From Right Field: De-scept-ively Tough

Inspired by Adam Grydehrmha’s recent article, Chris decided to give U/R Isochron Scepter a run at a recent Standard tourney and details his results here for all to see. He also includes one of the largest cheesecake sections ever seen on StarCityGames.com.

{From Right Field is a column for Magic players on a budget or players who don’t want to play netdecks. The decks are designed to let the budget-conscious player be competitive in local, Saturday tournaments. They are not decks that will qualify a player for The Pro Tour. As such, the decks written about in this column are, almost by necessity, rogue decks. They contain, at most, eight to twelve rares. When they do contain rares, those cards will either be cheap rares or staples of which new players should be trying to collect a set of four, such as Wrath of God, City of Brass, or Birds of Paradise. The decks are also tested by the author, who isn’t very good at playing Magic. His playtest partners, however, are excellent. He will never claim that a deck has an 85% winning percentage against the entire field. He will also let you know when the decks are just plain lousy. Readers should never consider these decks “set in stone” or “done.” If you think you can change some cards to make them better, well, you probably can, and the author encourages you to do so.}

I’ve written about The Princess Bride Conundrum before. In a nutshell, it says that if the metagame is shifting quickly, you are just about as apt to guess correctly as your are to guess incorrectly about what special maindeck strategies are needed to beat certain decks, and, in such an environment, it’s best to simply play the top deck rather than try to figure out where the metagame is on any given weekend. As Affinity gets excised from the Standard scene, The Princess Bride Conundrum rears its head again:

“Clearly, I can drop my maindeck artifact hate! With Affinity no longer viable, I can remove Viridian Shaman and Oxidize from the maindeck and put them in the sideboard, if at all. However, other people know I will do this. So, they will continue to play main deck artifacts. If I have all of my artifact hate in the sideboard, I may lose each and every first game of a match!”

“You’ve made your decision, then?”

“Not remotely! Because other players know that I will drop my main deck artifact hate, they will play other artifacts! Clearly, I will need to keep maindeck artifact hate. Then those playing with artifacts because they thought everyone would drop their maindeck artifact hate will run right into my trap! However, if the artifact-playing players stop playing artifacts knowing that I will keep my maindeck artifact hate, then, my maindeck artifact hate becomes dead, and . . . what’s that?”

What to do, then, in the new Standard sans Affinity? What to play at the local, Saturday tourney? I could play it smart and play any one of the Tooth and Nail variations, G/B Control, or some Kiki-Jiki deck. After all, other than Affinity, those were the top decks in Standard before March 20th. You know me, though. Play it smart? Inconceivable! I had to be me. I had to play something different. Again. Besides, it was “A New Dawn for Standard.” Why just play the same old stuff that was good before Affinity left? Why not play something that might benefit from Affinity’s neutering?

Yeah! Why not? Well, mostly because I was having a hard time trying to find what looked like a good and interesting deck. Sure, I could play one of the decks I’d been writing about the past few weeks like Glasskites or Shrines. The problem was that I’d played those to death. I was tired of them. My opponents were tired of them, too, especially the Shrines. I wouldn’t be playing those. (Yes, I will retire a deck that’s annoying to my opponents. I’m just that great of a guy.) I wanted something fresh . . . other than Freshmaker, that is.

Just as I was about to lose hope, Adam Grydehoj wrote about an Isochron Scepter deck that intrigued me. If you don’t want to click on the link (or, better yet, open it in a new window), the deck looked like this:

U/R Scepter

21 Lands

12 Island

9 Mountain

0 Creatures

39 Other Spells

4 Isochron Scepter

4 Peer Through Depths

4 Glacial Ray

4 Magma Jet

2 Guerilla Tactics

2 Shatter

4 Boomerang

3 Fabricate

4 Serum Visions

4 Pyroclasm

4 Chrome Mox

If you don’t know what the deck was designed to do or can’t figure it out, essentially, you want to imprint one of the two-casting-cost instants on an Isochron Scepter and control the game until you win. The ultimate play, of course, is a first-turn Scepter (thanks to Chrome Mox) with Boomerang imprinted on it. After that, your opponent will never have more than the one or two lands in play that they have at that moment. It’s one of the most annoying soft locks in Magic: Blue land denial.

I was intrigued. The deck had its charms. It was creatureless. So, any creature destruction spells were dead. Other than the Chrome Moxes, it was cheap to build in terms of money. Since I only had three of the Moxes, I’d have to substitute something, probably adding another land. Besides, as much as I liked Isochron Scepter (I was just sure it was going to change the face of Magic when Mirrodin was released), I had never played it in a Constructed tourney.

