Constructed Criticism – Alabama States

SCG 10k St. Louis Offers First Chances to Qualify for the 2010 StarCityGames.com Invitational!
Monday, December 7th – Todd has a disappointing States tournament in Alabama, falling at the final hurdle. However, with the StarCityGames.com $10K Open weekend in St. Louis in mere days, Standard is all important, and tournament results power the metagame going forward…

This year, my States tournament began just like every other States tournament: waking up at a reasonable hour. Every year I’ve attended States, I haven’t had to drive more than a few hours to get to my destination, which is pretty lucky considering the size of some of our States. I had firmly decided upon Jund as my deck, since it has performed considerably better than any other archetype this season, and I felt like I had a really good list. After winning a few 4-Round tournaments on Magic Online, and making Top 8 of a Premier Event, I felt like my deck was strong enough to take down Alabama States. Time for a repeat!

After waking around 7am, I got showered and dressed while Kali finished getting ready. Our friend Edward showed up around 8am, and we headed to Tuscaloosa for the “big day!” Kali still wasn’t sure what she wanted to play, and we were going to have to borrow most of the deck from one of our friends regardless of what she decided upon. Spread ‘Em and Nissa Green were her two top choices, since she thought Spreading Seas was a good archetype, and people had forgotten about the Nissa Green deck. I’m pretty sure that few people were going to maindeck Earthquake at States, and I was right. When we arrived at the site in Tuscaloosa, there were a few things we discovered. One was that the dealer didn’t have Convincing Mirage, and the other was that lunch was going to be catered by Popeye’s Chicken. Mise. For those of you who have never had Popeye’s Chicken, you should.

After some scrounging around for decks to borrow, Kali decided that Spread ‘Em was what she wanted to play, but mostly because she fantasized about wearing a hot-cop outfit and yelling “Spread ‘Em, Punk!” at all of her opponents. It was something to behold, and we all had a good laugh. Luckily for me, she had not worn a hot-cop outfit to the tournament today, but everyone else missed out on something wonderful. We got most of the cards, and luckily found some Convincing Mirages in a pile of M10 cards we had busted, as well as a friend who had happened to play a really cool Spreading Seas deck at FNM featuring Sigil of the Empty Throne. He was more than happy to contribute to Kali’s deck. We got some cool sideboard cards for her (specifically Hedron Crab and Lorthos, the Tidemaker for Turbo Fog) since we couldn’t afford Baneslayer Angels, and she was ready to go.

When our friends showed up, we also found out that not a single person had extra Masters of the Wild Hunt. I had sold about 6 of them to dealers at Worlds since Kali’s ATM card got eaten and we needed money. Luckily I scooped a few from my friend Chris Donaldson who had some hidden away at the back of his binder. He wasn’t using them so I was good to go. Our tournament began with 46 players. Let me repeat: 46 players. But we knew exactly why, and there wasn’t anything we could really do about it. Let me tell you a little story about Alabama Football:

Alabama Football is something sacred in the State of Alabama. It has sparked many a rivalry, caused countless fights, and is the leading reason for alcoholism in people between the ages of 19-30. This year, Alabama was undefeated in the regular season and the SEC Championship was on the same day as States. For every other State (besides Florida, who was in the same game), this day was no big deal. However, for Magic players who are Alabama fans, this meant some real tension between deciding whether or not to watch the game or play Magic. Luckily for me and some friends of mine, there was a gigantic television in the dealer room, so I was able to watch the game between rounds. On top of everything, States was in Tuscaloosa, the heart of where the team normally played. Why would you play Magic when you can get hammered in a bar or at a party? That was the mentality of like 4-6 people I know who would normally have gone to States. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. All States were on the same day, but ours just happened to occur on the same day as the most important game for Alabama fans in six years. Even I, the defending Champion, almost opted to stay home and hang out with friends.

Back to the tournament… We started with 46 players, and the sharks in the room started to look hungry. I felt confident about my chances, and we were off. Here was the list I decided upon:

The maindeck is similar to the one that placed second at Worlds. I really liked the list, and felt like the maindeck was almost superb. After testing, I decided that 2 Oran-Rief, the Vastwood was just one too many. You need all of your multicolored lands in order to fluidly cast your spells, so cutting one of those was out of the question. Oran-Rief is really good, but you rarely want two in your opener, and draws can be awkward if you draw Oran-Rief and a Forest in your seven.

