The title says it all. End of article.
smckeown @ livejournal.com
In the still and the silent dawn another day is born
Tossed up by the tireless waves, body bent and torn
And in the light of the blinding sun you wake only to find
That Heaven is a stranger place than the one I left behind…
Sarah McLachlan, “Drawn to the Rhythm”
Really, I was getting pretty nervous about this matchup; all of my game-plan seemed to hinge around just one flier in play (four Tidespout Tyrants and one Meloku) and it not mysteriously dying to Putrefy or Wrecking Ball. The more and more I thought about it, the worse I felt about staring down Avatar of Discord, and having all of my cards assemble to do, well, not very much. So much of the deck is based around just putting mana into play, and controlling the board with Counterbalance and a few Remands while the Tyrant goes to work, that those three- and four-mana kill spells (which I’d have a hard time Counterbalancing, as I have plenty of twos, Top can fake one, and not so many threes and fours, one six, and four eights) would basically happen sooner or later, and my game falls apart.
This had me nervously worried as soon as I saw Billy’s deck, because clearly he has a lot of creature-removal power. Fortunately, as I looked closer and closer at his deck, I started picking it apart for weaknesses I could try to exploit, and in amidst all of my negativity at the prospect of getting a slow draw with Billy going first and one of my eight Karoos Wrecked… in the middle of the negative fears telling me I was going to get crushed, it dawned on me that there was no way for him to kill a turn 1 Sakura-Tribe Scout before the tempo damage was done. And that Billy has twelve lands that come into play tapped, four of which don’t contribute well to the turn 3 Avatar plan that should clearly beat me. And that eight of his cards were, well, Eidolons.
For reference, here are our decks:
- 4 Golgari Guildmage
- 4 Avatar of Discord
- 4 Entropic Eidolon
- 4 Lyzolda, the Blood Witch
- 4 Rakdos Guildmage
- 4 Sandstorm Eidolon
- 4 Sakura-Tribe Elder
- 1 Azusa, Lost but Seeking
- 1 Meloku the Clouded Mirror
- 1 Seshiro the Anointed
- 4 Sachi, Daughter of Seshiro
- 4 Sakura-Tribe Scout
- 4 Tidespout Tyrant
I’m a big fan of Eidolons. I was one of their largest proponents during Ravnica Block draft and sealed season. I even wrote an article originally entitled “E is for Eidolons,” when I found out BDM wasn’t going to be able to write exactly that article in time for the Pro Tour in Prague. Still, they’re 2/2s for four with marginal abilities, and their war-of-attrition impact upon the game actually does less in Constructed, the format where you can design your deck to maximize their re-buy powers, because… well, 2/2 for four stink in Constructed, and it’ll stink six or eight or ten times if you somehow live to buy them back that often. So as nifty-keen as they were going to be for Billy, dropping the impact of his Avatars and fueling deadly Guildmages, if either of those things hit I basically had no business winning anyway.
Now, Billy somewhat metagamed against me, aiming at the fact that I tend to play slow and ponderous control decks. Rise / Fall was getting me down, and I realized that Rakdos Augermage was going to make my life difficult. Optimism started leaking out again as I was thinking about the strategy I would need to employ to beat Billy, and when one of the forum posters asked if I had a secret strategy I intended to use I told him I was working on it… when I was basically mulling it over and dreading playing it out, with nightmares of the Meloku I needed to even have a chance at the game getting Putrefied. Thursday night was rough, but I did want to give it “the old college try” as they say (and it’s funny that they say it, because “they” probably didn’t try very hard in college, except to get drunk or get laid). Working on a plan, I assumed I would lose game 1, because Counterbalance talks a good game but it has a hard time finding the card on top of my deck that is actually going to stop the cards that matter, all three- and four-drops. Assuming I was going to play first, my plan was:
If I were on the draw, I’d figured the Blazes weren’t going to do enough, because I’d never manage to settle into enough of an aggressive stance to really threaten Billy’s life total. Instead I’d need to get a little lucky and combo him out, so the Tyrants would stay in to maybe somehow salvage the board position. Either way, Counterbalance was coming out, so I made sure to talk a good game about Counterbalance with Billy beforehand and get him thinking about maybe bringing in Naturalizes for the enchantment that was going to be in my sideboard. And as I thought more about it, how I could ramp up quickly and Billy could get bogged down with his lands, I figured any hand where I got to start with a Sakura-Tribe Scout was one that had a decent chance of getting where I wanted to be.
