When a Magic player sits down to pick a deck for his local FNM, what he will usually do is turn to one of the big names from the big countries. Perhaps he will go and read the latest suggestions from American deck maestros like Patrick Chapin and Mike Flores; perhaps he will look towards Europe to check out what Manuel Bucher or Guillaume Wafo-Tapa are playing; or perhaps he will go Japanese and copy the latest Tsuyoshi Fujita or Tomaharu Saito concoction. But what he probably will not do is turn his eye down south to see what we Aussies are gaming with. Indeed, most people don’t care what decks the Aussies are playing since we haven’t really been on the map since Tom Chanpeng won the World Championships in 1996.
Well, just because Australia doesn’t have any big name Magic Pros does not mean that we don’t deserve your attention. In fact, Australia is full of great players such as Justin Cheung (Juzza) and Garry Wong (Clearly) who are prominent members of the MTGO clan Dragonquest, while Australian Nationals has always been the birth place of new decks that have had lasting impacts on the Standard metagame. Two years ago, the event showcased the breakout performance of Solar Flare and served as a precursor for U.S. Nationals (which was eventually won by Paul Cheon playing the same deck), while at last year’s Nats, yours truly concocted a rogue combo deck called “Aussie Storm” that ended up performing quite well in both UK and Japanese Nationals.
So what about this year? What deck did we Aussies come up with this time?
PART I: The Deck
The birthplace of the deck known as Aussie Assault was a local Standard tournament held shortly after Pro Tour: Hollywood. While everyone at the event was trying out Gindy’s build of Elves or Bucher’s crazy five-color monstrosity, two combo decks rose above the rest of the field, burned through the Top 8 and then split the finals. On the one hand, there was yours truly running a cute little U/R Dragonstorm deck (see the end of the article for that list), and on the other hand, there was a Seismic Swans Combo deck piloted by none other than Australia’s resident Superstar Master Garry Wong. He is undoubtedly the complete package, as evidenced by the following mostly-true tale. Once, I was playing Garry in a PTQ… Showing his skills, he called the next card I would play. I smiled to myself, because it wasn’t even in my deck… And then I drew it.
Anyway, although I was rather fond of the little synergies in my U/R Dragonstorm deck, I knew that the Swans deck was worth looking into simply because of the way that it completely crushes aggro decks. The reason that this is the case is because while Seismic Swans is a two-card combo, the first part of the combo, Seismic Assault, is such a fundamentally strong card against aggressive strategies that it will often by itself be enough to buy you an extra turn or two to find your copy of Swans to win the game.
And so, I had a chat with Garry about the combo and he gave me the decklist, explaining that it was one of the decks that Tomaharu Saito was testing for Grand Prix: Buenos Aires and that he had acquired it through the use of his 1337 Banana-smuggling skills. He also, however, warned me by saying that while the deck had an awesome matchup against basically every deck in the format, it was very difficult to beat Faeries with it. The reason for this, he explained, was because the deck is fundamentally quite weak against permission as it does not make use of the broken Storm mechanic. As such, the deck does not have the advantage of inevitability as it does not have the option of sitting there and charging its lands until a critical mass of mana has been reached to overwhelm the opponent. Instead, the deck is faced with the much more difficult task of fighting through the opposing counterspells card for card by using either its own permission cards or by using hand disruption. And while it was true that Garry’s sideboard had a set of Vexing Shushers in it to deal with the Faerie’s permission suite, the additional hand disruption that the Faeries player would side in (a set of Thoughtseizes to complement the maindeck Vendilion Clique) allowed the Faeries player to attack the deck from a completely different angle that would often leave the Swans Combo player with a bunch of Shushers and no combo pieces to force through.
All this sounds pretty grim but I’ve never backed down from a challenge. And so, I took it upon myself to test, tweak, and alter the deck so that it would no longer be an underdog to the most popular deck in the format. Garry was kind enough to help me out with this by creating the deck for me on MTGO and setting me up on one of his spare accounts (wong85). After about a week of testing in the 8-man queues, this was the list that I finally ended up with.
- 2 Gaea's Blessing
- 4 Seismic Assault
- 4 Telling Time
- 4 Lotus Bloom
- 4 Ponder
- 4 Thoughtseize
- 4 Beseech the Queen
The main deck remained pretty similar to the list that Garry gave me, save for a few minor changes to the manabase and my inclusion of four maindeck Telling Time over some random Beseech the Queen tutor targets. The reason for this change was to combat hand disruption, since by playing as many library manipulation cards as possible you are not only improving your topdecks but you will also be able to protect your key combo pieces by keeping them hidden on top of your library. Ponder is good, but it alone is not enough and so, lacking something like Sensei’s Divining Top, we have to turn to Telling Time.
