After countless weeks of testing, hours of reading articles online and two OBC PTQs the end was finally in sight: Grand Prix London was fast approaching. Over the past few months I’ve played all of the deck archetypes available on the net, and spent a long time trying to get U/B UZI or U/B Tog to work consistently against U/G and mono-Black. At the end of last week, while I was still losing, I decided to join the rest of the sheep and play either U/G or mono-Black.
After looking at the decks that went 6-0 in some detail in my last article, I decided to take a deck I had a lot of confidence in.
(Nearly) Dave Humpherys UG Threshold
The only change I made to Dave’s deck was to take out two Mental Notes to add two Deep Analyses. With four Wild Mongrels and four Careful Studies in some of my other decks, I was having no problems gaining Threshold – and so I felt, after playing the deck for a week or so, that I kept drawing Mental Note when I didn’t really need it. Having two means that I have six”put three cards into my graveyard” cards in the deck, but not too many that I would be overwhelmed with them; plus I felt that the two Deep Analyses would help out. I wouldn’t change the decision – nor would I change any of the deck.
Just testing with a deck really isn’t good enough, especially if it’s a net deck like the one above: You have to know how to sideboard with it. You should go into each match knowing what you’re going to take out and what you’re going to bring in. You might remember that a sideboarding mistake in Southampton (my last PTQ) probably cost me a game when I mistakenly boarded out all of my Rancid Earths against a U/G player!
Well, I didn’t want that to happen again so we all got together one night to work on sideboarding.
What we did was to lay out each deck that each of us were going to play, along with the sideboard, and work out what the best way to sideboard was for each match up we expected.
This is the sideboarding plan we worked out for U/G threshold.
Wow. Thirteen cards – that’s very nearly the whole sideboard! We started by looking at the sideboard and deciding which cards were helpful in the match up. Obviously, the Nests help against Edict and Innocent Blood; the Centaurs can block Shades all day. Bearscape also helps against Edict and Blood, but can also help against Echoes. Upheaval resets the game, and with an abundance of small creatures you should be able to win if you cast it. Envelop is vital to stop Mutilate, Mind Sludge and all the other nasty spells Black has. Finally, as we’re upping the mana cost of the deck we need to add another Forest – which also helps if your opponent is playing Rancid Earth!
Now, what to take out? With only four creatures, and possibly boarding in Faceless Butchers or Stalkers, Wonder isn’t so important: Your creatures will probably deal damage if they stay on the board whether they’re flying or not. Aether Burst doesn’t help much either, as whatever you bounce they’ll probably just recast a turn later. If they’re expecting Roar of the Wurm, they’ll bring in Faceless Butchers – so take out the Wurms!
Finally, I had to take something else out and it had to be the Mental Notes and a Mongoose. The Notes help you gain Threshold and, more importantly, put Wonders in the graveyard for you. With no Wonders, they’re not as good – and you’ll still get Threshold easily with the number of creatures that will die!
I was very happy with this plan and, in both mono-black games I played I won hands down. I also used the same plan against UB Braids and won that one too.
Well, not nearly as impressive. Basically, Standstill is really good if you go first, and so you want to make sure you have them if you are. If you’re not, you don’t want to see them as much and so you can take a few out.
Here you can start to see a few mistakes and problems: Firstly we didn’t work out sideboarding plans for U/G Threshold, U/G Madness and U/G Quiet Speculation – and we should have, as each one is subtly different. I realised this over the course of the day and changed my plans, but even so we were taking out the Mental Notes. Although I don’t like the Notes, they do let you put a Wonder into the Graveyard and are crucial in the U/G Threshold mirror match – as you need Threshold badly!
I also decided over the course of the day that Upheaval should come in whether you win or lose. It’s just too good not to.
We decided that if they saw Battle Screech and could cast it a few times, they’d win this matchup; Glory was also very good for them, and so you needed to bring in the Envelops and Reclamations. One Upheaval wipes away all their Birds if you’re in a fix.
