January 03 2016 Sunday at 03:14 PM

Duels Diaries Week 23 - The 90% Club

Hello Duelers,

I'm CovertGo Blue, or CGB for short.  I play Magic Duels way more competitively than it is intended to be played, and I write about it.  It is my thing, it doesn't have to be your thing, but I love it.

I recognize that many players cannot do what I do, because it could take some of the life out of the game for them.  Instead of playing my favorite card and colors, I try to find the best decks and strategies and discard the rest.  Being married to a set of colors or certain card is often a weakness in competitive Magic, because your color combination or card that you are in love with wont always be the best choice for a format, or in the case of Duels, for a season.  You may love Azorius Control, as I do, but playing it in Duels Origins season was a horrible experience if you like to win.  Instead, I spent a lot of time playing midrange and synergistic tribal strategies like Gruul Monsters, Izzet Thopters and Golgari Elves.

Battle for Zendikar season has arrived and it brought a huge shakeup to the game.  Many strategies that where terrible are now competitive.  Many new options have made whole new decks available.  Some cards and trends have strengthened existing decks.  In all these options, something is the best.  Something is the most powerful thing you could be doing to win the most duels possible.  I love this puzzle! When I spend all this time playing, note taking and blogging about Duels what I am trying to find is this - The Truth.  What are truly, TRULY the best colors, cards, decks, to be playing right now?

This season we have a proving ground as well - Hakeem's XB1 tournament will be kicking off next week, and I'll get to put all my writing, brewing and theory to the test.  But you don't have to put all that work in to benefit from my experiences, because I am crazy enough to write about all this stuff.  I am actually going to put out there, for all to read, what decks are proving to be the best and what I will likely play in the tournament.  Last week I had 15 - 20 deck ideas I was still working on, this week I am down to five, and we will get to those, but first a question and a ramble...

Why do I do this?  Is my goal, as a competitive player and frankly as a very competitive person, to win the event?  How does putting all this research and work out there for my competition to benefit from achieve that goal?  Well, to answer that I have to get to my real Truth - what I want more than a tournament victory and $100 worth of Xbox points is a real competitive Magic community around Duels.  I want a meta that can be worked like a puzzle, not an endless slush of junky decks.  I want players to both play better Magic and make more informed decisions when building decks.  I want memorable, amazing games that test my limits and my opponents', where we both leave knowing more about each other and ourselves.  So, readers, feel free to use these decks, play these decks, beat these decks, prepare for these decks, whatever you feel you should do.  And bring your A game when you see the blue eyes of CGB staring across from you on gameday, and you know I will strive to bring mine.

One thing I will also preface the week's writing with is that I have experienced an unprecedented (for me) amount of Duels victories this season (currently 348 since the game launched in mid December).  I believe this is because I have learned to trust members of the community more and I have opened myself up to learn from them.  When we get into the top decks I am currently playing, those of you in the loop will see shades of other community members all over them.  This is no accident.  For at least a year I have had a bit of a chip on my shoulder, and frankly it was hard not to.  I am becoming Magic's version of the old man in the neighborhood.  I have played for twenty years.  I competed in the first Pro Tour ever.  I have no idea how many competitive events I have Top 8'd or won.  When someone has a deck idea for me, my reaction is to tell them either (a) get off my lawn, or (b) how back in my day, we had to walk uphill barefoot in the snow both ways to the tournament.  Basically, everything was filtered through the "I'm great, you're not lens".  This isn't the attitude I want to foster or hold on to, life has taken me on paths that have led me here.  I once was too trusting, bad stuff happened, so for a long time I haven't trusted anyone, or worked with anyone outside of my household on something as small as a Magic deck. 

This season really changed that.  I sought out deck ideas from players who often play and enjoy the archetype.  I learned a lot of about Red from Pure and Barney, and instead of dismissing their ideas as I may have done before I actually played with them and learned from them.  I took a lot of Ramp ideas from Kryder and worked on it.  Lockhammer and I tossed around various Evo Leap builds.  DJ proved a Sultai Crats list that really expanded my horizons on the archetype.  Hakeem continues to jam Tempo down my throat and make me respect it.  Gemini gave me an Esper list, and last year I would have gutted it from the start because I would have considered certain cards bad.  Instead I tried it, and spoiler, it made the 90% club.  In a nutshell, I've treated the community around Duels more like a team and less like peons, and I hope to stay the corse on this path because I have found it much more rewarding in every way.

Enough fire-time chat, I am sure some of you readers are here for meta, decks, and such, so let's do it.

