Just Another Magic Game Day Report

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Don’t believe the title. Sealed maven and Japan watcher Eli captures a day in time with a very narrow Tenth Edition Sealed deck. Card analysis, Hall of Fame blather, play by play… this one’s got all the angles covered.

It’s common knowledge that the tournament report is an animal on the decline. I’m not talking about a draft report, which we do get a ton of here at StarCityGames.com. I’m talking about a person or a band of friends striking out for the gatherings, taking stabs at glory. There just aren’t that many people on this site or others writing about their exploits, positive or otherwise. And I don’t understand why that’s the case. Who isn’t up for an opportunity to stroke their ego? It’s a chance to immortalize friends and thorns on the Internet.

You know how we could get a partial fix to this problem? Let’s make all the Invitational players write reports again. I know, I’m a foreign language teacher by trade, and I know that doing homework yields results for most people. I’d like to see the Magic Invitational this year in its full glory, and if we can’t see every game played, then we ought to be able to get a glimpse into the games from seventeen perspectives. And who knows? Maybe some of those guys will kindle (or rekindle) a passion for writing about the game again. The players who submit publishable reports to Wizards should get some sort of bennie or reward for their efforts. How can we nominate a player for Best Storyteller without insisting on demonstrating storytelling skills through the concert? Using a report helps make for a fine venue for Invitationalists who don’t win to vie for a comeback next year.

The downside to this approach is that there’s going to be so many Japanese players at the Invitational that the people who do artful translation may end up a little taxed.

I missed out on Saturday’s festivities due to work commitments, but had the opportunity to make it up by playing at Big Magic’s Sunday tournament. Big Magic’s to Nagoya what Neutral Ground is to New York, though it could use a few more tables. 31 people showed up to fight over five rounds. Japanese events outside PTQs don’t usually run elimination rounds, they just use the results of the Swiss and that’s that. The field’s got some very strong players, including my longtime playtest partner Yuusei Gotou, who just missed qualifying for Nationals the week before. For some reason he always wears black t-shirts with skulls and uses Nightmare before Christmas stationary. But his personality doesn’t fit Black at all. He’s the most sunny Japanese person I know. And his girlfriend occasionally helps me with my Japanese, so he’s a valuable asset. I always relish the potential to have it out with him with rating points on the line.

The field had a lot of PTQ regulars and a few newbies. One neighborhood Brazilian brought two of his friends to their first tournament, making for a fairly sizeable foreign contingency. Believe it or not, there are quite a few foreigners living in Japan, though not as many as in New York City or London or Philly.

Here’s my pool. Take a few minutes and see how you’d approach building it.

Here’s a quick rundown of how I evaluated the pool.

Solid: Aven Cloudchaser
Decent: Demystify, Heart of Light, Holy Day, Spirit Link, Spirit Weaver, Venerable Monk, 2 Youthful Knight
Poor: 2 Suntail Hawk, Tempest of Light

Yuck. We’ve got a few decent Grizzly Bears, but no real tempo tools to allow them to shine. I was initially high on Youthful Knight in my set review, but since then I’ve sobered up and bumped their ranking down. Heart of Light and Spirit Link are sketchy removal spells. There isn’t anything I’m even remotely tempted to splash.

Let’s move ahead.

Solid: Aven Windreader, Merfolk Looter, 2 Dehydration, Unsummon
Decent: Fog Elemental, Phantom Warrior, 2 Cancel
Poor: Cloud Sprite, Denizen of the Deep, Flashfreeze, Robe of Mirrors

There’s a powerful trend at work in this pile, and it all revolves around double Blue. Phantom Warrior is a fantastic creature, but finding double Blue mana generally requires us to limit ourselves to two colors. After all, you want to play him on turn 3 or 4, not turn 6 or 7. Blue’s got one hell of a color commitment. The same goes for Cancel, except even more so. Keeping two Blue mana open is a steep commitment, and if you haven’t already taken control of the board, you’re going to be in deep guano every time you draw Cancel. I frown on double-colored counters in Limited Magic, even if they’re authentic hard counters.

Fog Elemental makes a perfectly reasonable answer to a flier or fattie. Is it worth trading for a Wild Griffin when you’re unsure of further flier mishap, though? Against Dusk Imp, trade. Against White opponents, you’re probably not going to face anything bigger, so feel free to trade. Against Blue opponents, you could run into more irksome fliers like an Aven Windreader, so you may be tempted to keep the Elemental in reserve.

