Post-Apocalypse IBC is a challenging nut to crack. Me and a few true believers around Richmond have been diligently brainstorming to figure out the best deck to play… But the nice thing is, there isn’t a”best deck” in the format – at least none that have been seen so far. A lot depends upon your style of play, your choice of power cards and dodging the dreaded manascrew. In fact, I would be so bold as to declare that Manascrew Â— or more correctly, Colorscrew Â— defines this format. IBC offers many incredibly powerful cards that are all too tempting to play with, but the trick is to balance this with consistency. There’s a reason why mono-colored decks have always been very powerful over the years, and the base of their power is their consistency. Wizards has tried to lead us away from the tried and true by loading up the format with powerful multi-color spells, but make no mistake Â— you will pay the price for that power, and the price is paid with inconsistency and, ultimately, game losses.
But enough of the post-tournament lessons of the format. A Constructed format doesn’t really become clear to me until I get the chance to wade in and experience it first-hand. The first nearby tournament was held Saturday, August 4th. I use the word”nearby” quite loosely, since the nearest PTQ was three and a half hours and another state away. For some reason, if you want to play PTQs in the Mid-Atlantic region, you’ve got to trek into the boonies. I live in Richmond, VA, the state capital. Do we have PTQs here? Nope. For PTQs in Virginia or neighboring North Carolina, you’ve got to drive way out to the hinterlands. Now, I have nothing against Roanoke or High Point; they’re both nice towns. But they aren’t exactly on the beaten path. Would it be too much to ask to have a few qualifiers closer to the I-95 corridor that runs down the middle of the state?
Sigh. All right, I’ll stop griping. For now.
For several weeks leading up to the tournament, I had decided to play an aggressive version of No-Mar… Only I wanted to keep Dromar in it because he’s such a huge fattie. So I nicknamed my deck”Dro-Mar.” Clever, huh? The idea was to get plenty of early bear pressure and keep it going with counters, bounce, or the high-tech enchantment Angelic Shield. I stumbled across Angelic Shield a few weeks prior while going through my”gold cards” box. When I saw it, the revelation hit me like a ton of bricks: In a format of bears, giving all of your bears a three toughness is really, really good. Adding an optional Seal of Removal effect to the deal was gravy. Not just gravy from a jar, I’m talking about Grandma Homemade with Turkey Drippings Gravy!
The Friday before the tournament, I did some intense playtesting with a couple of the guys going to the tournament, making a few adjustments as we went along. Of course, on the drive down there we made changes, too. Three and a half hours of tech-talk can make a serious impact on your deck. One of our playtest partners Chris was so impressed by Angelic Shield that he decided to play the deck with a few minor changes of his own.
This is the lineup I decided to play:
4x Stormscape Apprentice
4x Meddling Mage
4x Spectral Lynx
4x Galina’s Knight
3x Voice of All
4x Angelic Shield
2x Dromar’s Charm
2x Fact or Fiction
4x Caves of Koilos
4x Salt Marsh
2x Coastal Tower
2x Dromar’s Cavern
4x Crimson Acolyte
2x Death Grasp
1x Desolation Angel
Chris didn’t run Dromar and ran four Voices instead, which was probably the better call. His sideboard was slightly different, too.
When I called the tournament site Friday night, we find out the tournament isn’t supposed to start until 11 a.m., so we don’t have to leave Richmond until 6 a.m. (which was much better than the 4:30-5 a.m. that we had feared). Four of us ended up going to play Â— me and Chris with U/W/b, Kevin with R/G Rocket Shoes, and Tony with U/R/G (basically CounterBurn with Snakes and Mongooses). Another local came with us to trade, so we had to take two cars.
We get to DJ’s at around 9:30 and have plenty of time to register our decks and chat up other tournament regulars. We get a bit of bad news: The air conditioning was out. One hundred people in a non-air-conditioned store in North Carolina’s August heat isn’t pretty. Still, DJ’s had a very nice play area with plenty of room for the 89 players who showed up, and they did the best they could with a bunch of fans to circulate the air. There was a playing area in the far back room that was considerably cooler than the rest of the tournament area, and this was where the top tables were located, so there was added incentive to do well. I got lucky and was paired up at one of these tables for the first round.
