Ask The Drama — Final Fling

Jeroen Remie.
In this, the last edition of Ask The Drama, Jeroen tackles a number of topics. He critiques decks, he walks us through a tricky Limited game scenario, he shares his Regionals musings, he spills the beans on Dredge, and he even shares his soda preferences! Thanks for the articles, Jeroen… let’s hope we see you in the Feature Article slot soon.

It was the summer of 2001. At our local basketball club we had a women’s team, and I had a huge crush on one of the girls…. She was pretty, maybe even the prettiest of the pretty, and she…


I am not going to write crap like this on my last day here, even though it seems like it is the thing to do these days.

What? Last day here?

Yup. That’s right. It’s my last Wednesday Ask The Drama column. Don’t worry, I hope to be back soon with some Feature Article material, but for now it’s adios. I’ve had a great time answering all your questions over the weeks, and I certainly hope that this isn’t my last article for this site.

Ironically, after struggling at the outset, my mailbag is currently overflowing. There’s no way I’ll get to answer all your queries this week, but I hope these final questions will suffice.

So, for the final time… to the mailbag!

This week’s first question comes from Richard Smith:

Here’s a question from a game that came up this evening on MTGO in a league. Both players are solid, one over 1700 (Player B, myself) and one over 1800 (Player A), but we were still unsure as to quite what the correct play was.

It’s game 2 and it’s Player A’s turn. Game 1 was won by Player B.

Board position is:

Player A
Life = 5
Hand = Land, Cloudchaser Kestrel
Graveyard = Marshalling Cry (only card of note)

Player B
Life = 14
Hand = Grinning Ignus (Player A knows this)
Graveyard = Sudden Shock (of note)

Player A’s board is:

2 Plains
2 Mountains
Molten Slagheap with one counter
Calciform Pools with no counters

Knight of Sursi
Lucent Liminid enchanted with Player B’s Temporal Isolation

Player B’s board is:

3 Plains (2 Tapped)
3 Mountains (2 Tapped)

Fomori Nomad (Tapped)
Lucent Liminid (Tapped)

In game 1, Player B played no pump spells and the following removal: Riddle of Lightning, Sudden Shock, Ghostfire, Temporal Isolation

The question is what is Player A’s play. Obviously drop the Kestrel, but what to target? The net effects of targeting Player B’s Temporal Isolation and Lucent Liminid are extremely close but not identical. In the end, Player A chose to target Player B’s Luminid on the grounds that he felt it was marginally better in the case of a pump spell.

My opinion is that that play was somewhat conservative, as it pretty much inevitably leads to the double block next turn, clearing both players’ boards in the absence of any trickiness and leading to almost certain loss for Player A if Player B has anything.

The slightly riskier play, but with a better chance (in my opinion) of actually WINNING the game is to hit the Isolation, and plan to block the inevitable swing with Luminid and Kestrel on the Nomad, take 3 and then be in a position to make the next attack unfavorable for Player B if he’s not drawn anything else due to having four power and toughness on the table with Cry in the graveyard.

In the end, my opponent stabilized with his choice for a number of turns before dying to a timely Riddle into Ghostfire the turn before he’d have drawn White Akroma with the mana to cast her and me on five life. It was a great game with an interesting problem, and I’m interested to hear your thoughts on the decision.

Since Player B hasn’t played a pump spell, you can assume he doesn’t really have one. This means that double-blocking isn’t as scary, because any card that wrecks you in that position will also just outright kill you (Ghostfire and Riddle). The fact that you know both of these cards basically means that you don’t really want to go to three life or lower, because that will just put you at dead as soon as he draws either.

This means that the survival play is the best, and killing the Liminid does that best. Next turn you will be blocking the Nomad with both your guys, and hoping to outdraw your opponent (who will be left with an Ignus). The play you describe will leave you with at two (You double-block the Nomad and he kills your 3/3 flier) with two 2/2 flyers in play and your opponent at twelve (assuming you attacked with the Knight) a 3/3 flyer and an Ignus. This means that you will be chumping next turn unless you draw an answer to the Ignus.