The teched-out sideboard, however, was my primary innovation, and was fundamental in helping to turn the Faeries matchup from an unfavourable one to quite a favourable one post-board. Anyway, here are some explanations for the card choices in the deck and in the sideboard.
Swans of Bryn Argoll + Seismic Assault + (Dakmor Salvage + Gaea’s Blessing)
These cards comprise the combo of the deck. However, note that Swans and Assault are usually all the cards you need to go off. Once those two are in play, you would have assembled a rather insane draw engine. Since the deck runs a staggering 27 lands, this will pretty much guarantee that you’ll find Dakmor Salvage to eventually go infinite. For those of you who have never encountered this combo before, this is how it works…
1) Cast Seismic Assault.
2) Cast Swans of Bryn Argoll.
3) Discard a land to deal 2 damage to Swans to draw 2 cards.
4) Repeat this process until you draw a Dakmor Salvage.
5) Discard Dakmor Salvage to deal 2 damage to Swans to draw 2 cards.
6) Replace the first draw by dredging Dakmor Salvage, and draw the second card normally.
7) Repeat steps 5-6 until you either Mill or Draw a second Dakmor Salvage.
8) Discard 1st Dakmor Salvage to deal 2 damage to the opponent.
9) Discard 2nd Dakmor Salvage to deal 2 damage to Swans to draw 2 cards.
10) Replace both draws by dredging both Dakmor Salvages.
11) Repeat steps 8-10 until the opponent is dead. Gaea’s Blessing will prevent you from decking since you are only dredging and not drawing any cards at this point of the combo.
Ponder + Telling Time + Beseech the Queen
These are the cards that the deck uses to find the combo. You may have seen other builds of the deck that run White and Green instead of Blue and Black, but I personally believe that the Blue and Black cards are superior. While Glittering Wish and Idyllic Tutor may help you get your Swans or your Seismic Assault, Beseech the Queen can be used to pick up either piece. Furthermore, Ponder and Telling Time not only dig you towards either of your combo pieces but can also help you find cards to protect it while the fact that you are manipulating the top cards of your deck also gives you added protection against discard.
Lotus provides the deck with a nice speed boost which can often be quite useful when you’re racing against aggressive decks. Think of the simple example where you have to play Beseech the Queen for Seismic Assault on turn 3. If you were able to suspend a Lotus on turn 1 then you would have exactly enough mana on turn 4 to cast both Seismic Assault and Swans of Bryn Argoll.
Thoughtseize + Vendilion Clique
This is the deck’s hand disruption package. The primary use of these cards is to help force through your combo and protect it from any hate cards your opponent might have: from Rune Snag to Cryptic Command to Krosan Grip to Extirpate. Thoughtseize is clearly much better at the job since Vendilion Clique is rather clunky at three mana. However, the Clique does have a secondary purpose in that it can be used to slow the opponent down by flashing in and blocking while at the same time digging you towards your combo since the comes into play trigger can be used on yourself.
Firespout + Damnation
Anti creature cards from the sideboard. Firespout is better in some matchups while Damnation is better in others. For example, Firespout can be used to deal with Magus of the Moon while Damnation can kill a bunch of stuff that Firespout cannot, like Tarmogoyf and Chameleon Colossus. Firespout gets sided in more than Damnation, but in some matchups you want both cards.
Pact of Negation
Although the discard package in the maindeck is a decent way of combating permission, Pact of Negation is a superior card against reactive cards in general since it trades one-for-one with a counter after (rather than before) the opponent has tapped his mana. A simple example is the scenario where you Thoughtseize an opponent with four mana only to find that he has two Cryptic Commands. If you had Pact of Negation instead of Thoughtseize here you would have been able to force through your combo since he would not have had enough mana to cast both Cryptic Commands. I personally prefer Pact of Negation over the other Permission hoser Vexing Shusher. This is because Pact does not require any mana to use, which is very relevant since you ideally want to cast Ponders, Thoughtseizes, and Telling Times in the early turns of the game. It is indeed quite difficult to cast a Vexing Shusher and do all of those things in a deck where eleven of its lands come into play tapped.
Krosan Grip + Imp’s Mischief
These cards are brought in to deal with any hate cards that the opponent might have access to. Krosan Grip is an excellent answer to cards like Pithing Needle, Wheel of Sun and Moon, and Everlasting Torment, while Imp’s Mischief is an excellent response to Thoughseize or Mind Shatter. Imp’s Mischief is also a complete beating against Ancestral Vision which, as I will explain later, is the most important card in the Swans versus Faeries matchup. The fact that Aussie Assault can turn the primary trump in the Faeries deck against them is the main reason why the deck has an advantageous matchup against Faeries post-board.