On the downside, it was based around an artifact. If people maintained their four-Viridian-Shaman / four-Oxidize decklists, this deck was dead in the water. Chalice of the Void set at two was horrendous for this deck. Damping Matrix isn’t much better. Clearly, in the sideboard, I’d need anti-artifact cards that cost something other than two mana.

Working the Boards

My Oracle/Gatherer search for non-two-mana artifact kill spells that fit this deck’s mana curve was like a trip to Sesame Street. “Today’s episode is brought to you by the letter ‘D’ and the color Red.” I had Demolish, Dismantle, and Detonate to choose from. I felt Demolish was too expensive even though it was versatile. This deck really doesn’t want to pay four mana unless it’s Splicing something onto a Scepter-created spell. Dismantle wasn’t really all that useful for the cost. I couldn’t envision a lot of counters on any artifacts now. The process of elimination left Detonate. I could use it to kill bigger artifacts as well as offing Chalice of the Void for just R. (Remember, an “X” spell’s converted mana cost is zero in any zone except on the stack. So, even though a Chalice may have been cast for four so that it could counter things costing two, its CMC was still zero.)

That took care of the Chalice of the Void problem. What about the other decks I might face, though?

I knew G/B Control would be big. We have a lot of excellent, 1800-plus-rated players who like to beat up on me every week. They know how good a third- or fourth-turn Plow Under is as well as the power of a third-turn Cranial Extraction. This meant that I’d have to run Quash in the sideboard. I’d also want Scrabbling Claws. As usual. If you’re gonna use your graveyard as a resource, I’m gonna deny you that resource as best I can. Echoing Truth would be excellent imprint fodder on a Scepter against decks that created token creatures. Annul was probably a good idea, too, since people were starting to play Honden decks. Yes, I dreamed of imprinting Annul on a Scepter against a Honden deck. This, then, is what I packed up on Saturday:


(Okay, it’s not the greatest name, but it’s better than “U/R Scepter.” Besides, since I changed one whole card, I get to rename the thing.)

22 Lands

13 Island

9 Mountain

0 Creatures

38 Other Spells

4 Isochron Scepter

4 Peer Through Depths

4 Glacial Ray

4 Magma Jet

2 Guerilla Tactics

2 Shatter

4 Boomerang

3 Fabricate

4 Serum Visions

4 Pyroclasm

3 Chrome Mox

15 Sideboard

3 Detonate

2 Quash

4 Scrabbling Claws

3 Annul

3 Echoing Truth

The Tourney Report, Part 1: The Trip to the Place

I packed my cards into my bag, made sure I had my entry fee and granola bars, and drove to The Comics Exchange.

The Tourney Report, Part 2: At the Place, Before the Tourney

As usual, I was early. Better early than late. As usual, everyone asked me to trade, and, just like: Every. Other. Time. I had to say “I don’t have any extra cards to trade. Please, stop asking me.” This wouldn’t be so annoying if it wasn’t the same group of people that I’ve been playing with for the last three years or so. I think at this point they ask just to watch that little vein in my forehead pop out. Next time, I’ll surprise them by bringing a bunch of crappy commons from Masques Block. “Got anything to trade?” Yeah, Bubba, look through all them Balloon Peddlers. Go buck wild.

The Tourney Report, Part 3: Actual Card Playing

Round 1: Joe, playing G/B Control

Joe’s wife, Kerri, is our tourney organizer. They got married in a surprise wedding ceremony in December. Luanne and I were invited, but we had already made family plans that were going to take us out of town. So, we didn’t go. Of course, we didn’t know that it was a wedding, either. You see, when I say it was a “surprise wedding,” I don’t mean that it was scheduled in haste. I mean it was an actual “Surprise! We’re getting married today!” surprise wedding. We were actually told that it was just an engagement party. Like I said, we already had family plans. Plus, we figured, no big deal. It’s just an engagement party. We were still going to the wedding! Of course, we actually didn’t.

This is my way of saying that Joe has taken it out on me ever since.

