Flores Friday — Road to Regionals: Dodgeball, or “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Vore?”

Get ready for Magic the Gathering Regionals!
It’s the Friday before Regionals, and Mike Flores reveals the deck with which he’ll be battling in the weekend trenches. So, what’ll it be? Go-sis? Blue/White? Hell, something with Nessian Courser (this season’s Critical Mass)? Nope, is none of those… Alongside his starting seventy-five, Mike shares an intriguing concept: Vector Magic. As for his Regionals deck… well, you’ll have to read on to find out!

"What? Isn’t your Clutch deck still the stoneblade?"

They know.

Most average frustrated chumps long for some object of affection, believing themselves to be invisible romantically on basis that they aren’t with the said objects, but believe me, if a girl is smart – a genius, even – and a genuine knockout and overall catch, she knows that she has a lot of options, and probably works under the baseline assumption that every guy is at least functionally in love with her, meaning that my [assumed] desire was just more of the same. Point being, I wasn’t fooling anybody, so I chose to live in denial through the first couple spins of my twenties. She maintained quite openly for years that we were never going to happen, yet – and there is literally only one reason for this and it’s never good – the two of us were like two peas in a pod (afc talk) for at least two or three years after I graduated from Penn.

Philadelphia versus Cleveland (go Cavs!) didn’t matter. New York versus Cleveland, same. Yale to New York – that’s where the story comes in – also didn’t matter. We were finally both in New York by 2000-2001 when she took a leave from her philosophy PhD program to win the annual writing fellowship at NYU, but by then I had been going out with my future wife for a month, meaning we ("we" being K and me) were pretty much locked in. Previous girl’s big play was to offer me a spot lecturing writing at NYU (I was obviously flattered), but the future Mrs. michaelj (who had actually run the double Philosophy/Physics fellowship at NYU six years earlier) stomped all over those designs, and she and I never spoke again.

Of course, she was a gigantic drama queen. We fought like an old married couple, and the irony was never lost on me, certainly not while I poured these terrific and ragged journal entries onto unruled sheets of cotton rag in red pen for, say, 1998-2000. The things we fought about were ludicrous. The difference between egalitarian and equal. Form versus content. Versus context. The limits of certain types of morality in particular situations. The fact that my law degree (this is before I dropped out to move to New York) didn’t really count as an intellectual postgraduate pursuit versus her studying Plato or whatever (I hate to break it to you, Drama Queen, but we have had Plato in jurisprudence).

Did I mention how we met? We were poets together. No, really. Motherf***ing poets. The high level puppeteer poetesses know what they’re doing, believe me. She called me "The Poet" (third person, and you could hear the capital "T" and capital "P") one of the first times we jawed in the spring 1998, and one of her class submissions imagined a Michael – some Michael, bearing red roses – ending up in her room. To my eternal ignomy, she actually tried to buy me dinner the following week, but I had to – you won’t believe this – play in a Standard tournament that night, where I went 0-3.

I went to L.A. the week my friend Dave Price won with his little Red men, and by the time I got back she was all boyfriended up with this lamer, who she was complaining to me about for the previous two weeks (having bought me red roses, he’s boring). My strategy at that point was to try to out-live all of Kelly Kapowski’s boyfriends Zack Morris season one style, which is just a horrendous strategy utilized only by the most frustrated sub-wing of average frustrated chumps, but by that point I had something like twenty years of experience at it, so I thought I knew what I was doing.

