After weeks of waiting and watching everyone else play Onslaught Block Constructed, Northern California finally got its first PTQ of the season. For this tournament, I chose to run a U/W Control deck our team dubbed the Sound of Silence.
Sound of Silence
I realize this deck list is nothing new, but it was groundbreaking when my teammate Ian Welter came up with the idea a month and a half ago. The extra month I had to test the deck before Grand Prix: London made all the difference. My deck was better tuned, and I knew how to play it better than the hordes of people who had been playing it for only a week.
The PTQ for PT New Orleans took place in Mountain View, CA, a short hop from San Francisco. With over a hundred and sixty players in participation, there would be eight rounds of Swiss with a cut to the Top 8.
Round One: Chris Cade, GGGRRRUUUX (GRU Veggie Silence)
I played Chris at an Onslaught sealed PTQ last fall. He is a frequent participant at the Pro Tour level and an all-around nice guy. Now I know you see a lot of tournament reports where the writer calls his opponent a”nice guy,” as I’m sure I’ll be calling a lot of opponents in this report. So in this instance, let me be clear: Chris is the nicest Magic player I have ever met.
Chris said he was playing rogue, and I could tell that he was when he played a first-turn Forest. Who plays Forests in Onslaught block? We both mulliganed to five cards, but I got the first threat out in the form of a third-turn face-down creature. Chris had no answer when I morphed the Exalted Angel next turn. She was able to switch twelve points of life before Chris finally cycled his way into a Starstorm, followed by Decree of Silence.
Yeah, the first Decree of Silence I saw came down on my opponent’s side of the table. Irony aside, I suddenly had a big problem despite being up thirty-two to eight.
Chris had tapped out to play Decree of Silence so I saw a very small opening. At the end of his turn, I played the only two spells in my hand: Chain of Vapor, targeting Decree of Silence, and Stifle targeting the Decree’s triggered ability. Unfortunately I drew a land next turn and couldn’t rid myself of Chris’s enchantment. A Ravenous Baloth started to take me down in the same four-life chunks that Exalted Angel had gained me. I proceeded to draw Wing Shards, Chain of Vapor, and Discombobulate, but I didn’t want to throw any of them away… So I waited until I could chump spell the Decree of Silence with an Eternal Dragon.
Luckily, Chris didn’t have a Chain of Vapor to return his Decree of Silence to his hand, and he gained four life in response to Wing Shards next turn. The life totals were eight to twelve in Chris’s favor with a completely clear board. Chris cycled a bunch more cards, and I knew that he had to be playing with – but not drawing – Lightning Rift.
I played the Decree of Silence next turn, and Chris immediately threw two chump spells at the”Talking Stick.” I played Eternal Dragon and passed it back. He tried to chump spell my Decree of Silence away, which I naturally Chain of Vapored back to my hand. But while I was tapped out of counter mana, he dropped a Lightning Rift (I was still at eight life). Undaunted, I attacked with Eternal Dragon, taking him down to seven, then played Exalted Angel, giving me a lethal flying force next turn. Chris played Starstorm to clear my team, and I used my only counter, cycling Decree of Silence. That counter cost me two damage from Lightning Rift, but it won me the game. Chris cycled two more cards on his turn to take me to 2 and showed me a hand of basic lands.
I went with my standard anti-Slide sideboard strategy, since the principles were the same. I wanted to stop his cycling, have hard counters for his late-game threats, and take his fatties with Chromeshell Crab.
The plan worked to perfection, and the second game was rather anticlimactic given our battle in the first. I let him cycle some cards before dropping a Stabilizer with counter backup for his Break Asunder. I then dropped my Decree of Silence. He threw some useless Lightning Rifts at it. I played an Eternal Dragon. He played his third chump spell, but I once again Chain of Vapored my Decree of Silence back to my hand. He then played a Silklash Spider. I wasn’t sure how I would deal with the Silklash Spider until I drew my card for the turn: Chromeshell Crab! I Crab-and-Grabbed his Silklash Spider and attacked with Eternal Dragon. With a Stabilizer on the board and a Decree of Silence in my hand ready to come back down next turn, Chris had no outs. He scooped and shook my hand. It was a satisfying win against a very good opponent, and a good way to start the day.
