Battle Royale Round 4 – Awkward

StarCityGames.com - Battle Royale!
I’ve never been good at winning. I know I’m terrible at losing, but when it comes to winning, I don’t really know how to react. Most of the time when I win, it’s in the casual room, with nobody watching. I wait until my opponent offers the gg, so I might respond, and after a period of waiting I graciously bow out. If my opponent didn’t have some fun, then to me, it was not a good game… I’m sure baby Tim Aten is weeping at that sentiment.

Battle Royale is the latest brainchild of the dread, chthonic editor that not dead lies sleeping. Every fortnight, two StarCityGames.com Featured Writers of skill and renown clash in a Best-of-Five Match in the Anything Goes room on Magic Online. To each man or woman, the weapon of choice is the Budget Deck — a deck whose total value is no more than 25 tickets in the current Magic Online economy. A week after, each player posts a report on the match, giving insights into the world of not just building budget decks, but building good budget decks.

Well, now this is awkward.

I’ve never been good at winning. I know I’m terrible at losing, but when it comes to winning, I don’t really know how to react. Most of the time when I win, it’s in the casual room, with nobody watching. I wait until my opponent offers the gg, so I might respond, and after a period of waiting I graciously bow out. If my opponent didn’t have some fun, then to me, it was not a good game.

I’m sure baby Tim Aten is weeping at that sentiment.

So how do you win? Not the actual achieving victory over an opponent part, but the aftermath. The standing around, realising that this victory means something — even as little as this does — and numbly going, “Well, wow.”

You have to understand, dear reader. I worry a lot. Should I smack-talk and crow about my victory? Well, that would look rude. Should I self-effacingly wave my hand, account the win to luck? Well, that makes the entire thing look unsatisfying. Should I try and claim playskill was the determining factor? Good god, that’s even worse. Josh has actual tournament success under his belt — I’ve got an angry picture in my featured writer spot and the hate of Good Players as my claim to fame.

Battle Royale is an evolving format. It’s defined, at this point by a total of four matches, so we can’t get much in the way of precedent out of anything that’s transpired so far. It’s entirely possible that little statistical oddities are going to crop up — indeed, with all the games of magic being played all over the world at any given point in time, the Law of Large Numbers indicates that such weird things are basically guaranteed to happen.

Also, for those folks who weren’t able to be there, I forgot to save my replays. I am quite honestly sorry.

The Pre Post Mortem Post Mortem
Joshua and I both tested this matchup before the event itself. During this event, both Flawed Paradigm and Mournglash were invaluable — the former for providing cards (alas, we never tested), and the latter for providing the playing and the time. This time, however, there were bones of contention.

See, I looked at Josh’s deck and went, “Huh.”

That’s all. I wasn’t very impressed. I try and make sure to say something nice about my opponents, and I don’t like making it sound like I’m an arrogant bastard, but the fact is, I just wasn’t very impressed. I believe I summed it up as follows — “It’s just like Ben’s deck, except I can kill his burn in response.”

Mournglash, however, thought the deck had game. A lot of game. He thought it was going to be a 50-50 matchup, and voiced the thought in the forums, in one of the more… shall we say, “safe bets” ever? I may have ripped on him for the matter, and this time I probably went too far, but I didn’t feel that Mournglash was correct as to how good Joshua’s chances were.

So we tested.

And in eight games, Mournglash got a turn 2 Ledgewalker, followed by a turn 3 Moldervine Cloak. He mulliganed twice. Conversely, I saw one Phyrexian Arena in the first six games, and saw an Hour of Reckoning only in the last game. These are clearly not ideal circumstances, no?

Mournglash kept a one-lander and wrecked me by drawing three land off the top. Genius!

That night got on my nerves. A lot. Mournglash wanted to hold this up as evidence that Joshua had a real threat on his hands. I wanted to strangle him — this was, after all, a series of statistical anomalies. Turn 2 Ledgewalker into turn 3 Moldervine Cloak means you’ve seen 10 cards. Your chances of getting that combination isn’t great. Especially when you have zero ways of seeing more cards.