Oh yeah… Dumped. Okay. This is what happened. Like, in 2000 or so, Drama Queen has this great idea that she is going to fix me up with the girl who lived across the hall from her in her apartment building in New Haven, who was a biology PhD first year. To DQ’s credit, Biology Girl had a great ass, easily a legitimate 7-8. Blah blah blah. Obviously she only fixed us up because Biology Girl was Chinese, and I’m pretty sure she couldn’t tell the difference between Chinese and whatever I am, and that this made some sort of sense to her (in the previous spring she tried to fix me up with a different friend of hers who was half-Chinese). One school of thought is that Drama Queen was trying everything in her power to get rid of me hanging about her across states for going on three years, but don’t forget… Giant. Drama. Queen. Five minutes before Biology Girl and I start going out, she and DQ are taking pottery class together or some girl garbage. They take yoga and tae bo and eat kosher sushi, or whatever girl stuff that is not spellcasting. Now she hates both of us. Did I mention the pseudo-intellectual garbage we fought about? Biology Girl wanted red roses for Valentine’s Day. "Red roses are so trite! Well, I would never want anyone who wanted red roses for Valentine’s Day in MY life! " What is it with the red roses already?

Honestly, I wasn’t that into Biology Girl. She was pretty good-looking, but we had literally nothing in common, and I was going to drop her on account of it being annoying to kart up to Yale on Sunday afternoons just to hang out with some girl when I could have been PTQing, and I would obviously have dropped her for Drama Queen in like a nanosecond. Luckily(?) my wise mentor of an old man lawyer friend, Brook North, instructed me "never to drop a piece until you have your next piece lined up." However, Biology Girl wasn’t really that into "not being able to spend enough time with me" (huh?), and solved this by pre-emptively dumping me two seconds before Valentine’s Day. Which was awful in about every conceivable way. It was basically the equivalent of playing the game-winning Browbeat and accidentally targeting the wrong fella. She was actually really surprised at my general quiet during her long and drawn-out phone dumping, listing of reasons, how we were still going to be friends, whether I wanted to call her back and talk about it later, to which I claimed that I was just shocked silent at this turn of events and didn’t know what to say, but actually I was in the middle of trying to fix my VCR when she called and I wasn’t really paying attention.

So I didn’t even get dumped by the girl I liked!

Of course, five minutes later Drama Queen no longer hates me and is like "I need to get away from school… Let’s go to Disney World together," but at this point I flat-out ask her what’s in it for me, wink wink nudge nudge (she had already delineated expense allotment on account of being a poor college student, more or less), which she finally conceded would be negotiable… but the point ended up moot on account of there was a Grand Prix that I wanted to attend.

Oh, what’s the point?

Go-sis, thou art dumped.

I bet you didn’t see that one coming!

What about Heezy’s question? Isn’t Go-sis (a.k.a. "[my] Clutch deck") awesome (that is, "the stoneblade")? I mean, it seems pretty awesome, not gonna lie. In fact, it already won in German Regionals (though I was very confused at the nickname of "No Clutch" given to the deck, as it played four copies of Clutch of the Undercity) and allegedly Australia, though I haven’t found an actual online listing (somebody just told me). Wait a minute… Isn’t it awesome? Who dumps, um…

Vector Analysis

I recently started thinking about Magic in terms of vectors. Vectors are differentiated in that they incorporate direction, not just quantity. So you can have something vectoring left or right or up or really it depends on what you are talking about, but for purpose of what’s going on between my ears, the addition of direction is very helpful. We have all been playing vector Magic for years, but we don’t necessarily think of it that way.

Without getting too abstract, think of a value that you might assign to the power level of a deck. Let’s say that it is a strong deck and we call it "10." It’s not just 10. It’s 10 going somewhere. For ease’s sake, let’s say it is going 10 right, and the opponent is playing some terrible deck going 2 left. Poor terrible deck is bowled over by 10 right, and the mighty deck wins. I think this is the sort of simplistic way that people look at Magic in the abstract. Here are a couple of Kyle Sanchez-esque drawings (I haven’t installed Photoshop onto my new computer yet).



The Figure 1 describes a head on fight between 10 and 2. Poor 2.

