Up until a few hours ago, having dinner with my friend Steve Sadin, I didn’t realize that all the cards are actually already on the table for the Extended Pro Tour, or that it is coming up so soon (six weeks, according to Steve). I was actually operating under the impression that there was literally nothing interesting to do with myself. Magically, that is.
Therefore I decided to do an experiment. I decided to start preparing for States. How would one prepare for States? Well, there is no very good way to do it right now. I am a MagictheGathering.com columnist, but even I don’t get a Lorwyn spoiler. I don’t visit spoiler sites, so if you do, you probably know more cards than I do! However, I have life experience from the past several years, and especially three consecutive years of positioning very good decks for States, so I decided to rely on that and handicap myself a little bit.
I had an idea for a deck, took it apart, put it back together again, and decided to start playing in the Tournament Practice Room on Magic Online. The deck started out Teachings, but I was mostly interested in what I have been calling “impressive power and toughness” with Patrick Chapin and Steve; basically good men in a mid-range control strategy. Here is what I started with:
I basically wanted to play “Teachings with Tarmogoyf,” not unlike Patrick’s 6-1 deck from U.S. Nationals… But I really like Aeon Chronicler (who, in fact, has impressive power and toughness), so I went with that draw engine instead and swapped versions of Wrath of God. Finding myself without a very good way to find Beacon of Immortality, but still wanting a life gain card, I decided to try Reviving Dose; I’ve actually wanted to try this card for a while. It’s kind of much worse than Renewed Faith (which would probably be a clear staple in Standard), but also not that bad, and a decent role player. As you can see, the numbers are pretty untuned for the alpha version.
My internal rule was basically to not play any Ravnica cards. The best decks at the past three years of States have all been updated Block decks with only minimal adoption of new set cards; sure you will have a Remand, Smallpox, or Sensei’s Divining Top, but most of your deck will have come from the previous sets. I started on the regular artifact mana but ultimately decided that if I were playing a Green two-drop, I might as well try to cheat a little. Into the North is almost a Farseek, and when you consider Scrying Sheets and Mouth of Ronom, kind of better. I actually had Edge of Autumn in one version, but it seems to have been replaced with Condemn and just a higher land count.
My opponent suspends Lotus Bloom early. I know that I am a gigantic dog, but play. He is a U/R deck of some sort. I have Scrying Sheets on the third turn, and it keeps giving me Blue sources. I run out a Teferi with a whole gaggle of Islands… I must be very scary. Once I start attacking, he decides to try to overwhelm me with his combo pieces. I, of course, have only been talking a big game, and I don’t actually have anything.
I start doing the math on how to beat Ignite Memories. I actually have some good Instants to screw around with, and a Scrying Sheets to potentially lower the mean value of my hand, but he has Pyromancer’s Swath to make it academic.
He actually concedes the match up a game.
That’s not one lost, is it… ?
I mean, you can’t really count it… The match wasn’t completed. etc.
Bam! Another The Rack.
He recovers from his double mulligan (drawing two copies of this do-nothing versus seven cards) and starts beating me down with Undead Warchief and some other Zombie. I have Wrath of God. He has some other Zombie. I have Teferi. Then I have two Tarmogoyfs at the end of turn. Impressive.
Game 2 he just beats me down, starting with Withered Wretch (annoying) and Lord of the Undead. These Coldsnap duals are killing me. He has a random Rain of Tears. My second White comes into play tapped. I lose to exactly the right damage with Wrath in hand.
Game 3 I managed to lose to Call to the Netherworld; two, to be precise. Actually I lost to a Stromgald Crusader with two Condemns in hand. I think I should actually have won. I did the math to tap him out on Stromgald Crusader for two turns in a row and then Reviving Dose to stay alive (all while drawing cards), then Wrath. It turns out he had a Terror for my Aeon Chronicler so I used one of my million Condemns to gain some life back (he killed it mid-combat). So basically I didn’t need to do this Reviving Dose plan, and should have just used Into the North to get Mouth of Ronom (I had an extra turn, see?).
Man! Down one… In Tournament Practice…
It’s a learning process… A learning process.
I learned I needed a solution to Stromgald Crusader.
For the next match, I switched to the newer sideboard:
New sideboard, new deck!
Round 1 (take 3?)
It’s Zombies again.
I probably didn’t play super tight on Sheet stacks. I ended up losing an extremely long game, to decking (Withered Wretch over Gaea’s Blessing). The problem was that he had a Loxodon Warhammer, and even though I could control everything, my initial plan was to punish him on Graveborn Muse… then he started playing all these Tendrils, and he ended up killing three guys that way, which made it very difficult to actually win even though my cards were very good (he was on 48 all of a sudden). I wonder, could I have decked him? Hrm. Probably not.
The second game was just good old card advantage. He hit a quick Stupor, I got two Ana Battlemages, two Wraths, and snagged Grim Harvest on a good Wrath play (losing a Battlemage). Three Careful Considerations and my Scrying Sheets made it look easy.
