1800 or Bust!: Counter Rebel On Tour, Part I

He’s been getting into shape, practicing his butt off. And now it’s the Bath tournament. How does Grimmett fare?

After a week’s testing and what seemed like a lifetime’s reading of web sites, mailing lists and newsgroups, I felt I was ready to take a Counter Rebel deck to our monthly Bath tourney. Without further ado, here’s the deck I took:

Creatures (12):
3x Defiant Falcon
2x Ramosian Lieutenant
3x Lin Sivvi, Defiant Hero
2x Defiant Vanguard
1x Ramosian Skymarshall
1x Jhovall Queen

Other Spells (22):
4x Counterspell
4x Absorb
4x Powersink
4x Wrath of God
2x Dismantling Blow
1x Disenchant
3x Brainstorm

Land (26):
4x Adarkar Wastes
4x Coastal Tower
9x Islands
9x Plains

Sideboard (15):
2x Exile
2x Circle of Protection: Green
1x Rebel Informer
2x Mageta the Lion
2x Misdirection
1x Dominate
1x Disenchant
1x Lightbringer
2x Tsabo’s Web
1x Submerge

I was talked into taking one Queen by a number of sources both local and international. I was assured that she would wreck decks that relied on red removal. Boy, was THAT right! One Skymarshall remained because I was pretty sure that there are a lot of decks that can tie up the ground, and quickly put out a few ground-based creatures to slow the Queen down.

I chose a mix of Disenchants and Blows, mainly to give me the occasional ability to not counter a Chimeric Idol and Disenchant it at the end of my opponent’s turn. I also dropped the main deck Tsabo’s Webs I was playing (in order to fit in the Queen and get down to 60 cards in the main deck). Finally, much to my displeasure, I had to drop one of the four Brainstorms to fit a twelfth counterspell. The land is fairly self-explanatory. There’s an equal amount of white and blue because I need two of each colour!

The sideboard probably needs a little more explanation.

Bath is famous for the number of rogue decks you face in the first few rounds, mainly because of the number of younger players that turn up month after month, but some of them are good players with good ideas and it’s best not to be surprised. There’s also a history of land destruction decks doing well in Bath, and plenty of people have Ports and Dust Bowls – some even in their sideboard.

So, Webs go in the sideboard, along with some Misdirections. The Magetas are for the mirror match (along with the Informer), but can also come in against Fires if needs be (and often did). CoP: Green and Submerge are overkill, but with the preference of many people to copy the simplest net deck they can get, I felt it was justified.

Lightbringer comes in against Nether Shadow and Pyre Zombies, and not much else.

Once again the day started with me building a deck for Tarik. He’d decided that he wanted to play Green/White, and so I put a rugged deck together for him based on a number of past decks he’s done well with. Tarik likes combat tricks. Combat tricks are his bread and butter, so Noble Panthers, Fleetfoot Panthers, and Wax/Wane gave him plenty of those, along with Thornscape Apprentices and Parallax Waves to slow down his opponent.

Soon enough Alan arrived, and I grabbed the cards he needed to borrow. At ten minutes past the hour we were on our way and we arrived a full half-hour before the tourney was due to start.

42 players registered and the tourney began at 11 a.m. – on time for once.

Round 1: Antoine Hupin, Fires

It doesn’t matter how many players there are, I always seem to end up playing someone I playtest with. Today’s first such match was with Antoine. Antoine is well known for liking G/W decks packing four Armageddons, but he’d put a lot of practice in with Fires, so I wasn’t sure which one he was playing.

Game one he played a Bird of Paradise, followed by a Chimeric Idol. I countered a few Derms and Bursts and slowly managed to stabilise at around ten life. Two Absorbs later, I was in the safe zone and a Skymarshall flew over his ground forces with a Falcon for the win.

Game two I sideboarded heavily: Three Brainstorms, three Falcons, two Lieutenants and one Queen out for two Webs, two Magetas, two COP: Green, one Submerge and two Exiles. My guess was that Antoine would be bringing in some Hurricanes (a favourite of his) and lots of things to mess my rebels up. The less rebels I have, the less chance he has of doing that.

