The year: 2005. The setting: The win-and-in round of an LCQ for JSS Championships in the great city of Baltimore, Maryland.
I was staring down my Tooth and Nail opponent who was precariously perched at a mere five life. My board consisted of two Blinkmoth Nexuses and a
Mountain, which one would think would be a sick combo with the Shrapnel Blast in my hand. My opponent untapped and turned all his lands sideways in a
last ditch attempt to steal the win. “Tooth and Nail,” he announced. I shuffled the cards in my hand and said “okay”; his eyes popped out of his head
as he eagerly searched through his deck, first revealing Leonin Abunas and finally Platinum Angel. I looked at my life pad and realized in utter horror
I was actually on a clock and proceeded to end-of-turn Shrapnel Blast the Leonin Abunas in an attempt to make the Angel susceptible to further burn
spells. Let’s just say I didn’t get there.
This actually didn’t happen to me. It happened to a good friend of mine who would later become famous for his striking similarity to the late, great
Notorious B.I.G., which he uses to impress girls at parties. My name is Michael Eisenhauer, and this past weekend, I had the largest cash of my Magic:
The Gathering career at the back-to-back StarCityGames.com Opens in Edison, NJ.
They say everything happens for a reason, and that theory may have just been proven this weekend, at least for me. This tournament really came at a
crossroads for me, as I’ve been starting to lose confidence in my game as of late. I’ve been testing regularly and working fairly hard, but my last few
large tournaments had been unspectacular, and I was really starting to wonder if Magic was something in which I was putting too much of myself. I
approached the weekend with a determination birthed of necessity. I was determined not to tilt, to take the bad beats, and to not let myself get
derailed by the things that have forced early exits in the past.
The week of the tournament, I was fairly sure of my deck for the Standard Open and 100% sure I was on Affinity for the Legacy tournament on the second
day. For Standard, I’d been fooling around with a list based on one of bolov0’s brews on Magic Online. Mono Red sure beat Caw-Blade, which my testing
was telling me. (It’s funny because my list was four cards off from Patrick Sullivan list that would later finally stop my run.)
It was the day I messaged Gerry Thompson that would ultimately start the whole weekend off. I told him I wanted to run Mono Red and how it beat
Caw-Blade and could race Valakut. Despite all these points, Gerry responded simply, “Why not just play the best deck?”
When GerryT gives you advice on what to do in a tournament, it’s generally a very good idea to listen without questioning, but one thing I didn’t agree
with him about was that Angry Birds (U/W/R Caw-Blade) was the correct direction for the Caw-Blade deck to go.
I was intent on running U/W Caw-Blade with some amount of Linvalas main and board, but on the night I finalized the sideboard, I realized there was no
way I could fit in a Linvala, Keeper of Silence; therefore the idea went out the window. This left me with two maindeck slots that had to be filled. I
wanted one of these cards to be a threat, and one an answer, and my friend Jim Chianese recommended what I feel is the perfect combination, the
seemingly forgotten Baneslayer Angel and the undervalued Deprive. With that, my Standard deck was set, and since my Affinity list hadn’t changed in a
month, I was ready for the weekend.
For reference, here are the two lists that propelled me to second and eighth place respectively on the weekend.
- 4 Arcbound Ravager
- 4 Arcbound Worker
- 3 Myr Enforcer
- 4 Frogmite
- 4 Disciple of the Vault
- 3 Ornithopter
- 3 Memnite
- 4 Signal Pest
Not much can be said about the U/W deck that hasn’t been said already, but I’ll make this completely clear. There is one distinct reason to run U/W
over U/W/x Caw-Blade, and that is Tectonic Edge. I must have used Tectonic Edge over 25 times in thirteen rounds, maxing out at three times in one game
on two separate occasions.
The mirror match comes down to Gideon Jura and Celestial Colonnade. Both of you can only deal with Gideon by playing another copy of the card and
utilizing the legend rule; therefore, Gideon ends games really quickly and is your best friend in this matchup.
