I personally find this to be hard to fathom, but in two short months I will be thirty-five years old. Thirty-five! Sweet Jeebus! When did this happen? Surely I can’t be slouching into middle age this soon, can I?
But the birth certificate – and the odd number of grey hairs starting to make cameo appearances in my goatee – are telling me otherwise. I’ve got more hair on top of my ears than on top of my head these days (that probably goes in the Too Much Information Category, so I won’t even try to tackle the nose hair issue out of respect for those with sensitive dispositions). However, I have discovered that while age brings grey hair and creaky knees, it brings a wisdom that one doesn’t have in one’s formative years.
I have slowly come to the realization that I will, in all likeliness, never become the next big thing on the Pro Tour. Yes, there are a few”old timers” on the Pro Tour, such as the inimitable Mike Pustilnik, but I have never been able to reach that”critical mass” point where I had the momentum to carry my skills, such as they are, into lucrative employment as a professional Magic player.
Still, it’s been nine years since I picked up that first starter box of Unlimited, and I still love playing this game, Pro Tour or no Pro Tour. What other reasons to play do you need?
For me and all the other Bennie Smith out there, the two tournaments we really look forward to are States and Regionals. A win at States or a Top 8 at Regionals would be the pinnacle of my competitive Magic career, Pro Tour or no Pro Tour.
I had been testing for almost three months, starting with U/G, then dabbling in R/G, W/G, MBC, before reaching my penultimate choice, good ol’ U/G again. Forty-eight hours before the event, though, after getting a feel for the metagame and going on a hunch of a massive shift towards Merfolk-heavy U/G, I made an audible to my #2 deck – strong against U/G, death to Tog and no worse than 40/60 to R/G. It was a rogue deck of Brad Irwin’s creation, and I helped out with a few choices.
Changing decks at the almost last second was a definite no-no, and I was breaking most of the rules I’d set for myself when playtesting and choosing a deck. Still, having contributed a lot to the design of the deck, I was fairly familiar with it – but not as familiar as Brad, who’d been playing it for three months straight.
4 Dark Supplicant
4 Withered Wretch
4 Cabal Archon
4 Rotlung Reanimator
2 Stronghold Assassin
2 Undead Gladiator
2 Gempalm Polluter
1 Scion of Darkness
4 Cabal Therapy
3 Ensnaring Bridge
3 Oversold Cemetery
3 Polluted Delta
4 Tainted Isle
2 Unholy Grotto
I’m seeing a few other similar decks popping up in various Top Eights, making me feel that we may have been on to something and the deck is sound. My next article will go deeper into the history of this deck, how we made our choices and how we’d change it, post-Regionals.
At the last moment, I print off some Rob Zombie tokens (putting Rob Zombie’s face on the Zombie token, printing it off then gluing it to a regular Magic card – it looks rather cool, if I do say so myself), so I’m not using slips of paper for tokens. Much of the stalwart Gambit crew is going up, and I have my friend Paul, who is playing a U/W Slide deck of his own making, and relative newcomer Chris”The” Fox, who is taking a Reanimator deck.
I had hoped to stay with Jay Schneider, but he wasn’t in town for weekend, but he kindly hooked me and my companions up with Jeremy Virden of his playtesting group, the Food Court Samurai out of Coyote Games. A good night of sleep was found there, and I discovered a sure-fire cure for sleeplessness – watching a Wake deck go off. I was out like a light by 11:30, and awoke the next morning feeling refreshed and rarin’ to go. Big thanks to Jeremy for going out of his way to help out some wayward souls.
I must give major props to the Wizards crew in charge of setting up and running the event. There were 399 competitors (!), and aside from the delay in getting all these people registered, the tournament went incredibly smoothly, there were no major incidents and, most amazingly, the familiar”miasma of funk,” the unmistakable odor of hundreds of Magic players in tight, unventilated quarters was nowhere to been seen… Er, smelled. There were no major B.O. fouls to be found here.
