I’m not sure why States, as a tournament, holds such an allure for me. Maybe it’s the freewheeling, undefined metagame, which allows for any deck to break through and become the Next Best Thing. Maybe it’s the mad scramble to find any crumb of tech to wedge into a deck.
For me, I think it’s the plaque.
I’ve always wanted that States Championship plaque, so that whenever I end up quitting this game or the final cards roll out of Renton — whichever comes first – I can look at that plaque and say that, at least once, that, you know, I used to be halfway decent at this game.
Winning that plaque would also go a long way toward improving my general mood these days, for, you see, when the annals of my life are recorded in full, I’m pretty sure that 2007 is going to be remembered as the Year of the Total Suck.
Where to begin? The game store I co-founded ten years ago ended up shuttering its doors due to rising rents and jackhole landlords. I have a job that, on a good day, I am ambivalent about, but primarily loathe with a passion that makes Rainbow Randolph look like Mr. Rogers. I live in a podunk middle-of-nowhere town in Idaho with nothing in the way of a gaming community… oh, there is a game store, but the ownership believes that if you are over 25 and play games with kids, by default, that makes you a pedophile.
I really wish I was making that part up, but I’m not.
And that’s barely even half of my woes. I wouldn’t give my troubles to a monkey on a rock. I’m so full of spite and bile these days I make Dick Cheney look like Tickle Me Elmo.
That’s why I want that plaque. I just want one — just one – tidbit of joy from this crappy year.
I knew I had an uphill battle. There’s only a few people in the area who play to any degree of regularity and decency, so I’m dependent upon random MWS players for testing. There’s no place that I can readily find needed singles [*Ahem* – Craig, pointing to the StarCityGames.com shopping cart]. And I only have two weeks to get a deck together.
On the plus side, I live in Idaho, which isn’t quite the hotbed of Magic that Oregon and Washington are. Hell, a lot of Portland-based players drive eight hours to PTQs in Boise to pick on the (let’s be honest) less-than-scary player pool.
And I had a pretty decent deck, too; an update of the Greater Goyf deck, adding Tarfire and Garruk Wildspeaker, plus Manabarbs in the side to punish control decks. It’s a very solid deck, so solid that we (the small cadre of players in the Moscow area) had a finalized build within days of Lorwyn’s release, final to the point of arguing down to what the final three sideboard cards would be.
I felt confident enough in the deck to shell out some cash for the Goyfs I needed. You don’t want to know what I had to do to get those cards. I’m lucky I’m still walking straight.
About a week before States, though, a funny thing happened: I started losing faith in the deck. Everyone on MWS had answers for the Big Bad Goyf. The results from the final StarCityGames Open were published, and R/G didn’t seem to do very well. U/W decks did, however, so I started playing around with those.
I liked the Snow engine. I liked the Blink engine. I didn’t like the Mike Flores‘ U/W Snow deck, however, as it felt too top-heavy, especially sans Wrath. So I combined elements of Flores’ deck with elements from other Blink decks; Porphyry Nodes, Epochrasite, Venser, Mulldrifter, etc. And whaddya know, the deck turned out to be half decent.
It still needed something else, though. I wanted another counter to supplement to mediocre Rune Snag. I wanted some kind of additional bounce spell. And, wouldn’t you know it, there just so happened to be just such a spell in the form of Cryptic Command. I wedged it into the deck (triple Blue makes the manabase cry), but aside from occasional mana troubles, it made the deck sing. In the final two days of testing, I think I dropped something like two games.
Yes, this was against random MWS players for the most part, so take from that what you will. That’s good enough to make me decide to play my quasi-homebrewed Blink deck — but I’ll bring Goyf along just in case.
The road to Boise is a fun six-hour drive. Yes, six hours. Idaho is larger than most nations with names ending in —stan, with roads of equal quality. I used to love road trips — until I threw my back out a few years ago, and now any time over two hours in the driver’s seat starts triggering my sciatica.
Getting old. Don’t do it. Trust me, it sucks.
