Don’t Call it a Comeback: Getting Back on the Tour, Take 1 – Conclusion

In the end, an 8-2 does indeed make it… But alas, it won’t be me this time. I end up in 11th on tie-breaks, which is still pretty damn good for my first tourney in a year and a half, particularly given the size of the crowd that showed up. Still, if you’re looking for a fantastic tourney report and a good idea of how Wake works, look here!

At the close of our previous episode, it was time for Round 6 and an attempt to 5-0 my way to an outside chance at the Top 8 and an invite to Nationals. Because the horde of competitors was simply more than the event venue could reasonably handle, the time between rounds often seemed to stretch on for minor eternities; crowds of sweaty, stinky guys jammed up against each other while flowing en masse with all the velocity of a half-dried batch of cement on a cold, flat surface. Onward we pressed relentlessly, but absent any measurable progress, toward the woefully few pairings boards. With only half of the event’s rounds completed, the skies were already darkening for the night. If nothing else, the air conditioning would at last have at least a fighting chance.

Round 6: Tog

Another Tog player! This one is playing the more traditional Cunning Wish-based version. I am again able to play out lands until he is forced to tap mana for a four-mana card-drawer, allowing me to force a Compulsion into play and build up more mana and counters than he can break through with a spell as expensive as Upheaval. I let him have a ‘Tog since I’ve already got plenty of Fogs in the yard if needed, and his ‘yard isn’t that full anyway. You only get so much countermagic with this deck, so you have to ration it in this matchup like it was priceless.

As the late mid-game fades and my hand fills with card drawing, countermagic, and threats, it’s time to start test-spelling him. Thanks to Compulsion, I’ve clearly got the better hand, so it’s just a matter of slowly running him out of answers in small skirmishes, refilling my hand along the way. This approach is key to this matchup when the opportunity arises, as simply firing off all your card drawing often just ends up with a bunch of cards being discarded – fuel you want to save for Compulsion. Again, they have a lot more countermagic than you do, so you need to gain ground at every chance when it comes to resources like card and threat count.

I begin with a couple”Gray Angels” spread over a couple turns, one of which goes down to removal and one of which meets a Counterspell. I Analysis my hand back up, wait a turn to get fully untapped, and begin the war on the end of his next turn, casting Wish and fighting with enough countermagic in hand compared to his total hand size that I know I can force it. I get the Seedtime, untap, and cast out Mirari’s Wake. He’s clearly got a counter, but also clearly doesn’t want to use it under the circumstances. Can’t say I blame him!

I am able to use the mana to set up even more card drawing which, in turn, sets up a relatively easy fight for Mirari a few turns later. He tries his best but I’m able to resolve the Mirari and then cast Seedtime with the two-for-one bonus. A Forked Wish on Bonus Turn #1 means it’s time for game 2.

In the second game he Duresses me to find a hand of Angel, Compulsion, and five land. He takes the Compulsion and I play Krosan Verge #1 – the reason I kept this otherwise-uninspiring hand. Over the coming turns, I get to use two Verges to seriously ramp up my mana. He doesn’t have the same ability, which means that I can cast my Deep Analysis while keeping up defense mana while he can’t. I cast an Analysis with mana open, then flash it next turn, and now I’m feeling good with a fat hand and lots of mana in play.

This scenario is part of why I think Duress in today’s Tog deck isn’t quite as bad as it’s made out to be: In the days when Tog was a purer control deck, Duress allowed it to force through a much more focused set of threats (like multiple Persecute) – but now, they don’t have anywhere near as much anti-control because they often have to dedicate too many slots to the various beatdown strategies and anti-Gigapede measures. The key is knowing how to adjust. For a long time I was trying things like Gigapedes and other expensive threats. The real answer lies in your mana advantage, not more expensive threats!

I’m able to use the mana and cards to force a Wish fight at the end of his turn, but this time I’m able to fight over an Opportunity and then cast Seedtime, which I already had in my hand. I untap, drop Wake and Compulsion, counter his ‘Heave, and it’s just a question of dodging major mistakes – something I manage to do despite the ever-growing haze of fatigue. Don’t get me wrong, though; I’m not complaining. I knew what I was volunteering for when I went in with this deck!