If you win the first game, Standstills can come out – but if you lose, you still take two out because they can almost always mess around with you to the point that they don’t work well.
In retrospect, I’d keep in the Mongoose and drop a Rootwalla, as the Mongoose can’t be bounced…
We played against a few other decks (mono-red, R/B Land Destruction, Confinement) and worked out a few cards that could come out but didn’t really nail down a sideboarding plan. I guess that’s where top teams and more time to play Magic comes in.
Once we’d worked out a plan for U/G Threshold, we looked at Alan’s mono-black deck, Adam’s R/B Land Destruction deck, and the mono-Red deck Chris was thinking of playing. In each case, we worked out what to take out and what to put in. All of the guys felt much happier at the end of the night and, as Alan and Adam both went 6-2 on day one, narrowly missing out on day two, I’m happy that it worked well.
On Friday we all met up at the station and caught the train to London, playing Magic along the way. All of the guys were happy with their decks and happy knowing how to sideboard for a change. Two hours later we arrived at Paddington station, and braved the underground to get to Olympia where Gen-Con 2002, the venue for GP London, was taking place.
We booked into our hotel, dropped of our bags, picked up our decks and headed out to find a quiet pub to test a bit more in.
A few hours later, after a pizza and many beers, we headed back to the hotel. Adam and Alan decided to get a late-night draft in and Chris and I each went back to our rooms to crash. Sleep is something I’ve noticed I need a lot of the night before a tourney.
So, the big day kicked off and more than 680 players sat down in a nicely air-conditioned room to play. Fingers crossed.
Round 1: Vincent Bonnet (ENG) playing MBC.
As the round started, I had no opponent – and so he received a game loss for tardiness. Five minutes later (five minutes before I’d get a match win) my opponent showed up with a judge. Apparently, his name had been entered incorrectly and he was there after all. We introduced ourselves and kicked off the match.
I started and dropped a few creatures, and Vincent dutifully cast Innocent Blood and Chainer’s Edict to kill them. A few turns later I managed to keep a Werebear on the table, but it only dealt three points of damage before a Mutilate killed everything in sight and a Nantuko Shade was summoned into play from another realm to do battle.
As is the way with Shades, if you can’t block it you die: 19, 16, 4, dead.
With so much to bring in and take out, I hoped that I’d have an easier time of things… And I was right. Vincent blew up a few land, but only got me down to eleven life before I cast Upheaval. I had him down to five life thanks to a Phantom Centaur, and dropping a Nimble Mongoose straight away meant he had to see an Innocent Blood or an Edict to survive. He didn’t an we moved on to game three. Game three went all my way with an early Squirrel Nest and a couple of Centaurs dealing the damage I needed to win my first match of the day.
Matches: 1-0, Games: 2-1
I was very happy with a good start, happy with the deck and happy playing against mono-Black. Give me more mono-Black!
Round 2: Than Huynh (FRA) playing UG Threshold.
Bleh. Not mono-Black. Hey-ho, you can’t have everything you want in this world.
Thanh won the die roll and decided to go first. I looked at my hand: One land, an Island; I had a bunch of Green spells, but no Careful Study. I chose to mulligan and regretted it, looking at a six-card hand with one Forest, two Careful Study, a Wonder, and Aether Burst and a Roar of the Wurm. One more mulligan later, I was stuck with a one-Forest hand, but with some Green creatures.
I didn’t see another land until turn 6. I’m not going to complain about being mana screwed: it’s part of the game, but recently there have been a whole host of writers declaring that you if you lose to mana screw you should have mulliganed more, didn’t shuffle properly, or did something wrong. Bull.
Sometimes you lose to mana screw: It’s part of the game, accept it. Was I supposed to go down to four cards? How was I supposed to know there wasn’t a land in the top six cards? Do three riffle shuffles, a seven pile, pile shuffle followed by a few more riffles really not shuffle a deck? I think it does, and I think I kept the five cards correctly. There is luck in this game, after all, and some people get unlucky from time to time.
