Those of you that have been reading my articles over the past three years will know that year after year I spend a lot of time practicing and then qualifying for the English Nationals. I’ve been qualified for each Nationals since 1998, and I really enjoy writing about the run-up to the qualifiers and finally qualifying. This year, two things changed all of that.
Firstly, Wizards UK decided that they were going to change how many people could qualify in each qualifier. This was largely due to the huge number of people who attended Nationals in 2002 – we had a bigger number qualified than Germany and the even the US! We may be good at building decks, but we certainly didn’t deserve such a big event. Even so, the changes seemed a little too draconian and meant a lot less people than many previous years would show.
Last year, for each qualifier, the top eight and one person for every eight players (or part thereof) would qualify. At a 32-player tourney, twelve people would qualify; at a 33-player tourney, thirteen people would qualify.
This year, one person would qualify for each full eight players. 32 player and 33 player tourneys would both qualify only 4 people.
Whether this is fair or not is up for debate. I’d like to see the top eight from each qualifier make it in. It just doesn’t seem right that the top eight of every tourney in the world is special, apart from English National Qualifiers. If 63 people showed up, you could go 4-1-1 over six rounds and come eighth and not make it! On the positive side, it does mean that the players at this year’s Nationals will have come through a much harder test to get there.
The second thing that changed this year was that I was asked to keep our testing to myself until after we’d had our shots at qualifying. In previous years, I’d played a deck I liked after testing against a few other top decks, or built my own. This year, all of us were intending to play the same deck, with the same sideboard and sideboarding plans. After all the effort that would be required to qualify, they felt it only reasonable to keep the info to ourselves – and for the first time, I agreed.
It’s fine for me to give away my own secrets; it’s fine for me to tell everyone what I’m playing in advance, how I’m going to board and what I’m going to do against every deck type but I’m not about to ruin someone else’s chances. Does it really make a difference? Will anyone read this that plays in Bath and Bristol?
Every month, I get players come up to me and talk about articles I’ve written, and quite often they’re good players who could use just that sort of information to help them beat me and my teammates. If they know I’ll be bringing in Spellbane Centaurs against them they can safely take out Aether Bursts. If they know I’m bringing in Squirrel Nests, a Rancid Earth might make a sideboard that was otherwise destined to stay in a mouldy box in the corner.
So I decided to keep this to myself until the after the Bristol qualifier. None of us could make it to any more after that, anyway. Some people have already told me I should have spread the word. Some have understood. I’d be interested what you think, feel free to e-mail me. Should I enter into bargains like this, or should I keep writing and give up the team? I know which is better for me as a Magic player – but which is better for me as a writer?
Testing, testing… 1, 2, 3.
We started testing for Regionals after the Bath Monthly Standard in January. I took a B/R deck along and didn’t do so well, thanks to the sheer number of aggressive creature decks and the fact I’d reduced the amount of creature kill I was playing. I didn’t want to make the same mistake and take the wrong deck on the day, but first we needed to know what the really good decks were.
I started out by knocking up a few decks to play with:
- Kai’s Chicago Masters 2003 Wake deck.
- Psychatog (based on 3rd/4th place from the Masters).
- U/G Madness.
- Steve Hill’s Sligh deck (won Bath Standard in January 6-1).
- B/R Control (my Somerset Championships winning deck).
I then took a good look around the net, and looked at who had played what at Bath and farmed out a bunch of suggested decks to the Team to build up. When Wednesday’s testing came around, we had the following built up too:
- B/R Reanimator from the Masters gateway.
- Enchantress, based on the Extended version.
- G/U/b Opposition, the winning Masters deck.
- U/G Threshold, Ken Ho’s version from the Masters.
- R/W Astral Slide.
Not all of these were that important: Enchantress was still lying around from January, although in a much better state than it had been as Adam had tested it much more online. Astral Slide was showing good form online too, so we included that – even though without it’s surprise value it is much weaker. We were missing a few decks I would have liked to have had built up too:
- R/G Beats (several good versions appeared in the Masters)
- U/G Opposition
- G/W Beats
- Future Sight deck (getting bigger online)
- B/G Braids and Oversold Cemetery deck.
Even without these five decks we had a good range of decks that would test any new deck’s ability to stand up to control, aggro and prison, as well as the new B/R Re-animator combo deck.
We all picked out a deck and started playing in against the others. I took my usual role in such testing and played whatever people wanted to play against. I find that until I pick the deck I want to play, it gives me a good insight into the whole Standard field. It doesn’t make you an expert on each deck, but it does give you valuable insider information.
