1800 or Bust!: Counter Rebel on Tour, Part II

He made it… But only after losing his first two rounds. Yeowtch. How do you make a comeback like that?

One week after my first real outing with Counter Rebel, and I have a much more important tournament to prepare for: The Bristol Regional Qualifier. There have been a number of qualifiers reasonably near me that I haven’t managed to attend for one reason or another, and there is one in London (a mere two hours away) at the end of the month if I don’t qualify this time around. That would mean another weekend away from home, though, so I’d really like to qualify locally.

After a few days off from Magic, I got some people together to play test on Wednesday night. My teammate Alan and I, our playtest partners Chris and Antoine and some new local players all met up downstairs in the Hobgoblin after I finished work. The agreement we have with the Hobgoblin staff is that we can play as long as we all have a drink all of the time – this does mean that by the end of the night, we’re not so much playing Magic, more playing snap – but we get a few hours of worthwhile testing in before it gets like that.

Some of us played Type II whilst some of us played with preconstructed decks, and others played with decks made from the few cards our recent converts owned. Becky, one of the newer players, only had one deck, really, so I went through the box of commons I’d given her and the other deck she had and put together a G/R/w deck for her. Lots of creature pumping and burn with a few G/W creatures added into the mix to make things a little more fun. As with any new player, she’s still learning the right times to play spells, lay land, and cast sorceries – and so combat tricks with Fleetfoot Panther and damage on the stack are a little beyond her at the moment. Hopefully she’ll pick it up as the weeks go by.

Testing showed us that U/W control gives Counter Rebel fits, Nether Go is a reasonable matchup for many decks, Blue Skies isn’t as dead as some people think, and R/G land destruction seriously slaps Fires around. None of this was really new news, but a few plays here and there shored up our playing skills a little and everyone learned a few more tricks with their decks that might give them the edge.

One lucky aspect of the timing of this qualifier was that it was on Easter Sunday. In the UK, Good Friday and the Monday following Easter Sunday are both holidays, so my good friend and teammate Andy Smith came over from London on Thursday night to help us prepare for the tournament. We spent Thursday night drinking a few beers and ending up in a club – a very bad club with very bad music – discussing some of the decks we might put together in the morning.

Once again, the spectre of the last night’s heavy drinking hovered over us as we all awoke late and started putting a few decks together. Given my performance of the previous week in the mirror match, Andy and I decided that we’d best practice it, so we built an exact copy of Richard Edbury’s winning deck and took them back down to the Hobgoblin for breakfast.

After a hearty breakfast, we started playing the mirror match. Five hours later we’d played it enough and knocked off for a few more drinks. All in all, we validated some theories we’d had:

1. Main deck Rebel Informer wins you game one most of the time if your opponent doesn’t have one.
2. Mageta, the Lion is the next best card in the mirror match.
3. The player that goes first often wins the game.

The last of these surprised me. Very often a turn two rebel would seal the match. Once the rebel is down, your opponent must cast Lin Sivvi in the next two turns, but you’ll be untapped and (even if they do cast her) they’ll be tapped out and you can Wrath. If they don’t cast her, you search her out and use all your counter spells to stop Wrath of God and win. I don’t like this conclusion, but there have been too many times now when precisely this has happened for me to ignore it. I guess I’d better be lucky on the day and make the right coin calls.

After the monotony of the mirror match on Friday, we gave most of Saturday over to not playing Magic, only allowing ourselves to build the decks we’d be taking with us on Sunday. Tarik, who was still unsure whether he’d come along, wanted us to build him Nether-Go, so I put took the version we had and we tweaked it a little, taking out some cards he didn’t like and adding some he preferred. Andy spent some time on the web and decided to take Brian Kibler aggro R/B deck "Blazing Saddles" (Brian’s article on the deck can be found at http://www.wizards.com/sideboard/article.asp?x=sb20010413b) while I took our testing into account and put the final touches to the deck I’d take with me.

Here is the deck I took:

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

Other Spells (23):
4x Counterspell
3x Powersink
3x Absorb
2x Foil
3x Brainstorm
1x Tsabo’s Web
4x Wrath of God
2x Dismantling Blow
1x Disenchant

Land (26):
4x Adarkar Wastes
4x Coastal Towers
10x Islands
8x Plains

Sideboard (15):
3x Mageta the Lion
2x Misdirection
1x Disenchant
1x Tsabo’s Web
1x Rout
2x Circle of Protection: Green
2x Exile
1x Teferi’s Response
1x Dominate
1x Lightbringer

The Informer went in the main deck to give me a higher chance in the mirror match. In one of my previous articles I argued that Absorb was too good not to play four, but I felt that Power Sink wasn’t as useful in the late game as I liked. Many decks are playing a lot of land and mana producers these days, and whilst Power Sink is extremely useful in the first three or four turns, I’d rather be playing with Foil in the late game. I felt that adding one Foil wouldn’t be much use, so I dropped an Absorb for the second one.

