Heh. Time for writing. Once of life’s little luxuries. It’s kind of like toilet paper – you never realize just how much you enjoy it until you don’t have it anymore. Between editing, PTQing, learning to become a ninja (I need real, ultimate power just to deal with the forums these days), and spending some time with my wife, there has been no time for writing. It’s too bad too, because I used to rather enjoy it.
What’s that? It’s in my job description? Well then… no sleep til Brooklyn.
It’s alright, I gotta trunk fulla amps, and I’m locked, cocked, and ready to rock. Today I’m going to bee-bop around The Clock, pop off about the Grand Prix: Anaheim metagame, and I won’t stop until the beat drops.
Tick Tock, Tick Tock
I started out this year’s Extended season by seeing it up-close and personal-style in New Orleans. I usually don’t play Extended (too many old cards I don’t own), but Tinker burrowed up under my skin and started festering. I started gradually collecting the cards I’d need to make a Tinker deck, and kicked off the playtesting process by dragging Jimmy Bean along with me, pissing and moaning all the way.
You wouldn’t believe the amount of lame excuses he gave me.”Idon’thavetime, tooexpensive, lameassformat, playingsolitaire, and toomanydeckstolearn,” were all words he created to try and get me to leave him alone. Such a clever lad, that one is… but I would not be denied.
Good thing he made his first PTQ top 8 ever in last week’s Extended Qualifier, otherwise I might have actually felt bad.
Playtesting began with me trying to learn how to play Kai’s Tinker deck he listed on Brainburst. Tragically, I somehow forgot that Kai no longer plays decks that normal mortals can grok. I was doing alright with the deck, but it felt like I never had anything locked away. I never drew the friggin’ Upheavals unless they were in my opening hand, Bosh always ended up in my damned hand so I couldn’t Tinker for him… I just wasn’t getting it. Even when I did get my win conditions on the board, the win never seemed inevitable.
I’m a sketchy player, people… inevitability of winning is important. One-turn kill? Yes please, thank you!
So, it was time to change decks. The Twiddle-Desire deck was enchanting, but I knew it wasn’t for me. The decisions were too complicated, the chance of fizzling in the hands of a bad player were too high… next deck! James Bean almost ran it but was scared off by a bout of bad hands during testing.
Jim also tested Red Deck Wins for a while, but it always seemed a turn slow. There are ways you can correct this, but we didn’t know it at the time. Besides, who wants to be a Red mage? Not enough style. (Yes, I’m a bad player, but I’m a bad player with style.)
Anyway, to make the beginning of a long story short, I ended up picking The Clock. General consensus pegged it as the best deck of New Orleans, and while it has a lot of decisions to make, it only does one of two things in game 1: It either casts Mindslaver to steal your opponent’s turn and wreck them, or it casts Goblin Charbelcher and kills them. Now these were concepts I could grasp. As they said about [author name="Nate Heiss"]Nate Heiss[/author] in Kansas City: I’m great at screwing up turns!
I ran about fifty goldfish games with the deck and played about fifteen playtest matches with it, read Hamon’s and Labarre’s reports from New Orleans, stole a bunch of cards from Beenie Smith and Tybuc (hmm, maybe I shouldn’t mention that), and got my PTQ on in snowy Roanoke, Virginia.
The top 8 decks from that tournament can be found here. Yes, obviously my name isn’t on there. I went 3-2-1 on the day in spite of (or perhaps because of) completely throwing away my first two match wins to end up with a loss and a draw. The deck performed very well for me, I just sucked for the first two hours of the day. The whole”X-0 the last four or five rounds of the tournament and pray for good tiebreakers” is not a recommended strategy. Yay me or something…
Here’s the decklist I played, which features a couple of minor changes to the maindeck and sideboard from what Hamon and Labarre played in New Orleans.
4 Mana Severance
4 Goblin Charbelcher
4 Grim Monolith
4 Talisman of Dominance
1 Talisman of Progress
3 Chrome Mox
4 Vampiric Tutor
3 Mystical Tutor
1 Gilded Lotus
1 Chain of Vapor
4 Ancient Tomb
4 City of Traitors
4 Polluted Delta
3 Underground River
3 Chill (can be one Propaganda instead)
2 Defense Grid (should be three for the current metagame)
2 Annul (probably should still be Lobotomy)
1 Cursed Totem
1 Engineered Plague
1 Platinum Angel
1 Ensnaring Bridge
1 Steal Artifact
1 Welding Jar
The first thing I did was remove the Rushing River and replace it with Chain of Vapor. Both Nicolas and Yann suggested that change and I concurred. The other change to the maindeck was replacing Thran Dynamo with Gilded Lotus. Hamon said it should probably be another Talisman of Progress, but I found myself in too many situations where I’d rather Tinker away a Grim Monolith for three, resusable colored mana instead of one. After playing it through a tournament, I feel it’s probably the right call, but I think we’re all aware I’m not the Magic player Nic and Yann are.
