Flores Friday – A Curious Turn at Grand Prix: Philly…

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Friday, March 21st – Grand Prix: Philadelphia saw Mike Flores pilot the perennial Blue/Green Combo favorite Heartbeat of Spring into the heat of battle. Sadly, things didn’t go according to plan on the day… today’s Flores Friday examines the reasons why. Mike shares one particular turn in which he feels the wheels may have fallen off the wagon…

First off, the deck:

The main is basically Guillaume Wafo-Tapa deck from Pro Tour: Valencia, trading out the two copies of Search for Tomorrow for Brain Freeze. I always felt a little land light testing with the deck but never corrected it prior to the Grand Prix, assuming I was just used to playing 26-land decks; I declared more mulligans in testing than I am used to, but routinely won with five cards… So I figured that is just what you are supposed to do when you play a good deck. Bad mana draws plagued me all through the Grand Prix weekend (I am not typically one to complain about mana draws – I think the last time I did was Regionals 2006 or so nearly two years ago)… But as you will see later in this article, I can’t really blame manascrew for my overall poor tournament performances.

You really want four Brain Freezes between main and side in Heartbeat; test for about five seconds and you will see this. The reason is that if you draw two Brain Freezes (or some way to set up two in a single turn) you basically always win in a blowout, even if the opponent has Counterbalance or Stifle. It is just a matter of picking your spot and setting up. I had three in the sideboard until the day of the tournament. BDM really wanted to get all three non-Wish Freezes main for the whole “what if you draw two of them” reason… But I just didn’t have enough time to figure out what I could cut. It seemed like Remand would be the best option, but that is just awful because a Remand basically proxies a four mana Brain Freeze that can also draw lands on turn 2… So that’s why I have an ugly two-of.

The sideboard is pretty different from other Heartbeat decks. I cut all the cards that I never Wished for in testing (Krosan Grip, Hunting Pack, all that stuff) and instead tried to play a streamlined offensive machine that could bury other Storm combo decks. As I am wont to do I figured out multiple ways of beating two or even three main deck copies of Gaea’s Blessing without resorting to Hunting Pack… But as all my friends suggested, this wasn’t ultimately really necessary.

I decided to go with Heartbeat Mind’s Desire for a couple of reasons. I like Remand and Sakura-Tribe Elder and always have, but the main reason is how the format laid out in every other deck and sideboard. If you look at the 9-0 decks from Day 1 of Grand Prix: Philadelphia, you see three decks representing the three major branches of Constructed Magic: Domain Zoo for beatdown, TEPS for combo, and Point and Clique for Control. It was not difficult to predict that a Counterbalance Blue deck would be one of the best decks, nor that a combo deck would be viable and at the top of the stands. My position was that everyone would be ready for combo… But the combo they would be largely preparing for would be vulnerable to Tormod’s Crypts, Leylines of various colors, and Engineered Explosives. I positioned my deck to be the best kind of deck to beat the one card that could really deal with Mind’s Desire by overloading Stifle with more Storm spells (all the Brain Freeze) as well as main deck access to Gigadrowse (I did not understand how earlier versions of Heartbeat lacked this card entirely).

This deck is a super heavy favorite against all the Levels of Blue. I was very comfortable in all those matchups (of course, the one time I played against Previous Level Blue – easily the easiest to beat of all of them for Heartbeat – I fell 0-2 thanks to lots of mulligans and no lands). You just use all your “draw two” four mana spells to accumulate more lands than the opponent; if you ever stick Cunning Wish (and presuming you are not manascrewed) you will win essentially 100% of the time. You just get Gigadrowse and win at your leisure.

Gigadrowse is good for two reasons. First of all, if it resolves you just deny them any options and you win the next turn, even through Counterbalance. If they have the Stifle, you can ‘drowse for X-1 or less Blue mana, and Remand your own Gigadrowse in response to Stifle and try it again next turn. If you don’t do that, or if they win the counter fight, it’s really a question of whether they’ve drawn all their Stifles because with all the Storm cards main – and remember you just want to jack, Freeze, Remand, and Freeze – you can typically present an insurmountable volume of mana and Storm provided you aren’t stuck on lands. If you can play just one draw two successfully – especially if that is Gifts Ungiven – you should be able to out-mana almost any Blue deck (fair sized “if,” of course).

Can’t the opponent just float a three mana spell the turn you move to ‘Drowse him? Yes and no. Sometimes it doesn’t matter. You cast a bunch of spells and you have such a mana advantage that it doesn’t matter if any resolve, so long as you can hit a large enough Brain Freeze count. More importantly, with the opponent tapped, you can just blind ‘Freeze him and gamble with what is on top 3-6 cards deep rather than letting him float anything. This at least makes the top of his deck something random rather than a three (which is obviously one of the two most dangerous mana costs).

I just want to put a shout out to Papa Chapin for teaching me all this stuff about how to beat his pet decks. I would have just tried a solo “‘Drowse or no” all-in if not for the draw two / mana and pre-Storm blind ‘Freeze pep talks. Wonder how Gunga Sadin beat Chapin in the Point and Clique mirror? Patrick taught him how the night before.

I am not saying Dredge is a cakewalk for this deck; but if you are not Dredge and you have to fight Dredge, would you rather be a turn 4-5 kill deck with Sakura-Tribe Elder and natural resistance to Dredge’s best draws due to Moment’s Peace… Or basically any other deck? I thought so.

Through most of testing we ran as many as 1+3 Ancestral Visions for Doran, but I cut them all at the last minute to make sure I had maximum Stifle access after being brainwashed from all angles about the other Mind’s Desire decks. I can happily say that I won all my Mind’s Desire matches. Doran was yes and no, sadly. The problem with that matchup is that if they go Teeg you have to present a totally different deck than if they go a million one-for-one discards. Ancestral Visions, ironically, beats both strategies, or both at the same time… But I cut it.

