Over the last few weeks, one of the most common questions I get in e-mails is,”Why aren’t you giving us your Regionals tech?” My response is almost universally:
And, of course,”ha.”
Me?”Regionals tech?” Do you actually read this column? Do you not realize that, in the two Regionals in which I’ve played, I am 11-11? What”tech” am I gonna give you?
Okay, here’s some tech: play lands. They make mana so that you can cast spells.
Folks, I write about decks that cost less than a hundred bucks and still give a player a fighting chance to finish .500 on Friday nights or Saturdays. Sometimes, they do better than that. Once in a great while, they can win. Sometimes, they’re not even .500 decks. Let me reiterate my Regionals record over the two years that I played:
Eleven and eleven.
One one dash one one.
If you want a chance to win at Regionals, you need to read pieces by deckbuilders who are a lot better than I am. Check out stuff by Nate Heiss, Mike Flores, Adrian Sullivan, and others whose Constructed ratings are so much higher than mine, that I actually sprain my neck looking up at them.
The second thing you want to do is to practice playing whatever deck you go with. You need to know what is a good hand to keep if you’re going first and what’s a good hand to keep if you’re going second. You need to know how to sideboard (the absolute worst part of my game) against the other decks.
Even if you do that, you’re probably not going to win the thing.
Sorry to burst your bubble, Bubba. You’re just not. Think about it. There will be probably a couple of hundred (or several hundred) players at your Regionals. Only one will win. Only eight will make the top 8. (Wait, I got more.) Only thirty-two will make the prize cut (if it’s like most Regionals). That ain’t good odds.
The question then becomes why would you drive an hour or two (or four) and pay anywhere from twenty-five dollars (entry fee only) to a couple hundred dollars (fee, hotel, gas, food, tips for strippers, etc.) to play, if you don’t realistically have a chance of winning? To paraphrase one of my favorite characters from one of my favorite movies, Magic’s fun, gosh darn it! (Forgive me, Crash.)
You should be playing for the sheer fun of playing. If you get enough sleep and eat well, you could be playing Magic all day long. Last year, we played for over twelve hours. I was worn out in a very good way when I was done.
“But, Romeo,” you say, since no one but my Momma calls me Chris,”I’m not gonna have any fun if I don’t win a few matches.”
So, build a deck that has a great record against what you think the most prominent decks will be. In other words, as our Esteemed Editor, Mr. Ted”Don’t Call Me Mister” Knutson, wrote about in his last piece, create a metagame deck.
Karl Allen did this for me for Regionals 2001. He figured that the Fires of Yavimaya decks would be all the rage. He was right. He built a deck that was, in effect, pre-sideboarded for Fires decks. It incidentally happened to beat Blue Skies, too. In fact, I beat all of the Fires and Blue Skies decks that I faced that day, except for one Skies deck. I let the guy cast Submerge for free three times in five turns in game 3. It wasn’t until two rounds later that I realized that, while I had gotten Green creatures on the board, thanks to Elfhame Palace and Birds of Paradise, I had done so without a Forest. I should have been 7-4 or 8-3 that day, not 6-5. Incidentally, the deck was called Ants in the Pants, in honor of the super-ultra-mega-techy Saber Ants. [I’m having Bennie Smith flashbacks right about now. – Knut, not sure if that’s good or bad]
Beginning of the First Quarter
Okay, that’s enough for memory lane.
The point is that you have to identify what you are most likely to face.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to figure out what the best deck is.
Sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it? You and Ted are both right. It is counterintuitive, but it’s true. We know that people don’t always play The Best Deck in tournaments. Last year at Regionals, for instance, the consensus”best decks” were Psychatog and Wake. They weren’t played nearly as much as Blue-Green Madness, however.
Ted says,”it behooves you to pay attention to the decks mentioned by the more prominent writers[.]” That means everyone but me. People will flock to those decks that the more prominent writers are discussing (e.g. Blue-Green Madness, Wake) . . . as long as they’re not too hard to play (e.g. Wake).
