much more focused on creature combat and very few decks win outside of it. This means control decks have to dedicate multiple slots to sweepers to help catch up when one-for-one removal isn’t enough. This can come in many forms to include Wrath of God, Supreme Verdict, Settle the Wreckage, and Terminus. Its main finishers are its planeswalkers like Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion or creatures like Snapcaster Mage and Celestial Colonnade.

Of course the card that gets to be played in every U/W control deck whether you’re playing Vintage, Legacy, or Modern, is Jace, the Mind Sculpter. Card advantage, removal, and finisher. He’s the most powerful planeswalker ever printed and we have the pleasure of trying to beat him.

Jace, the Mind Sculptor

Our worst interaction is our creature removal. Most of these control list only run two to three Snapcasters, MAYBE a Vendilion Clique, with a suite of Celestial Colonnades. Many of our losses can involve flooding out on Fatal Push‘s and Path to Exile while starring down a Teferi. Any removal that can hit non-creature permanents are more welcome here to include discard. Assassin’s Trophy does an excellent job of being so incredibly flexible that it takes care of any threat U/W control can play: planeswalkers, creature lands, and even Search for Azcanta (flipped or not). Maelstrom Pulse also does a decent job of clearing away the planeswalkers and a Secure the Waste efficiently but is a sorcery for three mana, which makes it more susceptible to countermagic. Our strongest creatures are the ones that generate card advantage. Cards like Bloodbraid Elf and Dark Confidant  are extremely important in this match along with any other creature that can produce multiple bodies or draw cards.

There are some specific things that I want to address for this matchup to help you navigate it more prosperously.

  •  An important skill to have in this match is knowing how to utilize your discard spells. Generally you should always pick the most powerful card when playing against Snapcaster type decks.

U/W relies on some very strong engines that will allow them to run away with the game. The deck also plays only a handful of these engine pieces, so getting rid of them can often leave your opponent without a win condition for many turns. You can one-for-one your opponent’s Mana Leaks and Paths all day, your deck is designed to do that. What you cannot beat is an online Teferi, Jace, or Azcanta. Those should be your first priority. After that, cards like Snapcaster, sweepers, and Cryptic tend to be the most powerful takes.

As the game continues, and you’ve traded resources back and forth, your discard spells can still be excellent pieces of interaction, whereas in many other matches they can be dead draws. I go into more examples and details in this article but I want to reiterate the main point here as well. DO NOT simply fire off discard spells late in the game without giving them purpose. Your discard spells can do more heavy lifting than simply trading one-for-one. Hold onto them until you draw a threat, so that they can ensure the threat will resolve and not simply be removed upon resolution. It’s safe to say that at this point in the game, if your opponent has a Teferi, they’d play it, which means what they do have is most likely interaction that you’ll need to force your way through if they’re ahead on cards.

  • Don’t over extend. You may have heard of this phrase before, and it’s very applicable in this match. If you already have threats on the battlefield and have more threats in hand, try to sequence them in a way that follows one after another as they are removed. If you continuously replace the threats you have on board over and over and over, then you will sooner or later exhaust your opponent’s interaction.

The sweepers in U/W control are meant to do most of the heavy lifting since there isn’t much one-for-one removal past Path to Exile. Eventually, they will be forced to use sweepers on only one or two creatures instead of three, four, or five. Make them answer what you have before adding anything else. Even though you may want to be aggressive and add more beaters to the board, you also don’t want to allow your opponent to get too much value off a sweeper and leave you with no follow up.

  • When your opponent is looking to attack with Colonnade for the turn, make sure you use your removal before they declare attackers. If their plan for protecting it involves tapping it for mana to use for a countermagic, you can ensure that it isn’t getting in for damage that turn. As soon as it attacks, and you choose to interact with it, you are putting yourself at risk of getting your spell countered and still taking four damage. Even if it is tapped for mana after attacking, the Colonnade will connect.

 

  • Scavenging Ooze is a great piece of interaction that can turn off Snapcaster’s ability to flashback spells. There are many scenarios where sometimes simply untapping is so much better than tapping out on your opponents end step. Against an opponent that primarily operates at instant speed, this can certainly be the case. I almost always leave at least one green mana open at all times. The moment you go shields down is the moment they play their Snapcaster for value.

 

  • Cryptic Command is a very good piece of disruption and tempo that enables U/W players to gain all sorts of small advantages outside of countering our spells. When ticking up your Liliana, be sure you always have something to discard. If you don’t, they can punish you by bouncing Liliana with the discard trigger on the stack, forcing you to discard her to her own ability.

People also have a tendency to ultimate Liliana as soon as they can. While this can be detrimental and game winning in other matches, against control, it’s often reduced to a triple Stone Rain and not much else. It’s much more powerful to keep her around and ensure the U/W player can’t keep any cards in hand.

  • Cryptic can also “Fog” for a turn by tapping down your team and either bouncing another permanent or drawing a card. If you have creature lands, it can be beneficial to play around this by holding them back. When you go to combat, and they tap your team, you can still fire up the creature land before declaring attackers to get in damage that turn.

