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By: Procrastination, Christopher Giovannagelo
Nov 08 2013 1:00pm
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Welcome back to The Modern Perspective! After GP Brisbane, it seemed like the color Blue really needed more time in the Modern spotlight. Of course, in the last few weeks, UR Splinter Twin and Merfolk have really shot up in the Meta standings. I had no way to know that at the time, so flashback to then and I was pouring over Blue cards looking for  anything that had potential that wasn't being tested. I'd already decided that the (arguably) best mono-blue cards in the format, Cryptic Command and Snapcaster Mage, would be in the deck, but I needed something to bring it together.

That's when I found it.

Counterbalance.jpg

Could I be that crazy? Oh yes.

Why Counterbalance? With this new wave of Scry cards, I felt that the library manipulation in Modern might finally be up to the task. While nothing is as good as Sensei's Divining Top, I wanted to find out if we were outside the realm of "impossible".

Pros: Most Modern decks have a lot of cards in the 1-3 casting cost range. Perfect for Counterbalance!

Cons: Abrupt Decay is out there! Plus, some Modern decks just skip right to 6, 7 or 15 mana cards. Boo.

Still, I was going to give it a try. I decided to go with UW since it gave me good control elements and a great man land, Celestial Colonnade, to win with.

Part I: Version 1 - Control
Part II: Version 2 - Tempo?
Part III: The Modern Land Prices

Part I: Version 1 - Control


My plan - control the board with a combination of Counterbalance, Terminus and Cryptic Command. Use Thassa and Crystal Ball to shape my draws and then win with either Sun Titan or Sphinx. If those creatures won't work, instill enough Devotion to get Thassa swinging. (The weekend I got around to finally building this is when Thassa shot up to $20.00. I only had one Thassa because I was able to borrow it from a friend - thanks Chris!)

Sideboard Plan - Custom tailor your removal or defense as needed. I made sure to include stronger hate for Affinity and Jund.

Cards of Note

Crystal_Ball.jpg

Crystal Ball - It's the closest thing to a Sensei's Divining Top that you can get in Modern. Yeah, that's not saying much, but this was the task I set before myself. That being said, in slower matchups, 'Scry 2' is a pretty powerful ability.

You can use the Scry in such a way to continually keep the same card on top, constantly Scrying it underneath the card you will draw, so if there is a number that you really, really want to keep a lock on (say, a 3 cmc against Splinter Twin) then it will let you do that. Of course, there is a small gap where you could leave a hole in the lock, but you can always try to "outwit" your opponent and leave the "wrong" card on top.

It can't recreate the card draw ability of Top and that is just sad. I see no Instant speed Terminus in your future...

Telling Time - The best Instant in the format for manipulating three cards and the top of your deck. The 2cmc often times feels clunky when you are trying to accomplish several actions in the same turn. Still, it makes every Counterbalance trigger a tense mini-game.

 

Terminus.jpg Terminus - If my plan was to constantly set up the top card of my deck, why not have a 1 mana Hallowed Burial in my arsenal? Terminus was a solid inclusion; it's strong in the format right now, sending away creatures with Persist, Modular, and Protection from Stuff. I only wish I could figure out a good way to consistently get the Instant speed trigger. That just makes it so very good.
Sun_Titan.jpg

Sun Titan - Titan continues to be an amazing beat stick and card advantage engine. In this deck, he helps bring back any Counterbalance or Crystal Ball that may have met an untimely end to help lock up the game.

Since I was only playing two colors, I should have included either Tectonic Edge or Ghost Quarter to really make the Titan shine. Creating a soft lock with Counterbalance while destroying lands would have been a good "End Game" plan. (In the next version of the deck, I get the LD Lands in there...but then don't have the Titan....hmmmm.)

Sphinx_of_Jwar_Isle.jpg

Sphinx of Jwar Isle - An extremely budget finisher, I wanted to give the Sphinx a try. It's mostly unkillable in the format, the ability to look at the top card is useful with a CB out and the double Blue in the cost helps awaken Thassa.

It would probably be better to run Consecrated Sphinx or Aetherling in this slot if you really wanted a high CC finsiher. Planeswalkers or more Thassa are a good idea too.