Match record: 1-0
Game Record: 2-0
Round Two: Aaron Cheng, Mono-Red Goblin Form
When I drew a hand with two Wing Shards, I prayed for a Goblin deck. My prayers were answered with a little extra sugar on top when I drew a third Shards. I laid an Eternal Dragon followed by Decree of Silence, and I ended up taking only one damage from a Goblin deck.
Aaron was playing with some sub-par Goblin cards, so I was less worried about nutty Siege-Gang Commander/Goblin Sharpshooter shenanigans, so I sided out Stifles to test out the Starlight Invoker tech. My hopes were dashed when I had to mulligan down to five for the second time in two rounds.
My five-card hand was Plains, Island, and three Akroma’s Vengeances. I drew into Starlight Invoker, and it held his Goblin Grappler and Goblin Taskmaster at bay. (I told you he was playing sub-par Goblins.) I drew my fourth Akroma’s Vengeance, and when I made it to three lands, I cycled two of them away. Things got even stranger when Aaron played Ark of Blight. I used a Chain of Vapor to bounce the Ark of Blight, buying some time and wishing I had left in my Stifles.
The mystery of the bad Goblins was solved when Aaron played Brightstone Ritual to drop a Form of the Dragon. I played a face-down creature, hoping to stall long enough for the two Akroma’s Vengeances left in my hand to come online. He obliged and shot the Exalted Angel. Next turn he spat fire on me, taking me to thirteen, after which I finally got up to six mana for Akroma’s Vengeance. His second Form of the Dragon met with the same fate.”All four Vengeances,” marveled Aaron.”Yeah, I had three in the hand I kept,” I replied.”Turned out to be pretty good against you.”
I returned Eternal Dragon to my hand, ready to finish him off, but he dropped yet another Form of the Dragon. I was out of six-mana Disenchants, but I did have the Chain of Vapor to return it to his hand. I then played Eternal Dragon and he was locked out, unable to replay his Form.
Match record: 2-0
Game record: 4-0
Round Three: Lee Kearny-Brown, RW Slide
Ugh. I hate Astral Slide. It’s not that bad of a matchup, at least not after sideboarding Stabilizers in; It’s just long and annoying. The reason I didn’t play a R/W deck was because of the absolute tedium of the mirror match. Cycle this. Cycle that. Bah!
The first game took awhile, but that was just because Lee was reducing my life total in slow two damage intervals. The only things other than Lightning Rift that dealt me damage were my own Flooded Strands and Grand Coliseums.
This has been my standard sideboard plan against any type of slower control deck dependant on Lightning Rift, which could include Slide, Slideless, Counter Rift, Bad Form – and, I guess, Chris Cade’s GGGRRRUUUX monstrosity.
I mulliganed my first hand, and in retrospect, I think I should have kept it. It only had one land (an Island), and an Eternal Dragon, but it also had the all-powerful Stabilizer – the key to winning this matchup. As it was, I went down to six cards, got a decent mix of spells and lands, but lost because I didn’t get a single Stabilizer. His Astral Slides completely owned me this game. I managed to destroy the first one with Akroma’s Vengeance, Stifling Astral Slide”return to play” ability to keep his Exalted Angel permanently removed from the game. That was about the only thing going for me this game. I got a Chromeshell Crab into play to take his Eternal Dragon, but he had a second Astral Slide to nullify it. Like I said, no Stabilizer is bad times in this matchup.
Match record: 2-1
Game record: 4-2
Round Four: Lokman Chen, UB Zombie Bidding
Not much to say about this round. Lokman drew five lands in two games. I didn’t even sideboard for game two.