Round 7: Mike Ersnt – B/G

I know Mike from my time in Davis, where I used to draft every Wednesday night at a great little shop called The Endzone. It’s a great store with a very friendly group of gamers, including several very promising players. Mike knows what he’s doing with the Magical cards, and he’s helped me out by loaning cards on short notice on several occasions. Mike’s playing a Cemetery variant of B/G with beatdown creatures, Oversold Cemetery, and Living Wishes. He asks if I can draw, but I have to turn him down since at least in theory, I still have a shot at the Top 8. We shuffle up, settle in, and see what happens.

Game 1, he doesn’t have any disruption main and my deck seems to have all the answers. His beatdown is slower than U/G or R/G, which gives Wake more time to develop its mana and draw more cards. If my memory serves I’m able to hide behind a few fogs while setting things up, and soon Mirari + Compulsion means the game is essentially over. However, when I ask Matt if he wants to concede to save time for the remaining games, he decides to have me play it out – something that surprised me a bit. After talking to him later, it sounded like he didn’t quite realize going in just how bad the matchup was, and once he saw the deck in action he felt like his best chance was to hope I’d make a serious mistake.

There’s nothing wrong with that logic, but it does mean that game 1 takes a lot longer than he might have liked. The main delay is that my Wakes and remaining Wishes all seem to be at the very bottom of my ever-dwindling deck. There’s no real fear of losing since I’m shopping for card drawing and life gain at The Mirari-Mart (“Nobody beats our prices!”), but it’s taking a lot longer than I’d like. Mike’s a friend and I’m doing my best to put things away ASAP, but I’m also not willing to take any chances since it’s his choice to make me play it out. I play as quickly as I reasonably can while also making sure I don’t blunder anything away, and eventually I find a Wake with somewhere around ten cards left in my shrimpy little dregs of a deck. He dies a few moments later when a handful of 4/4 Torment booster packs turn sideways to put this one (finally) away.

Game 2, he is a bit mana-light, so I’m able to let a Braids resolve thanks to shopping for land at the K(rosan Verge)-Mart. I counter an early Wish to avoid Genesis or Gigapede headaches, but it turns out those weren’t there anyway. In their absence, Mike’s only real chance is to draw into some serious Cabal Therapy action, but it seems like he’s mostly just pulling lots of beasties that can’t really help him. His beatdown is even slower this game, since he’s solidly stuck at four mana and I’m able to put both Mirari and Wake out in short order. There aren’t many cards in his deck I’m too worried about this point, so I’m mostly going for card drawing over countermagic. The result is that I decide not to use my last counter in hand on a Living Wish, which results in a visit from a Nantuko Vigilante. The Vigilante does indeed bring justice to one of my toys (I can’t remember which got broken), but very shortly after I’m able to replace it. Meting out my own harsh justice, the Elephants really are an Ambush when the Nantuko tries to come over for a visit. My tokens beat the tar out of him in a truly hideous out-numbering and word immediately goes out across the realm -“Don’t break that guy’s toys!”

Speaking of tokens, I can’t help but wonder if I nearly get outplayed again this evening, this time by a truly outrageous ploy. Mike has a set of what I can only describe as porn trading cards, and they range in severity from R right on up to gruesomely detailed NC-17. Once it’s clear where game 2 is headed, the tone relaxes notably and Mike is quick to offer his porn cards as tokens when I deplete my modest supply of Torment packs to bash him with. I laugh and play along, and at least one spectator stops in the aisle to also laugh (and stare), and I screw around for an extra turn or two as we all get a good laugh out of it. A couple minutes into this merry-making, I see a judge walking by a few rows over and suddenly realize just how inappropriate this situation is. Never mind the handful of kids still present (but mercifully elsewhere) – even without them, it’s not the right way to behave at an event like this. I jokingly point out to Mike that he must be trying to get me DQed so he can steal the win and he flashes a smile that has me flipping the cards upside down faster than you can say”DQ for Obscenity.”