Only one game down gives me everything to play for and luck paid me back for my misfortune in game one by screwing my opponent in game two. I didn’t lose a single point of life all game, but Thanh lost twenty – quickly.
Game three was more of an even contest. Both of us had Forests and Islands; both of us had creatures and counter spells. Unluckily for me, Thanh saw Upheaval and I didn’t; he dropped a Mongoose and finished me off. Looking back at my sideboarding plan, I should have taken out two Standstills, and put my own Upheaval and one Mental Note back in the deck – I forgot. We both went through over half of our decks and, I’m sure with an Upheaval in my deck, I would have been just as likely to draw it as Thanh – and maybe, just maybe, I’d be 2-0. I didn’t and I’m not.
Matches: 1-1, Games: 3-3.
Round 3: Patrik Jansen (DEU) playing UG Madness.
Wow – another U/G Deck! Game one I went first and took a Mulligan. I got a good hand and went out of the door flying. Patrik also seemed to do well, but my creatures were bigger and I drew more Aether Bursts, keeping Patrik on the back foot.
Patrik’s creatures were much bigger than mine on average (he had Arrogant Wurms and more Roars) and so I figured, as Standstill wouldn’t help as much, I might as well take it out for more big critters. This worked well, and I’d do it again.
We both started well, and built up a bit of an army of each side of the Red Zone. Eventually Patrik dropped a Wonder and flew in to attack. With two Wonders in my hand I felt secure; I dropped one and blocked a few of his guys, killing enough of them, and mine, to make the table look a lot less like a zoo. A few turns later I looked at his life total and he was at thirteen. I checked my creatures out (eight power) and cards in hand (5) and decided, as Patrik only had one card in hand and was tapped out, I might as well go for it. I discarded everything to my Mongrel, making it 7/7, and cast a Reclamation from the graveyard to put Patrik’s Wonder back in his deck. If he had a Wonder in hand, he could block…
He didn’t and I won.
Matches: 2-1, Games: 5-3.
Round three and I’ve played two U/G decks already. I almost wish I’d decided to play mono-Black, but I’m sure I’d then have to play one mono-Black player after another and at least the U/G mirror isn’t as boring…
Round 4: Hannes Scholtz (DEU) playing UG Threshold.
Three from four, and this one really is the mirror match, not just a U/G on U/G match up. Game one goes my way as Hannes keeps a hand he shouldn’t – it only had one land, a Centaur Garden – and I beat him to death the turn after he plays his second land: A second Centaur Garden.
The best laid plans of mice and men… Suddenly, I think that Standstill is really bad going second and decide that more creatures is good. I’m a big fan of being flexible, but what’s the point of a sideboard plan if you don’t stick to it? I also feel, in retrospect, that taking out the Mental Notes was a mistake altogether: They get you Wonder. Wonder wins the matchup. Leave them in.
This time around Hannes sees Wonder and I don’t. His 4/4 and 3/3 creatures fly over mine turn after turn leaving enough back to stay alive. I die.
Game three sees both of us building up a big army until we have massive Wurms on either side. Hannes sees Wonder; I don’t and don’t have Reclamation. He flies in for fifteen and I die.
Matches: 2-2, Games: 6-5.
All this hard work and I’m 2/2 and out of contention for day three. I’d like to have a few more cards in the sideboard for the mirror match. Maybe another Reclamation, maybe a Moment’s Peace – but all in all I’m happy how the deck performed. I just didn’t see Wonder…
Round 5: Dave Gazey (ENG) playing Mono Black.
The last time I played Dave, he handed me my ass, so it’s time for some payback. After Dave plays a Swamp I keep my fingers crossed and we start playing the ‘play a creature, kill it’ game until I have more creatures and one stays alive to fly over for three a turn until Dave is dead.
