Deep Analysis – A PTQ Tune-Up

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Friday, February 20th – Richard Feldman piloted his Extended Gifts Loam deck in a recent PTQ, and while the results didn’t drop his way this time, he still believes his build has serious potential. He brings us up to date on his latest developments, and talks us through his tournament round by round. If you’re looking for an inevitability-based control deck for this weekend’s round of PTQs, look no further!

For an explanation of why this article was delayed, check out the bonus section at the end. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it is kinda cool.

Let’s start with my Gifts Loam list from last week, shall we? Last week, I was running Knight of the Reliquary over Tarmogoyf and Bitterblossom because I felt he was the superior finisher. He was more consistently sizeable when I played him, absolutely enormous in the late game, and had an activated ability that came up and was useful from time to time.

However, as several people in the forums pointed out, there was a more fundamental question I should have been asking myself: Do I actually need something that is just a finisher?

If I have inevitability over everyone, I shouldn’t need a big dumb animal to finish games. Sure, it might be convenient sometimes, but it might also be supremely inconvenient whenever I needed an answer to stay afloat and instead drew a stupid beater. Finks and Hierarch have the helpful quality of being both finishers and life-gainers, which helps me stabilize in every non-combo matchup even when, for example, the opponent’s entire creature base flies and a grounded beater will not be able to race.

Here is the first set of maindeck changes I made:

-4 Knight of the Reliquary

+2 Kitchen Finks
+2 Executioner’s Capsule

The extra Finks were added in order to max out on my most useful creatures, and the Executioner’s Capsules gave me more plays to make on turn 2 without making me more vulnerable to Spell Snare. They also helped guarantee that I would have a Capsule to loop in the late game with Academy Ruins, which was often critical; particularly when it comes to a topdecked Glen Elendra or Sower, the difference between recurring Engineered Explosives and Executioner’s Capsule to deal with it is quite large. I did not want a fourth Capsule because drawing to in the early game practically guarantees that one will be a three-drop (instead of a one-drop/two-drop), which is not a play that generally interests me.

The final set of maindeck alterations I made was:

-1 Umezawa’s Jitte
-1 Scrabbling Claws

+1 Barren Moor
+1 Tranquil Thicket

With only nine creatures (counting Mutavault) left in the deck, I did not want two Jittes in the main anymore. I still wanted one, both as an efficient answer to opposing Jittes and in order to enable Gifts for Hierarch, Finks, Jitte, Mutavault – a guaranteed source of lifegain against Red – so I trimmed down to just the singleton. I finally realized that recurring Engineered Explosives was enough of an answer to Worm Harvest in the mirror, so I could safely remove the Claws, those clunkers which were so often just Cycling 2 in non-mirror matchups.

At this point I looked over the list and realized I did not really want to make any more additions. I did not want a third Gifts or a Worm Harvest, as drawing those miserably slow cards against Red or Affinity can be absolutely deadly unless I have drawn a ton of removal to go with them. I did not want a fourth Executioner’s Capsule nor any more Jittes, for reasons mentioned above. The rest of the deck was all four-ofs, so what was I to do? Add more cycling lands, naturally.

There’s a really interesting dynamic about land ratios that goes on with cycling lands and a manabase. For example, technically I have twenty-eight lands in this deck. That is a ton! However, if you assume that you will want to cycle your cycling lands every time you draw them, then this deck has only “twenty” lands in it. Even considering the Alan Comer Rule (every two cantrips “counts as a land”), with the eight cantrips equating to four extra lands, we have a control deck with only twenty-four lands in it – still quite light.

Of course, the truth is much nicer for the Loam pilot. You get to have your cake and eat it, too; you can look at your current hand before deciding to play a land or cycle it. If you have a land-heavy hand, you can cycle it away, but if you absolutely need to cast that fourth-turn Hierarch, you can absolutely lead with a Barren Moor, tapped.

Thus, I have no qualms about upping my land count to 28; in fact, it really makes the deck more consistent while effectively increasing the concentration of its best cards (most notably Life from the Loam) while also upping the chance that the excellent Loam-cycling land engine will come online without the aid of Gifts Ungiven.

The sideboard was pretty close to what I had in my last article.

