From Right Field: You Get What You Pay For… or…. The Curse of the Two-Land Hand

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Chris chronicles his highs, and especially his lows, from his time at this year’s Champs tournament. He also talks of an intersting change in the philosophy of his budget column…

{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 Dark Confidant, Birds of Paradise, or Wrath of God. 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.}

Prelude to the 2006 Tennessee State Championship

God is the greatest artist. Normally, I would illustrate this point by giving you a link to an incredibly beautiful woman, since, of course, woman are the greatest work of art. Not this time, though, because I’m not bringing it up in connection with a woman. I’m bringing it up because of the gorgeous Fall colors I got to see while driving to States this year. If I were a poet, I could properly describe the vividness of the yellows, oranges, reds, pinks, and purples that dotted the foothills and mountains along with the hint of green still peeking through from the evergreens and the not-ready-to-give-up-yets. It looked like a Tuscan sunset. Sometimes, it didn’t even look real. It looked more like a full-sized version of the layout of some incredibly detailed model train setup.

Sadly, the trip to States was the best part of my day.

Following my own rules for having a good experience at States, I had gotten eight hours of sleep the night before, and showered. (Irish Springs soap and Suave for Men, if anyone really needs to know.) My deck was completely ready to go except for the fact that no one had two Urza’s Factories to loan me. The Factories were last-minute additions based on playtesting the night before. Long games in which Lord of the Undead never got active became a race to Consume Spirit. The Factories gave me an uncounterable source of dudes with which to swing.

Speaking of Swinging Dudes, congrats to StarCityGames.com own Evan Erwin on making Tennessee States Top 8. I didn’t stay long enough to see how he finally finished, but he was dueling at the Top 8 table with his trusty video camera getting all of the action for a future (or even past, once this hits) article.

I made one other change before the tournament. Loxodon Warhammers replaced Consume Spirits. It was a late-night call, but I was convinced by the members of our gang who pointed out that (a) the Warhammer is constant lifegain while the Consumes are one shot and (b) there would probably be very little “splash damage” from people loading up to kill other artifacts like there was at Regionals, where everyone had a way to deal with Umezawa’s Jitte either maindeck or at least in the sideboard. Both the Factories and the Hammers were proper calls. The call I didn’t make, the one that my friend Joe kept trying to get me to make, was the one that turned out to be the biggest mistake.

We made the tourney site with plenty of time, thanks, in great part, to going from the Eastern time zone to Central. Gotta love gaining an hour. So, I sauntered up to the dealer’s table and picked up two Urza’s Factories at the not-too-unreasonable price of two bucks each. Supply and demand is a bitch.

When organizer Anthony “Not the One from Top Gun, E.R., or Revenge of the Nerds” Edwards announced that everyone in attendance would get a pack of Time Spiral when they dropped and an Urza’s Factory extended art card just for playing, I was ribbed mercilessly. It didn’t matter to my mates/buddies/pals that I couldn’t wait for him to give out the cards. The Factories had to be in my deck to start the first match. I wasn’t going to be allowed to say “but I have one coming and my friend’s giving me his.” No, they didn’t care. They decided to rib me mercilessly. Thanks to Charles’s generosity in giving me his, I now have a full playset of the Factories, but I had to buy the first two right before being given two more. In case you haven’t been following along, the deck I played was this:

The other change you’ll notice is Sangrophage for Rakdos Guildmage. The change to face down Kird Apes and Watchwolves with a 3/3 for two mana was too good considering that I rarely used the Guildmage’s Black ability. When I had the mana to do so, I never had the extra card. I know that seems weird considering the Lord of the Undead, but it was largely true. When I did have the extra card, it was often a creature that I wanted on board. When I had both the mana and an extra card from the Lord, I was typically already in control. The 3/3 for two mana beat out the 2/2 with an ability for two mana.

