When you playtest, gather data, and even use databases to track deck matchups, how do you recover from going 3-3 at Regionals?

Angst: a feeling of anxiety, apprehension, or insecurity

This is my current state regarding all things Magic. This feeling started shortly before Regionals, and has continued on ’til the present. Perhaps by writing about it I will be able to rid myself of the feeling… But it may not be so easy.

To start, let me go back to before Regionals and detail a bit more of the days leading up to that excursion. For anyone who reads my teammate [author name="Mike Mason"]Mike Mason[/author], you will have some idea of what I went through – but I will add a few details here that I think may be important.

Initially, when we started our testing for Regionals I was fairly sure that I was going to play a version of Mason’s”God” idea – the R/W Cursed Totem/Glittering Cats deck. As I’ve repeatedly said, I had played it extensively in the period prior to Planeshift and it was at that time the best deck in the format. I had a version tweaked to beat Skies out of the sideboard, and with that version held an edge over Fires, Rebels, and Skies. While I was hooked up to this idea of playing”God,” I was also open-minded about what I would eventually play. Nothing was ruled out. When we started out in testing, Fires started out in the middle of the pack and CounterRebels was our deck to beat. We had a rather large pool of players, with as many as twelve folks contributing results – plus, we added in the NG Grudge match results as well. All this data was collected by Scott Forster, and I think we are all grateful for the work we put in. Things progressed and various interesting things came to light; Skies was way down in our testing. It started out winning less than 40%, I believe, and with such a poor showing our group began to neglect it. At about the same time, it started to take a beating in the online circles with the general belief that Flametongue Kavu was its downfall. We had some other interesting decks in our stable that did fairly well in our testing including several versions of Ankh Tide and a Pheldagriff deck. Very late, we added in some data from NetherHaups that a couple of folks had started to play and in a small sample of games it had a very high winning percentage. Too high, actually…. But I’ll get back to that.

By using this data, I came to some conclusions. There wasn’t really a single best deck; instead, there was a pool of them, and the demarcation on the pool of playable decks was an overall winning percentage of 60%. Any of those decks was, in my opinion, worthy of play. At the end of the testing I fooling around with NetherHaups, but while it was showing its power I didn’t feel that my version was finished up and playing right. We had a setup during our eight-hour trip where we had a chance to play our decks on the way to the tourney. Scott’s”FiresMonkey” deck had pretty much single-handedly brought Fires to near the top of our playtesting and had become our”deck to beat.” On the way to Lincoln, as I took him on with NetherHaups, the results weren’t good. I didn’t win a single match. This nailed shut my idea of playing the R/B deck. But what would I play? Well, it was going to be something from the 60% pool.

I built a U/W Tide deck and Scott’s deck crushed it. Ooof. I was getting close to playing Fires as well, when I talked Mike into some late testing with”God.” We pooled our stuff and I played basically a version of Mike’s that had been trying out Flailing Manticore. Basically, all we did was replace those with Voice of All. The deck was really tweaked to beating Fires, with a maindecked Aura Fracture. I beat”Fires Monkey” a couple a times – and that, coupled with some information that we had that a couple of weeks prior Lincoln had been rife with Rebels decks (a good matchup for God’s maindecked Totem), had sealed it. The sideboard was mainly tweaked to beating Nether Spirits, Rebels, and U/W control. I was pretty consciously giving up to Skies variants, a point that would come to haunt me later. There was also a flexibility weakness in running Aura Fracture over Seal of Cleansing, mainly in the possibility of some rogue matchups.

At the regional tourney things started well, as I got two matchups with Fires and won rather easily going 2-0 both times. In the third round I wound up meeting a Nether Tide deck that was using Vampiric Tutors and a lot of silver bullets. The games were close, and Massacre wound up helping him tremendously. I believe that one game he was down to two life and another was at four when he tided me out. Here Aura Fracture hurt, as it was no help against the Ankhs I needed to break…

In the fourth round I faced PT Junk and my deck did well. Aura Fracture was very good here, breaking Cloaks and Parallax Waves, and I basically won the game by breaking Wave parity. I was 3-1…

We took a break and went outside. I was in something like 54th place and things were looking good. We headed by the van for something, and I noticed that the front right tire was severely worn on the outside edge – I mean it looked like it wouldn’t get us back to St. Louis. I got worried. I became distracted. I then ran into a series of Skies variants.

Previously, my versions of God had used some maindecked spells like Ghitu Fire and Urza’s Rage, plus it had possessed a sideboard with Veteran Brawlers and Kris Mages that heavily swung those games in my favor. At this point, I got stuck with horrible sideboard decisions and had almost no way to deal with Skies’ bigger flyers. Sandwiched in between losing to two Skies variants, I lost the only game I can remember to a Fires deck. Luckily, that game was to a friend, Bob McCaughtry, who wound up going 6-2 in the tourney and a respectable finish in the prizes.

At this point the lessons learned are several. First, Rui Oliveira had made a comment that”Blue Skies is the new Sligh.” The meaning was twofold: The deck has really very few terrible matchups, the hot Fires talk on the net not withstanding. It is also, rather importantly, cheap to build, needing only a few rares. It’s not terribly hard to run, either, although it can be tricky to master the idea that it’s a tempo control deck. To this I would say that if you are going to a tourney like Regionals, never discount the”new Sligh” deck.