“Don’t rely on Faith’s Fetters for the Hammers,” he said. “He’s bringing in Naturalize!”

So, I need to fear Ledgewalker plus Loxodon Warhammer plus Naturalize. That’s now a three-card combo. Oh, plus the three land required to play it in a deck with 22 land. Can’t forget that!

I am very, very bitter about these games. I am even more bitter about the fact that I did so poorly at proving my case here to Mournglash. He’s a sensible lad. But I was angry — I was fed up with his telling me to worry about this deck, and I was fed up with talk about Ledgewalker.

“Wrath or lose!”


By the morning of the event, I was a lot more relaxed. Joshua and I chatted a little before the event — he was convinced he was going to lose, and that this was just a formality. Mournglash was lurking about the perimeter, sore at how angry I’d been with him. Which is about when I realised I was a jackass.

I was a complete horse-ass to Mournglash over this. He’s my friend and I shouldn’t have gotten so short with him. This is an official, formal, and public apology. Something to remember, casual gamers — just because they’re your friends doesn’t mean you get to treat them like crap.

I stand by my thoughts, and I stand by the fact I was annoyed by the lucksacked wins with Ledgewalker. I was ambivalent to Josh’s deck, feeling the matchup to be heavily in my favor, and Josh thought so too. Mournglash didn’t change my mind on that matter, but he did annoy me a lot with good luck. I responded badly to that, and that was inappropriate of me. Just making the statement again — big time sorry here.

Stuff I’d Change
First game went to me, on the back of a Wumpus-assisted Murray letting me swing over for exactly lethal damage out of a hand of one card. I feel guilty about it now, for I did technically mislead Josh. To paraphrase the conversation:

JXC: One card in hand… what’re the chances?
Me: What indeed.
JXC: Tell me you don’t have a Murray and I’ll drop it.
Me: I hold neither jabberwocky nor fumrious bandersnatch.

JXC plays Hunted Wumpus
JXC plays triggered ability from Hunted Wumpus
Talen Lee puts Skeletal Vampire into play.
Talen Lee plays triggered ability from Skeletal Vampire.
JXC: How rude.

I still feel a bit dirty over that play. Sure, I was stating a technical truth, but in that situation it was a lie. It was, ultimately, just being nasty, and Josh was in the game until I got that Freebie Murray.

With game 1 put away, the sideboarding began. My testing with Mournglash indicated that the idea of Sideboarding out Faith’s Fetters and Phyrexian Arena in an attempt to give him dead Naturalizes was a bad one — the cards were just too good to throw away on the chance of giving my opponent four dead cards in a deck that was already spotty. No need to get cute in a matchup that was already in my favour.

-4 Shrieking Grotesque
-3 Belfry Spirit

+4 Last Gasp
+3 Seize the Soul

The Grotesques originally found their home in the deck as a creature that didn’t stop working under a Palliation Accord, of all things. That they added disruption helped me like their addition, even though they’re not bats.

Aside: I wish they had been. I mean, they’re a flying rat.

I really did love the Grotesques in most matchups, and they were all-stars against control. For a time, I’d tested the deck with Okiba-Gang Shinobi as well in the sideboard, for the potential wrecking-ball sequence of Grotesque into Shinobi into Grotesque again. That’s love.

Love, however, means nothing in this matchup. Since JXC didn’t have any truly insane sorceries that I had to strip out of his hand at all costs, his deck was just Men and spells that were useless without Men. Killing the Men seemed like a far better plan, making his spells useless.

Seize the Soul and Last Gasp added to the removal suite, meaning that I had sixteen turn two plays. That’s a lot of ways to respond to a Moldervine Cloak. Good thing I didn’t have any Early Game.

In Hindsight, I have to say I was dissatisfied with Belfry Spirit. Every time he turned up, he just felt like a water-pistol when I wanted a handgun. His synergy with Skeletal Vampire and Hour of Reckoning was not really enough to satisfy me.