Round 1: The Gruul Test

My first match was against the deck that Zombies! 2k6 fears the most: R/G (a.k.a. Gruul) Beats. This was also where I finally figured out that Joe was right, but for a reason he hadn’t hit upon. I’m not going to go into the details of the match because they aren’t really necessary. As much as you might want them, all you need to know is this. All three games were tight, thanks to Warhammer and creatures that wouldn’t stay dead, but I lost for lack of the ability to kill Jaya Ballard in game 3. In that game, she sat on the board just chucking burn at my head, or a creature that was about to pick up a Loxodon Warhammer. I had cards in hand, none of which were Last Gasp, while my opponent was playing off of the top of his deck. One Last Gasp would have won it for me. I needed a second “destroy target creature card.”

This is where I give props to Joe. He knows his stuff. He tried to convince me that I needed Godless Shrines and Mortify, though he wanted me to have it more for the enchantment destruction than anything. “Can’t do it,” I said. “I’d be over my rare count. Besides, the Shrines are too expensive for a deck From Right Field.” If I had it to do over, the Sudden Spoilings would leave the sideboard for the Withered Wretches. I’d replace the Wretches maindeck with Mortifies. Don’t get me wrong. The Wretches were great as 2/2’s for two mana with a relevant ability. Sadly, that ability was not “destroy Jaya Ballard.” Since the Abominations could fetch the Shrines, the White wouldn’t have been a problem.

So, props to Joe. Had I done what he suggested, I may have won that match 2-0 instead of losing 1-2. (Also, this match set a theme for my day. Game 2 involved me keeping a nice two-land hand and not drawing another land until it was irrelevant.)

Of course, my opponent in this match – Michael Bruckland — went on to make the Top 8. Great work!

The Part in Which Romeo Decides His Philosophy Must Change

I realized after last weekend that even budget players must make one concession to prices: lands. If you’re not playing a Green-based deck that allows you to smooth your mana, you simply must have a set of each of the currently available dual lands. Right now, that is the ten so-called “pain lands” from Ninth Edition and the Ravnica Block “Shock” lands. Yes, that’s expensive. If you don’t have the lands for the colors you like to play, you will have to adjust your spending accordingly.

For example, let’s say that you love Blue-Green decks. Before you go buying Akroma, Angel of Wrath, because it’s now Standard legal thanks to the Timeshifted cards, you must have four copies each of Yavimaya Coast and Breeding Pool.

This is not an actual change in philosophy for me. I’ve always felt that the current dual lands are a necessity even for casual and budget players. In fact, they may be more important for those players. That may be stretching it a bit, but budget and casual players — rogues, if you will — are more likely to try wacky combinations of colors. Let’s just say “Nephilim,” and end it there. Lands that make more than one color help those decks.

No, the change will be in how I look at this column. I will still attempt to keep the rare count at twelve or less for the deck, but I’m going to include more dual lands. If I need to conveniently disregard dual lands in my rare count, I will. To help ease the pain, though, I will try to keep decks to two colors. That’ll definitely help with the manabase. That way you won’t have to pick up sixteen or twenty dual lands, just eight.

Romeo, Romeo! Why Have You Forsaken Us?!?

To reiterate, this is not a change in my philosophy. A card budget is still a budget. However, you might have to change how you’re spending your money. Here’s both a perfect example and a confession. My card budget for each month is about forty bucks. (I get a ten-dollar per week Magic card allowance.) In October, I spent that at StarCityGames.com trying to complete my Ravnica Block playsets as well as picking up some uncommons from Time Spiral. Instead of using that money to get the fourth Blood Crypt that I needed along with a third Breeding Pool, I picked up a lot of crap and borderline rares of which I didn’t yet have four copies, cards like Avatar of Discord and Rakdos Pit Dragon. Now, it’s not like I don’t plan on ever using those cards. However, I need to be honest with myself. I am much more likely to need Blood Crypts and Breeding Pools for a deck before I need Avatar of Discord or Rakdos Pit Dragon.

