Most of you who read StarCity regularly know that I’ve just come back from a short tour of Saudi Arabia… But what I haven’t told you is that I’m leaving Alaska for good in March. Our three years is up, and we’re headed for places yet-unknown. With that in mind, I’ve turned over the reins of tournament organization to David Phifer, a close friend and certified Judge, not to mention sometimes-featured Star City writer. I’m doing my best to mentor David to become an expert-level Judge. I have every faith that the DCI will be glad to have him on the TO team.
With David organizing, I’m free to play every now and again. I decided that I wanted to play in the OBC round of qualifiers, so with some help from Team Zanzibar (named after the infamous* ’70s movie icon Zanzibar Jones), I plunged headlong into the September 29 PTQ. As always, the last tournament of the last day of qualifier season is played right here in Alaska.
Team Zanzibar had been playing a variation on B/U Braids for a few weeks. I wasn’t super-confident going in. We had had a number of mediocre finishes during the previous Friday night events, but we still felt that it had a chance to match up reasonably well with just about everything in the field. In theory, it matched up well against U/G decks, especially since we were maindecking Slithery Stalkers.
The deck turnout for the event was in our favor: A full third of the field was playing one U/G variant or another. It looked good for the good guys. Confidence was high among teammates Rob (two-time State Champion) Weimer and Ariel Zanzi-Jones. I still wasn’t so convinced; my heart wanted to play Infestation/Upheaval. Nonetheless, a commitment is a commitment, so I went with team technology.
From the netdeck version we replaced the Mesmeric Fiends with Crypt Creepers. The 2/1 beats and opportunity to yank things out of the graveyard seemed worthwhile. All in all, we were happy with them.
We arranged the sideboard somewhat differently, adding two Laquatus’s Champions – which had turned out extremely well in the sessions leading up to the qualifier. From what Rob and Ariel told me, they worked out well – a nice finisher from behind or in a stalemate, but I only saw one all day, so I can’t really say with any surety.
Even though I wasn’t particularly confident with the deck, I knew it to be the kind that good play skills could get some wins out of; I was certainly happy with that prospect. I was so wrong. Play skills – at least my own – would not be a significant factor on the day.
Round 1: Bye
Of all the luck! If you’re going to get a bye, this is the round for it, but I had wanted to get some momentum rolling. I wandered the field and checked out the competition.
Matches: 1-0. Games 0-0.
Round 2: John Hendricks
John is one of the good players from Fairbanks who comes down for important tournaments. I was already upset at this matchup because John was playing the deck that I secretly longed to play.
In game 1 I led him into playing Upheaval a little earlier than he wanted to because I had two Aether Bursts, a Nantuko Shade, and a Finkel in my hand that he hadn’t seen. I got rid of all but one of his tokens with the Shade and the Bursts and was ready to take control when he peeled a Burst of his own. At one life, I was done for.
Game 2 was just too ugly to describe.
Matches 1-1. Games 0-2.
RULES INSERT: Aether Burst works differently than the other Bursts due to the fact that it can have multiple targets. Flame Burst, for example, will decide how much damage it does when it resolves because it counts the number in the graveyard. Aether Burst, on the other hand, counts the number in the graveyard during announcement, and you get to target up to that many creatures. If Aether Bursts are subsequently removed from graveyards, it doesn’t matter: The targeted creatures are still going to get bounced.
Round 3: Jameson Fisher
Jameson is a mountain of a man with a heart as big as he is – one of the most pleasant people up here to play against. He was playing U/G, so I had a good feeling. So much for feelings. He massacred me in Game 1 with flying Roar of the Wurm tokens (Hello? Chainer’s Edict? Anyone?). Just when I equalized Game 2 (even after a crappy but non-mulliganable opening hand), he tapped his deck and came up with – Grizzly Fate. Ugh. I had answers, but he had Flashback. Double Ugh.
Matches 1-2. Games 0-4.