I kept a Ramosian Lieutenant in the main deck because of the number of Plague Spitters, Dread of Nights, and Simoons I’d been reading about. One Lieutenant gives me a way to get Lin Sivvi if my opponent has any of the above. Finally, one Tsabo’s Web made it back into the deck to take it back up to 61 cards. I felt that I’d like to make a little more space in the sideboard without weakening the deck too much against Rishadan Port, Dust Bowl, and Rath’s Edge.

The sideboard changed a little. I upped the number of Magetas to three; the only reason I didn’t play one main deck is the number of Briberies I keep seeing in people’s U/W control deck lists. Mageta wrecks me, and I really can’t let them have it. Rout came into the sideboard to help me against the mirror a bit more (Wrath effects are the second most important thing in the deck, really) and to help me kill Meddling Mages naming Wrath of God.

COP: Green and Exile are still in against Fires, as is the extra Disenchant and Misdirections can be bought in if you think they have Urza’s Rage. Exile and Lightbringer will hopefully help you out with all the Nether Spirits in the environment, and the Lightbringer may even help you against Pyre Zombie if your opponent is careless. Finally, I took out the one random Submerge and added a random Teferi’s Response. The deck doesn’t need too much extra help against Fires and G/W, as it can beat them before sideboarding, so I figured I’d add a card to help me a bit more against land destruction, bringing my sideboard up to two Misdirections, a Web, and a Response against them (with the extra Disenchant being optional).

Saturday night we sat down with a few beers to watch Titan AE before turning in relatively early to get some sleep before the big day.

Sunday morning I awoke feeling quite fresh and waited for Alan to ring the bell. He soon did and we checked over his deck and sideboard to make sure that he had all the cards he needed before trying to convince Tarik that he wanted to come with us. After a few games of SSX we still hadn’t, and it was time for us to head off to catch our train. He wished us well and we headed off to Bristol.

Arriving in Bristol, the tourney was a short taxi ride (five minutes or so) from the station. The monthly Bristol tourneys are held in the New Trinity Community centre, not far from The Captain’s Log, a local shop whose owner helps organise the Bristol tourneys. The Community Centre is an old church, and so suffers a little from being a bit cold and not having much natural light (every time we stepped outside we were nearly blinded). There are normally some drinks for sale, a little food, and at least one card seller there, but I’d suggest you take food if you ever go there.

We had booked in advance and were comfortably registered well before the deadline. I find that rushing at the last minute leads to mistakes in your decklist that can lose you games (and sometimes matches). At this level of play you want to give yourself every chance, and handicapping yourself before you start isn’t the best way to do it. Turn up early, register early, and relax.

Before we knew it, the draw for the first round had happened and I found myself opposite my first opponent.

Round 1: Ian Roberts, Counter Rebel

Ian comes to the Bath tourneys pretty much every month, and I’ve played him before. He’s a good player and I knew that he was probably playing Counter Rebel. I flipped the coin hoping to go first: I call heads. It was tails, and pretty quickly Ian had a rebel on the table and had searched out Lin Sivvi. With one Wrath countered a short time later, I tried for my backup plan by playing a rebel and searching out an Informer. Pretty quickly Ian did the same thing and put all of my rebels on the bottom of my deck.

I saw one more Wrath, but Ian had plenty of counters and I started the day by losing game 1. Out went the Queen, Disenchants, Blows and Webs for Misdirections, Dominate, Magetas, and a Rout.

Game two I went first and put down a turn two rebel. Turn four I’d searched out Lin and left myself plenty of mana to counter things and quickly searched out a few more small fliers to come in. I countered pretty much everything Ian did and won easily.

Game three was a complete reversal, as Ian did pretty much everything I’d done the game before, winning easily.

Matches: 0-1, Games: 1-2

So, even after practicing the mirror match for a whole day, I still lose the first mirror match. Not a good start for my Regionals campaign, but I’m not out of it yet. I checked with Andy and Alan to see how they were doing, Andy was 1-0 up and Alan was in the same boat as me at 0-1.