Sure enough, turn two a Brutal Suppression hits the table. Whilst I can get rid of it when I need to, I didn’t need to right away as I had counter spells and Wraths in hand. I countered a few early things and let him put an Idol down (with a Disenchant in hand). I stabilised at fourteen life and again, after a few Absorbs and a little more damage, was back up to eighteen and started ‘beating’ him down with Lin Sivvi. Shortly afterwards she was joined by a Skymarshall (Suppression be damned) and the game came to a swift conclusion.

Matches: 1-0, Games: 2-0

Round 2: Chris Phillips, B/R

Chris is one of the younger players at the tourney, but his decks always have all the rare cards they need and he has a good understanding of the rules. He started with a Swamp and I knew I could be in for a bad game, but his deck failed to give him any threats as I dumped a land every turn and eventually searched out a Queen for the win. I finished game one on twenty-six life.

I sideboarded with Decree and Pyre Zombies in mind, not really knowing what was in his deck. I took out two Wraths, one Disenchant, a Brainstorm and two Lieutenants bringing in two Misdirections, two Exiles, one Dominate and a Lightbringer. Chris started off much faster than before with a quick zombie followed by a Blazing Spectre. I managed to stabilise just as Chris played a Shivan Zombie. Lightbringer popped out and Chris asked a judge whether he could kill the Lightbringer in response to me activating its ability. It had summoning sickness at the time, but the judge answered, "No, the Lightbringer is sacrificed as part of the ability’s cost." I think Chris forgot it had summoning sickness and let it be my turn.

In my turn I then tried to remove a Pyre Zombie from the game, expecting Chris to sacrifice it in response. He didn’t. I did this a few times, getting rid of almost all of his creatures whilst Chris attacked me every turn with his Shivan Zombie. Eventually I started doing damage back and Absorbed a few spells to get the life back to allow my Queen to win the damage race.

Matches: 2-0, Games: 4-0

Lunch was, once again, at the New Inn just up the road from where the tourneys are held. Tarik was enjoying himself, but Alan was thoroughly bored of playing Fires. Tarik replied to his whining very simply:

"Who every said playing good Type II decks was FUN?"

We’d all finished early for a change, and so had lots of time to drink and eat our lunch – and, for the first time I can remember, were back with a good fifteen minutes before the next round started.

Round 3: Richard Edbury, Counter Rebel

I knew that it would be a possibility, but I had hoped that I would avoid playing Richard for a while. My deck is based heavily on his design but he’s been playing it for nearly four months now. In the mirror match up experience is everything so I expected to be the underdog. On the other hand, that meant no pressure to win.

Game one we fought over early rebels. Richard managed to get the first one to stay on the table and, not seeing another Wrath, I died with five counterspells in hand.

I thought hard about sideboarding, even though I’d worked out a rough scheme before hand, and decided that this was all about who could keep Lin Sivvi on the table. I decided that I needed to bring in Mageta to give me more Wrath effects, Misdirections to increase my counter capability, Rebel Informer for obvious reasons and my Dominate to steal Lin given a chance. Taking out cards was more difficult. The Queen and one Disenchant came out straight away. I left the Blows in, in case Rich brought in Story Circle or something. That left four more cards. The Vanguards came out because we wouldn’t be fighting a ground war, and I took out a Brainstorm and a Lieutenant to fit the rest in.

This game I saw the early rebel and Rich saw no Wraths. I capitalised by getting the Skymarshall out and keeping Mageta and Wraths from happening until Rich was dead. Game three was a reversal as Rich got the early rebel and prevented me from Wrathing.

After the match we took our decks apart and compared notes. I’ve played against Richard for years now and thoroughly enjoy the challenge as he (by my and the DCI’s standards) is a much better player than me. His main deck had changed a little and his sideboard had changed a few cards too. There were some big surprises: He’s taken out some of the four maindeck Wraths for Mageta, and he too had upped the number of counterspells by a few. I also talked to him about Kai’s version of the deck and he said that he agreed with Kai on most points, too.