My gut reaction tells me that in almost every situation, though, I want to trade Fog Elemental as quickly as possible.

Dehydration is not my favorite creature removal spell. It’s pricey and does nothing for blockers. It is a fine answer to a flier, however. Having an Icy Manipulator around also helps. The Merfolk Looter’s an incredibly powerful machine in Limited, making your average card quality so much higher. There’s only one non-rare one-toughness guy more powerful in the format, and that’s Prodigal Pyromancer.

With so few fliers, Blue doesn’t look that promising as a primary color, but as a splash, it’s got promise.

Solid: Lord of the Undead, Mass of Ghouls, 2 Phyrexian Rager, Severed Legion, 2 Afflict
Decent: Drudge Skeletons, Ravenous Rats, Agonizing Memories, Cruel Edict, Mind Rot
Poor: Knight of Dusk, Plague Beetle, Relentless Rats, Contaminated Bond, Fear, Unholy Strength

Here’s another color chock-full of reasonable men that demand lots of colored mana. The card that excites me the most is Afflict. I love screwing with people’s math, and Afflict’s got the most delicious clause in the game on it. Drawing cards is so much fun. Phyrexian Rager’s drawback is pretty inconsequential for its awesome upside. This makes up for not having reanimation shenanigans.

I know, Lord of the Undead only has two minions with which to continually harry opponents. You make do with what you’ve got. Severed Legion is reasonable and actually has evasion, something this pool is sorely lacking so far. Ravenous Rats and Drudge Skeletons stab at the opponent’s hand.

The average creature cost of your opponent’s worst guy will usually be one more mana than you pay for Cruel Edict. It’s also a two-drop in a deck nearly devoid of early plays. I’m not a huge fan of the card, but I’ll take it.

If we had more evasion, I’d consider upgrading Unholy Strength to Decent. But this pool’s nearly devoid of inherently evasive guys.

Knight of Dusk is an endless Black mana sink. I want men who I can fire onto the field and forget, unless I’m getting a great ability for the mana payment. This guy’s ability reeks something fierce.

Yeah, Black’s got a reasonable motley crew of thugs, and the card drawing makes sure we won’t run dry. But the card quality leaves something to be desired. Even so, there’s so much more here than in Blue.

Solid: 3 Hill Giant, Prodigal Pyromancer, Blaze
Decent: 2 Lightning Elemental, Fists of the Anvil
Poor: Goblin Elite Infantry, Firebreathing

Well, it doesn’t get any more basic than with Hill Giants. Bread and butter, fish and rice, meat and potatoes, whatever dietary staple you wanna call them, feel free. These guys are paragons of reasonable efficiency. Tack on two life to a Grey Ogre, sure. First Strike? Why not? But it’s not going to impact the board as much as the additional +1/+1 for one mana. Hill Giant is never a bad card. Three Hill Giants makes for a substantial army.

This should surprise absolutely no one, but for the newer players, I’ll say it anyway. Blaze is a bomb. It’s Red’s Limited bomb poster child. Not once in my life have I failed to splash a Blaze, Fireball, or any other XR burn spell that hits players.

If we didn’t have Icy Manipulator in the pool, Shatterstorm would be a fine 22nd or 23rd card. Anything that takes out Platinum Angel, Leonin Scimitars, or Loxodon Warhammers can get great value, and sometimes you get two for one.

Fists of the Anvil is considerably worse than Giant Growth. Yes, the sneaky man who gets it on the attack does one more damage, and Fisty blockers are pretty threatening.

Let’s face it, no matter how I slice this pool, I’m going to be short on evasion, and I’m going to have to reach for removal. So why not play with efficient men? Playing Red also has the positive side effect of having opponents keep their hardest hitting creatures back, waiting for your removal to take them out. When you don’t actually have the removal, but manage to bluff it successfully, you’re in a lot better position. Red is absolutely necessary, but we’re still missing a lot of pieces to the puzzle.

Solid: Avatar of Might, Civic Wayfinder, Giant Growth
Decent: Canopy Spider, Pincher Beetles, 2 Rampant Growth, Sylvan Scrying, 2 Treetop Village

The biggest issue with Green is that there simply isn’t enough of it. There just aren’t enough creatures. We’ve got four mana fixers and Treetop Bracers, a fine beatdown enabler for any deck full of fatties. The fatties stayed at home, though. Avatar of Might is a reasonable finisher for eight mana, but despite all the acceleration, you’ll never live to play him. There simply isn’t enough to get you to the point where your board is ready to go and start pounding.