Round 2: Tim Pinder, Aggro B/R
Tim is another player who comes to Bath every month. He’s always building his own decks, and they’re usually very good. If you’re not sure what someone is playing, having a load of counterspells is usually a good thing, so I wasn’t too worried and we started playing.

Pretty quickly I found myself on the bad end of a beating. Tim was playing B/R beat down. He had Familiars, Vicious Kavu, Shivan Zombies, and Pyre Zombies and had started off with a Seal of Fire. I managed to slow him down, but he soon started recurring his Hammer of Bogardan. With four Terminates, four Seals of Fire, Zombies and Hammers, I had a hard time keeping anything at all on the table and was soon sideboarding for game two.

I bought in Misdirections, Dominate, the two Exiles and the Lightbringer and was soon in a much better position. Although Tim had a Shivan Zombie on the table, I had a Jhovall Queen out, so he could either attack me for two and take four, or sit back and defend. While he did that, I came in with my fliers and kept anything I considered might be a problem off the table.

Game three was much more of an even match, as Tim came out of the gates really quickly once more. After a Wrath, sacrificing a number of my own creatures and a few nervous moments, I stabilized at ten life with two Absorbs in hand. The game went on for a while as neither of us drew creatures and I countered one of Tim’s, going up to thirteen life. A moment later, time had been called and we were in our five extra turns.

Tim started the first one well, by Urza’s Raging me with Kicker. I Absorbed to go up to sixteen before going down to six. I’d used a Misdirection earlier in the game to keep Lin Sivvi alive – boy, did I wish that I hadn’t. In my turn I attacked Tim a little and said "Yours." Tim drew from the top of his deck and smiled.

"Rage you."

"Erm, okay – I’m on three."

"Rage you again."


Tim had drawn his fourth Rage to finish me off.

Matches: 0-2, Games: 2-4

Now, as many people who know me have commented, I was a bit depressed at this point. I’d probably put more effort into practicing for this qualifier than ever before and, with only six rounds before a Top 8 knockout, I now needed to win all four remaining rounds to qualify. Andy had won again, and Alan had won too leaving them on 2-0 and 1-1 respectively, so I was really letting the team down.

A short lunch break was called and I moped around for a bit before deciding that I still had a chance, so I shouldn’t give up yet and should try to be positive. A moment later, the third round pairings were up and I was ready for my next match.

Round 3: Steven Garrett, U/W control

Steven is a kid but, as Andy pointed out to me, he’s been playing Magic more than I have. I had no idea what he was playing, but I knew that I had to win. Five minutes later I wasn’t sure whether I was in a mirror match or whether Steven was playing U/W control, but my questions were answered when he cast Fact or Fiction at the end of my turn.

Now, I don’t think the U/W control is a great matchup for me. They generally have more counters, more free counters, a hell of a lot more card drawing, and indestructible creatures. Twenty minutes later I was proved right as Steven Wrathed away my rebels and beat me to death with his Nether Spirit. He finished at twenty-five life.

I’d practiced this match up too, and so knew that early damage was important and so I took out my Skymarshall, Informer, Disenchants, and Blows to bring in a Dominate, Misdirections, Exiles, and Lightbringer, leaving in my Vanguards to give me some 2/2 bodies. I had a good hand, but Steven had to mulligan down to five, so I had my fingers crossed. Five turns later, with Steven on 19 life and me on 20, he had conceded. He had one Plains in play whilst I had six land and was about to search out a Vanguard to start the beatdown. We moved on the final game.

Once again Steven mulliganed, but only down to six, so I changed my hand too, as I didn’t have a fast start. My new hand was pretty good and I quickly had a rebel in play and had searched for Lin Sivvi. We both kept playing land until turn seven, when Steven played a Cursed Totem. I thought for a moment and searched out my Jhovall Queen in response – Steven looked a little surprised, to say the least.

Next turn I hit him for seven, followed by seven the turn after and with a counterspell and a rebel or two in hand, I had the match sewn up.

Matches: 1-2, Games: 4-5

The first match win of the day, and mostly down to mana screw or mana flood. I’m not complaining, though; win is a win and I really needed it. Once again, I checked with the rest of the team and to my delight Andy was now on 3-0, whilst Alan had not been so lucky and was on 1-2, the same as me. Winning three matches in a row is not nearly so daunting as winning four in a row, so my spirits started to climb and I sat down to play the next match.

