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Deep Analysis – Tenacious Tron, Start to Finish

For his fiftieth article, Richard Feldman reflects on the process of creation both he and test-partner Zac Hill underwent in the creation of their popular four-Chalice Tenacious Tron U/W Extended deck. He explains the genesis of the deck, shares every step of the design process, and takes us through a pair of strong PTQ performances. Thanks for the first fifty, Richard… here’s to the next fifty!

This is my 50th article for StarCityGames.com, and somehow I’ve managed to go the entire stretch without once introducing myself. That’s more than a little bit discourteous at this point, so here goes.

(Deep breath.)

Hi!

I’m Richard Feldman, and… okay, this will take too long as a narrative. How about I just interview myself so I can get through this introduction bit as quickly as possible? (Not to make myself feel like a celebrity, I assure you.) Then we can get on to the strategy stuff, which is what you’re here for anyway.

How old are you?
21 as of November.

Got a significant other?
Yes: the phenomenal Maggy Hillen of St. Louis, MO. Much love.

Where are you in school?
I’m a fourth-year student at Washington University in St. Louis, working on a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and a Master’s Degree in Business Administration. By the way, if you ever see me at a Magic tournament, there’s about a 90% chance that I’ll be wearing a Washington University t-shirt; I love my school and think it is tragically unknown to most parts of the U.S.A. I thought for sure we’d get some recognition when we cracked U.S. News & World Report’s Top 10 Best Universities in the United States in 2003 (tied at 9th with Dartmouth, a name that about eight hundred times as many people recognize), but most people still think I’m going to school near Seattle when I tell them I’m at Washington University. As such, the one-man t-shirt ad campaign continues. Repazent.

Got any hobbies besides Magic?
I play the guitar and alto saxophone, and am learning how to sing real purty. I also write fiction (poorly), and am the founder of a small web-based company (successfully, so far).

Where did you grow up?
Manhattan Beach, CA (part of Los Angeles County). I’d like to end up back in that area someday.

When did you first play Magic?
I got started in seventh grade when Tempest was new, quit after Exodus, and got back in at Odyssey when Kirk Cole (kcole on IRC, for anyone who remembers), who was a grade ahead of me in high school, found out that I used to play and told me about the Pro Tour. I have no idea what happened to that guy since high school.

What are your most notable Magic accomplishments?
Uh… well, I currently have the highest Constructed rating in Missouri at 1937. (All the pros here either moved or quit.) I also, um, finished higher than Raphael Levy at Pro Tour: Honolulu… but let’s not bother comparing either of our records, ‘k?

What’s your Limited rating?
Okay, interview’s over.

And there you have it: me in a nutshell. In keeping with the personal theme of this article, I thought it would be appropriate to share some of my thought processes on deck design. Specifically, I’m going to walk you through the discussion and debate that took place as Zac Hill and I worked together to create Tenacious Tron, the U/W Tron deck featuring Chalice of the Void and a Gifts Ungiven engine that has posted several Premier Event Top 8s on MTGO since we released it two weeks ago.

The story begins about two months ago.

I didn’t write a lot between the end of this summer and the start of this column, because, frankly, last semester was the most grueling experience of all my years on Planet Earth. I was taking 21 credit hours (mixing core MBA classes and upper-level Computer Science electives), doing undergraduate research ("Flexible Dispatching in Real-Time Java" – say it three times fast), taking music lessons, and was at school most weekdays from 8am until 8-10pm working on group projects. On Fridays I’d drive two hours to spend the weekend with my special lady (or she’d come see me), and then it was right back into the grind on 8am Monday morning. If you’re not seeing much time in all this for Constructed Magic, then we’re on the same page.

So it’s around Finals time of this Semester From Hell, I’ve done like five TSP drafts (four of which were with Maggy on MTGO… but I’ve read the spoiler a dozen times, ’cause I do love me some Constructed), and the results have just come in from Worlds. I’m on my third energy drink of the day, I’m slogging through formulas for optimal service levels and net present values for my upcoming exams, and suddenly I get a call from lady-killer and Grand Prix finalist Zac Hill.

"I really want to play Chalice of the Void in Extended," he says.
"Why?" I say.
"Because it crushes Boros at one, crushes Trinket Angel at two, and it’s great against all the Storm decks."

Now you’ve got to understand something. When I get excited about something that has to do with Constructed Magic, it’s damn near all I can think about. In fact, my list of Favorite Things To Do is roughly as follows.

1) Girlfriend
2) Play Constructed Magic
3) Play Guitar Hero
4) Play Limited Magic

784) Study for finals
785) Drink Poison
786) Put Solemn Simulacrum in my deck

A Chalice of the Void deck, you say? Constructed Magic, you say?

Hell yeah, I’m in! I’ll study when I’m dead.

Zac uses Amazing Computer Technology to send me a decklist that combines the anti-combo elements of Trinket Angel, U/W Tron’s Do Big Things capabilities, and a playset of Chalices. From the looks of things, he started off with Shaheen Sorani’s 5-1 list from Worlds and made cuts and additions from there. An aside on that list:

Shaheen, if you’re reading this, I’d love it if you could explain to me in the forums why you put Solemn Simulacrum in that deck. Thanks!

