The deck expects to run the long game. There is almost no way for the game to end early as a result of the machinations of this deck. We want to focus on everyone else and what they are doing so we essentially try to police the game. But, since we are trying to police the table, we need to recognize that we won't have answers for everything at all times. Which means we need to have patience with our spells as well as good threat assessment to know what needs to be dealt with first.
Beyond that, we are pretty well equipped to get some shots in with our creatures once they are on the field. In some cases, we need to leave things back as blockers but we can try to slowly grind down our opponents' life totals, even if it is with only one creature a turn.
Another quick note is that we have a fair amount of exile effects in this deck. These cards help out a lot against Indestructible creatures that otherwise survive our wraths and any other removal others players may have. It also gives us a way to supplement our other cards as a way to interrupt graveyard interactions which can be important in games where players use their graveyards for anything. Since that seems to be every deck nowadays (even ours to a lesser extent), having these options can really slow down dedicated graveyard decks.
The early game is all about getting Ephara on the battlefield. It is rare, outside of playing against turn 2-3 infinite combo decks, where we really need to answer a lot of things early. So, we should ramp and try to get Ephara down as early as possible. This gives us a way to move into the control role or even just getting to the point of flashing things in for value to draw with Ephara.
We don't need to start running out spells just because we can, though we might need to just to draw some cards. Beyond that, patience is rewarded here and it is not uncommon to get to the point of having 4-6 mana (hopefully some of this being mana rocks) and never actually cast anything beyond some of our smaller creatures. It all depends on what our opponents are doing, but we don't plan on stopping everything; just the more powerful stuff.
At most, we will generally focus on removing individual threats. This means firing off our Swords to Plowshares
, Path to Exile
, etc. to deal with specific threats. We do have a tough time dealing with very aggressive early games so our plan for that is to take out whatever engine we can with spot removal (removing Krenko, Mob Boss
before they untap for example).
We can also fire off a counter spell if needed. Mana Drain and Disallow can stop some early aggressive threats but that is only 2 cards in 99 so it is tough to bank on. But, with our spot removal and counter magic we should hopefully have at least one answer to an aggressive threat if we come across one.
can also help here too, though it does give them a 3/3 Flyer. It depends on what is being stolen to determine if this is a good trade (for you anyway) but often a 3/3 flyer hitting us for a few turns is preferable to a lot of things. And, we can bounce/flicker it later to get something even better later on so it isn't a waste to fire it off early.
Otherwise, we just take our beats. Extremely fast, aggressive starts are tough to deal with so we might need to change our game plan a little just to stem the damage we take until we can get to something to slow them down. This might mean we need to cast some of our creatures to get some blockers just to stay alive.
It is important to note that we are not really trying to avoid casting things to put on the board entirely. We have Stormscape Familiar
, Charming Prince
, Recruiter of the Guard
, Solemn Simulacrum
, and a few others that we will often try to get down early. These give us much needed blockers to try to slow the drain from our life total early on and we still want them so we can draw from Ephara.
What we do want to avoid is casting things like Eldrazi Displacer
or Faerie Artisans
at this time since we still expect the board to go away. It might be necessary to run them out or, if our opponents are starting somewhat slow and we don't think we need to wrath any time soon, we can run them out and try to get some use out of them. The decision on whether these come down early is dependent on reading the board state and the game to see if it makes sense to do so. In some cases, if we happen to get focused on, it might become necessary to run these cards out as chump blockers.
If we can wait, and if we have them in hand, this is about the time we want to really start thinking about countering things. We are light on counter spells so, if we have one in hand, we need to be absolutely sure it is worth countering. But, there is almost always something worth countering by turn 6 or 7.