Solid: Icy Manipulator, Terramorphic Expanse
Decent: Shivan Reef, Sulfurous Springs
Poor: Wurm’s Tooth

The painlands coupled with the Terramorphic Expanse allow for a very smooth Blue splash. So many Core Set games sink or swim based on consistent, solid mana. We’re all set for a fine Black deck, with Red as an excellent second fiddle. Blue’s splash gives us further card quality and the generic removal the deck craves.

Here’s what I built.

2: Drudge Skeletons, Merfolk Looter, Ravenous Rats, Cruel Edict
3: Lord of the Undead, 2 Phyrexian Rager, Prodigal Pyromancer, Severed Legion, 2 Afflict, Mind Rot
4: 3 Hill Giant, 2 Lightning Elemental, 2 Dehydration, Icy Manipulator
5: Mass of Ghouls
X: Blaze

1 Island
6 Mountain
8 Swamp
Shivan Reef
Sulfurous Springs
Terramorphic Expanse

Eighteen lands is a ton, but it’s easy to pitch unneeded stuff to Merfolk Looter. Nine Black sources plus the Expanse allow us to play double-Black spells with confidence, and that’s a good thing, because there’s a ton of double-Black cards in this pile. Playing lands on the table are necessary to keep Icy Manipulator going while playing Hill Giants. There’s also the potential for a fancy late game attack with Lightning Elementals or a straightforward Blaze. Icy Manipulator really, honestly does keep a good creature down, and takes some of the sting out of the downsides of Dehydration.

That’s what was going through my head when I build this deck. Think I was wrong? Feel free to say so and explain your rationale in the forums.

Round 1: Guy I haven’t played before.

He looks pretty edgy playing a foreigner. Hasn’t he heard that his countrymen are the best in the world these days? Who’s afraid of some weird foreigner, anyway?

He won the die roll and chose to play. Given the relatively slow tempo of the format, I’m not a fan of this tactic at all. I chose to draw every time.

It’s nice to just steamroll over the other guy once in a while. Hill Giants bashing along with considerable card advantage through Afflict quickly took out the opponent’s meager White army. He thought he had stabilized the board after two ugly trades, but Afflict kept trading my Hill Giants for two guys and feeding me more troops. An Icy Manipulator sliced his defenses apart, and I came through for the win.

Game 2 was the typical farce of a game that happens once in a while in Limited. On the draw, I mulligan a no-land hand into an all-land hand into a one land, four spell hand. I don’t see the practical value in going to four. Surely with 18 lands in the deck, I can draw my way into competition. But that wasn’t the case. Loyal Sentry took strides into the red zone, soon followed by Rushwood Dryad. The next three draws handed me no lands.

It happens at least once a tournament to everyone. Happily, that was my last mana screw.

I always feel a little better when someone plays a 1/1 on the first turn. It’s a sign that I’m going to be able to outdo my opponent on card quality. His early drops consist of Loyal Sentry and Samite Healer. They’re all outmoded by my Prodigal Pyromancer. I am one of those who want to call him Tim, but Tim he ain’t. Tim’s got a Gallic looking schnoz and a purple beret. The Pyromancer has way more in your face attitude than appropriate for a guy played by John Cleese.

He tries to keep the Pyromancer from killing Samite Healer by playing out a Ghost Warden, showing the potential to keep his glass-jawed men alive, if not useful, indefinitely. With nothing else better to do, an Afflict shoves the army down, and I then set up my Hill Giants. Beacon of Immortality bumps him up to 18, but I’m way ahead on board position. He packs it in.

1-0, 2-1 in games

Round 2: Ryouma Shiozu

Shiozu and I often face off on Fridays and Sundays when there’s no Premiere Event happening. He’s been Level 3 for Lord knows how long, but never seems to get any further in the club. I know he doesn’t like playing me very much, since I’ve had the better of him in a ton of Time Spiral drafts.

The first game went very, very messily for Shiozu’s U/G/r deck. He kept a hand with Rushwood Dryad, Prodigal Pyromancer, and Rampant Growth. My first play was hitting his Pyromancer with Afflict, then following with a Pyromancer of my own, then Mass of Ghouls. He tried to put up a defense with Wall of Air, but all of his other men were X/1s and stayed in hand. Lightning Elemental showed up and finished him off quick.