This week I have no results from Steam, so we 234 games from iOS and XB1.  In general, iOS has become much more competitive than XB1.  While it still takes an absurd amount of time to find a game, I usually play against another rank 40 with an unlocked connection.  I would guess nearly half my XB1 games are against a rank 1-10 without all the cards, despite being rank 40 myself.

I classified 42 decks as Junk, so we'll remove them from the sample to see what the more experienced players are choosing to run-

Red 19 8.12%
Gruul 18 7.69%
Sultai 14 5.98%
Golgari 14 5.98%
Seles 12 5.13%
Simic 11 4.70%
Boros 11 4.70%
Converge 10 4.27%
Bant 10 4.27%
Green 9 3.85%
Azorius 8 3.42%
Izzet 8 3.42%
Rakdos 7 2.99%
Naya 7 2.99%
Jeskai 6 2.56%
Dimir 5 2.14%
Esper 5 2.14%
Abzan 4 1.71%
Orzhov 4 1.71%
White 3 1.28%
Blue 2 0.85%
Black 2 0.85%
Temur 1 0.43%
Grixis 1 0.43%
Jund 1 0.43%
Mardu 0 0.00%


Mostly the usual suspects.  Red jumped back on top, Gruul continued to fight it for dominance, Golgari, Sultai and Selesnya continue to make up the rest of the pack.  Dimir, Esper and other Blue strategies really fell off this week, making it a pretty good week for quality control decks.

Just an FYI that next week I may try reporting results in a different way, instead of colors I could shake it up and try deck types (aggro, ramp, control, ect).  

For a meta that is low on Blue, a great answer is to play Blue.  Usually in a slow-deck fight, the deck with Blue wins.  How did that hold up with week?

Welcome to the 90% club.  Between 15 - 20 decks has been narrowed down to five, five decks that win 90% of the games I play with them or better.  

Esper Control - 15-1, 94%.  

I had tried Esper decks before to mostly sad results.  Infamous Gemini, another member of the upcoming XB1 tournament, dropped a list on me that did fabulously.  Here is a link to watch it in action -


I only changed a few things from Gemini's build, and I think they make a positive difference.  Alchemist Vial, even just two of them, dramatically decrease the odds that your Spy Network will be a dead card.  They replace a Part the Waterveil and Read the Bones.  The former is too slow and situational for my taste, very win more.  The later is risky against aggro and taps you out on your main phase, not something we want to do too often.  

2 x Dispel
2 x Felidar Cub
1 x Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
2 x Alchemist's Vial
1 x Reprisal
2 x Celestial Flare
3 x Horribly Awry
3 x Telling Time
2 x Scatter to the Winds
3 x Spell Shrivel
3 x Artificer's Epiphany
1 x Read the Bones
2 x Thopter Spy Network
2 x Languish
1 x Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
1 x Disciple of the Ring
2 x Planar Outburst
1 x Ob Nixilis Reignited
2 x Plains
2 x Island
2 x Swamp
2 x Shambling Vent
2 x Sunken Hollow
2 x Prairie Stream
2 x Drowned Catacomb
2 x Isolated Chapel
2 x Glacial Fortress
4 x Evolving Wilds
3 x Foundry of the Consuls
1 x Mortuary Mire

This deck is the newcomer on the block, with only a week of results, but it just feels right for a control deck.  I spent a lot of time trying to make Azorius Control the better deck, and I did a lot of testing, but there was only room for one at the top.  Currently, I am dubbing this the best Blue-based control deck.

Izzet Thopters - 17-2

Ok, 89.4%, close enough that I am not cutting it this week.

3 x Runed Servitor
4 x Perilous Myr
1 x Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
2 x Abbot of Keral Keep
4 x Twin Bolt
3 x Pilgrim's Eye
3 x Chief of the Foundry
3 x Thopter Engineer
2 x Exquisite Firecraft
3 x Whirler Rogue
1 x Akoum Firebird
2 x Pia and Kiran Nalaar
3 x Reclusive Artificer
2 x Thopter Spy Network
3 x Foundry of the Consuls
4 x Izzet Guildgate
2 x Sulfur Falls
1 x Evolving Wilds
7 x Island
7 x Mountain

The most interesting thing about Thopters is that Thopters is still a deck.  It reminds me of Abzan in the recent Standard rotation - many Pros who where also writers said Abzan wasn't good anymore, but Abzan won the Pro Tour.  The same writers said that was weird, but Abzan still wasn't the best deck, and they spent a lot of words on other decks.  In the weeks that followed, Abzan kept winning events and is still the number one played deck in the meta.  Thopters didn't gain much, but what it added was a few small improvements.  I used to have to run 26 lands to hit a turn four double-blue or double-red mana to cast Pia/Kiran or Whirler Rogue or Spy Network.  Pilgrim's Eye lets me run more artifacts, less lands, and more four drops, so more Reclusive Artificers make the cut.  The deck is good at consistent, evasive pressure that is resilient to 1-for-1 removal.  It is the best of the synergistic tribal aggro decks by far, and I think it could be a curveball in the tournament.

