Extended Ponza? A Grand Prix Trial Report

I looked through my binder of deck stock. I saw the four Tangle Wires. A Frozen Fish or Blue Skies variant, maybe? I kept flipping, and there were a full set of Veteran Brawlers from a recent purchase. Brawlers and Tangle Wires? Hmmm. Now that I had my deck idea, it was time to work on it – and it wasn’t Rob Dougherty’s deck.

So I was looking at local tournaments online to see what was coming up soon. It was a lazy Friday afternoon. I was bored, and wanted to head out to play some Magic. I checked online at Professional Event Services, and they were hosting a Grand Prix Trial for New Orleans on Saturday.

“Great,” I thought.”I don’t have a deck, and Extended isn’t my format.”

Still, I wanted to play some Magic. What deck did I have the cards for? I reexamined all of the recent winning Extended decks. I almost had Angry Hermit down, but I figured that to be a poor choice to play on a day’s notice. I also almost had Oath – except for the Oath of Druids, which I hear are a key card in the deck. I really didn’t have much for the new Extended environment.

I looked through my binder of deck stock. I saw the four Tangle Wires. A Frozen Fish or Blue Skies variant, maybe? I kept flipping, and there were a full set of Veteran Brawlers from a recent purchase. Brawlers and Tangle Wires? Hmmm. Now that I had my deck idea, it was time to work on it – and it wasn’t [author name="Rob Dougherty"]Rob Dougherty’s[/author] deck. (Get to work on that one! – The Ferrett, exhorting his readers)

In the interests of full disclosure, allow me to mention that I have never played Ponza. In the previous Extended environment, I played Sligh exclusively. Hell, I’ve played Sligh in Extended tournaments since they started the Extended environment. It’s the only Extended deck I have ever played, except for a brief stint with Turbo-Stasis a long time ago. But, with the rotation, I lost a lot of my goodies.

And then I read about all of these control and combo decks coming out of the woodwork. Tog, Oath, Rock, and so forth. What takes out Control? Tempo-aggro. What has a decent shot at disrupting combo long enough to deal out twenty? Tempo-aggro.

On the other hand, what is tremendously weakened versus aggro? Tempo-aggro.

I love Tangle Wire. I used to love Winter Orb before it was relegated to the backwaters of sanctioned events. I like Rising Waters. I’m on speaking terms with Static Orb. Even Stasis and I have been out on a few dates. I love tempo-oriented styles.

So yeah, I’ve never played Ponza before, but I’ve played aggressive red, and I’ve played Tempo.

I think I can hold my own.

I don’t even have any time for Apprentice playtesting. This is quite unfortunate, because I could definitely have used it. Before I go, I need a deck list.

I start with four each of the nifty lands; Rishadan Ports and Wastelands are essential cards. Plus, I have little double red in my deck, so I can water down the mana base a little.

I want a full set of Tangle Wires and Veteran Brawlers. After all, they were the ones who started everything.

From there, I move into land destruction; I need Stone Rains. Pillage also seems like a decent choice. I’m not sure if that is enough, however, and I decide to revisit the issue later if I have the space.

Ideally, I want to play a first-turn creature, then Brawlers, then Tangle Wire. Therefore, I want a lot of good one drops. Jackal Pup is probably the most ideal, although Fanatic is always good. I also decide to experiment with Grim Lavamancers and put in a couple of those to bring my count to ten.

Knowing that I want sixteen mountains, that leaves me with ten slots. I need some removal – and with my high land count, Firebolt looks excellent. I then re-examine my deck.

I have ten one-drops, four two-drops, and a bunch of cards in the three-slot. I have always thought that red lacked good two drops. It always has. I can get two power creatures at the one spot, so what does the two-spot offer? Better defense? Who wants that?

I decide to up my one drop count by a Lavamancer. I also move towards more LD with three Avalanche Riders. I finish the deck with a pair of Chimeric Idols, to help versus Oath and to allow my Brawlers to block.

