Is it possible to be nervous about States? I guess that’s a stupid question, because I am for sure. Isn’t that silly? I mean, it’s “just” States. I don’t get nervous about PTQs; they’re harder, have more on the line, and give out bigger prizes. I haven’t been “nervous” at one of those since late 1996, the first time I ever won one. Embarrassingly, I’ve had to win several. I don’t get nervous; not any more. I have definitely been nervous over Regionals, the Regional Championship. I get a little shaky during round 1 but I tend to settle down after a little while (not this year, though… I played exhausted and inches from collapse the whole day on the way to my Round of Eight heartbreaker with The Legends of Team CMU). But States? Isn’t it meant to be a fun tournament?
Here’s the thing: I’ve lost two matches in the last three years. Second, then first. I show up tomorrow, I feel like there is nowhere to go but down. That’s honestly a fair bit of pressure for a no-pressure event. For about the last week, I’ve had a deck that I really liked. I made it during a Podcast with Brian and I tested, Tested, TESTED. It was about 50/50 against Mark Young Goblins deck, but I just kept pummelling everything else. I’d tell you my playtest results, but you wouldn’t believe me. I really trust me. At playtesting, there isn’t a soul that I trust more than me. If I called myself and listed my playtest results, I wouldn’t believe me. How can you? So I’m not going to list them.
I was really excited about this deck… Then Drue Dorsey’s deck wins the StarCityGames.com event last week. “Wow,” Brian calls me. “That’s a lot of Forestwalk.” Kowal calls me up… He has taken the last Forest out of his deck. Another Treetop Village. A misplaced Pendelhaven. Me? 21 basic Forests. No fear. Southern Virginia is different. You might not know this but, like me, they love a Forest down there. A few years ago I made the long trek from New York to StarCityGames for the last PTQ of an Extended season. It was one where you could play Trix. Not any of this Mox Diamond bullspit. Not that slow Fire / Ice garbage. Real Necropotence. Honest to badness Dark Ritual. At StarCityGames, I ended up battling Albino Troll and Treetop Village… Not as good as Trix; a heck of a lot better at blocking Ophidian and Masticore!
It was about 11pm when I threw my deck (just card backs and Sharpie scratches) into a street corner trashcan. BDM couldn’t stop laughing. I was brainstorming with a returning Zvi, probably the greatest deck designer of all time, and Billy, who in the last six months had built the greatest single deck of all time.
Goodbye, sweet Forests.
No wonder BDM was laughing.
Here is a deck:
(I’m not going to tell you my playtest results… But they never felt right. That said, I’ve never seen a deck test so well.)
The only upside is that I didn’t sink $60 into Garruk Wildspeaker. Given recent market forces, I don’t even know if that is an upside! Can you imagine that I clicked away from the Garruk Wildspeaker page less than 72 hours ago? $15? No way! Silly me. I checked back last night… $17.50 and only one left.
I tested two Gaea’s Blessings for most of the process, but they didn’t do that much besides draw me into my fourth mana. A lot of the time the only thing you want back from your graveyard is a Masked Admirers that you suicided a turn earlier… and that’s no combination with Gaea’s Blessing. Granted, I originally played them to fight Haakon, Stromgald Scourge, but this deck goes so far over the top of CrypticInversion that Haakon is completely irrelevant. They don’t have Damnations forever and at some point thirty-odd 3/3 Saprolings will demand satisfaction.
I’m not sure why Goblins was only 50/50 yet Sadin Red was pretty easy. I was a bit worried about g/WW Kithkin because Gaddock Teeg turns off Garruk and Gauntlet of Power (the two big theme cards of the deck), and that deck has Oblivion Ring for any big spells that do sneak through. It was wasted worry. Even with Oblivion Ring, Kithkin could not cope with the relentless acceleration, card drawing, and huge threats of Poorlash. The deck played positively Blue.
And then last night rolled around and I couldn’t win. Granted I played only against other Garruk decks, and a Mono-Green deck is least capable of defending its Garruk versus Blue (permission) or Black (discard and removal) based Garruk strategies. I tried not to get frustrated, but BDM told me that there is a reason StarCityGames.com went from the astronomical $15 to the Tarmogoyf-like $17.50: Supply and Demand. He predicts that this States is going to be scads of Forests.
