On Thursday of last week, in the middle of the afternoon, as I was finishing up an article going over some cool Time Spiral decks, I received an e-mail from Craig telling me that not only did I need to get my article in by Sunday (easily done), but also that I was the next stop on the Battle Royale train.
I had three days to build a deck, acquire cards, do playtesting, write an article, and go up against Mr. Pro Tour… Jeroen Remie himself. Of course, Thursday is uber-busy day here around the hacienda, so I was unable to actually sit down to write until late Thursday night.
When Battle Royale was created, my understanding was that StarCityGames.com wanted people at the upper levels of PTQ play to duke it out, showing people who might be trying to qualify what sort of decks to play, and taking a closer look at the metagame. [Ha! Nothing so lofty, I assure you… – Craig.]
Obviously Jeroen Remie is not at the PTQ level. This is a guy who has won a Pro Tour. What’s my best Magic day? I made Top 8 at an Urza’s Block Sealed PTQ. I’ve placed in the numbers in several main prerelease events, including second once, and seventh another time, and eleventh (I believe) a third time. I’ve never embarrassed myself at various events like Amateurs, GPTs, PTQs and so forth, but honestly, in the past three years, I’ve not attended many tournaments.
If everybody who has ever made Top 8 at a PTQ raised their hands… well, there would be a lot of hands raised. I’m not in exclusive territory here.
There may be some people reading my articles for the first time, since you normally read tech and Standard articles. Welcome, welcome! Say hi to me in the forum of this article! If you normally just read all things casual, make sure to say hi to Jeroen in the forums of his article!
Has there been a bigger David and Goliath story than Abe versus Jeroen? I would be honored to win a game. I fully expect him to sweep in three. One of the greatest divisions in all of Magic is Casual versus Competitive (a false distinction, by the way, but that’s a topic for another day). This is the Avatar of All Things Casual versus the Paragon of All Things Competitive.
What will Jeroen play? Honestly, if I were Jeroen, I’d just stick to something simple and easy to play and rely on my massively superior Magic skills to get me past the casual guy. That’d be a very effective play. Frankly, he could experiment with a random pile of sixty cards and still have a good chance of winning the match.
So, what will I do? I see several possible strategies:
Play Something Fun: Here I recognize that, yes, Jeroen will win. With that out of the way, just build something fun. Bring some uber-Johnny or uber-Timmy deck to the table, and begin to play. See if I can make it through a game and play a Verdant Force or a combo. In other words, I could just fun it up.
This isn’t a bad idea, actually. After all, we play Magic to have fun. However, this is arguably one of my greatest Magic games of my life. I have never played a player who has won a Pro Tour, or even been to a Pro Tour outside of Aaron Forsythe several times in online Prismatic – but Prismatic hardly counts.
Why not take a shot? Sure, I’m going to lose, but there is always that chance that I won’t. Why not try? Why deny myself the possibility of an upset by playing a cool Samurai deck with Godo, his Maul, and other assorted samurai? I can play with fun decks all the time.
Create a (Hopefully) Clever Deck: I like creating fun decks as much as the next guy; maybe more. I could pore over the legal sets and try to figure out the tech of the format. Then, after that, I build a quick deck harnessing that tech, and we shuffle up to play. My hope is that I can outwit Jeroen and get a deck he doesn’t expect. Then, once I do that, I can establish dominance with my newly christened deck.
The problem with this is that the Battle Royale is very luck-based. How will the deck I just happen to build match up with Jeroen Remie deck? A lucky match-up is good for me, while an unlucky match-up is death incarnate for me. Let’s be honest: Jeroen could still beat me despite a match-up that favors me. On the other hand, a match-up that does not favor me will likely equal a very quick match in Remie’s favor.
Metagame Jeroen: I could try to read all of Jeroen’s old articles (I only read around a third of his articles or so) and get inside his head. I could try to build a deck that exploits his tendencies. The good thing here is that Jeroen has no idea what I’ll be bringing to the table. I could be packing anything. What’s he going to read for ideas? My Casual Metagame series? Info on Five Color? There’s nothing there to help him.