The second one is the kind of fight that I like to pick. Look at how big and mighty 10 is in this one. He is all "I’m this close to being three dimensional," whereas little 3 is zipping along about to knock powerhouse 10 down thanks to his bodybuilder-like physique perched on such a narrow base. I like 3. You might look at 3 and see this:


If you are, t hat is because you might not be looking hard enough. Why would you ever pick 3? 3 is just the crappy Green version of 10. Even if you think about vectors a little bit, you might imagine a fight like in Figure 1… But for that to occur, 10 and 3 have to agree on terms. 3 is kind of an asshole and doesn’t want to agree with how 10, in his infinite power (and wisdom) wants the game to be played. Look instead back to Figure 2, above. 3 is zipping along at a weird angle. It’s not just a quantity but a vector. No one is aiming at 3, but 3 can knock big old 10 down because he is sneaky. He isn’t going to win any pure power fights, but that’s not the fight he wants. 3 is an assassin, a surgeon, an imaginative ambulance-chaser, not some kind of clod with a giant mallet (no offense, 10).

There is a common misconception that I just like my pet decks and will work very hard for my pet decks, whereas I hate everyone else’s decks and decry them to high heaven, but that is (in my opinion) not accurate.

Here is an excerpt from a forum post RE: my review of Aven Mindcensor:

The reason I am dumping Go-sis is the same reason I wouldn’t want to play Dragonstorm. Is Dragonstorm awesome? I mean, it’s pretty obviously on the short list for strongest Standard deck. I would never in a million years want to shuffle it up, but that’s just me. Go-sis remains awesome. Played (I assume) largely in the minority, it has been moving at the international Regionals level. However for my My MY metagame, I don’t think it is safe any more. Why? People are getting smart.

As a potential Dragonstorm player, I just wouldn’t want to deal with stupid Aven Mindcensor. It’s ugly, like Game 2 of Cavs v. Pistons ’07. It’s depressing even if you win. As a Go-sis player, I wouldn’t want to play against someone who had a clue. Consider…

A Brief Primer on Gruul Versus Go-Sis

Early testing, as I reported in previous articles, had Go-sis ahead in the 7-3 and even 8-2 range as testing went on. The strategies were clear, and there didn’t seem to be anything stock Gruul could do about it. Last week, I tested versus the great Billy Moreno with Go-Sis, myself running the Gruul side. Billy declared the matchup unwinnable after only two or three games (he came back numbers-wise, but didn’t like the look of the first few, and was never comfortable).

It took one game for me to figure out how to beat my own deck. Granted not every Gruul deck can do this, but our Pat Sullivan’s Gruul has something like twenty burn spells and a very aggressive early game with Bloodthirst and Marauders. I just super extended, assuming Billy would have the third or fourth turn Damnation, which he did every time, and then I would never play another guy. I would just sit and cast my burn spells. Billy would either find Chronic or he’d eventually lose, with Remand his only sort of counter. I knew from testing the Go-Sis side that the Gruul matchup was largely about crafting a long game where both Tendrils hit marks, and by never playing another man, I was denying Billy the ability to win on his main plan.

I’m one guy. I doubt that every Gruul player in the area lies awake at night dreading the Go-sis matchup. That wasn’t ultimately the problem.

People got wise.

People are slowly getting smarter.

You know what makes it hard to stick a Tendrils? Greater Gargadon. Scorched Rusalka isn’t it. Billy would just Sudden Death that after I was all in, and would hit Tendrils with ease. But Gargadon? Reach for the sideboard! Holy waste of four mana Batman! Main half the time!

That’s not all!

This other card that is horrible for my deck is Riftsweeper. Remember when Go-Sis had to find Chronic to race or face being faced every turn? This jerk #1 Apprentice Candidate Asher / ManningBot always draws near four Riftsweeper in testing. He knows the basic tricks, so will march one out raw dog as if to say "I don’t have another clock / it is safe to run out the Chronic." But it’s not safe. He is a liar. He always draws four, so Chronic is always dead.

Can I beat these cards? Frankly, from Go-sis side, I was still ahead in percentage. That is, I still won most of the time. However, I just don’t want to deal with it. Game 1 is like Figure 1, with Go-sis the 10 and poor little Gruul the 2. Terms have been agreed on. Sideboarded the decks agree on what is important… and Gruul has trump cards to both Go-sis’s strategy and anti-strategy. Even if the sideboarded vectors are 10 to 8 in favor of Go-sis, something about the angle rubs me the wrong way. I hate not being able to control my destiny. I think that the frustration that most people have with being manascrewed is that they feel like they came to play, but they can’t really play because they don’t have a third land and their curve is all 4+.