We found that the Wake deck, although powerful, could easily lose to aggro decks through no fault of its own. If you didn’t draw a Wrath of God, you were in big trouble – and with Sligh and G/R Beats popular at the moment, we had to rule it out.
Tog seemed to have trouble as well. Sure, if it got to the mid-game with a healthy amount of life, the sheer power of the card drawing spells, Upheaval, and Psychatog gave it the game on a platter but it often emptied its hand dealing with Goblins and early critters and had to tap out to draw more cards, giving their opponent a gap in which to drop two or three more critters and sealing a win.
My B/R Control deck and MBC suffered equally at the hands of the aggro decks too. MBC fared slightly better, as Mutilate was more reliable with more Swamps in the deck, but, again, before sideboarding Goblins ate it for breakfast, to say nothing of Blistering Firecat. After sideboarding they performed better, with Engineered Plague naming Goblin and Cat working very well, as well as the ability to bring in Ghastly Demise if we had to – but throwing away one game of three is a difficult gambit to play.
Enchantress seemed quite strong, but was very difficult to play correctly over any length of time and Regional Qualifiers tend to be at least seven rounds – and I’ve played in a few eight-rounders myself. It also suffered from the”don’t draw Wrath and lose” problem that Wake had.
So, counting out the more controlling decks left us with Opposition and the aggro-control and beatdown decks. I’m not a fan of the pure-aggro decks myself, but Sligh seemed to be working very well, winning games it shouldn’t and frequently winning before your opponent had really done anything. On the other hand, it could run out of steam and just lose; to say that you had to mulligan aggressively against some decks was an understatement. G/R fared better and was certainly a candidate and U/G Madness was playing well too.
Opposition was a 50/50 for a while, but eventually, we counted it out. Although it could cope well with many decks, Naturalize has been added to many sideboards to try and combat Slide and Wake. Without Opposition, an Opposition deck is really just a bad Green Monster deck.
Key in our decisions was the belief that we’d have to play seven rounds and win five of them. One loss to mana screw or flood or just bad matchups was acceptable, but with the new rules a solid deck just wasn’t enough; we needed to play a deck that could just keep winning.
After a week or two Chris and I had played pretty much all of the decks and came to the conclusion that there was really only one deck to play. There really were only two decks that had a”just win” opening hand, and only one of them that could put a fight up against all the others.
Talk is cheap – let’s see some action!
Luckily for us there was one remaining Bath Monthly Standard tournament before our Regionals began. If the deck was going to qualify us, it had to be able to do well at Bath, as Regionals was going to be much tougher. I spent several evenings working on the sideboarding and then a full evening testing some troublesome match ups to make sure we had it right. Here’s the deck I took:
After all that, I’m just playing U/G Madness? It’s hardly a secret and pretty much similar to all the other versions, but stick with me: I went 5-1 in the Bath Monthly Standard tournament and a week later I played it to a 5-1-1 finish to qualify for English Nationals for the fifth time in a row.
First of all, Aether Burst. U/G Madness decks with it beat those without it, hands down. You Burst their Wurms and they die. Burst works well against Re-animator too, although we expected little of it, but can also help win the tempo race against a number of decks. You drop a Mongrel followed up by an Arrogant Wurm and bounce their blocker for a turn and you’re looking at a quick, painless victory. It’s all about tempo.
Next up: Aquamoeba. A lot of well-known players have been touting the Blue Beast as a better replacement for the Looter. They say that it’s more aggressive, and that Looter is just too slow. They’re right, of course – but the Beast doesn’t draw you extra cards, and Merfolk Looter does. If you play the mirror match and one deck has Looters and the other has Aquamoebas, the deck with the Aquamoebas will certainly do more early damage should they see one… But they’ll also run out of cards pretty quickly. Meanwhile, the Looter player will draw one extra card for each Madness spell they see. In a deck with nineteen spells you’re happy to throw away, that’s a lot of extra cards. The Looters also help you dig to find Wonder – which is, again, crucial in the mirror match – and your one Upheaval main deck to get out of tricky situations. Tempo is important, but in the mirror with Looters you play the control player against the deck that doesn’t.
The one Upheaval in itself is a little unusual but very necessary. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve won a match because my opponent thought I couldn’t play it until game two. It gets rid of Ensnaring Bridges and fills out your opponent’s hand. It beats Astral Slide and MBC all on its own and it can give you a second chance just before you’re about to lose.