I log on, nervous about the slowly growing optimism that was telling me I wasn’t guaranteed to just get murdered in my sleep by Avatar of Discord, and apparently Billy really did plan on showing up this time; by 7:30 he’d been sighted already. The crowd is waiting, and after some pre-game talk about how this is set up and basically what the matchup seems like, I snuck in my carefully-crafted lie about how I might Counterbalance the crap out of Billy game 1, and how it might be the key deciding factor before sideboarding. Frankly, I didn’t think it would do as much as I’d hoped, but if I got him thinking about it maybe it’d end up working in my favor… if nothing else he’ll likely still consider it as part of my arsenal and having a place in my overall plan, when I knew it was going to be sitting in the sideboard.
8:00 finally ticks down, and it’s time to play, and the butterflies in the stomach are getting a tad overeager. We start the game and let everyone know the StarCityGames Battle Royale was about to begin… a little showmanship never hurt, and Craig wasn’t there to be the official ringmaster of our match. [Unfortunately, I was in a tent in a field in the middle of York. – Craig.]
I win the die roll. Things are looking up already.
My hand has Sakura-Tribe Scout, and all of the elements of a really good hand: turn 2 I’ll be able to play a bounce-land and replay my Forest, casting Sakura-Tribe Elder. If I sacrifice that for a Forest (as the bounce-land was Izzet Boilerworks, not the clearly-better Simic Growth Chamber) I’ll be able to cast Sachi on turn 3, and maybe more nutty stuff will happen, who knows. I have Tidespout Tyrant, and a Divining Top, so all I have to do is just motor ahead and maybe, just maybe, things will look ridiculous.
As it actually played out, I drew a Forest on turn 2, so I would be able to get an Island with Sakura-Tribe Elder on turn 2, and maybe turn 4 Tyrant might actually happen. Billy’s turn 2 he plays Rakdos Guildmage and I ignore him. On my third turn I cast Sachi with a Blue still untapped, and use the Scout’s newfound ability to tap for two Green to cast a second Scout, and Sensei’s Divining Top. Billy plays no land, and attacks; I cleverly take two. (I may be making up Billy having attacked, I’m just assuming it happened.) And I use the Top, knowing if I see one of the other three Forests it’s turn 4 Tyrant plus Top to bounce one of his two lands, keeping him off of ever-doing-anything-relevant matter.
That’s what happens, and Billy concedes… another Blue source that comes into play untapped, how lucky.
That was not how I expected to see game 1 end. I expected it to be brutal… and that I’d be the one getting brutalized. Not that I’m complaining at good fortune… after all, of the two of our decks, mine is the one most able to completely outrun the other’s development.
I consider bringing in the Blazes as I’m working the cards in and out, deciding for or against them but figuring I had a solid reason for wanting them going first (they provide reach). I think they’re a lot less important going second… figuring I’ll be on the defensive, and it’ll take too much assembling of the “combo” of either Boilerworks like a lucksack or “raw dog the Mountain” or (most likely, in my mind, despite being as equally likely as drawing the four-of Boilerworks) fetching Mountain with Tribe Elder. In actuality, though, I begrudged that Mountain its existence, as I never actually decided to my liking that I could replace Okina with a Mountain and it’d work out without me being short Green sources; when I made my final decision, I made the choice of sideboard cards that was flat-out the most dangerous, to give Billy something to worry about if, for example, he played a slow and ponderous control deck (like his U/W Millstone deck from the Royale before). Blaze stays in the sideboard, Mountain stays like an itch in the back of my mind, resenting its very existence.
For game 2 Billy’s on the play, and I’ve got a Scout again. Things are looking up.
Second verse, same as the first: Forest, Scout; Billy plays turn 2 Rakdos Guildmage. Izzet Boilerworks bounces my Forest after I tap it for Green, and replaying the Forest with Scout gets the second mana needed for Elder. Billy plays a second Guildmage, and his attack is blocked, getting me an Island. Sachi doesn’t appear… but I’m still making land-drops, more than one a turn, and I play two Divining Tops and sit back for a second.
For Billy’s fourth turn, he attacks for four damage and casts a third Rakdos Guildmage. I cast Remand just to do so, and in response I peek with the Top, seeing Simic Growth Chamber, Meloku, and Time of Need. I want all three, and between my Remand drawing a card and the ‘spare’ Top, I can have all three. I’m even pretty sure I’ve just won the game right there… the only outs Billy will have to the plan I am crafting are the two Savage Twisters. On my fourth turn I power down more mana thanks to the Growth Chamber, flip my spare Top, and cast Time of Need getting Kira, then cast it. The plan is to make mucho tokens a turn and obliterate Billy with 1/1 fliers while still having plenty of mana in play.