The other changes came from minor sideboard tweaks. I upped the amount of Chills to three, as I knew there would be more Red Deck Wins running around (though in some ways I still would have rather had the Propaganda), and added two Annuls because a) I couldn’t find any Lobotomy in my boxes, in spite of having two playsets of Invasion commons and uncommons, and b) I liked Annul better. Oh yeah, and I added an Ensnaring Bridge too for random decks that attack with creatures and stuff.
Random Note: I have no idea what the Cursed Totem is in the sideboard for. I mean, I can think of lots of reasons you might use it (Psychatog, Grim Lavamancer, Goblin Welder, Hermit Druid, most of The Rock’s creatures…), but I don’t know why Yann put it in for New Orleans and I never saw occasion to side it in on the weekend.
In my first match of the day I was paired up against a Twiddle-Desire deck. In game 3, I managed to throw away the game not once, but twice. I set myself up for a turn 3 kill by getting a Goblin Charbelcher on the board, with a Mana Severance in hand and five land out (leaving one Blue untapped). The previous turn, I had cast Brainstorm, revealing a land, a Vampiric Tutor, and a Chain of Vapor. Like the true genius I am, I put the Chain back as the bottom card and then shuffled it away. My opponent, of course, Tinkered for his Damping Matrix on the next turn to make sure I couldn’t kill him.
My second huge mistake was when I didn’t Stifle a Mind’s Desire for six spells, instead preferring to save it for Tendrils of Agony… which of course let him go off, find another Desire and two Tendrils, and kicked my day off with a rousing 0-1 start.
Like I said, the deck was putting me in positions to win, I just wasn’t seeing them. Hi, my name is Ted Knutson, and I’m still a bad player.
In my second match (again in game 3), I was playing a relatively new Tog player by the name of Justin. Justin had a freshly-cast Counterspell-On-A-Stick (Isochron Scepter) on the board (as well as one with Fire / Ice imprinted) with three mana open. I had already pushed through a Mana Severance, and had been waiting for an opportunity where he might not be able to counter two spells in a turn, so this was my chance.
I untapped with fourteen mana available. I then cast Goblin Charbelcher (which was, of course, Counterspelled,) and pumped the fist as I was able to sneak a Mindslaver onto the board and sacrifice it, stealing his turn so I could wreck him (I’ll tell you the Mindslaver story in a little bit). Woot!
What’s that you say? I should have cast the Mindslaver to bait the Counterspell first? Because then I can just cast the Charbelcher and activate it, winning on the spot as long as he doesn’t have an Annul? Hmph… well then. It’s possible I could be worse, but at that moment, I wasn’t sure exactly how. Anyway, I wrecked him, but then didn’t draw any action until time was called, by which time he had rebuilt his hand and we were both saddled with a draw.
I managed to play reasonably well for the rest of the day, but lost again in Round 5 to Red Deck Wins, thus ending my day of contention. 3-2-1 with the potential to be 5-1 suggests The Clock is a great deck that needs a slightly better player to pilot it.
I’ll confess, one of the reasons I wanted to play a Tinker deck was so I could create my own Mindslaver stories. I only had two on the day, which may mean I didn’t play things quite correctly (yeah, I think I covered that already), but the two I had were rather amusing.
The first one came in Round 3 against Lee Sears. After he wrecked me in game 1 with four Goblin Welders and stoopid Tangle Wire tricks, I played a second-turn Engineered Plague in game 2 and quickly smacked him around. In game 3, I again got a Plague on the board, but he got an early Bosh, Iron Golem for himself that looked troubling until I plucked a Tinker, Tinkered into the Slaver, and stole his next turn. For those of you reading this at home, feel free to play along (and for those of you at work, make sure you have Excel open, so that you can ctrl-tab over to it in a picosecond).
Lee’s Board: City of Traitors, Ancient Tomb, City of Brass, Shivan Reef, Bosh, Iron Golem
Lee’s Hand: City of Traitors, Mindslaver, 2 Rack and Ruin, Lightning Greaves, Shivan Reef
I’ll let you think about that for a few moments as I continue on with what I was thinking at the time.
