Feature Article – Token for Granted: Dave’s 2009 Regionals Report

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Tuesday, May 26th – I never miss Regionals if I can avoid it. Even if I scrubbed out, Lord knows I could use the diversion. I’d like to tell you about all my various decks I built for testing, but between the release of Alara Reborn and Regionals, it was mostly building decks with Jund Hackblade and discovering that they sucked. I ultimately settled on B/W Tokens…

Yes, I know, long time no write. It’s not like I haven’t wanted to. I’ll spare you the gory details, but the last year of my life could charitably be described as utter hell, and playing and writing about Magic has been way, way down on my list of priorities.

For the sake of what was left of my sanity, I recently quit my job and returned to central Oregon, land of plummeting housing prices and 17% unemployment. Hey, a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. I have a lot of friends and family in the area, and after this last year, it’s something I desperately needed.

Also in the area are most of the old Magic players I used to play with and a new hole-in-the-wall game store that, hopefully, will remain in business for a few more months. Sure, I’m old and out of practice, but a good player is a good player, and new blood — or, in this case, old and seldom-seen blood — is always welcome. And I never miss Regionals if I can avoid it. Even if I scrubbed out, Lord knows I could use the diversion.

I’d like to tell you about all my various decks I built for testing, but between the release of Alara Reborn and Regionals, it was mostly building decks with Jund Hackblade and discovering that they sucked. I ultimately settled on B/W Tokens, primarily for two reasons: First, it’s the kind of midrange deck I enjoy playing (and this is apparently the Golden Age of Midrange), and second… it was only deck I had most of the cards for.

For those playing at home, what I ended up with looked like this;

Notes on the deck: I got greedy and went with 24, not 25 lands, as seems to be de rigeur. I wanted one more removal spell and was not having problems with getting land drops, so out went one land for the singleton Terror. I also bumped up the basic Plains count to better abuse Knight of the White Orchid.

Speaking of Knight of the White Orchid, this guy was nothing short of amazing. Being able to drop this guy on turn two and then have mana open for a Sculler or Zealous Persecution was strong. When I first picked up the deck, I couldn’t understand why exactly you’d want him over Knight of Meadowgrain, but now I understand.

Four Persections felt like too much. Three is probably the right number. I did expect a mountain-heavy field, so that’s why I went with Forge-Tenders over Mark of Asylum; plus, it’s another creature to perhaps trigger a Heights in the early game.

Deck in hand, it was off to Portland, just entering the first day of a heat wave. Oh, happy day, nothing thrills me more than spending the day in a poorly ventilated basement with over one hundred gamers, far too many of which have no concept of “soap” or “hygiene.” And we wonder why gamers have such poor public images…

145 people, 8 rounds, let’s get started, shall we?

Round 1: Kyle Witcosky (Five-Color Lark)

The first game is pretty anticlimactic. Kyle wins the die roll and has to mulligan not once, not twice but three times on the play. Ouch. It’s over so fast, I’ve got no clue what he’s playing. I do see black mana sources and Murmuring Bosk, which likely means Doran, so in come the Purges.

On the draw, I ramp into my favorite play with the deck, turn two Knight of the White Orchid into Tidehollow Sculler, which sees a hand with both Reveillark and Doran — two great tastes that, I guess, kind of go together, though you just don’t see them sharing decklists that often. I take the ‘Lark, then beat down with 2/2s and Spirit tokens. Doran gets Pathed, and that’s all she wrote — Kyle just couldn’t mount any kind of offense with the deck, and I was fast enough to beat it.

1-0, I’ll take it.

Round 2: Steven Winslow (Doran)

I lose the die roll yet again (a recurring theme), and try to get things started with a Windbrisk Heights, hiding a Cloudgoat Ranger, then a Bitterblossom that meets the business end of a Maelstrom Pulse before it can start cranking out Faeries. I’m able to follow that up with a Spectral Procession, Pulses be damned, and Cloudgoat Ranger to get a few beats in before a Liege makes an appearance to put a stop to that.

With Steven tapped out, I’m able to swing for the alpha strike with my Spirit tokens and Ranger, giving him flying by tapping my Kithkins, triggering the Heights and tapping even more tokens for ten points of flying, game-ending pain.

In come the Wraths and Purges, out goes Rangers and Ajani, which may or may not have been correct play here. I can’t say this deck was at the top of our playtesting pyramid.

