Flores Friday – I Guess I Learned My Lesson: A Regionals Report

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Friday, June 13th – Going into Regionals, Mike was at a loss for what to play. So, faced with a surfeit of appealing options, he did the one thing guaranteed to serve up the goods: he looked towards Japan for innovation. While he won’t be gracing the stage of U.S. Nationals this year, his Regionals report is full of strategy, focus, and fun… and he does indeed learn a valuable lesson about the game we all love.

“This round determines everything… for both of us.”

“How do you mean?”

“Whoever loses this round… He has no chance for a prize.”

“We’re playing in the x-2 bracket! There is no chance for a prize! Is your time worth so little that you’re going to play the next four hours on the hope that you can make $3 an hour if you x-0?”

“When you put it that way…”

“Me? I’m playing for the love of the game.”

And you know what? I learned my lesson for saying that.

… But we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves.

“What is ‘W Hub,’ and how do you know what it does?”

We did a fair amount of testing for this year’s Regionals, as I mentioned in the last couple of Flores Friday articles. Since Josh Ravitz started working at with me, we both had a renaissance of sorts, playing a couple of games in my office at lunchtime, and would especially run some 10-game sets after hours. It was kind of cool, not just for us but for the people around us. They would huddle around my desk, mesmerized at the speed we would act, pushing Time Ebbs marked “LoA” or Goblin Raiders markered “Reejery” into The Red Zone at each other, laughing as an upside down back of a card that wished it were a Terror would scare an upjumped Selesnya Evangel (masquerading as a Sower of Temptation) into the bin, which absolutely ruined the attack, as I’m sure you assumed.

“No really, how do you know what ‘W Hub’ does? This says ‘Mountain.'”

For about one day I was going to play this Reveillark deck that Josh actually started by talking to Gerry Thompson. I called up the Innovator and he explained to me why all the things that I thought were good and true (or in the case of a dirty combo deck, knew were anything but) were wrong, and why I needed Prismatic Lens to do any of them.

At first I actually mocked and made fun of the deck, but as I worked on it a little bit I came to the realization that even though I couldn’t think of it as good per se, had such glaring holes that it could never pass that word’s definition’s muster, for me, there was the possibility that it could be best, if only for one day, one tournament.

The reason that the deck might not be “good” but could potentially be “best” is that it can’t really withstand a Counterspell of any kind, but because the deck had cards like Primal Command, or could judiciously test spell with Body Doubles and Reveillarks, could scare someone with whatever Commune With Nature revealed, it could extract tremendous value from players who did not know the deck list.

Against Faeries I decided to import a reliable transformative strategy. I would go big with Aeon Chronicler and just Pyroclasm away all their annoying little guys and bash Bash BASH while they had their anti-combination suite. Well, that was the plan, anyway (but had I actually played this deck, I would have probably run Cloudthresher instead of some of those Pyroclasms and Firespouts… Zvi and Steve Sadin had both expressed to me that they removed Firespout against Faeries, which caused me to second guess the sideboard plan).

This deck actually tested very well against non-Elves decks (I avoided Faeries, assuming I was going to lose Game 1 anyway). I don’t know how the Pro Tour statistics came about because in our testing Elves was beating Reveillark (Pro Tour version), and Elves seemed to be favored against my Green version as well. It was strange… Don Lim (on the play) walloped me with Thoughtseize for Wall of Roots, Thoughtseized my Lens, got out a nice little monster or two, blasted the Wall of Roots I plucked… and I still won on the fifth turn thanks to Bonded Fetch. I was testing against the */* All-in Elves deck (which has no disruption) and was winning on the fourth turn to the continual dismay of a returning Barn Julian the N’Sync Intern Mother Superior IV Cheesehead.

… But the Reveillark was so dissatisfying. I kept wanting to buy a turn with Kitchen Finks.

I didn’t really know what to play. The Reveillark deck seemed to be testing pretty well, but I didn’t think I could really beat Faeries and Merfolk, and the Elves matchup seemed quite dodgy. Plus, I wasn’t really playing all that well.