Dimir Crats - 20-1, 95%

1 x Vampiric Rites
4 x Bone Splinters
4 x Perilous Myr
1 x Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
3 x Carrier Thrall
4 x Eldrazi Skyspawner
1 x Liliana, Heretical Healer
3 x Fleshbag Marauder
4 x Nantuko Husk
2 x Smothering Abomination
3 x Whirler Rogue
2 x Thopter Spy Network
2 x Priest of the Blood Rite
1 x Ob Nixilis Reignited
2 x Sunken Hollow
2 x Drowned Catacomb
3 x Foundry of the Consuls
1 x Mortuary Mire
4 x Dimir Guildgate
1 x Evolving Wilds
6 x Swamp
6 x Island

This deck has evolved from a one-dimensional combo deck into the format's midrange deck of choice.  As recently as last week I advised not to play cards like Fleshbag and Ob Nix, and instead play cards like Salvage Drone, to be mana efficient and combo-kill them on turn five.  Well, that advice isn't bad if you are a combo player, but it isn't really 90% advice.  While this deck does, and has, killed on turn five with the combo, it really benefits from swapping a few slots for more powerful cards that can win a longer game.  Spy Network looks out of place, but it can really work in this deck.  The key is knowing who you are in the matchup - sometimes you have to push to combo off quickly against, say, ramp decks, and sometimes you play a longer game and focus on pacing your threats (against control) and against red aggro you just dump a ton of power/toughness on the board and make them figure out how to get through that.

The big question mark I have for Dimir Crats is whether it can do well against really good decks.  10 of the 20 wins are classified as Junk, so being 10-1 against not junk is good but I want more competition to see if this deck holds up.

Red Aggro - 34-6, 85%, but 25-2 since some recent changes so I am not cutting it.


Humble pie, foot in mouth, and props to Pure, Barney, Babs, Mobius and others for getting the land count right.  I have come to believe that 23 lands is The Truth for red decks in Duels.  Reflecting on the performance of my Red Aggro deck, most of the losses were caused by my own mana base.  Once I played with 23 lands and Molten Vortex, things felt a lot better.  I had some crazy floods, but I was usually lucky enough to have a Vortex.  On the other hand, I almost always got to cast my spells on time, and the four drops in the deck are very hard to deal with on curve if the opponent has already been dealing with typical red aggro aura shenanigans.  While you can get 70-80% with a twenty land deck, I have been converted to the camp that says you need at least 23 to make the 90% club.  This deck is a combination of things I think are best from my version of the deck and the things I found most exciting in the Pure build.

Gruul Ramp, 40-3, 93%

3 x Fiery Impulse
3 x Gatecreeper Vine
2 x Twin Bolt
3 x Rolling Thunder
2 x Gather the Pack
2 x Radiant Flames
4 x Nissa's Pilgrimage
1 x Nissa, Vastwood Seer
4 x Mwonvuli Acid-Moss
2 x From Beyond
2 x Outland Colossus
1 x Oblivion Sower
1 x Greenwarden of Murasa
2 x Nissa's Renewal
2 x Gaea's Revenge
1 x Omnath, Locus of Rage
1 x Desolation Twin
1 x Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
2 x Rootbound Crag
1 x Canopy Vista
2 x Cinder Glade
6 x Mountain
12 x Forest

This is where I have been spending more and more time.  This deck is so consistent and brutal.  Some changes include adding Twin Bolt and Thunder number three over Jaddi Offshoot.  Jaddi is good, but I find more and more that decks are adjusting to it, finding ways to get over and around it.  Just killing the threat feels like a step in the right direction.  That, and I always want more Thunder in this deck.  Thunder is another great truth.  I have cut some pretty great decks from my list because they (a) don't play Thunder, and (b) lose to Thunder.  Walkers are so good in the format, and one of the only really good ways to deal with them is Thunder.  Oh, and it just sweeps the board, or just wins the game.  It doesn't have a bad matchup, it only gets drawn at the wrong time (when you needed to draw your third land).  If you are playing a long game, you better either have Thunder or be really to counter Thunder.  Gather the Pack looks out of place.  It is interesting here for sure.  The deck is low on turn two plays, and it needs things to do in the late game.  So early on, Gather can try to find a Gatecreeper if you are short on lands.  It also turns on Spell Mastery so you get a 3x Forest Nissa's Pilgrimage on turn three.  Late in the game, you find a lot of spots where you need to draw a fatty.  Gather gets you five cards deeper to find one at the last, and draws you two fatties at the best.  Also a corner case, but I have found many times I have ramped to six mana and had nothing in the yard worth getting back with Greenwarden.  Gather does provide some grave gas (sounds stinky).