Last year in Blunt, I lamented the inability to find an “edge” in the format. This year… I just don’t like anything. Shrug. What are you gonna do?
So obviously I am waxing philosophical on States past this week. I decided to dig up all of my old States records in an attempt to figure out if there is anything I can take away from the last eight years of tournaments.
Final Record: 9-1-1, 1st
Remember when I said I was nervous? How do you follow up on this? A year ago I was on top of my game and was coming off of backing up my Constructed brainpower on the actual Pro Tour. I beat future MSS Champion Greg Poverelli in the finals (both of Greg’s losses in the tournament were to This Girl)! Nervous.
Loss – Max Tietze (Top 8 GP: Columbus), with Solar Flare
This Girl had a significant advantage over Solar Flare, but I just didn’t execute. I missed too many Firemane Angel points and Max was relentless on offense. I learned from this match, though, and made sure I was “in the life gain zone” as the tournament progressed to its happy conclusion.
Final Record: 8-1-1, 2nd
Loss – Julian Levin (Barn Julian the N’Sync Intern a.k.a. Mother Superior IV, late of Wisconsin and eventual 2005 New York State Champion)
This match was the end of superstition for me. Julian got relatively soft matchups in the Top 8 whereas I got our third copy of Jushi Blue in the Top 8 and a Gifts deck that had taken a game off me in the Swiss in the Top 4. We both made the finals, but I was exhausted whereas Julian had had time to gas the tanks back up, get some food, etcetera.
I refused a break, refused food, refused to take the title in exchange for my box. This dates back to my third ever PTQ. I was undefeated at 3-0 and altran asked me to go get a cheesesteak. I got one and lost the next round. For ten years I was superstitious about eating during PTQs… It wasn’t until the match against Julian that I realized that despite the loss, I won that PTQ (alongside Erik Lauer… two slots)!
I walked Julian into a gorgeous trap… and then said “okay” at exactly the wrong time. It was nothing but low blood sugar. Julian smashed me, ended up a great champion, a better apprentice and friend.
I showed up expecting Sadin to have my Mono-Blue deck built… Oops. I was really excited. Mike Clair won. I got crazy in love with Magic, found a way to PT: Columbus the next week to LCQ, and started a year in the booth. But… DNP.
Final Record: 6-2, 15th
Losses – Freddie Crespo Jr. with G/R land destruction and Eli I. Kassis with U/W Control
I was 4-0 when I lost to Eli. Then I was up a game. Bam! Over. Eli told me during the match that my style of deck (G/R land destruction / Beasts hybrid) was his worst matchup. In hindsight I couldn’t actually have lost if I played properly. In both Game 2 and Game 3 I made both strategic and tactical mistakes. Eli’s main way to win was Decree of Justice; I sided out Starstorm. I walked into several Stifles and Mana Leaks that should have posed zero effectiveness. I just didn’t play the tactics correctly at all. I’d like to think that I wouldn’t make the same mistakes today… But I was so focused on being the beatdown, jamming my threats past his permission wall, never realizing that he didn’t really have one.
I was land light against Freddie; he had all the LD. Blowout.
On the other hand, my friend Aaron Muranaka won his States with the same archetype (then-Swimming With Sharks columnist BDM posted our deck)!
Final Record: 1-2, 131st
By far my worst performance ever in States. I blame Brian Kibler. I played his U/G/R Opposition deck and just had terrible mana draws. It was definitely Kibler’s fault and had nothing to do with my just starting to go out with a new girl (my eventual wife) and complete lack of practice. In other news, Monsignor Dragonmaster and Tony “the Shark” Tsai won Georgia and Connecticut, respectively with the same deck, and Josh Ravitz made Top 8 in New Jersey.
I still say it had a manabase only Kibler could love.
Final Record: 4-2-1, 17th
I don’t remember what happened in this tournament. I think I wrote an article about it for the USA Networks Dojo. My deck was U/W with Mystical Tutor for Accumulated Knowledge and a high end Rebel chain kill, with four copies of “Big Gay Al.” Eventual finalist Chris Pikula said it should have been two Air Elementals, two Blinding Angels. Resolving threats was so hard in that format! Chris got “the fix” with his Fires deck in the last game of the finals and lost the mirror.
