I had been planning to make my”Road to States 2002″ articles a huge, expansive series of articles covering every possible archetype and different permutations of decks. I had at least eight planned. Unfortunately, when one is working three different jobs and trying to actually test for States, that does seem to cut into one’s writing time.
So I’ll try to make up for it with a marginally entertaining tournament report.
How many decks did I test, and then discard, over the last month? Piledriver Sligh I liked, but it’s too narrow for my tastes and rolls over and dies to Engineered Plague. Wake decks are good… But combo decks of that nature are very difficult to play and unforgiving to mistakes. Unless you’re a pro-caliber player, by round three you are going to be mentally drained, popping Vitamin I pills like they’re candy and out of contention (and unconscious) by the end of the day. Upheaval-Tog seemed too slow and fragile in playtesting.
Of the Invitational decks, Gabriel Nassif tri-color Braids-Oppo deck seemed interesting, but we weren’t able to address the issues of the horrible mana base, and Punisher-Oppo, while promising in testing, had holes we found that were exploitable-and it just seemed too darn strange to me.
Mono-black control was discarded early in testing as being too narrow and being unable to deal with cards like Compost. Of newer decks, the cycling-based Astral Slide/Lightning Rift decks seemed to have the most potential, but I didn’t have enough time to test them to my satisfaction.
We played a few interesting rogues, such as a Ravenous Baloth/Contested Cliffs R/G deck, as well as a few different Lightning Rift variants, but I just couldn’t quite get into them-besides, I didn’t have the cards for them, anyway.
In the end, I was back where I started, with Wonder Dog. A solid but unspectacular choice, I had it tuned to the point where it could hold its own against most decks. It didn’t roll over a lot of decks but neither did it roll over. Like every archetype, it had less-than-optimal matchups, but I was comfortable playing it after a month of testing.
The main deck barely changed from my first build. The sideboard, however, underwent many, many changes.
4 Careful Study
4 Basking Rootwallas
4 Wild Mongrel
4 Merfolk Looter
4 Aether Burst
4 Circular Logic
3 Arrogant Wurm
3 Deep Analysis
4 Roar of the Wurm
2 City of Brass
3 Spellbane Centaur
1 Sylvan Safekeeper
2 Phantom Centaur
2 Silklash Spider
1 Moment’s Peace
Naturalize is a given in the current Standard environment. I had played enough of the various Rift/Slide and Wake decks to know that there would be plenty of them out there, so I added one Tranquility to, in essence, be my fifth Naturalize. This means three Spellbane Centaurs, not four, as my defense against Opposition-based decks. I was guessing that black would not be a popular color – so Compost was cut and I only ran two pro-black Phantom Centaurs, which were intended to be more of an anti-Sligh than anti-black countermeasure. Moment’s Peace and Sylvan Safekeeper also made the cut as anti-Sligh measures – at least, I figured the Safekeeper would be a good late drop against Sligh and effective against the mirror.
Speaking of the mirror, I went with the Spider tech, which would enable me to block flying Wurms until the cows came home and clear the air of fliers.
Upheaval was there to be my all-purpose reset button, good against decks with high casting cost spells, especially Wake and mono-black, if it showed up at all.
Notable omissions were Krosan Reclamation (which I would have liked to have had as defense against graveyard effects like Glory) and Counterspell (which I soured upon due to the double blue in the casting cost and the fact that the deck likes to play in the early game with having just a single blue open to at least bluff a Circular Logic). Besides, in a tempo-based aggro-control deck such as Wonder Dog is better than Counterspell.
I’ll spare you the otherwise boring getting-up-at-six-in-the-morning and driving-across-the-passes-uphill-both-ways-in-the-snow stories. I was mildly bothered, though, that once again, they packed over a hundred Magic players into a tiny room with no ventilation. And, sadly, there were far too many players in the room who were unfamiliar with the concept of”soap.” Early on, a miasma of funk hung over the room like a storm cloud – only there was no rain forthcoming.
