Eldrazi, Life, And Being Creative

GerryT added yet another impressive top 8 to his Magic resume’ last weekend! Read about his tournament experience, his thoughts on the Eldrazi, and the allure of playing what is considered a format’s best deck!

Grand Prix Washington, DC: March 11-13!

I’ve had a good couple of weeks.

This time, it was at #GPDetroit. To the surprise of no one, I played an Eldrazi strategy. To the surprise of some, including myself, I finished fifth.

The Story

My deck wasn’t anything special.

The saving grace for my deck was the presence of Mutagenic Growth. On the way to #SCGLOU, we talked about the possibility of including the card, but didn’t pull the trigger. By the time #GPDetroit rolled around, we were convinced that it was good.

In a mirror match that is first and foremost about tempo, having zero-mana spells that change the outcome of the game are huge. As it turns out, Mutagenic Growth is very relevant for two reasons, sizing in creature combat and the presence of Dismember.

Have you ever cast Thought-Knot Seer and had to leave your opponent with a Reality Smasher because their Drowner of Hope or Dismember would be worse for you? How often does your opponent mindlessly jam their Reality Smasher into your Thought-Knot Seer in those spots?

Similarly, when it looks like you’re going to cast Thought-Knot Seer, your opponent will often leave open mana for a removal spell. If that removal spell is a Dismember, you get to save your creature, they pay a bunch of life, and they don’t get to draw a card.

Over the course of the tournament, my Mutagenic Growth dealt the final point of damage against an opponent who thought he was stabilized and it saved my 4/4 Endless One from a Dismember. Those games probably wouldn’t have been winnable otherwise.

The tournament itself started off poorly. In Round 3, I mulliganed to five and six in the first two games, and the first spell I drew in the match was an Endless One on turn 5 of Game 2.

It wasn’t enough.

Those were the two strangest games I’d played in a while, and I was already regretting my decision to go to Detroit. Up until that point, the weekend had been great. Shortly after, I got a headache that persisted throughout the day. I considered going back to our hotel room and calling the tournament a wash, but I stuck it out.

There were too many times where I’ve done that before, and despite wanting to take care of myself and generally not feel ill, I’ve regretted it. I thought I could stick it out, so I did, and I was rewarded with six wins to close out the day.

After some much-needed rest, I felt much better going into Day 2. My deck continued to carry me, and I was able to intentionally draw into the Top 8 at 13-1-1. The Pro Points I gained soft-locked me for Gold, which has been the goal since my return to competitive Magic. Still, the tournament wasn’t over, and I wanted another trophy. I also wanted $10,000.

It wasn’t to be.

The easy excuse is that I mulliganed to five twice in the Top 8 of #GPDetroit in the U/W Eldrazi mirror. That’s not the whole story, and we’ll get into that later.

The Mistakes

My deck was fine, but it wasn’t great. Very little technology was popping up, and yet again, I failed to do my due diligence by searching Gatherer. Calciform Pools, Training Grounds, and Shriekmaw all seemed sweet and I likely would have been tempted to play some of them.

Had I known about everyone’s technology before the tournament, I might have chosen to play the version Dan Musser played.

This deck was designed by Marshal Arthurs and basically has everything I want. There’s a great plan for the mirror matches that doesn’t hurt your other matchups. The black splash for Shriekmaw gives you additional removal in the mirror match, and one that is particularly good with Eldrazi Displacer. You can even evoke Shriekmaw and Displacer it to keep it around!

Lingering Souls out of the sideboard gives you a card that is great in a lot of spots and is something to bring in against multiple matchups. The other black card I’d like access to would be Thoughtseize, probably over Stubborn Denial, but there isn’t nearly enough black mana to cast it reliably.

Shriekmaw plus Eldrazi Displacer even gives you a potential out to Worship, given enough time.

