A Scrub Brushes Up, #2: Two Heads, One Tale (and Top Four)

Kelly continues his journey through scrubdom and improvement. Today, he brings us an excellent report on his adventures in the Land of the Two-Headed Giant… A fun, involving, and enlightening read.

It had become, you see, something of a crusade. David and I wanted to play Two-Headed Giant Sealed, but it had evaded us at the Ravnica Prerelease, and again at the Guildpact Prerelease. We had considered driving four hours to Madison, Wisconsin to play it. We theorized, planned, plotted, but we remained unblooded, blushing maids as far as this intriguing format was concerned.

Until now.

The Two-Headed Giant Limited State Championship had finally arrived, and we were not about to miss it. We had to go to Chicago, of course, rather than our customary Indianapolis. Even if we were allowed to jump the border, who wants to be the Indiana State Champion? Well, maybe somebody from Indiana, but certainly not us.

Hopefully this heading will distract you so you don’t notice the shift to present tense

We leave Champaign at 6am, as one must to get to Chicago by 9. On the way, we agree to call ourselves Two To The Dome, a reference to a joke in one of my own articles that David actually came up with. If that’s not hubris, I don’t know what is.

At the venue, I’m struck by the tremendous diversity of the crowd. On the one hand, this is traditionally a casual format, and perfect for people without much experience. There’s a team sitting across from us whose older, more experienced player is fourteen years old; across the room, however, is a team consisting of Michael Purn and Michael Bernat, both well-known local pros. This should be interesting.

Here’s our pool, which you have my permission to skip if you’re not into that sort of thing:

2HG Card Pool
Kelly Digges
Test deck on 04-16-2006
Ravnica Limited
Magic Card Back

First thing’s first. The U/R deck comes springing forth from the package singing in harmony and dancing in step, and actually arranges itself into a well-tuned deck with plenty of removal, bounce, card drawing, double Chronarch, and a reasonably robust mill plan off of a Black splash. Far be it for us to argue. David decides to run it, and it looks like this:

Then we throw all the other decent cards into The Usual Ravnica/Guildpact Sealed Deck, a.k.a. B/G/W. There’s a good amount of removal and a decent Saproling plan… really, nothing you haven’t seen before.

Cremate is a last-second substitution for Withstand when I decide that, A) “Draw a card” is the part I really care about, and B) with no sideboarding, it might be nice to have a maindeck answer to anything obnoxious in the graveyard. In retrospect, not running the Siege Wurm was a bonehead play, but at the time, having never played the format before, we really weren’t sure if a 5/5 trampler was going to be relevant with all the other guys on the board (hint: the answer is “yes”).

We give David our only legitimate bomb, Master Warcraft, because his deck seems more likely to sit back and react to things. Flickerform is in my deck mainly to play with his Dismisser and Chronarchs. We run Stitch in Time, which we probably wouldn’t normally, for the same reason that you should always draw in this format: Anything extra matters more when there are two of you doing it.

The hour for deck construction, which we thought would be excessive, turns out to be just enough. We sleeve up and head into the fray. I will warn you now, my match notes are sparse, but I will certainly hit the highlights.

Round 1 versus Stibby

Our opponents have a weird sort of Perky Goth vibe going on. Both sport dark eyeliner; one has a Grand Prix Top 8 play mat, and the other has a stuffed squirrel. Things are friendly and casual at first, but get very tense as the match progresses.

We start with what, we soon realize, will be an integral part of our Two-Headed Giant experience: The Mulligan Game. It’s like a ten-minute pregame side event. We take 5 mulligans between the four of us, and alas, I’m the unlucky one to go to six.

We peck away at each other with evasive guys, and the life totals drop to more familiar numbers much more quickly than I expected them to. David’s Hunted Phantasm meets Repeal, and we neglect to replay it. We’re worried about their Sewerdreg, but they sacrifice it to remove Peel From Reality from the game with Izzet Chronarch’s ability on the stack. At first I’m not sure this is the right play, but I realize that if we got a Chronarch loop going, Sewerdreg wasn’t likely to hit us much anyway. I eventually play down Agent of Masks, which of course hits for two and two in this format, but their answer is a Storm Herd for something like seventeen. Hmm.