An aside on Solemn Simulacrum:

I’ve taken various potshots at this card over the course of my writing career, but I don’t think I’ve ever formalized my revulsion for it. At any rate, I’m going to put the matter to rest now:

Every time I see a decklist with Solemn Simulacrum in it succeed in Block, Standard, or Extended, I literally come close to throwing up in my mouth.

I just don’t see the Simulacrum as a competitive card. It’s like freaking Arcane Spyglass to me; yes, I can see that the card does things, and vaguely gives you an advantage, but there’s this certain baseline power-to-cost ratio that I feel applies to cards that are worthy of maindeck Constructed play, and if a card doesn’t meet that ratio, it had damn well better be a hoser of some sort or I’m crying "Timmy."

I’m happy to pay two for Meddling Mage, Wild Mongrel, and Silver Knight in Extended. I was happy to pay two for Hand of Honor and Eight-and-a-Half Tails in Kamigawa Block. These are Constructed-worthy 2/2s, and have actually been quite strong in their respective environments. I don’t think it’s unreasonable, therefore, to expect that if a 2/2 were to cost twice as much as these guys, it would be at least somewhere in the neighborhood of twice as powerful. Heck, I’d even settle for one-and-a-half times as powerful, even though I’d be losing money on the deal. Now just because I’ve never in my life paid four for a 2/2 in Constructed, doesn’t mean I’m biased against them; if I ever were see one that was really, really, exciting, so exciting that was actually worth doubling the price tag of some of the above Bears, I could totally see playing a 2/2 for four.

So let’s look at Solemn Simulacrum. What do we get for doubling our price-tag? An extra land and a refund on card advantage if he dies. Really, really exciting? Aven Fisher with Rampant Growth instead of Flying? Are you kidding me?

If some kind soul would (in the forums, using more in-depth arguments than "Solemn Simulacrum has been in all sorts of Top 8s before and it gives u not only a land it also gives u a card or a 2/2 and what more could u ask for") explain to me in what frequently-occurring situations this card is worth its four-mana price tag within the context of some competitive deck’s strategy – such as, oh, I don’t know, let’s say U/W Tron for example – well, I’d sure appreciate it.

Right, then. Glad to finally get that off my chest. Moving on.

For reference, the exact list Zac sent me to start discussing was as follows.

4 Chalice of the Void
4 Meddling Mage
2 Trinket Mage
2 Eternal Dragon
1 Engineered Explosives
2 Chrome Mox
4 Condescend
3 Decree of Justice
2 Mindslaver
3 Wrath of God
3 Fact or Fiction
4 Azorius Signet
2 Thirst for Knowledge
2 Renewed Faith
12 UrzaTron
4 Hallowed Fountain
2 Island
1 Seat of the Synod
1 Plains
1 Academy Ruins
1 Flagstones of Trokair

Sideboard:
1 Disenchant
1 Dismantling Blow
4 Rule of Law
1 Fact or Fiction
2 Tormod’s Crypt
3 Sphere of Law
2 Condemn
1 Renewed Faith

As usual, we did some initial discussions about the card choices before sitting down to playtest. Here’s the first response I sent back.

Thoughts:

1) One of this deck’s biggest strengths is its ability to almost completely ignore [email protected], which screws up most other decks in this environment. For that reason, and because I think he makes the opponent’s spot removal unnecessarily good, I’d cut Meddling Mage. If you do that, your only X=2 spell becomes Azorius Signet.

2) I’d try out 1 Vedalken Shackles in this deck, because between 4 Hallowed Fountain, 2 Island, and 2 Eternal Dragon (which recurs, remember), I don’t think it’s at all out of the question for you to end up with two-plus Islands in the late game, and this card really locks up the board against any kind of aggro strategy whenever that’s the case.

As it turned out, Shackles didn’t make the cut. Every time we’d reset with a board sweeper or intercept attackers with Decree of Justice, it would get harder for the opponent to rebuild each time because he kept drawing Chaliced cards, and that was enough to "lock up the late game" by itself.

3) I don’t see any compelling reason to play Trinket Mage. He’s three mana for a 2/2 plus either a mana source, a Chalice of the Void, or an Engineered Explosives. In this deck, since you don’t have Jittes or any particular need for aggression like Nassif’s deck did, I’d prefer Fabricate, since it also gets Mindslaver and gives you the option of playing like a one-of Memnarch, Triskelavus, Sundering Titan, Skullmead Cauldron, or whatever.

Zac responded that "Trinket Mages were in as blockers and as the fifth / sixth Chalice. I also think Remand is awful against aggro, which is why I cut it." True enough, Remand is pretty poor against Boros – unless they have Molten Rain – and Ichorid, but it turned out to be strong enough against the other decks that we kept it in the maindeck and just boarded (most of) them out in those two specific matchups.

4) Back when I tried a U/W Tron deck, I simply could NOT get it to beat Affinity in game 1. I think the board needs some number of Katakis, unless this deck is somehow vastly different from my prior experience.

This is actually funny, considering it’s generally a bad thing for us if Kataki is in play. Having not yet playtested the deck, of course, I didn’t realize this. Also, I had no idea at this point how far Affinity’s popularity had plummeted despite all the talk of "Let’s play Affinity with maindeck Tormod’s Crypt!" that was buzzing about at the time.