The sideboard is tuned to help you beat Boros, the mirror, Spread ‘Em, and random control decks. Jund Charm has multiple functions, and deserves the three slots it takes up. It is sick against Boros, and can double as the dagger in the heart of any “Dredge” deck. It came in more times than any other card in testing, since every aggressive deck was vulnerable to it on turn 3. Additionally, Harm’s Way is becoming worse and worse, so Jund Charm is becoming much better.

Malakir Bloodwitch seems pretty obvious, but I can honestly say this creature really surprised me in testing. Malakir Bloodwitch is a multi-purpose card that is definitely MVP against any aggressive White deck, halts Baneslayer Angel, and can even be brought in against matchups where your removal is mediocre or horrible (I’m looking at you, Turbofog). There are very few removal spells that kill Bloodwitch in the format, and I nearly considered maindecking her over Broodmate Dragon, since she comes down a full turn sooner, which is incredibly important in the mirror match, where Goblin Ruinblaster is taking care of business on your lands. However, Broodmate Dragon always proved superior, so it obviously stayed. It is definitely something to think about though, since I was considering playing her over the Twin Dragons.

Goblin Ruinblaster is a tried and true tempo phenomenon, blowing out mirrors everywhere. Winning Game 1 of the Jund mirror match is so important, simply because this guy can put the game away before it ever begins if you are on the play in Game 3. If you only draw one source of a color that is a non-basic land (which happens incredibly too often), then Goblin Ruinblaster literally ends the game on the spot if cast early enough. I don’t think anyone questions playing Goblin Ruinblaster, if only whether or not they want to play 2-3 in the maindeck. After scouting the room, I saw a few of the better players running Turbofog and random control decks, so I decided to run 2 Thought Hemorrhage, even though I honestly don’t know if they are necessary in a tougher tournament, since most people have conceded the fact that aggro decks are dominant in this format.

Harrow is a card that I’ve come to really love after only a few matches of playing it. I actually can’t beat Spread ‘Em with a regular Jund list, but Harrow gives you that window of opportunity to turn up the pressure. If you can Harrow in response to a Spreading Seas, you can keep them from drawing a card, as well as turning off one of their LD spells, and get any missing colors you need. Additionally, Harrow is functionally better than removal in the mirror match, since the only things that matter are resource management and card advantage. Goblin Ruinblaster is amazing, and Harrow can effectively nullify his power, as well as accelerating you into a faster Broodmate Dragon.

Now, to the tournament itself!

Round 1 against Grixis Control

Game 1 I keep an opener with Putrid Leech, Sprouting Thrinax, Bloodbraid Elf, and lands. He uses Terminate to kill my Leech, and Burst Lightning to take care of the Elf. However, the Blightning I cascaded into put him in a tough spot. After taking some damage, he fails to draw Cruel Ultimatum to recover and he dies quickly.

Game 2 I side in Ruinblaster since I saw a lot of Drowned Catacombs, Dragonskull Summits, and Crumbling Necropolis. He plays 3 lands but stalls out, and the game is just over after I cast Goblin Ruinblaster and destroy his Crumbling Necropolis. After the game, he shows me his hand full of Goblin Ruinblasters, which would have put me really far behind had he drawn a fourth land.

Round 2 against Jacerator/Fog

Game 1 I keep a pretty good hand, and use an early Maelstrom Pulse to put out his Howling Mine fire. He fails to present anything else relevant, and dies pretty quickly to 2/2 Thrinax tokens courtesy of Oran-Rief, the Vastwood after a great Day of Judgment. Blightning didn’t hurt either.

Game 2 he mixes it up on me, and sides in Baneslayer Angel. Early on he landed a Howling Mine and Jace, and I opted to Maelstrom Pulse his Jace, since it was actually a win condition, and I had no pressure in play yet. Mid-game he dropped Baneslayer Angel, but I drew infinite gas off his Howling Mine. I had sided out all of my spot removal (except for Lightning Bolt), but luckily I sided in Malakir Bloodwitch. He couldn’t deal with the Bloodwitch I drew, and couldn’t afford to attack since I had multiple Leeches and Sprouting Thrinaxes (with an Oran-Rief looming) for a lethal counter-attack. He used a Flashfreeze to counter a lethal Lightning Bolt, but I played Bloodbraid Elf and cascaded into Lightning Bolt to seal the deal.