Given what I know now, I may have tried to play something like this:

Is this deck actually favored in the mirrors? I’m not sure, but it sure looks like it. With all the removal and graveyard hate, you’re picking up a lot of percentage points against the various Collected Company decks as well. It would have been worth trying at least.

The Interesting Stuff

For a while, I was content with making a living playing Magic. That involved building my brand and doing well in enough tournaments to stay relevant. What it didn’t involve, at least at the time, was striving for greatness.

During my failed run at Platinum, I realized a few things. The first is that my stats, while somewhat impressive, did not stack up to those I considered my peers. There were too many tournaments I wasted by playing bad decks. Sure, there were near-misses where I did things well, and I would certainly chalk those up as victories overall, but those were few and far between. It was clear, to me at least, that I could be doing things better. I could be more successful in tournaments.

I could be tighter.

Those shortcomings were always fine with me because I didn’t want to be a Spike all the time. There were some tournaments where I’d play a brew and several more where I resisted playing the best deck or even the best choice under the guise of it not being fun for me. Playing the best deck all the time may have won me more money, but it wouldn’t have been fun.

I also realized that while I could find reasons to be fine with everything, I always thought I’d have time to pad my resume. There was no rush to make the Hall of Fame or anything like that. Once I went to work for Wizards of the Coast, everything suddenly felt real. I had regrets, and perhaps that was the tiebreaker for why I left. While I could retire and be satisfied with my career, there was still that underlying feeling that I had unfinished business.

It used to be easy for me to limp into Gold with some middling finishes with mediocre decks. Now the tournaments are bigger, the thresholds for levels are higher, and the competition is tougher.

In the #GPDetroit Top 8, they asked me, “What deck did you play and why?”

I answered: “W/U Eldrazi. It’s the best deck and I’m trying to win more.”

I wasn’t lying or joking. “I’m trying to win more” is a legitimate goal of mine. There’s been a tendency for me to stick with the Spikey choices lately and that’s been a conscious effort.

“Watch me.”

That’s what I told Todd Anderson when we were discussing our upcoming plans for Magic. He thinks the Pro Tour is tough, and potentially unobtainable. Todd and I both have our strengths and weaknesses, but, realistically, we should be winning at roughly the same rate. While constant success at the Pro Tour level has mostly eluded me, I know it’s doable, and I want to prove it to him.

Greatness doesn’t happen overnight. All I want is to work on fixing my mistakes and hope that good things happen. I’m not messing around anymore. I’m trying to win.

I also need to improve. I need to be more creative. I need to not play like I did in Top 8 of #GPDetroit.

The Situation

Despite my opponent choosing to use Eldrazi Mimic to copy a Thought-Knot Seer that was Dismembered, I was defeated handily in Game 1. My mulligan to five wasn’t a good one, and I couldn’t find lands in time to keep up. Perhaps I should have gone to four.

In the second game, I mulliganed to five again, but it wasn’t a big deal. My average hand size in the tournament was 5.5 or so. As I mentioned last week, you should mulligan any hand that isn’t very explosive, except under extreme circumstances. My hands in the Top 8 were particularly poor, but at that point, it didn’t bother me. The seventh card is typically a luxury, especially with the new scry rule. In this deck, the sixth card is often a luxury as well.

Sometimes you’ll mulligan to oblivion, but it won’t often happen twice. Even if it does, it’s possible that they mulligan to oblivion once also. The games sometimes come down to that, and I made my peace with it. Most of my double mulligans resulted in victories anyway.

My five-card hand was solid. I led with Eldrazi Temple and Eldrazi Mimic. My opponent started with Adarkar Wastes. On the second turn, I attacked with Eldrazi Mimic and played Cavern of Souls and Eldrazi Skyspawner. My opponent tanked for a bit, which indicated Path to Exile or Dismember, and I felt like it was genuine, but he didn’t actually cast anything.