Match record: 3-1
Game record: 6-2
Round Five: Erik Landriz, Mono-Red Goblins
I sent back my first hand, but like clockwork, my second hand had two Wing Shards just in time to face the little green men. His early assault did manage to get me down to eight with the help of Clickslither, but Exalted Angel came to my rescue and I finished the game at seventeen life.
I made a total fool of myself this game, cycling a Decree of Justice when he had an active Goblin Sharpshooter on the board. I tried to redeem myself by making one less Soldier and Stifling his ping ability, but he had a Gempalm Incinerator in his hand to untap Goblin Sharpshooter and wipe out my Soldiers.
Once again, lady luck shined upon me as this time I had two Silver Knights in my opening hand. Erik came out with a crazy, fourth-turn Rorix Bladewing, sacrificing two Skirk Prospectors and a Goblin Sledder. I took one hit from the dragon legend, but left my mana open next turn for Wing Shards.
This was actually an interesting exchange, as Erik took about two minutes to think about whether to attack or not into my untapped 1WW. Normally, I might have called a judge over because he was taking so long, but being a Goblin match I wasn’t worried about time. I was also amused at the way he stared at me, trying to read my hand. Finally, I said,”If I have it, I have it. If I don’t, I don’t.” He attacked and I played Wing Shards, then he played a Sulfuric Vortex. His own enchantment, combined with my two Silver Knights, finished Erik in short order.
I’m always amused when Goblin decks side in Sulfuric Vortex against me. Between Silver Knight, Exalted Angel, and Windborn Muse, I often have a greater capability to beat down and defend myself at the same time, often making the double-edged sword slightly better for me.
Match record: 4-1
Game record: 8-2
Round Six: Bruce Li, U/R Land Control
I was getting pretty tired at this point, and I failed to make a smart-aleck remark about my opponent’s name being Bruce Li.
Game one took forever. Bruce was playing U/R with Lay Waste and Annex. The game went back and forth. He played Rorix Bladewing. I had Wing Shards. I played an Exalted Angel. Bruce had Starstorm. All the while, he was taking and destroying my lands, and we were countering each other’s spells. Eventually, my deck’s twenty-seven lands overwhelmed his LD and I reached the critical twelve-mana threshold where I could recur and play an Eternal Dragon every turn. No amount of burn and counters could hope to overcome that (well, some amount of burn could, but he wasn’t playing Carbonize). He managed to get a Lightning Rift into play and it became a race; my life went down by twos while his went down by fives. With both of us at five life, Bruce played a second Lightning Rift and cycled a card. I went down to one and was sure I was dead, but for the second time that day my opponent failed to find one more cycling card.
Bruce had Arcanis, the Omnipotent in his deck, and I’m sure he could have won if he had protected it properly. Twice he Starstormed the board clear, failing to return Arcanis to his hand. If he had returned and replayed the Wizard Legend, I’m sure the card advantage would have done me in.
Once again, I went with the standard anti-Lightning Rift sideboard. Meanwhile, Bruce brought in even more LD. On turn three I sacrificed a land to Misguided Rage instead of my face-down creature (Chromeshell Crab). Next turn he played Ark of Blight, which I had the Stifle for. After taking two hits from my face-down creature, Bruce played a face-down creature of his own. He turned it over and revealed Chromeshell Crab. Hilarity ensued as we gave each other Crabs. I Chain of Vapored my Chromeshell Crab (under his control), and he chose to Chain it back to his own Chromeshell Crab. So the same thing happened all over again, except this time I took his Chromeshell Crab while it was still in face-down defensive position, leaving me the ability to take his next monster. This game went long as well, as they tend to do in control matchups when land destruction is involved.
Time was called – and although I had board control, I couldn’t finish him in the five extra turns.
Match record: 5-1
Game record: 9-2-1
Round Seven: James Cobb, UB Zombie Bidding
The first game was a joke. In my testing, I found Zombie Bidding to be a very favorable matchup… But not when they draw three Rotlung Reanimators and two Withered Wretches. James made a pretty common play error this game: He attacked with a Rotlung Reanimator, sacrificed it to my Wing Shards, and then played his second Rotlung in his second main phase. Obviously, if he had played the second Rotlung Reanimator before attacking, he could have gotten an extra token, but the threat of Wing Shards has people attacking first and then playing spells, even when it’s the wrong play.