Round 4: Vishal Patel, R/B Land Destruction

I’ve not played Vishal before, and I had no idea what he was playing but pretty quickly I was praying that it wasn’t the same deck as Tim Pinder’s, since as lots of mountains and swamps were on the table. On turn three Vishal cast two Dark Rituals and cast Rain of Tears and Stone Rain on two of my lands. With one counterspell, I went down to two land. Luckily, I kept seeing a good mix of counters and land until land destruction wasn’t so much of a problem and I concentrated on rebels for a bit. At first Vishal Terminated a few, until I played a Lin Sivvi with counter backup. She quickly bought a Queen into play, which was Terminated. Two turns later the Queen was back in play and pretty quickly Vishal was dead.

Sideboarding was a little more difficult, as I didn’t know if he had any enchantments or artifacts (I expected a few Idols), but I bought in my Response, Misdirections, Lightbringer, Web, and Exiles. Vishal got a slow start and I quickly built up a pile of land and started playing rebels. I quickly got Lin on the table and started attacking with a Falcon. The Falcon didn’t live long as Vishal Terminated it – I was surprised he didn’t kill Lin, but I wasn’t going to show it. I bought the same Falcon back into play at the end of Vishal’s turn and started attacking again. Again he Terminated it, so now with six land I popped a Queen on to the table. Guess what? Another Terminate was cast – again, leaving Lin Sivvi alone.

"Three gone," I said.

"What — all your Terminates used up, Vishal?" said one of Vishal’s friends standing nearby.

"Thanks for that," I replied.


Vishal had not shown me any other creature removal, but with the Terminates gone, I quickly bought out the Queen again and knew that with a few counters in hand, I’d probably won. A few turns later I was right.

Matches: 2-2, Games: 6-5

Vishal was kind enough to let me look through his deck. Devastate, Pillage, Void, Despoil, Tectonic Break are just a few of the cards, and I have a note of the rest. I have a fair idea that there’s a more optimal version of this deck – adding four Ports for a start (Vishal couldn’t get any) – and I’m very glad I didn’t run into it.

So, back on an even keel with only two matches to go I wandered over to Alan and Andy to see how they were doing. Alan was, once again, on the same points as me and Andy had lost his first game to be on 3-1.

Round 5: Neil Pearce, G/B Beat down

Neil isn’t someone I’ve played before, so I had no idea what he’d be playing. We sat down, shuffled and he went first with a Forest and a Shanodin Dryad. I laid a Coastal Tower and said, "Go." He played a Swamp, cast Sinister Strength on it, and attacked me for four.

Hmm. I checked my hand and was going to be lucky to slow him down, so I laid another land and quickly played a rebel. Neil followed by laying another Forest, cast Terror on my Falcon, attacked for four, and played a Marsh Boa. I laid another land and said, "Go." I could now counterspell things, but had no Wrath.

Neil laid another land and cast Unholy Strength, a nice 7th edition one, on his Marsh Boa and I called the judge.

Dave Fry walked over and I looked to see what I wanted, I didn’t say anything but pointed at the Unholy Strength. Dave exclaimed and walked away to the judges’ table.

"What’s wrong?" Neil asked.

"Unholy Strength isn’t Type II legal," I replied.

"Isn’t it in Sixth?"


"I read that it was Type II legal."

"It will be in two weeks, it’s just not legal now – I’m sorry," I replied.

Dave returned and gave Neil a match loss. Neil looked visibly surprised. I asked him why no one had pointed it out before, and he said that he hadn’t drawn one so far in the day. Neil let me look through his deck after the match and it looked well constructed: Lots of cheap creatures, lots of creature removal, and four Unholy Strengths and four Sinister Strengths. It’s an idea that might work very well, but I’d probably try B/R instead of B/G. I chatted to him about his deck for a bit as he packed up and dropped out.

Matches: 3-2, Games: 8-5

I must say that I felt really bad about it. It wasn’t my fault, sure. I did the right thing, but I felt really bad. It was the kid’s first year at trying to qualify, and his deck was well constructed, but no one he knew had checked it over – not once.

That win left me on 3-2 with one more match to win. Alan had also managed to win again to put himself on the same points, whilst Andy had lost and was on… The same points as Alan and I. We checked the standings and saw that there were quite a lot of people on nine points. With a few mental calculations it looked like if no draws happened, one or two people on twelve points wouldn’t make it. Although Andy and I had reasonably high tiebreakers, Alan had very bad ones as two of his opponents had dropped out already and a third was on the bottom tables. All we could do was win each of our remaining games. That meant hoping we weren’t matched up against one another.

The final draw happened, and I was relieved to see I wasn’t playing anyone I knew well. Andy and Alan weren’t playing each other either, and so we all had a chance.