From testing, I knew that not only was G/B Control most likely the best post-Affinity Standard deck but that it was very hard for Scepter-ang to beat. Heck, it’s very hard for any deck to beat G/B Control. Joe even kidded that the first person in our tourney to resolve a Plow Under faster than turn 5 should get roshambo-ed. He did; I didn’t, although he did stand up like a man and await the kick to the groin. Trust me: I was tempted. Scepter-ang has no maindeck countermagic, meaning that some very, big, bad spells like Death Cloud and Rude Awakening could resolve. After sideboarding, it was still bad. I could bring in Quash; G/B Control could have Boseiju.

As expected, G/B Control won. In game one, I kept a five-land hand that also had one Pyroclasm and one Magma Jet. Had I known what Joe was playing, I would certainly not have kept the hand. The argument can be made that I should have sent it back regardless. However, Pyroclasm is some good against a lot of decks, and by that I mean “the ones that run creatures.” The fact that I had one in hand was good. It just wasn’t good against this particular deck. Joe won game one, though not easily. I was able to hold off much of the damage until Kokusho hit. I kept thinking, “Where are my Boomerangs?” Apparently, in the parking lot, talking to the skanky woman with (a) the lizard tattoo on her calf, (b) wearing the short, pink, denim skirt, and (c) with the Pall Mall 100 hanging from her lip. To say she that was nasty would be like saying that Sudan has some political problems.

For game two, I dropped the four Pyroclasms and the two Shatters for the two Quash and the four Scrabbling Claws. My theory was that he was not running a slew of creatures that the Pyroclasms could kill. The ones that he was running were not coming out two at a time. So, a Magma Jet or Guerilla Tactics on a Scepter would work just fine to off a Solemn Simulacrum or Eternal Witness. The Claws, however, could be huge in stopping Silly Witness Tricks™.

However, I will always remember the second game as the one in which I got my first ever first-turn win in a tourney. I went first and got the land-Chrome-Mox-Isochron-Scepter-imprinting-Boomerang play. Joe scooped without ever having taken his turn. Wow.

This, of course, did not bode well for me for game three. It started with Joe mulliganning to five. Okay, I thought, maybe I’d catch a break. No such luck. I had a hand almost exactly like game one, except the Pyroclasm was replaced by Fabricate. Ugh. Back it went. I kept a six-card hand that got me no second-turn Isochron Scepter but did yield a turn 1 Scrabbling Claws. I got a Scepter down on the fourth turn, Imprinting a Magma Jet. Joe was holding Naturalize. I was able to use the Scepter in response and purge his graveyard by activating the Claws again. Things stayed tense for few more turns with Joe pinging away at my life using a Sakura-Tribe Elder but nothing big. Then, Boseiju came down. I knew the only way I could beat a Boseiju was to continually bounce it, keeping the Quash in my hand to counter Rude Awakening or Death Cloud when he got anxious. I had the Boomerang but didn’t draw into the Scepter or a card that could get me the Scepter. That, then, was that.

Round 2: Bye

At this point, we already had a drop, so I got the bye. I spent the next hour looking through the commons box (“Oooooo, Fiery Temper! Ooooooo, Meteor Shower!”) and talking with the store’s proprietor about the pros and cons of Jessica Alba playing Sue Storm in the Fantastic Four film.

Resolved: doesn’t matter what color her hair is, Jessica Alba’s a hottie.

Round 3: Charles playing Hasty Warclub

Charles’ deck was part of the reason that I had switched to Scepter-ang in mid-week. On Monday, I had tested a U/W Genju Control deck against his mono-Red deck with nothing but hasty critters, burn, and Ronin Warclubs. I won one of nine games and only got that when he had to mulligan to five.

In game one, I never even damaged him. I never got enough pressure or burn to keep his creatures off of me once they got going, and I never got a Scepter with anything Imprinted on it. I burned his first couple of creatures out. However, on turn 3, he dropped a Warclub. I knew I needed some burn. I didn’t get it. The first damage of the game was me going from twenty to fourteen when he cast a turn 4 Viashino Sandstalker which picked up the Warclub and swung. The game ended when I was at four, and he cast Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author].

For game two, I dropped the Shatters for Quashes. I know that seems counterintuitive. He has Ronin Warclubs with twenty-whatever hasty creatures. However, every creature in his deck would die to any of my instant-timed burn spells. Since the Warclub’s ability is a triggered one to which I can respond, I could afford to let the Warclub hit. Then, whenever he cast a creature, I could use Glacial Ray or Magma Jet or whatever to kill it. So, Shatters weren’t needed. Not nearly as much as a way to stop Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author].

That was the theory anyway.