I did not arrive in time to play in a States pre-tournament, but I am able to trade/borrow for the cards I need and observe that everyone in the room is playing some kind of creature-based beatdown. And other R/G decks are not doing well against the hordes of Elves and other Lorwyn-ized creatures. This encourages me to stick with U/W, and make a few final changes to the deck, removing many anti-control cards in anticipation of an aggro-centric field:
For once, I’m stumped for a cool moniker. I think I used them all up on Tribes 2 thinking of names for all the ice levels.
I know, it sure seems like a small creature base for a Blink-centric deck, but it worked, what can I say? The beauty of this design, I found, is that even when I didn’t draw a Blink, I still won. Epochrasite is definitely the MVC (Most Valuable Construct) of the deck. When the deck wins, it’s usually on its back. No Cloudskate? It just felt too slow. No Wrath? I tried packing two in the maindeck as a fallback, but Wrath doesn’t jibe well with my creatures, Valkyrie or no, and besides, with Nodes, Crib Swap, and Oblivion Ring, I do pretty well against decks that depend victory via the red zone regardless.
The last addition was the singletons of Tolaria West and Urza’s Factory. Tolaria West was there to transmute for a Mouth or Factory if needed (in retrospect, I should have replaced one of the Commands with a Pact of Negation, but was unable to procure one), and the Factory was there to give me extra game against control. The non-Snow nature of these lands was never a factor, and Factory actually won me a couple of games.
So, was this pile any good in real life?
Round 1: Jimmy Gardiner (Scryb & Force)
Great. Nothing like driving 300 miles to play someone from your home base. And, hey, we’re only starting two hours late. It’s never a good sign when registration is supposed to be start at 9:00 and the T.O. shows up at 9:40. And there’s 56 people crammed into a room that has a maximum of 52. The “gamer funk” that normally settles over these rooms sometime in the afternoon is already in full force.
Jimmy is running Scryb and Force with Garruk Wildspeaker, Troll Ascetic, and cheap counters, the first of which, a Rune Snag, hits my turn 2 Epochrasite, thus preventing my MVC from hitting play. Jimmy curves out very nicely from there, dropping a turn 3 Troll Ascetic and turn 4 Garruk Wildspeaker, and happily starts churning out nasty beasties. This rapidly puts me on the defensive, but I fortunately topdeck a Mulldrifter to chump block and draw me into, if not a preferable Oblivion Ring, a Porphyry Nodes. It takes a few turns, but the Nodes do their job, clearing the board, leaving the board clear of everything but Garruk with a scant one loyalty, although I am at a perilous five life.
On Jimmy’s turn, he drops a second Garruk.
Jimmy was not aware that planeswalkers operated under legendary rules.
He is now.
You would think that, after Jimmy’s two-for-none exchange, I would have stormed back, but he proceeds to then drop a third Garruk and that’s too much gas for me.
I’m third-guessing that choice to go with the Greater Goyf deck at this point. What was wrong with beating down with Green fatties and aiming burn at my opponent’s face?
Game 2 starts better for me. This time, it’s my turn to hit a key spell with a Rune Snag, Jimmy’s turn 3 Ascetic, and I’m control for much of this matchup; as Jimmy does not find a Garruk.
Game 3, I take advantage of Jimmy’s mulligan with Porphyry Nodes and Oblivion Ring to blunt any offense he can mount. A few Psionic Blasts to my dome don’t feel particularly great, but Jimmy can only whittle me down to five before an Epochrasite and Adarkar Valkyrie finish the job.
Now I feel much better about my deck choice.
Round 2: Ryan Schneider (R/W Elementals)
Ryan’s got an oddball deck that seems to be built around the combo of Elementals and…I’m not sure what else. He drops a turn 1 Soul Warden. That’s problematic. He drops a second Soul Warden. Even more problematic. He drops a third.
Now that’s just not right.
Porphyry Nodes, where are you when I need you?
Still, I’ve got a few Mulldrifters holding the fort, as Ryan’s reluctant (for whatever reason) to attack into me. And, hey, why not, when you’re at 39 life? Double Valkyrie turns the tide, as Ryan has no answers for the Angel air force, Soul Wardens or no Soul Wardens.