If you just kill the 3/3 flyer you will double-block the Nomad that turn, leaving you at five with nothing, and your opponent at fourteen with an Ignus. You then have an out at drawing an answer for the Ignus for three turns, as well as the fact that if you draw any 2/2 immediately you are out of burn range and you can just block the Ignus and trade.

Both plays lead to almost the same board position, but one leaves you at two, and not at five, which means that this is just worse. Just kill the Luminid. You lose anyway if Player B has anything, so playing around something is not really a luxury you can afford. Note that even if the next attack is unfavorable for Player B because of the two 2/2s and the Marshalling Cry, this still doesn’t kill him (he is at twelve after all, which means he’d be at six) but you are still stuck chump-blocking at two life.

Next up is a question by sideboard reporter Hanno Terbuyken:

Is your nickname really "Heroin," as I heard form BDM?

Second, Rich Hagon posed the question in his last article: "How important are Grand Prix tournaments to the Player of the Year Race?" What’s your stance on that, and what’s your reasoning?

Hey Hanno. Yes, my nickname is indeed Heroin. It comes from the way Americans pronounce words that start with the letter J, which really only happens in the one foreign language most of them know. They pronounce it with an H-sound. From Heroen, it really is pretty easy to get to Heroin. It has nothing to do with drugs, or the fact that I come from Holland.

As for Grand Prix tournaments, I feel like they are now essential to both the Player of the Year race and the Pro Player’s Club levels in general. With only five Pro Tours it is really hard to consistently do well at them, especially since one has been a funky format for the past two years (Constructed Teams and Two-Headed Giant) and another one is Worlds. This means that it is close to impossible to get enough points by the PTs alone. It has been made even harder since Wizards started trying out different cut-offs and point awards, like at PT: Charleston last year (in which it was impossible to get any amount of points unless you did really well).

This means that you just have to go to GPs. There are not enough points at the PT level. Just look at last year’s Top 10 in the Player of the Year standings. The only players that did not go to almost every GP around are number 9 and 10, and that includes multiple Top 8 finisher Willy Edel, and PT winner Mark Herberholz (who had an incredibly consistent PT season). But they didn’t go to GPs, and that means they won’t finish highly. Number 33 Julien Nuijten didn’t get more than two points at any given PT event save the Worlds Team competition, but he went to so many GPs that he still easily stayed on the train. Well, "easily" if you consider traveling to the four corners of the Earth "easy." This is also the reason I dropped off last year. I don’t like GPs, and I didn’t do stellar at PTs either.

Regular contributor Ray Bechtel sent in his usual bunch of questions:

1. I’ve heard that Regionals tends to have a lot of aggro decks, and if you want to do well it’s better to play control. Do you think this is true, or is it something the area of the tournament determines?

I think that’s a bunch of nonsense, as I actually believe the opposite. In a huge tournament like Regionals, with lots of different types of decks and no way of knowing what to expect, I feel it is best to actually play a beatdown deck. It helps that they are easier to pilot, and quicker, which is very nice in a large tournament like Regionals. Just because good players tend to like control more does not mean that if you want to do well you need to play control.

2. Based on what’s currently popular in Standard, do you think Aven Mindcensor will show up in maindecks in the future? Do you think there are any White decks that will want to play it?

Well, Regionals has come and gone already, and Aven Mindcensor did not make a huge impact at all. The effect is just not good enough, as Dragonstorm can just go find something in the Top 4 and shuffle again, retry, and try again in the next Top 4 until they hit a Hellkite and mop up anyway.

Other than Dragonstorm, there are just not enough decks that get hurt by it. Now if only there was a Gifts deck around these days to hose…

Oh yeah… it also dies to the most popular guy around these days, Sulphur Elemental, which means it is just out period.

3. I hear people talk about the Dredge deck a lot. I don’t personally like it. Do you have an opinion?

I think the deck is good, but it isn’t quite there yet. It hasn’t been around much, not at all on MTGO, and it is just at the beginning of its evolution. Most decks like this, with lots of options available to them, usually take a while before they are at their best. I am definitely afraid of it, and I expect to see it a lot in the coming months. The question is if someone can find a way to beat the hate that is out there in force.