In an ideal situation we would also have a wrath we can fall back on at this stage. We do only have 3 wraths (4 if we count Cyclonic Rift
) so we need to recognize the limitations in expecting one and play our hands accordingly. While Ephara, and a few other cards, can potentially get us to a wrath, it is never guaranteed so we might have to make the decision at this point to start playing less conservatively and start filling the board. This gives us ways to interact on board and it will trigger Ephara to dig deeper. We still can't go on the offensive here, but just playing defense is prudent so we can stay alive.
And, if our opponents have been building things slowly, we can afford to wait even longer. 10 power on the board for one opponent isn't generally enough to be a cause for concern and we can rely on things like Selfless Squire
if we need to blank one attack. We want our opponents to overextend as much as we can get away with so not having a wrath immediately can still work out with our other forms of protection.
Otherwise, after a wrath, or if our opponents are slow enough, we might be able to control things individually and get some creatures on the field. Dream Eater
to blank an attack and give us a blocker (or attacker if we can afford it) is good. Stunt Double
can copy something big our opponents have and at Instant timing.
will often come down around this time as well. This gives us some added value with reusing ETBs, can give us a big creature as needed, and allows Ephara to trigger to draw cards. It isn't necessarily worth fighting over this card, but it can be in the right circumstances so it is best not to just run it out and let it die. Having some sort of protection for it may be worthwhile.
And finally, as the game starts to dwindle and people are getting to low life totals (including ourselves) or maybe even leaving the game entirely, we want to start trying to pressure for the last few life points people have. One of the best plays around this time is Resolute Archangel
to reset our life total. Our opponents have slowly been spending resources to get us down so undoing all of that is a huge blow to them and a boon to us.
Beyond that, maybe another wrath if needed (coupled with either Teferi's Protection
or Eerie Interlude
to save our stuff) or even just a Cyclonic Rift
to clear the way for our creatures. Since our creatures, beyond Ephara herself, are pretty small it does take a little work to get in a lot of damage so we need to pressure when we can at this stage. The game may go on a while longer while our opponents rebuild but we can start to spend our removal spells less judiciously and we can afford to be a little more aggressive with our spells as ways to just clear the way for our attackers.
Basically, we want to work to end the game and can be a little more aggressive in doing so, but it is important that we recognize the need to fall back into a control role if our opponents rebuild faster than we can answer them one for one. It will often come up where we will need to start playing the long game again and be patient with our attacks but at this stage, we should be able to close out the game in our favor.
While the above gives a rundown of the games as it progresses, there are a number of specific interactions worth calling out that can help with navigating the deck through different types of games. It is important to recognize that the deck has the tools to make for a successful game if we understand the potential threats that can come up and try to be prepared for them.
For example, Winding Canyons
is a card in this deck more for the "just in case" type scenarios. This comes up because about half of our creatures don't have Flash but we still want to be able to play on our opponents' turns.
For example, if our opponent all of a sudden Alpha Strikes us when we don't expect it, we can flash in Recruiter of the Guard
to get our Selfless Squire
or we can flash in Spellseeker
to get our Cyclonic Rift
. Even flashing in Angel of Finality
in response to some sort of graveyard interaction can be important.
Something to keep in mind is that we have a lot of cards that can be played offensively or defensively. Eldrazi Displacer
is an excellent example of this. Because our deck is so focused on ETB effects, and playing a more tempo oriented game, it can be common to get stuck in the mind set of wanting to only target our own creatures to get more use out of their ETBs. However, Displacer causes the blinked creatures to enter tapped which makes it a good "removal" effect if we are trying to attack. If we get our Selfless Squire
above we now have a huge creature but one that can be chump blocked easily. With Displacer, we can remove any potential blockers to get that attack through.
With Displacer, it is also important to note that it can be instrumental in just protecting our board. It is possible our board isn't flooded with creatures, and we do only have a few big beaters, so leaving up 3-6 mana just to protect those creatures from spot removal is a good idea. Whether they have good ETBs or isn't as relevant as just keeping them around so it can be a good idea to play a little cautiously here to make sure we have ways to stop our stuff from getting removed.