Second game, Steven gets out a fast Doran on the back of three Harbingers — yeah, that’s a pretty good combo. The big tree eats a Path, big surprise there. My board is slow to develop and suddenly I’m staring down at double Wilt-Leaf Liege, which definitely qualifies as Some Bad. I take one hit for six, and then I’m able to draw into some hold-the-ground help in double Kitchen Finks. I chump one turn, then next attack step, I Plow, er, Path one of the Lieges, trade for the other in combat with Finks, then start beating down. A last-ditch Doran gets Purged, and what do you know, I’m 2-0.

I know, I’m surprised as anyone else here.

I immediately recognize a minor misplay I made during that game — I should have waited to Path Doran during combat, not before combat, and I could have gotten in an attack step with my 2/2s. It turned out not to make a difference, but, man, I can tell I’ve still got a lot of rust to knock off the game play.

Round 3: Chris Germond (Five-Color Control)

My opening draw I’m happy with, three lands, Sculler and Knight. Good a start as any, I suppose.

I lose the die roll again. I really need to start bringing weighted dice to these things.

An opening Vivid land from Chris reveals his deck choice, and I stash a second Sculler under a Windbrisk for my turn. I lead out with Knight of the White Orchid turn two to try to bait out a Broken Ambitions, which succeeds. That gives me an opening to Sculler on turn three, and I see a hand with more gas in it than a chili cook-off — Esper Charm, Mulldrifter, Wrath, Hallowed Burial (?), Broodmate Dragon and Cruel Ultimatum.

This does not look good for the home team. I was a little perplexed by the previously unseen Hallowed Burial tech, now that I think about it, it’s a great choice for a token-heavy metagame — kills tokens dead, and eliminates those pesky persist creatures as well.

I take the Mulldrifter and hope I can get some kind of offense in before I’m deader than Lincoln. It should not surprise you that I fail miserably. Esper Charm for Bitterblossom (did no one read Chapin’s stuff — you’re supposed to draw cards with Esper Charm, not kill Bitterblossom with it! Clearly, more people need to read Premium (again, not a paid advertisement, but a little kickback is always appreciated)). I try to fight on even after a turn seven Ultimatum, but double Broodmate pretty much puts an end to all that.

In comes Thoughtsieze and Identity Crisis, out goes the slower stuff in Ajani and Rangers. Identity Crisis is better against the Lark matchup than this one, but it’s one of my few options available. I’m tempted to perhaps bring in Forge-Tenders as well, but I didn’t see Fallout in his deck, what with both Wrath and Hallowed Burial, I guess that he’s not running it.

Now, my decision to go to 24 lands comes back, perhaps, to bite me — the dreaded double mulligan on the play. I end up keeping a hand with two lands and a Bitterblossom, and lo and behold, I get it to stick. And a turn three Knight sticks as well.

But really, I’m never in this game. Bitterblossom gets Charmed after a few turns, and I’m hit with Cruel Ultimatum on turn seven again. Mutavault alone does not cut it against Broodmate Dragon.

Back to the middle tables with me. Play me off, keyboard cat…

Round 4: Anders M. Jones (Five-Color Control)

My opponent’s deck seems like a cheaper, couldn’t-get-the-cards version of Five-Color, as it’s all Vivids and basics — nary a filter land nor Reflecting Pool to be seen. That said, it still does a number on my deck. My turn two Bitterblossom meets an Esper Charm (again, has no one read Chapin?), and even though I’m able to drop double Finks on the table, a Plumeveil keeps my attacks at bay, and unable to mount an offense, I fall to the dreaded combo of Cruel Ultimatum and Broodmate Dragon.

Lather, rinse and repeat previous sideboarding. This time around, I get the turn two ‘Blossom to stick, and I’m able to beat down with a parade of tokens. I’m holding the Identity Crisis for what seems like forever, looking for the opportunity to make it squeeze it through, eventually just going for the gusto, saying, in effect, if you got it, you got it. He don’t got it, so his meager hand of Mulldrifter and other non-business spells gets RFG’ed, and I cruise from there.

Game three, I get off a turn two Thoughtseize, finding a hand with Mulldrifter, Esper Charm, two Cryptics — and one land. I decide to pull the Mulldrifter to keep him off land, then bait out the Esper Charm with a Bitterblossom the next turn.

Am I rusty, oh yes, but I can still pull off the good play once in a while.

With Anders stuck on three lands for a couple of turns, I drop two Finks and topdeck another Bitterblossom to seal the deal.

Whew! Thought I was going to be X-2-drop there, which would have been disappointing, but not surprising.

Round 4: Scott Montgomery (mono-Red)

I thought his deck might be B/R, but the presence of Unglued Mountains led me to guess mono-Red. Whaddya know, score one for the old guy.

