Down And Dirty – The Deadly Black Decision at States

SCG 10k St. Louis Offers First Chances to Qualify for the 2010 StarCityGames.com Invitational!
Wednesday, December 9th – Last week, Kyle Sanchez brought us an innovative Ranger of Eos / Hedron Crab deck for Standard. Today, he outlines the dark direction of the deck, and shares his performance from States. He also brings us the current version of the deck, in time for this weekend’s SCG 10K St. Louis!

Last week, I joined forces with Bubonic Billy Moreno to brew up something special. We took the Bant-based Ranger Mills deck and added some Grim Voices to spice it up. Thanks for all the feedback and emails you guys sent me with interest in the deck, and I apologize to those I led astray with the Black version. I sent the list to a couple dozen people, and I haven’t heard back with any positive results, so I’m assuming this deck crashed and burned over the weekend. Evan Erwin informed me it won a 45-man Premier Event on MTGO on Saturday or Sunday, so clearly the deck can battle with the best of them. Here’s the list Billmo and I played at States…

The initial version of this deck had 4 Grim Harvest and 3 Voices from the Void, and it was beating the feces out of those dirty Jundie decks. They’d tap out for Blightning, then I’d make them discard their hand with Voices from the Void and follow it up with a Knight or Ranger… The game plan was flawless, until I had Billy talk me into needing Path to Exile main deck.

“Path to Exile IS the Trap in this deck! Plus we need it to compliment our potential beatdown plan post-board.” — Billy “Bowel Movement” Moreno

He was right, but in hindsight I’d rather not play Black and go back to the Wargate package. I tested the Black version a great deal, and was very excited about it since Grim Discovery is essentially Crabs/Knights #5-8. The mana is actually a bit more consistent here, with Rampant Growth making Black and White sources with Crab synergy, while Marsh Flats gave me more White sources than the previous Bant-based model.

Billy played a slightly different build, featuring 4 Noble Hierarch instead of Rampant Growth, but I didn’t want to have eight mana creatures due to their vulnerability to removal. However, it makes the War Monk sideboard plan much more lethal. He also shaved the fourth Wall of Reverence for a Behemoth Sledge, to give Knight a better chance at trampling over all comers, but I didn’t have the juevos to try something I hadn’t tested (despite being a good idea).

The real attraction of Voices is to set up the Crabs, giving you a proactive way to protect them as well as a card that can flat out win the game whenever it resolves. This is desired in many matchups, and with Ramp in the mix I can cast it for four as early as turn 3!

Texas States had an impressive 179 players despite the tournament being pushed back an hour and a half to enable people to drive on frozen roads for the event. By the way, I’m heavily in favor of noon start times. Going late into the night isn’t as big a deal as getting a bit more sleep the night before, and even though this was a one-time deal because of weather issues I wouldn’t mind seeing it become common practice.

Round 1 — UWR Control

Game 1 is an absolute blowout. He Flashfreezes my turn 2 Knight, but my Ranger sneaks through next turn, setting me up with three Hedron Crabs. I played two out, and milled him for 18 with help from Rampant Growth. He used Day of Judgment, and I was able to Ponder into another Knight and play it plus the Crab next turn, milling him for six in the process with an Expanse. He didn’t have an answer, and when he sacrificed his Scalding Tarn I was able to use my Snare and Archive Trap to win the game.

While sideboarding, I threw the “so what kind of mill hate do you got in your board, how many Quest?” question out there, but he sighed and went in the tank. This was my second mistake of the tournament, although I didn’t find out about the first one until next round. I chose not to board in my Ravenous Trap, and clearly I’m hinting that I’m going to lose because of it.

Game 2 I get another busty hand, and mill him for 26 when he sacrificed his Scalding Tarn on turn 1. In that 27 card graveyard I saw a Quest for Ancient Secrets, and he obviously had the only other copy in his hand to drop on turn 2 when I tapped out for Knight of the Reliquary. In hindsight I should have just sat back on my Negate, since the only way I can possibly lose to UWR is if they get a Quest and make the game go very long while using their removal on my Knights and Rangers. So he’s got Quest, I still Ranger for two Crabs the next turn while getting in there with Knight, and I feel pretty foolish with the Trapmaker’s Snare in my hand, a card with which I could easily fetch a Ravenous Trap to win the game.