This Cryptic combat trick is a great reason to make sure you are only adding to your board post combat. Casting a spell before combat means they get to use their Cryptic to counter your play for the turn as well as Fog your attack. By waiting to cast your spells in the second main-phase, you’ll make them choose between countering your play for the turn or tapping your team. The only time I’ve deviated from this was when I knew my spell would be countered by a Mana Leak or Logic Knot and played into it pre-combat to grow my Goyf  for that turn’s attack.

Celestial-Colonnade-mtg
“Celestial Colonnade” by Eric Deschamps

Ultimately, this match is about resource denial. U/W is spell heavy and mana hungry. If you can keep them off their engine pieces and strain their mana, you can often come out on top. We’re not aggressive enough to go under them or overwhelm their interaction early, so we have to pummel our way through the early game and then make sure they don’t make it to the late-late game where they can turn the corner.

Let’s look at some ways we can sideboard against U/W, starting with this Jund list that got first place at an IQ in Findlay in the hands of David Shawn.

junduw

Out:

jund out

In:

jund in

Coming out we have our narrow removal for more non-creature interaction with Maelstrom Pulse. The Lightning Bolts can help you close out the game faster, but they are also fairly restricted as their most common mode will simply be to go face and not interact with the opponent much. Because this list has no Fulminator Mages, I think it’s a fine hedge to keep in one Fatal Push to deal with Celestial Colonnade. This way, Assassin’s Trophy (the only other removal spell that can deal with Colonnades after sideboarding) can be utilized on the bigger planeswalker threats.

Thrun and Choke are specifically here for this matchup. Being an uncounterable threat with hexproof and the ability to survive a Supreme Verdict makes Thrun well positioned to run away with the game outside of a Terminus or Settle the Wreckage. Of course, if you can help it, this can sometimes mean that Thrun is closer to a six-drop than he is a four-drop if you wish to be able to save him from a sweeper and untap with him.

While the U/W list does have numerous lands that are not islands, such as Glacial Fortress, Field of Ruin, Fetches, non-island basics, and creature lands, Choke will still do an excellent job of slowing the opponent down. Not only will their islands not untap, but their Fetches and Field of Ruins become much worse when they are searching for islands that will only serve as a one-time-use blue source. This can often make it so that you have enough time to defeat your opponent before they can find a way to get rid of it or get around it. Of course all of this won’t matter as much if the opponent is able to resolve a Teferi and untap their lands through the Choke.

You can make arguments that Kalitas is a worthy threat to bring in or that Surgical Extraction can be a card to make Snapcaster worse, but I personally like Scavenging Ooze more. They will rarely become anything more than 2/2’s or 3/3’s but the ability to ensure the opponent cannot two-for-one with Snapcaster (more than once unlike Surgical) can really take the wind out of their sails. It’s not a beater (like Kalitas) so much as it is a disruptive element (which Kalitas is not in this match).

Note that Collective Brutality fills the duel role of being able to kill most of the creatures presented in the U/W lists while also acting as additional discard if you’re in search of more cards to bring in; that goes for any G/Bx deck that has Brutality in the sideboard. What it doesn’t hit, which we’ve mentioned is extremely important, are the draw engines that will bury you in card advantage. So even though discard is very important in this match, Brutality is actually much more narrow than you may think.

Next, let’s look at an Abzan list that 5-0’d a league by user YawgmothPT.

abzanuw

OUT:

abzan out

IN:

abzan in

Coming out of the Abzan deck we have a lot of excess removal to make room for more threats.

Knight of Autumn has the versitiliy of either being a 4/3 beater or sometimes having the opportunity to blow up a Detention Sphere or Search for Azcanta. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Liliana, the Last Hope help the threat diversity; Gideon floods the board and beats down hard while Liliana can buy back threats, kill most of the creatures presented in U/W, and tick up to the (almost always) game winning emblem. Fulminator Mage can poke in for damage while having an uncounterable Stone Rain ability that can deal with Colonnades and set the U/W player back early in the game.

This list is also playing Noble Hierarchs, a card that can get some of the most important cards in the match, like Fulminator Mage and Liliana of the Veil, down as early as turn two. It’s a very mediocre top-deck in the late game that has the potential to pull the Abzan player very far ahead early in the game. Turn two Liliana of the Veil and turn three Siege Rhino is very strong.

Lastly, let’s look at this G/B lists that went 8-1 in an online PTQ by user Iziter.

gbuw

OUT:

gb out

IN:

gb in

I like Duress a lot more than Brutality in this match since it can actually grab the important engine pieces like Search for Azcanta, Teferi, and Jace. I would either cut both the Brutalities and leave in all the Oozes or do a split as previewed above. We’re also going to cut most of our Fatal Pushes for more threats.

This list also omits Fulminator Mage but seeing as G/B has access to Field of Ruin, it shouldn’t be a problem most of the time. Regardless, we’re still going to keep in one Fatal Push to deal with their small creatures and Colonnades if we have to.

