Don’t you hate tournament reports that start out with a passionless description of how the person got to the tournament and with whom they went?”Paco, Rebecca, and I hopped into the Toyota Tercel for the four-hour drive to Baton Rouge.”
Who are Paco and Rebecca? I’m sure they’re great people – but as any good screenwriter will tell you, you need to make your audience care about them. This is a story. Give me some background. Is Paco your best friend since childhood, the guy who once pulled you from a burning mobile home when your corn whiskey making went horribly wrong? And Rebecca. Is this an ex-girlfriend with whom you are trying to still be friends in the hopes that someday she’ll come back to you?
As for telling us about your car, that isn’t usually entertaining. Unless it’s a Toyota Tercel. Just saying”Toyota Tercel” is fun, so that’s okay.
So I’m going to try to spice mine up a bit. Parts are true. Parts are fiction. Some parts I am simply filling in blanks where I either (a) didn’t take notes or (b) was passed out in a drunken stupor.
States Part 1: The Trip to Nashville
Tennessee’s State Championship is held in Nashville. For those of you who don’t know Tennessee, it’s the wide, short state (like many of its people) right below Kentucky. Nashville is not Memphis. Memphis is where Elvis lives, um, I mean, lived. Nashville is where country music lives. We were coming from Knoxville. Knoxville had the 1982 World’s Fair. It left. Knoxville also has the UT Vols. They’re still there.
At this point, I need to introduce you to (and make you care about) our cast of characters:
BILL BRYANT Bill has been playing Magic about a year and a half, which means he’s already about three giant leaps better than I am. I first met him when he kicked my aspirin in the Summer of 2001. Bill has a thing for Zombie Infestation. And when I say”a thing,” I mean a thing like he splashed black into a perfectly good red and green deck in an ODYSSEY BLOCK tournament just so that he could get the Infestation in there. This is an unhealthy fixation. But, he’s so much better than me that he makes it work.
How much better is he? On Friday afternoon, right before heading to Nashville, he picked up the Astral Slide deck for the first time and decided to play it. He was 4-1-1 in the Swiss heading into the final round. Had he won his last match, he would have been in the Top 8. With a deck he hadn’t even looked at 24 hours before. Disgusting.
CHARLES DYKES Charles is a mutual friend that I met through Bill. Charles has been playing for about nine months, so he is also better than I am. Charles and I bonded over the fact that we both thought Crush of Wurms was a perfectly reasonable card for Standard decks. The fact that it finally showed up in Wake decks satisfied us that we at least have ideas good enough for better players to win with.
ERIKA Erika is a beautiful, smart, funny redhead with a crush on me and whom I made up as a way to fill in the boring parts.
At first, it didn’t look like we’d be going to States. Bill had a shower of some sort that he might have to attend with his ball-&-ch… His girlfriend. But, either she’s very cool, or he put his foot down and said,”Dammit, woman! I’m playing cards with the boys on Saturday, and that’s the final word!”
Except I’m pretty sure it was more like,”Oh, please, please, please, please, please, let me go play Magic. You haven’t let me play Magic in so long. I promise I’ll go to the crafts fair with you next weekend.”
Then it looked like I wouldn’t be able to go. Money tends to be a problem for me… But not in that Ken Lay kind of way where you have so much of it that it gets you into trouble. No, mine came in the form of a $69.95 brake job that ended up costing $500. You see, I knew that I needed new brakes. There was a special for $69.95 for the front ones. That’s all I needed. Or so I thought. Turns out I needed all four done. And new rotors on three of them since they’d already been turned once. Plus, five hours of labor. Plus one of the mechanics needed money for a sex reassignment operation. And so on.
This is where Erika comes in. She only plays Magic because she likes me. You’re probably wondering why a beautiful, smart, funny redhead likes me; it’s because I ignore her and because she has self-esteem issues. I’m sure that the second that I start treating her nice, she’ll lose interest. Anyway, she gave me $100 so that I could go to States… As long as we took her along. How could I say”no”?
We had decided beforehand that, if we went, we’d drive over Friday night and stay in the hotel. That way we could be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for the tourney. Little did we know what we had in store for us on the way.
(This is called foreshadowing.)
Charles, it turns out, is independently wealthy. He had started a dot-com business back in 1998 and, like Mark Cuban, sold it for billions right before the bottom dropped out. He’s kinda sketchy with the details on his company: He says things like”we sold ideas” and”we helped shift paradigms.” What do I care, though? His success allowed us to take a chauffeur-driven limo from Knoxville to Nashville complete with a bar and a hot tub.