5) Without Remand, Repeal, or Exalted Angel, I am suddenly hugely concerned about this deck’s aggro matchups compared to Shaheen’s. I think Repeal needs to go back in, for several reasons. Not only is it great against aggro, it lets you reset Chalices (unless one of them is set to 1), and gives you maindeck answers to stuff like Isochron Scepter, Heartbeat of Spring, and Fecundity.

This proved correct except for the part about resetting Chalices, which we essentially never wanted to do. Repeal ranges from good to excellent depending on the matchup, and it definitely tends toward the "excellent" end of the spectrum against aggro. "Chalice for one; Repeal your Kird Ape" is a beating of irresponsible proportions.

6) Maybe I’m wrong, but I can’t think of any matchups where Rule of Law is better than Gilded Light. The opposite is definitely true, however, because of Cabal Therapy etc.

Zac’s response, which I hadn’t considered:

"You said ‘Cabal Therapy’…one reason I like Law [is that] once it’s on the table they can’t get it out of your hand! All the combo decks are going to have either Mana Short or Gigadrowse, so I don’t like having to rely on keeping mana up on my opponent’s turn for my trump card."

Turns out they ended up playing Duress and Orim’s Chant instead, but his point still stands. If you try to hold Gilded Light for the turn they go off, and they Chant you or Duress you before beginning their sequence, your sideboard card did little or nothing. It’s much easier to defend your hand from those cards in the first couple turns – especially against TEPS in particular, which can only play a turn 1 Duress if it also has a Gemstone Mine – and then drop the hammer on turn 3.

I’m leaving out a few other comments that were exchanged for brevity’s sake, but when the dust settled we ended up with the following list to begin playtesting:

U/W Chalice Tron

3 Decree of Justice
2 Eternal Dragon
2 Mindslaver

4 Chalice of the Void

4 Remand
4 Condescend
3 Repeal
3 Wrath of God
2 Renewed Faith

3 Fact or Fiction
4 Thirst for Knowledge

2 Azorius Signet
4 Chrome Mox
12 UrzaTron
4 Hallowed Fountain
2 Island
1 Plains
1 Academy Ruins

Sideboard:
3 Rule of Law
3 Tormod’s Crypt
3 Sphere of Law
2 Condemn
1 Disenchant
1 Dismantling Blow
1 Fact or Fiction
1 Renewed Faith

… or at least, the list we almost started testing. Somehow, between this exchange and when we actually began testing the deck, I had a sudden brainstorm and fired off this message.

The following is interesting.

Gifts Ungiven for:

1 Mindslaver
1 Academy Ruins
1 Petrified Field
1 Crucible of Worlds

Alternately, if you’re not ready for the late game yet:

1 Crucible of Worlds
1 Petrified Field
1 Urza’s [one you’re missing]
1 Urza’s [another one you’re missing, or some random good card]

I think the word I’m looking for here is “insane.”

Now we weren’t ballsy enough to play Fact or Fiction, Wrath of God, and Gifts Ungiven in a deck whose curve already topped out well over the four mana mark, so we gave the incumbent draw spell the boot in favor of trying out the newcomer. After a few tweaks, we ended up with the following, more Tenacious list:

2 Decree of Justice
1 Eternal Dragon
1 Razormane Masticore
1 Sundering Titan

4 Chalice of the Void
1 Mindslaver
1 Crucible of Worlds
1 Ivory Mask

4 Condescend
4 Remand
2 Repeal
3 Wrath of God

4 Thirst for Knowledge
3 Gifts Ungiven

2 Azorius Signet
4 Chrome Mox
12 UrzaTron
4 Hallowed Fountain
1 Island
1 Plains
1 Academy Ruins
1 Petrified Field
1 Cephalid Coliseum
1 Nomad Stadium

I compiled this build from all the things we’d discussed, and sent it to Zac with the following comment.

What I like about this list is that it reminds me of Kamigawa Block’s Gifts.dec. It’s got recursive potential, but recursion is not the main gameplan with Gifts. It’s set up so that you’ll use the first Gifts to load up on artillery to break the opponent’s back, and you only go for recursion if you’ve already stabilized the board and are looking for a guaranteed finish.

The singleton Ivory Mask is most indicative of this strategy; that card was included strictly in order to put it in Gifts piles, and it was to be fed to Thirst for Knowledge any time we drew it in a matchup where we didn’t want it.

We weren’t sure if four Chrome Mox was too greedy; on one hand, we were playing four Thirst for Knowledge and could easily get rid of extra copies, and on the other, redundant Moxen tend to be mulligans until you do find a Thirst. When you identify this kind of question ("three Mox or four?") early on in playtesting, the correct thing to do is to run the greedy option and see if it gets you in trouble. If not, keep it. If so, go back to playing it safe. This is the correct approach because playing it safe to begin with doesn’t really tell you anything; you can’t very well play three Moxen, experience no problems, and conclude that "nothing bad will happen if we go up to four copies."

