Battle Royale Round 10 – Winning With Elephants

StarCityGames.com - Battle Royale!Jeroen stood tall against an Abe-ified deck of his own design… and lived to tell the tale. The match was close, but the relentless march of the elephants proved too much for Abe in the end. Jeoren supplies a detailed match breakdown… congratulations Jeroen!

Once again, I did it!

I gotta say, it feels good being one of the only people to manage to hang on the title for longer than one round… and I gotta admit, I am psyched to go for the absolute record.

As for this article, I decided it would be nice to do a thorough play-by-play from my side of the table, so you can see what my decisions were and what decided the games. They were pretty exciting with a lot of playing off the top, so I hope you enjoy it.

For the record, here are our decks again:

Game 1
I keep an opening hand of 2 Mountain, Forest, Druid, 2 Centaur, Jitte. My first draw is a Llanowar Elf, but I punt it by casting Boreal Druid instead of the Llanowar Elf. My reasoning was that I would rather have the Elf in play, and because Abe led with a dual land I was afraid he might have the kill for the Elf, like Frostling. I was basically trying to bait. I follow the Druid up with a Centaur, because I don’t want to get wrecked by Martyr, and because I want to put on some pressure since that is very important for me in this matchup.

Then Abe follows up his turn 2 Coldsteel Heart with a turn 3 Stone Rain / Martyr combo… which basically means I am screwed. Sure, I drew two Skreds in a row, which means I can kill that Martyr while he is tapped down, but I lose my Green source and can’t really (really can’t) play any more creatures.

He then Icefalls the Jitte I played, even though I am stuck at two mana… which I think was actually the right play. He doesn’t really care about me having Red, so going for the Jitte shutdown was perfect. I then rip like a fiend (another Jitte) but he rips like a fiend as well (I assume), and plays Yeti to kill my Centaur. He might have had the Yeti, which I am not assuming, since that means he could have made the same play a turn earlier and save himself three points of damage.

I draw another Llanowar Elf, with my hand now being Skred, Elf, Elf, Centaur, and my board being two Snow-Covered Mountains, Jitte, and a Boreal Druid. I Skred the Yeti thanks to the snow-covered goodness of the Druid, and charge in, which I think is better than equipping Jitte as that only does something if he can’t kill my Druid with his two-card hand, doesn’t have a creature, and doesn’t have a land since he had Mouth of Ronom out (see how it is impossible for him to have such a hand).

Also note that if I had played the Llanowar Elf instead of the Druid (which is still alive and kicking), I could have played every card in my hand by this point.

It turns out he could kill my Elf, as he has another Stalking Yeti (man, that guy is so good; I am not used to playing against him, as he is always on my side of the table) kills the Druid, and well, takes control. I draw another Elf, which makes my hand trips Elf and a Centaur, with a board of two Mountains and a Jitte. A couple of attacks later, and Abe kills me backed up by double Blaze. A fun part of those turns was when I did draw a Gruul Turf, and had managed to kill his attacker at one life… I still couldn’t play my Elf without manaburning myself to death!

As that game showed, Umezawa’s Jitte – according to some people “a mockery to Battle Royale,” and “too good to play in budget” – turns out to be complete dung in this matchup. Not only does he have infinite artifact removal, which keeps coming back, but also all his creatures sacrifice to prevent counters accumulating. Add to that the fact that all he wanted to do was kill all my stuff anyway, which would leave me without creatures to use the stick on… and I just knew they had to go.

This meant I had to decide on a new game-plan, which turned out to be fourfold:

1 – Put early pressure on Abe, and kill him fast. This meant that though Abe could kill my board easily, I needed to try and get the drop on him and deal some early damage, and then finish him with burn. This meant I wanted the Blazes from the board, to be able to finish up games.

2 – Exploit Abe’s bad mana. I basically screwed up making the deck, as the manabase was too fragile. I noticed this during the last round of Battle Royale, and now I could exploit it. I wanted to bring in my Stone Rains and my artifact kill, to destroy his Hearts and lands, so I could get the drop on him. It didn’t hurt that both cards served a double function should he draw ample land and colors — namely, they kill both Sheets and Ironfoots, which were his best cards against me.

3 – Focus on the Red. He will always go for my Green sources as he is killing lands, as I need that so much to get my elephants in play, which means I will have more Red available than Green most of the time. This means some of my Elephants have to go.

4 – Hope he takes out Blaze, like the message boards suggested. This will mean I get to play the waiting game, kill his few men, stay alive, and draw some lands. This was a good backup plan to the early pressure, and would also let me get some time to draw my own Blaze for the kill. He did take out the Blaze, which was some good.

This meant my sideboarding went like this:

Out: 4 Jitte, 2 Gnarled Mass, 2 Trained Armodon (keep him guessing), 1 Stalking Yeti (he doesn’t really have any good targets) and a Boreal Druid (who needs colorless mana anyway?)
In: 1 Indrik Stomphowler (Ironfoot’s worst nightmare), 3 Naturalize, 4 Stone Rain and 2 Blaze

Game 2
I keep an opening hand with Forest, Mountain, Llanowar Elf, Naturalize, Boreal Centaur, Volcanic Hammer, and Kumano. Not as much land as I would like, but I have early pressure, a burn spell, the disruption should he play a Heart, and of course, the big Red boss Kumano.

I lead with Elf, which gets answered by a Highland Weald by Abe again, and like a true champ I rip myself a Gruul Turf, which I play together with the Centaur. He has the Coldsteel Heart, which makes me very happy about that Naturalize I have, but I draw a Stone Rain and play that instead. My dreams come true, as well as one of my plans, as he doesn’t have a third land. Abe Skreds my Centaur and says go.