Looking at that hand, I was trying to figure out a way in which I could get rid of the Rack and Ruins while still chucking Bosh at his head, but it just wouldn’t work. Instead, I noticed the word”Instant” on the Rack and Ruin, and said,”Hey, that stacks!” I generated eight mana (two of it Red), cast Lightning Greaves, then stacked the first Rack and Wreck on Bosh and the Greaves, and cast the other one, leaving him with a hand of Mindslaver (with only six mana on the board), and a Shivan Reef. Good times…
My second story is the one I already glossed over where I inadvertently went for Mindslaver instead of notching another win. My opponent’s hand was pretty ridiculous this time.
Justin’s Board: Seven lands (?), Isochron Scepter Imprinting Fire/Ice, Isochron Scepter Imprinting Counterspell
Justin’s Hand: Intuition, 2 Chrome Mox, Cunning Wish, Mana Leak, some Land
“Whoa, this is nuts,” I said, trying to think of how to maximize the carnage. I kicked things off by casting Intuition for three Psychatogs. Two went to the graveyard and one was Imprinted on a Chrome Mox. There go the win conditions!
Next I cast Cunning Wish, looking for a Rack and Ruin out of his sideboard, but I was stymied (he didn’t have any!) and had to choose a measly Shattering Pulse instead. How awful. I Shattered his Counterspell-Scepter and finished things off by Imprinting the Mana Leak on the other Mox, Firing Justin, and tapping the last of his lands. Good times…
Minus the fact that I should have won the game on my turn instead. Frown.
Where’s the Beatdown?
As I wrote earlier, The Clock is a great deck. It’s remarkably consistent, it mulligans well, it kills on turn 3 about 50% of the time if played perfectly, and it’s relatively hate-resistant. That said, it’s not the fastest deck in Extended, and there are some times that you actually do need to think about how to control your opponent, or stop your opponent from controlling you.
The Clock is obviously a combo deck. What combo decks typically do is play out their pieces as quickly as possible, and minimize the amount of time their opponent has to find answers. That’s standard operating procedure for The Clock against most decks too. The deck essentially has eleven tutors to fish out whatever spells it needs in addition to four copies each of the combo pieces. Welcome to the wonderful world of redundancy.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of other combo decks in the environment, so figuring out how you are supposed to be playing the deck isn’t always obvious.
There is one card that I hated to see played against me more than any other. Playing around this card is possible, but it exposes your kill conditions to removal, which is a little dangerous. Not playing around this card will almost always result in a win for your opponent. That one card is…
If the silly thing came down on turn 3, it wouldn’t be that big a deal, but most of the decks running it can get it down on turn 2 without much difficulty. If they do so and you don’t already have a Charbelcher on the board, you will be in serious trouble. And if a second Wire hits the table? Just pack it in kids, because you ain’t winning.
Yes, Energy Flux sucks, and Rack and Ruin is problematic, but both of those are sideboard cards (besides, I found you can often play around Rack and Wreck if you need to… they have to have two artifacts to target, and you don’t have to play a second artifact until you are ready to win). Tangle Wire, on the other hand, leeches away your tempo, locks down your ability to finish off your combo, and gives your opponent more than enough time to take control of the game. Since you have very few non-mana permanents, there isn’t much you can do to work around it, short of tutoring for Chain of Vapor and bouncing the Wire at the appropriate time.
It took me a while to figure out how to deal with it effectively, but I finally came to the conclusion that against decks packing the Wire, you need to get a Belcher out as fast as possible. This reduces your mana-costs to go off and can give you another permanent to tap. Yes, this exposes a Charbelcher to maindeck Pillages and the like, but you are the combo deck. You ask the questions, make your opponent find the answers.
There’s one notable deck where that plan changes. Twiddle-Desire. The Clock goes off by turn 3 about 50% of the time. Twiddle-Desire goes off by turn 2 about 37% of the time, and over 70% of the time by turn 3. That means they are faster than you by almost a full turn.
In game 1 there’s nothing you can do about it. You have no Stifles or Annuls to try and disrupt them, so you just play your game as fast as possible and hope to get lucky. It’s not like they can disrupt you either…
Game 2 is where some minor strategy comes in. You always want to have a Stifle in hand and untapped Blue mana for turn 2. You’ve got seven ways to tutor for the thing, so it shouldn’t be that difficult to get. From there you play the game scared the whole time (not unlike an Affinity deck trying to work around Akroma’s Vengeance), and get your combo out as fast as you can while trying to make sure they don’t crush you.
The other thing I started doing was putting Platinum Angel into play as early as possible, making the Desire player find an additional answer somewhere along the way. It’s not a perfect solution, but I felt you had to do something here, as losing the turn before I went off was getting tiresome.