So the night Paul Jordan well received Standard By The Numbers went up on the Mother Ship, I decided to, you, know, study every single deck list that made Day 2, especially the ones that did not show up in big numbers. At about 3.30am I found Naoki Shimizu Mannequin deck, with which I immediately fell in love.

4 Gilt-Leaf Palace
2 Llanowar Wastes
2 Reflecting Pool
1 River of Tears
2 Snow-Covered Forest
1 Snow-Covered Island
2 Snow-Covered Swamp
3 Sunken Ruins
4 Treetop Village
2 Yavimaya Coast

3 Cloudthresher
3 Farhaven Elf
4 Kitchen Finks
4 Mulldrifter
4 Shriekmaw
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Wall of Roots

4 Makeshift Mannequin
4 Nameless Inversion
3 Profane Command

1 Cloudthresher
2 Naturalize
1 Oona, Queen of the Fae
3 Primal Command
2 Puppeteer Clique
1 Razormane Masticore
2 Squall Line
3 Thoughtseize

Naoki has proven himself to be a superb deck designer, and he finished just outside the Top 32 in Hollywood with this one. So I started testing…

One thing that was immediately apparent was that Farhaven Elf is not very good in this deck, or at least was not what I wanted. I often Thawed for a land but then missed my land drop; plus Farhaven Elf as a 1/1 is completely pointless in this environment, Mannequin or no. Therefore I upgraded to Civic Wayfinder, which has a less impressive 187 ability, but one that is functionally the same if you would otherwise miss your land drop. It is much worse on turn 3 if you can Thaw into an impressive five mana play, of which this deck has several (and my eventual version had even more), but it is much better on turn 5 or 6 when you would otherwise miss your land drop and you can make 2/2 and Kitchen Finks in a defensive posture.

The other thing was that Naoki’s deck seemed to have the initiative early, but would consistently peter out against Elves and then lose in a long topdeck war. I addressed this – and shored up the Faeries matchup – by adding Aeon Chronicler. Aeon Chronicler made sure I had gas to beat Elves once we – he, really – went to topdeck mode, plus he is a giant monster; Aeon Chronicler is still the awesomest card against Faeries, I mean unless they have a lucky ducky draw and a million Mistbind Cliques, so you, you know, can’t ever play it.

My final deck list was awesome against both Elves and Faeries (testing was pretty limited due to the super late development of the deck, but the final version was 4-1 against Elves and 5-0 against the Faeries), and had the sideboard to beat Reveillark (combo), but was absolutely awful against Merfolk. I never beat Josh in a single game, and I only beat Paul when he was flooded or screwed (bash you Paul).

This is the final deck I ended up playing:

This deck has a lot of the elements that the Teachings / Mannequin deck that I posted last week had, but was more proactive. It reminded me from some angles as “the deck Elves wants to be when it grows up,” and from another angle, like a reimagining of This Girl. Really! It’s This Girl! For a while I had the Tarmogoyfs out of the deck, but over time I realized I needed more early game plays; also Tarmogoyf is very important on the turn 5-6 play when you Damnation and you want an immediate follow up threat. So Tarmogoyf is the misplaced Serra Avenger; Profane Command (should probably have had four instead of cutting to two… that card is awesome) is the Demonfire; Mulldrifter is the Compulsive Research; Kitchen Finks and Primal Command are the Firemane Angel. You see? You see?

It also had basically everything I wanted to play in the format. Civic Wayfinder was my favorite card from Elves testing, and grafting Mannequin onto other decks has been something I have tried from every deck from Pickles to Teachings (as posted last week). The presence of big Terror effects and consistent positional development gave it game against the bigger Green and Red decks (though against Chameleon Colossus you either had to go 8/8 Aeon or repeated chump blocks in Game 1… not really an issue, though).

So, the tournament, and how I learned my lesson…

Round 1 – Spinerock Knoll Storm

Game 1 I kept a two-lander that I didn’t suspect was going to develop. I was right! My second turn Tarmogoyf was Shocked to death, which actually made me very happy (my deck being very good against Red Decks), but he played Fungal Reaches and I knew that I had correctly played my manascrew into a game that I could not win. His Ignite revealed Cloudthresher, Shriekmaw, etc. You do the math.

