After getting my inner frustrations out and allowing my head to reboot, I’m back with another spicy brew that has all sorts of potent answers and win conditions. Again, the dream here is to break the routine and escape the trap of joining the Chainwhirler Gang, Teferi Inc, The Stompy Crew or the Scarab Squad.
One of the cards I really loved brewing around was Sunbird’s Invocation from Ixalan. If Saffron Olive was the Panharmonicon Addict, I might very well be the Sunbird Addict. I brought it to a 3-0 start at our Year End National Tournament in the Philippines but ended with a 5-4 record after 9 rounds of swiss. All my matches demanded a double take on this card and my opponents were all amazed at the sheer card advantage it gives. In the absence of Naturalize and Thrashing Brontodon, Cast Out and Ixalan’s Binding were the only ways to get rid of this.
The dream was to cast Sunbird’s Invocation on Turn 4 by going T2 Hoarding (chump it to an incoming Bomat or Khenra to get the treasure), go T3 Lannery and swing in for the treasure. Then go T4 Sunbird cashing in on the 2 treasure tokens.
The deck was mainly Red Black control using Scorpion God to chain Glorybringers or Hour of Devastations to keep the board clear.
A bunch of Unlicensed Disintegration chained Abrade or Sweltering Suns while Chandra, Torch of Defiance chained Vraska’s Contempt to kill anything that might touch her.
The deck was well poised in a meta filled with Mono Red, Scarab God, and Energy decks. However it does stumble if you get to tuck the money cards when you cast the low cost spells like Abrade tucking a Scorpion God. The deck is like an Aetherworks Marvel but you can at least influence how many cards deep you want to go and what spells you can hope to cast.
The new version I’m building uses one of Dominaria’s Saga, The First Eruption. It’s a 3 mana spell that clears away 1-toughness creatures which mimics Goblin Chainwhirler quite nicely (but doesn’t hit Thopters). Then on turn 4 after it hits the second Saga, it ramps you to 6 mana which allows you to cast Sunbird’s Invocation 2 turns ahead of schedule. Then on turn 5, you have the option to clear the board again with a pseudo Sweltering Sun which might be relevant since you took a timewalk of casting Sunbird and your opponent may have a surmountable board presence that needs clearing in case you don’t have a Fumigate at the ready. Be mindful, 3 damage kills everything in the mono red deck except for Hazoret, and Glorybringer in RB. The 0/1 tokens the Phoenixes leave behind can be answered by another Eruption ETB-ing after the first one expired.
I’m listing things that The First Eruption kills inside Mete decks:
- Mono Red: Bomat, Khenra, Ahn-Crop, Kari Zev, Chainwhirler, Pia, Soul Scar, Phoenix
- UB: Glint-Sleeve, Champion of Wits, Gonti
- Stompy: Llanowar, Resilient Khenra, early Ballista, Scrapheap
- BG Snek: Llanowar, Glint-Sleeve, early Ballista, Branchwalker, Jadelight, Ravenous
- UW Gifts: Champion of Wits, non-eternalized Angel of Invetion, Servos, non-eternalized Sunscorge Champion, Minister of Inquiries, early Ballista
I did say this is a Mardu deck so let’s go over the win conditions we want to cast for free with Sunbird.
Definitely my first pick is Approach of the Second Sun. Against non-blue decks, this can fish you free wins on turn 7. Turns 1 and 2 can be spend Magma Spraying or Sealing Away early threats. Turn 3 for Eruption (take some hasty hits, maybe). Turn 4 to cast Sunbird’s Invocation (possible taking hits but maybe still above 10 life). Turn 5, you can sweep the board using Eruption’s third saga or cast Fumigate/Hour of Devastation to reset the game. Then by turn 7, you should be sitting at a relatively high life total to possible cast Approach back to back thanks to Sunbird and win the game.
Our mainboard sweepers are Fumigate and Hour of Devastation. I am not playing Settle the Wreckage because I don’t like letting my opponent play around it and start playing hide and seek. If our intention is to take out his entire army, then let’s do that with no questions asked. Hour of Devastation can sometimes be better than Fumigate especially with the rise of Rhonas, the Indomitable. Killing Steel Leaf Champions, Bristling Hydras and Rhonas in one sweep feels so good, preventing them from casting Ghalta. Against non-indestructible creatures, Fumigate is slightly better because of the incidental life gain but doesn’t hit Walkers.