Within the first two turns, Scott drops not one, not two, but three Mogg Fanatics. Not only bothersome, but this Bitterblossom in my opening hand is looking decidedly unattractive. I’m forced to drop Knight of the White Orchid simply to have a blocker (and what a fine blocker he is), and he ends up eating a few Fanatics while I drop other token-y goodness. Boggart Ram-Gang has the potential to suck, but Knight + Zealous Prosecution turns the tables extremely nicely. Scott is reduced to racing me by throwing burn at my face, which is not rapidly forthcoming. His last ditch Demigod of Revenge gets sent to the RFG zone, and I win a race against a Red deck. Go figure.

In come the Forge-Tenders and Celestial Purges for the Bitterblossoms and a Ranger. Turn one, I hide a Forge-Tender under a Heights, followed by a Knight on turn two. Turn three, I have a choice between dropping a Procession or Finks, I go with the token generator. Wrong choice, as Scott drops Everlasting Torment, so no more life gain for me. Bother.

Still, I’m the one with the offense: I’ve got a Forge-Tender and Spirits to send into the red zone. A turn four Sculler reveals a scary sight: a hand of two Demigods and Chaotic Backlash. If my opponent draws a fifth land, my large life total is going to dwindle but fast.

The game ends with Scott still stuck on four lands, but me doing my best to give the game away. Attacking with everything: a Mutavault, Forge-Tender and three Spirits with an Anthem in play, Scott finally drops a sweeper in Volcanic Fallout. Deciding to be really neat, I bring out the other Forge-Tender to counter the damage, being an idiot and not realizing that Everlasting Torment + red sweeper = useless Forge-Tender.

Great. I just managed to roughly 6-for-1 myself. Luckily for me, Scott was at three and the one damage my Mutavault was able to deal was enough to win the game.

Scott lamented afterwards, correctly I think, that if he’d subbed out the Demigods for Backlashes and not kept both, he might have won that game.

Round 5: Johnathan King (Exalted Aggro)

As we are about to present our decks, Johnathan suddenly remembers he has forgotten to de-sideboard. Sure, I could call a judge for a game loss, but that’s not how I roll. Sure, go ahead and de-sideboard, I don’t mind. As he’s swapping cards out, a Celestial Purge gets flipped up, so I think I’m against the mirror, mayhaps.

Guess again. Johnathan mulls to six and then decides to keep a one land hand, dropping a Flooded Grove and passing. My turn two Sculler reveals a curious hand of Shorecrasher Mimic, counters and two Rafiq of the Many. Looks like Johnathan is running a more counter-heavy version of the Bant Aggro deck that won one of the Star City PTQs last week. With removal and another Sculler in hand, I decide to snag a Rafiq, repeat the next turn, then beat down. Stuck on one land for a couple of turns, his one attempt at generating an offense in Mimic and Noble Hierarch meets a Zealous Persecution, and that’s all she wrote.

How do I sideboard against this deck? I bring in my Wraths for a Ranger and Ajani, if I remember correctly. Johnathan gets an early Mimic, while I steal a War Monk with a turn two Sculler. Now, here I am, thinking I’m fine at 19 life, tapped out, when Johnathan draws into Rafiq, plays him, triggering the Mimic, and hits me for 14!

Now I see how this deck wins games. Ah.

Time to shift back to control mode, methinks. I untap and RFG Rafiq, then drop a Kitchen Finks to help hold the ground. A second Finks helps me trade with the Mimic and another Rhox War Monk. Johnathan then makes a play mistake he kicks himself for, using a Cryptic Command to bounce the Sculler hiding a Rafiq during my combat phase, not at EOT, which allowed me to recapture Rafiq; no double strike for you! But, for his first tournament, I’d say he was doing pretty well. Once I reestablish board control and Johnathan is out of gas, I beat down with puny 2/1 Finks that are just good enough to finish the job.

If my math is correct — and, again, I must reiterate that if I was any good at math, I would have been a chemical engineer — if I can win my last round, I might be able to draw into the Top 8. If Rusty Old Dave makes the Top 8, either a) I’m better than I think I am and my skills have not atrophied as badly as I have thought, or b) I should be getting a commemorative coffee mug that says “World’s Biggest Lucksack.”

Round 7: Sean Collins (Five-Color Control)

Well, it’s been a fun ride, but everything comes to end eventually. But at least I finally won a die roll, which lets me play an unmolested Tidehollow Sculler, revealing a hand of Esper Charm, Cryptic Command and five lands. I take the Cryptic, then follow next turn with Bitterblossom. Sean, apparently having read Star City Premium, does not take the bait and instead tries to draw into some business with Esper Charm. All the while, I’m beating down with Sculler, Faerie tokens and a few Spirits who came along for the ride.