That’s why I don’t like to play powerhouse linears like Dredge. A large number of the games where you can’t really win are completely out of your control. I understand that there are various "resilience" theories regarding weathering the hate, but I actually chatted with Resilience author Richard Feldman the other week, and told him that I think resilience as a concept is actively bad Magic. "The right play" 80% of the time is to tap out for Chronicler with one counter. The might not even have the Riftsweeper! But sometimes they do, and it’s a battering.

Are slow cards like Gargadon the best beatdown against a proactive board control deck? Obviously not! The problem is the slow and clunky Gargadon essentially blanks the control deck’s core defensive strategy.

I base all my deck decisions on EV equations now (okay, that is a lie, but I try to use EV modelling when I have the time). I don’t consider any hate-vulnerable linears that have less than a 70% blended game 1 percentage against the field. Wha!?! (There were actually multiple Standard decks with 70% blended expectation as recently as Champs 2005, by the way.) The reason is that you have to believe that the sideboarded anti-linear opponent is going to be able to put you on at least 50/50, and if he really hates you, 40/60 or worse if he really wants to. In my opinion, you can’t afford an entire tournament where anyone with three brain cells can execute a certain way will be able to steal your expectation.

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Vore?

This is what a one Vore versus one Vore fight looks like (figures not drawn to scale):


People think that you want to Pull a Vore to even. That looks like this:


I don’t actually think it works that way, because Vore is uncounterable value and Pull can be countered in-context. Plus Pull to Eternity is an answer, making it automatically crappier than Vore, which is a threat, especially when it isn’t fast enough. Let’s assume that Pulling things is good. Some people believe the right strategy is to vector Vore and Pull to be ahead of Vore. That looks like this:


The assumption is that you stop their Vore and you beat them with yours. I decided that in terms of vectors, that it was just better to play two main-deck, which is this:


That way, I don’t have to play crappy reactive Pull (and to be fair, a Pull can have a legitimate role), and instead I can double up threats. I can also avoid playing White in my already color-strained deck (in case you haven’t figured it out I am talking about Go-Sis again). However, I based all of my assumptions on the idea that I would be winning all kinds of Detritivore fights.

None of the decks to beat even play Detritivore. An anti-creature U/W deck won our mock tournament this week. Mason (who made Regionals Top 8 last year with U/W) only played one Detritivore the whole mock, and he had lost a total of two lands to it. The double Vore vector allows you to strategically go Vore for two, finishing Vore, which is unbeatable for control. The point?

I think that it is actually safe to play U/W. If I had another week, I think I would gear up my U/W deck, which has a very good Dragonstorm matchup, but I think the post-Future Sight matchup with Dredge is rough… Not enough time to fix that.

Back to Resilience for a second…

Billy and I were playing last week, and he asked me a question:

"Transforming is always the best strategy, right?"

"I’ve said as much."

"But why?"

"You put the opponent off his vector. He is aiming for, say, a 6, and you present him with a bag of oranges."

"It’s more than that… You get to play all good cards. When you transform, all your cards are awesome. You make some configuration concessions, but you get to play the best of breed. I think half the time, the opponent just loses on your card quality."

The reasons I don’t like resilience are twofold: First, you basically have to concede the field of battle. The opponent and you tacitly agree what is important, and it’s your strategy to weather his often much more powerful response cards. I hate that. I don’t like to concede the field of battle. I will barely agree to sit in the chair that I am assigned. Secondly, things have to go for you. Maybe you don’t need to get super lucky, but you have to make some rolls to weather the good response cards. Maybe it’s just that the opponent didn’t sideboard right, or heavily enough. That’s not up to you. You need Fortuna to hook you up at some level. I think that the genius of the best sideboards is that they can assume the opponent draws what he wants, maybe draws more cards, and develops more consistently, and they still win unless there is some additional monkey wrench (like the opponent also transformed).