Why would I say this, being the Avatar of Unloved and Unwanted Rares? It’s simple, really. Rakdos Pit Dragon can only go into a deck that requires Rakdos Pit Dragon. Duh, right? Blood Crypt, though, can go into any Red and/or Black deck. Now, am I more likely to play a Red and/or Black deck or a Rakdos Pit Dragon deck?

(If you’re asking how the tournament fees, etc., fit into the Magic budget, those are from the “fun expense account.” It’s merely the card-purchase budget that’s at forty dollars per month. The rest has to be saved and scrimped from things like gas and grocery money.)

Round 2: Doing the Zoo

For reasons I can’t quite figure, Zombies! 2k6 does extremely well against Zoo where it can’t seem to get by Gruul Beats without a huge fight. All I can figure is that Zoo relies too much on one-toughness creatures like Savannah Lions. Other than mana bugs, the only one-toughness dudes that Gruul Beats ever sees is when a Kird Ape hits on turn 1 with no Forest on board. Serrated Arrows was the hero in this matchup, taking out Paladin En-Vecs and Lions left and right. I won the match 2-1. Had I not run into my nemesis in game 2 (i.e. a two-land hand followed by no lands until the game was out of control), I would have won 2-0.

Round 3: The Harsh Glare of the Spotlight

In round 3, my deck followed the same pattern. I won game one handily. And when I say “handily,” I mean I was at over twenty life, despite my opponent getting Glare and Hierarchs. He just couldn’t keep up creature-wise.

For game 2, I brought in Caustic Rains for Withered Wretches. Again, I kept a two-land hand and saw no more until the game was his. For game 3, we struggled. I had dropped the three Sangrophages — I couldn’t take the life loss along with the life loss from the Arenas — and a Twisty for Serrated Arrows. The ability to continually kill his mana bugs or even bigger creatures was worth much more than the creatures that I dropped to get that removal. It obviously worked because I got him down to two. Somehow, though — and I’m either being paranoid or I just didn’t keep track of the cards he had in hand — he pulled even with me on creatures when I thought he had no chance. Caustic Rain on his Vitu-Ghazis meant he had to actually cast creatures, but, somehow, he dropped two creatures on what was his next to last turn. I could have sworn he was playing off of the top of his deck at that point. If not, how did I get him down to two life? Those two critters allowed him to pin my all of my guys and swing back through for the win, dropping me from twelve to less than zero. Had I gotten even one guy through, I would have won because everything on my side was three-power or greater, thanks to Lords and Warchiefs.

On the ride back, Michael commented that I should recommend even more strongly than I have been that people run between two and four Ghost Quarters in every deck. It certainly would have freed up sideboard slots for me in this matchup. So, there you go. Use Ghost Quarters. A lot.

Round 4: When You Pelt Me with Rotten Fruit & Vegetables

At this point, our group wasn’t doing too well. One of us was 0-3. Three of us were 1-2. One was 2-1. One of the 1-2 and the 2-1 decided to play. Both lost. The rest of us — yes, including yours truly — dropped after round 3. (The other two dropped after round 4.) I know that I harp against that sort of thing, but I stopped having fun in the middle of the third game 2 in which I kept a two-land hand and didn’t get another until it was too late.

Just to refresh your memory, what is Dr. Romeo’s Rule #0 for tournament preparation? “Have fun.” I wasn’t. I knew the holes that Zombies! 2k6 had, and I knew that I’d face more of the same, unable to change a thing about the outcome.

Is It Drafty in Here?

Fortunately, the tournament organizers anticipated people not playing all eight rounds and set up Time Spiral drafts. As a prelude, though, lemme tell you about my Consolation Pack.

It had a Psionic Blast in it.

Yes. Really.

As bad as the past five or six main sets of blocks have been to me, Time Spiral has been that good. I still have no Squires or Norin the Wary, but I have three Psionic Blasts in about a box and a half of packs. Of course, I also don’t have four Rift Bolts yet not did I have any Urza’s Factories before last weekend, but I’ll eat those costs. It’s better than having to buy a set of Psi-Blasts.