The Test Matches

Match 1 - versus - Niv Kiln Combo
I land one blind flip and a miracled Terminus across these two games. Terminus was key as it let me very cheaply clear the board while leaving countermana up. I won the match 2-0 pretty easily.

Match 2 - versus - RG Tron
This match up was atrocious. I didn't land any blind flips for this one. In fact, Counterbalance is quite flawed versus the Tron deck. The most threatening card, Karn, I can't hit with the Counterbalance, so unless I land it Turn 2 and they only have a hand of 1 and 2 drops, I'm basically not going to win this. After SB, I still had little game. I landed Stony Silence too late and lost. Ugly.

Match 3 - versus - Jund
These games were a huge learning experience. Game 1 I get hit with T3 Liliana and even though I can blow all of the defenders out of the way, I don't have any pressure of my own to use on Lili. My opponent eventually hits me with her Ultimate; I get to choose between my lands, or Counterbalance, Crystal Ball and Thassa. I'm dead on board next turn, so it didn't matter what I chose.

Game 2 quickly presented me with a great little puzzle. I cast T1 Serum Visions and will have the ability to cast T2 Counterbalance. I can set up the cards in a combination of Land or 3-Drop (or mystery scry). I was originally going to ship the land and keep the 3-drop, but I realize that the Jund player is probably trying to hit a T2 Lili or something equally as good; so I put back the 3-drop and keep the land on top to draw next turn. My opponent does indeed hit T1 Deathrite, but the T2 3cc card winds up being a Maelstrom Pulse on my Counterbalance. I flip over the 3 drop and give myself a high-five. I get Thassa down and Scry most every turn for the rest of the game. I tried to leave 2 drops on top whenever possible. Eventually I reach Devotion and unblockable Thassa outraces Deathrite "burn".

Game 3 is another long one. I start off with Leyline and CB. I even find time to establish some library manipulation. The Jund player is developing slowly, but does get out a Huntmaster of the Fells and other various cards. I'm using Celestial Purge and Snapcaster to hang in there. Eventually I run out of plays and can't find a Terminus or creature to block with.

I really didn't expect to have this close of a match up with Jund. Still, it could obviously be improved.

Match 4 - Versus - RG Tron
I run into one of the Wizards employees playing the ol' Karn deck. A funny thing happened.

I actually beat Karn.

A combination of bounce and counters lets me remove Karn and then I have enough time to beat with a Celestial Colonnade. My opponent conceded the whole match after that one.

I beat Tron! (Still not a good match up.)

Match 5 - versus - Gruul Aggro
My opponent comes out swinging very hard. I get a lucky Terminus and then almost stabilize. I'm killed by Shock. No lie. I don't think that anything in the deck cost more than 2.

Game 2 I get triple miracled Terminus followed by some Kitchen Finks. That's how you control a game.

In the final game, I stabilize with Counterbalance and Crystal Ball out. Then I see my opponent's secret weapon: Hellspark Elemental. Even hitting it once off of Counterbalance, he just got it back from the yard and swung. This happened two turns in a row. Then a third while I was at 3 life. I tried to drop the Snapcaster in my hand to block and keep me alive at 1, but a Combust removed him before I could block.

Afterthoughts
I didn't have enough bodies in the deck for times when I missed countering a spell or had the free and clear to start winning. My mana costs were all over the place, especially the 6 drops. I liked how it was starting to play, but I needed to lower the curve a bit.

Part III. Version 2 - Tempo? 


My Plan - realizing that I didn't have enough pressure to win games, I went back to the drawing board. Omenspeaker was another Scry card that could swing if the path was clear or block smaller creatures. Adding in Restoration Angel gave me a way to blink the Speaker for an effect similar to Telling Time while providing a sturdy 3/4 flyer. I opened a Thassa in draft, so now I had 2 Thassa to work with. I adjusted the curve in other ways too. I decreased the 6 drops since they weren't doing much "countering" outside of the Tron match up. My ability to "cmc match" had gotten a lot better, but still wasn't perfect. Either way, I was ready for more testing.

