It’s said that if you break a mirror, that’s seven years of bad luck. Fortunately, I’m not the superstitious type. As a matter of fact, I’m writing this on Friday the thirteenth under a full moon beneath a ladder surrounded by black cats in an elephant graveyard. Or not. Whatever it is, here’s how you want to play a UG mirror match.
This is a fairly typical UG control deck. Unfortunately, UG is also the most flexible deck in the format (making it challenging to write about), and is usually teched against a specific metagame. You can find variations with Rewind or Quash maindeck to help the TAN matchup, versions with extra Naturalize, Splinter, or even Annul to solidify themselves versus Sword of Fire and Ice. Variations of UG have opted for Condescend to have even more fast counters against aggro, and even versions using Sword of Fire and Ice and Solemn Simulacrum that reflect a more beatdown than control strategy overall. The deck above is not optimized for your metagame, it's more like the fundemental skeleton that most UG decks started out resembling.
Looking at the decklist above, even a non UG player will quickly realize the UG mirror is not a fast game. The best Power/Casting Cost ratio in the deck is 2/3 at Eternal Witness, who will typically just trade with an opposing Witness, or worse still a Sakura Tribe Elder. Of all the creatures, (barring random tech like Kodama of the North Tree), the only one who can single handedly swing the game is Meloku, the Clouded Mirror. The best five mana blue critter since Morphling, Meloku has the raw power to fly in and smash face, leaving a legion of 1/1 chump blocking tokens in his wake to hold the fort. More often than not, if you untap with a Meloku in play, you end up winning. This is doubly true if your hand is full of countermagic when you untap.
The best way to deal with an opposing Meloku (aside from countering it outright) is Vedalken Shackles. There’s no better way to deal with an annoying creature than to simply take it for yourself. Sure, in response to Shackles your opponent can bounce a ton of lands for an Illusion horde, but you can bounce a ton of lands too. Better still, you can give the Illusions a reality check with Echoing Truth.
In addition to being the optimal answer for Meloku, Shackles also greatly improves the rest of your creatures. Eternal Witness isn't much of an offensive threat unless it’s a Witness you stole from your opponent. Now if it trades with a Sakura, that’s two less guys to chump block your Witness. Stealing a Jushi Apprentice can win you the game. It denies your opponent his best card advantage engine and gives it to you.
Vedalken Shackles is The Most Important Card In The :symu::symg: Mirror ™.
It may seem incredibly obvious to all you super smart readers, but the best answer to an opposing Vedalken Shackles is artifact destruction. If you can, Spinter provides the most permanent solution, getting rid of all Shackles not already in play, not to mention making them Eternal Witnes proof. Unfortunately, Splinter is also a four mana sorcery, a prime candidate for countermagic. Much more likely to resolve are your cheaper instants: Naturalize and Oxidize. While they lack the raw power of Splinter, they go active at EOT or in response to a big spell. They also leave you with more untapped lands, should you need to Mana Leak your opponent’s Hinder.
The strategy of “play Shackles and defend it” is generally a surefire way to win the mirror. As a matter of fact, it IS the most reliable way to win the mirror. The difficult part of this strategy is choosing when to play Shackles. Play it too early, and you risk it getting destroyed before you have enough counters to protect it fully. Play it too late, and you risk your opponent being able to successfully counter it. Even more importantly, you must keep in mind that your opponent *should* be playing the exact same strategy as you.
The key part is identifying what you are doing differently and turning that into an advantage. For example, if Mono-:symu: dominates your metagame, you might opt to play maindeck Sylvan Scrying for Boseiju Who Shelters All, as well as Quash. In this scenario, you are (likely) using superior countermagic, and your strategy is more likely to force a late game counter war over Shackles, where you can use a Boseiju'd Quash to great effect. On the other hand, if you are using lots of artifact removal, you want to play creatures as quickly as possible. This forces your opponent to cast an earlier Shackles than he might otherwise like, and gives you a perfect opportunity to Oxidize it.
There is one last tiny thing to be aware of. I said earlier that the “play Shackles and defend it” strategy is generally a surefire way to win the mirror. Even if you execute that strategy to perfection, you still have one final weakness: Rude Awakening. It’s big, It’s clunky, and it wins games all by itself. Rude Awakening is to UG control what Upheaval was to UG Madness. It provides an emergency “out” that enables the UG player to fall horribly behind on board position and still randomly topdeck a win. This is as true in the UG mirror as it is against any other deck, and once you are in Awakening range you have to factor it into your decision making process.
Rarely does UG deliberately sideboard cards for the mirror. The mirror simply isn’t common enough in most metagames to warrant that. However, cards that are used against OTHER popular decks like Mono-:symu:, Tooth and Nail, and even WW can give you an advantage in the UG mirror.
Boseiju Who Shelters All: Despite the fact that only one of the three “key cards” identified above are sorceries, I like Boseiju in this matchup. Boseiju turns your Hinders into Last Word and makes your Rude Awakening uncounterable. It also works great with Splinter to permanently deal with Vedalken Shackles. Overall a solid but unremarkable choice off the sideboard, primarily used to hate Mono-:symu: control.
Kira, the Great Glass Spinner: The UG mirror isn’t the only matchup that’s all about Vedalken Shackles. The matchup against Mono-:symu: also tends to revolve around them. Kira effectively counters your opponent’s first Shackles activation. As a side bonus, it buys your Illusion tokens protection from Echoing Truth. About on par with Boseiju, Kira has the bonus of attacking for damage and not causing pain, but the drawback of being vulnerable to permission and, worse still, she can be stolen by your opponent.
Bribery: Ahh, Tooth and Nail, we all hate you. Bribery constantly comes off the board for action in game 2 and 3, but it’s wrong to do so. The simplest problem is Echoing Truth. Nothing is more embarrassing than Bribing a nice big Meloku just to have your opponent promptly put it into his hand and say “thank you.” It’s also not particularly spectacular against Vedalken Shackles unless your opponent is using Viridian Shaman or their ilk.
Quash: For people who really don’t like losing to Rude Awakening. If it hits, Quash is sure to provide an advantage. Even stripping an opponent of his Hinders is quite pleasant. One key thing to notice is that all the artifact removal tends to be Quashable. If you Quash the first Oxidize you see, it will greatly ease your long term defensive burden. Quash is also quite strong against Mono-:symu: and TAN.
Troll Ascetic: Despite being in the sideboarding section of the article, Troll Ascetics are generally maindecked if they are used at all. Three mana for three power makes them the most efficient beaters in UG control, and the Shackles proof status, as well as regeneration, makes them difficult to stop in a mirror. Maindecked trolls are strongest in metagames dominated by :symu:-based control.
Evacuation: The primary Rude Awakening hoser. Evacuation turns the game altering megaspell into a serious liability. Generally not very popular in the sideboard, you will find Evacuation mainly in areas where Rude Awakening and Beacon of Creation based decks are extraordinarily popular.
Artifact Removal: All sorts of decks use artifacts, and so extra artifact removal, from Oxidize on up to Splinter, have found places in sideboards. As a general rule, you want to have between three and six total artifact removal cards in games two and three.
The most important fact for a mirror is not what’s written up there. It’s what is in your head. Smart decision making and choosing the optimal strategy for your specific version of UG is what will really win you the mirror. I’ve outlined the basics, but to really master the mirror, you’ve got to go play it. Lots. So shuffle ‘em up and give your buddies a call, it’s time to play some Magic.