Zac went off and tested the deck against Boros and Trinket Angel and some other stuff; I started off by testing it against Flow Deck Wins (Stuart Wright list from Worlds, which at this time I did not yet know would be unpopular at the PTQs), as I assumed it would be our worst matchup and like to get my bad news early. As it turned out, it was favorable anyway. Not great, mind you, but favorable.

Just to reiterate, that’s an Urzatron deck going up against essentially a Boros deck with Destructive Flow… and coming out ahead. Imagine my surprise when I later discovered that it was the slower version of Destructive Flow.dec (with equipment and Troll Ascetic) that was our real nightmare matchup. The critical differences, by the way, were the maindeck (and more plentiful) hand disruption elements and the fact that the midrange version was much less vulnerable to aggro MVP Razormane Masticore because of its Troll Ascetics.

Zac, having run the deck through the gauntlet for considerably longer than I had, gave me a call. "I just wanted to let you know that we f***ing did it."

We did it? Did we really?

Well, all right then!

I was pumped to try out our Boros matchup next. I smashed the first few games, and then… then I lost. Then I lost again. Then I won another, then I lost some more. I was confused. We’d done it, hadn’t we? Wasn’t I supposed to be crushing?

I called Zac back and told him I wasn’t getting there against Boros. We chatted for awhile about how we were each playing the matchup; as it turned out, I’d been overvaluing Ivory Mask and Nomad Stadium in my Gifts piles and focusing too much on inevitability, while underrating Tron’s ability to put the game away quickly with a broken finisher once its gears started turning. I adjusted my Giftsing strategy, got a better feel for how I should have been playing the matchup, and improved my win rate considerably.

A couple weeks went by, and the list smoothed out. Cephalid Coliseum got the boot for a Flooded Strand, to help get White mana for Wrath and to help guard against Blood Moon (which, again, we did not know at the time would be unpopular at the PTQs). Because I am all about trimming situational cards wherever possible, I pushed for taking out Nomad Stadium and Eternal Dragon as well. I didn’t often include either in Gifts piles, found Dragon too slow in the early game and an unexciting finisher in the late game, and felt that Stadium was a mixed bag overall when not drawn with Crucible; sometimes it deals you damage and you never get to Threshold before the game is over, but other times you rip it in the late game and it saves your life. Zac used both frequently, though, so we agreed to keep them.

I also wanted to trim a Decree of Justice, to which Zac responded by saying he’d been thinking about adding a third. Turns out he’d been ending most of his long games (especially against then-popular Trinket Angel) with fat hardcast Decrees, whereas I’d been so caught up with putting artifacts on top of my library with Academy Ruins, I’d been shirking the potential to end my games quickly with some aerials 4/4s. I started keeping an eye out for opportunities to flop some Angel tokens onto the table ("You’d be surprised how many decks just cannot deal with three 4/4 flyers in this format," Zac pointed out), and I started winning even more. I had definitely been focused too much on elegant Gifts piles and let the brute force victories slip away because of it.

Four Chrome Mox was great. Opening with Chrome Mox let the deck go toe-to-toe with archetypes that were much faster than the Big Mana Blue strategy, and even if we drew a redundant Mox, the deck played so many cantrips that we’d always find a Thirst for Knowledge before the blank card became an issue.

We actually went down to two Gifts Ungiven in the main, and only boarded a third against the slow decks. We weren’t all that keen on casting an early Gifts against the aggro decks, because it’s not board-affecting and if we hadn’t already played a sweeper, the bombs we got from it weren’t always enough to save us in time. More importantly, we never wanted to draw two against the aggro decks.

There was a PTQ coming up in San Diego that I planned to attend, and it was around this time that I started worrying about Ichorid. See, um, we didn’t really have a good gameplan against Ichorid. It went something like this:

1) Mise the Tron really, really early
2) ?
3) Win

Any time your best gameplan starts with the word "mise," you’re in trouble.

I didn’t want to break our successful formula too much, so I figured the most economical way to boost our win rate against them was to find an artifact that was great against them and just put it in the deck to be fetched via Gifts and Academy Ruins. Obviously Tormod’s Crypt came immediately to mind, but other than CAL and Aggro Loam, there were really no matchups where I wanted to draw the card. Tormod’s Crypt was a consistently poor draw against decks like Affinity and Boros, and was very narrow otherwise. The other one-ofs in the deck had applications against virtually every deck; even a raw-dogged Ivory Mask was useful against Rock’s Therapies and Scepter-Chant’s namesake.

So I kept looking. What’s an artifact that will hose Ichorid without twiddling its thumbs against everyone else?

To reiterate, I wanted a card that was an artifact, and that would be so good against Ichorid that I pretty much couldn’t lose the game once I resolved it.

Damn! If only there were an artifact that said "You cannot lose the game and your opponents cannot win the game" that Ichorid couldn’t remove.

Oh right.

We cut Ivory Mask and used that slot, along with the slot freed up by the third Gifts moving to the board, to fit a pair of Angels in the maindeck. With two Angels and two Decrees in the main (especially with Gifts into Ruins to recur the Angels), Eternal Dragon wasn’t looking so useful as an evasive finisher any more, so we finally replaced the aging Dragon with a third Azorius Signet.