He gets rid of the Knight with a Day of Judgment or Path to Exile, and I sit there with my thumb up my butt for a few turns, milling him with the Crabs to see his deck, and to see just how he’s going to choose to play the Quest. He lands a Jace and gets me back in the game by doing the +2 a few times, and with the +2 on the stack I sacrifice a fetchland to mill his last three cards. He sacrifices Quest, and I find out the valuable information that he has only 2 Quests, and pack ‘em up for game 3 after he lands a Baneslayer.

I sideboard in the Ravenous Trap, still leaving the Paths and Grim Discovery in the board.

Game 3 I make another crucial mistake. I’ve got a very nice opening hand with an Island, two fetchlands, two Negate, a Crab, and a Knight on the play. I saw Bolt and Burst in the previous games, so I wait until turn 2 to play Crab, then drop a fetchland and mill him for six. Naturally, he drops a Quest on his second turn after playing a Glacial Fortress turn 1. If I had led with Crab turn 1, I would have had Negate backup for his Quest, and I would have won easily, but instead, he gets the Quest and I have to play the slow methodical mill game while digging desperately for a Snare/Ravenous Trap. He deals with my Knight, but seems content on letting me have Crab in play, so I keep milling him for six or so a turn. I Negate his AjaniV two turns in a row, and use Archive Trap to mill him, but something about his posture tells me he’s strong, like he already has the second Quest!

He gets a Jace out again and works it up to a bunch of counters. Meanwhile I’m still milling him, but I’ve found a Snare and am still digging for my last Negate, or hoping he taps out so I can remove his graveyard in peace. He doesn’t tap out, and I got for the mill again with a Jace +2 on the stack. Bad news is that he only has 2 Double Negative and 2 Negate in his graveyard, most likely meaning four of the five cards in his hand are countermagic. I go for the Snare + Trap anyway, but he’s got Double Negative and he reshuffles his graveyard into his library. I untap and Archive Trap him, he uses Double Negative, and I go for another Trap on the next turn to draw out another Negate. Countering my Traps actually gives me a reasonable shot to win the game, and I drop a Knight of the Reliquary with a couple Crabs out hoping to get in there. All he’s got is a Negate in his hand most likely, but I’m low on cards now and with his Jace at 15 counters I’ve got to attack it before going for the kill on him. I mill myself for 18 cards with the hope of getting Knight big enough, but I only end up having 12 lands in the yard, so I put Jace to one counter. He rips a Day of Judgment, and I’m too low on resources to put up a fight opposite his Baneslayer Angel. GG.

Going into this match, I knew from testing I was a huge favorite, but mistakes and unfortunate luck crushed my chances at entering the winner’s bracket after round 1. I talked myself into thinking this was a good thing, since this deck is very well positioned to beat the fringe decks that are aiming for Jund and Boros, so I stay in with high hopes. Billy lost his first round, also to some obscure BS as well, so the team wasn’t in the best mood during the lunch break.

Round 2 – UWR Control (AGAIN!)

This was where my first mistake of the day occurred. A judge came over to our table and informed me there was something wrong with my decklist, since it was missing three cards on the deck registration form. Turns out I forgot to register the Archive Traps in my 61-card deck, and for my error I’d receive a game loss. Stupid, stupid.

My hand this game was awesome. Turn 1 Ponder found a Crab, which I dropped on turn 2 and started milling him. He had a Flashfreeze for my Knight but, just like the UWR opponent before him, he didn’t have an answer to Ranger for Crabs. He was mana screwed, and his Spreading Seas didn’t do much to slow down my Crab engine, and I eventually finished him off with Archive Traps.