So, we decided to draft. While the other two were finishing round 4, the rest of us went back to the car and ate some turkey samiches on whole wheat bread with diet soft drinks. By the time we got back, the other two had lost and dropped. That gave us a draft in which six of the players were from our group. I was pleased with this not because we could collude. In fact, it was just the opposite. We drafted silently and properly. I was pleased because I would be drafting with some very good Limited players, the kind who know how to send and read signals.

Draft is one weird animal for me. I love the format. In fact, if I had unlimited access to money, I daresay that I’d draft more than I’d play Constructed. You get to use so many more cards, and it really tests your skill. However, I’m the kind of guy who drafts up or down to the level of the people on either side of me. When they read signals well and/or send signals well, I’m going to do well. Heck, I might even win. Sadly, most of the time, I play with rare drafters or people who don’t know how to value cards.

A True Onslaught/Onslaught/Onslaught Draft Story: Several years ago, I was drafting ONSx3. I was in Black and Green when I got a fifth pick Sparksmith. If you don’t know what he does, lemme tell you. He rules the freakin’ board. A similar signal would be getting Adarkar Valkyrie in Coldsnap cubed draft. That would pretty much say “White’s open!” So, I took the Sparksmith along with some Red beef, Slice and Dice, and a Thoughtbound Primoc. After the draft, the guy to my right, the one who had passed Sparky, confronted me. “Why’d you cut me off from Red in the second pack?”

Um, because you passed me a fifth-pick Sparksmith? Did you not mean to signal that Red was open? If you did mean to, mission accomplished. If not, well, you know.

Apparently, he valued Shaleskin Bruiser and Snapping Thragg over Sparky and a 2/3 flier for three mana. Of course, with him sending such bad signals, my third pack was messed up. I ended up going back to Green and did badly in the draft.

That wasn’t the case at States. I was being fed by Doug in pack one while I was feeding Landon. Doug had exactly zero familiarity with the set, but he is one quick study. He’s the kind of player I wish I could be. He seems to inherently understand the game. Me, I’ve been playing for almost eight years, and I still make basic mistakes.

It was clear that Doug wanted nothing to do with Red or Green, or at least he wanted nothing to do with Red Slivers. My first fifteen picks were loaded with Red and Green Slivers as well as a Red and Green Sliver, Firewake Sliver. I also got a Nantuko Shaman and a Hivestone as well as an Orcish Cannonade. Landon clearly read the signal as I was passed not one but two Cannonades in pack two along with more Slivers and a couple of pieces of Green beef. Just to let you know how well the signals were going, my 45h pick was Ironclaw Buzzardiers. That card is not a fifteenth pick, and whoever was in Red at the other of the table: shame on you.

Oh, and I also got Kher Keep. Yes, thanks to Hivestones, I was able to make 0/1 Kobolds Slivers. *tee hee* Trust me, though, that ends up being important.

My final deck — sorry, I didn’t keep the list — was a smooth mana curve of Slivers along with some buddies and removal. In my first match, I rolled through my opponent, 2-0. For the first time that day, I didn’t have the Curse of the Two-Land Hand. To be honest, I won in part because he kept a one-land hand in game 2. That, of course, is often why one loses. He never should have kept that hand. I’m sure that he did it because he had a Lotus Bloom, but that’s not a good idea.

In the second round, I faced the guy who ended up losing to Doug in the finals. I slaughtered him in game 1. In game 2, oh, you know what’s coming, right?

I kept a two-land hand and didn’t see anymore until the game was over.