Final Record: 5-2, 12th
I don’t remember my loss to Jason DePasquale, but I do remember my loss to future friend and Northeast Regional Champion Garrett “Scrap” Schaper. Scraps and I both played straight Black decks. Here is the one I played:
1 Cursed Totem
4 Dark Ritual
1 Diabolic Servitude
1 Engineered Plague
4 Flesh Reaver
4 Hidden Horror
4 Phyrexian Negator
4 Ravenous Rats
4 Skittering Skirge
1 Soul Feast
4 Twisted Experiment
3 Vampiric Tutor
2 Phyrexian Tower
1 Cursed Totem
2 Phyrexian Processor
4 Ticking Gnomes
3 Engineered Plague
2 Soul Feast
Scraps got me with a new card by the name of Thrashing Wumpus.
Go on. Look again.
I hate making mistakes and I hate losing. Garrett outplayed me for certain. But I still learned from that one, and came out of it with a future workable Mono-Black strategy.
Final Record: 6-2, 6th
4 Bottle Gnomes
4 Nevinyrral’s Disk
1 Corpse Dance
2 Diabolic Edict
4 Force Spike
2 Power Sink
4 Whispers of the Muse
4 Reflecting Pool
2 Rootwater Depths
1 Stalking Stones
4 Underground River
1 Volrath’s Stronghold
3 Dread of Night
X-0 versus Academy, 2-1 versus Hatred.
I built my deck to beat Academy, had to beat Hatred to make Top 8, and got the wrong pairing when I got there. Honestly, my deck was woefully under-prepared for any deck in the metagame besides Academy. I can’t have been very good at sideboarding at that point… I had all the tools to beat the deck to beat, but nothing for anything else. I actually learned a lot from my quarterfinals opponent, strategically. He put me under pressure and killed me with Cursed Scroll showing Hatred. Damned if you do, right?
My friends make fun of me for switching decks a lot. I honestly get very excited by each deck, work on it, and then get excited about something else. I literally declared yet another archetype unbeatable 24 hours ago, and am not even thinking about it any more. When I wrote about the U/W Blink deck last week, I was really sure I was going to play it. The comments in the forums were really helpful, and if I were still on Blink, I would incorporate many. Josh and I worked on the deck; Coalition Relic and Porphyry Nodes (worst case it eats a Shadowmage Infiltrator) both seem like good cards main… And yes, I actually think about two Wraths is right, specifically for the half-bluff.
By the next day, I was all into the Green deck I posted above. Becker and Paul laughed… I’d have another deck by the middle of this week, then I wouldn’t end up playing it (I switched noon on Friday last year). Honestly, I don’t know what I’m going to play tomorrow, but I have the feeling that I am going to dust off the Sulfurous Springs that I used to win my first ever PTQ.
Thinking not just about this article but the actual prospect of defending my title tomorrow, I went back and read Blunt and Sixteen from last year… Which reminded me about how much I apparently love Rakdos. I remembered the pre-Regionals Rakdos deck that I posted (right before switching to The Legends of Team CMU). Could it be?
Here is a list. No testing behind it… Just based on Sadin.dec and Antonino’s voluminous devotion over the past few months:
- 4 Mogg Fanatic
- 3 Martyr of Ashes
- 4 Greater Gargadon
- 4 Mogg War Marshal
- 4 Keldon Marauders
- 4 Epochrasite
- 4 Shriekmaw
Tombstalkers in out of the board, just like last time.
The reason I went this direction rather than playing the ubiquitous Tarmogoyf is that the mana is so much better. I’ve seen lists with tons of Green essentially just for Tarmogoyf. I tested a lot of Gruul for last Regionals, and really, there is a giant correlation between drawing non-Red and losing. This deck on the other hand has phenomenal mana. Astounding colors; won’t get Forestwalked.
Moreover, as good as Goyf is, it’s just a creature with power and toughness. Between Epochrasite, Shriekmaw, and Tombstalker, I think B/R has G/R covered on immediate quality. Tombstalker is just a better racer due to flying, and only marginally smaller. Subtly, when you don’t play Tarmogoyf, the impetus to play Tarfire just completely evaporates (thank goodness).
Right now, it’s B/R4L. Man, I feel naked without a Planeswalker…
Wish me luck!