"Mike, one of these days, you’re going to have to get over that whole ‘blocking is beneath me’ thing."
–Jon Becker, 2005
I stayed in all nine rounds of Regionals despite having too many losses. The first loss and the last were the most important. Zvi is already working on an article focusing entirely on my ninth round, so I’ll leave that to him. For the time being, let’s analyze the first.
Round One the opponent is Mono-Black Control. I actually stayed up Friday night and tested the MBC matchup for something like five hours with Paul Jordan and Tony Tsai. The matchup favored Red, wasn’t a blowout game one or anything… but I understood how to win.
Game One, I got first turn Sensei’s Divining Top, third turn Molten Rain on the play… and stalled. This was pretty frustrating because with active Divining Top and all the mana and shuffling in my deck, you don’t figure on stalling on three. I ate a Persecute on turn 4 and he followed up with Damping Matrix. That said, I had him on -5 provided I untapped for turn 7. I was getting bashed by Kokusho… and he played a lethal twin.
So of course I had to blow my Shrapnel Blast on the first Legendary Dragon Spirit just to stay on two, and… nope. No outs.
Game Two I sided in the Culling Scales and had total control of the game. I’ll get into all the deck changes and why it’s so strong in a minute… The last turn of the game he’s on 7, I’m on 13, and he brings with Kokusho and Solemn Simulacrum. I’ve eaten all his other permanents with the Culling Scales and am floating Beacon of Destruction on top. I have eight untapped lands, including Stalking Stones and Blinkmoth Nexus. He had already blown a Consume Spirit just to gain a little life, so this thought literally goes through my head: He Can Only Win On Second Kokusho. He Can’t Have Four. He Did It To Me Last Game.
This mistake pretty much set the tempo for my entire day.
The best thing I ever heard about Bob Maher was something my friend and apprentice Josh Ravitz told me after GP: Detroit during Onslaught Block. Bob beat Josh in the Top 4 and went on to win the whole Grand Prix. This wasn’t Josh’s first money finish or anything, but compared to Bob – both in terms of skill level and reputation – he was some little kid nobody. That said, Josh observed that Bob never played "down" to him. Bob approached his match with Josh with the utmost respect. He played carefully despite his unreal skill, and respected Josh, his cards, and his plays the entire time.
If only I could play like Bob Maher!
Bob wouldn’t have disrespected the opponent the way I did. I knew the matchup was good for me. I knew he could only win by getting lucky and pairing his Kokusho again. That means I should have played around it. Instead I contemptuously shrugged, preserving my invaluable Blinkmoth Nexus for a Shrapnel Blast I Didn’t Even Have Yet.
I wish I could play more like Bob.
Anyway, here’s the deck I played:
I cut Boseiju, Who Shelters All because I correctly anticipated no Mono-Blue Control. Steve Sadin decided Stalking Stones would be equally effective given the well-known nature of my sideboard strategy, but I never ended up activating mine or siding in the second. Hidetsugu’s Second Rite played Fireball #4, but despite siding it in more than once, I never got it off. I never actually tested the card, and it was pretty bad; I just assumed with all the fives in my deck, I would have been able to set it up.
Culling Scales, on the other hand, was absolutely insane. It’s so good we are trying to fit it main. Here’s the thing: with Culling Scales in your deck, you pretty much dominate any deck faster than you And There Is Very Little They Can Do About It.
In my second round matchup, I kept one land on the draw against Rats. I had two Tops in the grip and figured I’d get some lands. Unfortunately he opened on Swamp, Pithing Needle (naming Sensei’s Divining Top). I missed two-drops, ate a Ravenous Rats, and got Persecuted on turn 3 or 4. I kept one card, set up two lands on top of my deck with a Jet, and played my last card, the Culling Scales. He was pretty much kold from that point.
Culling Scales ate his Pithing Needle and reactivated my Top. When you have Culling Scales and Sensei’s Divining Top, you pay a tariff of one mana to destroy all of your opponents permanents of cost three or less. Sword of Fire and Ice, Eternal Witness, Umezawa’s Jitte, Birds of Paradise, whatever. Your opponent better have some card advantage or a quick Shaman or he is in for a frustrating time.