Turn 5 I play Meloku, and it’s all over but the crying. Billy dropped the third (Remanded) Rakdos Guildmage, and #4 to go with it, but he can’t kill the cards that matter and there is no danger in Meloku blocking Guildmages when he can’t target anything on my side of the table effectively. Any notion of him following up on that fast start that pushed a bit of damage across quickly disappears beneath the withering hail of flying Illusion tokens.
A regular match would be finished at this point, so we have to start over and Billy concedes the first game, so we can go back to our regularly scheduled sideboarding. Still going to be on the draw first, I don’t put in the Blazes, as I figure all I will really be able to do with them is take out an Avatar of Discord if I’m lucky, and I can’t guarantee even if I draw one that I’ll find the right colored mana to do it in time. I figure if all I have to do is get lucky, I’ve got three games left to do it in, and that’s a more reasonable chance than boarding in the Blazes.
… as the kids are saying these days.
My willingness to try and mulligan into Scouts apparently meant I wasn’t going to have to demean myself with that attempt, they’d just come naturally. Billy, however, was mulliganing to Avatars, the only cards that mattered. And he even played one right quick, while I didn’t seem to have any action at all. Of course, instead of “action” I had Scout into Karoo plus Elder into Sachi plus Scout #2 plus Elder #2 on turn 3, so it’s not exactly like I was in an unhappy place. Billy’s turn 3 was an Avatar ditching two cards that didn’t matter, and his turn 4 was Rakdos Augermage. I had Mana Leak plus Remand as my two cards left in hand, and Billy casts Lyzolda on his fifth turn. I Remand, just looking to draw a card since I’ve been attacked to ten already, and figuring the chances are okay that if I Remand his Lyzolda he might not use Augermage that turn, thus protecting whatever card I might draw instead of casting Leak and getting my Remand Augered.
The card drawn is Sensei’s Divining Top, and keeping Lyzolda doesn’t seem to matter much to Billy, as he Augers me anyway. I see her and two Eidolons, so I take the card that matters, or at least the one that will stay dead. He takes Top, leaving me with Leak, and one of the observers said something like “Now watch, he’ll topdeck Time of Need like a miser.”
I do in fact topdeck Time of Need like a miser, and perform the act of missing very poorly as in my eagerness to cast Meloku I tapped Scouts for mana when I could use them to make more Illusions faster. Still, I got Meloku into play, I know Billy’s got nothing, and I even have a Mana Leak left until he Augers me again (which he of course will). I remember from previous games that my stops are set slightly wrong, I’m not getting priority for fast effects after the declaration of attackers but before the declaration of blockers, so in response to entering Billy’s attack phase I make three tokens to block and kill Avatar with. No attack for Billy, and I make another token, picking up all of my non-Karoo lands. I play one for my turn, drop two more, and cast the Time of Need I topdecked, getting Kira into play again.
Once again Billy’s only out is to get Savage Twister, and he doesn’t have enough mana to Twist for 4, so even if he does Twist, I get to keep Meloku and he gets to keep the Avatar, and we get to keep this fight going. The tokens grow fast and furious, as I’m making three a turn, and before long I’m swinging in the air, losing one token a turn but Billy’s taking five or seven or what-not damage each turn. It’s clear that we’re at the point where Billy just dies, so I do the overkill maneuver and return every land that’s not a Karoo to my hand, then cast the Tidespout Tyrant I drew that turn and return every land to my hand to make Illusions, and attack with everything for the gruesome overkill super-flashy death from above.
And just like that, it’s over. Some people in the forums predicted a 3-1 win for Billy, and even I thought it’d be a bit difficult, probably going to five and even expecting it to end in Billy’s favor at least on some visceral level. But as far as plans go, I had a good one: I can do the more broken things faster, so I should be the one trying to take advantage of my deck’s speed and its ability to generate resources by trying to be the beatdown. That’s why Mana Leak made it into the sideboard in the first place, to complement Remand if going aggro-control looked like a workable solution. Because before I was playing slow, ponderous control decks, as Billy remarked he knew me best for, I was a fan of attacking with Merfolk and casting countermagic for free, and aggro-control is a style I very clearly associate with.