Had this deck some kind of Glorious Anthem effect, or some way to pump every creature, Belfry Spirit would have been less embarrassing, but all he ever really did was chump block Ledgewalkers and buy me turns. That’s an okay way to spend five mana if I have to, but I imagine there are better ways to do it. Purely off the top of my head, I could be main-decking those Last Gasps.

Hour of Reckoning was good, though, despite my misgivings over it. We poor players make do with the Wraths we can, and Hour is one of the more creative and interesting ones I’ve seen. That very “cleverness,” however, makes it remarkably hard to maximise your use of the spell.

In one test game, I had a Skeletal Vampire and four bat tokens. I had seven mana available, and the air and ground were clogged on the other side of the table. The obvious play to me was to tap out for the Reckoning, using my men to pay for 4 of it, and then be left without enough White mana to drop a Blind Hunter afterward. In fact, the “best” play would have been to play the hunter, Reckoning tapping the hunter to help pay for the Convoke, and then feed the hunter to Murray, haunting one of my opponent’s creatures.

Same turn, but in the second example, I’d have taken a 4-point bite out of my opponent and was left with 7 power instead of 6. 5 extra damage all for one misplay.

Seize the Soul leapt into action when I had a Pit-Skulk, Sophisticate, or to deal with — kill one, block a Ledgewalker, and, whoops, kill another Pit-Skulk, leaving a 1/1 flier in the ruins? Don’t mind if I do. As the top-end for creature removal, it had to be good, and it sure as hell was. The spirit tokens never really joined in the beatdown — they were happy to make unfavourable trades with Josh’s creatures, the most important of which was the Ledgewalker.

While I assumed they’d be good, I actually never had the chance to test my Seize the Souls versus Mournglash. This is because he would get draws that involved two to three Ledgewalkers and I’d never have a target for it. Bloody Ledgewalker.

Game 2? Brutalised. I seem to remember Seize the Soul making its first showing here, after an early Arena, getting me a three-for-one. It’s at that point I realised that I would have been better off siding out the Hours for Seize, since, provided a Ledgewalker never got a pair of Fat Pants, Seize the Soul was just as much a Wrath of God effect, and it had the decency to cost four.

I don’t think I cast an Hour in all four games. I remember dying to a fat forest with two Hour in Hand. Another good reason, retrospectively, to side out Hour in this matchup.

I also noticed that I mulliganed a fair bit, and was fairly mana-heavy throughout all the games. I’m reluctant to call it Mana Flood, as that would indicate that there was something awry with it. When you’re drawing half your deck, and half your deck is mana, it’s not really unreasonable to get quite a lot of mana.

Game 3, the one Josh won, was the most significant because he actually got the Genju rolling. I myself was inclined towards letting him have the Genju, and using my copious quantity of creature removal to kill the Forests. In a deck with 22 land, he’s not likely to support a Genju for long with that kind of behavior, right?

Well, turns out that his deck chose a perfect moment to “crap out” on him and feed him Forest after Forest after Forest. He still played well, and I got my nose broken by Genju-inspired Cedars. Speaking as a fan of the Genju Green, I would hope that this trend continues, even if it’s not my nose that I want to see smashed.

Game 4, well, yes. I had a good, smooth start, by my memory, and that was basically that. Murray winged over for the win — again — and I fell in love with the guy all over again.

From Where I Sit: Josh’s Deck
Giant Growth, in my opinion, should have been Wildsize. In general, Wildsize will let Josh’s creatures roll over opponents, and if Josh’s threats had had trample, I’d have been a lot more scared of them, since I was often chumping them with 1/1s, ala the Bat tokens from Belfry Spirit.

While this is technically a fattening up of the mana curve, it’s not something that would be a serious problem for the deck, which by turn 3 was typically emptying its hand. Giant Growth costing G really means nothing in this deck. I’d also recommend it adding 2 more land, going up to the full 24. Karoo would be good, too — they let you cheat back down to about 22 land and still hit land drops.