Round 1 vs. Brian with Go-Mar
Brian was a real nice opponent and this was a tough matchup. A mirror-match of sorts, his deck packed a few more Facts and at least a Rout or two. My Angelic Shields helped in the first match and ended up winning, though there was a scary moment where he stalled me out and whittled my life down. I ended up winning at one life after a long battle. The second match was tough, with some slow draws on my part exacerbated by a few Fact or Fictions my opponent successfully cast. I got him down to seven life before he took control of the game and never let up, though it ran us out of time for him to win the game. Great – I start things off with a draw! Still, it’s better than a game loss. We root for each other the rest of the day.
Round 2 vs. Abe playing a W/B/g/u Arena
I mulligan my opening hand, and then settle on a bad hand with potential Â— one land and a bunch of two casting-cost spells. My next two draws aren’t lands, and by then my opponent is off to the races. He’s playing an Arena deck that’s mostly W/B, but he splashing green and blue for a few key cards. He’s got a ton of non-basics and of course has all the colored mana he needs. He buries me with card advantage as I struggle with mana issues. The second game I have mana issues again, but my deck eventually tries to pull it out. He’s taken a lot of pain from non-basics and two Arenas, and I have been drawing tons of land finally (after discarding cards I couldn’t cast earlier). I draw a Desolation Angel and form a plan Â— he’s got a fully kicked 5/5 Necravolver on the board, so if I can drop the Angel kicked, we can trade and he’ll have nothing on the board but the two Arenas quickly chewing his life. With two Undermines in my hand and three lands, I should be able to recover. I make a critical error Â— on my turn I drop an Island into play before casting the Angel, even though I didn’t need to. In response to the Angel being kicked, he Routs as an instant Â— a big mistake on his part, since he lost out on the life from the Volver one more time. Still, if I can draw an Island over the next three draws, I should be okay. Of course I don’t, he recovers his land off the two Arenas, and finishes me. If I had dropped the Island after the kicked Angel, I would have been able to Undermine the first two spells he cast and let the Arenas kill him shortly thereafter. Damn! Now I have to win the next five games – not exactly the way I’d prefer to start off a tournament.
Round 3 vs. Richie Profitt, Star City Writer Feature Match!
Richie was kind enough to ask me to sign one of his lands before the tournament for luck. At first he wanted me to sign an Island, but I refused to have my name on a land that should be banned. He offered up a Plains instead. I hated having to play Richie, because the loser of this match would be out of the running. I’d much rather have a Star City Writers Finals, but that was not to be. I was hoping the Plains I signed wouldn’t steal my mojo. Richie is playing U/W/G with the usual assortment of good stuff Â— Absorbs, Snakes, Mongoose, Skyfolk, Facts, etc. The first game is a slaughter Â— my deck decides to hold out on land, and by the time I get anything going, he Absorbs twice to end the game at nineteen. The second game is much closer, but I manage to pull it out at six life. The last game is tough, with Richie having some mana issues that makes it hard for him to recover from a quick offense. I really feel like a dodged a bullet here.
Round 4 vs. Steve Martin with a G/U/B design
I bet you didn’t know Steve Martin played Magic, did you? He’s a wild and crazy guy. Actually, this is Steve Martin, the owner of the shop we’re playing in, and this is his first tournament. He was a very nice guy and a very precise player. His G/U/B deck had many of the usual suspects in this archetype, but he sacrificed some punch to make his mana more consistent with Urborg Elves and Utopia Trees. His deck just seemed to run out of steam, though I was petrified of a Spiritmonger hitting the board and wrecking me. The second game, I used a Shield to bounce his early Skyfolk and locked it out with a Meddling Mage. A second Meddling Mage called Spiritmonger, so I breathed a little easier. When I drew and cast a Lobotomy, I found both the Skyfolk and a Spiritmonger in his hand, so I went ahead and removed the Big Beast and his compatriots from the game. I think I actually drew and cast all three of my Lobotomies this game and his deck just pooped out. I believe Lynxes finished it up.
Round 5 vs. Chris with No-Mar
Another deck very similar to mine, but my Shields give me an edge. Chris mentions that he’d thought about the Shields, too, but instead went the more conventional route. In the first match he was a bit mana screwed, I had a quick offense to punish him for it, and by the time he recovered he was low enough for me to eventually finish him off. The second match he drew plenty of good spells, but his only source of black mana was painful, and I kept forcing him to use it. My deck poops out on me, but I manage to punch through the last few points of damage thanks to the pain he was taking. He dies with like two Undermines in his hand and me at one life, but I just didn’t have any spells to cast at the end.
