Chatter of the Squirrel – My Nationals

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Wednesday, August 6th – A stampeding herd of buffalo. The thunderous rhythm of Hannibal’s army storming through the Pyrenees. Volcanic eruptions. Supernovae. I would fancy each of these a “loud thing,” but only because, prior to this past weekend at Nationals, I had yet to room with Grand Prix: Indianapolis Top 8 competitor Ben Rasmussen.

A stampeding herd of buffalo. The thunderous rhythm of Hannibal’s army storming through the Pyrenees. Volcanic eruptions. Supernovae. I would fancy each of these a “loud thing,” but only because, prior to this past weekend at Nationals, I had yet to room with Grand Prix: Indianapolis Top 8 competitor Ben Rasmussen. Man. The snores coming from that man’s nose and throat were like the calls of Cthulhu… seductive, horrifying, and altogether alien -seductive in the sense that they begged one to inquire, “how in the hell exactly can the human respiratory apparatus create that noise without violating at least one known law of physics?” and horrifying because, after five minutes, you were unequivocally certain that it could. The excess pillows Hyatt felt to bestow upon me were hurled like ballast in vain attempts to silence the beast, but they only stoked the flames of his fury.

I must have woken up at least a dozen times between both Thursday and Friday night, hurling curses fouler and fouler, and certainly ones inappropriate to repeat on this, a family website. Oh momma, I never thought that I was a murdering man, but those nights I was on my way, two hours to Nats and 4:48 in the AM and you’d better believe I was well on my way…

I’ll blame that in part for my worst mistake of the tournament, an improperly-chosen Thoughtseize predicated around an entire plan of casting a Wren’s Run Vanquisher on turn 2, only to notice after the card was chosen that I didn’t in fact have another Elf card in my hand. The awkward. On the upside, it started Sam Black out 3-0, and we see how that worked out. In fact, two of my five losses came from members of the 2008 American National Team, and two more came from well-established Pros, so all things considered it was a good tournament. Any other event in the history and my 24th-place would have cashed. Alas, Nationals isn’t what it used to be – as Antonino pulled no punches in emphasizing, his $25,000 check proudly having been cashed a good long while ago – and we’re left to fend for scraps.

No Pro Points, even! Shotgun getting to Berlin!

But this “tournament report,” of sorts, isn’t about all that. I drafted fine, but unexcitingly, and I played fine, but unexcitingly, and my result was fine, but unexciting. Riveting.

The deck, on the other hand:

Chevy Elves

(Yes, Chevy. Because it is.)

4 Llanowar Elves
1 Boreal Druid
4 Profane Command
4 Wren’s Run Vanquisher
4 Imperious Perfect
3 Civic Wayfinder
2 Chameleon Colossus
4 Nameless Inversion
3 Slaughter Pact
4 Thoughtseize
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Gilt-Leaf Palace
4 Llanowar Wastes
3 Mutavault
4 Treetop Village
4 Forest
3 Swamp
1 Pendelhaven

3 Sudden Spoiling
3 Kitchen Finks
3 Primal Command
1 Chameleon Colossus
1 Faerie Macabre
4 Squall Line

Adrian Sullivan proved, with this machine that qualified Ben Rasmussen at Regionals, ground Adrian in, and carried Sam to the finals, that he’s still every bit the genius that he used to be. I have never been so confident in a deck I’ve taken to a tournament, with one or two possible exceptions that involved casting Gifts Ungiven for Tron pieces, and certainly never have I been this confident in a Standard deck. Perhaps that’s linked to my having actually tested for Nats quite a bit – thanks, Madison – but I can confidently assert that every one of the seventy-five cards in this list were correct. I’m sure Adrian will write a primer on the subject sometime this week, and I don’t want to steal his thunder. But some quick answers to some quick questions:

1) The deck has too much removal.

No, it doesn’t.

Nice answer.

Okay, the long way. Nameless Inversion is, frequently, Char. It seems really bad to play it that way until you start thinking about Elves the way you need to, which is that it’s really a Red Deck in disguise. It may or may not be a better Red Deck than the Jacob-and-Japanese-esque Ashenmoor Gouger decks, but it’s still a Red Deck. To wit: it has an excellent mana curve, a critical amount of raw aggression, a smattering of disruption, and TONS of range. Four Profane Commands may not seem like that much range until you realize that with any sort of board presence established, that card just kills you, and without said presence it turns the best creature in your graveyard into a Nekrataal. The reason you run four is that the only thing better than one Profane Command is two of them. To give you an idea of how severely the presence of four copies of that card can change a matchup, I was actually running 50/50 game-1s against Brian Kowal’s Reveillark purely because he had no way to beat me when I drew two of them.

So even though you have eleven “removal spells,” only three of them exclusively kill stuff. And those three do it for zero mana.

2) This deck isn’t all that different from Gindy’s, so why are you calling it “Chevy Elves”…?

When I was testing for Hollywood, I was beating all the other Elf decks. Then I played against Adrian and kept getting Slaughter Pacted and, in a shockingly correlated fashion, kept losing. I’ll leave the “is the build better or worse than…” questions to Adrian, but you can’t just say that because a list is four or five cards different from the “conventional wisdom” that it is somehow not innovative. Put Gifts in Tron or Necro in Illusions-Donate or Counterbalance in Flash and you have yourself a completely different deck. Independent of who gets credit for the design – that doesn’t really matter – you’re willfully remaining ignorant of the intricacies of a matchup if you undercut the importance of every single card.

