From Right Field: How to Do Almost Really Well at Regionals

Read Chris Romeo... every Tuesday at

Chris took his Mono-Red deck to Regionals, and won more matches than he lost. His maindeck tech caught people off their guard. Opponents conceded without taking damage. How high did he finish? Read on to find out…

{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 Wildfire, Llanowar Wastes, or Birds of Paradise. The decks are also tested by the author, who isn’t very good at playing Magic. 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 feel like being a tease today. The deck and report will come in a while. First off, a word about the Southeast Regionals itself.

As usual, Anthony Edwards and company put on one helluva show. Our head judge was Level 43 Paladin Cleric Shaman Judge Sheldon Menery formerly of StarCityGames.com’s own Annoy the Judge column. It was the first time that I’d met Sheldon, and I have to say that StarCityGames.com has some fine-looking writers. I know this because I also write for them. Plus, there’s Rizzo. Too bad Gorgeous Geordie Tait isn’t still writing regularly. StarCityGames could sell its own beefcake calendar!

We played in a roomy, big, well-ventilated, nicely-cooled convention center outside of Atlanta. Sadly, only about 315 players showed up. I say “only” because the previous year there were 386 players. Mr. Edwards had made room for about 500 players, and I can understand why. That’s a 25% increase, and Ravnica has supposedly been uber popular. I wonder why the drop off…?

Romeo Rants on Pushing up the Release of Dissension

The decision to release Dissension early was a bad one. For those of you who don’t follow these things closely, over the last seven years or so, the final set of a block has typically been released in June. The first two have been released in October and February, giving players four months between sets. With Dissension’s early release, we had only three months between sets. I understand Wizards’ two-fold thought for doing this. It was just bad reasoning.

First of all, the DCI wanted to make Dissension legal for Regionals. It was a bad decision, though, because it caused attendance to be down. Remember, we didn’t even get a leaked spoiler. Because of all of this, players didn’t have as much time to figure out the set. Moreover, without enough time to figure out how the cards might change decks, or what decks they might spawn, average players – the kind who make up the bulk of tournament players – didn’t have time to even buy the cards. Sure, the better players – the Pro Tour Players, the people who have lots of time to do nothing but test hours a day, several days per week – probably weren’t affected by this. The typical tourney-goer surely was, though.

Take our region. Last year, there were 386 players. Mr. Edwards had tables this year for 500. That may have been a little hopeful, but it wasn’t uncalled for. Ravnica block has been called one of the most popular blocks ever. That’s not really surprising, since it’s also essentially Invasion, Part 2.

As I mentioned above, from 386 players last year, attendance dropped nearly 20%, to about 315. Under normal circumstances, that makes no sense. Even flat attendance would have been considered weird. A small jump, maybe, but a large jump was more likely. A 20% decrease, though? As Vizzini in The Princess Bride would say, "Inconceivable!"

Clearly, players were scared off by the new cards being tournament legal so quickly. Take my group of four that went to Regionals. We tested once a week for three months. I’m willing to bet that that’s a whole lot more testing than a lot of folks got in. Life – jobs, kids, et al – tend to get in the way of daily testing. Even with all of the testing we did, we barely scratched the surface of Dissension. (The sole exception was Joe, who actually played a Rakdos-heavy deck at Regionals.) We did some theorizing on it, but we had to spend the few hours that we did have playing against established decks, the kind most likely to show up and kill us.

My theory is also borne out by the fact that we saw very few Dissension cards (other than the rare lands). I’m not talking about just what we played against; I’m talking about what we saw, period. There were a couple of Spell Snares and Condemns. Joe and I played Rakdos Guildmages. I faced off against a Trygon Predator. I played Seal of Fire, and sat across from a couple. Other than that, though, there was hardly anything there from Dissension.

So, Dissension is released a month early, for use at Regionals, and not only does Regionals attendance drop, but we also see very few Dissension cards being played. Not good.