Speaking of hate cards, the deck, contrary to popular opinion, is a lot harder to hate out than many people seem to believe. I have outlined below a few of the common “hate” cards that you might encounter and the way that the deck deals with them.
Terror + Nameless Inversion + Slaughter Pact
Unlike Project X, Aussie Assault does not fall over and die to a well-timed removal spell. In fact, removal for Swans is very ineffectual at stopping the combo since you can discard another land from your hand and go off in response to the removal spell. Here’s a simple scenario.
1) You have Seismic Assault in play and you cast Swans of Bryn Argoll.
2) You discard Dakmor Salvage to deal 2 damage to Swans.
3) Your opponent casts Terror in response.
4) You discard Vivid Marsh to deal 2 damage to Swans in response.
5) You dredge the Dakmor Salvage, combo off and win game.
Or how about the following scenario where you only have Dakmor Salvage in hand and no other lands?
1) You have Seismic Assault in play and you cast Swans of Bryn Argoll.
2) Your opponent has 1B mana up so you pass the turn.
Now your opponent cannot Terror your Swans since you can discard Salvage and go off in response. Your opponent takes his turn but you can now use your Swans to block and stay alive. Note that your opponent must at all times leave 1B mana untapped or else you can just go off in response.
3) Your opponent passes the turn after attacking.
4) You play Ponder/Telling Time/Beseech the Queen, find a second land, and go off.
Basically, the only time when Terror or Nameless Inversion is ever relevant is if they have two copies and enough mana to cast them while you yourself only have one land in hand. Now consider the fact that most decks play 4 Terrors and that you play 27 lands…
Reveillark decks will sometimes side in Wispmares to kill your Seismic Assaults. Unfortunately for them, this is not a very effective sideboard plan. Not only can you Thoughtseize/Vendilion Clique the card out of their hand, but you can also play around Wispmare simply by playing your Swans of Bryn Argoll before playing your Seismic Assault. Reveillark decks don’t have any way of removing Swans unless they have both Greater Gargadon and Sower of Temptations. And since Sower is pretty much their worst card in the matchup, it probably won’t even be in their deck for the sideboarded games.
Sudden Death + Krosan Grip
These cards are of course much more effective at disrupting your combo. However, you can still deal with them by casting Thoughtseize/Vendilion Clique before going off. Since most decks won’t run more than 2-3 copies of these cards in their sideboards, and since you have access to 7 hand disruption spells and infinite library manipulation to find them, the odds are greatly in your favour.
This card is basically as effective as disrupting the deck as Slaughter Pact. In other words, it doesn’t disrupt the combo in anyway whatsoever. All you have to do is discard another land in response to the Faerie Macabre activation and dredge the Salvage they are trying to Remove From Game. Faerie Macabre is actually a terrible card to side in against Aussie Assault, and pretty much does nothing unless you intend to cast and beat down with it.
Extirpate is clearly more annoying than Faerie Macabre due to the split second. However, you are still able to get rid of the card with Thoughtseize/Vendilion Clique, and should you fail to do this, you can still quite easily win the game even through a resolved Extirpate on Dakmor Salvage. The reason for this is because getting rid of the Salvage only stops you from going infinite but does nothing about the completely degenerate draw engine you’ve already assembled. When Aussie Assault loses Dakmor Salvage, it can still draw a bunch of cards for no mana, fill its hand with a bunch of “free shocks” to control the board, and beat down with an unkillable 4/3 flier. This is precisely what happened in the fifth game of the finals of Australian Nationals.
Magus of the Moon
Although the deck runs a total of zero basic lands, Magus of the Moon is nevertheless a rather ineffectual hate card. The reason for this is because Aussie Assault can simply use its non-basic mountains to cast Seismic Assault and kill the offending Magus by discarding a land. Since Magus will not come online until turn 3, you have 2-3 turns of casting Ponders, Telling Times and Beseech the Queens to find a Seismic Assault should you not be fortunate enough to have one in your opening hand. Furthermore, Lotus Bloom can also be used to give you the burst of coloured mana that you need while Firespout from the board provides you with an additional answer.
Mind Shatter + Thoughtseize
Although discard is a good way of disrupting the Aussie Assault player, Imp’s Mischief is an excellent way of dealing with these hateful strategies. Hitting a Mind Shatter with Mischief is basically game over, while redirecting a Thoughtseize will give you a nice little two-for-one. Unfortunately, the deck really can’t do much about a turn 1 Thoughtseize, but we should keep in mind that Thoughtseize merely gets rid of a single card and that it is quite easy for the deck to rebuild its combo through its infinite library manipulation spells.