Look out for it at Nationals and Worlds, where it may make a big splash.

4. Dragonstorm is good! Do you think there will be too much hate for it to succeed at Regionals?

As I’ve said, Regionals is done, but early results – at least the ones I have seen – have shown that Dragonstorm was still big, despite the hate. It is so resilient thanks to Gigadrowse, which means it isn’t easy to hate out. I think it is by far the best deck out there.

5. Oriss, Samite Guardian + Undertaker. Hot or not?

Not so much, because if there is anything that is easy to disrupt, it is a combo that relies on two copies of one creature and one of the other, both of which are small enough to get hit by any removal out there from Sudden Death to Strangling Soot.

6. *Insert Random Hot Actress Here* Hot or not?

Scarlett Johanson. Wow. Also, I saw Death Proof yesterday, because y’know, we don’t get Grindhouse, we get them separately. I have to say that I am a big fan of Mary Elizabeth Winstead.

7. What are your LEAST favorite deck and your LEAST favorite card?

My least favorite card is easy: Browbeat. It’s one of those cards that every new player loves, because it seems to do two awesome things at once, but that really is close to horrible, and almost unplayable (curse you, Block Constructed!). I am so tired of explaining why it is so bad that I have given up, and I’m tearing up any copy I see.

As for my least favorite deck, I don’t really think I have one. I dislike combo decks in general, but there is no specific deck that jumps out to me as one I particularly hate. I guess I’ll have to say "any deck that plays Browbeat."

8. Beef, Chicken, Fish, or Pork?

Though I like all meats, I like chicken a little more than the others. It’s impossible to beat a good Orange Chicken or Chick-fil-a.

9. Do you drink much in the way of soda? If so, what’s your favorite?

Yeah, I drink a lot of sodas, though I switched to diet soda a year ago to try and lose some weight… which hasn’t really happened yet. My favorite by far is Mountain Dew, which tragically is not available in Europe at all. This is just one of the reasons that I love being in the States so much. Over here, I just drink Diet Coke.

10. You’ve suddenly been given a gift of several thousand dollars. You can’t invest it in any way – you must use it right away. What do you spend it on?

That really depends on what I need most at that moment, as I am not much of a "think far ahead" kind of guy. If I got it right now? I’d buy a ticket to the States and a laptop, and go…

Filip Majcherkiewicz is up next:

I’ve been toying with a Greater Good deck that combos with the plethora of Green hasted fatties in the format (and Jamie Wakefield isn’t paying attention!), but it seems stuck on the cusp of becoming a real threat to the format. In our local meta, the main decks consist of generally control decks in Dralnu, various Trons and Pickles, with the occasional aggro Scryb & Force or Gruul thrown in. I know my deck has a fantastic time against most control (and especially Tron-based variants), but it struggles against S&F and any deck featuring a first striker. With FS in the mix, I have been starting to try out some cards, and I just wanted your input on how to best improve the deck’s matchup against these mid-range and aggro decks best.

Here is the current "updated" list with Future Sight:

4 Llanowar Wastes
4 Overgrown Tomb
1 Pendelhaven
11 Forest
2 Swamp

4 Birds of Paradise
3 Llanowar Elves
4 Magus of the Vineyard
4 Timbermare
4 Giant Solifuge
4 Groundbreaker
3 Protean Hulk
1 Loaming Shaman

4 Greater Good
4 Dread Return
3 Summoner’s Pact

4 Defense Grid
3 Leyline of Lifeforce
3 Leyline of the Void
2 Krosan Grip
3 Heartwood Storyteller

As you can see, the idea is to put your opponent under a deluge of "must counter" hasty beasties, then Dread Return them. The Greater Good allows a continuous stream of threats after your Ball Lightnings and Timbermares have done the job, and Protean Hulk allows for some truly "groundbreaking" turns with GG. Any help would be great.

