At last – at long last – after literally months of testing and hundreds of decks, Regionals was here. We, the hearty Gambit Games crew, were (we thought), as ready as we were going to be. All the testing, all the research…One of us was going to shine at Regionals.
But first, the obligatory road trip anecdotes!
I had been planning to drive up a day early to Seattle, the site of the Northwest Regionals, to meet an old friend and boss of mine who works for Microsoft Games, possibly about a job opportunity. Yes, there’s a possibility I could be working for Microsoft and become completely evil. Fortunately, I’ve been told that the implant doesn’t leave much of a scar.
I had hoped to go up with more of the Gambit regulars; however, they decided, upon hearing tales (spurious, in my opinion) of San Francisco’s NorCal Regionals being a lot smaller, to drive down to SF and attend their Regionals.
However, I managed to muster three people who would rather go to Seattle than San Fran. That would be me, swanky Internet writer; David Caldwell, fledgling Internet writer; and Jim Reynvaan, who doesn’t write at all but I understand is the best tile setter in all of central Oregon.
(Ironically, at the last minute, everyone else from Gambit abandoned the San Francisco idea and decided to come up north anyway. Some days…)
Jay Schneider was kind enough to let us crash at his place in Redmond, and not only help us deck test but let me eat the entire remains of a Shari’s coconut cream pie (and as many of you should know, Dave is extremely fond of the coconut cream pie). And we even got to attend Redmond’s finest game shop, Coyote Games, (I got a swanky T-shirt from the proprietor – thanks Duncan!) and meet Jay’s team, the Food Court Samurai. Cool guys, the lot of them, and over the next two days, we got a lot of playtesting done. I, the”Sexiest Man in Magic,” got to meet”The Angriest Man in Magic,” who is also named Dave. Half the FCS are named Dave, it seems. Sheesh, if I move up there, I’m gonna have to change my name or something. Someone would say”Hey, Dave,” and half the heads would turn. I’m not kidding.
I had pretty much decided on an aggro B/G variant, a non-Braids control deck, and the testing I did in those final few days locked me into it. David Caldwell went with”Star Spangled Stupid,” a SSS variant, and Jim was convinced to go with”Predator,” the mono-black control deck. From what I observed, the best two decks in the format, hands-down, are mono-black control (even with the presence of CoP: Black and Compost) and”Salmon Snack,” Jay’s version of the”Rice Snack” combo deck. However, both these decks take a lot of skill to play properly. Salmon Snack, in fact, has been accurately described as”Magic: The Puzzling every single game.” You need lots of”Vitamin I” with this deck.
But anywho, this is what I ended up playing.
“Itchy & Scratchy”
4 Ravenous Rats
4 Phyrexian Rager
4 Shambling Swarm (a.k.a.”Scratchy”)
4 Call of the Herd
4 Nantuko Shade
2 Ichorid (a.k.a.”Itchy”)
3 Pernicious Deed
4 Chainer’s Edict
4 Llanowar Wastes
4 Tainted Wood
3 Haunting Echoes
3 Phyrexian Arena
The deck was very strong against any of the B/x Braids decks (especially B/W), handled ‘Tog with relative ease, and was pretty strong against R/G and U/G. If I had to do it again, I’d drop one Duress and add a fourth Deed and find room for an extra Slay in the sideboard, possibly adding a 25th land to the main. For a deck with a fairly high mana base, I was mulliganing about 40% of the time.
Other than that, though, the deck is extremely solid. The deck runs no mana accelerators, preferring to simply be a bludgeon. Early disruption followed by mid range creatures like Phyrexian Rager, Call tokens, Nantuko Shade and the R/G-hating Shambling Swarm, and fatties like Spiritmonger and Ichorid to seal the deal. The Deed is there to clear the board if things get ugly. You wouldn’t think that a deck with Calls and Deeds would have much synergy, but you’d be surprised.
Saturday morning, we arrive with a little time to spare. I believe the final attendance count was around 320 people, up from 280 from last year. Another nine-round funfest.
Round 1: Miguel Contreras (R/G)
Miguel is running an odd munging of R/G decks, running threshold green creatures and big fatties. An odd combo, but we’ll see how it works.