As a final note, don’t forget not to shuffle away your Chain of Vapor, as they will sideboard in Damping Matrix, and goshdarnit if that doesn’t make it a little harder to win. (At some point I will stop flogging myself, but that point has not yet been reached.)
So, in spite of having no cards that actually beat down, you are the beatdown in nearly all of your match-ups. Play like you have juevos, even if you are female.
Match-ups and Sideboarding
I’m writing this article because I don’t think Hamon and Labarre did much to explain how to play the deck. Playing real matches is a little more complicated than merely goldfishing [Thank you, Captain Obvious! – Knut, breaking the fourth wall], and the metagame has changed significantly from what they experienced in New Orleans. Therefore, I’m going to provide you examples of how I have been playing the deck against the rest of the field, which you can accept or discard as you see fit.
Tangle Wire is probably the biggest pain in the ass here (Duress can nail it early, but that’s it), while Goblin Welder in the Stax version runs a close second. In game 1, you have to go out there and do your thang and hope they can’t affect it. It’s a little complicated against the CMU version of Tinker, because if you get your combo out and can’t use it yet, they are going to Tinker for Mindslaver and kill you. There’s not much you can do about that…
Against decks packing Tangle Wire, get the Charbelcher first and then work for the Severance/activate Belcher turn.
Your sideboarding plan changes depending on which version of Tinker you are facing. For Stax I tossed in two Annuls, Steal Artifact, and Engineered Plague. Your first play is to grab a Plague and then go to work. The monstrously stoopid things your opponent can do with active Goblin Welders don’t really need describing, but in case you don’t understand what I’m talking about, read this.
Since I didn’t have Lobotomy, I used the Annuls to counter Metalworkers and Wires. I got lucky once at the PTQ, when my opponent (playing Stax) tried to cast an early Platinum Angel with Lightning Greaves on the table and found me holding an unexpected Annul. I doubt you will have that sort of success.
Against normal Tinker decks, leave out the Plague and consider bringing in Stifle to stop Myr Incubators and Mindslavers. God help them if someone is silly enough to still be packing Phyrexian Processor or Phyrexian Colossus.
Figuring out what to side out is the hard part in this deck. Usually you end up taking out a Mystical Tutor, a Mox, a Charbelcher, and maybe the Talisman of Progress, but taking out part of your fast mana base is dangerous. Hamon was always taking out Thran Dynamo, and it could be that you sideboard out the Lotus, but whenever I did that in testing I found myself wishing I still had it around.
Hi, welcome to the mirror match. Which one of you tested more? Oh you did? Good. Did you draw Duress? Flip a coin anyway and see who wins. Bring in Annul/Lobotomy, Steal Artifact, and Stifle (buying one turn is a huge deal). Play for the win, but always be on the lookout for an opportunity to Tinker up a Mindslaver and kill your opponent with his own cards.
Red Deck Wins
In testing this was a pretty easy match-up, as they were always a turn too slow. Then the geniuses who decided to splash Green came along and changed all that. You aren’t going to see a turn 2 Pillage without some bad luck, but turn 2 Rack and Ruin can happen and turn 2 Naturalize (after sideboarding) is a breeze.
All RDW wants to do is lay an early beater, toss down a Tangle Wire, and wait for Jackal Pups to gnaw your legs off. The indignity of that is pretty, um, indignitous or something.
All you can do in game 1 is throw your balls against the wall and play for the earliest win possible. Oh, and draw an early Duress too. Ignore the idea that they might Pillage your win condition and go for it… usually they’ll have a total of two or three draw steps to draw what they need before you kill them, so use that to your advantage (and don’t be afraid to kill their little beaters with a Belcher while you are waiting to get out from under Tangle Wire).
After sideboarding, RDW becomes a hate-filled machine. Pillage hurts, Rack and Ruin is awful, Naturalize is unaffected by Chill, but Tangle Wire still hurts most of all. I’ve been sorely tempted to board in Annuls – that’s how much it hurts – but have thus far been able to resist the temptation. Instead I’ve been bringing in the three Chills, the Welding Jar, and doing a little religious work on the side. I don’t know how you are supposed to win games 2 and 3 through that much hate without a bit of luck or some divine intervention…
In game 1 you both play Solitaire and see which one can go off first. Feel free to bring a GameBoy or something for their turns (okay, that’s illegal, but some entertainment would be nice), as they will be long and the only thing you have to do during that period of time is draw seven new cards when they cast Diminishing Returns. See who wins and shuffle up for game 2. (If you do actually get to cast Duress, you should take Tinker, Mind’s Desire, or Diminishing Returns.)