This game was very unfair; turn 4 I dropped a Nest with Envelop backup. I dropped a second on turn 5, and started dropping creatures. Dave had killed three lands already, and so only had one Rancid Earth left in his deck. Eventually I saw a Centaur and started the attack, leaving all the rest of my creatures back to block Dave’s ragtag army of Butchers, Shades and even Balthor and Braids! A couple of hits brings Dave down to six, and the next turn I attack with the Shade and six squirrels. Dave can block five of them, losing three creatures in the process and I’ll be able to make two more squirrels in his turn, and come in again. He wisely concedes.
Matches: 3-2, Games: 8-5.
Again, having a deck designed to crush another one is fun to play – bad to be on the end of. Mind you, given what the deck does to mono-black after Sideboarding, you have to think that maybe one or two slots could be dropped for more anti-U/G cards.
Round 6: Michael Steffl (AUT) playing UB Braids.
This game I got out of the gate fast, dropping a few creatures – but Michael had good creature kill and got rid of them. Eventually Michael ran out of kill and I came in for seven, then thirteen for the win. U/G can win quickly if it needs to.
I wasn’t quite sure what Michael was playing, as I hadn’t seen many creatures or spells, but U/B seems to have the same problems with U/G that Black has, so I sideboarded the same.
Game two was more two-sided, with Michael getting me down to three life before I could kill him. He made a few mistakes: Attacking with a Finkel when I had a Mongrel in pay and a hand full of cards, but really just didn’t see the cards he needed to finish me off… Whilst I gained threshold, made Nests and Centaurs and took him down 20-15-10-0. Seeing two Nests, three Centaurs, and three Envelops probably isn’t fair…
Matches: 4-2, Games: 10-5.
After this match, I felt ahead for the first time all day. Even if I lost the next match, I’d still be one up on the day. Mind you, the day was getting late and whatever the outcome I wouldn’t make day two. I decided to play round 7. If I lost, I’d drop, relax, get ready to head out into London. If I won I’d stay in and see if I could make 6-2 after all.
Round 7: Davy Loeb (FRA) playing UG Madness/Quiet Speculation.
Hmm. U/G again. Good job I really enjoy these matchups… Oh, hang on, I don’t.
Seven rounds and four of them are U/G. Mind you, I guess we all knew in advance that Black and U/G would be the most popular decks, I just hoped I’d run into a few different builds. Mind you, I’m playing U/G so I can’t really complain at other people playing it.
Both games were close. I got Davy to eleven in game one and two in game two before he killed me, but overall, the advantages of 4/4 Instant, Flying, Tramples is not wasted on me. I ended up sideboarding two Envelops in, as he bought in or had Quiet Speculation main, and they worked very well. A better sideboarding plan against U/G Quiet Spec may well be:
If you lose a game:
+2x Krosan Reclamation, +3x Envelop +1x Upheaval.
-1 Standstill, -1 Deep Analysis, -1 Basking Rootwalla, -1 Nimble Mongoose and two other cards, it’s very hard to work out without more testing.
Matches: 4-3, Games: 10-7.
Chris lost his round to go 4-3 too, but decided to stay in and lost his last round to be 4-4. Alan and Adam both played, and won, their last rounds to end up on 6-2 each, and each of them gained over 100 ranking points, repairing the damage they both did at Nationals this year.
So. OBC is over for me – until next year when Onslaught Block Constructed begins. Who’d have thought Wizards would call another main block something beginning with ‘O’ just to confuse us? My vote for the new block is OnBC; it’s simple and you know what we’re talking about.
I played and tested this block a lot more than I did with Invasion block, but didn’t get as good results as I did with Masques Block. I enjoyed playing it, but I’m glad I don’t have to play U/G mirror matches and mono-Black control again for a while.
So, on to Standard for next week and I guess I’ll be testing Deep Dog and Squirrel Opposition…
Team Diaspora &
Level 2 DCI Judge.