Neither Zac nor I liked the one basic Plains or the Flagstones of Trokair – at this point the utter void of discussion surrounding Stu’s deck made it clear it wouldn’t be very popular – so out they went. I was digging around in my Good Stuff box for a Flooded Strand, when I stumbled upon a replacement: Skycloud Expanse.

Wow, was Skycloud Expanse perfect for this deck! It was like a Ravnica dual that came into play untapped without costing two life! It worked better than a Ravnica dual with Meddling Mage and Engineered Explosives! It cured cancer! There was almost nothing to dislike about the card, and Zac and I excitedly adopted it after mere minutes of discussion.

The sideboard we settled on was as follows.

4 Meddling Mage (we expected a ton of TEPS)
2 Razormane Masticore
2 Tivadar of Thorn
1 Repeal
1 Serrated Arrows
1 Tormod’s Crypt
1 Deep Analysis
1 Gifts Ungiven
1 Academy Ruins
1 Gemstone Caverns

The plan against Boros and Goblins (a no-show, as it turned out) was to board in a second and third Masticore, to lay a Chalice at two to shut off Ancient Grudge (and Helix and Sudden Shock from Boros) and then to simply let the Masticore go to town on them. Accordingly, we wanted our first play at the four-mana mark to be Chalice-for-two, so extra Wraths were not quite what the doctor ordered. Tivadar, on the other hand, would 187 a Goblin – and possibly a Legionnaire from Boros – and would then park his pro-Red, first striking self in the middle of the table and declare in a booming voice, "You shall not pass." Attacking into that guy was a sorry proposition for either Red deck, and meanwhile we were free to play Chalice or Gifts on our next land drop without the need for a full Wrath.

The Meddling Mages came in against any deck playing Fact or Fiction (including the mirror) and tended to name Fact or Fiction, Counterspell, or Isochron Scepter, depending. Serrated Arrows came in as a Wrath impersonator that worked much better against Kataki. That particularly noisome 2/1 was difficult to remove with Wrath no matter when he was topdecked, because unless we had Tron already, we couldn’t usually pay for our 2-3 artifacts and the four-mana Wrath itself. Arrows would just sit on the table, kill maybe one guy – two if we were lucky – and then hold a counter in reserve for the Kat until either we hit Tron or a juicier target presented itself. It also fit well into Gifts piles, as its name was not "Wrath of God." Deep Analysis was its usual anti-Rock-all-star self (though it wasn’t entirely necessary in retrospect; Rock can’t deal with a Sundering Titan no matter how empty your hand is), and the last Academy Ruins came in against any deck where recursion was important (to increase the chances that we’d at least draw one copy) or where the opponent was playing Ruins of his own and we wanted to retain our ability to Gifts for Ruins even after we’d traded once via the Legend Rule. Gemstone Caverns was just Chrome Mox number five – yeah, they’re that good – and came in every time we were on the draw.

The deck was ready to PTQ. A brief report of my first outing with it.

Round 1: John Halcomb with TEPS

Game 1 we stare at each other and make lands until I play Chalice for two and Chalice for zero on turn 4. He considers a moment, then decides to go for it while I am tapped out. With the two Chalices in play, he can only muster a Desire for four that fizzled out, and concedes. Game 2 I put a Meddling Mage on Mind’s Desire. He goes off with Empty the Warrens instead, so I cast a tricky Gifts that yields me the Tron because he doesn’t suspect I’m holding a Platinum Angel. I play the Angel and a Chalice for two – without the Tron I could only have cast the Angel – and he has no outs.

1-0

Round 2: Richard Kong with Psychatog

He Duresses me right away, then gets stuck on two mana. I have a land-heavy draw and keep laying them until I hit six and play Chalice for two, Remanding his Counterspell. He draws his third land and plays a Tog; I Wrath it, and he never has any other plays of consequence. Game 2 I grudgingly keep a Tron-but-no-colored sources hand that has some big artifact (I can’t remember which) in it, instead of mulling to five. I draw a Signet, but he Spell Snares it, counters my big artifact with Circular Logic, and makes a lethal Tog before I find another Blue source. Game 3 I have turn 1 Chalice for one to shut off Duress and Spell Snare, and Thirst into Tron on turn 2. A free win, if you will.

2-0

Round 3: Jacob Torres with Trinket Angel

In game 1, I Remand and Repeal some stuff and happen upon my one Razormane Masticore along the way. Nice! Masticore kills all his guys and then him, because in all honesty that’s what Masticore does. For some reason people seem to want to replace him with Triskelion… please, please don’t do that. Just play the Masticore, discard cards, kill all the opponent’s creatures, and then kill him. Seriously – there are matchups in this environment where you are not a Tron deck; you are a Razormane Masticore deck, because the latter is actually more effective against them than the former.

I normally board out Chalice against this deck, but he hadn’t seen it in game 1 so I figure he wouldn’t have boarded against it. I run it out there for two on turn 3, and sure enough he has the Trinket Mage… for Explosives, you say? Nope, took ’em out, as predicted. He just searches up a Divining Top and looks sad. Winning is not difficult from this point.