Sideboard Plan: Mostly the same as the previous deck. I mixed in Shadow of Doubt to hit search decks and adjusted some of the other numbers a tad.

Cards of Note

Omenspeaker.jpg Omenspeaker - A 1/3 body with scry 2 isn't bad for defense. Offensively the card is lackluster, but it can beat here and there. I'm 100% certain that it blocks better than Telling Time does. Cast them early and scry away.
Condescend - This is a great fit. It provides a flexible counter, another scry source and it bumped up my 1cc flip percentage. I'm not sure how I missed it in the first place? If you have out a Counterbalance and really, really need to counter a spell, don't be ashamed to play it even when it won't succeed as a counter on its own; you might get lucky and scry into a card that can counter off of the flip.
Restoration_Angel.jpg Restoration Angel - Still such an all around good card. Blinking Omenspeaker gives you lots of digging capability. Blinking Snapcaster can lead to all sorts of surprises, all of them bad for the opponent. Most decks will also have very few ways of dealing with an awakened Thassa, being able to save her when they do find one is a game changer. For added bonus, Angel makes the Kitchen Finks in the SB a touch better too.

The Test Matches

Match 1 - versus - Mono-B Infect
Game 1 I'm hit with a barrage of discard spells, including Funeral Charm and Wrench Mind. I resolve a Restoration Angel in response to another discard spell and the Angel plus a Colonnade finish out the game. No blind flips this game.

The second game falls apart pretty quickly. A Phyrexian Crusader just strolls past my mostly White hand and I die.

The last game was neck and neck. I had the Turn 0 Leyline so the discard spells were just rotting in my opponent's hand. I'm controlling the board as well after bringing in the extra sweepers. I get down to using Omen Speaker and Cryptic to hold off Phyrexian Vatmother and I need another turn or 2 to have enough mana to stabilize, cast Blue cards and start attacking with Thassa. Counterbalance is out (and was doing a great job against a deck full of 1 and 2 drops. I have to block this turn with the Snapcaster in my hand to stay alive.

I cast a Serum Visions and get to choose between leaving another Visions on top or not. The only Instant speed removal I've seen from my opponent has been Funeral Charm, so I know I need to protect against it if my Snapcaster is going to live long enough to actually block. Visions goes on top. 

Then I cast Snapcaster during my mainphase so I can flashback the Visions in the yard...thus drawing the other Visions off the top. My snap is promptly charmed and I lose the game.

Yeah, I took 30 second to weight those options...and 2 seconds to undo my whole plan.

Match 2 - versus - Melira Pod
I lose 2 games straight to my own horrible play. Really, just bad. Plays like Cryptic Command to counter a Spellskite on the stack and bouncing a Reveillark that's in play. (In case you don't know, the Skite goes to the yard, then the Lark is bounced, then your opponent gets Spellskite and a free Birds of Paradise that was also in the yard.) Yes, it was just that bad. Glad I got to see that interaction in the Practice Room and not an actual tournament.

Now, I won't lie, Counterbalance can give you everything in the wrong order during this match up, but it would have really helped if I didn't make so many play mistakes. I'd like to test this match up more in the future to see if it's truly this bad.

Match 3 - versus - Mostly Black Control w/ Nykthos
I'm feeling pretty confident about this one...and then Phyrexian Obliterator shows up with Thoughtseize back up. 5/5's can end your day pretty quickly.

Game 2 I get hit with discard for 2 turns in a row, so my T4 hardcast Leyline is already useless. Another Obliterator eats my face off since I can't find a Terminus, Verdict or Path to save me.

Match 4 - versus - UWR Twin
This match was actually a ton of fun. I quickly shifted into "control on control mode" after the first few land drops. I get ready to fight a counter war over Counterbalance but my opponent lets me just have it? Maybe they really weren't holding a counterspell, I honestly don't know. Now that I have that sitting out, I slowly set up my plays so that they can never cast a creature or even if one does land it can't "go infinite". Eventually I whittle away with Angels until I win.