I adjusted the sideboard based on the realization that Trickbind and Stifle are actually better against Faeries than Pithing Needle. They are reasonable answers to Relic, but more importantly, countering an Ancestral Vision is extremely strong. I went with two and two in order to facilitate Gifts for Stifle, Trickbind, Thoughtseize, and either another Gifts or something else against TEPS. The Damnations were added as a way to board in something that would be effective against both Zoo and Affinity, and the fourth Kataki was a nod to the fact that he is the highest-value sideboard card I have. I have yet to lose a game in testing in which I drew him against Affinity.

All that said, let’s get to the PTQ report.

Round 1 I pair against Elves! This is probably the deck’s best matchup. I start by Thoughtseizing a Pact and killing off a bunch of his relevant combo pieces. He casts Pact number two to get Wirewood Symbiote and start some cantrip recursion. I kill the Symbiote before it gets out of control and start beating down with some Hierarchs. I haven’t found a Loam or a Gifts or Academy Ruins or Darkblast yet, so I’m just killing off the important guys when he casts Pact number three for Regal Force and draws seven, but I just kill off the resulting guys (Force included) and continue my Hierarch beatdown. Then he draws Pact number four and gets Eternal Witness for Regal Force, draws eleven, and gets there this time. Not the most likely turn of events, but the matchup is awesome so I’m not worried about the remaining two games.

Game 2 is much simpler. I kill a bunch of dudes and start beating down with Hierarch backed up by recurring Explosives.

I start game 3 by Darkblasting a couple of things, then get Loam going and Gifts for Raven’s Crime, Darkblast, Academy Ruins, and Explosives. I clear out his hand, wipe his board, and once again have Hierarch out with recurring Explosives going.

Round 2 is against TEPS. In game 1 I have only Thoughtseize and Engineered Explosives with which to disrupt him, which is not all bad, as they are my best early disruptive elements against TEPS. His hand is just some acceleration and a Manamorphose, and since he has only one land and a Lotus Bloom I’m going to blow up, I decide to take Seething Song and try to keep him short of Desire mana.

Around eight turns later he is dead on board to Hierarch and goes for it. By now he has several lands out, and when he casts all his Rituals and two Manamorphoses, he finds a Sleight of Hand. GerryT was watching behind him and told me after the match that Mind’s Desire was the second card down on the Sleight of Hand, so if he had been short one cantrip on the way to the Sleight, he would not have found the Desire and would have fizzled and lost. In other words, if I had Thoughtseized Manamorphose from his opening hand instead of Seething Song, I would have won. Awkward.

In retrospect, that would have definitely been the superior play when the only clock I had going was a single Hierarch. He’s certainly going to draw into more mana acceleration, because the deck is absolutely packed with it, so I should have attacked the more scarce resource: Mind’s Desire, and by extension the Manamorphose that would have helped him cantrip into it. This was a straight-up punt.

Game 2 I have down Kataki (woo, boarding in Grizzly Bears over useless removal) and am beating him down very slowly. I have up a Polluted Delta ready to go get Breeding Pool and blow him out with either the Stifle or the Trickbind in my hand. On turn 4, I have four mana open and have a choice to make. I can either cast Kitchen Finks and tap down to one mana, meaning I have to cast Stifle instead of Trickbind, or I can pass the turn with all my mana up and make sure to have Trickbind available in case he goes for it and has Remand. However, I Thoughtseized him earlier, and he’s only had three draws to find a Remand – and besides, he needs to have an extra two mana available after going off in order to even be able to cast it. I fear that if I do not play the Finks he will not try to go off next turn when his Lotus comes in, and will hang out until he can set up Gigadrowse and Remand while my miserable Kataki clock watches him do it.

The punt in game 1 was pretty subtle, but this one was just embarrassing. Obviously he’s going to go for it when his Lotus comes in. Why would he expect me to be holding Trickbind? I play the Finks, he goes for it, he drew the Remand, he has exactly two mana left over, and he counters my Stifle.

So my deck gave me the goods to win both games this match, and I made two bonehead plays and threw them both away. Nice, nice.

Round 3 is against Brett McCleaf of Kansas Triple-Crown fame, who is not only with TEPS, but who I was discussing Round 2 with earlier – so he is the only TEPS player in the room I can be sure will know about my Stifle and Trickbind. Fantastic!