So, what do we see being mentioned now? Ravager Affinity in many forms is a big choice. Other than the Ravager itself, which now costs a kidney and a testicle (which is why you don’t see many women playing it), the deck can be built very inexpensively. While there are slight different versions, here’s how a typical game against Ravager goes:
Turn 1 – Opponent: Opponent drops a Vault of Whispers, a Disciple of the Vault (cute how that works, no?), an Ornithopter, and a Welding Jar
Turn 1 – You: Drop a land
Turn 2 – Opponent: Drops another artifact land, Arcbound Ravager, eight Frogmites, thirteen Tooth of North Korea, six Myr Enforcers, casts two Thoughtcasts, sacrifices everyone to the Ravager, and chooses (duh) to have you lose 132,659 life from the Disciple’s triggered ability.
Essentially, the Ravager Affinity deck just pukes artifacts onto the board for the Ravager to eat. Disgusting.
By the way, has anyone noticed that the Disciple’s ability is permissive and not mandatory? I’m really curious if anyone out there has every chosen not to have their opponent lose the life. I don’t mean,”whoops, I forgot.” I mean has anyone ever actually consciously decided that it would be best not to drop their opponent’s life total?
So, what are the keys to that deck’s success? A fragile 1/1 Cleric and an artifact creature with an activated ability.
How do you quickly kill 1/1 creatures? Shock, Electrostatic Bolt, Spark Spray, and Pyrite Spellbomb, to name a few Red ones. Festering Goblin, Smother, and Vicious Hunger, to name a few Black ones.
What about that artifact with the activated ability? You could kill it (or try) early on with those spells. You could try to kill it with artifact destruction spells, of which Black has none. You could use Damping Matrix to prevent them from doing Silly Ravager Tricks.
As of this point, having looked at one deck that will show up in droves, we’re looking at playing against that deck one that is (a) mono-Red, (b) Red/Black, or (c) Red/Green.
Goblin Bidding’s going to be huge, too. How does that deck win? It can do one of two things. It can swing with Goblins, like the regular Goblin decks do. It can also load up the graveyard with Goblins, bring them directly back into play, then use the activated ability of the Goblin Sharpshooter (in cahoots with the Skirk Prospector) to machine gun you to death.
Hmmm… there’s that phrase”activated ability” again. Damping Matrix would stop that part of the thing. They also wouldn’t be able to use the Skullclamp. You want some mass removal, too, a la Wrath of God, Starstorm, or even Slice and Dice. Given how many of the Goblins gunning for you have a toughness of one, Slice and Dice isn’t shabby. You could also go with Gilded Light or Ivory Mask as a way to stop them from targeting you. The example that Shannon Owens used just last night while discussing this scenario was this. With the Patriarch’s Bidding on the stack, you cast Gilded Light. Now, they can’t do Silly Sharpshooter tricks to you. Of course, if Ivory Mask is on board, they couldn’t do that anyway. Ditto the Damping Matrix. A combination of Damping Matrix on board plus enough mana to cast Starstorm for two sends all of those Goblins back to the ‘yard before they can even attack. What a waste of a perfectly good Patriarch’s Bidding. I guess you’ll have to start digging for another one. **tee hee**
The trouble with the mass removal is that, if you don’t have Damping Matrix or Ivory Mask on board or Gilded Light in hand, it’s completely useless after the Bidding goes off. That means that you’ll also want to steal stuff from their graveyard. Scrabbling Claws to the rescue.
Scrabbling Claws is an interesting card because it’s never dead. If you happen to be playing a deck that uses it’s ‘yard such as Goblin Bidding, Zombies, or Clerics, it’s a huge turn-one play. If not, you can pay one mana, rip a card from a graveyard for good measure, and draw another card. In other words, if, on its own, it’s useless, it cycles. It’s never dead, two empty graveyards aside, of course. This could be a very important metagame card.
Beginning of the Second Quarter
Two decks into figuring out the metagame for Regionals, and already Damping Matrix plus Red direct damage looks like a good idea.
What are other decks that you expect to see in big numbers? How about Elves?
Yummy, scummy, Green, Insect-token-making, absurd-amount-of-life-gaining, Elves.
Now, with a full block’s maximum allowable serving of Skullclamps!