The one Counterspell could be anything. If there is an extra card you’d like to play I’d cut this. Even so, playing five counters instead of four does help a little, I’d like to be able to play six myself but there just isn’t room. Any number of times someone tried to cast something thinking I couldn’t counter it with an empty graveyard and Counterspell left them speechless and about to lose.
The most obvious card missing from this list is Compost. I’ve played with it and find it’s very good, but that it only comes in against two decks, Tog and MBC, and you really need to play four of them. The Centaurs and Nests are useful against many more decks – and so, for flexibility’s sake, I chose those. If you think you’re about to play against a field full of Tog and MBC I’d swap them out for the Composts.
The second Upheaval comes in against control decks. Moment’s Peace comes in against aggro decks to help you stop the alpha strike, and I planned to bring it in in the mirror match, too. Gigapede comes in against MBC, Tog, Slide and Enchantress. Tranquility and Naturalize come in against Wake, Slide, Opposition and Enchantress. Naturalize can also help against MBC with Engineered Plagues and Miraris. Spellbanes are there for the mirror (if they have Aether Burst or you think they’ll bring it in) and against Opposition. When this hits the table, they lose – as the only thing they can tap is your land, and you can make instant speed 4/4 creatures!
Friday night, I decided to have a quiet night round a fellow PhatBeats member’s house. We ended up drinking a few bottles of wine and watching Pitch Black, Invincible, and Loser. Pitch Black is a great film. Loser was, from my point of view, another teen flick – a good one for that genre – but nothing special. Invincible was – how shall I put it? – so bad it was funny. In the first fifteen minutes it’d run through pretty much every cliché from a Fight movie ever but it was a good laugh. I eventually crawled home about 2 a.m., drank a couple of pints of water, and slipped into the land of nod.
Saturday morning swam into view and I felt much better than I had a right to. I grabbed my deck, a few cards for friends and headed over to the tourney, picking up a coffee on the way.
Round 1: Jake Warren (Astral Slide)
I’ve played a lot of games against Astral Slide and my opening hand was as good as it got: a Wild Mongrel, Circular Logic, and Arrogant Wurm. Jake started by cycling a few cards but I was soon making him kill my critters until, finally I dropped a Roar of the Wurm and flew in for six a turn until he died. He didn’t see Astral Slide so he lost. In testing games against Slide have always come down to three cards: Exalted Angel, Wrath of God, and Astral Slide. You don’t have enough counters to stop them all, so you only counter a Wrath if you’re going to win – otherwise you play around it by not overextending your hand. You must counter Astral Slide in the first game, but can get rid of it in games two and three. The Angel can be a real problem, but with no Slide on the board you can either race it with Wurms, or leave one back on defence to kill it – you do need Wonder, of course.
I sideboarded in the two Naturalize, two Tranquility, the extra Upheaval, Gigapede, and the three Phantom Centaurs. Out came all of the Roars; if they get Astral Slide, they’re just too weak. I also took out all of the Looters, one Burst, and one Basking Rootwalla. The Looters, although powerful, never survive very long against Slide. You don’t want to take out the Careful Studies because they let you dig down for Naturalizes and Upheavals – your two main ways of winning. If you have a choice, you always kill the Astral Slides.
Game two took longer; I had to Upheaval twice, but the second time I managed to drop a few critters and I’d got Jake’s life low enough to make the end swift.
Matches: 1-0. Games: 2-0.
Round 2: Matt Bailie (B/R Reanimator)
I knew that the deck was out there, and I’d gotten a little testing in against it, but I hadn’t really expected to see it at all. I decide to play a little more controlling than I maybe should have and cast out a Rootwalla followed by a Mongrel. The Mongrel soon died, but I kept my counters for Reanimation spells and Buried Alive. Matt didn’t really see the cards he needed and I soon won.
I took out the Roars and bought in Phantom Centaurs – a Visara-proof kill mechanism – and added in the Gigapede for one Careful Study, as I really didn’t know how much creature kill Matt’s deck played.
The second game went much slower, but all of my damage came from my own City of Brass. Matt did manage to get Visara on the table, but I bounced her back with a Burst. Matt then made a fatal mistake when he cast Burning Wish for a Buried Alive, forgetting that she was in his hand and not in his deck! With a reanimate spell in hand, he could have put her straight back into play if only he had a way to discard her.
Matches: 2-0. Games: 4-0.
Matt admitted that he needed more time with the deck, but it was only the second round so I guessed he’d get the hang of it by the end of the day – or hopefully (for Matt, anyway) much sooner!