Okay, that’s that for why I played the deck. The interesting thing and main topic for this article is a dissection of a single turn in the second round of the Sunday PTQ. Unusually for me, I elected to not change sleeves between days and mulliganed to four (no lands) in Round 1 against TEPS and lost that Game 1 in three turns. I battled back in Games 2 and 3 and took it with some Stifles, some Storm piggyback, and some good old bashy bashy; no other Storm combo deck can really stand up to how we set up Heartbeat because of the combination of multiple Storm piggyback with 3+1 Brain Freezes, 4 Remands, and the quad Stifles. If you FoF (Fact or Fiction) into a Stifle, they have to break you 4-1… and it just gets worse if you actually drew one. In the first duel of Round 2, I lost an awkward one based on stalling on five lands after a five-spell FoF. My opponent – playing Flow but I thought he was playing Death Cloud at that point – finally drew Cabal Therapy after I had discarded twice. He had a 2/3 Tarmogoyf to flash it and continue pressure with his Ravenous Baloth, and he knew I had both a Remand and a Cunning Wish from the previous turn’s FoF.

Unbeknownst to him, I had two copies of each, so if I let the Therapy resolve, I was looking at having essentially no hand. So I Remanded the Therapy the first time, and Wished in response to the second one… It didn’t occur to me that he would just kill me with Garruk Wildspeaker… Which he did… And I had the ‘Peace. Awkward. I was therefore a little rattled, but I don’t think I could have won after a double Hymn anyway, so that allowed me to re-compose myself…

Did it?

So here’s the important turn in Game 2:

I play an end of turn Fact or Fiction, flipping over:

Early Harvest
Early Harvest
Gifts Ungiven
Sakura-Tribe Elder

In testing I never lost a game with a four-spell FoF, and here was my second five-spell FoF of the match!

He almost split the Harvests, Harvest/Gifts versus Harvest/Remand/Elder, and presented exactly those piles on two different hard-thinking occasions before ultimately splitting the two Harvests against the rest. I had lots of spectators – many of them awesome players – on this one, and scooped up the Harvests immediately.

“Nice job thinking about that one, Mike.” -Don Lim

Query: Which pile do you take?

My hand at this point is three lands, Heartbeat of Spring, and Deep Analysis, so I know that I can hit a land, drop to five, and draw at least five cards the next turn.

As a side note, allowing me to take Early Harvest and Gifts Ungiven in that spot (which he considered but did not do, of course) is just too dangerous. With my hand, I could have played a fifth land, then Heartbeat of Spring, then played the Early Harvest he gave me, netting one mana; at that point I could have played Gifts Ungiven for:

Mind’s Desire,
Nostalgic Dreams,
And pretty much anything else… Probably the last Early Harvest

He would have had to bury the two resurrection cards, giving me both Early Harvest and Mind’s Desire (which is not good at all… for him).

My execution is medium sloppy the following turn; I elect to go for it despite holding Moment’s Peace and sitting on either 16 or 20 facing only a Baloth. I play land number five, run out Heartbeat, and play the first Early Harvest, per usual. Then I jack mana with the second Harvest, and draw with both sides of the Deep Analysis, floating plenty. I end up drawing a Remand with “cycles” off the front end of Moment’s Peace, netting me three lands and two Heartbeats (which I play) for the turn (one of those lands or Heartbeats being off the Remand). I burn for a fair amount before getting blasted to death by a triple Heartbeat fueled Profane Command the next turn. My top card is Mind’s Desire when I peek.

This was troubling to me, but I had obviously done something wrong. As I am wont to do in these situations, I consulted numerous good players about the Fact or Fiction split…

Josh Ravitz, Chris Lachmann, and Don Lim all thought I took the wrong Fact or Fiction pile.

The theory is that Blue cards are just better I would give him one turn to draw Cabal Therapy, and if he didn’t, I could just Gifts Ungiven for:

Early Harvest (the last one),
Nostalgic Dreams,
Revive, and
Mind’s Desire

… (or something like that), which would almost certainly be a win. His best play would be to bury the two resurrection cards, giving me Early Harvest, which would allow for (at minimum) six mana, Heartbeat of Spring, Early Harvest floating three mana, whatever I could futz around with from my hand (Moment’s Peace or whatever) and a small Mind’s Desire. If he gave me either of the other Green cards, I could jack Storm and almost certainly win, possibly off a triple Early Harvest.

Ben Lundquist, though, thought I took the right pile.

His issue was that I did not play my spells in the correct order.

1) Even if I were to open up on the same scripted “I’m going off” sequence, there was no reason to play the second Early Harvest (yet). I should have peeked with one side of the Deep Analysis or both, and saved the other Early Harvest in case I didn’t get there.

2) There was no reason to play all those Heartbeats I drew. I didn’t get any Storm card, and playing them merely reduced my potential Storm count for another turn… It obviously gave the opponent a way to win with his Profane Command that he might not have had otherwise.

So what do you think?

Which pile?

I am leaning on the idea that I took the wrong one now… But then again, Ben is the future of American Magic and quite awesome at Blue and Green degenerate mana Remand decks, as I recall.

I obviously got a little unlucky with the Deep Analysis, but it’s like the old Kai Budde campaign days. If you don’t play optimally, you might not get the chance to win, even when you do get lucky. In another loss on the weekend, one where the Innovator said that I “had to be actively trying to lose,” I lost by trying to go off too early due to badly keeping my life total, and not bothering to actually count the mana and Storm count I could produce with my mass of Blue and Green instants.