Game 2, Ryan curves out nicely with a Flamekin Harbinger into Mirror Entity, and before you know it, I’m at two life before I stabilize with a Teferi’s Moat set to Red and a Ring for the Entity. Normally, at two life, I’d be very, very nervous against a deck running mountains… however, I’m fairly certain that this deck is built around the cute combos and packs no burn. Turns out I’m right. At one point, with a Soul Warden in play, Ryan tries to champion a Champion, who is already championing a Champion, and begins a chain to gain infinite life. That would be bad for me, so I put an end to the shenanigans by targeting the Soul Warden with Mouth of Ronom, then using my Valkyrie to steal it over to my side. Not surprisingly, Ryan decides to break the chain right there, and unable to mount an offense against the Moat, goes down to defeat.
Round 3: Terry Decker (B/W Haakon)
Game 1, Terry drops an Augur of Skulls (fortunately, I have plenty of land), but he uses it on himself to send Haakon and Nameless Inversion to the bin. He replays Haakon next turn, but I have an Oblivion Ring to keep him out of my hair. Of course, he has a second one…oh bother.
I accelerate into a Valkyrie beating down on turn 5, which blunts his offense nicely. He has a last gasp attempt to kill my Valkyrie with double Inversion, but Blink foils that.
In the second game, I start beating down with Epochrasites, while Terry is stuck on three lands and bins not one, not two, but three Haakons. Double Mulldrifter draws me a boatload of cards, and even with Haakon in play, he’s got nothing in the graveyard to use it with.
By the time Terry hits his fourth land, I have a Venser and Blink ready, denying him a Korlash, then a Wrath, as I roll to the win from there.
Round 4: Olin Gardner (WW Kithkin)
Kithkin? Undefeated? Works for me. I eat aggro for lunch.
… said the fly to the spider.
What kills me in these two games is getting greedy with Porphyry Nodes. I wait until turn 2, not turn 1 to drop it, trying to maximize it, and in each game Olin had the Oblivion Ring to eliminate my anti-aggro tool.
Game 2, I actually have Olin on the ropes a bit, as he takes eight damage from his own painlands and I’ve whittled him down to a pair of 2/2 dorks in play, while I’m at five life and with two Epochrasites coming into play next turn, and no cards in hand.
So of course he topdecks Militia’s Pride for the win.
Kithkin, good? Who knew? I may have overestimated my winning percentages against aggro. Man, why couldn’t I have played against a guy playing Elves?
Round 5: Matt Gardels (B/G Elves)
Hey, it’s that guy playing Elves! A nice enough fellow who traded me the Crib Swaps I needed for my deck. Definitely a newer player, as when I was comparing Wren’s Run Vanquisher to Watchwolf, he asked, “What’s a Watchwolf?”
This matchup should be easy for me, but I said that about my last matchup, didn’t I? I take quite a few beats from Vanquishers and Treetop Villages, and I’m down to seven right quick. I stabilize with Venser, Epochrasite and Oblivion Ring, and beat down from there. Any attempts to kill my creatures with Eyeblight’s Ending gets foiled by Momentary Blink. I’m starting to love that card, I am.
The second game, I counter two spells with Rune Snag and Flashfreeze, but Matt sneaks an Eyes of the Wisent into play, turning most of my blue spells into sorceries. Hey, Venser and Cryptic Command are still pretty decent, even when played on my turn, and Mulldrifters make for a good air force. That being said, I’m still getting beat down by Green fatties until Teferi’s Moat makes an appearance. Matt does not have a Naturalize in hand, and I take the game from there.
4-1 puts me in a position to draw into the Top 8. Now, twice before at States, I have been in a position to draw into the Top 8, only to be paired down and then losing that match.
Third time’s the charm, I hope.
Round 6: Dan Given
After Round 5, I’m sitting in 5th place, Dan is in 6th. Double checking both my and lower players rankings, I’m fairly confident that I’m in with an intentional draw. I think. If I was any good at math, I would’ve been a chemical engineer.
Dan initially wants to play, but after thinking about it and talking to a few teammates, he decides to accept the draw.
I then proceed to sit back and watch everyone I’ve played in earlier rounds go on to lose and start getting more than a little nervous. Way to help my tiebreakers, Jimmy. That leaves me plenty of time to sweat the results and imagine how much Rizzo will laugh at me if I screwed up the math.
I’m more than a little nervous as the T. O’s ancient printer kachungs-kachungs out the final standings and I see that I finished in…8th place! By the hair of the second tiebreak! Finally! Top 8 at States! Our long national nightmare is over!