Game 2 I boarded in Ravenous Trap, more Snares, and Negates, for Grim Discovery and Path to Exile. He got mana screwed again, and I was able to get my Knight plus Crab mill engine going while he couldn’t find another White for his Day of Judgment. Two fairly short lopsided games were enough to restore my confidence, and I was ready to climb out of the loser’s bracket.

Round 3 – G/W

Game 1 I mulligan a bunch, and he stomps my head in. I think he was playing Lotus Cobra in his deck, with lots of off-color fetchlands, so my plan was to race him with Archive Trap. I wrongfully boarded out my Path to Exile in favor of Wall of Reverence, and didn’t bother boarding in Rhox War Monk.

I get the nut draw game 2, with turn 1 Crab, turn 2 double Archive Trap to put him on a two-turn clock. Meanwhile he has turn 1 Bird, turn 2 Knight of the Reliquary. I don’t sweat it, and drop a Noble Hierarch to chump block, and mill him for another six with another Crab in my hand to play and mill his whole library next turn with Rampant Growth. He drops Elspeth, gives his Knight flying, attacks, and kills me. GG. Good thing I boarded my Paths out. Stupid, stupid.

I learned some very important lessons for which I’m very grateful, so I can get the kinks worked out for the Big Show this weekend in St. Louis.

I learned the Black version, while better “on paper,” just doesn’t fill the void that Wargate does. When you Wargate for one they are clearly expecting a Crab, which enables the desired Pithing Needle play. And if the Crab plan is failing, Wargate is just extra Knights, which is also very valuable.

I learned to register my Archive Traps to avoid game losses.

I learned how difficult this deck is to play, which makes me want to play it even more. There are a huge variety of scenarios that you have to continually re-evaluate to stay ahead of the opponent. Just like any combo deck, your resources are very short, and to win a high percentage of games you’ve got to play super-tight and question why you’re making each play, and how it’s going to position you later on.

I learned how to count down from sixty, which is a very helpful tool when playing this type of mill deck. The opponent starts at 53 (usually), and from there I keep that number in the back of my head (or on the notepad game 2 after they know what you’re playing), and silently count down every time I mill them or they draw a card. This is very important, and the games I lost were the ones where I didn’t follow the fundamentals and kept my goal in mind. Counting down gives you a tangible clock, and keeps you motivated and your head in the game, so if you’re planning on playing this deck, make sure you use the countdown tactic when you’re goldfishing it.

I learned the hard way that you shouldn’t eat very spicy food the night before a major tournament, because rumblings in the tummy can cause you to lose focus during a match, especially when you’re trying to keep a decreasing number in your head.

I also re-learned that Kobe is by far the best player in the NBA after watching that inspiring last-second shot over Dwayne Wade that Friday night. I actually thought that shot was the catalyst that was going provide the motivation to take down States, but perhaps Magic and Basketball aren’t tied together in this epic universe we live in, despite being the two best sports on our humble planet. Go figure.

Billy and I are planning on making the drive to St. Louis this weekend, if we can manage a couple of productive playtest sessions, so be sure to holla at yo homey. I’m not sure if we’re going to brew something new up or not, but here’s the Crab deck I’d recommend to you and your closest friends.

I know, I know, it’s 61… but the deck is playing ten freaking tutors, thirty-one mana sources, along with Ponder and Knight to fix mana in a deck that only requires four lands to win the game. You might also want a Whiplash Trap somewhere if you feel like you’ll be facing a ton of Boros/Unearth decks.

All this being said, I really feel this deck is a contender. All the cards in this deck have a huge amount of synergy together, and this deck has a lot of very explosive draws which can win the game out of nowhere… and it’s surprisingly resilient when you sideboard correctly. This deck is the real deal, and shouldn’t be taken lightly. If I had to play against it, I honestly don’t know what I would do to attack it. Thought Hemorrhage is the most brutal option; however, the backup plan is solid enough that even a post-Hemorrhage win is very possible, especially when you’re boarding in Rhox War Monk.

Thanks for reading, and good luck in St. Louis!