Ponza Revisited

4 Rishadan Port

4 Wasteland

16 Mountain

4 Stone Rain

4 Pillage

3 Avalanche Riders

4 Jackal Pup

4 Mogg Fanatic

3 Grim Lavamancer

4 Tangle Wire

4 Veteran Brawlers

2 Chimeric Idol

4 Firebolt

There were several cards I was considering but ultimately cut: Rhystic Lightning, Cursed Scroll, and so forth. Still, I was happy with the deck list. On the morning of the event, at the store, with twenty minutes left before the tournament began, I created my sideboard.

The sideboard:

2 Cursed Scroll

4 Thran Foundry

2 Arc Lightning

1 Flaring Pain

2 Price of Progress

2 Fledgling Dragon

2 Shattering Pulse

There are a couple of bad choices already. The Shattering Pulses were great options – if I were not already maindecking four Pillages. As such, they sucked. Unless I have the benefit of playing a Tinker player, the Pulses would never be used.

I played the Thran Foundries for the typical set of problems – Reanimator, ‘Tog, and some combo decks. The Arc Lightnings were for little kid decks – white weenie, Sligh, U/G Madness, and so forth. The Flaring Pain was in case I ran up against Worship or Circle of Protection: Red Boy. The Price of Progress were meant to be used against Oath decks. And the Fledgling Dragons were for Rock, Stompy, and so forth.

In retrospect, my sideboard was the real weakness of the day. I would change a lot in it if I had to do it all over.

Anyways, a Grand Prix Trial really doesn’t bring them out of the woodwork. Here in the big city of Detroit, we only had twenty-two players. However, of those twenty-two, I’d say eighteen of them have previous Top 8 PTQ experience. This is the cream of the area, with a lot of good players.

Basically, the theory behind the day was to come out with a deck you were looking at playing long-term, just to find out what the environment was like. Then you can tweak and be prepared for the PTQs. Lots of players I talked to had built their deck that week or so. There were a lot of netdecks, as those players wanted a tournament or two under their belts to learn their decks. It was a great gauntlet for a player to run.

Five rounds of Swiss, cut to the top eight.

Round One – Di, from Lansing, playing Rock

I roll a 20 on my opponent’s die and decide to go first.

When I was a little kid, there was a Vietnamese family that lived next door. They had a son my age who was around four years old; his name was Di, as well. We played together constantly for two years before his family moved away to California.

This was not my old friend Di, but I had flashbacks of my childhood all game long.

The Rock is an interesting matchup for my deck. By all rights, I should lose. Spiritmonger beats all of my creatures, Yavimaya Elder gets land a go-go, Pernicious Deed sweeps my board, and Duress takes the LD before it hits.

It should be a bad matchup.

The first game goes as expected. I start out quickly with a Fanatic, then burn a Birds of Paradise. I get a little LD action going, plus a few fast creatures. Then, he gets the Elder. That’s followed by a Spiritmonger, and all I can do is take it. He did Living Wish for a Ravenous Baloth during the game, so I know that the next game he’ll be with Baloths.

Baloths, Wall of Blossoms, Spiritmonger, Birds of Paradise, and Yavimaya Elder. Is there another suite of creatures that hoses my deck better?

I side in the Dragons for two Brawlers.

The second game is much more in my favor. I get a first-turn nothing, second-turn Brawler, third-turn Stone Rain, fourth-turn Wasteland and Pillage. My Brawlers deal eight before he Deeds them away. Then I slap down a Fledgling Dragon. I have no cards in hand and six in the graveyard… Yet, I luckily topdeck a Stone Rain, to put me at threshold. Two turns later, the Dragon emerges victorious.

In the third game I get a slow hand. Unfortunately, Rock cannot take advantage of that as easily as most decks. Still, my opponent got two”Ancestral” Elders in play versus me, and I had to kill both. I learned in this game that you cannot keep a Rock player from having mana. You can, however, keep a Rock player from having black mana. As much Elder action as was going on, I simply Ported his Swamps until LD came, popped the other Swamps, and generally kept black cards from getting too bad.

I was able to delay long enough that a Fledgling Dragon popped its head from inside my deck. I played my Dragon beats, and my opponent dropped in five turns. My opponent kept trying to buy time by chump blocking with Birds, but it was to no avail.