I went first in game two and got a Magma Jet on a Scepter. Man oh man, is that some good. Every two damage it did allowed me to Scry for two. That’s how to get some quality advantage. The Magma Jet on the Scepter got Charles to twelve. It was very quick, too, because he ended up hitting seven lands in a row at one point. I don’t think it would have mattered, though. Had they been creatures, the Scepter would merely have been pointed at them rather than at Charles. It would have bought him time, but I still don’t think it would have mattered. Things ended when I got a Glacial Ray onto a Scepter while holing two more Glacial Rays. With him at twelve, I Scepter-ed up a Ray, Splicing the other two onto it for six. Then, during my upkeep, I did it again.

Game three was one of the tensest games I’ve played in a long, long time, even more that game three against Joe back in round one. I got a turn 2 Scepter-with-Boomerang. The problem was that I couldn’t get any other lands to let me do other stuff. So, while I was able to keep him at two lands, he was able to cast some stuff. In addition, his Chrome Moxes helped him get a couple of creatures through while keeping mana on board. (Yes, I bounced the Moxes instead of the lands when I could.) About turn 5, I finally started getting lands. I Imprinted Magma Jet on a Scepter. That took me the entire way.

The way, though, was very scary. He had already done a bunch of damage via creatures. Now, he started throwing burn at my head. I had a Quash that I kept in case he cast Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]. With me at eight, he Shocked me. I let it hit. He Shocked me again. I had visions on more Shocks. I Quashed the second Shock, and that may have saved my game. With me at six and him at twelve, it was going to take some time for the Scepter to kill him. He hit me with a Magma Jet. I couldn’t do anything but go to four. I hit him a couple of more times. He dropped me to two with another Magma Jet. He was at four at that point. Anymore burn, and I was a goner. All he had was a Slith Firewalker. He dropped it and swung. I was at one. At the end of his turn, I Scepter-ed for two dropping him to two and repeated again during my upkeep. It can’t get any closer than that: ending game three at one life. Whew.

Round 4: Bill playing Mono-Blue Control

Bill and I always play some of the most interesting matches which, you might guess, he usually wins. For example, there was a time three or four years ago that Bill was tearing up the local scene playing an Opposition deck. Yet, he never beat me with Opposition. One week I’d be playing with Teferi’s Response because of all of the Rishadan Ports, and he’d walk right into it. The next week, I’d have six maindeck pieces of enchantment hate (four Wax/Wane and two Aura Blast) with more in the sideboard. This was one of our more interesting matches.

In my six or so years of playing in tourneys, I don’t think I’ve been conceded to more than four or five times while we were both still at twenty life. This was the second time it had happened today. I went fist and got a second-turn Scepter with a Boomerang. When I was able to drop a sixth-turn Scepter with a Glacial Ray on it (I made sure to wait until I had potential Mana Leak-paying mana available), he conceded.

You know how sometimes, while you’re walking home at night under a moonless sky, you get so absolutely scared by the silliest little thing – like maybe a frog croaking – that you just laugh until you pee? This was game two. I went second. I had taken out the two Shatters and four Pyroclasms for the two Quashes, the three Detonates (I feared Damping Matrix and Chalice of the Void), and an Echoing Truth.

Then, I did something stupid. I kept a no-land hand.

Look, I had two Chrome Moxes, an Isochron Scepter, a Magma Jet, and three spells I could Imprint on the Moxes. I had a first-turn Scepter with Magma Jet! Plus, I was drawing! I was golden! Unless he got Echoing Truth!

He did.

I laughed. Charles laughed. Bill, Joe, Travis, Harmon, Curtis, the other Bill, the skanky woman in the parking lot, and the toothless guy at the Subway across the street laughed. I laughed harder.

On my turn, I drew another colored spell. So, what did I do? I emptied my hand, playing the two Chrome Moxes and Imprinting the two colored spells on them. Yes, you could see my ballz from across the street on Saturday. That’s what the toothless guy at the Subway said. The skanky woman didn’t mention it, but she did grin that kind of carnival-worker leer/grin at me when I left.

Just then I realized that Bill might have another Echoing Truth in hand. Bill did not have another Echoing Truth. My “pride” swelled.

It became a tough game. Even though my hand was empty, I had a ten-turn clock with the Magma Jet on the Scepter. It wasn’t enough since he was swinging for three a turn with a Stalking Stones. When game two was over, he was at six life.

I went first in the third game and got a second-turn Boomerang on a Scepter. A few minutes later, he conceded so that we could all go home.