My 6th round opponent ended up in 9th place. I feel a little bad about that. But only a little.
I’m allowed a little time to celebrate before beginning the quarterfinal match…against that verdammt Kithkin deck that handed me my head in Round 4. At least this time I know better than to try and get greedy with Porphyry Nodes — drop it first turn and hope for the best.
Now, unfortunately, I’m really wishing I’d left the Wraths in the deck somewhere.
So, we wait, while the T.O. gets a side draft going (I mean, really, would it be so difficult to hire an assistant? Cascade Games, how you have spoiled me…) Eventually, we get our swag and our seating assignments, and I’m faced with the unenviable position of trying to win a very difficult matchup.
Game 1 is more of the same. I drop a turn 1 Nodes in response to his Goldmeadow Harrier; the Nodes sticks around for a few turns thanks to Epochrasite, but eats an Oblivion Ring shortly thereafter. Olin then literally drops his hand — Cenn’s Heir, Wizened Cenn, Militia’s Pride. Even drawing, then playing the remaining two Nodes in my deck — I’m overrun before I can get my Epochrasite back online.
Game 2, I take out all the counterspells save for one Command — just too slow or too ineffective — for Moats and Riftwatchers. Of course, I never draw one. This game, however, is closer. After mulliganing, Olin has no first turn play, and I’m able to build my manabase with a turn 2 Heart, then I drop Epochrasites over the next two turns.
When playing aggro decks, I’ve found, this deck tends to live on the edge, but this matchup had me hanging by my fingernails. Double Blink on Epochrasites to create 4/4 blockers buys me a few turns. Crib Swap on Gaddock Teeg, followed by my lone remaining Command to bounce/counter, buys me a few turns. But these Kithkin are relentless, and I have no global removal to deal with the threats. I wheel an Adarkar Valkyrie, but Oblivion Ring makes it a non-factor.
The endgame comes down to my board of two Epochrasites and Olin’s many, many Kithkin. My only chance is a daring bluff to get him to chump with his two blockers, keeping him from alpha striking for the win and buying me an extra turn — I can only bring him down to three. Olin thinks for a moment, then takes the eight, and that’s game.
No plaque for me this year. Let the suckitude continue.
Honestly, if I’d ever hit an Aven Riftwatcher in either sideboarded game, I think this matchup would have swung at least a little more in my favor. But I didn’t, so that’s that. I guess I’ll have to enjoy that hearty meal of crow, as the Kithkin deck does indeed look to be pretty good in an aggro-centric field.
I collected my winnings and hit the road; I had a long, boring drive to Bend, Oregon ahead of me (another story for another time). Plenty of time to think about what went right and what went wrong.
I’m going to be the first to admit that my deck has some holes in it — big holes, as in I-need-more-creatures holes — but the results were, overall, pretty promising, considering I was basically building in a vacuum. But let’s be honest, six games against the finest that Idaho has to offer is not what I would call the largest nor the best statistical sample.
Cryptic Command was incredible…except for those two games I was stuck on two Blue sources. Even after cutting two Mouths for basic snow lands, I still had occasional mana hiccups. Calciform Pools, perhaps?
The Adarkar Valkyries did win me one game, but I only used the ability once. If I was to replace them, I’d like something that was good on its own but also fit into the Blink strategy. Aethersnipe is a possibility, and Cloudgoat Ranger makes for a pretty decent finisher. The singletons of Draining Whelk and Crovax could easily be moved back to the main. Sower of Temptation was a possible addition I completely whiffed on. There is the popular munging of Blink with the Pickles lock, which, again, I hadn’t considered. Hell, I barely heard about it.
Man alive, I hate living in Idaho.
Maybe the deck’s decent, or maybe I just got lucky going against tons of creature decks in the wastes of Idaho. Opinions, comments and suggestions are most welcome in the forums.
As for me, we’ll see if I’m able to make a return trip to States next year. These six hour car rides are grating on me and my sciatic nerves, and I pray that 2008 finds me living somewhere else, with a real game store and real players, and preferably closer to the event site. Life, however, has a nasty habit of throwing a spanner in the works.
As for that plaque…I’m sure somebody’s selling one on eBay somewhere…
Until next time,