RULES INSERT: Grizzly Fate will be on the stack when it resolves, so it won’t count for Threshold, even if you played the Flashback. Being a Sorcery, it waits until resolution to see whether or not you have Threshold (rule 502.23c) and get the 2 or 4 bears.
Effectively, I’m out, but I played on hoping to help my teammates (and maybe, by some stroke of luck, win out and sneak in on tiebreakers; in a smaller tournament – thirty-seven people, if you’re interested – tiebreakers swing rather wildly from round to round).
Round 4: Brent Yocum
Brent is a teammate of Jameson’s and just this week announced his engagement to my dear friend Lydia (who some of you may remember as the former barrista at our old Friday Night playing grounds, the Cyber Cup). I wasn’t yet in the mood for gifts. Making a short story even shorter, Brent scooped twice to on turn 4 (Shade/Shade/Braids and Edict (Millikin)/Finkel/Braids).
RULES INSERT: Braids, Cabal Minion is a Legend. Without some creature type-changing trickery, you can only have one in play at a time.**
Matches 2-2. Games 2-4.
Round 5: Rob Weimer
The dreaded matchup. Rob, Ariel, and I were all 2-2, so we knew it might happen. We looked at the tie breaks; I was well ahead of Rob, plus two of my previous opponents were doing well (John – remember him? The guy playing the deck I really wanted to play – would eventually make Top 8), but none of Rob’s were. He decided to concede to me, but we played it out for fun. I won Game 3 with the Champion; the only time I saw it all day. Play of the match: Early in Game 1, Rob played Rancid Earth targeting my Tainted Isle; I Cunning Wished for Divert and took out his only source of blue mana. Next turn, I dropped Braids. Insult. Injury.
Matches 3-2. Games 4-4.
RULES INSERT: It’s perfectly legal for one teammate to concede to another, so long as there’s no inducement to do so (bribes, favors, etc.).
Round 6: Avry Murray
Avry, along with his brother and two other people, came all the way from Whitehorse (in Canada – some 750 miles) to play in the Prerelease Saturday and the PTQ on Sunday. As things stood at the time, I might have been able to be the only 4-2 in the Top 8. All I had to do was win and hope.
Emphasis on the win.
I knew that Avry was playing the exact netdeck version of our deck. I hoped it all came down to play skills. Hope springs eternal. If I’m going to lose, I’d much rather be able to say in my report that my opponent was a true gentleman, his skills were better, and he outplayed me. So much for that. Avry, gentlemanly enough, got better cards than I did. By a long shot. Twice.
Avry, who went in with worse tie breaks than mine, finished 9th. Triple Ugh.
Matches 3-3. Games 4-6 (really 4-7, if you count the one that Rob won in the fun game). Thoroughly mediocre.
RULES INSERT: When pumping a Nantuko Shade, do it one at a time; don’t stack all the activations. After one activation resolves, you get priority back, so you can do it again. The best reason to do this is that it can save you from direct damage. If you stack them all, your opponent can just play a single direct-damage spell to kill your one-toughness creature. If you let them resolve one at a time, he must decide when to play his damage, and you still have the option of pumping more than once in response.
All in all, a frustrating day, but an object lesson in trusting one’s instincts. Ariel finished a respectable 4-2, in 10th place, and Rob won his last match to go 3-3.
David distinguished himself by running a fine tournament. There were no rules or player problems that he didn’t solve quickly, quietly, and efficiently.
Deck Strengths: Like the old Fires deck, sometimes you get the "I win" hand.
Deck Weaknesses: Even with fourteen swamps, I sometimes experienced a little black mana trouble. I never had problems getting what blue I needed. Slithery Stalker is a token-killer, but in the end, it’s still a 1/1 for 3 with a narrow special ability. It’s a sideboard card, even in the heavy green environment.
Next Tournament on the Slate: PTQ Chicago.
Finally, I’m happy to be back home, back among my friends, back to the game, and back to writing on Star City.
That’s my Final Judgement.
* – Infamous. Fictitious. Dreamt up by someone named Steve Dixon. Whatever.
** – Gimme a break. I didn’t see any of the guy’s cards besides land and Millikin.