Okay, we’ve established that Damping Matrix would be good against Ravager Affinity and Goblin Bidding (and Goblins, incidentally). Would it be good against Elves? Let’s see. They couldn’t activate the Wirewood Symbiote. They couldn’t activate the Wellwisher. They couldn’t activate the Timberwatch Elf. They couldn’t activate Skullclamp.
Looks good to me.
Of course, Elves are Green. The smart Elf-deck playurs will have maindeck artifact hate in the form of Viridian Shaman. Of course, they have to get the Shaman. If you Slice and Dice all of their creatures away, it won’t matter that they can fish out on little Shaman to kill your Matrix after the fact. (The hope is that they don’t have two Wirewood Heralds on board. If so, you can bet that one’s fishing out a Shaman and the other is fishing out Caller of the Claw.)
Scrabbling Claws is simply useless in this match. Again, though, we could still”cycle” it in game one, while brining in something else from the sideboard for game two.
We’ve already established that Starstorm and Slice and Dice would be good against this. So, let’s move on to another deck.
Mono-Black Cleric decks (with or without Bidding) love to use activated abilities, too. When they aren’t sacrificing three Clerics to find a Scion of Darkness, they’re sacrificing Clerics to the Cabal Archon to suck two life off of you. Will you look at that? Other than the Scion, everything they make, including those annoying Zombie tokens, has a toughness of two or less. Four mana pumped into a Starstorm equals mass removal.
And, since they like to bring things back from the dead, Scrabbling Claws isn’t dead.
This is normally the time that you would watch dance squads and beer commercials featuring scantily-clad women. I’m kinda tired of searching for your cheesecake for you. So, for the next couple of minutes, just go to www.Google.com, and search for you own cheesecake. I would suggest, however, not actually searching using the word”cheesecake.” You’ll get very frustrated by al of the bakery sites you hit. [I’ll help Chris out today and provide a completely ridiculous sample. – Knut]
Beginning of the Third Quarter
So far, we’ve established that, in the current pre-Regionals, Standard metagame, Damping Matrix might be a very good maindeck card. It also appears that Red would be a fine main color. You could also go with Green in addition. However, I am a big fan of Adrian Sullivan philosophy that, if you can stay mono-colored, do it. Right now, it looks like mono-Red is the way to go. (“Surprise,” said the participants in Pro Tour: Kobe.)
What about those decks against which Damping Matrix may be sub-optimal? For example, mono-White control and Blue-White control? Neither of those decks is going away any time soon. Neither has anything that is hurt by the Matrix. Can you still start with these basics (i.e. Damping Matrix and Red direct damage) and beat those decks? Let’s look at how those two decks win.
In each case, these decks will try to win with a cycled Decree of Justice. Sure they might cast it. That’s risky for them. Better to cycle it. The reason that I feel like Slice and Dice has been underused lately is that it answers either the cycled or cast Decree of Justice.
Oh, but those Exalted Angels and Eternal Dragons are a pain, aren’t they?
Well, yes and no. The Angel is. Except that Shrapnel Blast blows her from the sky. Eternal Dragon is not best friends with Scrabbling Claws.
If we head down this road for a metagame deck, we obviously need to find a card to bring in from the sideboard in exchange for Damping Matrix. Let me make what will look like a silly suggestion here: Culling Scales.
The previously mentioned Shannon Owens has been all over this card like stink on Pro Tour Wannabe after eight rounds at a PTQ, and not having taken a shower that morning, plus some nice Taco Bell for lunch. If you don’t know what the Scales does, you need to read it and understand it. What it does is destroy a lot of things that both Red and Black are very bad at destroying. For example, Circle of Protection: Red. It won’t be long before the only permanents on the board have a converted mana cost of two. At that point, it’s your choice as to what to kill. I’d suggest the COP: Red. As we know, though, I am wacky. Oh, and Flashfires is good against these White decks. So is Dwarven Blastminer.
Another deck featuring White that won’t care about the Damping Matrix is Slide/Rift. Again, Culling Scales will work wonders here. Ditto Flashfires.
Speaking of White decks, what about White Weenie with Skullclamp? Regardless of my debacle Little White Vial (Always. Use. Bonesplitter. Always.), it will show up because it’s cheap and fast and fun to play. Can the cards we’ve mentioned so far hurt it? Yes. It’s been mentioned several times so far, but it bears mentioning again. The Matrix trumps the ‘Clamp. All they’ll be able to do is swing.