Game 2 goes down much the same way. Now with Celestial Purge in the mix, I can keep most of the infinite combo pieces off of the table. Once more I get into a strong hand of Cryptics and Snaps. I resolve a Snap and start beating for a few a turn. I have to leave the game before it's finished (damn real life!) but in the end they only had 5 lands to my 7 and I had a full grip of control cards and a Colonnade as backup.

Match 5 - versus - Scapeshift?
Game 1 I drop T2 Counterbalance. My opponent EOT casts Telling Time. I blind flip Omenspeaker to counter it. During my opponent's T3 they cast Spellskite....while my Omenspeaker is still hanging around the top of the deck. .... A few seconds of silence later my opponent concedes the whole match. Harsh.

Match 6 - versus - U/B Vial Fae
This was a really cool deck. My opponent was using Thassa with the Fairy tribe and also Vial to help set up some mean Fae tricks. Thieving Sprite was doing a solid job as a powered up Blackmail after a enough fairies were on the board. Even with 2 blindflip counters, things were looking bleak, but my Thassa helped me dig until I found a Terminus to clear the board. Once that was dealt with, I had plenty of time to set up some Colonnade beats to end the game. My notes say Blind Flips 4 at the end of this game, so I hit two other flips at some point. It was a long game.

I sided in Purges, Steel Sabotage, Verdicts, Leylines and Finks...I took out all sorts of stuff. (Next time I will keep track of my sideboarding as well. I was recording my matches for a while and got very used to just watching the video for what I was SBing.)

Game 2 my opponent leads off with a Mutavault but no Vial. I cast Serum Visions and leave Counterbalance on top for the T2 play. My opponent drops a Swamp and Seizes me. I don't lose anything too important. I drop my Counterbalance and say go and then my opponent misses a land drop but casts Vial. I cast a Finks so I can start swinging for damage. My opponent tries to cast another Vial on the following turn, but I flip over Steel Sabotage to counter. The opponent's Vial will only be up two on my next turn, so I cast another Finks and beat for 3. My opponent is still on 2 lands, but tries to cast an Inquisition but CB reveals a Path so that doesn't hit either. I crush in for 6 and say go with all of my mana open. The opponent taps the Vial and lays a Scion of Oona. I bounce the Vial in response and after some thought, my opponent gives me the win.

Match 7 - versus - UWR Control
This match was also a lot of fun. I once again hit T2 Counterbalance. The opponent casts Deceiver Exarch but a blind flipped Thassa counters it. Next turn they go for another one...and I flip over Crystal Ball. We go back and forth in the slow, moody control dance, each trying to bait the other. I get a second Counterbalance later in the game, so any Thassa I land will be active. We swing Colonnades at each other and use Tectonic Edges to blow them up. I'm getting a lot of card quality out of Crystal Ball, so I never feel like I'm falling behind. Eventually I get to live the dream; I have a Misty sitting out that I hadn't cracked, my opponent goes for a 4 drop (either Cryptic or Splint Twin), I use the first CB trigger, whiff, crack the fetch and reveal Restoration Angel off of the other. I got a "wow" comment that time! hehe.

My opponent was super nice and new to MTGO, so I helped point out where the game log shows whether I was keeping or tucking my cards from scry. It was ambitious for a newer online player to hop right at control, so kudos to them!

Game 2 I played aggressively with Shadow of Doubt and Snapcaster Mage. Here's a tip: if you think your opponent brought in Shadow of Doubt, don't wait to crack your fetches at the end of their turn. My opponent tried this, so I used my own fetch, had two mana and "Super Stone Rained" them. I did this same trick again a turn later. That can just win games. My opponent did get out of the landless hole and we did the control dance again. With the flash on my Angels, I always felt like I could kick off the counter fight whenever I wanted to. The first game burned a lot of time off of the clock, so eventually we were both down to a few minutes each. Since I was leading on time, I could shift into "don't lose mode" and it soon became apparent that my opponent couldn't finish me. After the match we said our "good games" and I cautioned about the Timer and running control. I then wished them luck on MTGO and we went our separate ways.

Afterthoughts
This version felt a lot stronger than the first. While it still wasn't perfect, the curve seemed to work better, both for counter flips and in general to deploy some threats. I could bring the curve down even further; I probably didn't need Terminus in the main of this build, but I didn't want to let go of it yet. If I fill those spots out with more Devotion to Blue - Vendilion Clique, Geist of Saint Traft or Detention Sphere I could boost the tempo element more.

