A Fine Day At The Virginia State Championship, Part 1

I’m sure the question on everyone’s mind is,”Did Bennie defend his title?” The answer is”no,” but I came damn close – I lost in the quarterfinals, one match away from the finals. 4th place is a fine showing, all things considered, and I had an absolutely great time. A fantastic environment, pleasant opponents (by and…

I’m sure the question on everyone’s mind is,”Did Bennie defend his title?” The answer is”no,” but I came damn close – I lost in the quarterfinals, one match away from the finals. 4th place is a fine showing, all things considered, and I had an absolutely great time. A fantastic environment, pleasant opponents (by and large), and tons of people enjoying themselves playing Magic just added up to a mighty fine day at the Virginia State Championship this past Saturday.

I’m sure the second question on everyone’s mind is,”How in the world did Bennie get to the final four with that pile o’ arse Borg deck?” The answer is,”I didn’t play it.” Yes, folks, I called an audible with less than 24 hours to go, abandoning the deck I had tweaked and nurtured for the past two and a half weeks. I really liked the deck, but sometimes you have to just let go. In fiction writing, it’s called”killing your darlings,” which refers to cutting a favorite character or scene from the story. Even though you love it, and think it’s a fantastic scene, or a hilarious character, and everyone who reads it tells you they love it too… in the end, it just doesn’t work in the context of the greater whole, and you make the tough but necessary decision.

I came to that realization on Friday. I had recently made a few adjustments to the Borg to help with the”Blastoderm Problem.” How can you reliably prevent taking fifteen to the head from an untargetable beating stick with a deck that had as few creatures as mine did? I tweaked the deck and added Vodalian Zombies, three of them main deck. In my mind, it seemed like a solid move; those Zombies, plus three Squees, gave me six solid Blasto-blockers. I just needed to playtest against decks that featured Blastoderms, which I had not yet been able to do.

So I made a”Blasto-geddon” deck from a decklisting provided by the fantastically well-informed Dave Meeson (I think it was Schneider’s version). It had 6 ‘Geddons – four of the regular variety, and two Tectonic Breaks. With six Armageddons and four Blastoderms, I thought that the deck should give me a good idea how the matchup would go.

I arrive at Total Access Games, decks in hand, and sit down with my old friend Scott Nugent, co-owner of the shop. He’s been working on a Type II deck and asked if I wanted to playtest against it. It’s R/G and has Blastoderms, so I eagerly agreed.

Let me tell you… Vodalian Zombies have a hard time blocking Blastoderms if they’re being Shocked, Scorched and Raged out of the way.

He beat me down. And beat me down. And beat me down. And beat me down. And beat me down.

Scott smacked the Borg around like a mountain lion plays with a mouse – quick, fast and bloody. He almost felt bad because he had absolutely shaken my faith in my deck. But I told him I’m glad he gave me the whippings he had – I had heard rumblings about a nasty R/G deck on the net, some sort of turn-four kill monstrosity. I had a feeling that if I wanted to have a shot at the top, I better be able to handle R/G. The Borg obviously couldn’t handle it.

Meanwhile, my playtesting partner”Kid” had suffered a similar loss of enthusiasm for our number 2 deck, a fun little Hanna/Cowardice creation that could be extremely strong against creature decks, but just could not handle Armageddons, counterspells, or mass enchantment removal. One Tranquility, backed with a Shock for little Hanna, and the deck crumbled. No way could we play that.

So we started looking hard at the Blasto-geddon deck. My first tweak was taking out the three Dismantling Blows. I like the Blows, don’t get me wrong… but they just didn’t seem right in this style of deck. I mean, you want to ‘geddon early and often, right? Are you really going to have enough mana to pay the kicker and get the two extra cards? Probably not, and in that case the Blow is an overpriced Disenchant. Then I had another thought – are there really that many artifacts that you’re worried about? I mean, artifacts that can completely wreck you? Nothing on par with enchantments like Rising Waters, Parallax Wave and Saproling Burst; these enchantments completely outmuscle their colorless counterparts. So we could feasibly go with a spell that killed enchantments only – something like Wax/Wane, a very flexible spell in any creature-heavy deck. However, there was a spell that seemed to be a better fit in my mind, one of my favorites from Invasion – Aura Mutation. It’s cheap, an instant, and gives you a horde of creatures that can often immediately attack (considering you Mutated their enchantment at the end of their turn). It was a good call, and Aura Mutation ended up being the MVP of the day.

Anyway, Kid did some additional work on the deck, and this is what we came up with:

4x Llanowar Elves
4x Birds of Paradise
4x Utopia Tree
4x River Boa
4x Blastoderm
2x Skizzik
4x Shock
4x Scorching Lava
4x Armageddon
2x Tectonic Break
3x Aura Mutation
1x Keldon Necropolis
4x Rishadan Port
4x Brushland
4x Elfhame Palace
4x Karplusan Forest
4x Shivan Oasis

The sideboard looked something like this:

1x Aura Mutation
2x Artifact Mutation
2x Disenchant
2x Tsabo’s Decree
2x Squallmonger
2x Saber Ants
3x Kavu Chameleon
1x Keldon Necropolis

Artifact Mutations came in if I smelled too many Chimeric Idols or Tangle wires on the other side. Squallmongers came in against Blue Skies (along with the fourth Aura Mutation for Rising Waters). My good buddies the Saber Ants came in against anyone using red removal. Kavu Chameleon came in against any counter decks.