I will cover some decks that got cut, but first I want to share some of my scribbles from my notebook on the Battle for Zendikar Duels season.  It will help put some of the cuts in context-

Ways to Succeed 

1 - Kill the opponent really fast

2 - Counter Everything Important

3 - Snowball of value

4 - Ulamog

Things to remember-

Don't lose to Rolling Thunder

Have ways to deal with planeswalkers

Have ways to deal with Ulamog

Have ways to deal with a turn two 5/4 menace (Glory Chaser + Call of the Full Moon)

Life gain is nice to have

Have ways to sweep linear aggro

Tempo is bad

Now we'll apply that to a hand full of decks that didn't make the cut -

Azorius Tempo and Simic Tempo - Tempo is bad.  Don't get me wrong, tempo wins games and is a strategy you can use.  The problem I see here is that tempo isn't a 90% strategy, I don't find it to be an 80% strategy, because by nature it is a split deck.  It wants to play control and aggro.  It wants to curve out perfectly.  It wants a perfect mix of bounce and counter with cheap, effective creatures.  While this gives you a strategy that, with a good draw, can beat anything, it is always a small mis-draw away from losing to anything.  My tempo decks, either Simic, Izzet or Azorius or various shards colors, all have several loses against aggro, control, and ramp, decks they are supposed to thread the needle against.  Being 50/50 against the field isn't terrible, and I will admit that Tempo may be better suited for the best-two-out-of-three tournament, but it isn't a 90% deck in my experience.

Abzan Control - 

Don't lose to Rolling Thunder

Have ways to deal with planeswalkers

Have ways to deal with Ulamog

Have ways to deal with a turn two 5/4 menace (Glory Chaser + Call of the Full Moon)

While you can build Abzan to counter any single one of these things, and easily make it able to counter two or three, finding a mix of cards that handled all four jobs consistently turned into a black hole of pain.  Eventually I came to the conclusion that I should just be playing counterspells or Rolling Thunder instead.  There may still be a perfect mix out there, but I haven't found it, and for now I am not looking.  Maybe I'll come back to this after the tournament.  

Sultai Friends - 

Don't lose to Rolling Thunder

With no good life gain, a very long game plan, and no counter magic to lean on, Sultai Friends gets roasted by Rolling Thunder.

When we look at the top five decks, there are pretty clear lines to deal with all the major format threats, and I think that is why they are the top five -

Thopters -

Lots of fliers are good at killing planeswalkers

The deck can get a lot of damage in before Rolling Thunder comes online, and 3-for-1's like Pia/Kiran and Rogue help quickly rebuild from Thunder.

The deck can consistently kill before Ulamog arrives, and if he does he may not be able to stop a Thopter swarm by himself.

The deck has multiple burn spells and a lot of blockers to keep a Glory Chaser from stealing the game. 

If the deck gets swept, that sucks, but it has those 3-for-1 creatures, Thopter Spy Network and hasty threats like Firebird to get the pressure turned up again.

Red aggro

Kill them before they do any of the things listed above.

Esper Control

Counters counter many things, but the deck is resilient to odd situations.  I haven beaten 2 x Tutelage by turn 4 on the play, twice.  Planeswalkers can be countered or punished by thopters.  Ulamog usually gets countered by can also face endless tap-down from Disciple if you are wise enough to hold her until after Ulamog is cast.

Dimir Crats

Combo kill before Ulamog or Thunder can happen.  Use Bone Splinters to not die to aura'd voltrons.  Planeswalkers face flying and unblockable creatures.  

Gruul Ramp

This deck casts the fastest Ulamog and the largest mega-Thunders, pretty much solving all the problems listed.  It leans on Twin Bolt, Fiery Impulse and Radiant Flames to not get blown out early. Drawing any one of those seven can often buy you the time you need.

So we have five decks that win a ton of games and have clear lines against the formats best and most popular strategies.  Which deck will get the nod from yours truly for play in the XB1 tournament next week?  And how about the iOS tournament I am also registered in?  Stay tuned!

I'm covertgoblue on Twitch - http://www.twitch.tv/covertgoblue/profile

CovertGo Blue on iOS

CovertGo Blue on Xbox Live

@danno029 on Twitter

Until next time, 

<3 CGB