In game 3, I made the kind of mistake that haunts a player forever. Hopefully, I’ll learn from it. He had been pecking away at my life with the Amrou Seekers. I had been pecking away at his with Slivers and Saproling Slivers. With him at eleven and only the Knight of the Holy Nimbus to block — he had sent the Seekers through to drop me to two — I drew another land. Thinking I should hold the land as a bluff since I had plenty in play, I made another Kobold Sliver and another Saproling Sliver and swung with everyone, haste courtesy of Firewake Sliver. He blocked my biggest creature, a Durkwood Baloth Sliver. That gave me a Saproling Sliver, several Kobold Slivers, and a Firewake Sliver unblocked. I was able to use the Firewake Sliver’s ability to get it up to a 9/9. With the Saproling Sliver, I was able to deal ten damage. To quote my man Charlie “Chuck” Brown, “Aarrrggghhhhh!” Had I actually played the land, I would have had the one more mana I needed to sac the last Saproling Sliver and make the Firewake a lethal 11/11. As it was, I held a card that I didn’t need to hold — the game was over either on that turn or on his next turn — and lost because of it, relinquishing my chance to win four or eight packs of cards (or six, since we might have split).

A few minutes later, we drafted again. Again, I was rewarded for sending good signals to a player who could read them while reading them from a player who knew how to send them. My deck was a solid U/B Sliver deck with lots of tricks (two Ophidian Eyes and some bounce) as well as removal. Yet again, I made The Big Mistake.

My opponent was also in Black but had Black and Green. In game 1, he had been pounding me with a Swampwalking Viscid Lemures. Of course, I’d been pounding back with Slivers that had Shadow. Then he got a Gorgon Recluse into play. I followed with a Paradise Plume and the mistake that cost me the game. Instead of calling Black on the Plume, what with two of us casting Black spells, I called Blue. I had more Black than Blue mana at the time and wanted to even things up. Stupid. Stupid! Stupid! In the end, I lost because I did have four Black mana for Phthisis; I only had three. While sitting at ten, his only blocker was the Recluse. Had I been able to cast Phthisis, that would have dropped him to four, and my Slivers would have ended it. Moreover, I would have been at high enough life that, had he been able to do something, the Lemures wouldn’t have ended my game on his next turn.

I are a bad player.

As expected, I followed this game up with one in which I opened with a two-land ha… oh, forget it.

What I Learned at States and Beyond

* Spend money on your manabase — Even a rogue/casual/budget deck can do well . . . if you have the colors for the right spells. Buy those dual lands first except when there’s a card that you need for a deck that you’re planning on playing right now. For example, get your Godless Shrines before you buy your Skeletal Vampires unless you’re planning on playing a deck with Skeletal Vampire very soon. He only needs Black mana to make him work, and the Shrines aren’t needed unless you want to make it a B/W deck that’s got a nicely honed manabase. However, if you just want to buy some cards with no definite plans for the near future, get your Forge[/author]“]Battlefield [author name="Forge"]Forges[/author] and Stomping Grounds (or whatever matches the colors you like to play) first.

* Two-land hands will kill you — Just kidding. You will almost always keep a two-land hand especially if you can cast things you’re holding. You just won’t get a third land in a timely fashion if it’s games two. Ha ha ha! Just kidding! That only happens to me! Ha ha ha!

* Think about your plays, even the ones you’re not going to make — For some reason, I ponder more during Constructed matches than Limited. I don’t know why, since I know my Constructed deck better. Not thinking twice definitely cost me prizes in my first draft, and cost me the chance to play for prizes in my second.

* Stuffy Doll does not target — Eagle-eyed forum poster EndlessWurm000 pointed out that Stuffy Doll does not target. Thus, Ivory Mask does not prevent it from doing its thing when it hits play like I said it did. EndlessWurm000 earns an autographed Magic card. My choice. The card, not the autograph. Well, I guess technically the autograph is also my choice, but I choose mine.

* People miss their cheesecake — Somehow, two weeks ago, two cheesecake links were missing. I apologize. Don’t know what happened. To make up for it, here are some very nice Scarlett Johanson cheesecake shots.

As usual, you’ve been a great audience. Be sure to check back next week when I write something new. I hope…

Chris Romeo