The Magic Pro Tour is an awesome thing, and one of the coolest decks to come from it was this beauty from the tandem of Randy Buehler and Erik Lauer: https://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/arcana/buelher-deck-2002-08-16
The deck was the rare rogue concoction at Worlds in Seattle back in 1998 and while it was called "control," it played like a Prison deck. Your opponent would cast stuff and you'd counter it, starting on turn one thanks to Force Spike. If anything snuck buy? You'd clean it up with Nevinyrral's Disk. Your win condition? A singleton Rainbow Efreet OR four copies of Stalking Stones. What if your win condition was on the bottom of your deck? The max copies of Impulse in the deck ensured you had a means of putting extra cards on the bottom to "push up" your beat sticks and get the job done.
Speaking of Impulse, did y'all see what they reprinted in Dominaria United?
The moment I saw it I knew what I was going to be building: an infinite array of control decks. To make mythic this September, that's exactly what I did! I probably tested 100 decks this season, including a two-week break in the middle to jam Dominaria United on Quick Draft to build up my card pool. (I thought about spending the month going mythic in Limited, but the inner child in me was compelled to draft 5 color EVERY DRAFT instead of the optimal strategy, and I just couldn't get myself to stop because that strategy is too fun.)
Here's the end result, nabbing Mythic on September 30th at FAR too early in the morning to be this close to 40 years of age:
3 Devious Cover-Up (MID) 48
20 Island (SLD) 64
4 Silver Scrutiny (DMU) 65
4 Impulse (DMU) 55
4 Essence Scatter (IKO) 49
4 Memory Deluge (MID) 62
4 Fading Hope (MID) 51
4 Syncopate (VOW) 83
4 Karn's Sylex (DMU) 234
4 Tolarian Terror (DMU) 72
1 Otawara, Soaring City (NEO) 271
4 Maestros Theater (SNC) 251
Like the OG version of Buehler Blue your game plan is roughly, "Counter their stuff, blow up what gets by you with an artifact, and win with a tough-to-kill creature." The counters aren't as good as they used to be (minus one exception which I'll get to in a moment), but the creatures are WAY better, so you lean into it with this feller as a playset instead of a 1-of:
Tolarian Terror is really, really good. It's going to be a $1 common (if it's not already) and you should be picking them up off the draft table from the "chaff" people leave behind. In this deck it's advantages are maximized: after surviving the first few turns casting all your spells it becomes cheap enough to cast AND leave counters up, but whilst on the battlefield it's very "expensive" so you can blow up the world with Karn's Sylex while leaving your creature unaffected. Ward 2 is also no joke: for a red deck to kill this thing it costs them 7 mana between ward, Lightning Strike, and the currently legal Shock variant. (Side note: "Currently Legal Shock Variant" is a fantastic name for an Un-set.)
Your Nevinyrral's Disk proxy, Karn's Sylex, is not as good as the OG version but it's functional enough. Make sure to play it carefully against opponents who could be running March of the Otherworldly Light or Torn Asunder, the primary maindeck methods players use to blow it up right now. The fact it exiles itself is also no bueno because of our reliance on the best counterspell ever printed:
Why is that the best counterspell ever? Just like old school Buehler Blue had two win conditions, Rainbow Efreet and Stalking Stones, you've got two: the aforementioned Terror, and straight up decking your opponent by recycling your cards using Devious Cover Up. Additionally, exiling cards being cast is no joke in a format with Tenacious Underdog and Kami of Transcience.
I've made no secret of the fact I ADORE decks that infinitely recycle themselves, slowly turning into an algorithm that gets smarter and smarter at beating the things the opponent is trying to accomplish with their strategy as the game drags on. Will I acknowledge the rumors I have a Gaea's Blessing tramp stamp? No, but Devious Cover Up has been on my shortlist for a long time. Here is your goal in a typical game with this deck:
- Survive the early game by countering, bouncing, or blowing stuff up
- Stabilize with a Terror on the battlefield
- Refill using Silver Scrutiny and/or Memory Deluge
- Restore your life with Maestro's Theater
- Recycle hard counters, threats (if needed), Silver Scrutiny, and a Theater to infinitely loop attackers, counters, lifegain, and keep filling up
You're winning at the point where you're at 6ish life, a 5/5 in play, on an empty board with a 7-card hand to their 0/1-card hand. It's a rush every time.
- Hullbreaker Horror is absolutely a problem for this deck. The primary solution right now is "No one is playing it," and that's valid. I've got some sideboard options I'm tinkering with on that front and I may follow up with those experiments.
- The Maestro's Theater is absolutely essential. It enables you to gain infinite life over the length of a game, and it has mattered many times for me in matches. It's easy to dismiss 1-point increments as meaningless, but you're wrong to do so. I toyed with a singleton Field of Ruin so that you could potentially wipe your opponent out of all of their non-basics, but it was more gimmicky than I needed with no creature-lands in the format. (Field is a 4-of were there creature-lands though!)
- It doesn't matter if people kill your Tolarian Terrors. If someone is going to kill you after removing it as a blocker, sure, interfere. If they're going to exile the final copy, leaving none left in your deck or graveyard to reshuffle, sure intervene. But otherwise let them use resources removing something you have "infinite" copies of.
- On Arena, Impulse automatically arranges cards on the bottom of your deck. However, that's only true if your deck is over 20 cards in size. Beyond that limit they automatically let you arrange things how you want. I was surprised to see this handy bit of UX, but it's really clever and I love it. At 60 cards this feature doesn't matter, but at 20 it does and they balance accommodating competitive play with casual experience. *chef's kiss*
- The Monoblue fliers match is challenging, as all aggro control matchups are for strict control decks. It's not unwinnable, but the Maestro's Theater are an intentional choice to facilitate some added red cards in the board for that matchup as I shift to testing Best of 3 matches in October. Otherwise, it's right to split up the fetch lands to be spread out amongst anything that can fetch an Island for Pithing Needle reasons. Unlikely to matter, but technically correct is correct.
- Essence Scatter is better than Negate. Both are better than Make Disappear, which is just Quench and does nothing long game. Syncopate is also better than Make Disappear because exile actually matters in this format and it can still be a hard counter when your opponent is trying to Invoke Despair. Negate's a likely 4-of in the board to swap in against control decks, though I'm keeping open the possibility "Offer You Can't Refuse" is superior because it's cheaper and the treasure tokens die to Karn's Sylex.
- I'll repeat: Karn's Sylex exiles itself, but does NOT exile the permanents it's removing. This also means you can't recycle it with Devious Cover Up, and because it's a sorcery speed ability you have to cast it, wait a turn, and then do it main phase. Studio X learned the lessons of "anyone can play this Wrath of God" cards, but it's still the best (only) option.
- There is one Otawara. It is possible the correct number is two. The reason is that it allows you to play one, and still have one to use as an uncounterable spell. If you needed access to a maximum of 21 mana in a turn, you'd still be able to generate it by playing every land including Otawara, then tapping it, playing the second and tapping it too.
This deck was an absolute blast, and I loved it. If I can stop myself from building Alchemy decks to recur this card in the coming weeks:
...then I'll be working on testing sideboard Best of 3 options for this list in Standard.