Round 1: Dustin Hetrick (U/G)
A good matchup for me, at least in testing (the day would prove our assumptions weren’t quite as good as thought). My opponent mulligans, then opens with a Careful Study, discarding two lands. I respond with a Cabal Therapy, snagging a Circular Logic, revealing a hand of Krosan Reclamation, Wild Mongrel, Aquamoeba, and Deep Analysis. That’s followed by a turn 2 Withered Wretch, the bane of all graveyards. Turn 3, I drop a second Wretch and a Dark Supplicant. My opponent is a little mana screwed, but plays aggressively and steers his Mongrel into all three of my creatures. At the end of combat, all parties involved are dead, but there’s this really big 6/6 on the board and my opponent apparently has no maindeck bounce. A couple of swings by the Scion and the traitorous corpse of a Wild Mongrel carry the day.
Game two is an exercise in frustration for me. Dustin mulligans again, starting with a Careful Study, discarding a land and another Careful Study. Turn 2 he has Wild Mongrel, I respond with Withered Wretch. My opponent drops two Composts in short order, and beats down, and even after dropping an Ensnaring Bridge, I have trouble getting under it in time, but stabilize at ten mana. Eventually, I get the Archon/Oversold engine going, Composts be damned. I get my opponent down to one life, and I’m begging, begging for a Cabal Therapy or Gempalm Polluter, because I know, with that full hand, he’s got to have a Turbulent Dreams. Yep, sure enough, he does, bouncing my Bridges and army and steams over for the alpha strike.
Dustin, I should point out, smartly remembered that he can target a Bridge player with Deep Analysis to get out from under the lock for a turn or two. Not everyone remembers this. He did, and while it didn’t make that much of a difference in the game, as his alpha strike did more than enough damage, it’s something to remember.
Game three, Dustin gets the ideal U/G draw: Turn 1 Rootwalla, turn 2 Aquamoeba, and turn 3 Arrogant Wurm. One the good side, I’m able to drop a turn 2 Wretch, turn 3 Bridge. The problem – which we hadn’t encountered much in our testing, and would prove to come up frequently – was that we couldn’t run and hide under the Bridge fast enough against U/G. And that’s the game.
That was bothersome. This deck was supposed to be a U/G killer. I think part of the problem was our sideboarding strategy, which was dead wrong-taking out Smother for Hibernation and Eastern Paladin. Against U/G, I need all the anti-madness-creature removal I can get.
Round 2: Ian Lindquist (R/G)
The fast beats are not my best matchup, but R/G has fewer answers to the Bridge than U/G does.
Game two, in come Hibernations, Eastern Paladins, and the extra Bridge. I’m a little mana screwed, and every creature I drop is either getting burned out or forced to chump block. Cabal Archon gets fried, Dark Supplicant gets fried, and I’m staring down a board of Mongrel, Mongrel, Rootwalla, and Compost and at nine life.
I am rather pissed at this point. 0-2 was not the start I had envisioned for myself.
My opponent swings for the alpha strike, pumps the Rootwalla for the kill, and I answer with Hibernation, hoping to buy an extra turn, praying that I can peel off a Bridge or an answer. My opponent then scoops up his Rootwalla – and Mongrels.
Ian’s buddy, sitting next to him, has the classic”D’oh!” look on his face.
Next turn, I draw Undead Gladiator, cycle it, and great googly moogly, there’s my Bridge. With no cards in hand. Life is good.
I had absolutely no business winning that game – but sometimes, a wise man said, it is better to be lucky than good.
Game three, my opponent has a slow start with no Elves or two-drops – which is great for me, because my deck is short on early plays. I drop a turn 2 Wretch, he answers with a Call, and he’s making big play errors along the way, mistapping lands, forgetting about pumping Mongrels. I’m able to dump my hand, Therapy away two Naturalizes, and hide behind a Bridge, then play Eastern Paladin to keep dinking his green army – again, he’s forgetting to change the Mongrel’s colors. The coup de grace is a Gempalm Polluter for five just as time is called.
I feel better now at 1-1. If I had to go to the extra room they opened up for tables 161 and above, I think I would have cried. Or eaten my cards. And Magic cards don’t taste very good.
Game 3: Steven Shaw (B/W Clerics)
These games were weird – fun, but weird. Steven confesses that his deck is fairly untuned, but it’s certainly interesting. I open with a Supplicant and Withered Wretch, he answers with a Supplicant of his own and Battlefield Medic. Scion wars? Could be. He gets stalled on mana, however, not finding a third mana, and I Smother his Supplicant before he can find his third Cleric. I cast Cabal Therapy, naming Serra Angel (since he’d erroneously shown me part of his hand earlier), and see weirdness like Serra’s Embrace and Spirit Link.