The Tourney Report, Part 4: Thinking About What I Learned While Driving Home

The Scepter-ang deck was solid. It was unusual. It was boring except when playing against G/B Control. The key in that matchup is to get a Boomerang on a Scepter so that Boseiju never becomes a factor. I also learned that it’s not a good idea to keep a no-land hand even if you have two Chrome Moxes.

I also think the deck needs maindeck countermagic. While I did hit Joe for four points with the Guerilla Tactics once, I would think seriously of dropping those and the two Shatters for four Mana Leaks. If I ever played this again. Which I probably won’t do. I can’t imagine playing this in a tourney that lasts longer than four rounds. I’d be so tired that I’d fall asleep in round six or so.

If, however, you’re a control freak, learn this deck. You’ll have the time of your twisted Magic life.

As usual, you’ve been a great audience. Since I again lacked any cheese cake, I’d like to suggest you look at these. I found them while doing some other, um, research. They are some of the Women of Dragon*Con 2004. I’ve never been to Dragon*Con, but many of my friends have. Given some of the hottie geek women that seem to really enjoy dressing up for this thing, I must say that I am officially peeved at them for not trying harder to get me to go. Then again, they were probably worried that I’d score all the ladies, and they’d be left with nothing. Of course, they don’t have to worry about that anymore, now that I’m married. Just some thoughts on some of the shots:

* These ladies make me wish I was a mutant super-villain. (“Instead of just a mutant.” Yeah, very funny.)

* Okay, so she’s not really Heather Graham, but would you argue?

* There are just so many bad “super”-puns for this one that I can’t choose. Let me just say that I’d need lead boxer shorts if I ran into her . . . if you know what I mean.

* Here’s Supergirl in her unassuming secret identity.

* Is this legal?

* Studies show that if you’re a heterosexual male, this picture will appeal to you very much. There is also a significant percentage of the female population that will like it, too.

* “Three wishes? Really, it would just be the same wish three times.”

* I don’t know what character she‘s supposed to be, but I’ll buy the comic book she’s from if someone will just tell me what it is.

* Remember the movie Death Becomes Her? Me, neither.

* Same thing here.

* I have nothing cute to say about this shot.

* Some Stormtroopers looked better in the new uniforms than others.

* Did you know that the Little Mermaid smoked?

* I’m just very curious about what’s going on in this shot. Is yodeling into ladies buttocks a competition at these things? If so, where do I sign up?

* Guarding Queen Amidala is mostly about distracting would-be kidnappers, I guess.

* Hurts so good.

* Finally, a way to get my nephew to eat his greens.

* “Oh, what a tangled web we weave . . . .”

* “No, trust me, these are exactly the droids I’ve been looking for.”

* Meeee. Ow.

* Look at the size of those . . . things on her head.

* It must be cold. Her lips are frozen!

* Some look-alikes looked a lot more alike than others. This is just *tee hee* “spooky.”

* As far as I can tell, this is just a little lassy standing around enjoying being hot.

* What kind of marks does chain mail leave?

* Yet another woman that I don’t think is supposed to be anything other than just hot.

* Really Desperate Housewives.

* “Why, yes, I do believe in fairies.”

* Okay, I get it now. She’s here to save me.

* You know, the goth chicks I went to school with didn’t look this hot.

* I’m willing to bet that this was the most expensive outfit – in terms of cost per square inch – for the entire weekend.

* “And if you return the book late,” said the S&M librarian, “I’ll have to punish you.” “Promise?”

* Maybe not the hottest picture of the weekend, but definitely the one that is the most apropos.

* “Yes, I think I need to be saved.”

* I guess now I know why Mickey stayed with Minnie all these years.

* “But, wait, if you’re Supergirl, who was that before?!?”

* Cat got your tongue?

* Desolation Angel looked taller on the card.

* Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. Whoa.

* I’m impressed. All those feathers would make me sneeze.

* Okay, I get it. You’re not really Supergirl. You’re really The Bride.

* I like redheads so much that they can be pinkheads, too!

* Some bottles have all the luck.

* Apparently, in 2003, they had this official Crying Dawn lookalike contest, and I missed it. Then, dadburnit, they did it again in 2004.

* However, regardless of all of the hotties in attendance, this was the best outfit of the entire thing.

[Dragon*Con remains utterly ridiculous. Here’s to hoping there will be a tournament to cover there this year… – Knut, fondly remembering 2003]

Chris Romeo