Part III. The Modern Land Prices
All prices are from MTGOtrader.com. The version linked was the cheapest when the land was added, but be sure to check for the best available price!

The Zendikar Fetch Lands
The Fetch Lands are the lynchpin of most mana bases in Modern. Being able to fix your colors by finding a Ravnica Shock Land is critical to the various top tier multi-color decks. The Fetchlands also have great synergy with the best one drop creature in the format, Deathrite Shaman. The price of Fetchlands is often considered the defining cost barrier of Modern, however, on MTGO, they are usually cheaper than many high demand Mythics.

Fetch Lands SET 30OCT13 06NOV13 Change %
Arid Mesa ZEN 10.39 10.98 0.59 6%
Marsh Flats ZEN 8.98 10.92 1.94 22%
Misty Rainforest ZEN 17.59 22.00 4.41 25%
Scalding Tarn ZEN 17.75 19.12 1.37 8%
Verdant Catacombs ZEN 15.40 15.77 0.37 2%

As the need for Theros cards cools down, the Fetches are starting to rise up again. Misty Rainforest becomes the new top dog, but I wouldn't expect Scalding Tarn to sit still at 2nd place for long.

The Ravnica Shock Lands
The Shock Lands, with their dual basic land types, are very important pillars of the Modern format. The nickname is derived from the 2 life paid to put the land into play untapped compared to the 2 damage from the card Shock. After being reprinted in the Return to Ravnica block, the prices dropped dramatically and it is now much easier for players to acquire these lands with a modest budget.

Shock Lands SET 30OCT13 06NOV13 Change %
Blood Crypt RTR 3.26 4.51 1.25 38%
Hallowed Fountain RTR 3.37 4.34 0.97 29%
Overgrown Tomb RTR 3.23 4.04 0.81 25%
Steam Vents RTR 3.13 3.50 0.37 12%
Temple Garden RTR 3.62 3.89 0.27 7%
Breeding Pool GTC 3.85 3.71 -0.14 -4%
Godless Shrine GTC 4.57 4.05 -0.52 -11%
Sacred Foundry GTC 5.30 6.12 0.82 15%
Stomping Ground GTC 4.66 4.26 -0.40 -9%
Watery Grave GTC 3.82 4.09 0.27 7%

It seems that R/W standard decks are the real deal? It's still early, so we will have to see. A nice increase in the price of several Shocks this week. I really hope that Steam Vents finds a home after the next set comes out.

The Scars of Mirrodin Fast Lands
The Fast Lands are a great way to ensure two colors of mana in the first few turns of the game. Only available in allied color pairings, they see the most use for colors that have strong aggressive themes that are not affected by the drawback. The Fast Lands have a relatively low price threshold and are an inexpensive way to add mana consistency to a deck.

Fast Lands SET 30OCT13 06NOV13 Change %
Blackcleave Cliffs SOM 1.51 1.24 -0.27 -18%
Copperline Gorge SOM 1.17 0.60 -0.57 -49%
Darkslick Shores SOM 1.15 1.14 -0.01 -1%
Razorverge Thicket SOM 0.89 0.70 -0.19 -21%
Seachrome Coast SOM 0.35 0.54 0.19 54%

Poor Copperline Gorge, it just can't maintain value from week to week. Seachrome Coast had actually gotten even higher than it is now, but then slid back down again.

The Worldwake Man-Lands
The ability to produce two colors and provide a creature with an ability makes these lands rather attractive. More useful in mid-range and control oriented decks that don't mind the drawback as much. Currently only one of these lands appears as a '4-of' in a deck; so while they have a moderate price threshold, keep in mind that you usually only need about 1-2 copies of each per a deck.

