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I'm sadly aware that fast response has never been a strong suit of my column here at Pojo, but in this case at least I had a strong reason to wait. When Brandon sent me this deck, Gatecrash had not yet been released. Knowing that the Dimir would inevitably provide the deck with a plethora of new tools and options, I decided to wait until after I had had a chance to digest the new set.
I don't know if you are still active as I have not seen a deck fix in a while, but I decided to try to send you a deck that I have been working on for a couple weeks. It's a blue and black mill deck that I feel is missing something that gives it an edge. Here is my decklist:
This deck is missing something that keeps it from winning. It doesn't perform well against aggressive decks mainly because I can assert my control over the game. I also want to be able to have draw capability, but standard lacks a ponder-like card. I would put sign in blood in there but usually I'm having to keep life from being dangerously low. If you are willing, I would like your expertise in helping me solve these issues in a deck I feel could do well. Please keep it standard, as I'd like to bring this deck to FNM.
Thank you again,
Your deck, like the Dimir of Ravnica 1.0, are suffering from a split focus. Dimir was divided between milling and evasive beats... and it still is to an extent, but the Cipher mechanic has helped bridge the schism. Your deck is pulled between milling and Talrand-based swarm tactics, and that leaves me in the role of codebreaker.
Jace's Phantasm is symptomatic of that schism. It wants you to mill your opponent for at least ten, so it can swing for five flying. Is it encouraging you to focus on milling, or on attacking with flyers? Are you trying to wear down your opponent's library or life total? Either way, Jace's Phantasm has to come out. Shimian Specter could probably come out too-- it looks good on paper, but as a mere 2/2 for four, it's pretty easy to kill and easier for an opponent to play around by simply dumping his or her hand. One blow from a Specter can wreck a dedicated combo deck, but Standard is pretty light on those these days, and rather heavy on Pillar of Flame.
Also on the chopping block are Index (with no draw, it's no benefit at all really), Mind Rot (too slow), Sands of Delirium (too much mana for not enough payoff), and Rewind (leaving four mana up for counterspells is too much, especially with no Dimir Aquaduct in Standard).
So what do we bring in? Well, if you're losing to aggressive decks, a full playset of Doorkeeper could help. Its ability is so costly for what it does, and you won't want any other defenders beyond Doorkeeper, but it's a solid blocker in the early game at least. If I had fixed this deck before Gatecrash had been released, I'd've recommended Doorkeeper more highly. I'm glad I waited.
I'd rather see you use creatures that could actually kill the creature they block. While searching Gatecrash for good options, I found two decent creatures that seem almost bookends to each other: Sage's Row Denizen and Undercity Informer. One is blue and the other black, but they're both 2/3 for three mana, they both help mill, and they both love being in play alongside Talrand, Sky Summoner.
Now, for your spells. I pulled Rewind, so I'll replace it with Psychic Strike-- one mana less and a milling after-effect. I also pulled Mind Rot, so we'll replace that with Duress. You get one fewer card, sure, but having the discard effect hit first turn really is crucial because that's when the player's hand is still full and the player's plan hasn't had time to come to fruition yet. You also get to choose what you want gone, instead of the opponent getting to decide what he can most easily do without.
To replace Sands of Delirium? I'm of the opinion that X mana for X cards milled is a bad deal. Some effects scale to "X mana" differently than others. Psychic Drain from Ravnica 1.0 was pretty clear evidence of this. It gave you X life on top of the mill effect and still nobody played it. I have higher hopes for Gatecrash's Mind Grind. "Mill until you hit X lands" is a much bigger hit than "Mill for X", even if you can't predict how much bigger. I would estimate a Mind Grind for 5 would probably mill about 12-15 cards. Even more against green decks that run land search. With that kind of ratio, you can throw a Mind Grind at your opponent far earlier than you'd need to with a straight "mill for X" spell. Psychic Drain was only good if you had an infinite mana source and could regularly use it to deliver the final blow. With Mind Grind, you don't need X to be the size of your opponent's library for it to be lethal.
As for Murder and Unsummon, well, they don't quite need to be replaced, but Gatecrash gave use two good options that fill similar niches. Grisly Spectacle costs one more than Murder, but like Psychic Strike it adds a mill effect to a spell you already want to cast. Rapid Hybridization is a more permanent answer to a creature than Unsummon, but it has the unfortunate side effect of giving them a 3/3. Against an aggressive deck, the 3/3 might be as good as any one of their creatures. But does the Hybridization replace the Unsummon, or the Murder? After all, Unsummon is quite the handy spell to have in a deck that runs Rapid Hybridization. Personally, I'm of the opinion that Hybridization replaces Index, letting you keep Unsummon and Spectacle (or Murder, if you're worried about the mana cost).
That still leaves you needing ways to draw cards though, doesn't it? Coerced Confession is an interesting option, but it costs five mana and doesn't actually guarantee you any cards, even if it is a mill spell. You'll probably draw an average of two cards off it in most decks, but I wouldn't want to rely on it. another interesting option is Nightveil Specter-- while it doesn't actually draw you cards, it can give you extra access to spells while it acts as a 2/3 flyer. Be wary though-- you still have to pay the mana cost of the stolen spells, and depending on what color deck your opponent has, you may not be able to (at least until you've stolen enough lands). Bane Alley Broker is another "interesting" option: you can trade cards in your hand for new cards, then "re-draw" the old cards. This plan could be interesting, but it takes a while to pay off and it's a Searing Spear away from backfiring horribly.
I think we might have to wait for the third set in the block for this one, Brandon.
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Magic the Gathering Deck Fixes