Game 2 Chris Lachmann walked by. I was able to spend my hand down to two cards, but one of them was a Makeshift Mannequin I didn’t have the mana [that turn] to play (I held Island for the other). Like clockwork he went for two Pyromancer’s Swaths… and turned over the Island three times! Lachmann shook his head. “That’s how he got me last year!” He could have actually Shocked me for four with the first Swath and had mana left over to flip a Knoll (under which lived another Ignite), so I won on a combination of super lucky Island and a small misplay. My Tarmogoyf on board went from 0/1 to 6/7 in a single turn, and clocked for lethal thanks to Nameless Inversion off the top.

Game 3 he went big… but it was Empty the Warrens. I showed him an absolutely scandalous Damnation (Hey! It’s a four and Cloudthresher is a six!), played a 6/7 Tarmogoyf, and warped in for the kill with Aeon Chronicler.



Round 2 — Merfolk

Merfolk was my worst matchup in testing. I have no idea how I got this in two, but I remembered to not search up and play the Island… which was kind of moot as he had Aquitect’s Will. I actually just played my five mana guys for full value and they blocked both games, I think, while the Black removal showed up. Game 1 I actually stole when he attacked with all his man lands and I revealed Cloudthresher, which chomped up one or two of them, then started attacking for seven. Yes, I sided that guy out.


Round 3 — Reveillark

Game 1 I played pretty tentatively to leave up Blue and bluff Counterspells (his draw was good enough) and I played so set up one of two lethals. I was able to stick Cloudthresher at the end of turn and was presented with a dilemma. I thought about it for a long time, and elected to run a small Profane Command which would deal two to the nug and Fear in my newly warped in Aeon Chronicler and the Cloudthresher; this would be precisely lethal and allowed me to play around a Rune Snag for four; his only out to this play would be either multiple Rune Snags, Pact of Negation, or Venser. Alternately I could have run a large Profane Command, which would have dealt a lot more and given my other guys Fear, but was vulnerable to Rune Snag, Venser, or Momentary Blink. In the end, he had Venser and Momentary Blink (his second!) so I basically had not outs.

Game 2 I smashed him with Mind Shatter, dumping his whole hand into the graveyard, including a Venser. Like a Champ he went Gargadon, Body Double (copying Venser to set me back), Reveillark! What the!?! Off the top! He sacrificed Reveillark and I asked him what he was getting… Apparently it was Venser and Mulldrifter. Unfortunately, he had Body Double copying Venser in play, and I got out of it (if he had just sacrificed Body Double first he could have bounced the board with Venser, obviously). Whew! I stuck a Primal Command (getting Shriekmaw for his Gargadon rather than revealing that I had Faerie Macabre) and got there. This was pretty disheartening as I hit every awesome card and still almost lost.

Game 3 He just beat me down with a Faerie Conclave and two Gargadons. He just had a Rune Snag for everything I played, and used Pact of Negation to protect his all-in double Gargadon plays. I actually could have run a small Mind Shatter (topdecked it when he had one card) and I might have won if his card was the Pact of Negation; then I topdecked Faerie Macabre.


Round 4 — Faeries

I don’t remember the last time I was so frustrated playing. I can lose. I didn’t mind losing the previous match, really, despite the fact that my opponent state based effected himself to death in Game 2, but this match was miserable. He just had the nuts all three games and played the cards he drew. Fine. But he actually just f-bombed me every turn, which was off-putting, and was literally the loosest player I had ever seen. He didn’t pay attention to his life total for Bitterblossom and didn’t mark the counters on his Ancestral Vision… This was really disturbing as he had those cards. I actually had the thought “I could be cheating like crazy and he would never know” for the first time ever but unfortunately I didn’t actually cheat and so loosey goosey f-bomb got me in three.

Game 1 my hand was fine but he had a pair of Mistbind Cliques to go with his Bitterblossom and Scion of Oona, so I never got to play my Aeon Chronicler (I was on the draw).