Sideboarding should include Steal Artifact, Platinum Angel, and Stifles. Boarding out Mystical Tutors is a little iffy, as you need as many cards that help you access Stifle by turn 2 as possible. Do take out a Charbelcher, the lone Talisman of Progress, a Mox, and probably the Lotus. Paris unless you have a way to access Stifle by turn 2 or can cast Duress on the first two turns. Once your opening hand is set, play your game a little scared and Stifle Desires whenever they are cast. Try to be a good player and don’t shuffle away Chain of Vapor, because they sided Damping Matrix in, and you might need to deal with it.
Game 1 favors you unless they get a very good draw. You can do all sorts of broken things with your mana to work around Mana Leaks, so from there it becomes a question of,”Do they have Counterspell/Annul, or don’t they?” Duress should help you figure this out. Because many Tog decks are running at least two Annul straight up, Tinker becomes a more valuable card here, so make sure you play like it.
This is the one match-up where you really want to have Lobotomy in your sideboard instead of Annul (and you want three Defense Grids now too, but that was a metagame call that I got right, as I was expecting a lot of RDW). Hamon (rightly) tells you to bring in the Grids, Lobotomies, Steal Artifact, and Platinum Angel in place of Gilded Lotus, three Mystical Tutors, a Chrome Mox, and Chain of Vapor.
If you play smart here, prioritize your threat cards properly, and say the secret code word, the match-up remains in your favor.
Seething Gobvantage and Food Chain Goblins
I playtested against both of these decks, but I don’t think we really understood either of the Goblin decks well enough to play them correctly. Therefore all I can do is parrot what the Frenchman said and tell you to put in the Chills, Welding Jar, Platinum Angel, and Propaganda, and win the turn before they do.
I love the deck, I really do. It’s so strong that it puts even bad players in a position to win… they just have to realize a win is available to them. That doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement, but it should be. It translates to,”Bad players can win with the deck, but good players can qualify.” (Though the Chinese seem to translate it to”May you live in interesting times,” which I can’t really explain.)
Even with all the Tinker hate out there, I’d definitely play this deck at a qualifier. The decisions are complex, but not overwhelmingly so, as long as you aren’t sleepwalking through your first two matches like I was. It gets stoopid”I win” draws with regularity, and the sideboard options are pretty versatile for a Combo deck. The only decks I really don’t want to see across the table from me are Twiddle-Desire, Kibler’s Silver Bullets deck, and Red Deck Wins with a splash of Green (and that’s only after sideboarding). In a metagame that runs about ten decks deep right now, that’s not too shabby.
The Grand Prix: Anaheim Metagame
Looking at reports from PTQs and Grand Prix Trials over the last month makes me believe this Grand Prix is going to be wide open in terms of what the field is playing. Early GPTs were dominated by Red Deck Wins, but the metagame has shifted a bit since then. These days most qualifiers see a very diverse field of deck choices, with Tinker and its variations still leading the way, but no longer comprising more than half the field. Here’s how I see things breaking down for Anaheim and PTQs for the rest of the season:
- The majority of Pros are probably going to play one of three decks: Psychatog, Twiddle Desire (with Burning Wish), or The Clock. These decks allow the Pros to maximize their play skill advantage, while wielding counterspells, or bludgeoning their opponents with lightning-fast decks that give them as few turns as possible to find answers.
- The rest of the field is up in the air. A lot of non-pros are going to run The Clock and Twiddle Desire as well, but I can see people metagaming with Red/g Deck Wins, Food Chain Goblins, or Angry Hermit, as those decks are all fast enough to get under the problems the above decks will create. Last weekend’s StarCity qualifier saw at least six participants playing six different deck types (though about forty percent of the field still had Tinker somewhere in their deck).
All of this leads me to believe Anaheim will really branch out, and while half the people in the field may be running decks with Tinker in them, they will be spread out among the different versions. Combine that with a lot of RDW and Goblin players, a few Hermit players, a few Rock players, and a slew of people running rogue creations, and you will have a very tough field to metagame.
Day 2 is going to include a bunch of pros playing Tog, Twiddle, and The Clock, but will also include a substantial number of RDW decks. At least I think it will. It’s been a while since I’ve been wrong about an open metagame, so I’m probably due for a big slip-up here.
I hope you enjoyed hearing about my gaffes and blunders as I stumble through the Extended season, and best of luck at the Grand Prix or your local qualifiers.
The Holy Kanoot
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