Another Friday night at James Wise’s house preparing with Billy, Mandee, and Andres Champion for greatness. Another Saturday grinding it out in Houston. Another chance at immortality with the best deck in the format that nobody knows about. Another meager performance and emotional letdown.
These PTQs are a tough cookie.
After all these years, making Top 8 a handful of times, making Top 4 even more often, and getting second place four freaking times, I actually think it has to be a mental block preventing me from rising to the occasion. Clearly I need some Levitra to get my perception perked, but that would just make squeezing through the tight PTQ aisles much more awkward.
Speaking of which, I think it should be common practice to cup your junk when parting two chairs close together, as to avoid the rubbing of such junk on the shoulders of other mages. I get poked by more packages at PTQs than Peter Piper picked pecks of pickled peppers.
Round 1 – Mark with Five-Color Control
Game 1 I mull to five and get Cruel Ultimatumed the turn after I was able to cast Bloodbraid Elf.
Game 2 I get an aggro draw with Putrid Leech into Anathemancer, while he had three comes-into-play-tapped lands. Naya Charm tapped out his Plumeveil, while Treetop Villiage and the other two dudes got it done.
Game 3 we had another long game. His Plumeveil enabled me to strip the Cryptic Commands from his deck with Thought Hemorrhage, revealing three Broken Ambitions and a Cruel Ultimatum in his hand. He tapped low on the next turn to cast Mulldrifter which let me Naya Charm the Hemorrhage to snag his Broken Ambitions. The turn after I was able to use another Naya Charm to get back Hemorrhage to take his Ultimatums, and it was all over.
Round 2 – Michael with B/W Kithkin
Game 1 we started racing early, me with Putrid Leech and Kitchen Finks, him with his Kithkin nonsense. Turn 6 I was able to Anathemancer him, while tapping his dudes with Naya Charm was enough to finish him off on the alpha strike next turn.
Round 3 — Andrew with Bant Aggro
Game 1 I was on the play with a Kitchen Finks into Bloodbraid Elf, which found Anathemancer. He tried to stock up on a badass creature with some Exalted shenanigans, but Maelstrom Pulse killed his two Jhessian Infiltrators, then Captured Sunlight into another Anathemancer polished him off.
Game 2 wasn’t as close. I got the dream curve of Putrid Leech into Kitchen Finks into Bloodbraid Elf, into another Finks. Naya Charm showed up during his combat phase to stop the Rhox War Monk from double striking from the fresh Rafiq.
Round 4 — David with Five-Color Control
Game 1 I had a really slow start, which played into his Liliana. This searched out a pair of Cruel Ultimatums.
Game 2 he mulliganed to four, and I was able to put him out before his card draw caught him up.
Game 3 was a really long game where we both drew a lot of lands and had slow starts. After exhausting each other’s resources, it came down to topdecks. I couldn’t match his Broodmate Dragon.
Round 5 — Kyle with B/W Tokens
An early game 1 Putrid Leech got in a good chunk of damage, since all he did was cast Kitchen Finks three times. The Leeches chopped them down while Treetops snuck in damage. There were a couple of Wraths played, and a pair of Maelstrom Pulse took care of his Spectral Procession and Cloudgoat Ranger.
Round 6 — Andrew with Swans
Game 1 I got an early Halo out to stop any explosive wins out of nowhere. From there I was able to chain a couple of Anathemancers through my four-mana Cascade spells, while he twiddled his thumbs drawing a bunch of lands. He stocked up on three Seismic Assaults after using some Bloodbraid Elves and Bituminous Blasts, and was chopping down my team, but he was low on cards and wasn’t playing Ad Nauseam (to my knowledge), so I eventually ground it out.
Game 2 went pretty long. Halo stopped him again. He bounced it a couple of times, but he didn’t have a backup counter or the combo, so I’m not sure what was going on. Eventually Treetop Village snuck in enough damage for Unearthed Anathemancer to be lethal.
Round 7 — Lebron (His self-declared nickname) with Swans
Game 1 saw a pair of Anathemancers put him on his heels early, setting up awkward block situations once I hit seven mana. Again, Halo was clutch here, stalling his combo long enough for me to kill his Swans of Bryn Argoll whenever he tried to land it.
Game 2 I ran out of gas early, but still had a Putrid Leech and a couple of Kitchen Finks. Plumeveil jumped in front of Leech while the Finks were applying the pressure, and one turn before I could swing for lethal with Naya Charm with one second on the clock, he pulled off the miracle topdeck to hit the twenty-six-foot three-pointer to combo away my squad with Swans Assault!
Yeah, that’s not true. He dominated me the entire game, while I kept drawing blanks.
Game 3 I got another Halo down, and was able to full up my hand with a Bituminous Blast on Swans of Bryn Argoll, which landed a Bloodbraid Elf into Kitchen Finks. Turn 7 or so I went to Bituminous Blast his Swans again. He immediately countered it with Negate, and when I resolved my Cascade I turned up a Thought Hemorrhage to strip a pair of Cryptic Commands from his hand. This left him with only Remove Soul in his grip. He was low on life so I used Naya Charm to tap down his Plumeveils.
