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By: Splendid Belt, Splendid Belt
Jun 29 2017 12:00pm
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Some cards are obviously powerful, they wear their potency openly, brazenly. Cards like Deathrite Shaman and  Umezawa's Jitte. In fact those two are so good they were both banned, but there are plenty of examples of non-banned cards whose power doesn’t take genius levels of insight to unearth. Want some examples? Howsabout  Gideon of the Trials, Liliana, Death’s Majesty and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, to name but three recent (ish, the case of the flying tentacles) powerhouses.

But we’re not here today to talk about overtly powerful cards, that would be far too obvious a theme. Over here in Out of the Blue we like obscurely powerful cards. Some would call them situationally powerful (and they’d be right), whilst other, less charitable people might just call them jank, but big champions of the underdog as we are, we like to make homes for these oft-unloved and forgotten additions to the Magic pantheon.

The (almost) junk rare we’re talking about today is one which got me excited as soon as I saw it. I love a card which just feels downright unfair. The sort of card which can swipe a certain victory away from an unsuspecting opponent, and plop it unexpectedly at your feet, eyes bright and tail wagging. That card is Approach of the Second Sun.

 

Take a moment to observe its aspect and soak in its wonder. Not only does that beautiful card art replicate a lovely full-bleed plains card, the rules text says “…you win the game”! I once wrote that every Magic player’s favourite words are “draw a card”, but they’re not, at least not for the ones with any sense – winning the game is the one thing that’s better than drawing cards. Admittedly there are a few tricky hoops you need to negotiate before those lovely rules are triggered, but luckily there are one or two other cards in use which can help us. The question is, which?

There are a few interesting ways to go with this. Obviously we’re in white, and we want to stall the game out for as long as possible. White’s good at that, especially when paired with blue, so let’s visit our friends at the Azorius guild first. What cards generally seem to suit our strategy? We want to draw at least one copy of Approach ideally by turn seven, so some card draw would be nice. It would also be great if we could not die to a weenie rush, burn or anything else before then, so some blockers, counters and other stalling tactics might similarly be good.

For counters, contenders are: Disallow, Negate, Censor, Remand, Cancel, Dissipate, Mana Leak, Cryptic Command, Dispel, Summary Dismissal, Failure / Comply, Void Shatter and Ceremonious Rejection. Yes there are others, but these are the ones I like in this instance.

For removal, we’re considering: Fumigate, Wrath of God, Day of Judgment, Blessed Alliance, Engulf the Shore, Cast Out,  Compelling Deterrence and Descend upon the Sinful.

And we’d like to draw some cards too, so let’s look at: Pull from Tomorrow, Glimmer of Genius, Blue Sun’s Zenith, Divination and Arcanis the Omnipotent (told you I like junk rares).

And just because, let’s also consider a few Planeswalkers for added fun, power and a crucial bit of extra draw:  Dovin Baan, Jace Beleren and Jace, Unraveler of Secrets.

Here's how I built it. The deck's looking pretty odd right now because none of the latest set are yet linking through on the deck creator tool, but you get the idea. The missing cards from the sideboard are 2  Descend upon the Sinful, and 2  Ceremonious Rejection.

Approaching perfection
A Modern Azorius deck by Splendid Belt
Creatures
0 cards

Other Spells
3 Blessed Alliance
4 Cast Out
3 Day of Judgment
4 Approach of the Second Sun
3 Mana Leak
3 Negate
1 Jace Beleren
3 Void Shatter
3 Engulf the Shore
3 Glimmer of Genius
1 Jace, Unraveler of Secrets
2 Pull from Tomorrow
2 (Dovin Baan)
13 cards
Lands
4 Sejiri Refuge
11 Island
10 Plains
25 cards

Day of Judgment

 

As you can see it's very nearly Standard legal, but I made it Modern partly for budget purposes, and partly to give us access to Mana Leak. You can swap in and replace any of the counters for anything you prefer to tailor it to different formats. The key cards are Approach, because duh, and Engulf and Cast Out. Beyond that, just have spot removal, mass removal, counters and card draw.

And a quick word on the mana base - I was keen to keep the budget as low as possible with this one, and I think it worked. This deck is currently available for the grand total of $11.36 on MTGO Traders at the time of writing, and about half of that is the Engulfs.The easiest way to throw more money at is to improve the mana base with some better dual lands - the recent cyclers or the older fetch and shock lands depending on your preference and what you have in your collection.

Let's see how it plays:

Example Game  vs. Pionero

I keep this hand on the draw. Pretty awful, and in sore need of some white mana, but way better as soon as we draw just one plains. Looking back, I think this is a good candidate to send back to the RNG Gods, but anyway, I kept it in this game.