Matches: 2-1, Games: 5-2

An early loss, but not an unexpected one, I rarely stay at the top of a tourney from round one onwards.

Round 4: Cliff Lee, Blue Skies with Ankh Tide

Cliff is a new player to Bath tourneys, only having come to one before, but he was confident that he was about to wreck me. He was sitting next to one of his friends and they were wondering why they didn’t get to play more "easy counter rebel matchups. Needless to say, I thought this a little overconfident and wondered what he was playing.

On turn two, he answered my question with an Ankh of Mishra. Now most people will tell you that that is pretty good going against a control deck… I agree. He played a few Spiketail Hatchlings, and I knew that I’d need to find a Disenchant soon or take a lot of pain. I dropped land for the next three turns, bringing me up to five land in total before managing to slow his assault with Defiant Falcons. Lin hit the table soon after, and I had to counter a Wash Out to keep me in the game. Luckily I had a backup Lin in hand, and when Cliff played a few too many creatures for my liking I Wrathed and watched him do nothing. Lin II hit the table, and very shortly Cliff was on the end of a vengeful Queen. My hand started filling up with counterspells and I played the slow but safe route to victory.

One thing I had remembered was that Cliff had said he had no counterspells in his deck and a few instants. I guessed that he’d probably have some form of bounce, but knew that I wouldn’t have to get in to any counter wars. That slip probably won me the game, because I knew I didn’t have to worry about playing around Thwarts or Foils. I did consider it could be misinformation, but he was telling me why his Spirits were so good at the time, so I reckoned he was telling the truth. I bought in my Dominate, an extra Disenchant, and my Exiles. I took out my Vanguards and Lieutenants for them.

The next game was much tighter, as Cliff played his Spiketails early and I couldn’t counter a Tangle Wire. Luckily for me, Cliff then didn’t seem to do anything for a few turns; just enough for me to have enough mana to counter his Troublesome Spirit. Soon after another Tangle Wire hit, but I searched out a few creatures so that I’d have some untapped land quicker. Cliff kept attacking with his two Spiketails and, short on land, I had a hard time playing around them. Pretty soon an Ankh hit the table – and soon after, a second one. Cliff started praying for a Parallax Tide as I slowly stalled his air attack and stabilised at three life. I searched out my Skymarshall and a recycled a few falcons to start attacking for as much as I could get away with each turn. Cliff didn’t last long, but I was lucky – I finished with a hand full of land.

Matches: 3-1, Games: 7-2

Round 5: Ganesh Sivalingam, G/W

Ganesh is another player who has just started turning up at tourneys. As I’d been matched up with him I assumed that his deck must be very good and sat down to see what it was. Very quickly I saw that it was Green/White and assumed that he had Armageddon in the main deck. I eventually stabilised at fourteen life after a couple of Wraths, and beat him to death with a Skymarshall and a Falcon or two.

Once again I sideboarded a lot of cards and Ganesh got out of the blocks quickly. I put down a COP: Green, but it was quickly Waned away. He kept applying pressure, but was canny enough not to play too many creatures, so that after my first Wrath he could play another pair of big boys to keep things going. We reached a ground standoff and he attempted to cast Parallax Wave, I looked at his land. He did have more White mana and enough to cast Armageddon, but with the Wave on the table I’d soon be overwhelmed. I countered the Wave and he quickly tapped four mana to blow up the world.

Hmm. Bummer.

Luckily, I had a second COP: Green out and dropped a land straight away. A few land later I was nearly safe, but he had too many creatures and finished me off.

Game three, I didn’t change any cards and played slower. I stabilised at eleven life and put out a few cards to start hurting him, countering pretty much everything he cast. I had a good draw and I really didn’t see how he was going to win.