Round 8: Tog -“I Never Make Mistakes”

This one starts out strange from the beginning. My opponent for round 8 can only be described as eccentric, but he’s quite amiable and we chat quite a bit while we shuffle. Actually, by”chat” I mean we sit there while he informs me how perfectly he has played today. He says”I’m always able to do well because I never make mistakes, so I just outplay my opponents” and”I haven’t made a mistake all day today.” At first I think he’s joking and laugh along, but at some (uncomfortable) point it becomes possible it’s not a joke after all. Unsure what kind of read to put on things, I simply present my deck and figure he’s maybe playing Psychatog, given his clear obsession with playskill.

He does indeed turn out to be yet another Tog opponent, but the funny thing is what happens on turn 4. At the end of my turn, he taps all four of his mana, throws two Smothers on the table, and declares”they fizzle.” He puts them in the graveyard and tries to untap his permanents, at which point I manage to overcome my shock and say something like”um….” Actually, it’s possible I only managed a”…” and he only paused because of the look on my face. I’ve been playing this game a long time, and it’s not easy to completely surprise me like this – but this time I’m simply speechless.

I manage to rediscover the ability to speak and inform him that he needs a valid target before he can cast Smother. He basically says I’m completely wrong, at which point I just call a judge over. The guy next to me overhears the exchange and helpfully points out to my opponent that you do indeed need a target to cast Smother, but by this time the judge has arrived. My opponent seems pretty surprised by all this but takes the news well enough. It’s hard not to smile a little at this coming so close on the heels of the whole”I play perfectly” speech, but mostly I just smile a little and move on.

Per the Judge’s ruling, my opponent ends up burning for two and picking his Smothers back up. The burn for two (as opposed to four) is based on the order he announced things, which seemed like the right call under the circumstances. More importantly, I have a giant road sign that yes, my opponent has a Circular Logic in hand and isn’t expecting to be able to use it any time soon.

He taps nearly out next turn to cast some four-mana card drawing, and then discards one of the Smothers. In combination with the other new card in the graveyard his Logics are now online, so I decide to mess with him a bit. I don’t have a Compulsion to force out this time, but I do have an Angel to play. I drop her out in Gray Ogre mode, and my opponent’s face registers some serious shock. He untaps, looks me right in the eye, and Smothers her with a look of”What, did you forget I had two?” I actually pause a moment before throwing her in the ‘yard, and I’m pretty sure he’s convinced at this point that I’m a noob. He passes the turn and I drop a second Gray Angel out. This one gets met by the Logic, to which he smiles and replies,”Well, you knew I had that anyway.” He plays a land and passes the turn, and my next turn sees a third consecutive Gray Angel try to enter the fray. This one meets countermagic as well, and I’m liking my chances if he doesn’t cast a card drawer next turn to refuel.

He doesn’t, which gives me an opening for Deep Analysis with Memory Lapse mana in case he gets any ‘Heave ideas. On the next turn I’m able to cast a second Analysis, which means I’m set to start test-spelling him with the goal of running him out of whatever he has left and then refueling from the two Analyses in my ‘yard. The first Wake gets countered, but after I untap next time and Wish at the end of his turn, it resolves for Seedtime. On the next turn I again go through the dance of fighting for a Mirari, resolving it, and casting Seedtime.

This scenario has played out so many times today that it’s really feeling like second nature at this point.

On the untap, I’m able to Fork one of the flashed Analyses in the yard, and now I’ve got a grip of business and a very worried opponent. Having a Mirari in play is an incredible luxury for this matchup, as it becomes extremely difficult for them to ever force a ‘Heave through unless you let your guard down. This is even true for opponents with access to Mana Short, so they can at least try to fight some of the battle on your turn, since you can often just wreck them with Seedtime+Mirari tricks. You think”two for the price of one” is good on cards like Counterspell? Try it on Time Walk sometime!

The result is that, as long as I play defensively and well, I’m completely in the driver’s seat. He makes a couple of attempts at trying to get back into things, but there’s just no way out for him. However, even though it’s in the bag, it’s not fast by any means: I haven’t seen another Wish yet to set up the finale, and I do need to make sure to keep enough mana open that he can’t somehow squirt an Upheaval through. That means a grinding game where he’s never really in it, but also chooses to not give up and head for game 2.