Round 1: Mike Hall (Braids-Oppo)
Game one sees the typical starts from both of our decks, me with a Looter on turn two, Mike dropping Birds, then Call on his turn. He beats down for a while, choosing not to flash the Call back, perhaps fearing Aether Burst. He attempts to bring a Finkel into play, which gets a Circular Logic courtesy of the Looter. I follow with a Careful Study that dumps two Roars into my graveyard. From there, I start overwhelming him with larger creatures, Looting out consecutive Arrogant Wurms. Hell, who needs flying? When I cast a second Circular Logic to counter his attempt to Smother a Wurm token, Mike scoops.
I bring in my anti-Oppo Centaurs, Little Viking and Upheaval, taking out my Aether Bursts and a Roar or two. Game two, I remember the hard way why City of Brass is so bad against Opposition decks, as I take about ten points of damage from it, courtesy of”evil Oppo.” That’s pretty much all she wrote, as the Safekeeper shows up too late to save me.
Game three is…Weird. I open with a Careful Study, dumping land into my graveyard (an inauspicious start), then dropping a turn 2 Looter. But no green mana is forthcoming, which is bad. I do have two Circular Logics, which help in the early game, and then I finally draw green to cast a Spellbane. No Oppo for you, sayeth I! Unfortunately, Mike drops two Finkels and is doing a good job of keeping my mana and creatures tapped while he plinks away with Johnny Magic, nibbling away my life total. Still, I’m finally drawing land, putting Arrogant Wurms and Roars into play while depositing a Wonder in the graveyard. Unfortunately, my Spellbane Centaur falls prey to Smother. I finally draw a Mongrel to staunch the tide of Finkels, as my opponent drops a third (!) one.
The key card turns out to be my janky lone Safekeeper. I use the Little Viking to sacrifice my City of Brass to avoid getting killed by it, and then use him to alpha strike-my opponent is at five life, with a Ravenous Baloth in play, I hold an Arrogant Wurm, Looter, Roar token and Mongrel-more than enough. I enter my attack step, he tries to tap my air force, and I sacrifice most of my lands to make each creature untargetable in response, then Aether Burst his last blockers. The thirteen damage I deal is enough to win.
A narrow victory, which would prove to be the theme of the day for me.
Round 2: Paul Thomson (Burning Wake)
This match enforced what I learned in playtesting: Game one is virtually an autoloss, but you have a good chance after sideboarding. I let the first game go on for far too long, close to 35 minutes, as I keep trying to poke through enough damage through Wrath of Gods and multiple Moment’s Peaces. I scoop once he starts the combo with a double Wish for Overmaster and Firecat Blitz. I thought my three Aether Bursts might be enough… But not against 45 4/4 tokens.
Game two, my deck gets the fast start I need. Turn 2 Mongrel, turn 3 hit for three, madness out an Arrogant Wurm. Turn 4, attack for seven. Turn 5, pitch my hand, attack for the win – my opponent tries to bluff a Moment’s Peace, but my last card is a Circular Logic.
There’s only a few minutes left, so I must agree with my opponent that”it looks like we’re playing for the draw.” One never knows, however. My opponent goes first, I start with Careful Study, pitching two lands – no Rootwallas for me. That’s followed by a Mongrel, then a Deep Analysis, and an Arrogant Wurm. A turn four Mirari’s Wake does indeed draw the Naturalize, as my opponent predicts, but he has a Moment’s Peace for my next attack.
I’m at seventeen and my opponent is at ten, when time is called. Turn one goes to Paul; he plays a land, says done. He has two forests in play, which is key. I look at my hand, with four cards in it, and attack.”I won’t pump the Mongrel,” I say, ready to go to damage. My opponent decides to cast Moment’s Peace from hand. I respond with Circular Logic, making the Mongrel a 3/3. He then flashes back his Peace from the graveyard. I pitch my hand at that point, including my second Logic, countering it, making the Mongrel 6/6 and winning the game.