Round 8 — Jacob with G/W Little Kid
Game 1 he got off to a wicked fast start with mana producers, Qasali Pridemage, and Wilt-Leaf Liege. Fortunately I had the Wrath of God to play catch up, and my Cascade spells were too overwhelming post-Wrath for him to come back. A Behemoth Sledge showed up off a Bloodbraid Elf Cascade, and eventually put me out of danger.
Game 2 was a really long one that I probably messed up. I had a pair of Naya Charm, and I remember having enough creatures to do significant damage with an Anathemancer, but I probably went for the Naya Charm plan too soon. He countered by overloading the board, playing into a Wrath which I didn’t expect.
Game 3 saw combat quickly clogged up with Putrid Leeches, Kitchen Finks, and Bloodbraid Elves. Anathemancer got in some pecks here and there before Naya Charm tapped him down for the final seven points.
Top 8 – Ambler with B/G Elves
Fresh off his Regionals win, he started out fast in game 1 with a pair of Wren’s Run Vanquishers, but he was stuck on two lands and lead out with some mana producers. Wrath cleaned the board up, while a pair of Bloodbraid Elves turned the tables on the race and gave me the win.
Game 2 I got off to a better start with an early Putrid Leech, and I looked to slam a Sledge on him, but Primal Command putting it on top and shuffling my library took care of it, while another Command on the following turn gained him some much needed life. Thankfully, Anathemancer took big chunks out of him, and left him far too much to do.
Top 4 — Zach with Five-Color Cascade (Cryptic trumps Wrath)
I caught his game against Faeries in the previous round. Putrid Leech, Anathemancer, Bloodbraid Elf, Bituminous Blast, Kitchen Finks, Maelstrom Pulse, and Cryptic Command over Wrath of God. Interesting take on the deck… I’ll have to do more research to figure out which plan is better. My version has a clear disadvantage to Faeries. However, his probably has a better Instant speed reactive game, and tops out at Cruel Ultimatum.
Game 1 I kept a two-land hand with five awesome spells, most of which cost three mana. I naturally got slowed down a bit, but I still made a long game of it thanks to multiple Kitchen Finks. We were both in topdeck mode for awhile, holding back lands to avoid each other’s Anathemancers. I actually used all three of mine this game, but Zach’s life gain from Rhox War Monk was too much for me to get past, and he finally drew into his Anathemancers to finish me off.
Game 2 I kept another sick two-land five-awesome-spell hand, but I failed to pull a third land in nine draw steps. His turn 3 Kitchen Finks just attacked for seven turns, then I shook his hand. Nice game, this Magic: the Gathering.
The PTQ results are all fine and dandy, but the real Saturday action was halfway around the world in a glorious city named Barcelona. The Grand Prix results will probably end up being more influential on my Seattle experience than my mediocre finish in Houston.
Swans made a very strong showing in Spain, and my matchup opposite Swans is nearly a bye. This puts Billy and I in prime position to do very well with our Cascade deck.
I have several changes in mind to plug up some holes in my overall strategy. I’m going to add more Vivid lands, as the mana is still on thin ice and I don’t like the Fire-Lit Thickets or Savage Lands. I might be going up to three Exotic Orchards, since having an extra painless City of Brass is an easy fix.
The Treetop Villages, Putrid Leeches, and Behemoth Sledges were all spectacular. Billy suggested them the night before at James’s lake house, and commented on how good this deck is at racing, and how a two-drop would lead to far more profitable end-games while buying into the Anathemancer route by inflicting early damage. Billy tried a near identical version minus the Runed Halos and Behemoth Sledges, plus Murderous Redcap, but I’m honestly not that excited about Redcap and I probably won’t play it.
If any creature gets added, I’ll want Rhox War Monk, which is a quality creature I don’t mind Bloodbraiding into given the lack of Wrath of God in the format. I’m not sure why the Swans decks in Barcelona didn’t play it. It seems like a perfect fit to push the game longer, thus having more time to combo off.
The sideboard is also going to get a slight makeover. The Violent Outburst plan isn’t that solid, so I’m switching to Puncture Blast and Volcanic Fallout instead, to combat all the Ajani Goldmanes trotting around. I don’t mind them pumping their tokens once for their four mana, but when they start turning up the dice it can get rough to contain the crowd.
As for the “Wrath of God or Cryptic Command” debate, I’m going to stick with Wrath because it pulls me out of games I have no business winning, while Cryptic Command just makes every hand better. Of course, maybe the answer is to run them both while cutting Naya Charm to narrow down my Cascades.
One thing’s for sure: the Cascade mechanic has already proven its greatness, so looking for ways to stifle its card advantage is the next step. Ethersworn Canonist is one option that is particularly brutal, but finding solid applications is tough, especially with Seismic Assault being the key ingredient in the various Swans versions. It’s still my nightmare card to deal with. James Wise threw three in his BW Token sideboard in the event that he would play me, and while we were playtesting the night before he was really putting the nail in the coffin with that single two-drop. There were several occasions where I would have to Bituminous Blast it, and I Cascaded into the nut high Wrath of God which would have been able to kill his huge army, but with the Canonist staring me down I was completely shut down.
See y’all in Seattle…