Karoos in this deck wouldn’t hurt its tempo because it doesn’t necessarily have turn 2 or turn 3 plays that are confined — turn 2 is just as likely spent making two one-drops as it is making a two-drop. The only turn 3 play that’s vital is Moldervine Cloak, after all, and a turn 1 Elf, turn 2 Dryad-and-Karoo, turn 3 Moldervine is just as good as it would be if the Karoo was a normal Forest — except now you’re a card up in hand.

Josh’s deck lacked for any kind of mid or late game. If he didn’t get a Loxodon Warhammer that went unanswered, and he got a creature to swing it, he’d be in fantastic shape, because I’d be dead in short order. But most of his creatures were vulnerable, most of them died to blockers, and all of them died to Wrath.

I sound like I’m ripping on Josh, which isn’t fair. It should be borne in mind that he had an extra limitation. Budget was very tight for him, and I think he made about the best of it as he could. His deck cost him a very small amount, and even though there are some places changes could be made, the overall thrust of the deck was on mark. Further, he just got back from Nationals – so can you imagine exactly what kind of shape he was in to turn the little men sideways?

Josh’s deck could be picked up for the same value as your starting voucher on Magic Online. Even less, if you were canny. So could mine, if you were lucky… but the thing is, my deck was more complex. Josh’s deck was very much new-player friendly, and I have to approve that. Plus, a lot of the uncommons are very playable — Moldervine Cloak and Dryad Sophisticate are both awesome and will, I hope, continue to see play until they rotate out.

Whose House Is This?
I had it suggested to me by a friend that I had an unfair advantage in this format, because I’ve been building on tight budgets since I first got onto Magic Online. I, said this friend, have never started a decklist with 4 Caves of Koilos, 4 Godless Shrine, 4 Orzhov Basilica.

I think both Ben and Josh were a little timid. Unable to use the mana-fixing that the duals and painlands provided, both opted for 22 basic lands as their manabase. Compare that to my manabase in Batman Returns and again in Murray and Moroii. Both of those decks were dual colour.

One could account the manabase in M&M to be helped significantly by the presence of twelve card drawing spells. No lies, I’ll bet it helps a lot. But I also think that the manabase itself was solid. That’s because I was very, very careful about where and how I got my spells costed.

I had, in M&M, precisely one spell which required double-Blue mana to do anything — Hinder. Clutch could be thrown away for a Black spell if I couldn’t find the UU in its cost. The Black spells that wanted more than one Black mana were Murray himself, and that was all. My chances of drawing five pure-Blue mana sources by the time I had six mana in that deck were statistically unreasonable, so by the time I could cast Murray, I would always be able to.

I’ll go more into mana in my next article. I’m starting to get quite the big head about this, though, so I’m very willing to take a seat and see if I’m wrong or not. Feel free to sound off in the forums.

Something that bears mentioning, though, is that designing a Sideboard is very hard for this format. You have no idea what your opponent will bring (well, okay, if I’m playing, you probably do). I’ve been criticized for my sideboard, significantly Razorjaw Oni and Kami of Ancient Law. They would, it seems, be rubbish in this matchup.

Ah-well duh.

If I’m up against, say, Heartbeat, or, more likely, Eye of the Storm combo, you can board out Belfry Spirit and Hour of Reckoning for Razorjaw Oni and Kami of Ancient Law. Then your creature curve runs two drop, three drop, four drop, and all of it is trying to put your opponent on a quick clock, while disrupting their game plan with your discard.

Rubbish against MGA? My god, he’s broken the code!

I’m not going to play Batman Returns next time, so this is immaterial. But if someone had chosen to bring a creature-light combo deck, in an attempt to make my creature removal useless, I could have boarded into a reasonably aggressive strategy that wanted to disrupt my opponent’s game plan long enough for a four-power man to take the day.

Also, it should be noted, I should have splashed on Yukora.

One final anecdote: playing in the casual room, with my new deck (oooOooo!), I hit upon an opponent whose opening turns featured Castigate, Blind Hunter, Belfry Spirit and eventually, Murray.