Finally, Aeon Chronicler has quickly become a favorite card of mine in Blue decks, for its ability to refill your hand and then provide a huge threat. With various Signets and/or Tron, it’s not hard to get to five mana to suspend for one and then have a big board presence against aggro, or suspend him for long game fuel against control. What are you opinions of the card and its place in control decks? Outside of Dralnu, which values its instants, it seems to me to be an auto-include in decklists, especially in Tron and Solar Flare.

Let’s look at the first question… the problem with a deck like this one, the Greater Good variant, is that you need to actually get that Greater Good in play. This means that you will not be doing stuff for an entire turn, which is usually enough for the opponent to stabilize or take over. Unfortunately, this is a generic flaw in the deck and it can’t really be solved, as it is inherent to the design. A card I can recommend is Moldervine Cloak. Combined with an Elf, it will also give you a decent Greater Good sacrifice target, and you can dredge it back immediately. If first strikers give you trouble, I would suggest playing some removal spells of any kind to take care of them. Another card I feel you need to run is Might of Old Krosa. It not only nets you four damage for one mana, and solves the first strike problem on some of your guys, but it also nets you four cards with the Greater Good.

As for the second question… I agree about Aeon Chronicler, and so does the rest of the world it seems, as everyone is running this bad boy in any deck that can afford the splash. The powerful ability, combined with the fact that everyone gets mana so fast these days, makes this the perfect card for control. You can even suspend it as an instant with Teferi in play!

The final Ask The Drama questions are by Rob Appleyard:

How important a practice tool is MTGO for pro-level play? Roughly what proportion of regular PT players use it?

Magic Online is an incredible tool available for everyone, and as such is almost invaluable as a tool in testing for anyone. I would say that at least 80-90% of all people on the PT use Magic Online semi-regularly, and it is so essential. You get better at Magic by playing more often, and MTGO is the way to play as often as you like/can. I have even seen pros test using Magic Online when they were in the same room, just so they didn’t have to shuffle… it saves time that way!

You just can’t go without MTGO anymore.

When you choose your deck for a Constructed tournament, do you tend to go for the deck with the most raw power or do you play something underpowered which exploits the metagame? Why? Under what conditions is one approach better than the other?

It really hasn’t been possible to beat the metagame in the last two or three years, because the metagame has been so huge that there is no way that you can find a deck that beats every deck that is out there. I usually just go for the deck that is most powerful, or the deck that I am most comfortable with – which also depends on what is in the metagame, of course – but I never focus on the metagame solely when choosing a deck.

It is better to pick a deck based on a metagame when it is clearly defined and there are only a few viable deck types, but in a large, open metagame, it really is better to play the best deck.

Do you have a particular method for working out Limited manabases?

Not really. It is something that comes with practice. Of course, the first thing you base it on is how much of each color you have, but also mind the early drops, how essential is it to be able to play a card early, and how badly you need a land in play or if you can morph or cycle your splashes just as easily.

The amount of land is also important, and depends on how badly you need to be able to make late land drops. The more important it is to reach four-plus land, the more important it is to play seventeen or more lands total. I never really play less than seventeen though, no matter how cheap my deck is or how much mana fixing I have.

In draft, how do you tell a pack with a signal from a pack with a slightly weird distribution of cards?

You can’t really, which is why you should never base a color-switch on one pack in particular, and you should track every card you get passed individually. Reading a draft is more than simply jumping at everything that seems like a signal, and it is what separates the good drafters from the mediocre ones.

What do you make of the results of GP: Columbus? Did it pan out as you expected?

Yes. I expected the best deck to win, and it did. Though I am not really into Legacy very much, it didn’t surprise me at all. The only thing that did surprise me is how good Goblins did in a format so heavily dominated by combo.

And that’s it, people!

I’d like to thank everyone who ever submitted a question or comment, as without you guys these articles would have never been possible. Take care, good luck at your next tourneys, and I hope you guys will miss me occasionally. Who knows, maybe I’ll be back from time to time writing a Featured Article…

I’ll still read the forums if you guys have any questions, about this article or something else that can’t wait, but for now… I’m outta here!