 

 By turn three there was already a big difference in money spent, with my opponent boasting one each of Hallowed Fountain, Temple Garden (which had itself been fetched by Flooded Strand) and Breeding Pool, whilst I had two Islands and a Plains.  At least I'd found that source of white mana. Anyway, on turn four Pionero played a Servant of the Conduit, gaining two energy. Wary of what they might pump out with the ramp I treated it to a Cast Out on my turn, but my opponent hit it with a Path to Exile first, so they got to ramp anyway.

On turn five they played Attune with Aether then Rogue Refiner, which I try to kill with a Blessed Alliance when it attacks on turn six, but a Mana Leak puts me in my place. Hey I thought I was the control deck? On my turn six I finally get to do something pro-active in the shape of Jace, Unraveler of Secrets, but I'm trumped by another Mana Leak. The Rogue hits me again next turn, and on my turn Pionero casts Elder Deep-Fiend, emerging from the now sacrificed Rogue, and then tries to tap three of my Islands and my Plains - effectively trying for a Time Walk. I cast Glimmer of Genius in response, partly in an effort to use up the soon to be tapped mana, and partly because I'm getting close to seven mana and it'd be nice to start thinking about casting an Approach, if only I could find one. The board currently looks like this:

Then it gets significantly worse for me as Pionero casts Tamiyo, Field Researcher. So that Cast Out I'd planned for the Deep-Fiend will now have other priorities. Still, with two Engulfs and a Judgment I'm not short of ways to deal with creatures. The Planeswalker uses it's +1 ability to draw a card off the Deep-Fiend as it beats down to nine, ten behind my opponent. I need to get that Octopus off the table, and I don't fancy Pionero being able to cast spells for free, so Tamiyo will have to go too.

On my turn eight I use Day of Judgment to fix the first problem, and Mana Leak to stop my opponent's attempted Rogue Refiner on their turn nine. On my turn Cast Out fixes the other problem, with Tamiyo on six loyalty.

On turn ten Pionero chooses to take two damage from Temple Garden. Big spell incoming then, and I'm all out of counters. I wait as they slowly tapped land to pay mana costs for... Detention Sphere. Okay, it wasn't a big spell, they were leaving Leak mana up. With nothing else to do, I tap out for Glimmer at the end of my opponent's turn. I send a Plains and a Sejiri Refuge away, having eight lands already, and draw Void Shatter and Jace Beleren (probably my favourite Jace just because, he's certainly not the strongest). Sadly for me though, Jace gets smacked into exile by Spell Queller.

Here's where it gets interesting. That Detention Sphere is holding two of my Cast Outs hostage. Which means that if I remove it, I'll get two back into play, and they'll both trigger, meaning I can sort out two threats at once - Tamiyo (again), and the Queller, getting my Jace back.

Great. Just need to not mess up.

I mess up. I Cast Out the Sphere perfectly easily, and get rid of the Queller and Planeswalker as planned, but then miss the trigger to play Jace for free, prompting a (fully deserved) lol from my opponent.

On turn eleven Pionero plays what has to be one of the best value Detention Spheres of all time, getting rid of all three of my Cast Outs, and netting them their Tamiyo, Queller, and other Sphere back (not that there are any targets for it). Which means I hit my turn eleven with eight basic lands in play and nothing else. Miracle I'm still in this game really. There is some good news however, in that I finally draw and cast an Approach. The even better news is that it doesn't get countered. Right, now just don't die for seven turns. That is what this deck is designed around, after all.

On their turn Pionero takes Tamiyo up to a dangerous-looking six counters by using its +1 on the Queller, which beats me down to 14 and draw a card as a result. They then played Reflector Mage as a vanilla 2/3, since they have probably worked out by now I'm not running any creatures. On my turn 12 I whiff and draw a Plains, and pass my turn. Next turn Tamiyo goes up to seven loyalty, but I Engulf, sending the Mage and Queller back to my opponent's hand before they connect and draw. The Mage soon comes back, but the Queller stays in hand, doubtless ready to counter something in the near future.

The good news is that I manage to hit the trigger this time, and I get Dovin Baan back. To celebrate my newfound success, Pionero re-casts Reflector Mage, then as my turn 14 begins, sacrifices it to flash in another Deep-Fiend. I don't like the look of it, so I use up a Void Shatter, and activate Dovin Baan again to gain some life and dig that little bit closer to the next Approach.

