Cruel Update – By Alex McCormick

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					Cruel Update – By Alex McCormick
       *Chk-ching* Isaac's cash register loves Jace, the Mind Sculptor something chronic, in the same
way that our new Managing Editor LovesTha Pie. Control decks and cash registers love Jace, the Mind
Sculptor (or if they don't already, they're damn well about to).

       Recently Alex Pace, a former author of the site, initiated discussion on Jace mkII with specific
regard to his price tag. Whilst the majority of the discussion focused around whether the card was
indeed worth $50 per, there was a general consensus that the card was extremely playable.

       Jace mkII brings to the table something that blue-based control decks have been missing for 18
months now; an engine. In my previous article, I touched very briefly on Liliana - I wanted her to be a
powerhouse in the deck --> I wanted her to be Mystical Teachings.

       Things didn't pan out that way unfortunately: She cost 5; Was often too close to Cruel mana to
make it work; Couldn't ever protect herself (or me); and unless I had Jace Beleren on the board, I
wasn't able to continue hitting land drops if I was using Liliana to VT each turn.

       My pre-WWK list ended up here:
3 Rupture Spire
4 Arcane Sanctum
1 Jungle Shrine
3 Crumbling Necropolis
3 Scalding Tarn
2 Island
1 Swamp
2 Mountain
2 Glacial Fortress
1 Drowned Catacomb
2 Dragonskull Summit
1 Arid Mesa
1 Marsh Flats
1 Plains
2 Sphinx of Jwar Isle
4 Lightning Bolt
3 Terminate
3 Day of Judgment
1 Burst Lightning
4 Esper Charm
2 Divination
1 Courier's Capsule
2 Double Negative
2 Essence Scatter
3 Negate
4 Cruel Ultimatum
2 Ajani Vengeant
3 Celestial Purge
4 Flashfreeze
3 Malakir Bloodwitch
1 Negate
4 Luminarch Ascension

      Clearly not the land of Liliana Vess …

      Jace Mk II is obviously different. I don't want to spend time explaining why (as I said, it's
obvious), but suffice to say is that his Brainstorm ability when paired with fetch lands and Esper Charm
qualifies him as the engine I've been looking for.

      He allows you to see a greater proportion of your deck in any given game, opens up the possibility
of viable 1-of cards that a match up favoured but are no longer dead because they can be Brainstorm &
shuffled away; Mind Shatter, Nicol Bolas, Martial Coup, Comet Storm, creates insurance against Mind
Sludge and reduces the need to run the 4th Cruel Ultimatum (lets be honest ... there's only so many
spells that are physically unable to cast before turn 7 that you actually want to play in an optimal list).
Is he an upgrade on Courier's Capsule and Divination ... ? You betcha. Would I prefer it if he cost 3
mana as the latter does? Hell yes, but lets be realistic --> he was never getting printed at 3 mana.

      So what else did Worldwake bring to the land of Cruel Ultimatum, lets say that once again I'll be
pushing the 5,000 word limit, presenting the Training Camp class of Feb 2010:

             Treasure Hunt
      The card gets an A+ for potential. Beautifully designed, but in terms of 4C, it doesn't necessarily
fulfil a role that's required. Will it ever be bad? No. Will it ever be amazing? Yes. Does it elevate the
deck to a higher level? No. I haven't had any card draw problems with the deck once I realised the
strength of Divination, and Treasure Hunt, whilst enabling tremendous card advantage, will never ever
be an upgrade in terms of card quality (you can never draw 2 spells). I expect to play this as a 1-4 of
throughout the season and will be surprised if I ever totally omit it.

             Calcite Snapper
      Remember my classification of creatures in my last article ... ? Hellllloooooo Chandler Bing! This
guy is terrific on paper.