After luck, the main determinant of success in Battle Royale may be a chess match. What deck will I play? What deck does this person favor? Were they just writing about some cool deck they were building? The one and only thing I have going for me is that Jeroen can’t do this with me. I could exploit this, maybe.
Play the Deck Jeroen Played Last Week: A fun thing to try would be to bring Jeroen’s deck from last week and play it against him. Let’s face it, this Standard is a dead format. Most people are already experimenting with Time Spiral/Cold Snap/Ninth/Ravnica block Standard, and have turned away from the older Kamigawa Block format.
As such, it’s not like any deck I might unveil would have a chance to go the distance at any major tourneys, or even get played again. So, in order to have some fun, I could just play his very own deck against him. Now that seems like fun!
Of course, as always, I reserve the right to modify the deck slightly.
I take a look at his previous deck and decide two things: I want another land, and I don’t like the Dragons. I don’t want to criticize a guy who’s played tons of games and playtested the deck, but my initial impression is to pull the Dragons for a land and a Shard Phoenix. A Shard Phoenix has the same interaction with Icefall that the other sacrificial buddies has. It’s also a nice board cleaner and a recursive beater when needed. It can get around things like Faith’s Fetters.
I toss in an additional Mouth of Ronom. They are good, I have the four Into the Norths, and I like having an additional source of removal if necessary.
Otherwise, my first version of the deck is exactly like his, down to the sideboard and everything. Here is the initial outlay in tickets.
3 Scrying Sheets – 18 Tickets. I had to spend 18 instead of 17 that he spent, due to price inflation.
14 Uncommons – 2 Tickets. I forget which uncommons, but I found a seven-for-one bot that gave me the fourteen uncommons I needed for two tickets total.
11 Uncommons – 3 Tickets. To be honest, I had to go to a two-for-one to get the last two Coldsteel Hearts, but a five-for-one vendor (and a four-for-one) gave me a three tickets spread.
Shard Phoenix – 1 Ticket.
This leaves me a ticket to use if I want. I may pick up another Shard Phoenix for the board as an initial thought. Now I need to play around with it some in the rooms. As a reminder, here is my version of the deck with the two changes mentioned above.
A Sling and a Pebble
4 Into the North
4 Stone Rain
4 Martyr of Ashes
4 Phyrexian Ironfoot
2 Stalking Yeti
1 Shard Phoenix
3 Coldsteel Heart
3 Scrying Sheets
3 Mouth of Ronom
4 Highland Weald
9 Snow Covered Mountain
4 Snow Covered Forest
I head into the tournament practice room and get some games in. I am playing with a handicapped budget deck. Obviously, this deck would be much different without the 25 ticket limit. I’m playing against Melokus, Remands, Tidespout Tyrant Reanimation (Thanks Evan!), a Gruul deck featuring Rumbling Slum, Keiga Control, Glaze-Glare (do people still play that?) and other assorted goodies. Now sure, you can buy some of these cards within the budget, but frankly, you can’t build the normal decks to compete with these guys, and building some of these decks is just plain difficult within budget.
Want to know something?
This deck is really good already. I did not lose a game, despite going 23 rounds against a Blue control deck that was able to activate Meloku six times before I silenced her with my Mouth. I still Blaze-won that game. If you win a game with Blaze (my first time doing so outside of Limited), do you call it a Blaze of Victory? Can you verb it up? I blazed her.
Some matchups were very slow. Not every game was fast. In fact, this deck has a tendency to get control, vaguely, and then attack with 1/1s for a bunch of turns until something bigger shows up.
After some playtesting, I realized that I should just stick with my gut, pull a Tin Street Hooligan for a Shard Phoenix in the board, and take this deck to the game. Here is the decklist with new sideboard:
My finger is hovering above the “Save” button. Is this all? Am I ready to go to one of the biggest games in my life with this deck? Just because I built it and played it a lot does not mean I can’t change right now. But when I save the article, edit it, and send it off to Craig… that’s it.
I could change, but why not just play it? At least I know the deck is good, considering the builder.