David’s been holding a Stitch in Time since turn 3, and I’ve been advising him to hold off on it until we can make better use of any hypothetical extra turn. Staring down seventeen Pegasi, I’m starting to feel like a gambling man, but we decide that at 29 life, we can afford to take one hit from their air force. This also saves his Master Warcraft, which I’m inclined to use at this point, for something worthier than an expensive Fog.

We take our one hit, go to twelve, and play Stitch in Time, hearts in our throats. They call heads, and it’s… tails! The guy with the Grand Prix play mat shakes his head in disgust as we untap for our extra turn, hitting them for another 2 with Agent of Masks… and David has the unmitigated gall to draw Izzet Chronarch. Peel From Reality’s out of the picture, so there’s only one Chronarch target in the graveyard. “Do we dare?” I wonder aloud, to which David replies, “I think we do.”

David plays the newly-returned Stitch in Time. They call heads, and it’s… tails! I sense that disgust has given way to actual loathing on the other side of the table. We untap again, Agent of Masks hits them for two again… and David flashes Master Warcraft with what is now, thanks to the Agent, lethal damage on the table. They pack up angrily, grumbling about hating “losing that way.” Ah, the old double-Stitch-In-Time-into-Master-Warcraft play. Gets you every time, doesn’t it?


David and I don’t fail to notice that the event banners all have Master Warcraft on them (presumably the most appropriate art in this format), and we consider this a good omen. Plus, we already love how much these games feel like war councils, comparing notes and arguing in hushed voices and cryptic codes about the best course of action. This format is great.

Round 2 versus Team Dennison

Okay, I feel really bad about this. We arrive first and read the match slip, recalling that Team Dennison comprised of the two kids sitting across from us during deck registration. We know we’re probably going to beat them, but hopefully we can make sure they have a good time anyway. Not to be overly civic-minded (as David assures me I generally am), but we’ve got to encourage new players to keep this hobby alive.

A judge eventually walks up and informs us that they’ve gotten a match loss for mis-registering their decks (to follow their first-round bye), but that they were thinking about playing us anyway. We wait more, and when they don’t show (apparently they went home), we head for Wendy’s. Lunch was scheduled after that round anyway, so we have something like an hour and a half to kill.

I honestly do feel bad that these kids came out to the tournament and left without playing so much as a single game. We’ll see if they ever come back, huh? Ugh.


Round 3 versus It’s Like They’re Hot And Stuff

This round is a nail-biter. Both teams inflict damage, and it’s looking surprisingly like a race, but they are inflicting it much faster, and very soon we have to stop racing in order to do a great deal of blocking. We get them down to twenty-eight at one point, but they start gaining life (I honestly don’t remember how), and by the time we’re down to six, they’re sitting pretty at thirty-seven. Meanwhile, we’ve been pursuing our back-up mill plan. It had looked like we might succeed, but David’s Vedalken Entrancer had become closely acquainted with Faith’s Fetters. We are down to just Duskmantle, House of Shadow pecking away, and it will not be enough.

Time is called, and we see our chance. Master Warcraft moonlights as Fog to buy us an extra turn, I Sundering Vitae the Faith’s Fetters, and Duskmantle and the Entrancer finish the job on turn 3 after time. Phew.


Round 4 versus It Doesn’t Matter

We’re facing a couple of chill, friendly guys whose team name sounds vaguely familiar to me. Eh, it’s probably nothing, right?

They start asking odd questions about our pool (“Do you have Flickerform to go with that?” one asks after David plays Vedalken Dismisser. “Call it a hunch.”), and after the match they remind us that they were the ones who registered it, giving them a distinct advantage. They talk a lot about what a nutty pool it is, and I can’t argue, although theirs is pretty amazing, too.

Once again, it’s a race. We take some serious hurt in the midgame, but we give as good as we get. With Agent of Masks on the table, we decide it’s time to press the advantage, and David plays Hunted Phantasm. We’re already cringing at the inevitable bounce (and realizing that the Hunted creatures are terrible when every opponent runs Blue) when they tap out for Hour of Reckoning, thanking us for the tokens.