Round 3: Shane Silk-Reeves (U/W Speculation)
Now here’s a deck that’s a real blast from the past. I last played against U/W Speculation when Meddling Mage was Standard-legal, but I know it’s not an easy match to win. If I see Wonder and he doesn’t see Quiet Speculation, I have a good chance; if he sees the Spec, grabs some Battle Screeches, and flies over, I’ll die.
Game one went very well. I accelerated out of the blocks with Rootwalla and a Mongrel, quickly followed up with an Arrogant Wurm. Meanwhile, Shane had been dropping creature after creature and was nibbling away at my life. Even so, I found a Wonder to put the brakes on his antics, bouncing away a few flying tokens and starting to attack with an Arrogant Wurm each turn.
I bought in two each of Moment’s Peace, Tranquility, and Spellbane Centaur. The Centaur’s were against Aether Burst, a card I’ve seen several U/W decks sideboard. Tranquility came in against Circle of Protection: Green, Shared Triumph, and Glorious Anthem – although I’ve also seen Worship in sideboards, too. Moment’s Peace, I hoped, would give me a little slack in the early- to mid-game to get on top of a horde of tokens. I took out four Careful Studies and a Rootwalla.
Obviously, this was a mistake; I’ll get into that in a bit.
In the second game, I was dead by about turn 5. Shane made critters, cast Quiet Speculation, and beat me to death with hundreds of birds. We moved on to the third game.
My opening hand had one Forest and some Blue spells, so I chose to mulligan to six. Five Green spells and an Island looked back at me; down to five. The five cards I looked at were good, very good – but no land graced their presence. I thought very carefully. I couldn’t win with this hand. I would have to topdeck three land in a row to have a chance – and so, regrettably, I went down to four.
Merfolk Looter, two islands, and a forest stared back at me. I took it and dropped and Island. A turn later I dropped the Looter and took one damage. Next turn, as Shane attacked along the ground I looted, drew an Arrogant Wurm and put it into play. A turn later, I Looted into a Wonder whilst Shane’s hand was getting as empty as mine – and I was still at sixteen life! The Looter kept pulling cards I needed into my hand and I managed to start to hit back with an Arrogant Wurm, then a pair of Wurms until Shane was dead! Phew.
Matches: 3-0. Games: 6-1.
If anything, this shows how important mulligans are. If I had stayed at five cards, I probably would have lost, but going to four gave me the chance for a better, if more limited, hand. It paid off and the Looter helped me draw twice as many cards as Shane did, clawing back the disadvantage I started with.
Now the mistake: I really needed to see Wonder and I only have two in the deck. I should only rarely take out the Careful Studies – especially as they help fix mana, too – but I should never take them out if Wonder is that important, unless two of them are coming out for two more Wonders! Even then I’d look to find something else because Careful Study not only finds them, but puts them where you want them: In the graveyard.
In hindsight, the Moment’s Peaces wouldn’t have worked well; in the early game, you’re too busy casting critters to cast them when you really need to stall. The Spellbanes didn’t help, but I didn’t know Shane had no Bursts – and the Tranquilities? Well, they made me feel safe and did kill a Mobilization…
Round 4: Mark Knight (Sligh)
Mark has been doing well in Bath tourneys of late and had chosen, uncharacteristically for him, to run Sligh. I thought I had quite a good chance if I saw enough big creatures, but hadn’t really had time to test much against the deck.
Mark came out of the block quickly, but was slowed by a turn 2 Mongrel, followed by a turn 3 Arrogant Wurm. I was lucky enough to draw and drop two more, and that was that, really; Mark drew land after land.
I bought in two Moment’s Peaces and three Phantom Centaurs and took out a few little critters and a Careful Study and an Upheaval. I’m not too likely to want to Alpha Strike him. However, I made another mistake that I’ll come to in a minute.
Mark walked all over me in games two and three. In game two I had to mulligan down to four again, seeing no land in my first hand, one spell and five in my second and no land and five big casting-cost spells in my third. I had three land and a creature, but it was no Wild Mongrel and I couldn’t pull off what I’d done against Shane again.
Matches: 4-1. Games: 7-3.
My sideboarding wasn’t good enough in this match. Again, the Moment’s Peaces didn’t help at all and I really think they don’t deserve space in the sideboard. One Upheaval should stay in the deck, as you don’t know if they’re going to bring in Ensnaring Bridge or not – and many Sligh decks now do, so much so that I’d consider one Naturalize for game two and another for game three if you see them.