Just make sure you do the following:
If your opponent has no relevant permanents, wait until your upkeep to target your Divining Top. With Culling Scales on the stack, shuffle the top of your deck, take the card you want, and replace the Top. That will keep your Culling Scales in play.
If your opponent has a permanent you want to kill, make sure to replace your Top at the end of his turn (unless you are killing a Needle, Birds, or something like that). Otherwise you are in for an embarrassing upkeep.
With four Unforges and four Culling Scales in your deck, you can’t really lose to these Sword decks, regardless of color. I played against them all day and ran two-for-ones on everything from Frostling to Troll Ascetic. If your opponent doesn’t know Culling Scales is coming, he will lose to it unless you’re manascrewed. Troll Ascetic can’t really race Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] and Arc-Slogger.
Osyp and I were talking about swaps to the deck. One of the most astute was to take out Sowing Salt. I went 2-1 against Tooth and Nail (which is about right), but oddly, my one loss was in a match where I Sowed his Salt in both of the games I lost; I lost to triple and quadruple Kodama’s Reach and a misplayed Mindslaver. Sowing Salt is less impressive now that the Tooth players are Thawing up two-for-ones, but you still want that fifth land destruction spell to hold the percentages. Stone Rain out of the board is also better against Black; you’ve got good answers to them with Culling Scales, but as good as the Scales is at foiling Persecute (by killing Damping Matrix and reactivating Top, naturally) and owning Phyrexian Arena, it doesn’t really help the Kokusho problem; Stone Rain keeps the big weapon off the board.
Just to make it easy:
I’d test a Mikokoro, Center of the Sea because Chapin told me to.
Among the decks that actually show up, Tooth and Nail is actually the worst matchup… and it’s still favorable. You can only lose to aggro Red Decks if you get manascrewed or if they get the God draw, and Medium Green is just an aggro Red Deck without any Magma Jets. Plow Under is bad times and you can’t target Troll Ascetic, but if all they have is Troll Ascetic, racing isn’t really an issue; they have to pin you with their Juzams too… and that’s actually a lot of toys. The matchup is slightly favorable game one and highly favorable after boards. It’s almost impossible for Medium Green to exploit their Swords and Jittes without playing into Unforge, and Zealots are actually pretty cumbersome against the combination of burn and Culling Scales that come out of Kuroda-style Red. Every time my opponent had Beacons, I just had more than one Scales and played into Arc-Slogger; that card is pretty good at sandbagging permanents, but not as good as you’d think. If you haven’t played with the Scales, or certainly the eight-pack overload, you should, or at least be ready.
The other aggro matchups are easier because they don’t have any good answers to Scale and potentially Unforge at all. White Weenie has a little bit of an edge in Game One (if you don’t draw Arc-Slogger), but can’t beat Scales after boards. Rats you beat before and after boards without any difficulty.
As for slow matchups, the above configurations are much worse against Blue Control than the original. B/G is pretty easy to beat because they have all kinds of useless cards and the top of their curve is Death Cloud whereas you are working them with Sensei’s Divining Top and pretty much always win if you play one of your fives. The thing I like best about Tooth and Nail is that after boards, it has become en vogue to side in all these stupid 3/2s and 5/5s instead of maintaining a maximally powerful core. You lose to the card Tooth and Nail and sometimes Mindslaver, if they assemble/resassemble their mana. I don’t know why they would want to take out Reap and Sow or for the love of God Tooth and Nail against you; I’ve literally never lost a game where the opponent was foolish enough to try to overwhelm my Simulacrums with Molder Slug; that guy doesn’t even eat your Top. The thing I like least about Tooth and Nail is when they correctly side in Circle of Protection: Red and can successfully cast it. Because of this possibility, I always side in two of my Culling Scales for game two if I’ve lost the first game… It can be tricky because they have Tops, too, but having no way to deal with Red’s most hated enemy since Alpha seems like a poor choice when down a game. It always goes to three, anyway, so I can take the stupid Culling Scales back out because most of the time they don’t have the Circle anyway, so I can stop feeling dumb.
Jamie was right about everything, though. You don’t beat all 5/5s and Blanchwood Armors.
So if that’s the case, why did I change to Kuroda-style Red when Joshie Green got posted? What was the previous deck?