At the mock tournament, Paul Jordan (playing Go-Sis) ran into a U/G/W deck. In the deciding game, there were two Sacred Grounds in play (resilience strategy). Paul had to 1) find two bounce spells, 2) resolve them, and 3) resolve Persecute before he could Vore for the win. Obviously he did all of these things, because resilience strategy works best only when the opponent lacks sufficient tools or, say, medium luck. I think that there are decks that are good enough that you will want to salvage their linears in the face of hate (Affinity comes to mind), but if I can avoid playing the opponent’s game, I will.

So what’s the deck?

I started fooling around with Rakdos for I don’t know what reason. Maybe it was the argument that started the Go-Sis three or so weeks ago, that there was never a developed Ravnica Block format. I had the inkling that Rakdos was the best, because it was the only deck that I felt legitimately beaten by in Charleston, and I wanted to try to give the old Block deck a run. Terry Soh is really good against Dragonstorm, but Dragonstorm is Dragonstorm. Dralnu is an interesting matchup. I think it matters a lot how aggressive they are willing to be. I don’t think they have a good matchup because of so much burn, including the super efficient Hit / Run, but Rakdos will sometimes lose to a million Remands. I got the "this is literally the worst possible matchup for Dredge" from none other than cromulantkeith. Among the Decks to Beat, that left Gruul.

If there’s one thing I have learned over the past couple of months, it’s that you can get a 60% – and often a 70% – matchup out of almost any viable deck. You just have to work at it. The initial problems with the Gruul matchup were twofold. The first was Sulfurous Springs. I kept getting blown out online in both Game 1 and Game 2, and I was not assigning the reason for losing properly. Cutting Sulfurous Springs was the single most important move I made (you don’t know the number of times my combo was Springs + Graven… yuck). However that still left the miserable sideboarded games.

It took me a short stack of losses to understand what was going on. I was actually killing all of the creatures. I had this strategy of bringing in Strangling Soot (a holdover from my States deck, which I would have played but for the unwinnable Solar Pox matchup, and more versatile than Slay) and Deathmark, but I was still losing. I was trying so hard not to get killed that I was, I don’t know how to say this properly, getting killed.

It was actually wonderkid Gavin Verhey who figured out the Gruul matchup. We went over every Soul Spike in the format before realizing it was an attrition matchup. Gruul had less land, had early game tempo, and had slightly larger creatures, so it was winning on every metric. The Rakdos men are little so you can’t win a trading war even with slight card advantage (and Gruul has less land, so that doesn’t merit, either) because all the guys die. The games looked like blowouts on tempo because of the combined vectors all pushing at Rakdos from the same direction. I kept putting myself into spots where I had played a great tactical game but didn’t want the other guy to topdeck (I’d figure I had it in two)… He already had the Char. Gavin suggested Tombstalker and we never looked back. I added Epochrasite to turn Rakdos into a kind of dumbed down Charleston Bats deck, which was our absolute best deck versus the Gruul that never showed up at that tournament. This has allowed the deck to steal Gruul’s tempo while destroying creatures. Since the removal of Sulfurous Springs and the medium transformation, Gruul has been a matchup that while still scary is – crossing my fingers here – highly favorable. There are ways to beat the fatty strategy, but no one is running them, so I think that I’m safe for the next 24-48 hours.

At this point, we actually bring in Funeral Charm versus Gruul. Previously it was Stupor, but I decided I’d rather leave in the two mana Rise / Fall and set it up with Funeral Charm. I don’t actually care what I am trading with, whether it is a 1/1, a 2/1, a land in hand, whatever. If I nail a land, Rise / Fall will get two spells, and anyway, I just want to set up Tombstalker. Funeral Charm is worse against Dragonstorm, but I don’t think that I can rely on Persecute mana on turn 4 (or resolving it). I had Stupor, but the added ability of Funeral Charm to kill Soltari Priest put that card over for me. It should be fun. We shall see.

Wish me luck!