Oakland. The start of the season.
The first event of the new season is always an event I look forward to. Not only does it set the PTQ circuit, but it’s the opportunity to start off the year on a good foot and then capitalize off it for the rest of the season. Barely over a year ago, I made Top 16 at Grand Prix: Los Angeles, launching my writing career and, with the help of three fresh pro points, propelling me to travel around for all of the American Grand Prix. I was looking to repeat that process.
I wasn’t sure what I was going to play, and, as per usual, I was hoping for the grinders to show me the way. With only one bye under my belt — my very own brother nabbed three byes from under my nose at a local GPT by beating me in the semifinals — the grinders were both a source of byes and a source of playtesting.
I flew in with Jonathon Loucks Thursday night, and we spent some time discussing the format and the metagame. But just as we were diving deep into our discussions, we began to brew a pretty awesome Gifts combo deck (which Jon eventually ended up playing in the GP) that siphoned away some of our discussion time.
I felt like my main deck choices were Elves, Dark Depths, or Dredge. While there were a lot of fair options I could play that looked solid – Conley’s deck, for example – I wanted to do something unfair and pick up free wins from either a lack of hate or explosive draws.
My Plan A was Elves, judging from my success with it online. But it seemed like the format had a lot of Zoo and Dark Depths, as expected, and I didn’t want to face those decks all day. Zoo is one of the closest percentage-wise matchups I have ever played, and, while I am favored in the Depths matchup, it is not by so much that I would want to fight Depths all day, especially if I ran into any lists with high amounts of Chalices and Explosives. My expectations were quickly confirmed as I ran 0-1 and 1-1 in two Grinders. Surveying the metagame, I saw Depths and Zoo everywhere. I felt nothing that compelled me to play the deck.
I had played a bunch with Dredge in the past so, fresh off of a Grinder loss, I had Cedric Phillips toss me his Dredge deck for the next Grinder. He was worried about Gerry Thompson recent recommendation of sideboarding Leyline of the Void in Dark Depths, and, sure enough, I dredged a total of one time in my third Grinder in my matchup against Depths with Leyline. I tossed the deck back to Cedric. “Standard,” we both said. I didn’t want to be results-oriented, but I felt nothing that told me Dredge was a better call than anything else. I would rather leave that one in the hands of a very capable Dredge pilot like Cedric Phillips.
Meanwhile, while I was busy not having a graveyard and hopelessly blocking Marit Lage with Stinkweek Imps, Gerry was grinding with an update on his Depths list. At one point, between matches, he told Matej Zatlkai that there was no reason to not just play the best version of the best deck. I watched Gerry play and began to agree. His opponents weren’t ready, and he won in pretty strong fashion. I watched and saw a lot of the changes he had made, grabbed my list, made some changes to closer resemble Gerry’s, and then joined the next grinder.
As I shuffled the deck, I felt a powerful craving, like Saruman must have felt when Sauron tempted him. This was nothing like other decks. My mind twisted and the knees of my thoughts buckled. The card sleeves gave me a paper-cut, and poison flowed into my veins. And I had a strange craving for tombstone pizza. Something was different. But I couldn’t quite tell what…
I bashed two “opponents” and then faced a pseudo-real player in the third round who was playing Depths. Obviously lost that one. Sweet deck, dude. Still, we had broke it. I made some last minute tweaks, decided on Smother and Deathmark count, and woke up ready to crush some dribbling idiots…
Round 2 — Zoo
My opponent flashes me a Nacatl while shuffling, so I know he’s on Zoo. Nice riffling. He leads on Nacatl into nothing into Knight, whereas I have turn 4 20/20 with Muddle backup. Close game. I look at him and figure he won’t have Damping Matrix, and don’t worry about it while sideboarding. After the match I asked. He didn’t even know what the card did. Game 2 is much of the same, only it takes longer and Repeals are involved. Neither game was even close.
Round 3 — Living End
I walk up to the table and he’s writing down sideboarding notes. Nice paper with the words “Violent Outburst” scrawled over and over. I appreciated the tip. We have a pretty tight match. Game 1 I have double Thoughtseize into 20/20. Aaaaand that is! Game 2 I turn 0 Leyline him and assemble Thopter-Sword on turn 3.
Between rounds 3 and 4 I was called up to the stage so Glenn Godard could present me with the 2009’s Writers Award for Best Overall Article and Most Poignant Article. Glenn even pronounced my last name right to a thousand players without asking me first, which was pretty sweet. It was also sweet because I knew rushing down from the stage to my match was going to tilt my opponent.
Round 4 — Faeries
Aaaaaaaaaaand he’s tilted at least 35 degrees. His hands are shaking as he shuffles. He’s coming off of three byes, so I have the psychological advantages working in my favor. He wins the roll and goes deep in the tank on his opener before keeping. I snap keep a hand with turn 1 Confidant, Thirst, and a Thopter Foundry. Turn 1 Bitterblossom. I match with turn 1 Confidant. He Smothers Confidant. I see now how this was a reeeeeeal close keep.