Rune Snag + Cryptic Command
Of the commonly played cards, the most troublesome for Aussie Assault to deal with are the counterspells. Of all the counters, Cryptic Command is especially annoying since it can be used to counter your Swans of Bryn Argoll and bounce your Seismic Assault, which will basically set you back a whole turn. However, once you realize that every combo piece and every hand disruption spell in the deck trades with a counterspell and that every spell in the deck can be classified as either a combo piece, a hand disruption spell, or a card that helps you find them, it is quite easy to see that Aussie Assault is in no way ill-equipped to deal with permission. Furthermore, Pact of Negation from the board helps out a lot as well, especially against the annoying Cryptic Command.
Pithing Needle, Everlasting Torment + Wheel of Sun and Moon
This is the category of proactive hate-cards that stop you from going infinite once they resolve. Luckily for us however, no one plays these cards maindeck and in sideboarded games we have access to some Krosan Grips that will allow us to answer any one of these cards. (NB: Wheel of Sun and Moon is a special case scenario, since some decks running Glittering Wish will be able to cast that card against you in game 1. But also note that, unlike situations involving Everlasting Torment and Pithing Needle, it is actually possible to combo off and go infinite with Wheel of Sun and Moon in play depending on the arrangement and density of lands in your library)
Now, in terms of matchups, I believe that my deck has a positive percentage against most of the field. This may be hard to believe, but remember that my deck was a rogue combo deck that people were not expecting. This means that you shouldn’t encounter as much dedicated sideboard hate as a known deck like Faeries. Of course, if the field knew about the deck and were sufficiently afraid of the matchup to alter their sideboards to include cards like Pithing Needle and Runed Halo, these percentages will drop.
Elves ~ 60% Preboard ~ 70% Postboard
The G/B Elves’ game plan in this matchup is to put up a fast clock and throw in some light disruption in the form of Thoughtseize. Unfortunately for them, if they falter even slightly on any part of their plan, they are going to lose. Simply putting up a clock is not good enough, since you simply wins faster than they do while a slow hand (*cough* Civic Wayfinder *cough*) with some disruption is also insufficient since you will easily have enough time to reassemble the combo with the infinite amount of dig that you have in the deck. Furthermore, even if they do have the fast clock plus disruption draw, you can still easily play out of it, since Seismic Assault by itself will buy you an extra turn or two. Post-board, the matchup is even more slanted in your favour as you bring in 6(!) board sweepers. I personally like to keep a few Thoughtseizes in to deal with any sideboarded Krosan Grips and Extirpates they might have, but if you’re confident that you won’t be facing those cards then it is also perfectly acceptable to side out some more Thoughtseizes and keep the Telling Times in.
Out: 3x Vendilion Clique, 1x Thoughtseize, 2x Telling Time
In: 3x Firespout, 3x Damnation
Reveillark ~ 65% Preboard ~ 65% Postboard
You have the advantage in this matchup since a lot of their cards (like Sower of Temptation) don’t really do very much against you. Furthermore, their counter suite is rather light, consisting of only Rune Snag and Pact of Negation, and those cards can easily be overcome by your hand disruption while Vendilion Clique is also quite good at disrupting their combo. After board, we can also bring in some Pact of Negations to help force our combo through as well (since it is not necessary to have a full set of Telling Times against a deck without Thoughtseize, two of those get the cut to make way for the Pacts). Of course, it goes without saying that the five-color builds of Reveillark are even easier to beat than the regular U/W ones since that version runs even less permission.
Out: 2x Telling Time
In: 2x Pact of Negation
Quick n’ Toast ~ 55% Preboard ~ 65% Postboard
Although Quick n’ Toast is a rather slow deck that contains plenty of cards that are sub-par against combo, the five-color monstrosity is not that easy a deck to beat pre-board. The reason for this is because they not only run more counters than Reveillark (Cryptic Command as well as Rune Snag and Pact of Negation) but they can also Mind Shatter your hand away out of nowehere. After board however, the matchup becomes much easier due to Imp’s Mischief. When this little two mana spell is cast on a Mind Shatter, it is basically GG, but note that the card is also quite sick against Careful Consideration. Pact of Negation, of course, also helps out in the permission wars.
Out: 4x Lotus Bloom, 3x Vendilion Clique
In: 4x Imp’s Mischief, 3x Pact of Negation
Mono Red ~ 70% Preboard ~ 75% Postboard
This is basically the matchup that you’re trying to get all day, since this matchup creates a pure race situation. Although the outdated burn heavy versions that run cards like Tattermunge Maniac and Keldon Marauders might occasionally steal a win off you, the prominent Mono-Red deck in the current metagame, Saito’s GP: Buenos Aires deck with Demigod of Revenge, is miles behind.
