Embracing The Chaos: Tales of the Prerelease and Not-So-Aggro-Phelddagrif

Wednesday, February 2 – Sheldon Menery discusses his Prerelease where he sided with the Mirrans to go against the grain and tested his Phelddagrif deck… which wasn’t as aggro as he was hoping…

There was a little extra Magic in my time this week, as I was the guest of Jeff Williams and Phoenix Games for gunslinging at the Orlando regional
Prerelease, as well as having the chance to get back to normal Thursday night League at Armada Games. I trotted out the new Phelddagrif deck on both occasions
and found it capable but still wanting.

We’ll get to League night in a bit, but first we’ll talk about the Prerelease. Jeff set me up with a Sealed Pool, and I decided to play
against type and go with the Mirran faction. B/G is definitely more my style, but I think it’s helpful to sometimes try out different ways, both
so you can see how things go from the new perspective and reinforce your current one. My pool was reasonable but not great. I had Argentum Armor but
chose to not play it, since I agree with the folks who say that it’s just too expensive. I definitely didn’t have any bombs and had a
middling amount of removal—although I counted two Divine Offerings as a pretty big plus. Most of my wins were tight, getting through with a few
fliers and having Tumble Magnet help out. I didn’t keep exact track, but I’m guessing I won just about two thirds of the games I played. It
was a fair amount of fun; I got to give out a few packs, and I got to hang with some of the players.

I played a great number more Standard matches than I had expected. I haven’t built a Standard deck or played the format since Mythic Bant rotated
out, and I wasn’t up to building a deck that I’d only play for a week at most. I asked local L1 Judge and all-around good guy Todd Palmer
if he could lend me one. The only thing he had built was R/G Valakut, so that’s what I played. I think I lost about three of around twenty games,
most memorably to an excellent play by another Valakut player (whose name I unfortunately don’t remember) and to Goblins, during which I had the
single out of peeling a Pyroclasm, topdecking it like a boss, but still not recovering in time. Most of the rest of it was the deck piloting itself
to—dare I say it—comboing out and the occasional onslaught of Plant tokens. I was just the guy holding the deck’s coat. Still,
it’s fun to ramp out Primeval Titan and Avenger of Zendikar on early turns and lay the beats.

I only got to play three games of Commander since most of the folks lined up to play the other formats. I played a 1v1 game with my Kresh the
Bloodbraided deck against ManaNation’s Trick Jarrett’s Ashling the Pilgrim deck. He managed to get me to sixteen life with eighteen
Commander damage before I could stabilize. There was a fair amount of luck involved, as I had Spearbreaker Behemoth and Stalking Vengeance in hand when
I got to the seven mana to play Tooth and Nail. Had I waited around to entwine it, I would’ve been dead, so I was quite fortunate to have good dudes in
hand. The next turn, I had Demonic Tutor, but the only real choice was Basilisk Collar. Ashling had nine counters on it; Trick had eight mana, and with
my life precariously low, I needed to bump it up a little to stay around. Just killing Ashling wouldn’t do it. When I cast Eternal Witness to get
back the Tutor, I searched up Momentous Fall, and it was over from there.

The memorable moment came in a game with Trick playing his (non-combo) Kiki-Jiki deck, a fine fellow named Christian borrowing newly minted Level 2
Judge Bryan Prillman’s B/U deck (it alternates the Commander between Wrexial, the Risen Deep, Oona, Queen of the Fae, and Sygg, River Cutthroat),
and me with my new Phelddagrif. Fortunately for me, Christian had chosen Wrexial as a Commander, as later in the game, I cast Bribery on him, which let
me carry Oona—on the back of squeezing off Elspeth’s ultimate relatively early in the game—to victory (having an opponent playing
mono-red really helps).

The epic moment of the game came earlier. I had in play Phelddagrif, maybe one other creature, and Survival of the Fittest. I had no creatures in my
hand. Christian had, among other creatures, just dropped Mindleech Mass. Trick decided to swing the momentum of the game by casting Insurrection. It
didn’t look quite lethal for either of us, but it would hurt someone, and I think Trick was counting on me having something good in my hand. I
wondered if it was worth letting him beat me with the Hippo when I had an Inspiration. I bounced it back to my hand, then pitched it to the Survival
(where it sat for many turns until I could Marshal’s Anthem it back into play) to fetch Sunblast Angel. Trick considered it way too cool a play
to not cast the Angel, so he did. There were roars from the crowd and a moment to immortalize.