So what do we take out? Aether Burst, of course. Whenever I Burst a creature, Mark just recast it. Even if you Burst three or four, they all come straight back down and you can’t burst Piledriver. So you take out the four Bursts, one Looter, and one Wonder and bring in two Phantom Centaurs, two Spellbane Centaurs and two Ravenous Baloths.
Why bring in the Spellbanes? Because they kill Goblins and only cost three mana. They give you another creature you can cast that isn’t too expensive, and fill out the three casting cost slot in the deck. You go from playing eighteen creatures and three creature spells to twenty-three creatures and three spells – and you’ve lost a four casting cost creature you normally discard, too!
Round 5: Adam Reynolds (Astral Slide).
Adam beat me last month and now it was my turn for revenge. We didn’t want to ID because we were both on 3-1 and wanted a shot at winning the tourney; we also knew that the day was about testing the decks, not just getting points.
Game one was quick. Adam did manage to get some damage done to me, but I countered the only Astral Slide he saw and beat him down with a Mongrel and Arrogant Wurm. Seeing no Wrath of Gods didn’t help him either.
I boarded exactly as I had against Jake, and we kicked off game two. My opening hand had a Mongrel, two Naturalizes, a Forest, an Island, a Centaur and a Careful Study. I studied and threw away some land and an Aether Burst and dropped the Mongrel next turn. Adam dropped an Astral Slide and I cast Naturalize and swung in for some more damage. Adam managed to get an Angel into play, but I saw a Centaur and got a Wonder into the graveyard to stop him attacking. He dropped a few more critters and managed to kill some of my guys with Lightning Rifts before trying to cast an Auramancer to get his Slide back. I countered.
Auramancer is very bad; if they can get Slide into play that turn and have mana open to cycle, it’s almost impossible to win. Even so, Adam had to tap out to kill a critter; I attacked and cast Upheaval, dropping a Rootwalla and a land. A few turns later, Adam’s life was zero.
Matches: 4-1. Games 9-3.
Round 6: Alastair McClare (U/G/b Madness)
The last round. If I won, I had a shot at winning the tourney. I knew roughly what Alastair was playing, a U/G Madness deck splashing a third colour but I didn’t know which colour. Last month, he made the top eight splashing Red and playing main deck Grim Lavamancers.
We kicked off the game and I went first and chose to mulligan. Luckily for me I had a good six cards and started off with a Careful Study and dropped a Rootwalla. A turn later, I played out a Looter over a Mongrel and Alastair cast Smother to kill it. Even so, I managed to get a few more critters into play and started to attack Alastair. He started to attack back with a Wurm, but I was ahead in the race and finally finding a Wonder sealed his fate.
I boarded in Spellbanes, not knowing whether he would bring in Bursts – or if he had them in his deck at all. I also brought in two Moment’s Peaces to help me in case he drew a Wonder and I didn’t. Out went a Rootwalla and two Careful Studies – again, a mistake.
Game two, Alastair saw the Looters and I didn’t; he must have drawn three times as many cards as I did. Amongst the cards he drew were three of his four Aether Bursts – and without a Spellbane on the board, my critters kept bouncing back into my hand as he beat me to death.
In the third game I took out more Rootwallas for two Phantom Centaurs to help me kill his Arrogant Wurms and block 6/6 Wurms a little easier. The game swung one way after another as Alastair Smothered my Mongrels – which was just what I wanted, as I played out my Looters and got them active. Once again the game swung with Looter advantage, and I won thanks to Aether Bursting a few creatures early on and finding a Burst just when I needed one for the win.
Matches: 5-1. Games 11-4.
So I know I made the top eight – but would I win? The final standings were:
- Mark Knight (Sligh)
- Seb Dolling (R/G Beats)
- Jim Grimmett (U/G Madness)
- Anwar Tarafder (MBC)
- Robin Lubarr (Mono White Life Gain)
- Tim Pinder (R/G Beats)
- Alastair McClare (U/G/b Madness)
- Mat Bailie (B/R Reanimator)
Mark, Seb and I were all on 5-1 but my tiebreakers weren’t as good. Even so, I picked up a quarter of a box of product, mainly Onslaught, and opened a few good cards. More importantly, the deck worked – but it could be better. Certainly my sideboarding needed work at the very least.
We got together for one last testing period a few days later with all the info from the tourney and worked over the sideboarding plan. Some cards had been total stars but others had been no good. We tried out a few other cards in the board and I tested a few matches against Tog to check that I was happy with my sideboard… And then sat down and played the mirror match over and over.