Their only way of disrupting your combo is through Magus of the Moon which, as I’ve explained above, is quite easy to deal with. Curiously, I don’t mind keeping the Thoughtseizes in for this matchup, since paying 2 life to make them discard their on-curve spell will actually save you life if you only intend the game to last for four-five turns.
Out: 3x Vendilion Clique
In: 3x Firespout
Storm Variants ~ 50% Preboard ~ 50% Postboard
Although the Mono-Red Storm combo decks are undeniably more explosive than Aussie Assault, they are also more inconsistent. Furthermore, Aussie Assault can actually disrupt the Storm combo with Thoughtseize and Vendilion Clique, while the Storm decks can’t really do much to stop Aussie Assault at all. In the end, it basically comes down to the quality of the draws and winning the die roll.
Out: 2x Telling Time
In: 2x Krosan Grip
Merfolk ~ 60% Preboard ~ 60% Postboard
Although Fish would normally be a great choice against combo decks in general, the matchup here between Merfolk and Aussie Assault is actually quite favourable for the Aussie Assault player. The reason for this is because Merfolk actually can never beat a resolved Seismic Assault. With a resolved Assault, you can simply dredge Dakmor Salvage every turn, kill every single one of their Merfolk, and then combo off at leisure. Sneaking the Assault into play is surprisingly easy since the Merfolk counter suite is actually rather light and only comes online at the three mana mark. This means that if you’re on the play you can simply play a turn 3 Assault and win on the spot, while a single Thoughtseize is probably enough to ensure that your Assault resolves when you’re on the draw. Of course, it is also possible to just combo off and win if your Thoughtseize reveals no permission, or if they ever tap out.
Out: 2x Telling Time, 3x Vendilion Clique
In: 3x Firespout, 2x Pact of Negation
Faeries ~ 45% Preboard ~ 55% Postboard
Unfortunately, the toughest matchup for Aussie Assault also happens to be one of the most popular decks in the format, and the sole reason that this is the case is because of Ancestral Vision. While it is true that the Faerie decks do run a large amount of permission, the Aussie Assault deck can actually keep up and wear the permission wall down, since each combo piece and each hand disruption spell that the Aussie Assault player draws will force a one-for-one trade with a counterspell. This, of course, explains why Ancestral Vision is so nuts in this matchup. While the two duelling decks are trading Thoughtseizes and Rune Snags, the Faerie player will suddenly receive a three card boost that will more likely than not fill his hand with enough permission to win the war of attrition. Indeed, as my testing was able to show, while Aussie Assault will definitely be able win some preboard games by using Thoughtseize to strip away permission before going off, it is actually very difficult for him to win if the Faeries’ starting seven contains an Ancestral Vision and two counterspells. After boarding however, the matchup becomes favorable for the Aussie Assault player since my sideboard plan has the ultimate effect of turning the Faerie player’s primary trump into a liability. With four Imp’s Mischiefs in the deck after board, a bunch of Ponders and Telling Times to find them, and 4-5 turns to find a copy, hitting their Visions with a Mischief is pretty much a certainty, and when that happens, the Aussie Assault player will suddenly be ahead in the war of attrition and will more than likely win the game. But what if the Imp’s Mischief gets countered? Well, assuming that they still have counterspells left in their hand by turn 5 (you should be spending the first 4-5 turns of the game depleting their counters by casting Thoughtseizes and Seismic Assault), countering Imp’s Mischief necessarily means that they are tapping mana on their own turn, which of course gives you a window to resolve key combo pieces. I actually cannot sufficiently stress how insane Imp’s Mischief is in this matchup. In fact, against this sideboard plan, Faeries can no longer play the control deck and MUST play the beatdown, as Ancestral Vision suddenly goes from being one of the best cards in the matchup to one of the worst. I, for one, personally believe that it is actually correct for the Faeries player to side the card out.
Out: 4x Lotus Bloom, 3x Vendilion Clique
In: 4x Imp’s Mischief, 3x Pact of Negation
PART II: Australian Nationals
Aussie Assault was my deck for Australian Nationals. Although I went 2-1 in the first Constructed portion (losing only to the Faeries nut draw – his first 13 cards were 4x lands, 2x Rune Snag, 2x Spellstutter Sprite, 1x Thoughtseize, 1x Ancestral Visions, 3x Mistbind Clique), I bombed out of the Limited portion of the event by going 1-2 in the first draft and 0-1 drop in the second. But this, of course, does not mean that my dream of seeing my deck succeed would come to an end… Aaron Nicastri, another member of the Sydney team who was staying at the same motel as me, decided to audible to the deck at the last minute…
And guess what?
He won Nationals.
Seriously… think about it…
… Swans of f***ing Bryn Argoll won Nationals.