Kitchen Finks isn’t terribly impressive in the face of Path to Exile but is certainly better than excess copies of Fatal Push. Kalitas could play a similar role if you wanted to play it over Finks or the fourth Push but seeing as the exile clause is not very relevant, I’d rather go with the cheaper three power creature that has an ETB.

Nissa is excellent in this match. She can emblem very quickly to make sure you never run out of gas, re-buy threats (even planeswalkers), and hit hard with 5/5 animated lands. Every mode is relevant and powerful.

cryptic-command2-614x280
“Cryptic Command” by Wayne England

Before closing, I’d like to demonstrate some of the points made in this article by recreating snapshots from a recent experience I had playing Jund on MtGO against U/W control.

My opponent won game one after I ran out of gas and ultimated my Liliana of the Veil in a last ditch effort to return the game to parody. I split their permanents into two piles: one, a flipped and unflipped Search for Azcanta and other containing the rest of their lands. They kept the Azcantas and went on to win the game. Remember, I was out of gas and not pressuring them after this moment. They scry’d lands to the top when I didn’t add to the board and kept removal when I presented threats. Eventually they made enough land drops to start activating the Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin and buried me. This alone should illustrate the importance and power of these cards. My opponent knew it, I knew it, and they made the correct decision in choosing the Azcanta pile knowing full well that that was their way back into the game.

I went on to win game two by keeping my opponent’s hand empty with a Liliana of the Veil and beating in with a Raging Ravine. Game three, I’m on a mull to six and start out with an Inquisition of Kozilek on my turn one.

t1t

I’m forced to take the Serum Visions and am a little nervous about my hand’s ability to compete with a Jace and Teferi. I have to hope they stumble on mana a little bit before I can get ahead.

On my turn three, after playing Tarmogoyf on turn two, I draw a very timely Thoughtseize. Now I have to make a decision between playing a three mana threat or playing the discard spell before my opponent can play Jace, assuming they have a fourth land.

If I play the Liliana, they will simply play Jace and bounce the Tarmogoyf, leaving Jace uncontested on an empty board with Teferi to follow up. If I play Kitchen Finks, they will probably play Supreme Verdict which will allow me to untap, play Liliana and Thoughtseize in the same turn. The other option available to my opponent though would be to take an attack from the Goyf and Finks to Cryptic my next play. This would mean I would have to bait the Cryptic with my Liliana to Thoughtseize the Jace. At the end of this exchange after a Supreme Verdict on their turn, I’d have a 2/1 Finks and no follow up while they would still have a Teferi in hand.

t3t

I decide too much could go wrong by not simply playing the discard spell immediately, respecting the potential down hill decline the game could take for me if Jace resolves. I can’t risk something going wrong or a potential draw that doesn’t allow me to deal with the Jace. My hand is currently weak to their planeswalkers with no Trophy or Pulse to help.

On my turn four I draw yet another Thoughtseize but my opponent has drawn the fourth land and has left up Cryptic Command. I attack and then bait the counterspell (Cryptic-counter/draw) with the Kitchen Finks to resolve my Thoughtseize and take the Teferi.

t4t

My opponent is left with two Supreme Verdicts and a land against my Tarmogoyf and Liliana in hand. At this point my Tarmogoyf has already gotten in for a decent amount of damage and is currently a 5/6. My opponent is forced to fire off one of the Verdicts to quell the pressure. I follow up with a Liliana, the Last Hope, tick up, and then tick down on the subsequent turn to re-buy and replay the Tarmogoyf. My opponent again is forced to fire off a Supreme Verdict to trade with the Tarmogoyf.

My opponent continues to one-for-one the best they can and by the time my opponent draws another threat/card advantage engine, the board looks like this.

t6t

My opponent is forced to minus the Teferi to deal with the annoyance of Liliana of the Veil taking their cards every turn with the impending ultimate. On my turn I draw Fulminator Mage to deal with the Colonnade poised to eliminate the Liliana, the Last Hope and attack Teferi down with the Tarmogoyf. Eventually I redraw Liliana of the Veil and the resource denial plan continues as I beat down with Tarmogoyf, re-buy Fulminators with Liliana, the Last Hope, and keep their hand empty with Liliana of the Veil.

My opponent scoops and as I survey the graveyard I see that I had bested two Teferis, a Jace, a Cryptic, two Supreme Verdicts, and a Colonnade. I accomplished this by accurately utilizing my discard to keep them off their most dangerous threats, not over extending into the sweepers, and attacking their resources with Liliana and Fulminator Mage.

Snapcaster-Mage-MM3
“Snapcaster Mage” by Ryan Alexander Lee

Jace and Teferi are fierce opponents and this match can be very difficult to navigate. This is especially true if you don’t have the information provided to you by discard, as their open mana on your turn could represent so many possibilities. Don’t be afraid to go head to head with their one-for-one trades early in the game, remember that your deck is built to overcome that. Instead, focus more on stopping your opponent from sticking any of their late-game draw engines and finishers. If you can keep them from crawling back into the game and re-accumulating resources, your two-for-ones like Bloodbraid Elf, Lingering Souls, and planeswalker threats can begin to take over.

Jace may be the most feared planeswalker in the multiverse, but even he can fold under Duress.