Wizards and The DCI had another reason for releasing Dissension early: Coldsnap. Coldsnap is, sadly, going to be Standard legal. I have a plea for The DCI: please, change your minds, and don’t allow Coldsnap to be Standard legal. It’s just too much. The average player who can pick up a box a set or a few packs now and then (or even a set of four of each common and uncommon with a few rares thrown in) can’t afford to collect a fourth set of cards in a year. Rather than bringing more people into the tournament scene, you’re going to drive away your bread and butter.

It’s just too much. Here we are, a week and a half after Dissension became tournament legal, and Coldsnap is coming in about 8 weeks. Then, about 8 weeks after Coldsnap is tournament legal, the first set of the new block comes out. It will drive people away from tournaments. Maybe not the Pro Tour Playas and the Pro Tour Wannabes, but it will drive away a significant portion of the heart and soul of the tournaments. I’m talking about the folks like me who patronize the local gaming store whenever we can without a real chance of regularly winning prizes. We’re the folks who grease the wheels, because we’re the ones who pump money into the system. The 1900+-rated guys who can roll over their winnings from week to week and never have to buy cards because they win them don’t fuel the machine. We do.

Again, please, reconsider. Don’t make Coldsnap Standard legal. Please.

(For what it’s worth, I’m not saying “don’t release Coldsnap.” Just don’t make it Standard Constructed legal.)

Rant Off

What did I end up playing? Let me continue the tease by telling you what I didn’t play. I decided not to play Chuckie’s Revenge. I wanted my friend Charles to have all of the “glory” of playing that deck. I didn’t play the mono-Green deck, either. More testing showed what I really knew all along. Mono-Green beatdown either wins very quickly, or it loses slowly.

I almost played a mono-White Control deck with Debtors’ Knell. It was a house and a half. That made it just a shade under the B/W Control deck that ran discard and Phyrexian Arena. That deck is a house and three quarters. Why didn’t I play the MWC deck? I couldn’t get the cards together in time.

I ended up making a metagame call. I modified Moon Out Tonight with a suggestion from Joe: add Rakdos Guildmage. I dropped the Patron of the Akki for them. They were the MVP all day long. They slid right into the two-slot. Most important, though, they allowed me to hoard cards in my hand. Instead of casting a guy, I’d just make a 2/1 Goblin with Haste.

Here’s what I played:

In Defense of Virtue

Before I explain the deck, I’ve gotta defend that sideboard:

Flames of the Blood Hand: I’m defending this choice not so much because I have it – heck, we all know how good this is – but because it’s not in the maindeck. As usual, our theory was that lifegain wouldn’t be prevalent in beatdown decks, and Regionals would be rife with beatdown. Long days are tough when playing long matches. Turns out, lotsa folks played with stuff that gained life. Ugh. If I’d taken anything out, it would have been Fiery Conclusion, a spell that is just huge for this deck. How else does a Frostling take down an Angel of Despair?

Flashfires: I was going to make this Boiling Seas, but I noticed how many Blue decks were also running White. Either one hit Hallowed Fountain, but only Flashfires helped me against the mono-White and B/W Control decks. In it went. I was not disappointed.

Parallectric Feedback: How does this deck beat Heartbeat? This is the answer. I’ll await the Flames of the Forum, but trust me. It works. What Heartbeat player leaves up Remand mana against mono-Red when they’re about to cast a lethal Maga? In my testing, none. Typically, they can’t wait that extra turn to worry about it. Besides, they aren’t worried about anything against mono-Red. I mean, why would they? Heh. Parallectric Feedback also works wonders against other decks casting big spells. Get a control deck down to six, and when they go to cast Confiscate, kill them. You know, stuff like that.

Shattering Spree: Not only can this deal with Umezawa’s Jitte when they have countermagic available (cast it with two or three Replicates; they have to counter all of the copies, not just the original), it also deals with the Owling Mine deck quite well. Cast, and Replicate whatever it takes to kill all of the Howling Mines, Ebony Owls, et al.