Anyway, according to Aaron, the reason that he decided to switch to playing Aussie Assault at about 10:30pm the night before the tournament was because he was feeling pretty apathetic about the Standard environment. Originally, his first choice heading down to the event was Elves because he felt that the deck not only played the strongest cards in format but was also quite fast. However, after a quick look at the Grinders and a chat with a few of his friends from around the country, he found out that Reveillark would be quite a popular deck and so decided that his Elves deck would be pretty much unplayable. He then hopped onto the Reveillark bandwagon himself, acquired the Melbourne and Adelaide builds of the deck, and tested it out a bit. However, he was pretty unhappy with the results since the deck was quite a bit behind against both Merfolk and Faeries, which he thought would probably make up about a quarter of the field. Furthermore, he also felt that since the best players in the country (like Superstar Master Garry Wong!) were playing Faeries, winning the Top8 with a Reveillark deck would be next to impossible. He also did not want to switch to Faeries at the last minute since he felt that he would not be able to pilot the deck as well as the players who have been playing it for ages.
In the end, he decided that playing any of the mainstream decks would leave a dry taste in his mouth, and so he did what any man would have done in his situation: he went over to the dark side and audibled into Aussie Assault. As he later explained, he felt that this was definitely the correct decision to make because my decks are totally awesome and everyone should play them… Okay, he didn’t say that (even though it’s true!), but he did say that the deck looked extremely powerful in the playtest games I had played and that the only drawback of the deck seemed to be a slightly unfavourable matchup game 1 against Faeries. He also said that he knew that his inexperience with the deck would cause him to make some play mistakes but because the deck was rogue, he felt that his opponents would make even more errors against him. This, he hoped, would outweigh the risks of playing the deck imperfectly.
Nevertheless, Aaron was still nervous as hell about the decision, especially since he had never taken a combo deck into a serious tournament in his entire life. In fact, Aaron claimed that his hands were actually shaking during the first round match…
Round 1 versus Joel Piotto (Reveillark)
Well, my hands would be shaking too if I was playing a combo deck for the first time in my life at a major tournament without knowing how the combo worked! Yes, you read this correctly. Aaron did not actually know how to win with the deck. In the first game, his opponent conceded without making him go through all the motions, but in game 2 he was a little less generous. By this time, I had already finished my round and I had wandered over just in time to watch Aaron assemble Seismic Assault + Swans of Bryn Argoll + Dakmor Salvage. I watched him as he started to dredge the Salvage every turn until he hit a second Salvage, but at this point, rather than go infinite in the way that I had outlined earlier, Aaron continued doing what he was doing before (which was dredging Dakmor Salvage and drawing the second card normally). This, of course, meant that he ended up drawing both of his Gaea’s Blessing and could not continue the combo without being decked! Luckily for Aaron however, he was able to work out an alternate way of winning that involved casting a Gaea’s Blessing to shuffle some lands back in his deck, drawing the rest of the deck with the combo, and discarding all the lands in his hand to do exactly lethal.
After the match, I sat down with Aaron and actually explained how to do his combo step by step so there wouldn’t be a debacle like this in any future rounds. Indeed, I probably should be blamed for Aaron’s failure to combo rather than Aaron himself, since in all the playtest games I had played at the motel, I would assemble Swans + Seismic Assault + Dakmor Salvage, say “Got There!” and move on to the next game. But then again, regardless of whose fault it is, I do have to admit that watching that game was one of the more painful (but hilarious) experiences I’ve had in quite a while.
Round 2 versus Tyler Walsh (Merfolk)
Aaron’s opponent was given a game loss for misregistering his deck, which meant that they would move onto game 2 without sideboards with Aaron on the draw. Tyler led off with a Cursecatcher and a Banneret before playing a Lord of Atlantis on turn 3. This left him tapped out except for a Mutavault, which allowed Aaron to resolve a Seismic Assault. Aaron shot the Lord with a land, leaving his opponent with nothing but a bunch of 1/1s and some counterspells in hand. Aaron eventually got rid of these counters with a Thoughtseize and a Vendilion Clique, played a Swans, and the game was over.
Round 3 versus Andrew Varga (Mana Ramp)
In round 3 Aaron gets the dream matchup. His opponent was playing Mana Ramp which meant that he could neither disrupt Aaron nor race his combo. Aaron won game 1 comfortably and did not sideboard at all for game 2. In the second game of the match he whiffed his combo (he discarded two lands to Seismic Assault but did not draw any additional lands) but it did not turn out to be relevant since he could block with his Swans to prevent lethal damage. On the following turn, Aaron was able Beseech for Dakmor Salvage and combo off in short order.