Round 6: Dave Gillian, G/W Beat down

I’ve played Dave a couple of times, and never lost to him. He comes along to Bath tourneys on a regular basis and generally has a good deck, but is almost always missing a few cards.

Game one didn’t start too well as Dave played a few creatures and started popping out Charging Trolls, Blastoderms, and Noble Panthers. I let him play a few before Wrathing them away, and he played out a few more, including a Sabretooth Nishoba. Another Wrath later and Dave started playing lands as I dropped a Lin and stabilised on eight life whilst Dave, thanks to a pair of Armadillo Cloaks, was up to twenty-seven. Dave played another Blastoderm and I let him have it, searching out a Skymarshall at the end of my turn. The Skymarshall started its attack and I killed the Blastoderm with a Defiant Vanguard. Pretty soon we had another ground standoff as Dave had cast a few Noble Panthers and another Charging Troll, but I was attacking through the air and eventually beat him down for the win.

I started sideboarding and bought in my COP: Greens, another Disenchant, and my Magetas. I hadn’t seen any Parallax Waves or Armageddons, so I figured Mageta might just win the day.

Dave started much quicker with a turn two Panther and a Turn three Blastoderm. I Absorbed a few creatures, but with no counters left, Dave played a Voice of All, naming White. I had three turns to draw a Wrath and he won the game.

So: Final game of the day. The winner may well go to the Nationals; the loser will not make it. I really didn’t want to go to London – have I mentioned that?

I started well with a couple of land and started countering some of Dave’s creatures. He played a pair of Utopia Trees and some Elves, and turn 4 I cast Wrath of God to put him back down to three mana. A few turns later I had Lin Sivvi and a few blockers out and decided that, with five cards in hand, The Lion should come into play. Dave read Mageta and frowned, then played a Blastoderm.

In my turn I drew, going up to six card (of which two were counterspells) and said, "Go." Dave attacked me and I killed everything but Mageta, including my own rebels. Dave said "Yours." And Mageta started to attack. Every other turn Dave would cast a creature and I’d wait a turn before Wrathing them all away so I could attack with Mageta again the next turn – not something you can do against Fires players. Pretty soon Dave was down to one card in hand and seven life, whilst I had four in hand, two counters amongst them. I finally relaxed for the first time since round 3 and Dave was dead a moment later.

Matches: 4-2, Games: 10-5

So I had twelve points winning the last four matches in a row to get there too, but I still didn’t know if I’d qualified. Some were saying that twelve was in, whilst others said that, as I thought, a few twelves wouldn’t make it. Alan and Andy finished, and I checked how they’d done. Andy and Alan had both won and were also on twelve points, but Alan looked to be bottom – or actually, just one above the bottom of all the twelve pointers. After five minutes, we saw that only a handful of people were still playing and there were only five minutes left. Of those, two were matches that were important, with all participants on nine points. As time was called both matches were still going on, and we went over to watch them to the end.

Five turns later both matches were a draw, leaving all of them on ten points.

The results were all entered into DCI Reporter and Claire Williams, TO and the head judge walked onto the stage to read out the results. Dave Fry walked up to me.

"Congratulations, Jim."

I knew that I’d made it.

The results started to be read out, and the 16th place player was on eleven points, having floated above all of the ten point people who’d drawn – it was Tim Pinder, who’d beaten me earlier in the day. I joined in with a big cheer: It’ll be Tim’s first time to the Nationals. Alan’s name was read out, and in came mine at 11th place, followed by Andy’s just before the Top 8.

We’d all made it. Team PhatBeats went to Bristol and we all qualified.

We made it home an hour later, very glad that we’d not had to play in the Top 8 too. We headed over to the Hobgoblin for a few celebratory drinks and eventually got home for some food, more drinks, and another film. All in all, a very long day but well worth it in the end.

So, I’ll be there again, for the fourth year in a row, at the English Nationals. I have no idea what I want to play yet, and Seventh Edition will be out soon and just might change a few things (it’ll kill two deck types, for a start). I’m going to take a break from Type II for a few weeks before coming at it fresh at the start of May.

Thanks to everyone who sent me ideas for CounterRebel – I am writing back to you one by one, it’s just taking a little time – thanks to everyone who helped me play test, thanks to Star City for publishing my articles, and thanks to Claire Williams for running a friendly Regionals not too far from where I live.

I hope you all have a fun weekend, and do as well as you deserve in the Regionals near you.

Cheers, Jim.
Team PhatBeats.