Yeah, laugh now. But eventually I’m staring at a 3/3 Beloved Chaplain that doesn’t tap and is gaining him life like mad, and I can’t go fetch my Scion of Darkness because I need those little 1/1 Clerics to gain me life to stay alive while begging – begging! – for a Smother or Bridge. Eventually Smother comes to save me, but the damage is great…I’m at one life, Steven is at 22. I find a Bridge two turns later, and then we begin our own little cold war, playing Cleric after Cleric – attacking it out of the question, since his Battlefield Medic can now prevent about twelve points of damage. Eventually, I go off with three Rotlungs in play, sacrificing several Clerics to get Steven down to thirteen life, me up to nine, and with fifteen (!) Zombies in play, cycle the Polluter for the win.
Game two is shorter, but also weirdly fun – or funly weird. I again get the opening draw of Dark Supplicant and Withered Wretch, but no third land for several turns. I do find a second Supplicant and decide to go for the gusto and fetch the Scion, and we begin racing – he has a Beloved Chaplain and Deftblade Elite that can partially block, while his Withered Wretch keeps traitors from coming to my side. He answers back with True Believer – which does a good job of negating my win condition – and eventually I’m forced to go defensive, drop multiple Bridges, and hope for a topdecked Smother when we are both at three life. I draw the Smother within a couple of turns, nuke the Believer and cycle a Polluter for the win, and, I’m sorry, Worship and Circle of Protection: Black – which Steve has in play-won’t save you from this one.
Game 4: Nick Young (Wog-A-Tog)
I know Nick from my Eugene days, but hardly recognize him. He’s let his hair grow out, he’s wearing a nice shirt, and – dear Lord! – he even smells halfway decent. What the hell happened, Nick?
“I got a girlfriend.”
Nick is running a U/W/b deck running multiple Wraths and splashing black for Smother and Psychatog, hence the name Wog-a-Tog. Game one, I mulligan into a good six card hand, and, knowing what he’s playing, go for a turn 1 Cabal Therapy for Counterspell, which hits, and also reveals Deep Analysis, Concentrate, two Smothers, and a Memory Lapse, but only two lands. I follow up next turn with a second Therapy, stripping Concentrate from his hand, and drop two Withered Wretches on the following turns, keeping his graveyard empty. Even after topdecking a Compulsion, Nick never gets to four land and is beaten down by the Wretches before he got to Wrath mana.
Game two is worse, as Nick never gets off of two lands, and I brutalize him, stripping his hand of two Wrath of Gods, then flashing Therapy back to take two Concentrates. With a Wretch and Rotlung on the table, even the topdecked third Wrath won’t save him.
For once, this match did not go to the time limit, and I have a chance to go stuff my hungry face with some greasy food. Grease, the chosen food of Magic players everywhere.
Round 5: Duane Phelps (U/G/w Madness)
Duane splashes white for something, since I saw Flooded Strands – I’m assuming Glory or Intrepid Hero or something like that – but I never see it. Duane gets the near-ideal start, turn 2 Aquamoeba followed by Mr. Inexpensive 4/4, and I get the weird draw of three Polluted Deltas, two of which I’m forced to sacrifice so I can play a Stronghold Assassin (some good!). Turn 4, Duane drops a second Wurm – ow – but with only one card left in hand, he seems to be out of gas, which is good for me. I drop an Ensnaring Bridge with three cards in hand, negating the Wurms and take one hit from the Aquamoeba, bringing me down to one life.
Now, I can no longer use that third Delta, which sits very sadly on the table. But I start finding friends for the Stronghold Assassin, clearing the board of Dustin’s threats, and come over for small beats here and there, still while clinging to no life. Even after casting four Deep Analysis in the game – none targeting me – Dustin clearly has no answer for the Bridge. It’s slow, but eventually, over the course of the last six turns, I recurse a Gempalm Polluter with one Zombie in play for the win.
That was an intense game, and I was very pleased with my performance – absolutely no play errors with no margin for error.