      Unfortunately, I'm not yet convinced he's terrific in the current meta game. His credentials on
offence (particularly in the mirror and those draws where he might be paired with say, 2-3 Bolts, 1
Terminate and a quick counter) are right up there. But this remains a control shell, and there's only so
many slots one can dedicate to defence. He's either a 4-of or none-of guy, paired with 1-2 Sphinx of
Jwar Isle I expect.
     So on to that defence, he doesn't actually STOP anything (well, not enough, on paper at least).
Against Jund (now suggested to run 4 Putrid Leech and 4 Great Sable Stag in the main) he can stop
Sprouting Thrinax and Bloodbraid Elf, but not if Garruk and//or Oran-Rief, the Vastwood are involved.
Against Vampires he will stop early Bloodghast//Vampire Hexmage, but is horrific against Gatekeeper
of Malakir, Vampire Nocturnus, Malakir Bloodwitch, Vampire Nighthawk or the Bloodghast + Kalastria
Highborn mid-game engine.

     Against Boros and RDW he has obvious perks, but neither of those decks is a particularly
consistent meta game factor in Melbourne at present.

     Against GW//Pulse (GW Good Stuff, Junk, Knightfall, Scute Rock) he's outclassed by literally
every creature in the deck, even Birds of Paradise once Elspeth or Behemoth's Sledge get involved.

     So where does this leave us? In a 'difficult to quantify' place. He will be an excellent meta game
choice and is a front runner to challenge for SB space in the mirror against Luminarch Ascension (do the
maths on a t2 Luminarch + counters against a t3 Calcite Snapper + land drops).

     Can force through a key spell in the mirror a turn earlier than Negate. Doesn't stop Planeswalkers,
Mind Shatter, Cruel etc., so might just be worse than Duress or Negate for SB material.

          Everflowing Chalice
     Is going to spawn a new and different generation of control decks for the current rotation, they
won't rely//revolve on Cruel Ultimatum (though may run 1-2 copies as a finisher). I shall writing in
depth on this card next week, suffice to say that it's awesome and I'm glad to see it.

          Creeping T Pit, Celestial Colonnade, Lavaclaw Reaches
     Collectively the man-lands are another tricky proposition. Perhaps what is most interesting and
impacting about them is the effect they have on a deck relying on Cruel Ultimatum, from the opposite
side of the table. The power of Cruel Ultimatum is that (ideally) will leave the opponent with no
resources other than mana (non-creature artifacts and enchantments are a less relevant consideration
in Standard). Man-lands obviously subvert this strength. They also offer a direct and consistent way to
attack a planeswalker strategy, Creeping Tar Pit especially.

     What this ultimately means is that the number of games when resolving a turn 7-8 Cruel
Ultimatum will end the discussion is ultimately (token pun, Chewy style, loving it) reduced.

     Can the deck itself support the lands? Yes. Perhaps up to 2 copies. Over the last 3 months, the
evolution of Cruel as a deck has seen me move away from a Wall of Denial-Earthquake-Double Negative
centric build (essentially making Jund and Boros into byes) back closer to an 'EOT//Instant speed' deck.

     The reasoning for this is largely meta game shift, but also a determined effort to reduce the mana
requirements and costs of the deck. I'll be showing my current list shortly, but the long and short is that
the deck has less taxing requirements and no longer requires the necessity of the choice of Double
Negative and Esper Charm on t3 ... you can afford to swap out a ETBT tri-land for a ETBT dual-mana

             Comet Storm
       Just what the doctor ordered. Earthquake-like, but closer to Bogardan Hellkite's board impact,
with an option for versatility and lower casting cost (sans Tron, oh Tron ... sigh). I look forward to
playing around with this card both in Cruel and Everflowing Chalice centric versions of the deck.

             Halimar Depths
       Not terribly excited about it, to be honest. It could win games off its own back via early game
manipulation of mana, hiding hand-disruption targets (Jace mimic), grabbing removal more quickly ...
but it will lose games for being an Island that ETBT, doesn't get searched by Scalding Tarn and ETBT
without producing multiple colours of mana, nor being able to animate into a creature. There is
certainly a space and role for this card ... I don't think either of them are in 4C Cruel.