Now that I think about it, I don’t really need to explain the maindeck. I’ve written about it pretty much before except for the Rakdos Guildmage and Seal of Fire. Oh, and the Goblin Piker. Essentially, the Piker is a Goblin Raider that can block. Also, I had Portal versions I wanted to show off. Seal of Fire took Shock’s place because, well, um, it’s better. I can use Seal of Fire after U/R Wildfire has taken all of my lands away. Can’t do that with Shock.

Again, I’m going to pimp the Rakdos Guildmage. Even though I couldn’t use the Black ability, he/she/it was the MVP all day long. Think about this. With a Goblin King on board, the Rakdos GM makes 3/2 Mountainwalking Goblins. Almost every deck I faced either had Mountains in it (even of the Sacred Foundry or Steam Vents variety), or I made them have Mountains. The thing is just sick.

What you’re probably wanting me to explain is the fact that the maindeck is sixty-one cards. That just screams scrub. I’ll admit to that part. However, the decision was one of mathematics. The deck really feels like it wants to run 21.5 lands. Twenty-one was too few and twenty-two was often too many. You can’t run half a land, though. So, I went up to sixty-one cards. You will either find me to be a genius or a jenius for doing this. I’ll take either one. Don’t matter none to me.

Okay, enough of this. Onto the tourney.

Round 1 – Tim Bonneville playing U/W/g Control

He tapped out on three to play Compulsive Research. I guess he wasn’t worried about a couple of Goblins. That allowed me to drop Blood Moon. Despite him having absolutely no basic lands at any point in game 1, he continued to play the game out. It was a cakewalk. Literally.

For game 2, since everything I had seen was a Plains (Hallowed Fountain and Temple Garden) and I had seen no creatures, I dropped the Fiery Conclusions for the Flashfires. He was ready for that third-turn Blood Moon. It was Mana Leaked. He wasn’t, however, ready for a fourth-turn Flashfires that left him with only an Island. He never recovered. A Rakdos Guildmage hit, and, instead of risking having other spells countered, I just let it crank out Goblins and swing for four a turn.

(1-0, 2-0)

Round 2 – Jonathan Chapman playing W/G/b Hierarch Aggro Control

I can’t remember the last time that someone conceded to me when they were over 20 life, but this time my opponent did. He went first, and I followed his fourth-turn Hierarch with a fourth-turn Blood Moon. Obviously, he had no maindeck Enchantment destruction. At least none that ran on Red mana.

For game 2, since I had seen Godless Shrines and Temple Gardens (to go with an Overgrown Tomb), I brought in the Flashfires. Obviously, I also brought in the Flames of the Blood Hand. Since I saw no creatures that worried me, I dropped the Fiery Conclusions. I also dropped three Frostlings. Then, the pain began. I had to mulligan to six. I decided to keep a one-land hand because I had two Seal of Fire and a Frenzied Goblin. I figured that was better than going to five cards with only one land. Sadly, I didn’t see a second land until turn 4. Even so, game 2 took quite a while. I finally made it up to four mana, but I never saw a single Flames of the Blood Hand or Flashfires. He ended the game at seven. Either of those sideboard cards would have meant I won. Flashfires would have prevented him from casting his second Hierarch, while a FotBH would have meant he would have dropped to zero on my last couple of attacks rather than be at seven (four from the Flames and not four from the second Hierarch).

In game 3, I got a great start. No mana problems at all. However, I never saw Flashfires or Flames of the Blood Hand. Again, he ended the game at seven. Again, had I seen any of the seven sideboard cards that I got, I would have won.

On the one hand, at this point, I was 1-1 instead of 2-0, and I was only there because of a freaky statistical occurrence. What are the chances that you see zero out of seven sideboard cards – more than one-ninth of your deck – in two straight games? Inconceivable! On the other hand, I took some solace in the fact that I was one card away from being 2-0. Them’s the breaks.

(1-1, 3-2)

Round 3 – Marshall Ashford playing R/W Firemane Control

I tried not to go into this match in Pissed-Off Mode, but I did. I was still pretty steamed that I hadn’t seen any of my seven sideboard cards in either game 2 or 3 of my previous match. Maybe if the match had ended sooner, I would have had time to cool down. As it was, I didn’t have my head on straight here. All I could think was, “I should be 2-0. He couldn’t have stopped me.”