That’s a sore blow, and it certainly keeps them from losing in the coming turns, but we’re not out of it yet. We play down more guys, and are looking to reclaim the advantage when they drop Blockbuster, limiting our options significantly. At this point, David and I have a moment of severe miscommunication. Although I’ve been using Agent of Masks correctly all day, I forget that Blockbuster deals six damage to a team. We’re in trouble either way, though, so the miscommunication is probably more disorienting than actually damaging. They peck away at us turn by turn, frustrate our efforts to rebuild our position, counter our moves at every turn, and finally, in the last round after time, blow us up.


Round 5 versus Blitzkrieg

We pretty much have to run straight over to these guys, and we’re still a little mind-blasted from our Battle Royale with It Doesn’t Matter. I write “Round 4" on my next two rounds of match notes, I kid you not. This entire match is sort of a blur.

We realize pretty early that we won’t be winning through damage. Their army is entirely too impressive (and, again, blurry. I have zero memory of their decks, although I’ve started to notice that every single matchup involves one U/R or U/B deck (usually U/R) and one G/W/x deck, where x is either Black or Red). We take some beats, but we get our full mill plan online, and they soon reach the point where they have to kill us this turn or lose to decking. We’re at eighteen life and their board is well-developed, so it’s not impossible, but there’s no right answer to this little Magic: The Puzzling. We win with five or ten minutes left in the round, an undreamt-of luxury.


Round 6 versus The Professionals

We sit down across from Michael Purn and Michael Bernat. I know relatively little about them, except that Purn has the most extensive collection in the history of time and loans out entire decks, and Bernat played at Honolulu. Their team name is no empty boast, and they’re currently undefeated. No big deal, right? We’re cool.

They win the die roll and choose to draw, which – inexplicably – our other opponents who’ve won the die roll have failed to do. We’ve gone second every match before this one, whether we won or lost the flip. I guess nobody else got the memo.

Things start out very, very slowly. I don’t want to oversell these guys, but there’s a noticeable difference in how they play. I feel like I’ve been playing checkers with a chess set, and somebody just showed me how a pawn is actually supposed to move. This is what Magic actually is, distilled and bottled and shipped direct to my doorstep, and I like it.

Not to say they don’t make mistakes. More on that later.

In any case, they’re not just blindly playing down creatures like our other opponents (and, okay, we) did in previous rounds. They’re building up their resource base, playing just enough to keep the pressure on, and clutching two hands full of tricks and removal and back-up creatures in their grubby mitts. We’re more aggressive than they, but we’re careful not to over-commit. They’re clearly not going to be bowled over.

It’s open to debate whether that was playing sensibly or being hopelessly mind-gamed, but even in retrospect, I feel we played it right.

Over time, though, we run out of gas and they just keep coming, and the game slowly degrades into an open rout – especially after they play Savage Twister. We get within sight of milling them – a plan they don’t seem to put much stock in, unlike most of the people commenting on the format–but they finish us off before it really gets desperate. Still and all, they’re friendly guys, fun to play against, and obviously more experienced than us, and we really don’t begrudge the loss.


A pretty good record but not quite Top 4 material. If we win, can we squeak into the Top 4 after all? Can we even make Top 8 and at least get some product? It’s a question that will soon become very important.

Round 7 versus One-Eyed Wonder

But First, a Brief Word on Punctuation

I don’t actually recall if these guys had the hyphen between “One” and “Eyed.” I strongly suspect that they didn’t, given the sorry state of grammar among today’s youth, but when I tried to type it like that I had a seizure and threw up, so the inaccuracy will have to stand.

[/grammar nazism]
[/html jokes]

Let me set the scene here. These guys are usual PTQ fare, but after having our asses handed to us by The Professionals, they seem awfully… well… unprofessional. One of them introduces himself as, I kid you not, Dank. Apparently this is his last name. Things go downhill from there.

Understand, they’re not actually bad guys, but they are trying to sell us something, and I hate being sold to. I was raised to look for compromise whenever possible, and to find mutually agreeable solutions. Being sold to makes this impossible. Hell, it took me a while to get comfortable with winning at Magic, because it always ruins someone else’s day.