Turn 15 arrives and Tamiyo goes ultimate, drawing three cards and netting my opponent the ability to cast spells for free. That can’t be good. And it really isn’t. First Detention Sphere appears for free, getting rid of my Planeswalker again, and it’s quickly followed by another Deep-Fiend. I do precisely nothing on my turn, since all I need to do at this point is not die, and everything I’ve got is being reserved to that end.

Next turn I get hit by the Deep-Fiend, which draws yet another card thanks to the still loyal Field Researcher. Turn 17 is an exact mirror of that. I have counters ready for anything that looks lethal, but right now whilst low, my life total can take a bit of attention from the Eldrazi Octopus.

On my turn 17 the beautiful sight of my second Approach appears in my hand. I can cast it with counter mana up, so I do, and I win.

 

I played lots of games with the deck, and won a lot more than I lost. Generally games would follow a similar pattern - I'd get low, but stabilise, find some lifegain, counters and other control cards, then stall out long enough to find that second Approach. Engulf and Day of Judgment were the MVPs.

Tri-Colour Cycling

So that's the Azorius way to go, let's turn now to a tri-colour version which I've seen around the web in various guises, most notably from Frank Karsten. This one uses a completely different strategy. We're still looking to play the Approach twice, but this time we're doing it all on the same turn, and we're going to draw pretty much our entire deck to set it up. And no, we don't need to wait until turn 14 in order to have access to the mana.

How? By cycling. Here's the list, which I'm typing out rather than relying on the funky deck creation tool PureMTGO provides, since the cards aren't linking through and it offends my sense of aesthetics.

Lands 26
4 Scattered Groves
4 Irrigated Farmland
4 Fetid Pools
4 Sheltered Thicket
2 Swamp
2 Plains
3 Forest
3 Island

Creatures 8
4 Vizier of Tumbling Sands
4 Shefet Monitor
 
Spells 9
3 New Perspectives
2 Approach of the Second Sun
3 Shadow of the Grave
1 Negate

Cyclers 17
4 Cast Out
3 Renewed Faith
3 Haze of Pollen
4 Censor
3 Weirding Wood
 

Can you see the strategy? Get to turn six without dying, that's the first bit. Admittedly most strategies involve not dying, so that's not the innovative part. But anyway, make it to turn six, and have at least four cards in hand, then go off. How? By casting the focal point of the deck, New Perspectives. This allows you to cycle most of your deck for free as long as you have at least seven cards in hand (41 cards in this deck can cycle, so if you don't draw any, you're playing the wrong deck). And the fact that it draws you three cards when you cast it, means you only need to have four in hand at the time.

So, cycle through your deck, using the Vizier and Shefet to generate some mana along the way. Once you've cycled through most of the deck, use Weirding Wood to generate the black mana you need for Shadow of the Grave, and then cycle the deck again. Using a combination of Weirding Wood and your Viziers you should eventually get up to the 14 mana you need to cast Approach twice (you might need to cycle through the deck a second time, but there are three Shadows in the deck so that should work). The Negate is there to stop your opponent trying to counter the second one.

The sideboard is transformational, should the New Perspectives / Approach combo not work for any reason. And hey, drakes are fun too.

Or there's Orzhov...

Or you could try a more traditional control route with Orzhov. What you lose in card draw you make up for with removal. Here's a list I found online courtesy of someone calling themselves 'Polof'. It's Standard legal, and basically aims to keep your opponent's creatures at bay while you either build up to casting Approach, or beat them death via the really rather beautiful Herald of Anguish (ably assisted by Shambling Vent).

There's also some disruption to protect yourself from combo, or other control decks, in the shape of Lay Bare the Heart and Lost Legacy. Here's the list (again you'll have to excuse the simple format for the same reason as before).

Lands 24
4 Concealed Courtyard
4 Forsaken Sanctuary
4 Shambling Vent
5 Plains
7 Swamp

Creatures 4
4 Herald of Anguish
 

Spells 28
4 Fatal Push
Approach of the Second Sun
4 Lay Bare the Heart
4 Forsake the Worldly
4 Lost Legacy
4 Ruinous Path
4 Fumigate

Enchantments 4
4 Authority of the Consuls

 

If you wanted to drag it into Modern, you'd have access to a whole world of other control options. Cards like Damnation, Wrath of God, Inquisition of Kozilek, Lingering Souls, Path to Exile, Thoughtseize, Tidehollow Sculler and about a million other cards I can't think of right now, but you get the picture.

And that concludes another Out of the Blue. My main takeaways are that Approach is better than its low price suggests, and that I have a rapidly developing affection for Dovin Baan. Not sure why, but generally things which draw you cards and gain life can be thought of as good. Oh, and Engulf is good too.

Until next time.