Matches: 4-1, Games: 9-3

Woo Hoo! A positive record with two more games to go. Whatever happens, I aim to come away from a tourney with a winning record. With just one more win, I’d make a top 8.

Round 6: Mark Humphries, Counter Rebel

Mark has been to the Pro Tour and can play very well when he knows his deck and is concentrating. This match was very quick for a mirror match, as he had a maindeck Rebel Informer and I didn’t see enough Wraths and land. In game one I had to go down to five cards, and in game two I stalled on three land. As he said, "Mirror matches are often about who draws the most land." I’ve a feeling he’s right; maybe that’s why Richard plays twenty-seven lands?

At the end of the match, we chatted about his main deck and sideboard. Like Richard, he’s playing a maindecked Mageta and fewer counters than I am. The matchup is all about who plays rebels and can keep them alive. If I play Lin and can’t defend her, you might win if you can play her straight away and defend her. If I play Lin, try to defend her and fail – but you’re tapped out, I can just play another one next turn! The mirror match is something that I need a lot more practice in – luckily, there’s a Regional qualifier I can go and practice in next weekend… I just hope I can get some practice in before that, too!

Matches: 4-2, Games: 9-5

Round 7: Chris Hardy, Mouldy Ponza (R/G LD).

Once more I have to play a playtest partner. The winner will probably be in the top eight; the loser will have had an average day. I started okay, but didn’t draw enough land and counters, and I was soon on a lot less land than Chris and his Idols and Battery tokens made short work of me.

In came the Webs, Misdirections, and Dominate; out went some of the Wraths and the Queen (believing I wouldn’t get enough mana to cast or search for her) and a Lieutenant.

Game two was never in doubt. I had a hand with four land and three counters. I laid a land and said go. Chris laid a land and I then countered everything he did for the next few turns before laying a Web to lock up a few of Chris’ land, giving me a large mana advantage. Eventually, I had enough land to start searching and countering and I bought out a Skymarshall for the win. I ended up on twenty-nine life.

Game three looked less certain with a five-land hand and a few counters. I started well, but soon ran out of steam and didn’t see enough counters or a Web to slow Chris down as he showed why land destruction is an excellent choice right now. Even with Webs and twenty-six land in my deck, he can lock me down, then Tectonic Break to bring me right back down to zero land with a bump.

Chris has been doing very well with the deck over the last few months and I fully expect him to qualify with it this weekend.

Matches: 4-3, Games: 10-7

So seven matches and nearly eight hours later, I end up at four wins and three losses in 12th place. With 42 players, if this had been a qualifier, there would have been fourteen slots and I would have qualified. At the very least, that gives me a little more confidence in myself and the deck, whilst at the same time I know that I have a lot of work to do before the qualifier this Sunday. Luckily for me, I’m testing tonight and my good friend and team member Andy is coming up from London for the Easter weekend and we’re going to get a bunch of testing in on Friday and Saturday, too.

All in all, I’m going to make a few changes to the deck for the weekend. I’m going to go up to four Falcons and add a main deck Rebel Informer, dropping both Lieutenants. I’m also going to drop two of the counterspells, probably a Power Sink and an Absorb to fit in a pair of Foils.

My reasoning for this is that, over the course of the day, four Power Sinks and four Counterspells definitely gave me an advantage in the early game against a number of decks. Once I got to the late game, Power Sink rarely worked because most decks are packing 24-27 land these days, and many are playing eight mana creatures, too! A pair of Foils would give me the emergency counter I need in the early game and can easily be a hard-cast "NO!" in the late game. I’d also go back up to 61 cards and add one maindecked Tsabo’s Web.

The sideboard needs work; I think I probably need to add a few more cards for the mirror match, as that’s what I’m losing, and lower the number of cards I have for the Fires and G/W match ups – which I’m winning even before I sideboard.

I’ll let you know how I did at the regional qualifier next week in Counter Rebel on Tour, Part II.

Cheers, Jim Grimmett.
Team PhatBeats.