Sadly, that attitude and Marshall’s great deck allowed him to roll me in game 1. Then, because I still wasn’t thinking, I left in the Blood Moons instead of bringing in Flashfires. D’oh! Fearing the lifegain (what an idiot!), I dropped three Fiery Conclusions for three Flames of the Blood Hand. Fortunately, this ended quickly, and I had time to cool down before my next match.

(1-2, 3-4)

Round 4 Ernest Maxwell playing R/W/g Aggro Control

For the second time in this tournament, someone conceded to me when they were over 20 life. It became apparent to me that Blood Moon was as powerful in this format as I’d hoped it would be. It was most powerful against those three-color decks since they had such a huge percentage of nonbasic lands. (It should also be powerful against non-Red decks running only two-colors such as B/W Control, but I never faced a two-color deck that didn’t run Red.)

For game 2, I changed nothing since I really hadn’t seen anything. Interestingly, I never saw Blood Moon, but I won anyway. Then Genju got started early and Goblin beats followed. I added in some burn, and, even though he gained some life from Lightning Helixes, it wasn’t enough to stem the bleeding.

(2-2, 5-4)

Interlude: I was actually relieved that I won Round 4. I wanted to even up my totals. Had I been 1-3, I probably would have dropped and drafted. Since I can’t really afford tent bucks for a draft (or twenty for two, since I’d probably lose in the first round) and twenty-five bucks for a tourney fee, this was A Good Thing.

At the same time, I found a new hero. His name is Jacob Kloeppel. As Ernest and I de-sideboarded, we watched the match to my left. Jacob, who was on the other side of the table from me, was playing a U/G deck of some sort. (I hadn’t seen games 1 and 2, but it appeared to be Heartbeat.) In game 3, at the end of his opponent’s final turn, Jacob bounced the other guy’s only creature, a Rumbling Slum. On his turn, Jacob cast a Birds of Paradise (his only creature) and followed that with Biorhythm.

Yes, Jacob Kloeppel won a match at Regionals with Biorhythm. Freakin’ sweet!

Round 5 – Josh Tyree playing R/G Beats

It was obvious as game 1 went on that Blood Moon was virtually useless against Josh. It wasn’t just that he was running Red. It seemed that he had no nonbasic lands. I was actually proud to be playing another budget player like that. It worked for him because he beat me quite mercilessly, ending the game while he was at ten life on the back of a Silhana Ledgewalker wearing a Moldervine Cloak.

For game 2, I brought in all the burn I could. It had to be a race. So, the Blood Moons went away for the Flames of the Blood Hand and one Parallectric Feedback. I left the Shattering Sprees in the sideboard. I hadn’t seen a Jitte, and, given the fact that I hadn’t even seen a rare land, I doubted that he had the Jitte. If he did, he’d win. If not, I had a chance.

Games 2 and 3 went very, very quickly. I dispatched all of the creatures I saw and swung like crazy. With him at eight, I swung for five with a Goblin Piker and a Goblin King and then cast Volcanic Hammer. I was still at eleven.

The same was pretty much true for game 3, except that he started throwing the burn right at me. With me at four and Josh at two, he cast Silhana Ledgewalker. Uh-oh. However, I was holding Parallectric Feedback for the win. Yes, the card I added to the sideboard to beat the big, nasty spells won me a round when my opponent cast a two-mana Elf. Go figure.

(3-2, 7-5)

At this point, we were all cheering for our buddy Tommy Dorsey. Tommy was the odd “man” out in our group. Joe, Charles, and I are all old married men. Tommy is a Junior in college and gloriously single. Tommy hadn’t played seriously in about a year. He worked out a B/W Control deck and borrowed the cards. Why anyone would want to play control for nine rounds, I don’t know. He was the last one of us finished every round. Tommy started 0-2. By the end of Round 5, he was 3-2.

Round 6 – Anthony Andruzzi playing U/G Aggro-Control

Hey, look! Another married Italian guy. There turned out to be a lot of us married guys at the middle tables. Anthony was also the first person to sit across from me with Umezawa’s Jitte. I got him quite low on life in game 1, but I couldn’t close it out, thanks to that Jitte.