I sideboarded in the way I felt gave me the best chance to win, by letting me be the most aggressive instead of waffling with Counterbalance or sticking to the plan of Tyrant-for-the-win. The new plan was assemble Kira plus Meloku and stop anything that mattered, and that’s what happened. Off the top of the deck. Twice.
Lucky? Sure. Lucky by design, though, because while my post-sideboarding game focused on putting singleton legends into play and winning with them in combination, that’s also what my deck was designed to do well. And I stretched my budget as close to the breaking point as I could just to fit in exactly those two Legends, cutting other cards I really wanted and agonizing over the decision up to the very last minute as I made sacrifices to pay 1.3 tix for Kira when she could just be totally irrelevant and sit in the sideboard… and at the expense of maybe getting to keep the Oboro, Palace in the Clouds I knew I’d want to help get double- and triple-Blue spells online. I built a deck capable of exploding and able to capitalize on the tutor it was using for consistency in finding Sachi (Time of Need) by giving me a powerful toolbox for things like the Clouded Mirror of Victory.
When it was all over with, I still couldn’t believe it had played out that way. Confidence is key to anything in life, and I was confident I could win, that I knew my deck inside and out and knew Billy’s as well… heck, I had his decklist next to my computer at all times, and had already considered what his post-sideboard plan might be and what his most dangerous cards were. (I didn’t know where the Grave Pacts were going to end up, but I assumed after game 1 they would be in the sideboard thanks to an awful lot of Snake tokens and Illusion tokens effectively invalidating its use, especially when getting BBB might be a touch difficult.) I picked the plan I felt gave me the best chance to seize the initiative and ride it for a win, and that’s how it worked out.
I just didn’t expect it to be such a bloodbath. I thought our decks both had weaknesses and it would be an intricate knife-fight, when it turns out it seems Billy had brought his knife to a gun-fight. Maybe I expected it to be harder because I had a few jitters, playing a very good opponent in a public forum with my silly Snake Shaman trick deck that never even managed to crack the Top 8 when I was gunning for it during Kamigawa Block Constructed season. (And oh the mistakes I had made in that deck’s construction, not realizing that Time of Need for Godo, Bandit Warlord could give me access to game 1 Manriki-Gusari to win the Jitte war, and somehow completely missing the word “Shaman” in Sakura-Tribe Scout’s long list of creature types, thus embarrassingly playing Orochi Leafcaller and/or Orochi Sustainer instead!)
But Meloku is redonkulous. End of article. For real this time.*
smckeown @ livejournal.com
I fear that I am ordinary, just like everyone
To lie here and die among the sorrows, adrift upon the days
For everything I’ve ever said
And everything I’ve ever done is gone, and dead…
The Smashing Pumpkins, “Muzzle”
Heh. Fooled you again. End of article for real this time, except for the obligatory chat log with Ben Goodman:
9:06 smcke0wn: 3-0 me.
9:06 Ridiculous Hat: yaus
9:07 Ridiculous Hat: well played, well played
9:08 smcke0wn: Well, I lost some push to misclicks, not quite thinking about when to tap Scouts for land versus GG, but it was savage and not close.
9:08 smcke0wn: Conveniently I also drew and played turn one Scout 3-0. That was what did it.
9:08 Ridiculous Hat: what was he playing?
9:08 smcke0wn: Bad B/R deck that was a bit dangerous with 4x Avatar of Discord backed up by 4 Putrefy and 4 Wrecking Ball.
9:08 smcke0wn: Kira + Meloku destroyed him.
9:08 Ridiculous Hat: yeah
9:08 Ridiculous Hat: meloku does that
9:09 smcke0wn: Yep. Being redonkulous, it’s what he does. Best 4 tix ever.
9:09 Ridiculous Hat: correct
9:10 smcke0wn: Kira was also a great 1.3 tix, but only because she blocks things pointed at Meloku.
9:10 Ridiculous Hat: i have no problem enlisting a bodyguard for mookie
9:10 smcke0wn: It also didn’t hurt that I won the die roll game one, played a turn four Tyrant AND had a Top to bounce one of his 2 lands with.
9:11 Ridiculous Hat: turn FOUR?
9:11 smcke0wn: Yep. Scout into bounceland, replay Forest, play STE, turn three Sachi, turn four Tyrant.
9:11 smcke0wn: That was the trick I designed the deck for.
9:11 Ridiculous Hat: i mean
9:11 Ridiculous Hat: sounds pretty good