Good follow-ups after clearing the board is a win condition that clocks your opponent if he fails to recover or deploy counter measures. Chandra pops her fiery head once again because she’s the best 4-drop Planeswalker in standard. She can ramp us so 7 mana for Approach if needed and with a Sunbird out, that’s a free win. Aside from that, Torment of Scarabs really synergizes well on an empty board forcing your opponent to discard a card and taxing his board presence in exchange for his life totals. Against a deck like ours with spot removal, it should not take long until the opponent is locked with 1 card in hand and left with the choice to discard it or take 3.
Early interaction is definitely in the menu especially now that many aggressive players are going even lower to the ground to potentially beat the control player before they can stabilize behind a Settle the Wreckage or Fumigate. Magma Spray does a good job at keeping creatures dead while Seal Away is a cheap way to removal creatures regardless of size. Thopter Arrest is a good early answer to Steel Leaf Champion and Thrashing Brontodon (which is problematic for our enchantments). Not to mention it can also exile Heart of Kiran and Gods like Scarab God.
3 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
2 Magma Spray
3 Seal Away
2 Hour of Devastation
4 Approach of the Second Sun
2 Thopter Arrest
4 The First Eruption
3 Cast Out
3 Torment of Scarabs
3 Sunbird’s Invocation
4 Canyon Slough
4 Clifftop Retreat
3 Dragonskull Summit
4 Isolated Chapel
2 Inspiring Vantage
2 Arguel’s Blood Fast
4 History of Benalia
1 Huatli, Warrior Poet
2 Angrath, the Flame-Chained
2 Sorcerous Spyglass
The sideboard plan is 15-cards in and 15-cards out against the control match-up that plays a lot of counter magic, namely UW and Esper.
I read somewhere that the best way to beat permission decks is to stress them in deciding which high impact card they want to counter or let through. In our case, every single card in our sideboard is a threat of its own against heavy control decks.
The trick with Duress is to know when to fire it. In most cases, we want to fire Duress on turn 1 to potentially see the hand they kept and plan to play around it, or nab that Search for Azcanta. But I also like to fire Duress when I’m about to cast a money card like Chandra or Torment of Scarabs or Sunbird’s Invocation. The worst thing that can happen is you see a hand with 2 Disallow and 2 Negates and 3 lands. Nonetheless, you know they won’t be drawing anything else that would matter.
I honestly think that control players would always want to counter Arguel’s Blood Fast because it’s our way to get beyond their card advantage and keep pressuring them to find answers. We don’t care so much about flipping it though.
The control player will most likely take away their removals thinking we can’t possible sideboard into a Mardu Vehicles deck or something. If they do get to dodge Duress and Arguel, they would regret not having the answer for History. It’s deals a whopping 10 damage across 2 turns and that definitely hurts. I know because when I played my Esper Conjecture against BW Knights and I didn’t have my Pushes or Cast outs, the game suddenly ended before I could get to Fumigate mana. Reversely, History of Benalia can also be sided in against aggressive decks to buy you some time to setup your combo and sweep the board.
Sorcerous Spyglass is a great card to cast against control players, wherever you are in the game. It shuts down Azcata, Teferi, Scarab God, Field of Ruin and many more. It will draw removal which can save your Sunbird’s Invocation later on.
Angrath is my favorite anti-control Planeswalker. You can just tick up forever until the opponent runs our of cards to pitch and in 4 turns, you can kill the player with Angrath’s ultimate. Again, another card that the control player needs to answer or die.
Huatli is the odd-one out of the sideboard but provides an alternative variety in our Planeswalker package. We mainly use her 0 ability to keep generating 3/3 dinosaurs and attack with it until the opponent is dead. We don’t care about Fumigates or Settle the Wreckage since we have an unlimited supply of 3/3s. Huatli can also be boarded in against slower creature-based decks as a great follow up after a Fumigate or Hour of Devastation.
Transformative Sideboard Guide against Control
Out: All the quantities and just 1 Approach (leaving 3 behind)
I’m quite excited on the transformation of my first competitive Sunbird Invocation deck. Thanks to Dominaria, we have a new way to ramp into Sunbird without using creatures. In a way, a creature-less deck construction gives us a slight advantage against decks that pack creature removal.