That’s one to add to the”better lucky than good” file.
Round 3: Peter Brockaway (B/G)
I’m not sure what Peter’s deck is, exactly. It’s mostly black and green fat, it seems. I never saw a Braids. It was a fast starter, but seemed to have trouble maintaining the beats past the midgame.
Game one, Peter opens with a Mesmeric Fiend, snagging a Circular Logic. I cast a Looter and start the root-root-root for the Rootwalla chain. My Mongrel is answered by a Call of the Herd, which is promptly flashed back – which is, fortunately, for me, followed by back-to-back Aether Bursts. I start chumping tokens with Rootwallas, and once I get a Wonder into the graveyard, I am able to start flying over his army for quick beats, and my third Aether Burst gives me the time I need to administer the coup de grace.
Out go the Bursts, in come the Olle and the Phantoms. Which proves to be wise, since my opponent drops a turn 2 Mongrel and turn 3 Spellbane of his own. I’m a wee bit tight for green mana, but eventually it comes thanks to a Looter. I counter one Engineered Plague, but the second sneaks in, killing my Looter and his entire future progeny. Olle earns his keep, though, by foiling a Smother. I have plenty of land to sacrifice, fortunately, eventually even hardcasting a Roar of the Wurm. When you can do that, it’s a good sign. After beating me down to seven, my opponent is forced to start chump blocking 6/6s.
Suffice it to say, I advance
Round 4: Jeremiah Howry (U/G/W Dog)
I’d say he was reading my stuff, but Jeremiah insists that his version of Dog – splashing white for Worship and Glory – is his own idea. Aw, c’mon, throw me a bone here…
Game one sees Jeremiah get the dream Careful Study draw, pitching two Rootwallas, while I can only respond with a Looter. My attempt at a turn three Arrogant Wurm draws a Circular Logic, and things aren’t looking good for the home team. Suddenly, my deck decides to start coughing up the love, giving me three straight Roar of the Wurm, which I’m able to cast back-to-back-to-back, with a Logic backup. Suffice it to say, Wurms are bigger than Rootwallas, and they steamroll to victory.
Game two is an odd affair. I side out the Wonders to bring in my Spider tech. Jeremiah is stuck at three land while I beat down with 3/3 Rootwallas; unfortunately, he eventually stabilizes and we go into trade-creatures mode. I get him down to one, but then he topdecks an Arrogant Wurm to throw to Aquamoeba, and I can’t find anything big to save me.
Game three is decided by a two major play errors. I open with a turn 1 Rootwalla, then an Aquamoeba. Jeremiah has an Aquamoeba of his own. I serve with my creatures, and Jeremiah chooses to trade his blue beast for mine. Having two Arrogant Wurms in hand, he realizes his mistake too late.
Unfortunately it gets worse: He gets a Glory in the graveyard (first time I see that bit of tech) with a lone plains to fuel it, and is beating down with a 4/4 Wurm. I do manage to get a Wonder in the graveyard (which means, I think, I can start chump blocking-yes, I brought them back in), then a Wild Mongrel, when Jeremiah attacks with his Wurm.
I throw my polychromatic Mongrel in the way, and Jeremiah realizes his error. I change the Mongrel’s color several times on the way to becoming a 5/5, kill his Wurm, and go on to win with my air force.
I’m in rarified air and like my chances right now. And everyone said Dog was a bad choice!
Round 5: Jahn Hawkins (Astroglide)
I wish I’d tested more against this matchup, but I felt confident about my chances. Somewhat. Unfortunately, game one is very anticlimactic, and I’m steamed because I was forced to re-sleeve by the judges because apparently my shiny Ultra-Pro sleeves are illegal. To take a line from an Adam Sandler movie that I don’t hate that much,”This is something that could have been brought to my attention yesterday! Jahn drops a Lightning Rift on turn 2 and 3 and burns me to hell in short order.