The second game was quite frustrating for Shiozu. My Hill Giants showed up and got a few early beats in to knock Shiozu down to ten, but Shiozu’s Sylvan Basilisk made an appearance. Avatar of Might showed up on the cheap, and then Shiozu dumped a whole bunch of guys onto the table. He went in for a nasty alpha strike, knocked me from 13 to 2, and made a blocker. I had two Hill Giants and a Merfolk Looter left. I was dead on the board on his next attack.

I untapped, drew, and looted into Blaze. The army marched in, knocking Shiozu to seven, and I tapped eight mana. He grimaced and signed the slip, dropping to test Block Constructed.

I’ve grown accustomed to losing to X spells. Over fifteen years of playing the game has trained a sense of acceptance when my opponent starts tapping his lands. Years of box drafts with Disintegrates, Fireballs, and Kaervek’s Torches drove this reflex home. I can manage to be stoic about taking those lumps. The problem with being stoic is that it mutes the pleasure of grabbing those wins for yourself. Getting a win through combat trickery is a much bigger emotional payoff.

2-0, 4-1

Round 3: Naoki Nakada

Nakada’s a regular at Big Magic’s FNM, and he’s a talented enough Limited deckbuilder, but he doesn’t always have the game savvy to help him clinch the win. After taking many beats at my hands, he had managed to notch his first win over me at FNM the night before.

If you read my review of Tenth Edition, you probably would have noticed my disdain for one drops. So I was feeling pretty good when he chose to play first and dropped Festering Goblin on turn 1. A second turn Merfolk Looter helped me pitch unneeded land and craft a solid hand. The Hill Giant brigade and a Blaze knocked him down to four, but he managed to stabilize the board through the noxious combination of Gravedigger, Nantuko Husk, and Lord of the Undead. My own Lord sat stranded away in hand, unwilling to further boost his army.

He couldn’t get any solid attacks in, thanks to Icy Manipulator, while I was sitting on two Lightning Elementals in hand. He found a Cone of Flame, dumped that and Nekrataal, wiping out my army. His team knocked me down to five.

Unfortunately for him, I was at nine mana. Five might have done it, but I had been sandbagging both Lightning Elementals in order to not have them hit by removal. Nekrataal felt the icy hand of whatever manipulators actually do in Vorthos-speak. My zippy 4/1s stole the game.

The biggest risk of keeping hasty men back in Tenth is that they’re going to get hit by Mind Rot or Ravenous Rats. But having the tactical advantage of rapid reinforcements really can pay off.

The first game was an epic, and the second game turned out to be a footnote. He chose to play and took two trips to Paris. He got flooded, and I won the game in quick order.

3-0, 6-1

Round 4: Norio Hayakawa

I ain’t got much to say about Hayakawa other than that he and I have a less than harmonious relationship due to instances of dubious rules behavior on his part.

Game 1 was an epic back-and-forth struggle. He gained a ton of life from Loxodon Warhammer, but wasn’t quite able to keep his men from trading with mine. His bombs like Ballista Squad and Shivan Dragon kept getting locked by Icy Manipulator and Dehydration. I made some other trades, and slowly dug my way out of the hole, but eventually I started to pull land after land and fell back in. I was one point away from killing him at more than one occasion, but one point away still doesn’t cut it. His Mantis Engine was the straw that broke the horse’s back. I sideboarded in Shatterstorm.

My next hand was lackluster, with four mana, Afflict, Shatterstorm, and Icy Manipulator. I figured I could draw into some men. I had the key to ruin his bombs. But he had a quick start of Blue fliers, and there was nothing I could do to win back the tempo. In retrospect, I know I should have mulliganed. It feels so bad to be making this sort of mistake this late in the game, but hey, E. B. White keeps making the same grammatical mistakes time and time again and keeps editing them out. And that’s from the co-author of the Elements of Style.

3-1, 6-3

Round 5: Another Regular Whose Name I Forget

Sitting at table 3 for the last round isn’t a bad feeling, but seeing Gotou-san facing Hayakawa at table 1, I really wished I had beaten Hayakawa the previous round. I always enjoy facing friends in the finals, whether we’re at the top or the bottom of the standings.