A second Sculler reveals a hand of Condemn…and five lands. And he shuffled pretty good, too. I take the Condemn and win easily, my opponent having drawn nine lands and three spells. Not the best ratio in the world.

In once again come the Thoughtseizes and Identity Crisises (Criseses? Crises? Crisii? Help me out here). I’m willing to take three points of pain off of a Caves of Koilos to cast Thoughtseize, and this time, Sean apparently has the opposite problem: Vivid land, two Broodmates, two Cryptics, and two Broken Ambitions.

Did I mention I had an Identity Crisis in my opening hand? Do I dare to live the dream?

I coax one of Sean’s counters out on the next turn with Bitterblossom, still no land for Sean after the clash. I’m getting nervous and loopy, and end up incurring a warning for accidentally picking up two cards from my library during my draw step. In my defense, it’s been a long day, I’m old and I’m insufficiently caffeinated.

A second Thoughtseize reveals a hand now consisting of Broodmates, Cryptics, Wrath, Cruel Ultimatum and Broken Ambitions. Holy cats, that’s scary. Sean is still stuck on two lands, so I take the Ambitions to keep him off land via clashing and clearing the way for more expensive spells.

Sean drops a third land and passes the turn. I play Cloudgoat Ranger and swing, immediately inwardly cursing myself — if topdecks the fourth land, he Wraths away my team, so I’ve basically wasted one of my big hitters. Sure enough, a Cascade Bluffs provides the critical fourth mana for the Wrath.

There’s a silver lining to my stupidity, however: if I draw a sixth land non-come-into-play-tapped land, I empty out that hand of gas. Survey says: Mutavault! Good enough! Identity Crisis for the win!

No, not win, but much like no one ever comes back from Cruel Ultimatum, no one comes back from Identity Crisis. There’s damn little left in Sean’s deck that will allow him to win, but he grinds for several more turns, even after I hit him with a second Crisis — but after the original gut punch, the outcome was never really in doubt.

After the match, I go over my plays from this and previous games with a couple of friends, and we’re in complete agreement: I have played sloppily, making several small play errors, such as not playing lands that would have kept me out of Ambitions range, or playing Knight of the White Orchid and searching my deck before my opponent said it was okay.

And, yes, I’m a freaking lucksack. I will not argue that point, either.

At 6-1, I should be able to draw in, although I’m certain my tiebreakers suck, and for whatever reason, the TOs are not printing standings. Maybe they finally got tired of all the dithering over taking identical draws or somesuch. Still, more than once have I been in a position to draw into the Top 8 of a tournament, only to get screwed by being paired down.

Round 7: Jacob Sklar (B/W Kithkin)

Jacob’s one of the gang from Bend. Since we’re at table three, we can assume we’re in fifth and sixth place. Everyone above us has taken the draw. Shall we do the same and get some dinner?

I love it when a plan comes together. To placate my friends I drove up with and who have been stuck watching me after they dropped, I spring for burgers. It seemed only fair.

The top eight is announced, and after the ID, I’m in 6th place, Jacob is 5th — so out of eight players coming up from central Oregon, we place two in the top eight. Represent!

After the final standings are posted, I tell TO that I’m dropping.

No, I’m not crazy.

I’ve been to Nationals before, having backed into a berth a few years ago. I had a lot of fun and I can officially say I’ve been to Nats, but right now, I know I’m not a championship-caliber player, and I don’t think I can put the time and money into trying to get back to that level (assuming I was ever there). I have been tried, tested, and found wanting, and I’m okay with that. Not everyone can be Johnny Magic.

I’m happy with winning the better part of a box and improving my rating enough to perhaps earn a bye or two at GP: Seattle. Let someone younger, hungrier and perhaps with a bit more disposable income chase the dream. (9th place ends up being Sean Collins, the mana flooded/screwed Five-Color player I beat in Round 7 — he ends up losing to Faeries, the Fae player ending up getting the “win” for Regionals, apparently not having gotten the memo that Faeries were supposed to be dead).

Jacob, however, being a younger, hungrier and better player than I, ends up beating a B/W Tokens deck with his faster B/W Kithkin deck in three games, thus earning the trip to Kansas City.

All in all, a good day for yours truly, horrible play errors aside. I suppose that means I need to go to Grand Prix: Seattle, and I think these old bones have at least one more trip in them, if for no other reasons to see friends in the area. Tokens again? I don’t see why not, assuming I can hold onto those Fetid Heaths for a few more days…

It’s good to be playing again. It’s good to be writing again.