In comes Upheaval, which I don’t think the deck likes very much. I get some early Mongrel beats, which is hard to burn out with the Rift, fortunately, and get a key early Naturalize on an Astral Slide – apparently he doesn’t run Aura Extraction; lucky me. Jahn plays a morphed creature-gee, I wonder what that could be-and we trade plinking each other for two points a turn, playing land all the while. Jahn was (and rightfully so) playing around Aether Burst, afraid to bring out his Angel.
At this point, we’re drawing a bit of a crowd, and being that I’m not only sitting next to a local player with a Kurt Angle T-shirt but also possessing more than a passing resemblance to”Stone Cold” Steve Austin, we start getting a few wrestling references thrown at us.
With seven land in play, I serve for two, bringing Jahn down to eleven (I’m at eight), then hit the Big Blue Reset Button. Ouch, he saith. I replay the Mongrel, then in two turns I alpha strike for the win.
And that’s the bottom line, because”Stone Dave” said so!
Yeah, I’m 34, have a college degree, listen to NPR, and like pro wrestling. You got a problem with that?
Game three, I have the Upheaval in my opening draw, but it’s his tech that carries the day-with five lands and three islands in play, I attempt to use an end-of-turn Looter to bring an Arrogant Wurm into play, and he responds with Boil – thusly preventing me from ever casting Upheaval. From there, unable to counter or bounce anything, his Angel finishes me off.
My hat’s off to Jahn for being one of the better and most gracious players of the day.
Round 6: Adam Sherman (Astroglide)
I don’t think Adam’s version is quite as good as Jahn’s, but it’s good enough. Adam’s a little too rules lawyer-ly for my tastes – game one is a slaughter, with an early Angel on his side taking me down, way down, to one life, while he’s at 36 – I attempt to kill it and his attacking Teroh’s Faithful, by madnessing out an Arrogant Wurm with a Mongrel and blocking his Angel with a 5/5-then he calls a judge to say that my Wurm wasn’t declared as a blocker, despite my pushing it in front of his Faithful. At this point, it was clear I wasn’t going to win, so I just say screw it and go to game two.
You would think at this stage of my life snotty little kids wouldn’t get under my skin.
You would think.
Game two is much more to my liking. I have two Naturalizes to deal with his early enchantments, and while he cycles like a fool to try and find answers, I beat down with a Mongrel and two Roar tokens in short order.
Game three, I get a slightly better start, being able to drop an early Mongrel and madness-ed Arrogant Wurm, then Naturalizing a Slide, but being unable to deal with a Lightning Rift. Unfortunately, the Angel comes out again and makes it hard to race. I’m able to wheel a Spider (only time all day I’d played one), and that at least stops me from taking damage until I can use the Spider’s ability, in combination with a blocking Wurm, to kill the Angel.
Unfortunately, when I’m at four, he’s at thirteen and tapped out, I count the damage and see that even by pitching my hand to the Mongrel, I can only deal twelve damage. I take him to one, then he untaps and uses the Rift to finish me off.
At 4-2, I decide to play on to see if I can qualify for top 16 (thusly getting a few packs), and there is a very off-off-off chance I can still qualify for Top 8-it requires a lot of luck, involving several losses and draws above me and a meteor crashing into that side of the room.
Zvi Mowshowitz was definitely right about one observation about Wonder Dog: The deck gives you many, many opportunities to make small mistakes that add up over time. Had I played the two Looters in my hand a few turns earlier (I didn’t want them to just get killed by the Rift), I might have had them available to deal a point of damage or dig deeper in the deck to get the Deep Analysis I needed for the win.
Mind you, I’ve replayed this final match in my head a bit, and even if I do play out the Looters, odds are I don’t pull it out. I wouldn’t have been able to dig out a Deep Analysis in time, and fewer cards in hand would have meant he might have been able to burn out the Mongrel.