I think I have a decent start despite mulliganing. I open with turn two Rats; they get Firebolted, and then his Werebear joins my Phyrexian Rager. Things get ramped up from there, as I drop a Spiritmonger, and Miguel kicks up a Kavu Titan and drops a Shivan Wurm.
I’m certainly not expecting the Might of Oaks he casts to bring me down to two, even though I’m able to take out the Shivan Wurm with a double-block. So I’m just waiting for him to flashback the Firebolt and finish me off. But he doesn’t. Apparently, despite constantly checking his graveyard to see if he’s at threshold, he doesn’t realize that he’s got a spell that can deal that last two damage to me.
Not like I’m going to say anything. I’m a nice guy and all, but there are limits to even my magnanimousness.
Meanwhile, I’m able to start stabilizing, dropping another Spiritmonger to staunch the flow of attackers, and then sweeping the board clear with a Deed. Unfortunately, the turn before I’m ready to launch the coup de grace, the little light bulb goes off over Miguel’s head and he finishes me off.
Well, I’m off to a blazing start here. In comes my preset sideboard; -3 Duress, +3 Slay. I really should have added the fourth Slay.
Game two is much better, even though, once again, I have to mulligan. My opening hand of two land, two Nantuko Shade, and two Slay is highly acceptable. My back-to-back Shades are Bolted, but that’s fine by me; less burn for later in my book, and more food for Icky. I end up dropping a Spiritmonger that goes the distance, with help from Slaying two Shivan Wurms.
Game three, it’s Miguel’s turn to mulligan. Miguel does get the nice start of a turn 1 Birds, I respond with Rats, then back-to-back Nantuko Shades. Sure enough, they end up getting double Bolted, but I’m cool with that. My Phyrexian Rager ends up trading with his Raging Kavu (a lot of anger there). I do get the cool play of the day, with a Deed in play and slowly whittling away his life total, when he tries to bring in a Shivan Wurm. I pop the Deed, leaving only the Wurm in play, and he promptly bounces himself. Icky ends up going the distance.
Round 2: Ian Everyhope (Psychatog)
Ian, I’m afraid, doesn’t seem to quite understand the mechanics of the deck. Case in point. In game one, after pulling a Memory Lapse out of his hand with Ravenous Rats, he drops an early ‘Tog. I think that’s fine; I’m willing to play this game until I get a Chainer’s Edict. Ian then attacks for four next turn, emptying his graveyard.
Okay, that works for me. I guess I won’t be sideboarding in Haunting Echoes game two.
Sure enough, I Edict away Dr. Teeth in a few turns, and beat him down with Ragers and Rats, despite getting an Ichorid Syncopated.
Game two is short and ugly, as Ian keeps a one-land hand and never recovers, and a turn 5 Spiritmonger rapidly leads to the scoop phase.
Round 3: Jordan Webb (B/G Braids)
Ah, the pseudo-mirror. This is where the wheels began to fall of the wagon for me, sadly, as play mistakes cost me the first game. I fail to play a green mana source on turn three, mistakenly playing a third swamp, which means I push myself back a full turn to play a Call of the Herd, then the Deed. In the meantime, Jordan is going heavily offensive, and he’s able to double-Deed away my defenders while a Spiritmonger bashes my brains in.
Had I played that turn 3 Forest, I could have cast a turn three Call, turn 4 Deed, and have avoided taking about eight points of damage, which might have given me time to stabilize.
If, if, if… The most powerful word in the English language.
Game two, I start out better, Duressing away a Compost, then we both drop a Pernicious Deed. As the two Deeds glower across the table at each other, I go a little more offensive, dropping a Nantuko Shade and a Shambling Swarm. Jordan’s turn to make a mistake now, as he drops Braids, and I’m more than happy to sacrifice my Swarm to wipe out his side of the board. I get the ‘Monger first, and that’s the game.
Game three, I’m forced to mulligan and I have the hand of two Shades, Deed, Monger… And two Tainted Woods.
Sometimes you have to pray to the mana gods. I look heavenward, knock on the deck and pull…
Tainted Wood number three.
That was pretty much the game right there.
But I’m 2-1, hopefully I’m not out of the action yet. Heck, last year, I went 1-1 to start and rattled off four straight wins. And I still have the good-natured heckling of Jeff Donais. Heck, I’m just flattered that Jeff Donais even knows who the hell I am.”Sexiest Man in Magic” is no Pro Tour regular (but I’ll take what I can get).