We tested playing Quiet Speculation and found that if you drew it turn 2 you could make a lot of Wurms very quickly. Other than that it helped, but slowed the deck down a turn. It was also very difficult to decide what to take out. We tried Silklash Spider in the sideboard; basically you take out the Wonders for them, but I found it expensive, and if your opponent throws a Wonder away on turn three, you can be almost dead before you cast the Spider! On the other hand it will win games.
At the end of the day I took all our notes home and spent a day thinking about a few things. We only changed the sideboard by three cards, dropping the Moment’s Peace for Ravenous Baloth and bringing a third Naturalize in for one Tranquility. Naturalize kills Mirari and Bridges and we guessed that Slide decks wouldn’t be so popular.
The biggest thing I changed was the sideboarding plan. Against some decks, like Tog, I figured we had it spot on, but others needed work. I tried to make sure that boarding didn’t skew the mana curve of the deck too much and tried to keep in the Careful Studies as much as possible – only taking one out when I had to and didn’t need a specific card too much.
The Big Day Out
I managed to grab an early night on Saturday so that I could get up at 6:20 a.m., grab some breakfast and coffee before catching a lift to Plymouth. Plymouth is about two and a half hours away by car and a friend Claire Williams was going down there and offered to take me along. Claire runs Magic tournaments in Bristol and is well connected in the English Magic scene so we had lots to talk about on the way there.
Once we arrived I registered and started to read a book I’d taken with me. There were a few technical problems but the organisers managed to work around them and we started only a little later than advertised. I knew some of the players from Bath and Bristol, but 67 turned up and it was announced as a seven round, straight Swiss tourney. Obviously, seven or six wins would make it and I figured that some people on five wins and two losses might make it. I’d really just have to try and win as many rounds as I could – no change there, then…
Round 1: Adam Targett (Balthor Reanimator)
I generally take a quick wander around a tourney before it starts to try and get an idea of what some people are playing. I know that some people go as far as waiting until the day to tweak their sideboards, but you can always miss out a deck and end up screwing yourself. I’d rather know I have most things covered and try to know in advance what someone is playing. After all, having better criteria as to whether you can keep your opening hand helps a lot. This time around, I’d seen a few Reanimator decks around and hoped I hadn’t made a horrible mistake leaving Krosan Reclamation out of my sideboard.
After a few turns against Adam, I was sure he was playing something along those lines as he had several Mesmeric Fiends in play, keeping a good creature and spell under wraps. Even so Basking Rootwalla started to beat him up – and even with no blockers, Adam didn’t attack me back with his Fiends! I kept at it for a few turns until I found a Careful Study and managed to get a Roar of the Wurm into the graveyard, then into play. Soon his Fiends were chump blocking and a few turns later game one was mine.
I wasn’t really sure what to bring in and take out – but to try and keep the mana curve similar, I dropped an Arrogant Wurm, a Roar of the Wurm, and a Rootwalla for three Phantom Centaurs. This time the game went all Adam’s way as his Fiends took my good spells again – and although I started to cast critters and stopped a Buried Alive, he drew and hard cast three Laquatus’s Champions to kill me. The third game went all my way. I dropped a Wild Mongrel turn 2 and attacked him for three next turn, discarding a Rootwalla. The next three turns I attacked for five a turn, keeping a Counterspell and Circular Logic in hand and discarding a Wonder to give my guys flying. Finally I flew in and pumped the Mongrel to kill him.
Matches: 1-0. Games 2-1.
Well, not a bad start against a deck I was unprepared for. If I could win the next two, I’d feel in a good position.
Round 2: Ron Leacy (G/W Beats).
Win the next two? I’d have settled to win just this one! G/W versus U/G often comes down to evasion. I have Wonder, but they have Glory. We both have good creatures but theirs have the edge, whilst I have counters, bounce, and Upheaval to balance it out.
Game one looked bad by turn 3 when a Morphed creature hit the table. I grinned.
It was – and the next turn I took a hit for four, raising Ron back up to nineteen life. I managed to keep attacking for seven but Ron attacked for four a turn, gaining four life. The net result was that I was going to lose the race. I tried to find a Wonder but couldn’t see one, whilst Ron dropped some blockers to stop the race completely and win the game.
I bought in two Phantom Centaurs and an Upheaval, taking out two Rootwallas and an Arrogant Wurm. The game was going badly, but I managed to get a Looter into play and started digging for an answer. My deck decided to give me one and I cast Upheaval, dropping two Rootwallas and a land. Next turn the Looter made a second appearance and I took the game.
I hoped game three would go my way, but I stuck with four land and two spells in after going to six cards. I should have gone down to five for a better hand. I countered a few spells and drew more land whilst Ron drew more threats. I dealt him just one point of damage before he took the game.