             So decklist time
3 Rupture Spire
4 Arcane Sanctum
1 Jungle Shrine
3 Crumbling Necropolis
3 Scalding Tarn
2 Island
1 Swamp
2 Mountain
2 Glacial Fortress
1 Drowned Catacomb
2 Dragonskull Summit
1 Arid Mesa
1 Marsh Flats
1 Plains
2 Sphinx of Jwar Isle
4 Lightning Bolt
3 Terminate
3 Day of Judgment
4 Esper Charm
3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
2 Treasure Hunt
2 Double Negative
2 Essence Scatter
3 Negate
3 Cruel Ultimatum
2 Ajani Vengeant
3 Celestial Purge
4 Flashfreeze
3 Malakir Bloodwitch
1 Negate
4 Luminarch Ascension

      As you can see, a lot has changed recently. The curve of the deck has been dramatically reduced,
the 4th Cruel Ultimatum has been cut, a planeswalker strategy is now viable as win-con (and obviously
mid-game), and the sideboard is now much more specific in terms of card choices. Less functional
effects being counted here, replaced with more sheer blow-outs relevant to the specific match ups.

      So lets have a look at what how the deck is situated:

      You'd be happy to get paired against Jund all day long. Continuing the philosophy of card
advantage by giving your opponent dead cards (targeted removal), Jund just isn't fast enough to
trouble you on a consistent basis. Your defensive speed is faster than it needs to be here, but no
complaints: wins are awesome.

      Day of Judgment has grown in value and effect for some time now and remains fantastic against
Jund. Sure, they still have Sprouting Thrinax, well cry me a river, because the other 80% of their threats
hate the card. Jace is surprisingly effective here (given the archetype has access to Maelstrom Pulse).
Just be sure that you don't open yourself up to death by Blightning early on (in the form of an horrific 3
for 1).

      They key here is that your card advantage is ultimately more relevant, and your deck is just as fast
as theirs (Jund is the David Letterman of current Standard: it takes forever to make a point and then no
one laughs regardless).

      The toughest match up you're likely to face and a general pain. The frustration with Vampires lies
in 2 cards - Bloodghast, Mind Sludge. The 'sitch' with Mind Sludge is really simple ... if it resolves, you'll
probably lose. You must take this card into account when playing your turns leading up until Cruel
Ultimatum. It is a large part of the reason the list runs a high count of instant speed spot-removal: so
you aren't required to tap out unnecessarily.

      Bloodghast is a card that requires more intricate evaluation. It can be stopped periodically with
removal and Ajani Vengeant, but realistically you're going to take 20 from one of these if you don't the
win game sooner rather than later. Ajani for all his merit is rather helpless when the Vampire pilot
figures out to aim his spot removal at his own Bloodghasts, their deck runs 8 fetch lands and 15-16
Swamps: do the math, it's going to keep attacking.

     The 'trick' with Bloodghast is measuring when you ought to be addressing it, and when you're
happy to keep taking a hit here and there. For anyone familiar with profession basketball, this is akin to
letting Michael Jordan or LeBron James shoot 40 against you, and focus on stopping the rest of the
team from scoring 60+. This issue is of course less relevant, if cheap spot removal that RFGs (Exile
nowadays, what a joke ) the Bloodghast (and again, if it isn't zapped in response by a trigger happy
Mono Black slinger) is moved in the main deck. Path to Exile, Celestial Purge ... these 2 are always in
consideration for MD play in Melbourne.

     Celestial Colonnade is also a stopper in this context. What about their spot removal you ask? Well
late game, the Vampires deck is almost exclusively in top deck mode (part of the frustration when
piloting Cruel is that they can top deck either Sign in Blood or Grim Discovery). You will have 1-for-1'd
them into Cruel or Jace and ought to have the upper hand in terms of non-Bloodghast card advantage.
So long as you continue to 1-for-1 them (or better), it is an extremely viable proposition to put a 4/4 in
front of their 2/1 each turn; what can they do about it ... ? Obviously you aren't going to animate your
guy if they have 5 cards in hand ... but that stage you have no need to animate it regardless. Negate is
also going to be highly efficient in these scenarios.