Round 4: Terry Bittner (Psychatog)
Ah, ‘Tog. My particular brand of B/G enjoys ‘Tog for a tasty snack.
Game one… M, what a dream draw. Not one, not two, but three, count ’em, three Nantuko Shades. I sneak them through the counters and start whittling away Terry’s life total. He’s able to Edict a great many away, but then Icky comes to play, and with Edicts of my own to deal with Dr. Teeth, Icky ends up going the distance.
Game two, I start with a Duress pulling Haunting Echoes, then drop a turn 3 Deed and turn 4 Arena. Unfortunately for me, the Arena is not coughing up many threats. On the flip side, Terry’s deck is not coughing up many threats either. Slowly, though, the card advantage the Arena generates me enables me to put some threats into play, and Terry is being forced to tap out of dig deeper into his library with Fact or Fictions, desperately searching for answers. Ultimately, it’s your friend and mine, Itchy* the Ichorid, who carries the day.
Round 5: Andrew Torrey (U/G Mongrel Madness)
I wish I’d done a little more testing against this deck. I know if I can squeeze a Deed into play, I’m in good shape against this deck.
Unfortunately, Andrew gets the dream draw, willingly emptying his hand to get an Aquamoeba, Wild Mongrel, and two Arrogant Wurms into play by turn four. My Shambling Swarm is simply ignored by the stampeding horde.
Game two, I like my chances when I see he kept a one-land hand with Duress, so I take the Careful Study and pray. However, I never see more than two lands, and I end up dying on turn 5 to double Mongrels. Slay is not that great against double Mongrels, and Chainer’s Edict is less than effective when a Mongrel can cough up a Rootwalla in response.
I still think this matchup favors me, but not on this day.
For a deck with twenty-four lands in it, I’m sure getting mana screwed a lot. Very frustrating.
And I’m sorry for the brevity of this round, but I had to stretch to get these many words into it. Both games were over by turn 5. Hey, at least I have time to get some lunch now.
I decide to solider on at 3-2, hoping to maybe make top sixteen and at least get a few more rating points. With over 300 people, I’m pretty sure that 7-2 has no chance of sneaking in.
Besides, it’s not like I have anything better to do.
Round 6: Eugene Coulter (R/G/B)
Great, I love traveling 300 miles to play someone I play with at the local game store. Funny how that works.
Eugene’s deck is nothing but fat, fat, fat. No Rages, no Firebolts, just fatties up the wazoo. Game one, I get steamrolled, despite drawing two Spiritmongers. I’m able to staunch the flow briefly, however, when he drops two Spiritmongers of his own, with a pair of Shivan Wurms to go with it, I’m basically doomed.
Game two, I make an interesting sideboard choice – I bring in the Haunting Echoes as well as Slay. Given that I know his deck has little burn in it, I’m willing to gamble that I can control the ground game a little better and Echoes away much of his deck. This theory works perfectly, as I’m able to go with a few Rats to fish out a few fatties, Edict away a few, than cast a turn six Echoes that empties his library of Wurms, Flametongues, Birds, Calls, and Edicts. The only thing left in Eugene’s deck that can deal damage to me are Elves and Spiritmongers. Eugene doesn’t scoop, though; he continues with a spirited defense, managing to Terminate two Mongers, but I’m able to deal with what few threats he has and beat him down with Phyrexian Ragers.
Game three, sadly, Eugene gets manaflooded. His only threat is a Nantuko Blightcutter, which gets Edicted, and I get a Spiritmonger early for the beatdown. His final hand had four land and two Shivan Wurms in it.
Ouch. I was lucky to pull this one out, methinks.
Round 7: Matt McCormick (Control Black)
Game one is short. I mulligan twice to a one-land hand, never see another, and I scoop early.
Game two is much better. I get a turn one Duress, picking out a Haunting Echoes, then get a turn 2 Compost – some bad for Control Black. Matt’s got his own sideboard tech, though – Millstone! Fortunately, though, I have a turn 3 Pernicious Deed, and I end up popping it for two – losing the Compost, but I only get Milled for four. Matt, fortunately, is not drawing what he needs to stay alive, namely Soul Burn and Corrupt, and when I Deed away his Arena, I keep him starved for cards while the Monger and Icky finish him off.