Yes, playing Dog is a bit like the Death of a Thousand Paper Cuts, and this match was just the lemon juice.
Round 7: Grant Struck (Burning Wake)
Grant is clearly not awe-struck by playing an Internet writer of note, and I’m certainly not dumbstruck by his deck.
This ends the pun section of the tournament report.
Game one is further proof of the Wake/Dog adage: Despite double mulliganing and being beat down to three life, Grant gets game one by casting Burning Wish for Ancestral Tribute – at which point I scoop to go get my Naturalizes.
Game two, I sneak a Mongrel into play and go into uber-beat mode, pitching cards left and right. Eventually Grant casts a Wrath, but I follow with a Roar token and topdecked Looter.
Grant passes the turn at seven life. He has green mana open. Do I attack for the kill, or save the Looter to draw cards? I play for the gusto and guess right – he has no Moment’s Peace.
Game three sees Grant double mulligan again (and how many land does Wake run?), and I take advantage early. Turn 1 Rootwalla, followed by a Naturalize for his Compulsion – that’s right, no card drawing for you! The beats follow, and I think Grant makes a mistake by continuing to play land, exposing a hand with only one or two cards in it at most. If he’d kept more cards, I might have been more cautious… But the lack of threats and his general demeanor encouraged me to keep the pressure on, and he throws down his hand in disgust – he’d drawn twelve lands and three spells the whole game.
So I finish 12th for the second year in a row. As Ace Reporter Gregory Helms might say,”Whassup wit’ dat?” Hey, at least I’m consistent.
From what I saw of the field, there was a lot of Wake decks, a fair amount of Dog and a few”rogues,” the best of which and the deck most likely to become this year’s Psychatog was the R/W Astroglide deck built around cycling. Personally, I thought”Electric Boogaloo” would have been a better name for the deck, but I was a little slow on getting anything written about it, so I guess I lose out.
I suspect Astral Slide will be the next card banned by the DCI. I don’t know how many people played or played against Astroglide decks, but they are potentially broken – and not in the”hard but beatable” category. Lightning Rift is good, but Astral Slide is the broken card that makes the deck hum. If the Slide, like the Rift, had an activation cost, it’d be fine… But free is too cheap. The ability to recurse the life-gaining Teroh’s Faithful, 187 creatures, and get around the morph cost of an Exalted Angel is a little too environment-altering for my tastes.
Now, mind you, I came pretty darn close to beating Astroglide, so it’s possible I’m overreacting. But I was running one of the few decks in the field that, at least after sideboarding, had both counters and enchantment removal. Any deck that has neither is basically an auto-win.
I also think this means Epicenter may finally be playable. What do Wake, Astroglide, and Psychatog (rapidly fading to Tier II but still respectable) decks have in common? They like to have lots of land in play. How do we punish these decks? By destroying all their land. We lack Armageddon in this environment, but we do have Epicenter. The latest janky creation I’m toying with is a Burning Wish-based U/G/R deck that runs mana critters, threshold-dependent beasties and Epicenter, backed up by an Overmaster or two.
Mind you, I’ve always had a fondness for land destruction decks, Randy Buehler be damned, and have been trying to make Epicenter-based decks work for a long time now. As always, take my ideas with a very large grain of salt, depending upon your doctor’s orders.
And Wonder Dog, despite being one of”the decks” to beat, still seems to have a few tricks left up its sleeve. If I was to run the deck again, I’d find room for another Upheaval in the sideboard, and maybe a second Tranquility. I just wish I could think of a good card to neutralize Astroglide-I don’t suppose Presence of the Master is being reprinted, is it?
After six weeks of hardcore testing and playing, I’m definitely a little Magic-ed out and looking forward to taking my decks apart and hopefully getting my cards off the living room floor and back in boxes.
And maybe seeing the sun once in a while, too.