The Draft Rounds
And so, after 3 rounds of Constructed Aaron had not lost a single game. It was now time for the draft rounds and Aaron, unlike me, actually knows how to draft. He ended up forcing Mono-White splash Blue in both drafts since he not only felt that it was the best archetype but it was also the one that he was the most comfortable with. Aaron 3-0ed both drafts because he’s just that good.
Round 10 versus John Paul Kelly (R/G Aggro)
At this point, Aaron was already locked for the Top8 but he decided to play on so that he could help get other members of the Sydney Team into the Top8 as well. His unfortunate opponent was John Paul Kelly, whose Mono-Red splash Tarmogoyf deck was simply too slow to deal with Aussie Assault. Aaron sideboarded in some Damnations but didn’t even need them to win.
Round 11 versus Jeremy Neeman (Reveillark)
After a quick look at the Standings which revealed that a concession here would not affect the chances of any Sydney players making the Top 8, Aaron conceded to Jeremy Neeman. Jeremy and Aaron were both part of the Australian team at Pro Tour: Hollywood (and, due to their excellent Top50 finish, would be travelling together to Pro Tour Berlin as well) and get along quite well with one another. However, I’m pretty sure that Aaron would have conceded here even if Neeman wasn’t his opponent, since it is clearly advantageous for Aaron to have as many good matchups in the Top8 as possible.
Round 12 versus Justin Cheung (Faeries)
In the last round, Aaron had an intentional draw with Justin Cheung, who was another player on the Sydney Team.
Quarterfinals versus Merlyn Evans (Faeries)
And so now it was time for the Top8. Although Aaron had been lucky enough to avoid Faeries all throughout the Swiss, it was virtually impossible for him to continue doing that since half of the Top8 was comprised of Faeries!
Merlyn started off game 1 of his match against Aaron with an Ancestral Vision. This, of course, meant that Aaron was in trouble unless he could assemble the combo before the Visions resolved. He was unfortunately unable to do this and so the Visions re-gassed Merlyn’s hand, providing him with some choice disruption in the form of Vendilion Clique. Soon after, Aaron found himself one game down.
Aaron started the second game with a Ponder which let him hide some of his combo pieces on top of his library. Merlyn responded by playing two Thoughtseizes on turn 2 that left Aaron with nothing but two Pact of Negations and a bunch of lands. However, Aaron knew that the top of his library contained nothing but gas, and so was able to combo off soon after with double Pact of Negation backup.
In the third game Merlyn found himself stuck on three lands which meant that Aaron’s Pact of Negations could overcome any resistant Merlyn’s deck could offer.
In the fourth game, everything went according to plan as Aaron used Thoughtseizes and combo pieces to exhaust every counter from Merlyn’s hand. This meant that by the time turn 5 rolled around, Merlyn’s Ancestral Vision suddenly had a change of heart and decided to target Aaron instead. The three extra cards where more than enough for Aaron to combo out and move onto the Semifinals.
Now, there was one particularly interesting thing about this match and this was the fact that Aaron chose to draw first after losing the first game. As he later explained, the reason behind this decision was because he agreed with my description of the Aussie Assault versus Faeries matchup as a war of attrition where Thoughtseizes and Rune Snags traded with one another. As such, he believed that the extra card would be extremely relevant since a single extra piece of disruption could mean the difference between a won and lost game. Although I understand his reasoning, I personally do not believe that the extra card is enough to outweigh the tempo advantage that the Faeries deck gains by playing first. When I relayed my opinion to Aaron after the event, he explained to me that tempo only matters if the Faeries player decides to go on the beatdown and that he thought that it was more likely that his opponents would try to play a counter game like a control deck. Luckily for Aaron, this turned out to be the correct call since both his Quarterfinal and Semifinal opponents made what I consider to be a mistake: siding out Scion of Oona, a card which I believe to be quite good in the matchup. (If I were playing Faeries against Aussie Assault, I would probably side out 4x Ancestral Visions for 4x Thoughtseize and replace as many Terrors with Slaughter Pacts as possible)
Semifinals versus Justin Cheung (Faeries)
Another Faeries matchup for Aaron, and this time it will be quite difficult since “Juzza” is one of the best players in the country. In the first game of the matchup, Aaron’s Thoughtseize allowed him to resolve a Seismic Assault. On his fourth turn, Aaron made the very nice play of purposefully skipping his 4th land drop so that when Juzza played a Mistbind Clique in Aaron’s upkeep, he could play the Gemstone Mine that he had held back. With a Lotus Bloom already in play, this Gemstone Mine (which was only untapped because he had held it back) provided him with the 4th mana to cast Swans of Bryn Argoll and go off.