Man Lands SET 30OCT13 06NOV13 Change %
Celestial Colonnade WWK 7.93 7.93 0.00 0%
Creeping Tar Pit WWK 2.63 2.63 0.00 0%
Lavaclaw Reaches WWK 0.78 0.55 -0.23 -29%
Raging Ravine WWK 2.57 2.31 -0.26 -10%
Stirring Wildwood WWK 1.00 0.74 -0.26 -26%

Ravine is almost back to the $2.22 mark! Wildwood and Reaches really dropped this week. I'm ok with part of that; I wanted to pick up another Wildwood and now they are cheap again.

The Core Set/Innistrad Check Lands
While they do not provide mana on the first turn of the game, the Check Lands still have enough potential to see use in Modern. When combined with the Ravnica Shock Lands, the Checks are an inexpensive way to create reliable 2 color mana bases. Now that the Check Lands have rotated out of Standard, their prices are extremely low. Newer players to Modern, as well as those with very tight budgets, may want to start with these extremely cheap lands.

Check Lands SET 30OCT13 06NOV13 Change %
Clifftop Retreat ISD 0.40 0.36 -0.04 -10%
Hinterland Harbor ISD 0.39 0.26 -0.13 -33%
Isolated Chapel ISD 0.30 0.30 0.00 0%
Sulfur Falls ISD 1.03 1.07 0.04 4%
Woodland Cemetery ISD 0.48 0.26 -0.22 -46%
Dragonskull Summit M12 0.08 0.08 0.00 0%
Drowned Catacomb M12 0.05 0.05 0.00 0%
Glacial Fortress M12 0.08 0.08 0.00 0%
Rootbound Crag M12 0.08 0.08 0.00 0%
Sunpetal Grove M12 0.08 0.07 -0.01 -13%

Nothing too new to report here. Cemetery is right back to "cheap speculation land"?

The Utility and Deck Specific Lands
This section covers Utility Lands, off cycle mana fixers and Deck specific lands that you might need if you want to build a Modern deck. Whether it's the Urza Tron Cycle, Affinity or you just want to know how much the most used lands that blow up other lands cost, this should give you some idea of what you are working with.

Utility & Deck Specific SET 30OCT13 06NOV13 Change %
Grove of the Burnwillows FUT 19.24 18.24 -1.00 -5%
Horizon Canopy FUT 10.98 11.99 1.01 9%
Tectonic Edge WWK 0.66 0.74 0.08 12%
Ghost Quarter ISD 0.09 0.08 -0.01 -11%
Urza's Mine ME4 0.14 0.14 0.00 0%
Urza's Power Plant ME4 0.08 0.08 0.00 0%
Urza's Tower ME4 0.13 0.13 0.00 0%
Academy Ruins MMA 0.28 0.28 0.00 0%
Gavony Township ISD 0.09 0.10 0.01 11%
Treetop Village PRM 0.43 0.43 0.00 0%
Blinkmoth Nexus MMA 2.74 3.13 0.39 14%
Darksteel Citadel DKS 1.00 1.11 0.11 11%
Glimmervoid MMA 1.68 1.84 0.16 10%
Inkmoth Nexus MBS 3.33 2.37 -0.96 -29%

Inkmoth Nexus dipped again so now might be the time to build that Infect deck you always wanted? Darksteel Citadel inches up a little more along with Tectonic Edge. While Burnwillows continues to drop, Horizon Canopy is finally climbing back up the hill.

Conclusion
Here we are, at the end of another crazy brewing article! Trying to make Counterbalance work was both frustrating and fun. There were games where the flips wouldn't land in my favor no matter how many times I scryed. Other games, I was popping off blind flips left and right. Some games I would lock it up, but then the opponent would slip through my grasp and win. However, the very nature of the card just makes it fun! Every trigger gets the heart racing.

White and Blue was probably not even the best combination. Some mix of Magma Jet, Telling Time and Isochron Scepter could be very powerful if left unchecked. Or maybe Faithless Looting, Dredge and Noxious Revival so that you can just grab the correct cmc straight from the graveyard? There are plenty of ideas to try.

I hope you enjoyed this dip into the pool of brewing madness. If you have any feedback or suggestions, be sure to leave them in the comments below!

Next week's topic will be something a little different and the week after that should be another brewing attempt. Be sure to come back and check them out!

Mask of Riddles

Until next time,

- Gio

The Modern Perspective Archive