Next turn, he played Eldrazi Temple and passed again. I drew for the turn, and my hand contained:

In my mind, I had three options:

A) Cast Reality Smasher (off the Eldrazi Scion) and smash.

B) Attack with everyone and potentially reevaluate. If he plays a removal spell, cast Reality Smasher.

C) Attack with everyone and pass the turn.

This was the most difficult turn of the entire tournament, and I considered each of my options closely.

With Option A, the nightmare scenario is removal spell plus a Thought-Knot Seer, which would get rid of both my Reality Smashers. My opponent would be at a reasonably high life total and have a large blocker while I’d be living off the top. Further Reality Smashers and Drowners of Hope are powerful draws, but I’m short the mana to play them unless my opponent’s removal spell is Path to Exile.

In Option B, I’m trying to bait a removal spell on my Eldrazi Mimic, which might be the correct play for my opponent if they want to cast Thought-Knot Seer the next turn and don’t want to risk a topdecked Reality Smasher dealing them a bunch of damage. If they use removal on the Mimic, it might be best to play Reality Smasher postcombat in case they don’t have Thought-Knot Seer. If they do have Thought-Knot Seer, I may want to cast the Reality Smasher anyway, in case I draw something else to spend my mana on.

In Option C, I’m specifically trying to play around the worst-case scenario. If they have a removal spell and Thought-Knot Seer, I don’t want them to remove the Eldrazi Mimic because it’s good for five damage next turn.

The real question here is if I should attempt to play around the worst-case scenario, and if I should, how much does it cost me against the other scenarios? Is playing around the worst-case scenario effectively free? Also, if I decide to play around the worst-case scenario, is there a little something extra I can do to goad him into playing a certain way?

If he does have removal spell and Thought-Knot Seer, perhaps there’s a way I can get my opponent to either use or not use their removal spell, depending on what ends up being better for me. Maybe a better line is a hedge, like using a soft read instead of a hard one. Option B is probably the best example of a soft read, as it further bolsters my position in the worst-case scenario.

The real question is whether or not I actually get punished by going with Option B. If he doesn’t have Thought-Knot Seer, how bad of shape am I actually in? My opponent is still facing down a bunch of creatures with not much of a battlefield and there’s not much he can do to catch up.

I went with the ABC line of Option A. My opponent Dismembered my Reality Smasher, fell to ten, and used Thought-Knot Seer to take my other Reality Smasher. Then the kicker for the actual worst-case scenario happened, as he played an Eldrazi Skyspawner of his own to block mine and effectively eliminated my outs and my run.

Even if I played around the worst-case scenario and my opponent did what I wanted, he still would have been able to stabilize. I think the best way the game could have played out in my favor is Option C, my opponent not using his removal spell in the end step, and then casting Thought-Knot Seer. That would put him to one life and in a ton of trouble. Realistically, that wouldn’t happen.

The more likely scenario with Option C is him Dismembering my Eldrazi Mimic at the end of my turn, and then casting Thought-Knot Seer on his turn. My attack would put him down to two, but Eldrazi Skyspawner would stabilize him. That scenario gives me plenty of outs to win the game on the spot with my Eldrazi Skyspawner. Any removal spell or Eldrazi Displacer would win the game on the spot, plus Drowner of Hope would be a huge threat if I could deploy it quickly enough.

If I go with Option C, it could be tempting for my opponent to use Dismember in combat on the Eldrazi Mimic, assuming I either have nothing, a handful of big stuff, or removal. If I wanted to create the illusion of having a Thought-Knot Seer of my own, I could potentially trick my opponent into not using his removal spell on my Eldrazi Mimic to get in my two points of damage also. That would likely involve some bush-league tactics, but it would probably work.

I concluded that I likely would have lost regardless of the play I made on turn 3, but that doesn’t matter. There were things I could have done to give me a better chance of winning.

Adding another Top 8 to my resume is far from a bad thing, but I’ve got a long way to go.

Grand Prix Washington, DC: March 11-13!