Sadly, though, they have Silver Knight. All Red mages know that you have to pack Pyrite Spellbomb just for that case. Everything else can be killed with Red direct damage spells, and you may not even need the spellbomb, because Culling Scales kills the Knight.
Beginning of the Fourth Quarter
At this point, the clock is winding down. It’s time to make your push. Look at the cards that continued to show up as we looked at answers for the metagame.
In addition, these looked like ones that could take care of spot problems.
Â• Shrapnel Blast, because it kills Exalted Angel and Eternal Dragon and can be chucked at your opponent
Â• Shock, more redundancy for those one- and two-toughness creatures
Â• Electrostatic Bolt, same as Shock plus brings down some very prominent artifact creatures
If we go with four of each spell and twenty-four lands, we have one slot left. This would probably be a good spot for a finisher. Right now, the deck is purely defensive. You might want some creatures. Personally, I like that this is headed toward a creatureless build. It ends up making a lot of cards simply dead. If we go creatureless, I would have to vote for Fireball in the side pocket. All we need is land.
Shrapnel Blast demands that we have at least twelve artifacts in the deck. We already do, but I would still use Great Furnace for four of the lands. You should always have Shrapnel fodder.
Interestingly, right now this deck (unintentionally) only has eight rare cards. That’s normally the limit for From Right Field. We’re just theorizing here, though, so no need to stand on formalities. I would also use four Wooded Foothills as a way to thin the deck when needed.
Which brings us to the sideboard. We’ve already discussed – at least I have – Culling Scales. Yes, another rare. Sorry. Flashfires has to be in there. Dwarven Blastminer is just nuts against, well, everything right now. An alternative to the Blastminer is Blood Moon. While your Twelve Post and Urzatron opponents will still be able to make mana, it won’t be in the staggering amounts that they want.
Speaking of Urzatron, Damping Matrix shuts down Mindslaver.
Finally, you’ll also want artifact destruction. (If you have to ask why, it’s too late for you.) When you only have one slot, that one slot screams for Echoing Ruin. That means the deck looks like this:
Theoretical Mono-Red 2004 Regionals Metagame Deck
4 Great Furnace
4 Wooded Foothills
2 Forgotten Cave
2 Temple of the False God
36 Other Spells
4 Scrabbling Claws
4 Pyrite Spellbomb
4 Electrostatic Bolt
4 Shrapnel Blast
4 Damping Matrix
4 Slice and Dice
4 Culling Scales
4 Echoing Ruin
4 Dwarven Blastminer
I am most certainly not saying that this deck will win Regionals. It may not even be any good. (Shaddup!) It has holes that have to be plugged. [Must… not… make… bad… joke! – Knut, as if that’s any different than the norm] For example, how do you play it if you hit a land clump at the same time that your opponent is cranking out critters? (Pray for Starstorm and Slice and Dice.) I’m only giving you a template for how you want to go about trying to create a metagame deck. You could do the same with Green for sure. You could look at other color combinations. Like I said, this is just a template for how to proceed. However, if you like the looks of this deck, build it, test it, and tweak it.
Another way to look for a metagame deck is to look at a deck that already exists and may, in fact, be flying under the radar for Regionals. Two that I predict could sideswipe folks at this year’s Regionals are Elf-Clamp and Slide/Rift.
A Look at Elf-Clamp
A few weeks ago, I wrote about an Elf deck with Isochron Scepter. If I wrote about Elves right now, I’d have to include Skullclamp. It’s just too good with both Elves that you want to die (e.g. Wirewood Herald), and a seemingly endless supply of 1/1 tokens thanks to the Wirewood Hivemaster.
Elves can also gain massive amounts of life from Wellwisher, and can overcome mass removal through the use of Wirewood Symbiote and Caller of the Claw. The former offsets the life you’d lose from a variety of sources like Disciple of the Vault, while the latter does wonders against Wrath of God, Starstorm, and Death Cloud.