Game two, Duane gets another good start with a turn 2 Rootwalla, but no other critter until a turn 4 Arrogant Wurm off of Careful Study. I respond with a Bridge and the Unholy Trifecta of Wretch, Archon, and Rotlung. Duane, I think, panics a bit here, casting Turbulent Dreams and emptying his hand to bounce my entire board, and the Wurm takes me down to twelve life – but with his empty hand, I have no problems dropping my Bridge back down and peeling an Oversold Cemetery off the top to get the engine going. I end up needing both my Stronghold Assassins, because I can never get below three cards – I end up being stuck at four lands for virtually the entire match. Still, I was able to cast every creature I drew, and with that kind of gas, I don’t need Bridges.
Round 6: Ian Johnson (Zombie Bridge)
Our decks are eerily similar. I think, maindeck, we differed by five cards, mine being a scosh more Cleric-oriented. I’ve never played against the mirror, and have no idea how this is going to go.
Game one, Ian and I are dropping creatures like mad, but he fails to realize that I have three Clerics in play, including the Supplicant – and when he swings into my army, the only thing left standing is a 6/6 Scion of Darkness. I get one hit in, stealing his Withered Wretch, when he drops a Bridge of his own to put an end to my shenanigans. However, I rapidly establish Archon superiority, and he scoops with the end in sight.
Game two, I definitely make a mistake by siding out my Bridges. Ian rapidly establishes board control, dropping a Wretch and Rotlung, and his Gempalm superiority knocks me down really damn quick. His Mutilate eliminates my board and gives him free Zombies, and I scoop thereafter.
The last game, I like my chances after he mulligans twice, and I Therapy away an Rotlung. Unfortunately, Ian gets board parity a lot faster than I do with an Archon and Wretch, and I can’t stabilize fast enough. Even after sideboarding four Bridges back in, he just gets the better draw and takes me down. And I’m sure I made a few minor mistakes, using the Unholy Grotto to get my Withered Wretch back once or twice when I might have been better off going deeper into my deck.
Ian would go on to squeak into the top eight. I think I should get a little something for giving him such good tiebreakers. My chances at making top eight are now gone, but I have a good chance at prizes for top sixty-four, so I decide to soldier on.
Round 7: Alex Parsons (Psychatog)
Round one, I mulligan, and get the less-than-stellar triple Ensnaring Bridge draw – yeah, the perfect draw against Psychatog. For a while, I think I might have a shot since I have a Withered Wretch in play to deplete his graveyard. It gets Smothered, unfortunately, and even with an Unholy Grotto to bring it back – a mistake on my part, in retrospect, but I was most likely dead either way – he keeps countering it, then using Compulsion to fill his hand and graveyard for the kill.
Second game, I get a much better start, holding a Haunting Echoes, and I’m gladly allowing stuff to get countered or Smothered, as Alex clearly (mwoo ha ha!) has no clue that I have this card in my hand. With only two cards in hand and a whopping eight counters in the graveyard, I go for the gusto and take away all his counterspells and spot removal. No Upheaval, unfortunately. From there, I start the beatdown that can’t be stopped.
Near the end, Alex goes for the desperation Upheaval, and I respond by sacrificing some Clerics, cycling a Polluter, and allow Upheaval to resolve. Alex then wants to add extra mana to his pool, but has already picked up his land. I call for a judge, we explain the situation, and inexplicably, the judge allows Alex to put his lands back in play and tap them for mana. I wasn’t going to make a big fuss about it, because I knew the game was mine and he only has mana for Compulsion, not the toothy one. I drop a Withered Wretch, and Smother his last-chance ‘Tog.
In the rubber match, Alex draws first – and judging from his body language, has a very poor hand. A turn 1 Duress proves this, netting Compulsion, leaving a bizarre hand of three Circular Logic, one Counterspell, and an Island. Against a deck like Tog, which absolutely needs lots of card drawing to win, taking the Compulsion was the 100% correct choice. I drop two Dark Supplicants, and unbelievably, as everything else I play gets countered, those two Supplicants put in about twelve points of damage. An Innocent Blood nets one, but I get him too low on life and win with flair: he’s at one life, and I have a Rotlung Reanimator in play, with a Gempalm Polluter in the graveyard and an Unholy Grotto waiting to bring him back. I activate the Grotto, and Alex Wishes for Chain of Vapor and targets the Rotlung; I respond by Smothering my own Rotlung, making a Zombie token, then cycling the Polluter for the victory.
See, I knew Tog was a good matchup.