3-0

Round 4: Eugene Levin with CAL

In game 1, I mistake him for playing Aggro Loam, so when he Putrefies my Chrome Mox on my upkeep – my only source of Blue mana – I do not float into my draw step because I think the one point of mana burn might matter in the long game, even though I had a chance of topdecking Gifts or Thirst. (A topdecked Repeal would have made me burn as well because the only target was Eugene’s Birds and I had only Tron pieces out besides the Mox.)

As it happens, I draw Gifts, can’t cast it because I didn’t float the Blue into my draw step, and lose it to Duress two turns later. The game drags on, despite the fact that I can’t find a Blue source to save my life; Eugene is Loaming and drawing cards like a maniac, but simply cannot locate a Seismic Assault. He finally finds one in the bottom fourth of his library or so, and kills me with it. I win game 2 very quickly, and have assembled an early Tron with Crucible out in game 3 when we run out of time – both because game 1 had taken so long and because Dredging and cycling takes awhile. (This tournament was the first time Eugene had played the deck, which didn’t help his decision-making time.) I was clearly going to win this one, though, having resolved Gifts with Crucible and Tron already in play on the second extra turn, so Eugene graciously concedes rather than face a draw bracket that was full of matchups he didn’t want anyway.

4-0

Round 5: Jason Lam with U/W Tron

Game 1, I Condescend his Signet and leave him with no Blue. He has Tron, though, and Mindslavers me. The Slaver is a bit of a dud, and I am still doing fine – despite my wimpy draw – until he draws a Blue source and Academy Ruins in short order and locks me.

Game 2, he keeps a Tron-but-no-colored-mana hand and loses while I do broken things. (He had Academy Ruins this game, as well, but I Legend Ruled it and then got it back with Petrified Field.) In game 3, he just hits Tron first and once again finds Ruins plus Slaver before I can muster anything broken on my own.

4-1

Round 6: Patrick Sullivan with Boros

In game 1, Pat mulls to five, I play Chalice for one, and he concedes. In game 2, I have a one-lander (Gemstone Caverns – the one time I have it in the opener all day) and a Mox after having mulliganed once, and conclude that this hand is better than going to five. Unfortunately, I have to RFG a card to play the Caverns despite it being my only land drop, because I need it to produce White mana if I am to have a chance at playing the Tivadar in my hand. I remain stuck on two lands for a bit, with my only action being a Chalice for one to stall, and eventually a Signet. Pat draws Grudge and kills the Chalice, immediately flashing it back to kill the Signet as well. I have Masticore in hand but am operating at four life, have no plays with one land on the board, and Pat still has two or three cards in hand; after a bit of thought I concede rather than show him Masticore. (I do not want him saving his Ancient Grudge flashbacks for it in the deciding game.)

In the third game, I clear his board with something (Explosives maybe), then play Chalice for two, holding a Masticore. However, I keep missing my fifth land drop, and Nomad Stadium deals me three or four points of damage while I Condescend things and Scry non-lands to the bottom as Savannah Lions chips away at me. I finally Thirst into the final land, but as it is Petrified Field instead of a White source, I can’t sacrifice the Stadium to make up the life deficit it has created for me in the early game. I died to the Lions and Pyrite Spellbomb on the following turn.

4-2

The tournament was just shy of eight rounds, meaning no X-2s would make the cut. (Yes, I started off 4-0 at a seven-round PTQ and managed to miss Top 7.) As Maggy was waiting for me back at the hotel, I dropped, said goodbye to Pat and Eugene, and took off.

I was pissed that Nomad Stadium had killed me and knocked me out of the PTQ, especially as I’d wanted to put it on the chopping block earlier, so I revisited the issue with Zac. I argued that we boarded out Crucible in the post-board aggro games, meaning the card’s brokenness potential (gain four every turn) was only available in the maindeck games, and even then I never found myself trying to set it up. Eventually, Zac kept the Stadium in his build, and it became Skycloud Expanse number two in mine.

At this point, we were pretty sure the deck’s worst matchup was the mirror, at 50%. (Nice.) We worked on it, and came up with the plan of boarding a fourth Gifts, casting one as early as possible, and just going straight for the Mindslaver lock as soon as we could resolve it. Yeah, it takes 3-4 turns to set up, but it’s the mirror – what are they going to do with 3-4 turns, race you with Exalted Angel? If they can’t actually kill you in that span of time, you’ll start taking all their turns indefinitely, and whatever work they have done on your life total up to that point will become irrelevant.

After TEPS was massively less popular than we’d thought it would be, we cut the Meddling Mages from the board for additional Explosives against Dwarven Blastminer, Boros, Affinity, and so forth. We also moved the third Gifts back into the main in exchange for the second maindeck Platinum Angel, after Ichorid and Affinity dipped in popularity. Gemstone Caverns was a total dud all day, and was axed for an extra Platinum Angel in my sideboard to compensate for having moved one out of the main, and for a Trinisphere in Zac’s board. This was the only other point upon which our builds disagreed; he wanted additional game against TEPS, while I wanted more Angels against Affinity and Ichorid. (To be fair, 3sphere is hot against those decks as well if you get it down early enough.)

The second PTQ was in Nashville, TN, and I registered the exact list I gave in Tronnovation.