In the second game of the match, Aaron’s was able to Imp’s Mischief an Ancestral Vision but it only drew him three lands. Juzza only has a single counterspell that game but it was enough since Aaron’s draws were so poor.
In the third game of the match, Juzza’s stumbled for correctly colored mana since his first four lands were 2x Islands, Mutavault and Pendelhaven. This meant that Aaron could safely cast a Swans of Bryn Argoll followed by a Seismic Assault (he had to play the Swans first since Juzza had just enough Faeries to counter a three cost spell with Spellstutter Sprite). When the Sprite came down in an attempt to counter the assault, Pact of Negation appeared from Aaron’s hand and we were on to game 4.
In the fourth game of the match, Juzza’s hand was pretty much unbeatable. A turn 2 Bitterblossom was followed by a turn 3 Vendilion Clique and a Thoughtseize on the following turn. Juzza had also drawn double Mutavault which meant that he was able to go beatdown and kill Aaron before he could reassemble the combo.
Fortunately for Aaron, Juzza’s draws in the final game were pretty atrocious. Forced to mulligan to five, Juzza led off with a turn 1 Visions but couldn’t find a second land to play the Bitterblossom in his hand. Aaron had also taken a mulligan but his hand was better since it not only contained lands but also had a Thoughtseize and an Imp’s Mischief. After stealing Juzza’s three cards, Aaron just hardcast a pair of Swans which he used to attack for the win.
Finals versus Brandon Lau (B/R Tokens)
And now it was time for the finals. Aaron was paired against a B/R Tokens deck that had also defeated two Faeries decks before reaching the finals. Unfortunately for Aaron, this matchup wasn’t going to be a pushover since Brandon’s Token deck was actually designed by Patty Robertson, a Perth player who happened to be staying at the same motel as the Sydney team. I had played a few test games against his deck and I guess you can say that it’s kind of my fault that the B/R Tokens deck has Sudden Death and Extirpate in the sideboard rather than Slaughter Pact and Faerie Macabre.
Aaron started of game 1 of their match with a Lotus Bloom and Telling Time. He then Pondered his way into a Beseech he needed to find Seismic Assault but made the error of drawing the card instead of hiding on top of his library (It’s pretty tiring to play Magic endlessly for two straight days). Brandon drew Thoughtseize off the top and got rid of the Beseech before using Nantuko Husk and Furystoke Giant to finish Aaron off. (If Aaron had left the Beseech on top then the Thoughtseize would have been ineffectual since Aaron had two Swans in hand. On the following turn, Aaron would have resolved Lotus Bloom, drawn the Beseech, tutored for Seismic Assault and cast it. This would have set him up to win on the following turn).
In the second game, Aaron started off with double Lotus Bloom and a turn 3 Seismic Assault with Swans in hand. However, since Brandon didn’t really have any kind of a clock, Aaron decided to wait until he had found a Thoughtseize before committing to the combo. Sure enough, the Thoughtseize stripped away and Extirpate and Aaron was able to combo off for the win.
Brandon had a turn 3 Magus of the Moon in the third game which did nothing expect let Aaron play Seismic Assault without taking pain. On the following turn, Aaron made the mistake of using Vivid Creek to kill the Magus instead of playing the Vivid land and using Dakmor Salvage to kill the Magus instead (perhaps he was scared of Extirpate). If he had used the Salvage, then on the following turn he could have dredged the Salvage, cast Swans and gone off. Instead, Aaron spent the next four turns trying to draw his 4th land. Gargadon eventually hit play and Aaron scooped up his cards. In the fourth game, Aaron had a Thoughtseize for Lau’s Extirpate and a Vendilion Clique for his Sudden Death before comboing off and winning the game.
And so we were down to the final game of Australian Nationals, and it was in this game that Aaron finally drew the trump card in the matchup: Firespout. The enhanced Pyroclasm did a good job of clearing up Brandon’s board while Aaron’s Seismic Assault finished off the Nantuko Husk which was the only survivor of the carnage. Aaron then attempted to go off on the following turn but his Dakmor Salvage was hit by an Extirpate. Aaron was unfazed and continued as if nothing had happened. Using the ridiculous draw engine to draw a bunch of extra cards, Aaron cast a second Swans and passed the turn back with a full grip of cards (3 of which were zero mana shocks). Lau could neither get rid of the unkillable Swans nor keep any creatures on the board against Aaron’s Seismic Assault. After one more turn of Swan beatdown, Brandon extended his hand and just like that, Aaron becomes the Australian National Champion with Aussie Assault!
Aaron’s Final Score with the deck…
7-0 in matches
17-5 in games
Congrats, mate! And good luck at Worlds!
Until next time…
For those of you who might be interested, here is the list for the U/R Dragonstorm deck that I ran at the local tournament.