I Thirst main phase. My opponent Cliques me in his main phase, and I Thoughtseize him and take his Spellstutter Sprite, leaving him with stone nothing, then Smother his Clique. He plays a second Bitterblossom and I’m stuck on 3 lands with no action. He bashes and I transmute my Tolaria West for Explosives. He passes again, and not wanting to drop to 2 or 3, Explode his tokens on his upkeep and buy four turns. I don’t find anything, and I die for exact with him at 1 life.
Game 2 I mull to six and have a pretty mediocre hand. I Thoughtseize and he obviously has double Bitterblossom. I land a Sword next turn and then he main phase Cliques me after playing Mutavault. I know he has a Mana Leak and a Spellstutter Sprite, and over the next few turns he keeps tapping poorly so he’d just be just cold to a Thopter Foundry, but there is obviously no justice so I flood out and die.
Round 5 — Dark Depths
Game 1 he’s manascrewed on two lands and I have a pretty dominant draw. I start making tons of Thopters and the game isn’t very close. Game 2 he mulligans to five but manages to Smother my early Confidant to keep me off cards. My draw is fairly slow after that, as I try and build up a Thopter combo, but he makes a 20/20 and then deals with my Foundry and blows up my blockers with Damnation. Nice strategy in the mirror, dude. Sick plan versus a deck with instant speed Thopter tokens.
We try and juke each other in sideboarding because I’m not sure if he cut his Thopter Sword combo or not, and we each shuffle out cards in and pull out 15. I keep in my Leylines because I know I’m just going to crush his “plan” unless he Thopter-Swords me. He mulligans again though, and I have Confidant unopposed. Robert scares me a little as he flips Sphinx, Leyline, Leyline, but fortunately he’s kind after that and I get Sword-Thopter online soon thereafter.
Round 6 — Bant Zoo
Fortunately I know my opponent and what he’s playing, but he isn’t sure what I’m playing. Sick variance. I keep a hand which is pretty solid against Zoo with an opening Thoughtseize into a 20/20 if I draw a way to find Hexmage, plus some Repeals to buy me time. I take his Path and leave him with Bant Charm, and he gets stuck on two awkward lands and is forced to play a Hierarch when I Repeal his Nacatl so he can Bant Charm a potential 20/20.
I play a Hexmage and threaten a 20/20 with Muddle up but he has a Venser on my turn to bounce it back. Fortunately I rip Thopter Foundry to go with the Sword and assemble them together. He draws a bunch of Meddling Mages and complains about not having them earlier. Yeah. I guess you and your 1 Venser are so unlucky.
Game 2 I keep a hand that is all in on turn 2 Foundry turn 3 Sword. He has the Pridemage and Bant Charm. Wasn’t close.
Game 3, I establish control early and find Thopter combo, but he has an Ancient Grudge to slow me down. I spend time Transmuting for another Thopter while he builds up his board. I cast Thopter Foundry with Muddle backup for Ancient Grudge, and he only has three lands up so he can’t Flashback Grudge and Bant Charm me. I figure he wouldn’t board in Negate in this matchup, just Meddling Mages. I go for it, and he gets me out of nowhere with Mana Leak.
Sigh. Nice card.
From there, the game is pretty elementary for him.
Round 7 — Dark Depths
My opponent informs me that he is SickSoSick on Magic Online and I immediately put him on Depths based on how informed he is about the format. A sick read that turns out well, as I keep a strong mirror hand. I have a pretty early Hexmage combo and am able to Repeal his Foundry plus explode his blockers.
Game 2, he leads with a Confidant, Smothers mine, then plays another. Must be nice, etc.
Game 3 he tanks and keeps, while I mull to six. I Thoughtseize him to see a hand of double Sunken Ruins, double Bob, double Muddle, and Hexmage. I bin one of his Confidants because I have Threads in mine. He drew a non ruins land on his third turn and cast Confidant, and when I went for Threads he Sowered it back. All I have after that is a Muddle, and he finds another Confidant and continues to beat me down with overwhelming card advantage.
I ground out the last two rounds and beat up on some Bloodcheif Ascension Smallpox player, and an actual 12 year old girl with Affinity, to end up 6-3.
Dagger, story of my life, I’m braindead, etc.
Loucks was also out and wanted the Depths deck to PTQ with. I handed him the deck and felt the ice cold poison retreat from my veins. But it had left its mark.
I woke up Sunday feeling sick and chose not to PTQ, plus I had an article to finish writing anyway. After that, I cheered on my friends in the Top 8 from the sidelines and refocused my efforts on the next weekend: San Diego. I hopped on a plane back to Seattle Monday morning, where I would return for two days before flying back out to
California. I was excited to see where that journey was going to take me.
Team Unknown Stars
Rabon on Magic Online, Lesurgo everywhere else
(One last note: I’m not in the business of sounding like a jerk. If this article offended you, please go back and read it again until you understand why you shouldn’t be. If you’re still confused, e-mail me at gavintriesagain at gmail dot com. Hint: research Gerry Thompson past articles.)