Round 3 against RW Planeswalker Control

My opponent seemed incredibly relaxed, and looking to have a good time. He is the type of player who usually plays casual Magic, but States brought him into a more competitive environment. This is the essence of States!

Game 1 I get in a bit of trouble, since he sticks a second turn Luminarch Ascension on the play. I get my first two creatures removed from play via Path to Exile and Lightning Bolt, and the Ascension looks to get into lethal range. However, I draw a Bloodbraid Elf, and he starts to run out of removal. I continue to pour out creatures, and try to run over his Elspeth soldiers, and end up getting him for just lethal with double Lightning Bolt before he is able to Ultimate his Elspeth. He comments after the game that he wished he drew his Conqueror’s Pledge, so I happily side in Jund Charm.

Game 2 is much better for him, as his first two plays are White Knight and Devout Lightcaster. I didn’t have an aggressive draw, and my Malakir Bloodwitch in hand might have to go all the way. Luckily, I draw a Bloodbraid Elf and cascade into a Sprouting Thrinax, which forces him to keep his guys on defense. Malakir Bloodwitch enters play soon after, and does him 20 damage.

Round 4 against Jund

My opponent is a friend of ours from Huntsville, Phil Smith. Since the tournament is only 6 rounds, he offers the draw. After this round, we only had to win one of the next two matches, so it should have been a no-brainer. However, pride gets the best of me and I decide I want to battle. The winner should be a lock for Top 8, and I didn’t really want to risk anything.

Game 1 starts with me taking a trip to Paris for the first time all tournament. I consider my options, and sheepishly tell Phil I’ll take the draw now. I know he isn’t going to accept it, and he doesn’t. His hand must be gas, and ends up just destroying me when I mulligan into a two-land hand that fails to draw a black source of mana.

Game 2 I keep a hand on the play that I should have mulliganed, and get severely punished for it. Goblin Ruinblaster puts me away before the game even begins. I’m pretty mad at myself after this match, since I should have just taken the draw. I feel bad about the whole situation, and go off to watch the start of the Alabama football game.

Round 5 against BGW Junk

This matchup is slightly favorable for me, since they are so reliant on getting mana producers early to pump out their enormous threats. Lightning Bolt shines against creatures like Noble Hierarch and Lotus Cobra.

Game 1 he opens with a Lotus Cobra, and I have the Lightning Bolt. The game continues with him dropping large threats and me using Terminate and Maelstrom Pulse to destroy them. On turn 6 I land Broodmate Dragon, but he plays Path to Exile and Maelstrom Pulse and crashes into me for some damage. After drawing 14 lands, I don’t have an answer for his Baneslayer Angel and die quickly.

Game 2 I keep a decent opener, but can’t handle his Garruk Wildspeaker after I used most of my removal on Knights of the Reliquary. He gets a Behemoth Sledge and goes to town all over my face.

Round 6 against nonexistent opponent.

My opponent fails to show up. I see that most people are drawing, and I can’t make it into Top 8 unless someone wins. I ask some people to play it out, but it ends up not mattering. I finish 9th.

Overall, I was really disappointed in this tournament. It was small, the competition wasn’t great, and I expected to do much better. After winning last year, I felt like I was capable of repeating. However, one mirror match and a bad draw later, and I’m sitting in the dealer room watching football for the next few hours. It wasn’t all bad, though! I got to watch Alabama stomp Florida’s face, and saw Tim Tebow, the quarterback for Florida, crying on the sideline… on camera. It was spectacular. Kali ended up going 2-2 after losing to a Mono-White Aggro deck, and then later on to Warp World. Manabarbs and Harrow can really put a beating on your game plan if you’re attempting to Spread some Seas.

I have heard reports of other States having much larger turnouts, and really reminds me of how weak our Magic community is here in Alabama. Sure, we have a few decent players, but I constantly choose to play Magic Online instead of drafting at our store, because I don’t feel like playing against the guy with 6 Ondu Clerics and 4 Oran Rief Survivalists. In the next few weeks, I’m going to look into rethinking my goals. I think I have the intensity and drive to do well at the larger levels, but I’ve come so close so very often that it is starting to hurt whenever I lose, even at an event like States. Hopefully I’ll just shrug it off and win a Magic Online PTQ.

Thanks for reading.

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