Celestial Colonnade is a whole different kind of monster. It can’t be Bolted by Angry Birds, and it can pick up a Sword of Feast and Famine more
efficiently than any card in the deck, save Gideon Jura. The reason Colonnade is so unfair is because, when you’re paired against Angry Birds, they
have zero Tectonic Edges to control your mana, whereas you have four land destruction/removal spells that read: If you’re ahead, when this is
activated, you can’t lose.
It’s important to know that if your opponent has four lands and you control two Tectonic Edges, you can respond to your first Tectonic Edge activation
with the other and kill two separate lands. This play is often a complete blowout and should end the game right then and there. The ability to dictate
the pace of the game and simultaneously seal it up in a hail of dying lands is not possessed by any other card in the format, which is the most
important reason you should be running U/W Caw-Blade over Angry Birds.
The Affinity deck I played has to be my favorite deck I’ve played in a very long time. Lightning Bolt is a good card; this is an unarguable fact. When
you’re doing 33% more damage for the same amount of mana, you’re playing with something entirely new and unfair. People questioned Galvanic Blast, and
considering I’ve played the deck since Mirrodin Block Constructed, I feel confident in saying that Galvanic Blast is the best red card that has ever
been in Affinity. I’m saying that it’s better than Atog, better than Shrapnel Blast, somehow even better than Slobad, Goblin Tinkerer.
Right now, no one plays hate for Affinity due to the common misconception that Affinity is a dumb deck that requires zero skill, and you get the added
bonus of being “that guy.” The former could not be further from the truth; the latter, on the other hand, is a complete truth, as no one likes to sit
across from some guy whose intent is to throw robots at your face till your 500-dollar mana base just seems useless.
In reality, Affinity is an extremely synergistic deck, built on the strength between your cards, not on the individual cards themselves. Cards like Myr
Enforcer on the surface are not the best cards. I’m sure we can all agree that seven mana for a 4/4 is not the best deal. Zero mana for a 4/4 on the
other hand is quite the bargain.
The main difference that separates my list from other Affinity decks is the inclusion of Signal Pest over Etched Champion. Etched Champion is, in my
mind, a clunky card that exists wholly as an evasion creature. Signal Pest is a strictly better card at getting through damage; it costs one mana
rather than three and can’t be blocked by most creatures in the format. Signal Pest is good in multiples, whereas Etched Champion just becomes a
liability the more times you see it.
After all this bashing of the card, you may wonder why it was in my 75. It turns out when you’re running on three hours of sleep and you have a Top 8
to play at 8 am, you forget about your sideboard cards, and so I left my Engineered Plagues at home. I could only find two from the very helpful Alex
Bertoncini. But luckily, the matchups in which the card comes in (Goblins, Merfolk) are your best already, so it didn’t hurt me.
Affinity was perfectly positioned for this tournament, and I may have ruined the next Legacy Grand Prix for myself, as I fully intend to play the deck
at Grand Prix Providence, but through a few more hate cards this time.
The tournaments themselves are hazy and have blurred together at this point, but the decks both performed very well, and I’d highly recommend them to
anyone playing in a StarCityGames.com Open Weekend or any similar tournament. Both decks give you the ability to dominate your opponents with your good
draws while giving you room to maneuver and outplay them when you draw more ordinary or lackluster cards.
Caw-Blade plays all the best cards in Standard; putting Jace, the Mind Sculptor together with Stoneforge Mystic and Sword of Feast and Famine is not a
very hard puzzle to piece together. On the other hand, Affinity plays cards that have transcended formats for years and years like Arcbound Ravager and
Thoughtcast. It even plays cards that have been banned like Disciple of the Vault and the entire mana base.
This weekend, I finally got the age-old truth; if you want to maximize your chances at a tournament, sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and do
as GerryT recommends and “just play the best deck!”