Matches: 1-1. Games 3-3.
I probably could have played better, and I had no real practice against G/W Beats – but at the end of the day, Ron’s deck gave him answers. I could have mulliganed one more time and that might have given me the answer. All in all I think, if you expect a lot of G/W, you need Reclamation to deal with their Glories. Once they don’t have them, it’s a much easier match.
Round 3: Gary Brooking (Psychatog)
So down to the bottom tables and I have to keep winning. No more comfortable buffer between me and two losses. The first game went all my way, with a turn 2 Mongrel surviving long enough for me to discard an Arrogant Wurm and a Roar of the Wurm as my Mongrel was Smothered. Next turn I came in for four, but the Wurm was bounced. I cast Careful Study and drew into a Wonder, discarding the Wonder and Wurm to get another one back into play. Next turn I hit for four and cast the Roar. The next two turns I attacked for ten a turn as Gary cast card drawing spells to try and draw an answer.
Having practiced against Tog, I knew exactly what to bring in and take out. In came three Phantom Centaurs, two Squirrel Nests, one Upheaval and one Gigapede. I’d also seen an Aether Burst and so wanted to bring in the two Spellbanes. That’s nine cards. Straight away the four Aether Bursts come out, as do three of the Careful Studies. I also took out a Wonder and one Rootwalla. The Studies, although Madness enablers, are card disadvantage – and I want as little of that as possible. Bursts are nice, but don’t really help much. Wonder is good, but you really don’t need two.
I started well, dropping a Looter, which got killed. I dropped a second which also got killed and finally got a Mongrel to stay on the table. I started to attack and Gary tried to find cards with a Deep Analysis, which I countered and followed up by playing out a Spellbane Centaur. Next turn I came in for five and cast a Looter. Gary cast a Psychatog and had a few cards in his graveyard, so in his end step I cast an Arrogant Wurm. I untapped and looted only to draw my one Wonder and fly in for the win. Gary shook my hand and showed me the two Aether Bursts in his.
Matches: 2-1. Games 5-3.
Round 4: Ross Stuart (G/R Beats)
I sat down opposite Ross, knowing he was playing a G/R Beats he’d gotten from Alastair McClare, who’d come down from Bristol and just beat him. Alastair was 3-0 at this point. My opening hand was good and so I dropped an Island and said go. Next turn I dropped Forest and played out a Looter. Ross drew a card and played it out straight away – a land. I untapped and, with an Arrogant Wurm in hand, said "go.” Ross untapped drew, and played another land and decided to kill my Looter. I played out the Wurm.
I was gob-smacked. He could have killed it the turn before, when it wasn’t active, but had waited! I untapped and hit him for four. Next turn I hit him for four again and played out a Roar of the Wurm and the game was mine.
I bought in two Phantom Centaurs and two Baloths, taking out two Studies and two Rootwallas. In retrospect, I think only one Study should come out and maybe a Wonder should instead. Even so, Wonder is very good as it allows you to break a creature stalemate. The Upheaval has to stay in, just in case they bring in Ensnaring Bridges, and to help you win if it looks like you’re about to lose.
Game two was quicker. Even after Ross cast Boil and blew up two of my Islands, I drew into an Island straight away to give me the three lands I needed. I kept attacking with Arrogant Wurms until he died.
Matches: 3-1. Games 7-3.
Round 5: Kieron Wilson (G/U/b Opposition)
I didn’t have a clue what Kieron was playing, but he dropped a Forest and a Birds of Paradise so I guessed at Opposition. A few turns later he was in control and dropped a Swamp to cast Duress, followed up with a Squirrel Nest.
"So; you’re playing the winning Opposition deck from the Masters then."
"Yeah, with a few changes."
Brilliant. That’s the kind of info I want from an opponent. I didn’t know what the changes were, but I knew what I was bringing in for game two.
"I might as well cast this, then," said Kieron, playing out Opposition. I looked at the table and facing his five critters in play, I was in trouble. Kieron made a 6/6 Wurm and quickly put me out of my misery.
In came three Naturalize, one Upheaval, one Tranquility, and two Spellbanes. Game two started well with a Looter, then a Mongrel then an Arrogant Wurm. Meanwhile, Kieron was screwed for Blue mana and finally drew an Island a turn before I killed him.