On my turn, I then have the decision of playing Kumano or Naturalizing his Coldsteel Heart. I figure that even if he does draw a land, he still won’t have enough to do anything really relevant, and I go for the pressure with the 4/4. He plays a land and passes with RRG up. I bash, and kill his Heart.

At this point, I have won the game. I draw some more men, and that means that despite him drawing lands in a row, he still can only deal with one at a time. I kill him when I double-Skred his Ironfoot. Sad, I know.

The plan worked… on to game 3!

Game 3
I keep a hand of two Forest, Gruul Turf, Highland Weald, Boreal Centaur, Trained Armodon, and Stalking Yeti. Not great, but I have plenty of land, so I’ll play with it. For the third time in a row Abe plays Coldsteel Heart turn 2, as I play a Centaur. He keeps on developing his mana by Northing into a Sheets in play, and also has a Martyr. My draws since then had been Skred and Centaur, and as I don’t want my two creatures to die to Martyr – which would happen if I played the Elephant (he has three cards left, which I assume will be enough after he draws a card to have three Reds in hand) – I Skred the Martyr and play the second Centaur.

He has the second Martyr though, and instead of popping it immediately when I am tapped out, he waits till I attack, blocks, puts damage on the stack and sacs it for two (see, he had three Red cards), revealing another Martyr as well as a Skred. Rough, but I get to save a Centaur, play the Turf and say go. If Abe had popped the Martyr on his turn, my men would have both died… which seems like a mistake that might well matter.

Note here: I am not trying to rub Abe’s face into the mistakes he made – I am just trying to pinpoint where the games are won or lost. I think Abe was a great opponent, and he played well.

The third card he had was an Ironfoot, but I draw Blaze to kill it and keep on attacking. It sucks to use the Blaze now, but I have to keep up that pressure as none of my guys ever get through the ‘Foot.

He shows me he drew more Red spells, as he then pops the third Martyr showing the Skred and his drawn Frostling. This leaves him with those two cards in hand, and me with an Elephant and Stalking Yeti as threats, and a Volcanic Hammer for backup. I managed to get him to thirteen with the early pressure though, but I’d better hurry up… I am down to one Blaze, and Abe has an active Scrying Sheets now that he doesn’t have to tap out every turn.

He uses Sheets to find more land, and despite the fact that he has two Mouths of Ronom out – which he doesn’t have mana to use for since he used Sheets – he decides to not Skred my Elephant and just takes three. Ding, down to ten. I play Yeti, he Skreds it, and kills the Elephant with his Mouth. It looks pretty bad for me now, as he is drawing extra cards, and I have no more threats. I did all I could by getting him to ten life.

I draw a Centaur, and Abe decides to use Sheets. He misses, and plays a Frostling. He doesn’t have enough land to use that Mouth again, and plays Ironfoot. I draw Skred, kill it, and manage to sneak in three more points as the Frostling doesn’t feel like chump-blocking today. Abe drops to seven.

Of course, then the board evens out, as I draw a Stone Rain for the Sheets, and he kills my man. We are both in topdeck mode, but he is the single Blaze I have left away from dying!

I win the war by drawing a guy that lives first – a Gnarled Mass – and manage to attack him to four with the Hammer still in my hand… but he draws the worst card for me — Phyrexian Ironfoot. It stabilizes for him, and attacks and blocks. I draw a couple of land in a row, which I guess I was due.

I then decide that this can’t go on, as I don’t want to lose to Blaze, and at eleven life I attack, and trade a Mass and a Yeti for that stupid 3/4. I draw an Elf, and attack with it, and after thinking some time, Abe makes the correct play and Skreds it to not go to three. Eventually though I draw some men and he doesn’t draw answers, and I win by outlasting him!

I felt fortunate that I drew so little land this game, but as it turns out, he drew twelve to my eleven with extra draws, so it was about even. This was a cool game, where both of us played the attrition role, and I ended up being the winner because of some early game mishaps.

Game 4
I keep an opener of Forest, Mountain, Gruul Turf, Elf, Hammer, Blaze, and Skred. Not great once again, since I lack pressure of any kind as well as disruption, but I decide having decent mana is good enough. He also mulliganed, which means I don’t want to risk having to go to five since I am already up two cards and have mana.

My first turn Elf gets killed by Seal of Fire, and my Turf dies to a Stone Rain, and I am just not able to draw lands… but I draw ways to kill his Yetis and such, staying alive at a single Forest and Mountain in play, and even getting some points in with a Centaur. At one point, the board sees me with a Forest, a Mountain, and a Centaur against Abe with no cards in hand, 2 Mouth of Ronom, a Scrying Sheets, and four other lands. It doesn’t look like I am winning, although my hand is two Elephants, a Stone Rain, a Hammer, and a Blaze.

As soon as I draw a land I whack his sheets, but by that point an Ironfoot managed to get in play and it is hard at work stopping my Centaur and killing me in the meantime. I attack into it, trying to trade with the Centaur and the Hammer… but Abe doesn’t bite, going to ten when all I have left are two Mountains. I am at fourteen. Instead of killing it with Mouth, at ten life, he decides to trade anyway, and that means I get time again to draw lands.

Eventually I do, and so does he, but I needed them and he is just flooding out. This means that despite him getting Icefall recursion going with some little men, I get to sneak in a couple of Elephants to take it home!

My plan worked perfectly! I needed Abe to take out his best win condition – the one I couldn’t kill – and for him to not draw Phoenix… and it worked, as in two of the games, I would have just straight up lost to the Blaze.

I am looking forward to doing this for another round, and with Time Spiral coming out next week I hope we get to use that. It is still only a day or so before the deadline for the next article, so I am not even sure what Craig rules we should do. [Still pondering… what do you forum folk think? — Craig.]

Thanks for joining me, and see you next week! Any questions regarding this, or my regular column, please, just send them to [email protected].