Driving over to Orlando also gave me the opportunity to spend a night at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge Resort and eat at their very fine signature
restaurant, Artist Point. If you don’t know, you can eat extremely well in a few places at Disney World. There are three top-shelf restaurants
there:  Artist Point, Jiko at Animal Kingdom Lodge, and probably the best of all, not to mention one of the most difficult reservations to score,
California Grill at The Contemporary. My wife spent the day at EPCOT while I slung spells, and then she picked me up to head to dinner. We brought with
us a 2005 Quilceda Creek blend (84% Cab, 9% Cab Franc, 7% Merlot), which while drinking extremely well, showed that a few more years in the bottle
won’t hurt it. No offense to California, but I think Washington is making the best Cab in the country, and Quilceda Creek shows exactly why. We
shared a “100 years of Port” flight (a 10 year old, a 20, a 30, and a 40) and had an amazing chocolate terrine for dessert. All in all,
playing Magic then having a world-class meal and a world-class wine with a world-class woman is pretty close to perfect.

Thursday’s League night was less than perfect, as the deck didn’t turn out nearly as aggressive as I had visualized, although it still did
well enough. In Game 1, I’m playing with Mihail, who is playing Michael Fortino’s Skeleton Ship deck, Beth, playing Wort, Boggart Auntie,
and Jeff, playing Grand Arbiter Augustin IV. I’ll confess to groaning a little when I saw Grand Arbiter, but it turns out that Jeff is a strong
player, a decent guy, and his deck is powerful but not what I’d call mean, with the exception of Winter Orb and Rising Waters. I wrote down play
by play for this game, but it wasn’t particularly interesting. Jeff plays the control game; Mihail gives stuff -1/-1 counters; Beth does a pretty
good job of killing Mihail’s Necroskitter (an inspired choice by Michael, since there’s a fair amount of persist happening in the League),
and I kind of don’t do much in the creature beatdown department.

Jeff has a pretty good turn 9, after having cast Mana Drain on Mihail’s Beacon of Unrest, with Lighthouse Chronologist, Time Spiral, Future
Sight, and leveling the Chronologist to four. I follow that with Mirari’s Wake on my turn, and it’s a good thing that I do because Jeff
drops that Winter Orb on turn 10, after having leveled the Chronologist all the way up. It gets a “Boo!” from me, which elicits a shrug
from him. On my turn, I untap my one land, drop another, and tap both plus Sol Ring to be able to cast Austere Command for artifacts and small dudes.

It gets a little more interesting with Beth’s turn 11 Vicious Shadows, especially since we know that Mihail has cast Mystical Tutor for
Damnation. I’m not too worried about it, since I have only one card in hand, plus Survival of the Fittest in play. Still, I take the secure route
of pitching Baneslayer Angel to get Sun Titan, which retrieves Qasali Pridemage.

On turn 12, Jeff makes the big play of the game, Rite of Replication, kicked, targeting Sun Titan. These are exactly the situations for which I like to
have something to sacrifice stuff to, but I’m not currently in possession of one. Jeff gets Sun Titans and stuff back—although he chooses
to not bring back Winter Orb, in the hopes it will earn him a little less hate.

On turn 13, Mihail drops a Disk and then casts Incremental Blight, killing the Chronologist, a Trinket Mage, and my Jens (which had earlier gotten a
Skeleton Ship counter). Beth spreads the Vicious Shadows damage around. He then tries to cast Damnation (a little bit of a head scratcher), but Jeff
Tops, draws off of his Rhystic Study, and casts Pact of Negation. Beth on her turn drops three different creatures.

On his turn, Jeff remembers to pay and attacks me with his team of Titans. He gets back the Chronologist, which later in the turn, he’s able to
level up all the way again. The clock is running down, so I decide to try to stay alive and throw a few guys under the bus. When I do, Beth chooses to
point all the Vicious Shadows damage at Jeff, who has started to not draw off of Rhystic Study.

On my turn, I peel Avenger of Zendikar, which I cast and get fourteen dudes (and importantly, a precious point for Chumpzilla). Time expires on my
turn, and since Mihail went first, we’re done. We finish with all four players still in the game (which is a point for everyone) and a low point
total. I end up taking the table with only four, while Jeff has three, and Mihail and Beth have two.