Round 1: Matt Drake with TEPS

Another round 1 TEPS player. Game 1 my business spells are Wrath, Masticore and Gifts… so, in this matchup, basically just Gifts. Gifts does set up Platinum Angel and Chalice, ’cause it’s good like that, but I don’t have the mana to play Chalice for one and the Angel on my next turn. Instead, I play the flyer and drop Chalice for zero to stop his imminent Lotus Bloom. Unfortunately, he goes off anyway and has a spare Burning Wish with which to Hull Breach the Angel.

Game 2 I play multiple Chalices and he has no chance at comboing out.

I have no Chalice in the deciding game, but I do have a Condescend and many, many lands. Unfortunately, Matt also has lots of lands with which to pay for it. He starts going off, and I am essentially powerless to stop him. However, after chaining some Rituals together along with – I believe – a Burning Wish for Mind’s Desire, I see an opportunity when he announces Seething Song. I note that he has exactly as much mana open as I have mana to sink into Condescend, which means I am one short of countering it. I can tap him out, however, if he wishes to resolve the Song – which is just as good if he doesn’t have any color-filtering cards in hand, as Mind’s Desire cannot be cast off five red mana no matter how many Songs and Rites you chain together. I go for it, and his face falls. He needed the five mana from Song to finish going off, and cannot pay the Condescend toll without cutting off his colored sources. He fizzles, and concedes.

That’s the only game of Magic I’ve ever won simply by playing one well-timed Condescend.

1-0

Round 2: Colin Hanna with U/G Opposition

Colin smashes me in game 1 by resolving Static Orb, then a Witness with Sword of Fire and Ice equipped.

In game 2, he regrets having not boarded in artifact destruction when I play a Razormane Masticore. Masticore – you’re not going to believe this – kills all his guys and then kills him. (Much like Triskelion would have in the same circumstance. Ahem.)

Game 3 I get my first Nuts Draw of the day, Remanding an Opposition and then laying a fourth turn Sundering Titan all over his lands. He resolves the Opposition two turns later, but by then he’s at eight life and comes nowhere close to being able to deal with my massive, cycled Decree of Justice on his end step.

2-0

Round 3: Joshua Price with Scepter-Chant

In game 1, he Counterspells an end-step Thirst for Knowledge, which proves his undoing when I untap and windmill a Chalice of the Void for two. This tends to be the death knell for Scepter-Chant, and this game is no exception. Game 2 takes longer, but when he lets me resolve a Gifts, I read him for having no counter, and resolve Chalice for two the next turn. Having set up my win with the Gifts, victory is easy from there on.

3-0

Round 4: Jed Killough

Jed is a nice guy. We start off on a sour note after I resolve Chalice for two, as his hand becomes clogged with uncastable cards and he forgets to discard once it exceeds seven. A judge awards him a game loss for this, which I think is excessive… I would have thought surely there was a less punitive way to fix that game state. (Discard a random card? Reveal his hand and let me choose the best one to make him discard?) I probably had him anyway, as his hand was so bloated with uncastables that he was forced to discard, but it was still a lame way to win.

Game 2 he resolves Descendant of Kiyomaro, which I can only kill with one of my two remaining Wraths or Repeal. I never find one, or any other business spells – Gifts, a finisher, etc. – and it just kills me from twenty. Awkward.

Game 3 goes way back and forth, but I eventually hit Chalice for two and resolve a Titan. I Slaver lock him shortly thereafter, and win with Titan beats.

4-0

Round 5: Zac Hill with Tenacious Tron

This might have been my favorite round of tournament Magic, ever.

By this time, Zac and I have spent countless hours discussing this deck, playtesting it, testing it, tuning it, discussing it, testing it some more… and now here we are paired against one another in the 4-0 bracket.

We really did it.

We ID into the draw (read: Scepter-Chant) bracket, and retire to the food court to dine on the sweet Chick fil-A of Victory.

4-0-1

Round 6: Alex Aparin with Scepter-Chant

In this round I discover a way we can lose to Scepter-Chant: draw lots, and lots, and lots, and lots of lands. Teferi deals me around fifteen in both games as I have no action whatsoever, and various burn spells finish me off.

Awkward.

4-1-1

Round 7: Sam Wilkes with Boros

Boros in the draw bracket? How lucky! In game 1, I set up Platinum Angel and Chalice for one despite Sam’s two Molten Rains. He never comes up with enough burn to kill it, and it wings its way to victory. In game 2 I play a Chalice for two and Razormane Masticore, and…

… wait, I’m getting a phone call.

Apparently Razormane Masticore – wait, wait, are you serious? That can’t be right.

Wow. Okay, then.

Well, folks, it seems that Razormane Masticore killed all his guys and then killed him.

Click.

5-1-1

Round 8: Brett Anderson with Flow Rock

Zac just got crushed by this guy in the last round to miss Top 8. Duress you, Therapy you, Deed your Chalices and Moxen and Signets, then play Destructive Flow. Gah! To say this deck was not on our radar would be a substantial understatement, and to say that I was unhappy with this pairing would be even more so.