And the Necropolis… the one main deck and one in the side were interesting choices, and I have to say I didn’t see anyone else playing them at States. But they were crucial in helping to win long, drawn-out games, turning even your late-game Bird or Tree, normally a useless draw, into a Shock. In the control matchups, I often would find my opponent countering every single Armageddon, so in those cases where I accumulated a lot of land, the Necropolis made each critter into an extra two points to my opponent’s dome.

The funny thing is, I didn’t even think of the Necropolis until Lee Hoth walked into the shop sporting a foil Necropolis and wanted to trade it away for a couple of older, casual play cards. It’s a good-looking foil, so I said I’d take it off him. Once I had one in my hands, my mind started working and it fell into the deck.

My one regret was not having four Tsabo’s Decrees in the board; I had no idea that Rebels would be as strong as they were, and drawing one during the match in the quarterfinals might have won me the game.

So the deck was complete; unfortunately, both Kid and I wanted to play it, and it had a lot of rares from the new set. This made getting the cards we needed quite difficult. I spent a good portion of Friday night and early Saturday morning begging, borrowing, and steal- er, rather trading for all the cards we needed. I came up short on the Artifact Mutations – I originally had four of them in each sideboard, but split the four I owned for both decks and added two Disenchants. This turned out to be a good move for me later in the day, as I really needed that extra enchantment kill.

Our very own Star City held the event right here in Richmond Virginia, not even ten minutes from my house. That was awful nice of Pete to take it easy on the defending champ; road trips can be hell. They held it in a fairly spacious room that, after someone switched off the heat and switched on the A/C, was a very comfortable playing environment. Dream Wizards up north could take some much-needed lessons from this extremely well run and enjoyable tournament. The judges were cordial and professional, too.

96 Virginians gathered that morning, most of them pleasant and well mannered as good Southerners should be. There’s no need for rudeness, folks. One thing that was extremely cool was the number of good wishes I got from people who read my columns here on Star City. As a writer, I often feel like I’m just shouting into the void, rambling along just to hear the keys clacking on my keyboard. Unless I write something controversial, usually I don’t get much feedback on my columns. Days like Saturday remind me that people are reading, and whether you like my stuff or not, I just wanted to thank you all for taking your valuable time to read my posts. Nothing puts a smile on a writer’s face quicker than someone coming up to you and saying,”I really like reading your stuff.” I won’t break into Sally Field histrionics (“You like me! You really like me!”), but I do appreciate it when you come up and want to say”hi” or talk tech.

Total Access Games had a pretty good showing of participation, and even Scott came to play! Scott and I were the first of our group to get into Magic, way back during the days of Arabian Nights, but his business takes up a lot of his time and often keeps him out of the big tournaments. It was great to see him there. But the most important thing to see was the number of local folks who mustered up Type 2 decks; we haven’t had a local Type 2 tournament for a long time due to lack of interest, so if States was any indication, maybe the coming Invasion has gotten people interested in constructed Magic again. I certainly hope so; it’s what I enjoy best in Magic.

Now, on with the tournament report:

Round 1 vs. Fred with R/G beats
The first game I get a bit landscrewed after he burns away my early mana critters, and he steamrolls me with Boas, Yavimaya Barbarians and fast red and green critters. I’m a bit shaken by the loss and side in my trusty Saber Ants, and even bring in Kavu Chameleons because they’re fat blockers. The next two games are extremely close, but in the first of them I get a slight critter advantage due to Ports and seal the deal with an Armageddon. The last game is all Saber Ants; he hits it with a Lightning Blast, and in response I Shock it, so I end up with 6 1/1 tokens that swarm on in. Whew! That was tough.

Matches 1-0 Games 2-1

Round 2 vs. Ben with U/W control
The first game I get an early Boa out that takes him from twenty to four life, including life gains from two Absorbs. Once he got to four mana I started casting my”bombs,” which included three Armageddons and two Blastoderms, to keep him from casting Fact or Fiction. Once I ran out of bombs he was able to cast three Fact or Fictions, but I was able to generally make him choose between expensive spells that he wanted (Wraths, Jeweled Spirit) and lands. When he tapped out for the last FoF, I cast Scorching Lava for two and then sacrificed the Boa to the Necropolis.

Game two I got a questionable draw – two Rishadan Ports and three Birds of Paradise. I was drawing first, and all I needed was to draw into some green mana over the next three turns and I should be okay. I took a gamble and my deck laughed at me. I didn’t draw a green mana source for roughly ten draws, and when I did it was pretty much too late, though I eventually wore him down to eleven life (after three Absorb). He eventually gets a Jeweled Spirit in play and kills me with it. The last game was tough, with me not getting much acceleration, and he drawing all of his counterspells early. He has the game well in hand, but can’t finish me off quickly. Eventually he casts Bribery to steal a Kavu Chameleon, but when time is called he’s one turn short. There’s no doubt he would have won that game, but that’s the problem with playing decks like this – with 50-minute rounds, you’re gonna have a hard time winning two out of three matches.

Matches 1-0-1 Games 3-2-1

Well, I’m technically undefeated, but I was disappointed with the deck’s inconsistent performance so far. I did a lot of pile shuffling after that! Stay tuned for part 2 to finish out the tournament, and some thoughts on the current Type 2.