             U/x Control Mirror
     It's hard to separate the various blue based control decks beyond those that play Cruel and those
that don't. Pre-WWK, 4C was vastly favoured against both. The power of pairing Esper Charm and
Cruel Ultimatum with early strategies such as Ajani Vengeant and Luminarch Ascension was stronger
than either UWR or Grixis could handle without an unusually directed SB plan such as 4 Duress, 4
Blightning, 2 Mind Rot etc. Even then sometimes you just beat them because you had turn 4 Ajani or
turn 2 Luminarch resolve.

     Post-WWK the arena has changed. Many of the lists posted online right now feature 4 MD Calcite
Snapper. As above, I personally feel this card is difficult to justify as a defensive card. It taps you down
without a guaranteed trade (compare this to Plumeveil, the Great White Hope). It does so happen
however that Calcite Snapper is a beast in the control mirror (when he resolves).

     To understand this requires an understanding of the construction of control decks in the current
meta game. They are either focused around Ajani Vengeant, Jace mkII, or Cruel Ultimatum. These
strategies all fall prey to a turn 3 Calcite Snapper on the play (and often on the draw). It ought to be
obvious why this is so. The best defence is a good offence. How do you defend against planeswalker
domination in the mirror? Kill the opponent or planeswalker before it can become relevant or exert

     How to deal with this? Treat Calcite Snapper with respect, and either counter or Day of Judgment
the bastard when he resolves (to be blunt). There is absolutely nothing wrong with a 1 for 1 Day of

     * Been fixing you CIPT to ETBT but I'll leave this anachronism - GLTP
Judgment to remove a copy of this, and although it may open you up to "Untap-upkeep-draw, resolve
my 'walker" ... that prospect is much less threatening and much easier to deal with that Calcite Snapper
across 5 turns. Think about it.

     If the opponent does not have MD Calcite Snapper, then you're heavily favoured. They may well
have quads of Halimar Depths, Jace, Treasure Hunt ... all shiny new blue things. But one element that
Messers LSV and Chapin (and their junior associates) seem to have forgotten//omitted in their analysis
is that neither Treasure Hunt or Halimar Depths can inflict damage upon the opponent in the first game
of the mirror. With 27 lands and your own card draw, you're assured of hitting land drops. Unless
they've figured out a special-tastic way to play more than 1 land per turn, you need not stress about
being 'out-mana'd' any time soon.

     One element of the control mirrors in this format is that no one is lacking for card advantage. This
isn't like the Teachings mirror when literally being 1 card up//down was the difference between a win
and a loss (often enough). Halimar Depths isn't going to win you a game by disrupting the opponent,
likewise Treasure Hunt. Esper Charm on the other hand …

     What about those pesky man-lands? I know I know, who'd have thought you'd get to make use of
all those dead copies of Terminate?

     Post-SB you're equipped with either Luminarch Ascension or Calcite Snapper (whichever you
chose, maybe both) as cheap offence and you're afforded access to the most efficient disruptive spells
available; Negate, Flashfreeze, Duress, Celestial Purge, Dispel.

     These 3 general archetypes - Jund, Vampires, Jace Blue - comprise the 3 point of the new Rock-
Scissors-Paper (in that application) for the Standard meta game, in my opinion. Other powerful
strategies exist, such as Runeflare, GW/Pulse and Boros ... but right now it's hard to say that they
comprise a significant proportion or specific position of the meta game. I should probably note that in
GW's case, this is likely highly influenced by the $1200 price tag the deck carries.

     I want to back up for a little while now, and address some of the card choices I've presented
above (now that we have a context to apply them to).