Game three was tougher, but I started well with a Careful Study and a Rootwalla, discarding a Wonder straight away. I soon played out a Wild Mongrel and Richard tapped out in his turn to cast Opposition. In my turn he tapped my Forests; I saved the mana and Naturalized his Opposition and attacked, playing out a Merfolk Looter. A few turns later Kieron dropped a second Opposition. In my turn I floated mana and drew, then Looted. No luck and some mana burn. This continued for a few turns until I finally drew a Naturalize and, with no counters in his deck, I knew I was free to cast it and beat him to death. I soon drew a Circular Logic of my own and knew I was on to a winner.
Matches: 4-1. Games 9-4.
A much better state of affairs: 4-1 with two games to play. If I can win the next one, I worked out from the standings that I could probably ID with someone in the final round and qualify. Most of the people on 4-1 were from Bath or Bristol and I hoped I wouldn’t have to ruin someone’s day.
Round 6: Claire Williams
This was exactly the person I didn’t want to see. Claire had driven me up here, she was driving me back, and I really didn’t want to have to play her. One of us would probably be knocking the other out. I knew what she was playing – MBC – and I figured I had a good chance against it, but we all know they can get a hand full of creature kill and just win.
"You really want to go to Nationals, don’t you, Jim?" Claire asked me.
"I’ll concede to you, then, I’ll probably have to judge, even if I tell them I don’t want to!"
I was stunned and asked Claire if she was sure. She was, and we informed the judges and I received a 2-0 win. Last year, a friend of mine, Tom Cleaver, conceded to me after one game knowing that if we played a second we’d probably get a draw and I wouldn’t qualify. This year, another friend as conceded again, I’m probably the luckiest Magic player ever… Apart from Kai, of course.
Matches: 5-1. Games 9-4.
We sat down to play anyway and I had a great first draw. Claire killed couple of my critters and managed to Mutilate away a few too, but they kept coming in and even two Corrupts couldn’t help her as I drew an Upheaval, knocked her to eight and cast it, dropping two Rootwallas back into play.
In came the Centaurs, Nests, the Gigapede and the Upheaval and out when the Bursts one Roar, one Wonder and one Study. Game two was even quicker, as I drew an almost perfect opening hand. I started with a Mongrel, trying to bait out a creature kill spell. It died and I played a Looter. The looter stayed alive long enough for me to play out an Arrogant Wurm and fly in for four before Mutilate hit the board. I played out a second Looter and soon discarded a Rootwalla into play. It flew in for one and I made an Arrogant Wurm in Claire’s end step. Two turns of flying in for seven later, Claire gave up the game.
Lots of the Bath and Bristol regulars were now on 5-1, but Mark Humphries was on 4-1-1 and needed to play. With the worst tie-breakers, 15 points, I held my breath. If I was paired up with Mark, we’d have to play for the slot. Luckily, a lot of the top players had played each other and I was paired up against Greg Jackson who had five wins and a draw already, having taken an ID in the last round with Seb Dolling. Greg offered the ID, knowing we’d both qualify and give Greg a good shot at winning the day. Greg didn’t have to ID; he could have played it out, so thanks go to him as well as to Claire.
Matches: 5-1-1. Games 9-4.
With 67 players, all of the top 8 players qualified, leaving Alastair just outside the qualification zone at fifteen points (even though he’d won his first four matches in a row). Like I said, it’s harder to qualify for the English this year.
A few final thoughts.
So, two tournaments and this deck as taken me to a 10 wins, two losses and one ID. I’ve come 3rd of 32 players and 6th of 67 players (maybe that suggests I’d come 12th of 128 players but I hope not). U/G Madness is one of, if not the best deck in Standard today, and it will be up until March 1st when Legions rotates in.
At the moment, it seems that Legions brings little to the established decks, giving MBC the best card against U/G madness in the form of Withered Wretch. Even then the Wretch only really helps against Wonder and Circular Logic. Careful Study and Merfolk Looter both put cards in the graveyard as part of the resolution of the spell or ability. That means that if they use it in their main phase, they can cast Deep Analysis or Roar of the Wurm with Flashback, and by the time you have a chance to use the Wretch’s ability the card is no longer in the graveyard.
Unless a new deck comes along, one based around a new Legions card like Keeper of the Nine Gales or a deck that didn’t quite work before that gains a few new tricks from Legions, I’d say that U/G Madness will be with us until Scourge, maybe even until November 1st when the Odyssey block rotates out of Standard.
If I were going to a Regional before March 1st I’d play either U/G madness and be ready for the mirror match, or a deck that beats it for sure – not 50/50, but one that beats it nineteen times out of twenty.
Good luck to you all.
Level 2 DCI Judge.