Game 2… I mean, he was so loose. He lost this game to his own Slaughter Pact, which I thought only happened on television. Granted, he tried to fight Aeon Chronicler (not a good idea) and had his mana tapped so I stuck him with Mind Shatter for all. Then I had a pair of Cloudthreshers to trump his Bitterblossom and small guys. But he killed one with a topdecked Slaughter Pact! Then it was Game 3! You see how this can be really dissatisfying? I was going to cream him anyway, and then he goes and dies to Slaughter Pact.

Game 3 was the pivotal decision. He is attacking with three 2/2 Bitterblossom tokens but not his Scion for some reason (I don’t know what I can have that makes it right to not attack with Scion). I’m on 11. He has five mana, I have six. I put him on second Scion, but am worried he has Spellstutter Sprite, which he has played in each of the first two games. He hasn’t played Rune Snag this match, and I’m not sure if he sided them out for Game 2, when he brought in the numerous Terrors he showed me, and didn’t side them back in. Spellstutter Sprite is really bad for me in this spot and I have to see if I can bleed it. I play Nameless Inversion on the only legal target, to which he responds with second Scion. Perfect! I show him Squall Line… and his remaining card is Rune Snag.

I had to take a Llanowar Wastes point for the Inversion, so I was down to one with basically no outs at that spot. I was just wondering what the right play was. Lachmann said that he would have just taken six and then tried to Squall Line at the end of his turn; he would have tried to play out of it from three with a Bitterblossom on board. Sadin said he would have made the exact same play I did.

So that was the tournament for me! 2-2, which is awful. Foolishly, I stayed in.

Round 5 – When michaelj Learns His Lesson

I didn’t realize it for a couple of days, but I actually lost Game 1 on a not-obvious play mistake. I was on 20 with an Aeon Chronicler warping in the next turn and a Profane Command in hand. He topdecked a Profane Command and got back Imperious Perfect, boosting his four Elf tokens to 8/8 each (I was on 20), and Fear of course. I Makeshifted Shriekmaw and killed the Perfect, but could only block one Elf, losing to -1 via the remaining 7/7s. I could have just Mawed one of the tokens and taken hits for 16, then turned around and blasted him for lethal the next turn. Just went on autopilot for a second (who doesn’t kill the Perfect?)… Which cost me the game.

How were his Elf tokens so big? He spent turns 5 and 6 playing this box I had never seen. Then he played Llanowar Elves, which put counters on each of his boxes. Then when he played Gilt-Leaf Ambush, there were two counters on each box, etc. I was busy not attacking with my Civic Wayfinders and lost to his one big attack.

So in Game 2 I passed the turn with Shriekmaw, Treetop Village, and Kitchen Finks all tapped. Crack for nine! I remember thinking There is no way I can lose this game, is there? My deck is awesome against Elves, right?.

Why was I so confident?

He had…

No cards in hand.

His lands were…

Mosswort Bridge
Mosswort Bridge
Vivid Grove with one counter

His permanents were…

Prowess of the Fair (the reason he only had one counter on the Grove)
Two Elf tokens (the bounty of the Prowess when I killed a pair of Imperious Perfect)
One Essence Warden
Three Heritage Druids

No cards.

What did he draw?

Sadin got it in one.

I didn’t even know there was such as card as “Distant Melody.”

To cut a long story short, he drew seven, at least one of which was Elvish Promenade, giving him sufficient mana and power to activate the two Elvish Promenades hidden beneath his two Mosswort Bridges, thus more than enough mana to produce more boxes from grip, with sufficient surplus Elves to play another Prowess of the Fair and sundry cheap 1/1 Elves to put counters on the aforementioned boxes.

Just because I deserved it, I drew Damnation.

I attacked with my Shriekmaw, putting him down to, oh, 65 or so, and played the freshly topdecked Damnation, leaving me with a Treetop Village and a pair of lands in hand, him with eight 4/4 creatures.

I extended the hand with a smile.

Love of the game?

I’m pretty sure he more than qualifies.