Interestingly, the fast, mostly-common-and-uncommon deck that looks to be the most prevalent going into this year’s Regionals, Ravager Affinity, has the same huge hole that last year’s deck of the same ilk, Blue-Green Madness, had. If that one creature that it can’t handle slips through, the game is over for the Ravager deck. With only four main deck Pyrite Spellbombs, Wellwisher can spell the end for Affinity decks of all sorts. Until she is killed, the lifegain is often too much for the deck to handle. The Elves player can sit back gaining life and blocking with tokens until it can simply overrun the Affinity deck.
In addition, Elf-Clamp decks now draw tons of cards, thanks to the Skullclamp. (“Hence the deck’s name, Einstein.”) While Damping Matrix can stifle the Elves in game one (if the Elf-Clamp player isn’t playing the good, techy version with maindeck Viridian Shaman), Elf-Clamp can bring in tons of artifact and enchantment hate from the sideboard.
The biggest problem that Elves continue to face is Goblins. Anything that can pick off Elves one by one is a danger to an Elf deck’s ability to survive via the Wellwisher. Luckily, the Elf player can bring Steely Resolve in from the sideboard. Once Elves are off limits, the lifegain can offset any direct damage.
A Look at Slide/Rift
Slide/Rift decks can pick off Disciple of the Vault, Wirewood Symbiote, Wellwisher, Goblin Piledriver, and a host of other tiny critters while also being able to blow up the world when the big guys get out of hand. Thanks to the White component, Slide/Rift can also gain life and make the player untargetable with Gilded Light or Ivory Mask. Moreover, White is the color of Altar’s Light (bye bye, Mr. Darksteel Colossus), while Red is the color of Echoing Ruin.
If you’re going to try to build a metagame deck, though, you really need to get on it now. Find something you like, and test, test, test. You only have about five and a half weeks.
We actually got to test this monstrosity last night. We played for three hours against nothing but Ravager Affinity. This deck went 4 – 2 in the first six games. Then, our local Ravager savant decided that he had had enough of losing to Damping Matrix and brought in Naturalizes. This deck then won two of the next three.
We did find that it needed a bit of card drawing, even with the two Forgotten Caves, the cycling cards, the Claws, and the Spellbomb. The suggestion, which we did not get to test yet, is to drop a single Claws and a Shock for two Mind’s Eyes. If you haven’t played with Mind’s Eye, you need to find a way to practice with it. It can be a game breaker.
Next week, I’m hoping to test this against Goblin Bidding.
I did get to test this against Goblin Bidding last night. The matchup ended up exactly 50-50 both before and after sideboard (3-3 pre, 2-2 post). The maindeck Scrabbling Claws, even when it’s down to three of them, really hurt the Goblin Bidding deck (duh) when they show up (double duh). Even when they don’t, you can sometimes hold them off long enough to kill them, although that only happened once in the first six games.
They key isn’t the Damping Matrix, as I thought it would be. Don’t get me wrong. It’s great in this matchup… after a Bidding goes off. Beforehand, however, the MVP was the slew of spells that could do two damage. In three of the first six games, there was a turn 2 Goblin Warchief who was sent packing thanks to a Shock or E-Bolt. That is very, very bad for the Goblin Bidding player’s tempo. Of course, at first, the GB player doesn’t think much of it. The Claws will tell him differently.
After sideboarding, it’s a tad different. The Goblin Bidding deck brought in Shatter. (I would suggest Echoing Ruin if you’re facing artifacts that don’t mirror yours.) This, of course, is bad for the Scrabbling Claws. It’s not nearly as bad for you, though, since the Claws have that wonderful second ability that allows you to sacrifice it to yank a specific card from a graveyard. So, in response to the Shatter, you can remove a Warchief, Siege-Gang Commander, or Sharpshooter from the ‘yard and draw a card. In addition, the Bidding player has to worry about Shattering the Claws while leaving a Damping Matrix alive. Or should they do it the other way around? Gee, and, here, we thought playing Goblins was easy.
As usual, you’ve been a great audience. See you next week. Happy Spring! Here’s hoping that the young women where you live (a) wear shorts as short as the ones around here do and (b) have legs that are as nice. If you are a heterosexual female or a male with a nontraditional lifestyle orientation, same thing goes for you, but replace”young women” with”young men.”