The third game (on the draw, obviously) I kept Arctic Flats and two copies of Into the North. With 26 lands left in my deck, this seemed reasonable. I got my second land on turn 13. Well, I would have, if I hadn’t conceded.
Turn 1 Llanowar Mentor. I scooped and saved a few minutes.
Round 3 again
Zombies again… This time it’s Rakdos/Zombies. I get the first pretty easily with Wrath of God into Aeon Chronicler; the only thing is that Aeon Chronicler gets hit (you know, like Hit / Run). I take a bunch, but it doesn’t matter. Every play is a two-for-one. Winner for sure, right?
Game 3 I keep Teferi, Wrath of God, Wrath of God, Arctic Flats, Arctic Flats, Into the North, and Tarmogoyf (obviously?). I immediately play Into the North for Scrying Sheets, even though I have Teferi in hand (UUU). I keep drawing more Teferis and never hit with my Sheets. Meanwhile on his side, it’s Graveborn Muse into three copies of Rise / Fall. Because my deck doesn’t give any lands, I get two-for-oned all three times. Okay, if I got lands I would have played them. I actually think I can pull out of it, but misclick Tarmogoyf instead of Into the North with 1G in pool. Should I have mulled two Arctic Flats and Into the North? It seems to me he had to get mad lucky to win.
Round 4 (I would have been out of contention at, I dunno, FNM hours ago)
I join Bertrand Lestree’s game!
For those of you who don’t know, Bertrand was possibly the first Best Player in the World in the mid-1990’s; he finished second at Pro Tour 1.
I lead with Boreal Shelf.
He Remands my Into the North. What is it with these people and their Ravnica cards? He follows up with Flagstones into Boom / Bust on my only Green source… Uh oh, a real deck. I haven’t been holding my own against non-real decks.
Luckily I have Scrying Sheets and get out of it. I start burying him in card advantage… Two Lightning Angels bite a Wrath. I follow up with Ana Battlemage for three cards. I stop playing lands for fear of the wrong side of Boom / Bust (he has two Signets) but suspend Aeon Chronicler for four. I’m on 11 so I am pretty sure.
Disintegrate for 10.
No worries. He has no cards in hand.
LIGHTNING HELIX OFF THE TOP? WHO ARE YOU, CRAIG JONES? (He finished second in a Standard Pro Tour, too.)
The sad thing? My top card is Reviving Dose.
This seems a bit random. Being in Total Control and then losing to burn off the top? Hrm. I guess my control isn’t really that “total,” seeing as I am a fake Blue mage. Back at States, all I did with Kowal’s deck was burn out people with a hand full of permission spells. Bertrand didn’t even have Demonfire.
Game 2 has an interesting opening. Bertrand has Riptide Pilferer. I have Condemn. He has Remand (obviously) and I only have the one White source. I end up discarding Ancient Grudge, which is actually convenient. The next turn he has Riptide and Lightning Angel. Which to kill? I decided to kill Riptide Pilferer, knowing I might lose in the middle or late turns to big burn spells. Blah blah blah Disintegrate for six when I am beating down with Teferi, rip a Lightning Helix.
So I suppose this exercise was an unmitigated failure. The thing is, I don’t even know if my deck was “bad.” I lost to those Black decks mostly due to being unlucky and
possibly bad mulligan decisions. I guess that’s bad logic. If you can’t break 50% in the Tournament Practice room, you probably shouldn’t be playing a deck in a real tournament. When I look back to the decks that I actually tested in the Tournament Practice room [that ended up being any good]… KarstenBot BabyKiller… The Legends of Team CMU… Those decks had very strong win ratios. I had the original Critical Mass completely built before I started to play MTGO; never lost a match in Tournament Practice.
I was curious about Zombies though. Since running the “testing” this night, I’ve seen in Frank’s column that Zombies is about the 17th most popular deck on MTGO… But first in Tournament Practice, I guess. I wouldn’t play a deck like that if I were playing Standard right now (with, you know, all the sets).
It was getting pretty late, and my loss to Lestree was probably going to be the highlight of my evening (did I mention “unmitigated failure”?), but I wanted to see what would happen if I just made a “real” deck, even if I were restricting myself on sets. Here is what I threw together:
This deck is not particularly tuned but apparently it can’t lose. People kept conceding on something like 17 life. I rarely play decks like this one, so that is a new experience for me. I guess when you protect Jonny Magic… and tag someone three or four times… and then play Teferi… Yadda yadda yadda.
Did I not have Haunting Hymn?
I just noticed that.
It could probably use 1 + 3 Tendrils, too.
So there you go! That’s the deck for States! Unbeatable.dec. I will probably ruin it by adding Red for Void and Detritivore.
Pick The Lesson…
1. I learned to side out one Reviving Dose, even against beatdown.
2. I learned there is a reason no one games with Reviving Dose.
3. You learned what deck to play for States (plus Haunting Hymn &c.).
4. I have always known that Patrick Chapin has every idea, and very few ideas are any good; therefore the vast majority of Patrick’s ideas are actually quite bad.
5. You don’t make any good new decks without making some number of awful ones.
Up Next: Probably Extended… possibly Extended.