With fifteen minutes in the match to go, his friend arrives with a burrito, which my opponent clearly wants to eat ASAP. He looks at the clock and says something along the lines of”Well, I guess it’s all a question of game 1, because there’s no way we’re finishing another.” I gamely respond that he’s free to concede the match and enjoy his dinner, and he gives it some real thought. His opponent points out that with so many people going home due to the late hour, he thinks there’d still be a chance for my opponent to pick up some prizes.

He decided to play it out some more, but a couple turns later I’m able to find a Wish. He counters one, but the forked version gets through on the back of a Memory Lapse and the game is now mine all but officially. A couple turns later he’s being attacked by 3/3 Torment boosters, he sees the writing on the wall, and concedes. With only ten minutes left in the round, he decides he’d rather enjoy his burrito than try to finish another game.

He signs the slip giving me the 1-0 victory and then impishly flashes me something like four Duress/four Persecute/two Haunting Echoes in his board. His laughs at my reaction, pauses, then says,”You know, my board is so good against control, I should probably just resign game 1 as soon as things get bad so that I can wreck them in games 2 and 3.” With a board like that, I can only agree!

As it turns out, this ends up being the only round of the event I don’t finish… And I have to say I’m very encouraged to have been able to pull that off in a ten-round tourney with a deck this slow and complicated (and so many Tog opponents!). I’ve been practicing my ass off for the last six weeks since I decided to try and get back into the game, and it’s nice to feel like some of that has paid off. I would like to be even quicker still, but I’m getting there!

Round 9: R/G Beatdown

At this point the hour is something like midnight, and many people have decided to go home despite promising records. It’s still an outside chance for me, but it’s also increasingly looking like at least one 8-2 will make Top 8, and I’m currently in the top slot or two of my bracket. Time to kick it into high gear!

This match turns out to be one of the most enjoyable of the day as we take turns doing completely unfair things to each other across the course of three games. Game 1, I take early beats from a pair of Wild Mongrels, but I’m able to use life gain and some light countermagic interference to keep my fingers from quite slipping over the cliff. On my fifth turn, I tap completely out to make a Mirari’s Wake, and you can see my opponent’s eyes light up at the thought of swinging with impunity. He untaps, swings with his dogs, pitches a Violent Eruption straight at my face, and drops me down to five. I untap, play a sixth land, float twelve mana into my pool, and then use all of it to drop two face up Exalted Angels. And they’re 5/6 to boot! That’s pretty damn good for turn 6, baby!

His eyes bug out noticeably at the spectacle and we both get a very hearty laugh out of the incredible turnaround. It’s clear from his reaction that he doesn’t have the burn left to seal the deal and this one’s over less than a minute later.

Game 2, he conducts a seminar on just how fast R/G can be. Turn 1 Basking Rootwalla, turn 2 Mongrel, turn 3 Mongrel and dump another lizard, turn 4 swing with the team and pitch an Eruption, turn 5 swing with the team and pitch an Eruption. I got killed on my fourth turn!

Yikes! Okay, game 3 it is. At least I get to go first!

There are many differences between our weapons of choice in this matchup, but one of them is that his most brutal draw puts things away almost instantly. Such is not the case for my own deck. In this one, he mulligans down to five and misses his second land drop. On his third turn he finds land #2 and plays a Mongrel…

That is, he tried to, but I had the Memory Lapse.

The players and judges watching at this point all get a chuckle at how mean that is, and even my opponent laughs good-naturedly at his predicament. The same thing happens on his next turn, and now people are really getting into it. On the next turn I haymaker him right in the nuts, flopping over a third Memory Lapse. At this point he’s basically still trying to get out of turn 2 whereas I’m somewhere around turn 6 thanks to some Verge action. From here, I’m able to drop out a Wake and then an Angel+Compulsion and it’s all over but the singing. Again, a great opponent who took what could have been a very frustrating game and instead enjoyed the show right along with the rest of us!