     The major difference is the increase in 2cmc counter spells. Why are they there? Essentially, the
meta game has sped up. There are less Jund Ramp decks about, more Grixis//UWR and more combo
decks, as well as niche variants such as Tom Arthur playing 16 land Goblin Rush, aggressive Grixis decks
or Rei Barker with proactive white and white-black decks that don't possess a single dead card against
Cruel, and so on.

     Double Negative was key for destroying Jund: the deck literally bails to that card. Wall of Denial
was just as crucial, completing dominating Jund's creature strategy (and therefore mitigating or
invalidating its resource-denial strategy) for a paltry 3 mana. But Jund is no longer being played
prominently enough in Melbourne (as a % of decks played. Ace and Thomas Rafferty continue to
dominate the FNM scene and GG Qualifiers) to warrant such directed and specific card choices. Jund
remains the best performing deck on Magic Online (Daily Events), but I just don't need to be running 4
of the 3cmc Double Negative in order to beat them.
      Instead, it has become more important to counter Tidehollow Sculler or Knight of the White
Orchid, casting Lightning Bolt and Negate Elspeth or Brave the Elements, turn 3 on the draw,
Terminate Vampire Nocturnus and Negate Mind Sludge on turn 4 on the draw and so on.

      It also reduces the reliance on having both UWB and UUR from t3 onwards (as far as mana goes).
The deck becomes less vulnerable to the high count of ETBT lands, which in turn promotes the ability to
insert 1-2 man-lands into the mix.

      The next major change is the (re-)inclusion of Day of Judgment. Simply put, Day of Judgment has
hit its stride in this format. MRB//RDW has died down. Dredge-Crypt has died out. The blue decks are
now running Peeky Sphinx. And man-lands mean that players (whether consciously or not) commit more
creatures to the board, as they already have 'back up' in the form of their lands. This trend also occurs
if & when a player realises they are playing against Cruel Ultimatum.

      The 'synergy' between Day of Judgment and Cruel from a deck design perspective ought to be
apparent; you force the opponent into a corner. Damned if they do, damned if they don't. Open yourself
up to Cruel Ultimatum by not committing to the board, open yourself up to Day of Judgment by doing
the opposite.

      Day of Judgment sets up some very powerful plays against both Vampires and Jund. Turn 4
against Vampires (on the play), or once you reach 6 mana you get to cast Day of Judgment and hold up
Negate-Essence Scatter//Terminate as well. Against Jund you reduce the efficacy of Putrid Leech and
Broodmate Dragon by having a 4 cost catch all. I've already touched on how Day of Judgment remains
powerful against the Blue-Shroud (that's BS) Brigade.

           Where to now?
      I still feel the list is slightly top heavy. I would prefer a higher count of 2cmc counters, I almost
literally want to run all 8. This is in part because of Vampires, part because of Tectonic Edge and part
because they're just really well positioned right now.

      Ajani Vengeant is a powerful card but I don't know that he's a GOOD card right now. Sometimes
he just dominates because you went turn 2-3 answer into Ajani, untap and protect for 3 turns, other
times you play him, Helix them and then they Pulse him and he isn't worth protecting.

      Everflowing Chalice, as noted, is the next 'big thing' for 4C at this stage. The synergy (in terms of
deck design) with 2cmc counters (anyone else remember t2 nothing, t3 signet + Remand ... same
thing ... and we loved that), with Jace and Ajani, with man-lands, with off-setting Tectonic Edge
disruption ... Mind Shatter ... ? ;)

      I'll be back next week with discussion on both the card and some prospective lists as well.

      Whenever playing 4C, it's important to remember that your list and card choices MUST reflect the
meta game you expect to face. You needn't stress about this to the Nth degree, as rushing around town
trying to scout every single deck is both foolish and going to make you sweat (already an issue for too
many MtG players), but be aware of whether you expect to face Jund and 'random' aggressive
strategies, whether Vampires is going to turn up, which combo decks are generally popular right now
(which begins and ends with Runeflare at present).

     Until next week, thanks for reading :)


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