Game two, I went for the kill with a turn 3 face-down Exalted Angel. It quickly went to work nullifying his attack force, comprised of another three Rotlung Reanimators. This time, he played them correctly.
His friend watching the match started to say something along the lines of”Why didn’t you do that game one?” but I quickly shut him up before he could get it all out. This was an intense match, and I didn’t want to have to call a judge over to hand down a game loss for outside help.
I had brought in the Wipe Cleans in fear of Call to the Grave, but James had a more interesting way to not auto-lose to an early Exalted Angel: During my upkeep, when I put Eternal Dragon’s return to hand ability on the stack, he flipped over his face-down Chromeshell Crab, targeting my Exalted Angel and his Chromeshell Crab. I decided that I didn’t want to have his Crabs, so I calmly Stifled the ability. He played another face-down creature, but it was only a Putrid Raptor – which was good, because I didn’t have a second Stifle. I rode the Exalted Angel to victory and breathed a sigh of relief.
James made an absolutely game-breaking mistake that cost him the game and the match. On his last turn, he played Read the Runes and discarded a bunch of Zombies and lands. He could have Read the Runes on my end step, sacrificed his three Rotlung Reanimators, and attacked me with nine 2/2 Zombie tokens. After game two, James’s friend once again opened his mouth, and said,”Did you have the Read or did you draw it?” James said he had it, confirming his play error.
His friend started to say,”Then why didn’t you-” when my teammate, Taz, came to my rescue. He said,”You need to keep your mouth shut and not comment on the games, or I will call a judge on you.” James’s friend kept his mouth shut for the rest of the match. Thanks, Taz.
Even tough I hadn’t seem any Call to the Graves, I kept my Wipe Cleans in instead of bringing in Chromeshell Crabs of my own. Having his Chromeshell Crab Stifled must have disheartened James, because he only drew two Rotlung Reanimators this game. For those keeping track at home that’s eight Rotlung Reanimators in three games. I went for the early Exalted Angel again and James didn’t have any kind of removal for her. If you play Zombie Bidding, you really need to have Smothers on hand because that turn 3 face-down Exalted Angel will wreck you every time.
This game, Windborn Muse also made an appearance and she definitely earned her keep. Windborn Muse makes it so they can’t attack and play threats at the same time. This keeps a lot of pressure off of your back and allows you to save counterspells for their Patriarch’s Biddings. Thanks to Windborn Muse, James could not attack me as he set up his Read the Runes/Patriarch’s Bidding combo. I Discombobulated his Patriarch’s Bidding and found a second Discombobulate in my top four cards.
Match record: 6-1
Game record: 11-3-1
Round Eight: Alex Aleplin, R/B Goblins
Alex was one of three undefeated players and he offered me a draw. Unfortunately, I had the worst tiebreakers among the 6-1s and I had to play. We sat through a deck check and Alex told me that the draw offer was on the table until lethal damage was on the stack.
The first game was pretty anticlimactic. I got two Silver Knights out early, but he had two Goblin Goons and a Skirk Prospector, making it a very bad idea for me to attack. Eventually he drew into more gas than I could handle (a Siege-Gang Commander, Goblin Warchief, and a Clickslither) while I failed to draw anything. Other than the two Silver Knights, I drew two Eternal Dragons, a Chain of Vapor, and a whole lot of lands.
I left two Stifles in because Alex had Bloodstained Mires and Swamps in his deck – but since he searched for a Mountain with it, I suspected a splash for Smothers instead of a full Goblin Bidding deck. Game two was even less eventful. My opening hand was Island, Plains, two Complicates, Wing Shards, Chain of Vapor, and Windborn Muse. Alex’s first play was a turn 4 Clickslither.
I lost that game. Huh? Am I the worst Magic player ever? No, I just failed to draw a third land.