What were they selling, you ask? Nothing other than our old friend the Intentional Draw. I don’t like IDing. I’ve only done it once, and I didn’t like it, and I didn’t inhale, and I never did it again. But Dank and his pal are telling us that if we draw, we’ll make Top 8. We’ve got excellent tiebreakers – The Professionals, It Doesn’t Matter, and It’s Like They’re Hot And Stuff are now 1st, 2nd, and 4th place, respectively. If we lose, we get nothing, and if we win, we still probably only make Top 8. We’re tempted. Very tempted. I get up, check the standings, see us in 9th place or something. It’s Like They’re Hot And Stuff have already drawn their match, so they’re in the Top 4. Doesn’t leave much room for us. I sit back down, still unsure, then get back up and check the standings again – this time noting the crucial fact that One-Eyed Wonder has fifteen points to our twelve. My distrust for their calculus is sudden and total.

I walk back to the table briskly and confidently, saying, “No. No way.” It’s a firm decision made with conviction and upheld without doubt, which is quite honestly a rarity for me. It feels good, and suddenly we are very, very angry at them for trying to hoodwink us. We finally shuffle up, realizing as we do so that this decision is a gamble with our whole day at stake.

It’s a good thing the argument beforehand was interesting, because the game is a total blowout. Dank’s deck appears to consist of nothing but Forests (and a single Signet, which we destroy), and his buddy is color-screwed almost as badly. We beat them without breaking a sweat, having taken only two points of damage. So glad we didn’t ID, and I would have been glad even if we’d lost – although, to be sure, I prefer it this way.


Suddenly things are very, very interesting. 5-2 is a very fine finish; fifteen points ties us with four or five other teams. We pore over the standings as of the start of the last round, trying to take into account the changes since then. Slowly it dawns on us: With our tiebreakers, we could make Top 4. We’re still not sure, though, and right before the list is posted, I tell someone on the phone that it’s still up in the air. Either we make the Top 4, which is good, or we get to go home, which, at 9pm, is a notion with its own powerful charm.

We run back over to Wendy’s with It Doesn’t Matter, feeling it prudent to grab a quick bite in case we’re there for another 3 hours.

Right after we get back, the list goes up, and we’re number four.


Now, of course, we’ve got another card pool, another hour for deckbuilding, and another round or two ahead of us. They’ve preregistered the card pools, for which we thank them profusely. Even if you skipped the other one, read this one. It’s worth a look.

2HG Top 4 Card Pool
Kelly Digges
Test deck on 04-16-2006
Ravnica Limited
Magic Card Back

My head swims. If God Himself crapped out a Ravnica Sealed pool, it might look like this. Saprolings and mill cards! Bounce and burn! Removal and removal and removal… What, did they hand-pick these for sheer brokenness? We build on the same colors because we’re comfortable with them, and our decks look like this:

Wow. My only complaint is the lack of Izzet Chronarch in the pool, because we have the tools to really make it hum. Everything else is there, though, and this time my deck feels much less like the bumbling sidekick. Moratorium Stone is there for the same reason Cremate was, Moonlight Bargain is there because we realized that it would be really good in this format, and Mortipede, Golgari Rotwurm, and Netherborn Phalanx are basically an insurance policy in case decking doesn’t work.

Semifinals versus The Professionals

We sit down across from Michael and Michael, and they seem a little surprised to see us again. They go second again, and it begins.

As before, things start off with slow development. I get an Evangel early, and David plays Lurking Informant, but the Evangel eats a Last Gasp and doesn’t much care for the taste. David plays a Goblin Flectomancer to put a stop to that sort of nonsense, and I decide to get an Ostiary Thrull on the table sooner rather than later. Purn taps a Forest and an Island and activates Terrarion, and his partner convinces him to get Green and Blue mana from it. He seems unsure that this is a decent play, and I reassure him. “It was Blue and Green,” I tell him. “Now it’s Green and Blue.” He laughs hard at that one, then he and Bernat slam down a Streetbreaker Wurm and a Golgari Rotwurm, respectively, in perfect unison. We compliment them on their technique, and I slap Faith’s Fetters on the Streetbreaker. I should have gone with the Rotwurm, tempting him to sacrifice it and get the hell off the table, especially as the Thrull can contain the Streetbreaker.