About an hour outside of Nashville, we came across a Honda Prelude that had broken down. Luckily for us, the ladies in distress were all from the UT dance squad and were headed to Nashville for some sort of competition. We offered to take the rest of the way in the limo. To show us how grateful they were, they
[Due to space constraints plus the family nature of this site, the owners of StarCity have decided to excise this part of the article. For .95 plus proof that you are over 18, we can, however, send it to you.]
So, you can see why I wouldn’t be able to stay awake and concentrate on Magic during the tournament. Am I right or what? God, but I do love the dance squad. Trust me – even the trip to the emergency room and the 0 4 finish were worth it. If I had them to do all over again, I would. Except maybe for the part with the riding crop. The thing with the marshmallow crème, though? In a heartbeat. And to make it even more amazing, Erika was very into the whole thing. I may have to rethink my relationship with her.
States Part 2: Playing Magic
On Saturday morning, still feeling like the Russian Army had marched through my mouth in their wool socks, we headed downstairs to the conference room to register. Bill was going to play the Astral Slide Lightning Rift deck. Charles was playing a mono-black control deck that we had modified the bejeezus out of after hundreds of games of testing, possibly the most intense testing that I have ever done on any single deck.
Me, I played a version of my Birds deck.
How did I do? Like I said above, 0 4. Yes, that part was true. It was disastrous. Not only did I not see a Soulcatcher’s Aeries in the first three matches, but I also got constantly mana flooded. Yes, you heard that correctly: mana flooded. In a twenty-one land deck. Nothing like that had happened in testing. In fact, that morning, during our last test game, my opening hand was three lands and a perfect mana curve: Suntail Hawk; Skyshroud Falcon; Lieutenant Kirtar; Battle Screech. I guess I should have known then that it was only going to be downhill after that. Oh, sure, in testing, one game out of twenty produced weird results. But that’s why I liked the Birds deck so much: It had no bad first-game match-ups, and it was consistent.
Until the actual tournament started, of course. Oh, well, them’s the breaks.
So, with the law of averages and randomness squarely playing tricks on me, I dropped. I figured that God was telling me something. Especially after the game in round four in which I had to mulligan down to two. Not,”Gosh, this isn’t a good hand. I need to mulligan.” No, this was no lands in seven cards, then six, then five, four, and three. Finally, I got two lands when I went down to two cards.
Clearly, what God was telling was,”Drop from the tournament, and draft.” I figured this because, just as I dropped, a loud, booming, deity-like voice said,”We need one more for a draft.” While it wasn’t actually God, it was the god-like head judge Jeff Wiles. (He has a beard like God does and even has the same sense of humor as God. You know, that absurd, Monty Python sense of humor that led Him to create wombats and Jesse Ventura.)
I drafted. I went undefeated. I got prizes. Lots better than trying to end the day at 3 4 in the Swiss.
Part 3: What I Learned at States
1. White and Green decks need to start packing maindeck enchantment hate again Many people will argue with this.”Disenchant could be a dead card.” That’s better than getting caught off-guard by Astral Slide, Lightning Rift, Mirari’s Wake, Battle of Wits, Mirari, Elephant Guide, et al, and starting every match down one game even though you’re playing the color(s) of Disenchant and Naturalize.
2. Morningtide is good as I thought it was Not once did I face a deck against which it didn’t help in some way. I ripped Glory and Genesis out of a graveyard. I took the sting out of Chainer’s Edict. I made ‘Tog much less scary. I made Haunting Echoes useless. Quiet Roar hated it.
3. Don’t count on one-trick ponies Birds decks have to have Soulcatcher’s Aerie to win. Period. No Aerie, no winnie. Don’t play a deck that can’t win without one key card. The law of averages will explode on you, and you will get hosed out of that card all day long.
4. Mono-black control is hard to build and hard to play So many decisions. And one wrong step kills you.
5. Astral Slide decks are fun They’re also incredibly consistent. They can turn a mediocre hand into a good or great one very quickly due to cycling. And, since it does almost everything except for casting its enchantments with instant timing, Opposition doesn’t really hurt it.
6. The field is wide open It really is. Even if the States data comes back showing that one deck won more than any other, it will probably only be due to sheer volume. Any well-designed deck can beat any other right now.