Facing down a Clickslither, Rorix Bladewing, and Skirk Prospector with seven life and two lands in play, I said,”I offer you a draw, Alex.” All I was thinking about was improving my chances at the half box prize for Top 23, because I honestly didn’t think a draw would get me into the Top 8.
Alex thought about it and accepted the draw. He had me completely beat, but stayed true to his word. As Taz said to him after the match,”That was the most gentlemanly thing I have ever seen.”
Match record: 6-1-1
Game record: 11-3-4 (I’m not sure if this is right, but Alex wrote down 0-0-3 on the result slip.)
At this point, I was ready to grab my half-box and get going, but some of my friends thought I had a very real chance at Top 8. In theory, drawing in the last round against a 6-0-1 might have improved my tiebreakers enough to squeak me in. My friends listened to the Top 8 announcement in anticipation while I just wanted to go home. The judge announced seven names, then…
I looked up in amazement. Taz let out a yelp. Alex’s act of supreme kindness had gotten me into my first Top 8.
Top 8 Quarterfinals: Eric, Mono-Red Goblins
I failed to get Eric last name because they don’t hand out result slips in the Top 8. This was yet another ass-whooping at the hands of Goblins. This game hammered home the point that you really have to draw an Akroma’s Vengeance to beat Goblins. Eric scored style points when he Searing Fleshed my last seven life away. I thanked him for not wiping his butt with the card.
This game was as close as they get. He came out fast, but I managed to hold the fort until an Akroma’s Vengeance. At seven life, I got an Exalted Angel, attacked with her, then played an Eternal Dragon. I thought I had the game in hand, but Eric proved otherwise when he trumped me with his sideboard card. He Threatened my Eternal Dragon, taking away my blocker and dropping me from sixteen to eight. Exalted Angel brought me back to twelve, but Eric played his second Siege-Gang Commander of the game and my Wing Shards wasn’t enough to stop his horde. This was also the only game when I managed to gain life from the Starlight Invoker, making me rethink its value in the sideboard.
Match record: 6-2-1
Game record: 11-5-4
Although I got bounced out in the quarterfinals, I am immensely satisfied with my performance. It was my first Top 8 ever, and I was happy to do it with an original deck designed by our team – even though it is now an established part of the Tier 1 metagame. My opponents were all very friendly, and the only time I had to call a judge over was to confirm whether I could make a certain play or not.
After further testing, I think Starlight Invoker is still a good card – but ironically, it’s good for the control matches, instead of against Goblins. Cabal Interrogators are a new problem, coming out of the sideboards of Zombie Bidding decks. The only decent answers I can think of are Whipcorder and Frozen Solid. I’ve seen R/W decks running Flamewave Invokers against U/W, but I think Chromeshell Crab is a suitable answer. I never used Wipe Clean, but they should stay in the sideboard because many W/x control decks are now running Dragon Scales to make mirror match Eternal Dragon wars more favorable. I found the Decree of Justices to be quite sub-par, but they do have some value in the UW mirror. I could see moving them to the sideboard and main decking more counterspells, or the Wipe Cleans.
And just because Block season is almost over, don’t think you’re done facing Decree of Silence. The deck should be able to make a smooth transition into Type 2. Mana Leak is a great upgrade over Complicate, and having Wrath of God on turn 4 makes Goblins a much easier matchup (although some Akroma’s Vengeances should stay in for Slide matchups). Blinding Angel and Windborn Muse serve similar purposes. The latter is probably still the better choice, especially against Goblins, but if a slower aggro deck pushes its way into the metagame, Blinding Angel could be the better fit. Coastal Tower is a perfect fit for a slow control deck like this one, since the only time you want an untapped mana source on turn 1 is if you have a Stifle in your hand. I might replace Flooded Strands with Coastal Towers because of the danger of running sac lands in the mirror. Ian has even talked about making an Extended version of the deck, combining Decree of Silence with the degenerate Academy Rector. Who knows? Stranger things have happened.