Round 6 vs. Tim with Machinehead
Tim has been on the Pro Tour once or twice, so I know I’ve a battle ahead of me. The first game is rather humorous, as he matches my first two Galina’s Knights with his own Shivan Zombies. As the protection dudes go racing past each other like shadows in the night, he picks off my other creatures with removal. Eventually, though, I peel another Knight off the top and it pushes me into the driver’s seat. The second match is tougher, with Tim killing off lots of my early critters, including saccing a creature to a Necropolis to eventually kill off my turn 2 Acolyte. A second Acolyte goes to work protecting my creatures, and I start whittling him down. He’s got no creatures but a Nightscape Familiar in play, and my Lynx is enjoying the pleasure of the Acolyte’s protection. Instead of saccing off his Familiar to the Necropolis to kill the Acolyte, he casts Void for two. In response, I activate the Acolyte and give my Lynx protection from red. He lets that resolve and then I put a regeneration shield on the Lynx. He seems a bit confused by that, and when the Void resolves and I leave my Lynx tapped on the board, I explain that Void destroys instead of buries. He tries to Rage the Lynx, but it already has protection from red. The Lynx ends up going the distance.
Round 7 vs. Chris with R/W/U goodstuff
Well, this is it. I’ve battled back into the cool room at the top tables, and this last match is for the privilege of playing in the top 8 elimination rounds. My opponent Chris looks a bit disgruntled, and I find out he drove up here from Georgia and got two speeding tickets along the way. He really hated having to play this last round, and would be very upset to lose right here. I felt bad for the dude, but obviously it was my intention to send him packing. The first game starts out with a mulligan for me – oh boy. I stall at two land for too long, and by the time I draw a third the game is a foregone conclusion. The second game reverses the trend, and his mana issues allow my early offense to go the distance. The last game is a heartbreaker. I draw no blue mana sources for ten rounds. Luckily, my deck gives me three Acolytes and two Voices of All to actually enable me to mount an offense, and I get him down to ten life before his three Fact or Fictions resolve and give him the momentum to grab the initiative. He gets a Goblin Trenches on the board with a ton of land and eventually overwhelms me with Goblin tokens. I draw a second source of blue mana way too late with a handful of Meddling Mages, Undermines, and Angelic Shields (which would have been very helpful surviving a nasty kicked Jilt Chris threw my way). It was tough to lose that game because I felt that my deck had the tools to win this matchup if only I could have cast the spells. Chris went on to win the whole thing.
I finish the day at 17th place, and feel good about being in the running for the top 8 until the very end.
A few lessons learned:
IBC is very color-intensive, and you’ve got to be very careful when deciding which gold cards and how many to use in your deck. So many games seemed to be determined by either the ability to access the color you needed to cast your powerful spells, or by NOT being able to get the right colors. When it comes to a balance between consistency and power, I would tip the deck ever so slightly towards consistency. A two-color deck seems to be a powerful force in this environment.
Never, ever give up the drive to win. Sure, this is self-evident, but do we all practice it? So many times in the past, if I got mana screwed or had a slow start, I’d get filled with anger and disappointment. At this tournament, I started out with a draw and a loss Â— not mathematically out of the running, but discouraging nonetheless. However, I battled on and had a chance to make it into the top 8 by winning my last match. Even then, in the last game when I was so severely color-screwed, I didn’t despair. I tried to keep my mind focused on doing everything I possibly could to stay in the game long enough for my deck to pull out of the colorscrew tailspin. In the end it didn’t work, but it could have. Drawing two blue mana just a few turns earlier than I did might have made a huge difference in the game, and then I might have gone on to qualify for Sin City. Ah well. I had fun and learned some valuable lessons, so it was well worth the time.
Props: the guys from Richmond who made the journey fun. Chris for winning it all, way to go! The TO for doing their best to hold a good tournament in the stifling heat.
Slops: The guys in the top 8 who refused to allow their decklists to be published here on Star City; c’mon, taking the Solution and throwing in Spectral Lynxes isn’t exactly”Hi-Tech.” If the only way you think you can win is to operate in stealth mode, then you truly are pathetic. The truly great deck designs win through good cards and play skill, not surprise.