Even though Tenth Edition is a set with simple, straightforward mechanics, there are times when I have the incredible urge to bash my head against the wall. And this guy made me seek some concrete relief. Opponents do infinitely annoying schticks, and it’s incredibly irritating to see two opponents pull the same nasty trick. Yet again Gravedigger and Lord of the Undead showed up. But my trouble was more obnoxious this time. Three Gravediggers? Nantuko Husk? Argh. My Hill Giants, Mass of Ghouls, and Manipulator took down more guys, Prodigal Pyromancer and Afflict did their job, and I finally managed to send all but one of the Diggers and the Lord to his yard. I despise using Blazes to take out 2/2s, but the window to kill his Lord of the Undead a second time was there, and I took it. My life’s at nine, and I’ve got a decisive advantage on the table. He’s at seven.

What card is able to ruin my day?

With scads of mana on his side of the table, Evacuation allows him to null my attack and replay out his entire Zombie army. I draw a Lightning Elemental and keep it back. He throws an Afflict on my Merfolk Looter and sends his team. The blocking is messy, but I manage to stay alive. A savage topdecked second Lightning Elemental lets me steal the win.

The second game was much smoother. He tried to get his Zombie army going in the early game, playing Lord of the Undead followed up by a slacker Gravedigger. Pyromancer, a pair of Afflicts, and Hill Giant denied him any card advantage. His deck kept handing over lands, and a Blaze quickly wrapped the game up.

4-1, 8-3 in games

That isn’t a bad day’s work. I finished second on breakers and got the snazzy backpack. Wizards’ prize support is pretty meager in Japan, as far as these things go. Prereleases only get one or two t-shirts for winners, so Magic clothing here is relatively scarce. It’s been a revelation wearing the backpack on the train on the job, as random Japanese businesspeople and engineers have approached me and struck up conversations about the game. If only the backpack had a handier pocket for a business card holder, it’d be a very potent networking tool.

There were two keys that helped me do as well as I did. First, I rarely had color mana issues. When you’re playing three colors, having three fixers is a blessing, especially if you’re not playing Green. The second point was a nice, efficient army coupled with lots of card draw. There weren’t any standouts, and I never got Lord of the Undead to do all that much. But they Every time Severed Legion hit the table, he was facing off other Black guys. But bashing my troops into the other guy’s men got the job done. The Afflicts and Lightning Elementals really made the difference. My opponents never had the opportunity to get good combat math. I strained the most out of the pool and reaped the rewards.

It’s easy to be handed a deck full of bombs and smash the unsuspecting with it. A cheap victory is still a victory. But you don’t always get those decks handed to you. Sometimes you’ve got to go to town with journeyman’s tools and make the best of it. And the victories you obtain in this fashion are often the sweetest.

I know I’ll be chomping at the bit come August 6th for the next chance to play this format.

Eli Kaplan
japan no space eli at hotmail dot com
turboeli on MTGO

The Kitchen Sink
Borrowing a page from Ted Knutson, here’s everything else Magic-related and not that I feel like imparting.

What the heck is The Masters Edition? An online only Classic expansion of stuff from before Mirage? How awesome is that? I love playing draft box formats, and seeing a huge pile of old cards programmed into MTGO for public use seems awesome.

Speaking of which, that’s a function I’d like to see added into Magic Online 3.0. Wizards should give players a tool to make random 75 card pools out of the user’s collection, filterable by expansions, and allow casual Sealed Deck play. It would also boost the market for old commons from out of print sets. An online draft box format would be the Holy Grail of casual Limited Magic play.

The idea of expanding the pool of cards that interact with snow should also make Coldsnap that much more valuable. How can you say no to more snow goodies?

Hack it out in the forums as you wish. And no, I have no idea why Green hates me. This pool’s from Japanese packs. Honest.

If there’s one thing I’d like to have that doesn’t cost money, it’d be a vote on the selection committee for the Hall of Fame. I’ve done coverage at Wizards for quite a few events, though not as many as I’d have liked. I’ll be upfront, I’m very biased for Japanese players, as they’re a really important chapter of the story of Magic that hasn’t gotten enough emphasis in the past. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to ignore the statistics of the people on the ballot either.

The idea of booting inactive players off the ballot who haven’t accrued any points recently is a tough one, but I’m all for a simplified ballot, and the incentive to the old folks to get back out there can only be a positive thing.

Finally, this list’s very tentative, but it’s one of those exciting frameworks that just screamed its way into my head at the last minute as I was finishing this article. There’s no testing as of yet, but the structure excites me. Consider this purely food for thought.

It’s not nearly as awesome as Billy Moreno Warrens combo deck, obviously, but it’s got a nice Gro feel to it.