Battle Royale Round 8 – Going Through The Motions

StarCityGames.com - Battle Royale!

In the (tongue-in-cheek) words of Mr. Moreno himself…

Well… I showed up this week. On time, in spite of having other things I wanted to do. I even got off work early to do so. And what’d it get me? Absolutely nothing.

Well… I showed up this week. On time, in spite of having other things I wanted to do. I even got off work early to do so. And what’d it get me? Absolutely nothing.

Sure, it was fun. It’s not all the time I have dozens of people watching me play Magic Online, oohing and aahing about every topdecked Meloku (or Time of Need) that smashes me in the face. The chatter was enjoyable. I think Talen is a “strong conversationalist” (I’m not actually quoting anyone; it just feels like the kind of statement Talen might want to put on his poster some day, so I figured I’d make it so he could cut and paste the quote marks when he needed to). Sean and I usually play face-to-face and with Limited decks at our Neutral Ground drafts, so the Battle Royale was a great chance for us to see a different side of each other. All in all, it would’ve been an enjoyable experience… if it had lasted long enough to actually count as an experience. In my book, there is actually a minimum time necessary for experience-hood… somewhere over an hour. I thought about putting the threshold at about a couple of minutes, for… um… “sentimental” reasons, but I was able to add a pretty elegant addendum to this life-rule that lets me hold on to fond memories of some of life’s more enjoyable experiences. If a short event is emotionally traumatic (on a distance-from-zero kind of scale) or just, ya know, taps your existential funny bone, feel free to consider it experience.

Losing the Battle Royale to Sean’s Tidespout Tyrant deck certainly didn’t take very long (he demolished me), nor was it traumatic in any sense. It’s not that I don’t care about the Battle Royale, or about losing. It’s not that I like to tell myself that Magic is just game and losing doesn’t matter; I hate losing. I pick and pick at the games I lose. It’s just… I had a week to see this loss coming. I knew I was behind. I didn’t realize I was as far behind as I was though, so I guess I’ll start talking about the games to show how that cost me a chance to win.

For reference, here are our decks:

Game 1, I made my first mistake. When evaluating my hand, I thought I was on the play. I wasn’t. I’m not sure I would’ve mulliganed at the time if I had been aware, but it’s important to understand that hand valuations can fluctuate considerably based on whether you’re playing or drawing. My hand was a fairly typical hand for the Eidolon’s Ho!, featuring a Guildmage or two, an Eidolon, some land, and maybe a removal spell without the colored mana to cast it. Sean’s hand turned out to be insane. He led with a turn 1 Sakura-Tribe Scout, which, as Sean pointed out, I have no quick way of answering. On his second turn, he played a Top and an Elder; I answered with a Rakdos Guildmage. The Elder sacs itself for land, and I think “yes, now I can get in next turn.” I match his turn 3 Sachi plus Scout with a missed land drop and an inability to attack. To add insult to manascrew, he even has enough mana for a Top activation after all that action. On turn 4, he draws with the Top in his upkeep (a play which, if you’re playing with cards like Tyrant or Erayo, allows you to actually draw the Top for your turn… obvious, when you’re aware of it, but one of those small plays that’s innocuous enough to miss or forget about), slams down a Tyrant (with a digital thud), and I quickly scoop in response to him bouncing my land.

I never had a chance in this game. It’s not clear that any hand Eidolons Ho! could muster would actually be able to win that game – possibly a Guildmage into Putrefy on the Tyrant (which still leaves me behind on tempo) followed by an Avatar that goes the distance. And it’s really unlikely for Sean to have such a perfect sequence of cards every game, isn’t it? I mean, after emptying his hand for all that mana, he even managed to find a Tyrant in his first ten cards of the game. For anyone keeping track, any of his legends (except another Sachi) or a Time of Need would’ve won that game almost as easily.

On to my first sideboarding attempt (I’m sort of reeling… not because losing on turn 4 is so horrible, but because my mana-intensive aggro control deck with a steady but not incredible clock doesn’t have many answers for that kind of end game, as long as Sean can get it off in a reasonable amount of time. Also, it’s worth noting that the only reach in my deck is the four Entropic Eidolons and the four Lyzoldas… not the most threatening to anyone who can stabilize before they fall to two):

The cards I most want to bring in are Rise / Fall and Savage Twister. The Augermage seemed reasonable but not great, as Sean had only a few spells that actually needed to sit in his hand – the counter suite that got online before Terry would hit play, and the fatties that would dominate the game (obviously, I wanted to make him discard those). On top of that (lololol), Terry loses out to Top in the long game, at least in a matchup like this, where Sean isn’t trying to answer my threats, just to dominate them. Naturalize was another option because I still wasn’t sure how effective his Counterbalance was. I thought it countered all of my relevant spells and should just destroy me; Sean thought beatdown was more fun so he just sided it out, apparently. I hope that made you some new friends, Sean.

While we were sideboarding, Sean mentioned that he had to switch plans since he hadn’t expected to win game 1. Sweet, I’ve got him disoriented.