When making a choices for that sort of environment, make sure and pack in as much flexibility as possible. Aura Fracture might break against Fires, but it was worthless the times I was faced with Ankh of Mishra – and that fact probably cost me as many as three matches as well, and thus also cost me a much better finish, possibly a very good finish, at Regionals. These were the roots of my downfall, because once the life totals were set and the cards were dealt, I felt that I played almost flawlessly.

The post regional time period for some reason has left me with a profound state of the aforementioned angst. I took some time off after the tourney. I think many did. Star City went through the period of severe problems and down time that facilitated that from its writers. I know some of the crew put in articles and later asked that they not be published because of the timing issues. (Tru dat — The Ferrett, still recovering from the downtime) This piece is dated, but I think some of the ideas have merit.

I looked at the card lists for Seventh and built a reasonable mono-black control deck that I failed to tweak to an end, starting with Meekstone over what should be the superior Ensnaring Bridge. I built a version of MagPile that very closely mirrored some decks that did well at Nationals… But other than that, I’ve done very little with Apocalypse and less deckbuilding. I have, however, witnessed the building of some very interesting ideas by my teammates, including [author name="Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar"]Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar’s[/author] White Noise and the Mason-lead charge into Indian Summer. (I’d suggest you check these writers out.)

Somewhere along the way, I have found that I’ve been playing less and less Magic. There are several reasons for this: First, I seem to be having trouble linking up with my mates to play on-line. Prior to Regionals this wasn’t a problem, but at this point I can’t remember the last time I played online. Locally, some other games are very hot right now, including 7th Sea (which I play) and Mage Knight (which I don’t), and I’ve had three or four of the young locals ask me for offers to buy out their collections. I have been warning them away from doing this. Whether these other games are”fads” or not, I’m rather confident that Magic the Gathering is going to be around for a long while, and selling out of your cards is eventually lamented by many folks who’ve done it. This is all bothering me to some extent and fueling my”angst.”

It is also fueled by the fact that my teammates Mike and Scott have both put up very impressive showings in their Limited forays recently, and I think give us a strong shot at making some noise at the Team Sealed events coming up. From my perspective, I think I’m going to be the”player” of the bunch, and at this point am looking at relying heavily on Mike and Scott to do much of the deckbuilding in those events. Still, I’m not feeling particularly strong in a situation where my playing skills aren’t getting used much.

The writing hasn’t exactly flowed, either. This piece has taken way too long to find any momentum and I wasn’t feeling good about that either as while I think many were expecting a flood after Star City’s brief hiatus what we found was more or less more of a trickle. Contrary or contrarily I’ve found a little solace that some others have been in the same boat. The period of the change from 6th to 7th and the subsequent timing of the appearance of Apocalypse and the current state of the organized season has made for a rather strange period. Decks using 7th but not Apocalypse are going to have had a short shelf life, even while carrying the importance of Nationals. One of the reasons that I stalled out on my mono-black effort was the appearance of Phyrexian Arena.

Still, I feel connected to the game. I read about it every day and receive a lot of e-mail from some of the brightest players and writers on the planet. In that light, I’ve decided to try and pick up where Deranged Dad left off, as I thoroughly enjoyed his chats with the greater names in the game. With that, I hope that my next piece will bring forth an a timely interview with one of magic’s historical luminaries and a guy that finished in the money at this years Nationals: Adrian Sullivan. Stay tuned for that one.

A Few Notes on Nationals

This is just perhaps a tiny supplement to the fine Constructed analysis that was done by Theron Martin on Mindripper.

In this part, I am going to make a quick little foray from a little bit in a different perspective. I have the places sheet here with the top 25 matched with their decks. What you must realize is that many of these players had a pretty vested interest in doing as well as possible after having very good starts at the draft tables. Specifically, Dave Price outlined here on Star City that after starting well in the draft, Fires was just a very safe choice to pull him into the finals – but that he had another deck, a mono red one, that he had been favoring (or at least working on) prior to Nationals. What I seem to get from this is that Fires was a safe choice and not necessarily the most explosive one a guy could make. This is a hard point to make, but the feeling I get is that a lot of folks were very confident that Fires could take them to 4-2 on day two, but that if they needed to pull a 6-0 there might be another deck to try.

Anyway, after ten Fires decks in the top 25 place finishers, there were of note…

No Skies decks in the top 25. I’m not sure about the whole Nats field, but it

wasn’t played much…

No Nether Go! None, zip, nada – no variations in the top 25. Again I’m not sure about the whole field right now, but this again wasn’t a popular choice considering the many build options for it…

 There were ten”other” type decks. Of the five decks that weren’t either Fires or”other,” I believe two were Meddling Rebels and three were U/W Control. The 10″other” decks covered a wide-ranging gamut of the possible.

In descending order of place…

Bridge Wildfire


U/W Prison

Turian’s Mono Rebs

G/R Beats

Sullivan’s Turbo Chevy

Malka’s Kane

Mono Black Control

Blue Decree

Kastle’s Animal House

To me this all boils into questions of whether the standard environment was dominated by Fires or was stagnant. I think Fires is an environment-defining deck, certainly, but the choices that the players above I think showed it to be viewed perhaps a slight notch down from dominating – and that consequently, a lot of players felt good about creating their own deck to take into that environment against it. That certainly doesn’t ring of stagnation.

Till next time.

Will Rieffer


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Hang on Sloopy, Sloopy hang on ……