In game 1 I mise the one Raven’s Crime and Life from the Loam. I’m not sure where this fantasy comes from that Crime/Loam is death for TEPS… if they have any kind of decent hand they’ll just discard a couple of cards they didn’t need and then kill you. That was certainly what happened this game; I had Crime and Loam in my opening hand, was tapping out every turn Criming and Loaming as fast and efficiently as possible, and he hit me with a Desire for seven on turn 3 or 4. The game was not even remotely close. I would easily rather draw a single Thoughtseize in my opening hand than both Crime and Loam in this matchup.

Game 2 was weird. I slowed him down with a Thoughtseize and then cast Gifts for Stifle, Trickbind, Thoughtseize, and I believe Explosives for his Lotus. I was surprised when he put Thoughtseize and Trickbind in the trash and gave me Stifle and Explosives. I had another Gifts in hand and was planning to cast it, so I shipped the turn back after playing Explosives (I’m pretty sure Explosives was the fourth card in the pile). On my end step he shows me Ad Nauseam, which he drew in the couple of turns since I Thoughtseized him. He draws about eight cards from it, then untaps and goes for it. I Stifle his Mind’s Desire, obviously, but he still has enough juice left over for a lethal Tendrils.

After the match, Gerry pointed out that he had accidentally flashed me Manamorphose earlier, and had revealed Tendrils from Ad Nauseam, so technically the better play would have been to let Mind’s Desire resolve, hope he didn’t see any Remands or Gigadrowses (I’d had to fetch out my Blue source already to cast Gifts) or other win conditions, and then pray I could get away with Stifling the Tendrils. Probably wouldn’t have worked out either, but it would have been a technically higher-EV play.

Obviously, this was an awful result, especially considering I was three-for-three in Top 8s across the last three Constructed events I attended. While it didn’t at all discourage me from wanting to keep playing this deck – the deck certainly gave me the goods to advance to 2-0 had I not punted so horribly, and who knows what would have happened after that? – it did remind me that I should playtest even the matchups I am writing off as unwinnable. Had I realized what mattered in either game round 2, I would have beaten TEPS despite counting it as my second-worst matchup (after Mono-Red Burn, and no, the four Finks and four Hierarchs do not get me there).

No PTQ this weekend for me (more on that in the bonus section, if you’re so inclined), but to anyone who is looking for an inevitability-based control deck to game with this weekend, I heartily recommend this one (and am intrigued by Chapin’s, though I have yet to play a game with it). It’s got a consistent early game, a fantastic late game, and although it has a lackluster game against TEPS and Mono-Red Burn, in a format with around ten viable archetypes, I am not losing much sleep about one or two bad matchups.

Good luck!

Richard Feldman
Team :S
[email protected]

Bonus Section: “Good Times” (not for the faint of heart)

So on Tuesday of this week I became so violently ill (with hallucinations, no less!) that I threw up until I burst capillaries in both my eyes and all over my face, causing a ton of bruising and swelling and making my eyes start to fill up with blood. I ended up in the Emergency Room, where they stuck some IVs in me, drew some blood, and eventually sent me home.

Over the next couple of days, the bruises and the swelling started to go down, but I got more and more blood in my eyes. As I write this, one eye is almost completely filled up, and the other is mostly filled; I kinda look like I might be a Black 5/5 with Creature – Demon and possibly Flying trying to blend in with normal Creature – Human citizens, so I’m wearing sunglasses everywhere I go so as not to freak people out with my scary red eyes. Indeed, I do wear my sunglasses at night. (So I can, so I can…)

The crazy part is, my eyes totally function normally. Aside from being incredibly sick and unable to get anything done for most of the average day, I appear to be no more incapacitated from having eyes that look like some overdone Halloween gimmick than if they were bright and clear. Weird. Doc even says I probably won’t have any long-term issues left over from the whole experience.

The hallucinations were pretty bizarre, too. I thought I was in some sort of game in which I got more soldiers (which were just geometric shapes – seriously, what kind of low-budget hallucination was that?) depending on how I rotated my body. Of course, rotating my body caused me to vomit uncontrollably, so for a competitive gamer like me, you can imagine how that day turned out. (I needed more soldiers, you see. Otherwise I was going to lose.)

Good times, good times!