David’s Flectomancer is shutting down any removal they might be holding, so they play Mark of Eviction on it and pass the turn. Mark of Eviction will ruin us in a hurry, and David and I decide we have to deal with it now. At the end of their turn, I play Scatter the Seeds, and he sacrifices Flecto targeting it… and that’s when things get interesting.

“You can’t do that,” Purn tells us. “That doesn’t have any targets.”

Oh ho. Can’t we, now? Bernat backs him up, although he seems less sure about it. We point out that the card says “target instant or sorcery spell,” and nothing whatsoever about it having targets, and when that doesn’t convince them, we silently hand the matter over to the two judges watching our match, one scorekeeper and one judge-in-training. We know damn well we’re right, and my strategy in that situation is always to shut up and let the judges back me up.

The scorekeeper immediately comes down against us. Like most floor judges at this venue, he’s not especially knowledgeable about the rules, and probably just “staff” rather than an actual judge. I try not to be so dismissive, but these guys have made wrong calls in my hearing time and time again. The head judges, though, are always great, so matters generally get sorted out. The scorekeeper explains to us that you can’t change targets of something that doesn’t have targets, and so we can’t play the ability.

The judge-in-training is still mulling it over. The head judge has come to watch over his shoulder, and when the trainee rules against us as well, the head judge steps in and sets everything right. We sacrifice Flecto to play his ability targeting the Scatter, change no targets when the ability resolves, and get three wee Saprolings and a dead Mark for our trouble.

If you saw this scenario in a recent Ask the Judge, it’s because I thought it was an interesting case, not because there was ever a shred of doubt in my mind.

Unfortunately, their decks are as crazy as ours, and then some. Bernat plays an Evangel, and now I really wish that Rotwurm was dead. It’s hitting us, too, although post-Scatter I’ve got chump-blockers.

When I hit seven mana, I have a choice. I can either lay down the insane bomb that is Debtors’ Knell and hope they can’t answer it, or I can play Selesnya Guildmage in order to start building up our army with that whole staying alive goal in mind. I play the Guildmage, with the Knell and a swamp in hand. Their next turn, Bernat hits me – after much deliberation, me – with Strands of Undeath. I drop the swamp into the bin, and then, sullenly, the Knell. They exhale in unison.

David gets an Entrancer on the table, and begins to mill away Purn’s deck, which was already one card lighter because of Terrarion. Purn hits him with Nightmare Void, and David lays down a mountain, a second Entrancer, a Tidewater Minion, and a Psychic Drain.

They stare at this gruesome spread for a good long time. “Oh, no,” says Bernat, or words to that effect. They take their time weighing various options. They dismiss the Minion as more conditional, then very, very nearly put the Entrancer in the yard. Ultimately, though, it has to be the Psychic Drain, and they know it. And no Chronarchs in this build to get it back! Still, our mill plan remains robust; we just have to live long enough to use it.

Unfortunately, that’s looking harder and harder. After the Nightmare Void, they exchange a significant glance and radically alter their style of play. This is an astonishing transformation to witness. Gone are the veiled looks and mitts full of cards, replaced by a rapid succession of power cards and bombs. Nullmage Shepherd takes off the Fetters, and would have taken out Debtors’ Knell, too. Skarrgan Skybreaker hits the table, a bloodthirsty 6/6, ready to blow. There are other cards, but I don’t remember them all. The whole thing is a haze of beatings.

David’s Wojek Embermage is prepared to deal with their Saproling hordes, at least, and with the help of Tidewater Minion, it could do more than that. When David does pull the trigger during one of their mass attacks, he targets the Streetbreaker in order to hit a random Tin Street Hooligan, too. Not bad, but not enough. They just keep coming.

We never deal them a single point of damage, but we get Purn down to eleven cards before they overwhelm us. Purn flashes us a Skarrgan Firebird he had waiting in his hand. Yeah, that’s some good.

In any case, that, as they say, is that. We part amiably with Purn and Bernet, wish both them and It Doesn’t Matter luck in the final match, and collect our prizes. The foil full-art Niv-Mizzets look better than I expected, and a box of Guildpact to split looks very fine indeed.

By this time, of course, it’s about half past midnight, and we’ve got three hours yet to drive. Exhausted beyond reason, laden with the fruits of victory, and nearly as happy as if we’d won it all, we head home.

Kelly Digges