Round 8: Josh Lytle (U/G Madness)
Josh is a Brainburst writer, who was one of the first to come up with the Zombie Bridge concept that was partially appropriated for Rasputin. Now, why a match between a StarCityGames and a Brainburst writer doesn’t get a feature match, I don’t know. Josh is very taken with my deck (he says it was his second choice), and we enjoy a very well-played, tight match, discussing the merits and weaknesses of my deck.
Game one, he mulligans down to what I discover was a five land and Careful Study draw, but I can’t truly capitalize on it. I do get a turn 3 Rotlung Reanimator, but Josh then gets a madness outlet and can bring out some annoying creatures.
The game is decided at one point when I’m at nine life and Josh is attacking with an Arrogant Wurm and Wild Mongrel, I have a Withered Wretch and Undead Gladiator in play, an Oversold Cemetery, and two creatures in my graveyard, including a Scion of Darkness, and, oh yeah, eight mana. Josh has two cards in hand, and commits all his creatures to the attack. I double-block the Mongrel, and Josh thinks. And thinks. And thinks. Then he assigns all the damage to the Wretch and Unsummons the Mongrel – the absolutely perfect play. Any other play, and I would have won the game. Well played.
Second game, I’m a little mana screwed, but so is Josh. A first turn Duress shows me no spells, but only two forests, three Mongrels and an Arrogant Wurm. Oh please, oh please, pleasepleaseplease let my next card be a Cabal Therapy.
Scion of Darkness. I’m starting to hate that guy now.
Suffice it to say, even though Josh never gets off of two lands, he carries the day with his Evil Triumvirate of Stupid Hounds, and he even remembers to change his Mongrel’s color when I play a desperation Hibernation.
I’m sorry, good readers, but I failed to uphold the honor of StarCityGames against Brainburst.
At 5-3, I’m a little disappointed – but history is on my side, as I’ve never finished worse than 6-3 at Regionals, and with prizes going down to the top sixty-four due to the high turnout, I’m optimistic that I can carry the day at least that far.
Round 9: Owen Fletcher (U/G Madness)
Owen is a fairly… Animated young man. I don’t know if that’s natural exuberance or a combination of ten hours of Magic plus a case of Mountain Dew.
Game one, I’m forced to mulligan and Owen gets the typical racing start of madness outlet, Arrogant Wurm, then Quiet Speculation for a couple of Roar of the Wurm tokens, and beats me down to two life before I am able to establish control with an Ensnaring Bridge and no cards in hand. From there, as he has no main deck answers to a Bridge, I get an Oversold Cemetery and Cabal Archon in play and start the two-life-a-turn engine.
Owen is somewhat less animated at this point.
Game two, I take a mulligan while Owen goes down to five cards, but I resist the urge to pump the fist – never taunt the mana gods. I’m also realizing that I should have gone to the bathroom between rounds. Man, I hope this game doesn’t go on too long. I get a fast start – at least by my deck’s standards – of a Withered Wretch and Stronghold Assassin, the latter being a card that U/G really, really does not like. The game is very one-sided. I get a neat trick off while holding Hibernation, and Owen has one card in hand (an Aether Burst, as revealed by a previous Cabal Therapy) and a potentially annoying Mongrel, and I topdecking a second Therapy. I cast the Therapy, and in response Owen casts Aether Burst on one of my creatures. I respond with Hibernation. With no cards in hand, the Mongrel goes back to his hand, the Burst bounces my creature, and Therapy resolves, and I name Wild Mongrel.
I was immensely pleased with myself for that one.
Owen casts Quiet Speculation, dumping a Deep Analysis and two Ray of Revelations in his graveyard, then flashes back the Analysis before my Wretch can eat it, but he has no answers to a second Stronghold Assassin. And that makes my second 6-3 at Regionals in a row.
With good tiebreakers, I finish a respectable 46th out of 399. My buddy Paul, playing what I thought was a horribly-tuned U/W Slide deck, goes 56th. Chris ended up playing three straight decks packing Withered Wretches and Reanimator doesn’t like that card. Brad, weirdly enough, goes 3-2-4. He ran into four Wake decks, while I was lucky enough to avoid that particular concoction.
While I once again fell short in my quest for that top eight, I had a good time and hopefully added a few points to my DCI rating. And that’s good enough for me.