For game 2, I dropped the Blood Moons. Again, they tended not to be too grand against someone running only two colors. I brought in the four Shattering Sprees. No way was Jitte gonna kill me this time. The first time a Jitte hit, I had Shattering Spree. I cast the Spree, Replicating it twice, just in case he has countermagic. He didn’t. What he had was another Jitte in hand.

Okay, this is a mini-rant. How come I never have a second copy of Jitte in my hand when someone blows it up? All last Summer, I used Jitte in my KBC decks that weren’t Hondens. Not once all Summer was I holding another when the first got blown up. Inconceivable!

(3-3, 7-7)

At this point, I figured I’d let the results of the round determine if I kept playing or dropped. For those who don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of my Regionals history, coming into 2006, I was so Even Steven it was scary: 11-11-1. I wanted to end this at or over .500. I figured the 50-50 group was a decent place to do that.

Round 7 – Gabriel Padwa playing R/B Beats

Gabriel was eleven years old. He probably still is. (Man, I hate having to use the same tense throughout an entire article!) My record against pre-teens is not very good. It’s not that I don’t take them seriously. It’s that I don’t like to beat them. If you win, well, he’s eleven, you big bully. If you lose, ha ha, you lost to an eleven-year-old kid.

In game 1, Blood Moon did its job, keeping him from any Black mana. When the game was over, I was at 18 having taken only damage from Zo-Zu.

The sideboard had nothing for game 2. It was his turn to beat me like a rented step-mule… or something like that. My deck didn’t help much, either. I went down to five cards to get a two-land hand and kept drawing lands.

Game 3 saw Gabriel doing the mulliganing, and it was not pretty. He went down to four and kept a two-Quicksand hand. I started pinging away at his life with Frostlings and Goblin Pikers. When he finally got his third land, it was Sulfurous Springs. That land alone did six damage to him.

Now, this is why I do badly against kids. I had been holding Blood Moon. Why give the kid access to painless Red mana, three of it, no less? I felt sorry for him. No one wants to lose because their deck punks out. (See Round 2, above.) So, I dropped the Blood Moon. Big mistake. Gabriel started picking off all of my men. I actually got worried. Then, with him tapped out, I pulled a Genju of the Spires and swung for the final six. *whew*

(4-3, 9-8)

Round 8 – Richard Keller playing R/B Beats

Yet another married guy. Funny how the younger players quit when they’re out of it, but the married guys play on. The young guns probably have bounce parties to go to. We have dirty diapers and kitty litter boxes to go home to.

Richard actually beat me in game 1 with the Blazing ShoalMyojin of Infinite Rage play. That was not a nice way to die. You should feel safe when you’re at nine. However, he was pretty low on life, too, when the game ended. He was running Burning-Tree Shaman along with Sensei’s Divining Top and Umezawa’s Jitte. Not a good idea.

I dropped Blood Moon for Shattering Spree. He must have realized I would do that. Apparently, he dropped the Jittes for more creatures. It didn’t matter. I beat mercilessly with the Rakdos Guildmage and its spawns. A Genju later, the game was over with me still at 19, having taken only one point of damage from the Burning-Tree Shaman when I sacrificed a Seal of Fire.

I figured for game 3 he’d bring the Jittes back in, and he did. This game featured one of those “It’s way too late for me to still be playing Magic” moves. He swung with a Frenzied Goblin while I had a Frostling on board. I said no blockers. He went to pull the Blazing ShoalMyojin of Infinite Rage trick. I sacrificed the Frostling in response to kill the Goblin. After that, he ran out of gas. He did get out a Jitte, but it was met by Shattering Spree. So was the second one. When the game ended, after a flurry of Mountainwalking Goblins, a Volcanic Hammer, and a Seal of Fire, I was still at 17, the three points of damage coming from Burning-Tree Shaman (once) and a Zo-Zu (also once).