I actually quite liked our original dueling choice:
2 Commune With Nature
Greg Weiss deserves almost all the credit for this deck, down to the Commune with Natures. Commune with Nature is insane because it increases the chances you get Rushwood Dryad against Green, increases the chances you get Iwamori against Red Decks, and gives you a nice reload with Eternal Witness. Look at how much better Commune with Nature is than, say, Jukai Messenger. The Messenger is much worse than Rushwood Dryad; I understand the desire for redundancy, but in this case, why not just choose the best card, especially when it can set up your Juzam against Red Decks, artifact hate against the Islands, and Tribe Elders when you’re low on lands?
Armor-All matched up very well with every deck I anticipated before Joshie Green. It was only about 50% against Mono-Blue in game one, which surprised me because it played Zealots, Shamans, and Trolls, but about 60% against everything else; the games it lost, Armor-All would stall and get countered out… It was the only matchup where the absence of Divining Tops and relatively low land count really seemed to punish the deck. 50% against the deck that no one plays, favored against everything else, is pretty much the definition of The Best Deck, so I was set, right?
Joshie Green did two things: First of all, it made sure everyone knew about Rushwood Dryads. Having the advantage against other Green decks was contingent on their playing useless cards like Plow Under and Beacon of Creation that had no profitable interaction with our core strategy. With everyone else knowing about Rushwood Dryads – or even playing them themselves – we were in coin flip range or worse. This was compounded by the fact that Joshie Green was biased exactly wrongly for us. Like, it didn’t play a lot of the "good" cards that give players the general incentive to basic Forest… But its choices were set up exactly to beat the Armor-All kind of deck. Umezawa’s Jitte? It’s worse than both Swords and Blanchwood Armor… but boy does it kill our Rushwood Dryads and Birds. Every time I lost the Green mirror in testing, there was a Jitte on something.
Secondly, it helped to trigger the resurgence of Black. Considering the fact that I played Black in the first two rounds of Regionals, I’m pretty sure my metagame call was good, even if my play wasn’t.
The sideboard listed above was only one of several we tested.
Aether Vial is the cheapest, most powerful, format-defining card… that no one plays. It turns your matchup against Blue Control from 50% to 90%. Jamie was complaining about how he couldn’t beat Blue and how he was trying Defense Grid… Aether Vial is the Defense Grid that they can’t play around, that frees up your mana for other plays, and breaks their Shackles at end of turn.
Sword of Light and Shadow plays Jitte in this deck. It costs one more but is insanely more powerful in all the matchups you want it. Like if you have Jitte online, you can still conceivably lose to a Rats deck. What are they going to do about Sword of Light and Shadow? Race? Please. It’s also pretty darn serviceable against Red Decks.
If I had Regionals to play over again, I would have played Kuroda-style Red with Stone Rain and maybe a little more oomph in the board for Tooth and Nail. And I’d try to play better. Bob wouldn’t have made that mistake against MBC, and he wouldn’t have made my last round mistake against U/G, either.
In the last round, I won the first game by blasting my opponent to death after flying over his Trolls and crashing into his Trolls and making him tap to regenerate them. I held the kill for a while because he had two Islands in play, and none of the Green decks I tested could do that.
In the second game, he got turn 1 Birds, turn 2 Troll. This would have been fine except I didn’t have an accelerator and he played consecutive Swords and hit me for 11 before I could stabilize. I blew up a bunch of his stuff but was ultimately too low to catch up.
Game three he had Troll and Sword, but this time I had Unforge. He bounced and Hindered my Arc-Slogger, but I stabilized with three Jens and a Nexus against just a Troll. I had Culling Scales + Top going, so he couldn’t do much of anything, but he had a lot of life. Like I said, Zvi will get into the specifics, but he had no offense going whereas I was plinking away with a Nexus.
In Maher v. Davis, Brian conceded the final game of PT Chicago 1999. Bob said that he would have just milked his board position if Davis hadn’t scooped, let Brian make a mistake instead of committing overmuch. I wish I played that last turn more like The Great One would have.
"I call it WWBMD – What Would Bob Maher Do?"
–Zvi Mowshowitz, 2000
It’s not like he had haste or anything.