Round 10: MBC

The metagame decision (a.k.a.”guess”) that there would be a lot of Slide and MBC lapping up the R/G and U/G metagame was a big part of why I ended up going with Wake for this event. As such, it was very nice to finally get to play one of said opponents – and in the final round, no less.

Sadly, this ended up being the least enjoyable match of the day. I’m not sure if my opponent was tired, irritated by world events, or just cranky, but suffice it to say he was rather sour for this match. At this point I’m in a great mood and really enjoying this event, so I do my best to engage him, but he’s just not interested.

Unfortunately, things go downhill from there. It’s only turn 5, he isn’t really casting anything of consequence, and he’s taking an incredible amount of time for each turn. Neither of our decks are speedy by any stretch of the imagination, and that same imagination knows there is zero chance we would be able to finish a match at the pace at which he’s dragging things along. However, I really don’t want to call a judge if I don’t have to, so I kindly ask him to please try to play a little faster so that we can finish three games if need be. I also kindly (I thought) point out that this is a pretty damn good matchup for me, especially with that turn 2 Compulsion I played, and that it’s only in his interest to make sure we’re able to play all three as needed.

But I think it backfires, and as far as I can tell now he’s really pissed at me. I tried; what can I say? I call the judge over and ask him to please watch for our pace of play, and my opponent does seem to pick up the pace a bit.

In a way, I’m kind of hoping for some grand finale to cap this marathon event as we head closer and closer toward two in the morning… But it’s not to be. My opponent just isn’t able to get anything going in game 1 as I wreck him with Compulsion and save all my countermagic for the most important spells. He makes a game effort at it, but there’s just no chance once that Compulsion gets going unless his draw is phenomenal and mine isn’t, and neither of those is true this time. The short version is that I get a Wake into play a couple turns later with Counter back up and when I untap I’m able to Compulse into a third Wake. At this point, I can burn through damn near my entire deck if I need, but I don’t. A Mirari hits next, followed by a Forked Wish, and it’s time for game 2.

Game 2 goes roughly the same. I leave in three Wrath of Gods and swap my Peaces for two Chastises and the fourth Compulsion (heh). The fourth Wrath goes for Circular Logic and at this point I’m feeling like it’s going to take a miracle for him to beat me. He does manage to Duress my only Compulsion on turn 1, but a couple turns (and four cards from Deep Analysis) promptly finds me another. From there, I’m again able to cycle into a Wake pretty quickly while fending off his most significant threats, and it doesn’t help him any that he misses a land drop along the way. Once the Wake hits, it’s just a question of being careful. I let him have anything that I can get away with, hoarding my countermagic for the bigger fish, and it pays off a few turns later when I’m able to stop all three of his big threats in one turn. Mirari comes down after that, and a Wish from Compulsion means it’s all over.

In the end, an 8-2 does indeed make it… But alas, it won’t be me this time. I end up in 11th on tie-breaks, which is still pretty damn good for my first tourney in a year and a half, particularly given the size of the crowd that showed up. Rather than give any props or slops, I’d just like to thank all nine of my other opponents. You were all a blast to spend time with – thank you for such a wonderful time! Thank you also to the Match Play staff, who managed to get us through the mammoth event that they clearly couldn’t have planned for. You guys did a great job under the circumstances!

Finally, thank you to Brainburst writer Jun-Wei Hew. I thought StarCity kicked the living bejesus out of the other sites this Regionals, but Jun-Wei did some very good writing on Wake and was kind enough to swap some boarding thoughts with me via email on very short notice.

As I write this, I just checked the DCI page to see what an 8-2 can garner one in terms of ratings points. Evidently, it’s good for an underwhelming twelve points – which certainly isn’t enough to get me to Nats based on rating. But that’s okay. I knew when I quit last time that getting back on could be tough, and truth be told I’m looking forward to the challenge. It’s been a long time since I played in the meatgrinders and Pro Tour qualifiers, and I’m looking forward to whatever comes next.

And so ends my quest for glory at the Northern California Regionals, 2003. I hope you’ve enjoyed coming along for the ride! My next article will be a strategy guide for Wake, which is clearly now firmly set into the Tier 1 and may even be the single best deck in Standard today. Until then, good luck to all with events remaining!

Scott Johns