In Game 2, I’m seated with Shawn, playing Doran, David playing (non-combo) Niv-Mizzet, and Matt (of my gaming group) with Rafiq. David is a
friend of Jeff’s, and their deckbuilding styles are similar—strong without going too far. I decide to not do play by play. The first game
was long and tiring; my knee is a little stiff, and the painkillers have worn off. I want to concentrate on having some fun and playing a good game.

I get an early Survival, but Shawn casts Aven Mindcensor. Matt is a little color screwed, and the Mindcensor keeps him from sacrificing his Yavimaya
Elder. Shawn Enlightened Tutors for Defense of the Heart, but when he waits to cast it, David Vendilion Cliques it away. Matt has steadily been giving
me the tokens from his Forbidden Orchard, and I’m well on the way to Chumpzilla again when he casts Day of Judgment. I follow him by casting
Bribery for his Primeval Titan, a favor he returns on his next turn. I’m not terribly unhappy with that, since I can fetch Mystifying Maze.
Several turns pass by with Matt casting Mirari’s Wake, me blowing it up, him finding a way to regrow it, and me finding a way to blow it up again
while still being able to cast Greater Good. All the while, Shawn is stuck on five land, and David is playing a slow control game.

David seeks to put an end to our shenanigans by casting Nevinyrral’s Disk. When I cast Frost Titan to try and keep the Disk tapped down, he
thinks a while but then counters it—probably an excellent choice. He blows the Disk on his turn and casts Bribery on me, but the best thing he
can find is Wurmcoil Engine. My best dudes are either in the graveyard already (and I’m lamenting the deck’s weak recursion) or in my hand.
I cast Avenger of Zendikar netting seventeen creatures. I then Wasteland Matt’s Gaea’s Cradle (which I’ve left alone to this point
despite having ample opportunity to do something about it) so that I can drop my own. I tap it and can cast Steel Hellkite, Eternal Witness, and
Woodfall Primus, once again taking out Matt’s Mirari’s Wake.

David says that he’s going to bounce Matt’s Eternal Witness so that he can regrow and cast Day of Judgment, but the math all changes when
Shawn finally peels a sixth land and casts Open the Vaults—basically to get back his Defense of the Heart, neglecting that Matt is putting back
Umezawa’s Jitte, Argentum Armor, Mind’s Eye, and Mirari’s Wake. I do fairly well also, getting back Survival, Greater Good, and
Awakening Zone.

The madness continues back and forth as there is Rout from Matt and Disking from David, and Shawn being stuck now on six land. Resets and wipes happen
a few more times, and I go on the Phelddagrif plan, hoping to actually be able to kill someone with Commander damage. Matt casts something big, but
David counters it with Draining Whelk. When Matt follows with casting Rafiq, David steals it with Treachery, and starts battling with the Whelk,
dropping Matt’s life total precariously low.

Fortunately for Matt (and probably the rest of us), time once again expires with all of us left in the game. Point totals are again pretty low, with me
taking the table with 4 points, Matt and David with 3, and Shawn with 1. This game was more intense than the first, as there was always quite a bit
going on.

Although it won the evening, I wanted more from the deck. There were a couple of times that I had plenty of land in play and nothing to do with it.
I’ve received a few ideas from readers, and the one I like the most is from Original Virginia Group member Justin Norris, suggesting that I
replace Baneslayer Angel with Admonition Angel, in order to take advantage of the landfall. He’s also suggested both Blue and Green Sun’s
Zenith. Green was a foregone conclusion, and Blue is a most excellent suggestion. I also think an Eldrazi, probably Ulamog (although there’s an
argument for Kozilek), will come in for both his great ability and the graveyard reshuffling. One of the problems I ran into in the second game was
getting through the deck with Greater Good, but without a Living Death plan, it seemed like a full graveyard was painful.

I hope everyone out there had a fine Prerelease day of their own. I have a few new tweaks to the Kresh deck, but I’ll let my mood decide next
week if I Embrace the Chaos with that or a more tightly focused Hippo. Thanks again to Jeff Williams for an excellent event and huge thanks to the
Florida Judge Crew (side shout out to Bryan Prillman for earning Level 2) for all the hard work they put in so that everyone can have a great