7. When you pull Visara in a draft and then people keep passing you blue and black, take it even if you aren’t comfortable in those colors, take ’em. Trust me. If I can go undefeated in a draft with those colors, they’re solid. As long as you get Visara. And three Swats. And two Choking Tethers. And two Essence Fractures. And four other fliers. And guys with Fear. And Meddle and Mage’s Guile. As long as you get all of those, you’ll look like a genius.
8. Prowling Pangolin is even better than I thought It’s either two Chainer’s Edicts that aren’t targeted, or a 6/5 for five mana. Either way, someone’s on the receiving end of a beating.
Part 4: Going Home
On the drive back, Bill convinced me to open my prize packs. I usually don’t open prizes right away. I am a master of delayed gratification. (Tell all the ladies you know.) But, Bill and Charles wanted to see what I got. Mostly? Not great stuff. But I did get a Biorhythm.
This card seems tailor-made for a type of deck that the aforementioned Jeff Wiles would just love. Jeff loves to play Fog decks… And they fit him, too. Jeff is a very fair guy. He doesn’t play true control decks – at least none that I’ve ever seen. I mean, his opponents get to play spells. They just won’t get to damage him. Biorhythm seems just perfect for that kind of deck. Cast a Wrath of God, make a Squirrel, cast Biorhythm. Yeah, that’s tough to do, but Jeff seems to like those decks. So, with his help, I present:
Rhythm of the Squirrels
2 Tranquil Thicket
2 Secluded Steppe
5 Plains [If you have any Windswept Heaths, use them.]
4 Moment’s Peace
4 Prismatic Strands
4 Howling Mine
4 Wrath of God
4 Squirrel Nest
2 Kirtar’s Wrath
2 Dwell on the Past
2 Krosan Reclamation
2 Serene Sunset
Yes, it’s 61 cards. If anyone’s gonna get drawn out with this deck, you want it to be your opponent.
“What are you doin’ to us with all of those rares, Romeo?”
Yes, this deck has a lot of rares in it. And, I know that seems to be contrary to my philosophy and the point of this column. But you gotta hear me out on this one.
First of all, there are some cards that, even though they’re rares, have to be considered staples of Magic. A good cook always has certain things in his or her cabinet (a.k.a. staples) like flour, seasonings, sugar, onions, and chicken broth. Someone who thinks he or she will be playing Magic for a while should have certain cards in his or her collection as soon as she can afford it. Yes, some of them are expensive no matter when that is. Take Birds of Paradise, for example. We know that it will be in 8th Edition. And it will always be a $10 or $15 card. If you can get four of them, do it. I still promise not to start my suggested decklists with”4 Birds of Paradise.”
However, some staple rares are still pretty cheap. Here are some that I think you should get as soon as you can if you don’t already have them:
All of the 7th Edition painlands
Coat of Arms
Lord of Atlantis
Might of Oaks
Wrath of God
Okay, now that that’s out of the way, what we see is that the deck also has 5 rares that I don’t consider staples: Two Kirtar’s Wraths and three Biorhythm. Kirtar’s Wrath is just plain cheap; heck, you can trade Wild Mongrels for those. And, the idea behind the deck revolves around Biorhythm. So, now I feel better about giving you a decklist with more than a dozen rares in it. (By the way, mono-black control HATES Biorhythm. Biorhythm sucks off all of that life that MBC gains. ** hee! **)
This deck, like most of the ones that I suggest, is fun to play. It’s not really fun to play against… But, it’s not as bad as some decks are. Jeff’s sense of fair play shines through in this type of deck: It doesn’t lock the opponent out of anything. It doesn’t counter every spell out there. What it does is protect itself until Biorhythm ends the game or until the opponent draws himself out. Still, there is ample chance for the opponent to get damage through. Like I said, fun to play but not fun to play against.
Multi-Player Note: This deck is even better in a multiplayer setting, which happens to be Jeff’s favorite. People tend not to attack you plus someone else in the same turn because of all of the Fog effects.”Why attack Chris and Josh if I’m not going to get any damage through to either? Best to just attack Josh.” So, they all go around beating each other up unless they think you’re particularly vulnerable.
Part 5: Epilogue
Even though I tanked, I’d do States all over again. I’d just take my Angry Zombies deck. Also, I learned that leather is already sticky enough without adding marshmallow creme.
As usual, you’ve been a great audience. Why don’t you give yourselves a great, big round of applause?