(5-3, 11-9)

At this point, Tommy had run his table. He was at 5-2-1 after having started 0-2. He was in a good position to win prizes. Me, I was surely out of the running, but I had a chance to do something I’d never done at such a big tourney, finish at 6-3.

Round 9 – Ryan Kryger playing U/R Wildfire

Charles faced three U/R Wildfire decks. This was my first. Fortunately, the matchup wasn’t bad for me. Moon Out Tonight doesn’t need too much land to run. In addition, Seal of Fire survives Wildfire.

Game 1 was tight. I held lands and burn, dropping cheap critters and Seal of Fire. I got him to five, with a Seal on the board. I only needed to find a bit more burn. Volcanic Hammer would have been nice. However, he finally got his Magnivore, and, in two turns, it was over for me.

I had tested this matchup online and knew that Blood Moon, as typically happens with two-color decks that run Red, doesn’t hurt it too much. So, I brought in Parallectric Feedback. They won game 2 for me. With him at six, he went to cast Wildfire. I played the Feedback in response.

So, here I was, looking at a game 3 that would determine a good finish or a very average finish. As I was shuffling his deck, I noticed that his sleeves were two different colors. They were both Blue, but they were obviously different shades of Blue. I called the judge. He returned in less than a minute and a half (yes, I timed it) and said that, even though the sleeves were different colors, “it doesn’t matter.” Huh? This is a REL 3 event. Isn’t the fact that the cards are marked, even if there wasn’t a pattern (and the judge didn’t mention whether he even checked for a pattern; he just said that “it didn’t matter”) mean that the guy gets a warning? What if those cards were all sideboard cards? What if they were all win conditions? What if it was completely random, but, over the course of the day, he learned what those marked cards were? Again, I quote: “It doesn’t matter.”

Of course, this meant that I played game 3 in Pissed-Off Mode. Not a good idea. Still, it was quite close. I beat him down to four. When he cast Magnivore, I had Parallectric Feedback. He had the answer, though: Mana Leak. I had one chance to win. I found a Genju. It was Hindered, and that was that.

(5-4, 12-11)

In my Regionals career, I’m now 16-15-1. Not bad for a guy who’s only played cheap (mostly) rogue decks. Tommy and Joe swear that for States and Regionals 2007, they’re gonna make me take a good, proven netdeck.

Speaking of Tommy, after starting 0-2, he ended 6-2-1 but finished just out of prize range. In the end, I was the only person who won any prizes, but it had nothing to do with any Magic-playing ability. It had to do with my nearly useless ability to remember worthless information. I answered a trivia question: what current member of Magic R&D won the first Pro Tour he ever played in?

Regionals Postscript

On the way back, we talked a lot of Magic in the car. The one question that stuck with me was: would you play this deck again at a big tournament? Yes, and no. The concept is fantastic. People conceded to me when they were above twenty life. My creatures often walked through their defenses. Two of my matches ended with me winning in less than ten minutes, a nice benefit at such a long event.

On the flip side, my sideboard was weak considering what I didn’t see. I wish that I had been able to predict the number of control decks that were going to show up. I’ve gotten into the habit of seeing Regionals and, to an even greater extent, States as events where beatdown is the game of the day because (a) anyone can play and (b) the day is long. It hasn’t been that way at the last couple of these open events. People play the best decks, period. The place was rife with B/W Control, U/R Wildfire, and 3-Color Control decks. Their days were long, but they did pretty well.

What would I do instead? I’d tweak the maindeck. How, I don’t know, but I’d work on it more. (I played this version about a dozen times before being smitten by the Rakdos Guildmage.) Ditto for the sideboard.

One idea for the maindeck would be to add Sulfurous Springs and Blood Crypts. Sure, they’d turn into basic Mountains when Blood Moon hit, but, while they still produced Black mana, I’d be able to use the GM’s Black ability, one that would have been huge many times. Other than that, I haven’t had time to think.

Thanks for being a great audience. Sorry about last week. I had nothing in the pipe. My brother just got out of the Navy, and we were helping him work on his new house. Besides, I was getting ready for Regionals.

Chris Romeo