Here’s what I settled on for game 2:

+ 3 Savage Twister
+ 3 Naturalize
+ 4 Rise / Fall

– 4 Sandstorm Eidolon
– 3 Grave Pact
– 3 Golgari Guildmage

The Grave Pacts just couldn’t be trusted as long as Sosuke’s Summons was a part of his game plan, plus I didn’t have the kind of time necessary to set up the Grave Pact / Eidolon lock. I felt my Eidolon synergies were better for a long game that this pairing didn’t let me play, so I took those out for more action. I think siding out the Guildmages for this game was just a mistake; a sort of mental courage lapse. I gave up on my ability to beat down. Sure, I didn’t have an edge in that department, but any deck can stumble and bears always attack for two.

I keep an opening hand with two Karoos and a Swamp, to power out Guildmages. If I wasn’t sure before game 1, keeping this kind of hand after that um, small happening (not an actual experience, see) was inexcusable. This hand couldn’t attack before turn 4, and then it was only a ten-turn clock. But I kept, because it was generically keepable. If there is any such thing. Don’t lie to yourselves about the state of the world and your place in it. By the time I’ve played my third turn Guildmage, Sean has already pumped out a Scout and an Elder. His turn 3 finds him deploying two Divining Tops. Joy. After Remanding my turn 4 Guildmage (good game), he drops his own Kira (good game); I’m like, cool… Guildmage, Guildmage. Of course, he plays a Meloku (good game). I have neither the eight mana necessary to kill Kira (or even the Scout) with my Rakdos Guildmages, nor the twelve mana necessary to take a shot at Meloku. On my last turn (before scooping), I draw a Savage Twister without the colored mana to cast it.

Once again, Sean had a hand I couldn’t reasonably beat. Remand into Kira into Meloku trumps everything except maybe Avatar into Twister into Putrefy… as long as he does Top into some more gas. One thing is clear though: Avatar is essential to me winning. Back to the side(drawing, even though I’m actually playing (with words))board.

Now that I had narrowed everything in the match up to one narrow desperate plan for myself (feel free to let me know if you think this assessment is just a knee-jerk reaction to losing so badly, but please offer alternative plans if you do), I was really able to focus my sideboarding. Working from the original deck configuration, I decided that the Golgari Signets didn’t give me anything I needed for the Avatar plan. I had also decided that I didn’t want to get tripped up on needing Green mana, so I left out all the Green spells and cut the Putrefies. I’m not counting the Golgari Guildmage as Green for this purpose. Rise / Fall is still great at pushing an Avatar through Sean’s light assortment of countermagic, or just putting of his end game. And Terry, even though he’s not amazing in the match, can certainly work with Fall just to buy time for Avatar to smash. It’s possible I should’ve left the Putrefies in so that I could push through final damage, but I was backing to wanting max Eidolons now that my plan was to mulligan to Avatar and or Avatars.

Games become a lot less muddy (especially in desperately bad matchups) when you finally settle on a plan. It doesn’t hurt when your opening seven and subsequent six are easy mulligans. At five cards, I finally run into an Avatar, and it’s gold. That’s not a pun, because Avatars are not gold, they’re hybrid; unless you were looking at the rarity symbol, in which case, puns are sick. Well played. But really, it’s an awesome five-card Avatar hand. Something like Rakdos Carnarium, Swamp, Avatar of Discord, some Eidolon, and any other card. Of course, by the time I’ve played my Avatar on turn 3, Sean has his Leyline of the Sakura Tribe already. That card is sick; not only do you get to start the game with a Scout and an Elder in play, you also get to search your library for any number of intelligent snakes and snake legends. He plays Sachi, a second Scout, and a second Elder on his turn 3. On turn 4 I play Terry, which outclasses his play of a third Elder on face, except that I need my two creatures on the table to win the game and he doesn’t. Sean actually gets to make luxury plays. Must be nice. Is.

On turn 5, I lead a Lyzolda into a Remand (I know, I’ve drawn quite well for a mulligan to five). Then I smash for five (putting Sean to ten) and use Terry to trade my Lyzolda for his freshly drawn Top. What a tease. That’s exactly the kind of play I needed to happen, to be able to catch one of his game-winning cards before he could actually play it. I actually thought I was in this game. Empty handed, on a two-turn clock, and with zero action except for mana, Sean cold rips a Time of Need (which fetches Meloku) while people are watching. Pretty humiliating to have a million strangers witness your impotence. For kicks, he draws a running Time for Kira the next turn. I don’t scoop right away as I actually haven’t let him kill me in a game, and we’re busy chatting away at this point. One small victory, enough to keep me going – I savagely scoop after letting him spend turns generating a lethal amount of tokens.

If I was looking to tweak the deck for a non-restricted budget, I’d take out all the Karoos, and figure out how many duals and pain lands I needed to actually support the support spells. In general though, I’m not sure the deck has enough going for it (other than it’s cheapness, and the fun of beating with an Avatar) to even try.

Anyway, thanks for letting me get in on the Battle Royale party. The next few months are kinda hectic, with Kobe and Worlds and a brand new set to figure out, but I’ll be hopping back into the queue when I get the chance.

Billy Moreno