Game three is a nailbiter. I have a Persecute in my opening hand, and I pray Matt doesn’t have a Duress. He doesn’t, but he does have a turn 3 Arena. Damn. While my turn four Persecute essentially empties his hand, he can rapidly rebuild with the Arena. I play balls-to-the-wall, trying to put as much pressure on Matt as I can, but he does get an active Planar Portal to get him burn spells. His life total goes from three to eight to seven to two to one to twelve – with me at a dangerously low three life – desperately needing a topdeck… And I get it in the form of my second Ichorid, which, in combination with my first Ichorid, Ravenous Rats and Nantuko Shade, enables me to deal just twelve damage exactly, the turn before I was a dead man.
Better lucky than good, that one.
Round 8: Richard Gore (R/G/B)
I ask Richard if he’s related to Albert, and he surprisingly answers that yes, he is. I’m sure he’s never been asked that question before.
Boy, my notes are spotty for this one. That because I got a) mana screwed twice in a row and b) totally blitzed by Calls, FTKs, and Mongers. I see a total of six land for both games.
I’d ask for a recount, but I’m pretty sure the Supreme Court wouldn’t help me out here either.
Well, 5-3 pretty much ends my day. But, what the heck, we’re leaving right after the 9th round; I’ll play it out.
Round 9: Rick Brunschwyler (R/G/B)
Rick, sadly, is another Gambiteer, and he got really boned by not checking his results slip when he turned it in… A match he had won 2-1 got marked at a 2-1 loss…so instead of being 6-2 with a great shot at Top 16, he was 5-3. Most likely accidental, but this, boys and girls, is why you always, always, always double-check the results slips before turning them in.
Rick is, not surprisingly, bummed out – but we can’t drop now, and being paired together, we decide to make the best of it.
Game one, Rick opens with a first-turn Duress that misses, me only having creatures and land in hand. My Rats have more luck, pulling a Deed. Rick, however, has a much better fattie draw, dropping two Spiritmongers, while I have a decent but less impressive double Shambling Swarm. I drop a Monger; he plays a Deed. If Rick had played it a little differently, he probably would have won the game with two Spiritmongers. If he could have forced me to start chumping with my Swarms (and, no, the double Swarms wouldn’t be able to kill a Monger; it would get the +1/+1 tokens before the -1/-1 tokens), then popped the Deed at the end of my turn, forcing all Mongers to regenerate (and thusly tapping mine), he would probably have beaten me. He doesn’t, though, giving me time to stabilize with quadruple Chainer’s Edicts and swamp him.
Game two is a little less though intensive, but slow to develop. I do get to Slay a Monger when Rick taps out for one on turn four – he was not expecting Slay – but after that, the board gets cluttered with Shades, Rats, Mongers and whatnot. Sorry, my notes are again spotty – I was getting a little tired at this point – but I double up on Spiritmongers and eventually bash my way to victory.
I was certainly hoping for better than 6-3, but I surprisingly did the best of the Gambit Games crew, finishing 47th. Max Zelaya, after racing to a 6-0 start with his truly janky B/G deck, faltered to 6-3 at the end. All our testing would seem to be for naught, save for hopefully a few DCI points. But that’s the nature of the beast, sadly.
Still, it was fun, and we’re looking forward to next year.
Special thanks must be given to:
- My playtesting group, the High Plains Drifters; Brad, Max, Steve, Rick, D. Caldwell and Jim.
- The Food Court Samurai of Redmond, WA, for their help and testing of decks at the last minute
- Duncan ( ) of Coyote Games for the use of his fine game store. In addition to having tons of space to play, he has the cleanest bathroom I have ever seen in a game store. If you’re in the area and looking for a place to play, I strongly suggest you stop by.
- Big, big thanks to Jay and Demaris Schneider for letting us crash at their place for two nights and eating their tasty coconut cream pie.
And, in the words of long suffering Brooklyn Dodgers fans,”Wait ’til next year!”
* – Yeah, I know; it’s pronounced”ick-oh-rid,” but”Itchy” works better for the silly deck name. Work with me here.
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