“You know,” I said, “This is a bit familiar.”

“Is that a problem for you?” he asked. Trust me, being whined at for netdecking in the casual room is common enough that you get used to it. Some people are apologetic about it, but really they shouldn’t be. It’s what you netdeck that can be a problem, not the netdecks themselves. Speaking as a designer, it’s frustrating to lose to crap like The Masterpiece, which is really just a Bunch Of Good Cards with a million-dollar manabase to hold the whole thing together.

“Not at all. I was just seeing if you’d gotten it from my article.”

“Oh wow, it’s YOU!”

Warmed the cockles of my heart.

Apparently, he got the entire deck for ten bucks. That’s what I consider a win, and his very first game with the deck, by coincidence, was against the guy who designed it. Pretty big chance, that.

To have someone take my list, try it out, enjoy it and play it, all for ten bucks? That’s a real thrill.

Hugs and Kisses
Talen Lee
Talen at dodo dot com dot au

Special Bonus Section: I Still Love Hunted Wumpus
This is a tale I’ve related to many a friend, but never before have I written it down. This could be a bad thing — it means the details are going to be embellished less and I won’t have the same leeway.

Not like it matters. Most everyone I know who would give a damn about the subject matter was watching the game.

‘Twas 2003, in the first days of Mirrodin. It was an FNM, and I’d turned up, deckless, after a long day looking for work in Wollongong. I thought it was Draft — so I’d brought my fee and was just waiting for people to arrive. Then the first few guys filtered in and I watched with a sickening lurch as they pulled out deck boxes and began to test.

“Oh,” I asked. “Is it Constructed tonight?”

“Well, duh,” I was informed by the doughty shopkeep, a hardened man who had braved the foul weathers of the University many a long night. ‘twas he who’d set up the FNMs in our area, and cunningly set them on Thursday Nights, so as to avoid disrupting other gaming groups in the area. A good move, that one.

I sat down and bit my lip. I didn’t even have my folder on me. Holy crap! As my friends arrived, I desperately begged for permission to borrow cards for the evening — any would do, I just needed to make something for the evening. And what I made was a thing of beauty.

Singletons everywhere. Sylvan Scrying as well as Rampant Growth. A lone Ravenous Baloth to accompany the Arc-Slogger, Hunted Wumpus, and Tephraderm in the deck. Shivan Oases. A handful of removal spells — Shock, Slice and Dice, and Contested Cliffs and Damping Matrix.

I main-decked the Matrix, in a playset of four. It turned off my Arc Slogger, and Ravenous Baloth, but that wasn’t that big a deal to me, since they did their job just by being Beasts. And they didn’t stop Contested Cliffs.

(I also had Copperhoof Vorrac main-decked, and Grab the Reins. Seems really great stuff, huh?)

My first game was against the best player in the area. Seems the Doughty Shopkeep wanted someone’s resistance to suck, he jested. I didn’t take it meanly — I knew I was rubbish, and I knew this man had the skill of a hundred monkeys — nay, a thousand monkeys. Nay again! He had skill so great it could not be measured in any number of monkeys at all!

I sat down glumly to submit to my beating. He was playing blue-white control. His win conditions were the Goblin Charblecher + Proteus Staff combo, with the “old fashioned” win through Decree of Justice and Stalking Stones completely viable as well.

My plays were dull, compared to his. He drew some cards, he let me Rampant Growth on turn two, and then he tapped out on his own fourth turn to Concentrate. Then he passed the turn back, and I dropped a Hunted Wumpus.

He looked at it for a long time.

“Are you serious?”

“Do I have to be?”

Since that day, I’ve loved that Wumpus. The Wumpus eventually died in that game, but my Worthy Opponent didn’t actually let the game go long. Once I dropped a Damping Matrix, he realised that both his win conditions didn’t work any more, and he wasn’t keen on looking for decrees since he already spent them trying to save himself from the Wumpus.

There’s more to this story. Much more. But that would divert the focus of the story away from the best 6/6 for 4 I’ve ever played.