Round Two – Bob, from Sterling Heights, playing Oath

I roll a 20 on my opponent’s die and decide to go first.

I was ready for Oath. The first game, I steamrolled Bob as I went fast and furious: I followed up my Pup assault with a Brawlers and zounds of LD. Bob had Living Wished for a Masticore. So, I had to keep Bob from playing his ‘Core. With my LD blast, I was able to win with the Pup and Brawlers very quickly. Bob’s life total went like this – 18, 16, 10, 4. Quick game.

I sided in Cursed Scrolls and Price of Progress for Firebolt.

In the second game, he played a second turn Oath. I had to hold all of my creatures the entire game. I destroyed all of his basic land, and he was forced to use a lot of pain lands. He took twelve points of damage from his own lands before it was all over. Near the end, after Fanatic damage has lowered his life sufficiently, I played a Lavamancer. He Oathed up a 6/6 Cognivore (I have no instants), but a Lavamancer hit later and he was dead.


Round Three – Jason, from Flint, playing Tog

I started against Jason strongly. In the first game I popped land, threw burn, played creatures, and generally beat him silly. He played a Sickening Dreams to clear my side of the board. A short while later, he slapped down a Tog and won a turn later.

Tog can win with few lands – which is rare for a control deck. I have to watch out.

I sided in Foundries for Firebolts.

The second game was, honestly, my best game of the day… Or rather, my deck’s best game. First-turn Fanatic, second-turn Brawlers, third-turn Tangle Wire (he countered). Fourth turn? Tangle Wire. Pillage and Stone Rain followed, and with my Port, I was able to keep his lands tapped for Brawler beats.

He sides again. I suspect that he brought in Annul for the third game after seeing both Tangle Wire and Thran Foundry.

I follow my best game with my worst. Sad. The short of it is this – I get him to one. He has out a Psychatog. I am at fifteen; I have out a Riders that I just played, plus six lands. I intend on paying the echo on the Riders so I can block his Psychatog. After he draws, he’ll have enough to add +12/+12 to the Tog. In two turns, I die, so having a blocker would be nice. However, he could easily have a Fact or Fiction or Intuition in his hand – either would allow him to get at least three more cards in his hand and some in his graveyard as well. So, I have to assume that he had the cards needed to kill me this turn.

So I should echo the Riders, right?

And I forget to. Mistake counter #1. I play my Veteran Brawlers that I draw and tell him to go. He draws, and attacks. I have four lands untapped, so I let the ‘Tog through. He Fact or Fictions and wins the game.

Oh yeah, I could have tapped my land for mana burn and blocked with the Brawlers. After all, my opponent was at one life. A Fanatic or Riders would have finished him off. Mistake counter #2.

I played like an undrafted free agent from a Division III school in that third game. That was nasty.

My next card was a Pillage, so at least I wouldn’t have won the following turn anyways. But, still.


Round Four – Brandon, from Auburn Hills, playing Rock

My second Rock matchup of the day. I roll Brandon pretty convincingly; I never took a point of damage. I played a Lavamancer and was beating him down. LD came in and slowed him, while a Chimeric Idol hit him upside the head. He Living Wished for a Faceless Butcher at one point; as such, I was forced to keep him under four land for the rest of the game as my Idol and Lavamancer went in. A timely Tangle Wire messed up his plans.

I do my Rock sideboard again – Two Brawlers out, two Dragons in. So, I need to win one more match out of the next to, and I am up in this one by one game. No problem, right?

I open with a hand of seven cards… But no land. I paris, but I get a hand of one land. Two Stone Rains and a Pillage though. I don’t feel I can go to five cards, so I stick it out. I end up drawing into a Port and two mountains quickly. Still, he had enough of a head start that he swung past me and into a craze. I still had him down to three.