3) You need some hate for Swans

You have some. It’s called Sudden Spoiling, and it’s completely boss. I understand that it has to sit in your hand where it’s vulnerable, but you don’t have the sideboard space for a bunch of artifacts or enchantments that they have the tools to deal with anyway. More importantly, though, you plan to beat Swans strategically. Your clock is blistering fast, you have disruption, and you’re running creature removal anyway.

Okay, that’s out of the way.

I want to spend the rest of this article answering some questions – questions about my favorite topic, me! Reason being I’ve been asked a bunch lately about my plans for Malaysia, whether I’m “quitting,” what my role in the Magic community is going to be, etc. Moreover, I’ve devoted an equally intense amount of time to the subject – which I’m sure doesn’t surprise anybody – and I want to say emphatically that I’m still going to be slinging cards in Malaysia. Indeed, there are three Grand Prix in range! I’ve received an overwhelming amount of support from the KL Magic community that I never would have anticipated in a million years, and it’s comforting on an altogether incommunicable level that I’ll have a community of people in which to immerse myself upon my arrival. My roommates – three other Luce Scholars – have been talking lately about our fears, our anxieties that have started to bubble up as our departure becomes more imminent. Entirely foreign places absent any of our friends and families. The possible dissolution of friendships and relationships that we’ve taken great care to foster and build up – after all, a year is a long time, despite the myriad assurances that everything will remain the same. Anxiety over our ability to accomplish what we’ve all promised to accomplish, with the good name of a very prestigious Foundation at risk should we stumble, and the faith and trust of our Recommendors disappointed. The continued stress of language. But through it all I’ve recognized that I possess a tremendous advantage, an advantage that Magic alone has blessed me with: a little segment of my world, even the smallest sliver, allowing some sense of normalcy to persist no matter where I am or what I’m doing.

I hope desperately to make Berlin, and should I qualify, Worlds in Memphis. Any doubt I’ve had over the dissolution of my competitive fire has been squelched. I want it again, if ever I did stop. This game has given me networks, safety nets in the world’s furthest corners and amazing friends impossibly close to home. Even as I facebook Grgur in Croatia I know I can waltz down the street exactly one block to Cube Draft with Sam (and hopefully drink beer out of his Nationals trophy, Cheon-style). Every time I even start to forget these people and places, I chat with StarWarsKid for two and a half hours about everything from the role of art in people’s lives to the psychology of effective leaders to how exactly to incorporate as many Joker quotes as possible into the flavor text of Magic cards. Every time I grow comfortable, as I had in Memphis, with the Magic-less hemisphere of my life, I eat pizza and drink beer with Steve Sadin and Jacob van Lunen two days in a row and marvel at the tremendous diversity of the human experience. Then I have a couple more beers and start to stake out team drafts with the tenacity of a preying hawk (and the elegance of whatever mouse it’s stalking, I’m sure). It’s all part of the experience, and I can’t imagine leaving any of it. Not yet. Not now.

After all, I still need to win a Pro Tour.

I want to close with some thoughts on Draft, specifically what needs to happen for you to 3-0 a pod. In my four non-tournament drafts on the weekend, and most of my practice drafts in Madison, I’ve 2-1-ed the pod rather consistently. This is great when you’re team drafting but insanely bad when you’re trying to win Nationals. Fortunately, I managed to 3-0 my second Nats pod, leaving me in reasonable shape for a Top 8 if only I could have dodged the impossible Zur matchup from Gadiel. But, in talking to the Madison crew and looking at the decks that swept pods, I’m noticing an overwhelming tendency towards mono-colored creations. I know several of the New York crew prefer these wacky three-color manabases that exploit hybrid synergies as a kind of uber-manafixing, but every time I’ve navigated the waters deftly enough to draft a single-color strategy that doesn’t sacrifice card-quality I’ve wound up with a machine that was leagues beyond anything else the rest of my table could offer. Moreover, I’ve noticed (and Michael Jacob can probably confirm this, with the twelve Eventide spells from his first draft pod) that your best decks get maximum mileage out of the third pack. One of the means of doing this is to capitalize on the powerful Eventide God enchantments, especially Clout of the Dominus which is presently highly underrated, but there are other means as well. For example, if you’re R/G, do you realize that access to B/G hybrid spells allows your Sootstoke Kindlers to give the majority of your creatures Haste? Synergies like this abound if you look for them. Look for opportunities to maximize your Shadowmoor Scarecrows with Eventide overlaps – like my Mono-Red control deck in draft that routinely controlled 2/4 Watchwings with Flying and Vigilance.

Also, and I know I always say this, but maximize the value out of your late picks in Shadowmoor. That’s clearly obvious, but to take one example: if there’s nothing exciting in a pack of Shadowmoor, grab a Manamorphose or a Fate Transfer if you can. Why? Because with two Manamorphose and a Flame Jab, Hotheaded Giant goes from unplayable 15th-pick to tremendously undercosted monster. And with some Fate Transfers, not only do Chainbreakers allow you to round out your mana curve while enabling a removal spell in a removal-light format, they turn your Canker Abominations and Hatchlings into newly-sprung impossibly-giant monsters (note that the Giant and the Transfer can frequently work well together, also). You may not always be able to mise Jacob van Lunen’s 4 Manamorphose, 3 Hotheaded Giant, 4 Giantbaiting Mono-Red monstrosity, but you’ll get some extra mileage you previously had no idea could exist.

Until next week, citizens…