I do not sit down with high hopes, and am dismayed at the prospect of starting off another PTQ 4-0 and missing Top 8 again. However, after resolving Gifts for Crucible, Field, Ruins, and Titan in game 1, I apparently manage to Jedi Mind Trick my opponent into ignoring the Sundering Titan in my graveyard and Academy Ruins in play. I am at six mana with two more in hand – which he sees after Duressing me – along with a Condescend. I untap, play my seventh land, and pass, expecting him to Deed away my Signet and put me back down to six mana. Imagine my surprise when he taps out for Genesis! I happily Condescend it, Ruins back my Titan, and resolve it next turn for the one-sided Armageddon and the win. Mise.

In the second game, he strips my hand of all action, but I topdeck Thirst to refill. He has a Witness beating me down, while I assemble a massive heap of lands but cannot finish my Tron to finish my life. I have Mindslaver in the graveyard and an Academy Ruins in play, but am lacking the requisite thirteen mana for the lock. Finally I Repeal his Birds of Paradise on his end step, draw Urza’s Tower off the cantrip, return Mindslaver on my upkeep, and win the game and the Top 8 berth.

6-1-1

Quarterfinals: Dan Kauffman

I’m walking around talking to my friends, asking what Dan is playing, and I cannot believe what I am hearing.

"Duress and Therapy in the main. Also Destructive Flow and Troll Ascetic."

Wow. Ascetic doesn’t die to Masticore – that’s a problem. But I can handle Duress and Therapy with Chalice, unless… hmm, does he have Putrefy?

"Yeah, I think three of them."

Great. Ancient Grudge in the board?

"Definitely."

Uh.

Well, I mean… yeah, okay. Where was this deck last week when we were playtesting? Off being invented, no doubt. Anyway, really not liking my chances with this one.

We shuffle up and chat a bit. Dan’s a friendly guy, and this turns out to be his first PTQ Top 8. (Congrats on that, by the way.) He also says he likes my articles.

Dan leads with a dude and equipment. I can’t remember why anymore, but whatever it was, my draw just couldn’t handle it and I folded much more quickly than I’d hoped, given that he didn’t even play a Flow.

Game 2 Dan leads with land, and…

"Done?"

… and Mox, imprinting…

Destructive Flow. I wince. If he’s willing to throw one away on a Mox, that means he’s got another. Plus he’s about to resolve a Dark Confidant or something – wait.

… and another Mox, imprinting Elves of Deep Shadow….

Oh, no.

… turn 1 Destructive Flow you?

Um.

I look at my board of Urza’s Tower and my suddenly worthless hand. From behind me, I hear Derrick Sheets say "That’s when you type ‘H.L.’ in on MTGO."

I’m laughing. I knew I didn’t have much chance against his deck regardless of his draw, and in all honesty I’m glad to have gone down in spectacular fashion rather than the boring strip-your-hand-kill-your-lands script I was expecting. I shake his hand, then rip off a sheet from my life total pad, write "H.L." on it in huge letters, sign it, and hand it to him as a souvenir of his first Top 8.

So that’s the deck, start to finish.

Why finish?

Depending on the results of this week’s PTQs, I may not be Tronning it up at the qualifier in St. Louis this coming weekend. If I do take it, I’ll like my chances of making Top 8 with it – after all, it’s still a tremendous deck and is the favorite against practically the entire environment as far as I’m concerned – but if I can expect to encounter one of these new Midrange Flow decks in the elimination rounds, I can’t possibly expect to win it all.

My philosophy on PTQs is that There is No Top 8. There is the Plane Ticket, and there is the Not Plane Ticket, and those are the only two finishes you can get. If I take Tron, I like my chances of making Top 8 (whatever that is), but I also like the chances of a Midrange Flow player making Top 8 (the deck is good, after all; it did win both of last week’s PTQs) and knocking me out. Thus, I am no longer excited by my chances of Plane Ticket with Tron, and will gladly play something else if I can come up with an alternative whose chances of actually winning the tournament are superior within the limited timeframe of this week. That’s a tall order, though; we’ll see if it works out.

In any case, I’d still recommend Tenacious Tron for GP: Dallas. There, a Midrange Flow pairing just means your record gets worse by one match, and as I said, I still love the deck against the rest of the field.

So until next week, good luck at those PTQs!

I’ll see you in St. Louis.

Richard Feldman
Team Check Minus
[email protected]

Bonus Section: Music

I’m not one to include my Top 10 Songs of the Week or what-have-you mixed in with my strategy content, but as this is my 50th article, I may as well indulge.

Top Ten Favorite Albums, with favorite at the top:

1) Ozomatli – Street Signs
2) Eminem – The Eminem Show
3) Tenacious D – Tenacious D
4) System of a Down – Mesmerize
5) Linkin Park – Meteora
6) Linkin Park – Hybrid Theory
7) Jimi Hendrix – Band of Gypsys
8) Incubus – S.C.I.E.N.C.E.
9) Incubus – Make Yourself
10) System of A Down – Toxicity

Top Five Favorite Bands, in decreasing order of how badly I want to see them live:

1) Iron Maiden
2) System of a Down (guess I’ll have to wait on this one – but seriously, guys, when you start recording again, please don’t let Daron sing anymore)
3) Tenacious D (already seen them once)
4) Ozomatli (already seen them twice)
5) Cake