In the third game, I again have a one land opening hand. It has a Pup, though. Plus, Brawlers, and Firebolt – so I can survive for a while. I topdeck a Port and the game begins. However, the first couple of turns of slowness my deck exhibits from poor mana allows my opponent to again get a good jump. I lose about ten life before regaining control. Then I go to work, hitting him slowly and surely with a Lavamancer and Idol while I blow up lands. He gets an Elder out. Then he plays Recurring Nightmare. He starts recurring his Elder over and over again. About ten lands later, I keep drawing meaningless LD spells, but he gets creature advantage and pulls it out.

If Rock decks do not normally play Recurring Nightmare, they should start. Excellent card.


Round Five – Scott, from Lansing, playing Sligh

I roll a 20 on my opponent’s die and choose to go first. I am 2-0 on the day when rolling a 20. Seeded Ninth, I need to win this match to make it in. Scott is seeded tenth, so he also hopes to make it in.

This is my first aggressive matchup all day. My deck isn’t as good here, and I know I need a good hand to win. Still, Sligh can have few lands with all of their painland fetching. I keep that in the back of my mind.

I get a quick jump, but then Scott’s burn just annihilates my creatures. I am left with nothing as he seizes his opening and pounds me. He asks the question that all opponents of red fear….

“What life are you at?”

I answer that I am at seven. He proceeds to Hammer, Shock, and Seal of Fire me to death.

Game two. I side in Arc Lightning and Cursed Scroll for Jackal Pups.

I get the early burst of speed. I slap down a Brawlers and Tangle Wire, but he played a first and second turn creature. I only get one hit in with the Brawlers, while he locks down his creatures off the Wire. He sided in Bottle Gnomes and casts three of the things. He ends the game at five life. I end dead after I run out of juice and he plays two Blistering Kitties on consecutive turns before Hammering me dead.

2-3 on the Day. Finished 11th.

Now, what did I learn? Well, I am very proud of my deck. Every single game I lost, except one, my opponent was at five or less life. That’s really good news. It shows that my deck can hit hard and keep up the tempo.

My sideboard was crap. The Dragons stay. The Foundries stay. The Scrolls might stay. Maybe the Flaring Pain. Everything else goes. I saw Lava Darts in many decks online, and I now know why. With four Lava Darts, my deck would be much more insulated against the fast Sligh-White Weenie-Stompy matchups. Four Lava Darts would replace the Arc Lightning and Prices in my sideboard.

The Fledgling Dragons were so good, in fact, that I could see playing more in the board. That is certainly a possibility.

Maindeck, nothing was bad. I never had something and wished it was something else. LD was never superfluous, Brawlers were always good, and so forth. Firebolt was useless in some of the control matchups, but I can side them out. Going into the day, I had feared that the Brawlers and Avalanche Riders would not hold their weight; they were both marvelous.

If my sideboard had been better, I would probably have been 4-1 on the day and in the Top Eight. Let no one ever tell you that sideboards are a meaningless commodity or an afterthought.

Several people during the day were telling me that they really liked my deck. Some people were asking for decklists and wondering how to build it themselves. I was in every game, save one, on the day. And remember, I played great players all day long – this was no scrub store tournament. The players here were the dedicated lot.

I never felt that I couldn’t win a matchup.

On the day, I did very well versus Rock. You’d think that Rock should win, but my deck presented all sorts of problems to the Rock player. The Elder, while good, was slow. It allowed me to keep beating for at least one or two more turns while reloading the land. The Dragons flew over Walls and Spiritmongers.

Tog is not a good matchup because it can do very well with three or four lands. There are few control decks that can say that. That makes Tog the one difficult control matchup. Oath is much better with lots of ways of slowing it down, then overrunning its Cognivore for the win if you need. Oath guzzles mana like Aunt Edna guzzles Cider at the County Fair. This deck can defeat Oath regularly.

Oh, and I really like Starke of Rath in the sideboard for next time. He can screw with Oath’s math, or pop a creature reanimated. Both of those are handy. Plus, he can off an artifact in a pinch. Good ol’ Starke.

Anyways, I plan on playing this deck throughout the PTQ season. It seems well fitted for the environment. I learned how to play it. Now, I intend to see it through the season.

Until Later,

Abe Sargent