Lessons From Regionals

We’re one week away from the biggest Standard tournament of the year – are you ready? Flores will be participating in his tenth Regionals, and today he shares some of the key lessons that he has learned over the years while qualifying, and helping his friends qualify, for U.S. Nationals.

Difficult as it may be to believe, in one week’s time, I will be participating in my tenth consecutive Regional Championships. Of the previous nine, two were Mid-Atlantic Regional Championships, one was an Ohio Valley Regional Championship, and the remaining six were all in the Northeast.

I once thought that I had a good batting average at Regionals, but two Top 8s out of nine isn’t really all that hot if you think about it… especially when my last invitation to Nationals was a staggering half-decade ago. That said, I learned from each and every Regionals, and I think that those lessons can translate to success in today’s more advanced, ultimately more MODO-informed and competitive tournaments.


The Best Deck
: Mono-Black Necropotence

I played: U/W Control

I was a sophomore in college this year and just getting serious into Magic. I had played since the summer of 1994, but didn’t get into the tournament scene until I hooked up with altran and some of the PT wannabes at Penn. Immediately before this Regionals, I won a local tournament with my version of U/W, including a win over Necro in the finals. This sort of pumped me up and empowered me to run my bad U/W deck.

I’m going to squint really hard now and see if I can summon up the deck I played. Just as a warning… it wasn’t good.

1 Ivory Tower

1 Feldon’s Cane

1 Jester’s Cap

4 Millstone

1 Zuran Orb

4 Counterspell

4 Memory Lapse

1 Recall

4 Sleight of Mind

1 Balance

2 Circle of Protection: Black

2 Circle of Protection: Red

3 Disenchant

2 Divine Offering

1 Land Tax

4 Swords to Plowshares

4 Wrath of God

4 Adarkar Wastes

10 Island

10 Plains


1 Jester’s Cap

2 Blue Elemental Blast

2 Hydroblast

2 Circle of Protection: Black

1 Disenchant

3 Divine Offering

4 Karma

It was something terrible like that.

The Story:

The theory was that U/W decks could drag the game out for a long time such that I could eventually draw into “the combo,” being one of my Circles of Protection and Sleight of Mind. I played a lot of casual games in this cafe called Chats back then, and I found through exhausting Thursday nights that Necropotence decks couldn’t really beat you if all you did was kayo their Disks (not that big a deal with so many Disenchant effects, and by that, I mean people weren’t good and didn’t Consult into disruption + Disk), G/W Armageddon was pretty easy to beat as long as you didn’t get your lands blown up (6-8 mana into a Cap would handle that, not that it helped me come Regionals), so the mirror was all about working their Disenchants. The cool thing was, because you had Sleight of Mind starting, no Necropotence player in his right mind would side Gloom against you.

Regionals was weird that year; there were morning and afternoon events. I was 3-2 going into the last round of Swiss (I believe… the DCI Ratings and Rankings page is missing my ancient first sanctioned event). If I won, I would make Top 16 or Top 32 cutoff or whatever it was and play elimination for an eventual slot. In the last round I was up against a friend from Penn, also with U/W, playing a more conventional Blinking Spirit kill. Deep into Game Three, I had him under a Circle of Protection turned White, and had capped him for Disenchants. He had maybe 1 Disenchant left in his deck and I was Milling him to death while holding down his Blinking Spirits with my Circle. He played a Feldon’s Cane.

I only had one Counter in my hand, but I was so close to winning with the Millstone… just a handful of turns to go. The Feldon’s Cane wasn’t really that relevant. He couldn’t win at all if he didn’t get through my Circle; he certainly wouldn’t have the ammunition for my Millstone, could he?

I countered.

He had the Disenchant, won a non-existent Counter war, and killed me with two a turn before I could deck him.

Around the Tournament:

The most exciting bit was my playtest partner altran – not to mention one of my best friends in the world – qualifying for Nationals… with a deck he had stolen from Tony Tsai. I’m not sure if it was 64 cards or just 62; he was good at tuning like that.

Hey Yawg, this picture is blurry.  Fix it please.

The Lesson: Focus Only On What Matters

The most important lesson in all of Magic stared me in the fact at my very first DCI sanctioned event. If I had just stayed the course, it might have taken longer to win, but he wouldn’t have been able to win. In Magic, it is often easy to get into trades that seem fine in the short term but don’t make any sense in the context of actually winning a complicated game. I see players making exactly these mistakes all the time; they try to accomplish some arbitrarily proactive plan or “combo the opponent out” not even realizing that their cards don’t do anything. Anyone can win with the nuts; the hard part is winning the close games, where one late game decision can put you in the Top 8 or not.

The sad part is, I still still had maybe three or four Mills to go before winning the race.


The Best Deck:

I played: Mono-White Mid-range

The story:

I don’t know if G5C was the consensus best deck. You could have played a lot of strong decks that year, including Sligh and Lauerpost. Necropotence had its teeth pulled in the short term, though, and wasn’t matching up up well against a lot of the format’s other decks; for example Big Blue was considered one of the best decks and it was quite powerful against Necropotence. But it was still Necropotence, so who knows? I think Pat Chapin Q’d with it. Anyway, I picked G5C for two reasons:

1) It was the under-represented deck. I, for example, had never heard of this deck prior to Regionals.

2) It had a lot of weapons, most notably Winter Orb, to beat up on all the mana hungry decks, and attacked them from many different angles, any one of which was probably good enough. Look back at how my Tooth and Nail deck sides against Blue… G5C did the same thing, but in lots of matchups, and not just after siding a ton of hate cards.

Certainly Mono-White wasn’t the best deck. Once again I am going to summon up my memory of ancient days to try to reconstruct my deck of choice:

4 Armageddon

4 Disenchant

2 Abbey Gargoyles

4 Exile

4 Longbow Archer

4 Order of the White Shield

4 Tithe

4 White Knight

4 Wrath of God

18 Plains

4 Kjeldoran Outpost

4 Quicksand


4 Nevinyrral’s Disk

3 Conversion

4 Divine Offering

4 Sacred Mesa

Believe it or not, I think the above is pretty close to the deck I played. I might have had four Gargoyles and two Exiles instead.

I didn’t play any enchantments or artifacts in my main deck so that I could generate “dead” card advantage… lord knows I didn’t have any other kind of card advantage; I could have been playing Thawing Glaciers, Fireblast, Force of Will, or Winter Orb, but no… I played White Weenie.

Around the Tournament:

Ironically my friend Jon Finkel did not follow the same design constraints that I did. He played a multicolor control deck with Force of Will and Thawing Glaciers but decided that Amber Prison was better against the field than Political Trickery; Amber Prison could slow down a beatdown deck but Political Trickery could only answer a Kjeldoran Outpost. In testing, I beat Jon over and over with my Outposts because, obviously, I had 4+4 Amber Prison removal access… Even with his counters, Jon had no chance.

So right before the tournament started, Jon altered his sharply tuned deck to play Political Trickery.

Seven or so rounds into the tournament, Jon faced off against his then-rival David Bachmann. Completely out of spite – or perhaps due to what rumors said Dave had done to Jon in the finals of a previous Regional Championships, the so-called “free Reinforcements,” – Jon called a deck check on Dave. Dave responded with a deck check on Jon.

Brian David-Marshall, then Gray Matter’s TO, stormed up to Jon and said, “Can you confirm that this is your sideboard?”

The fifteen-space column on the right side of the page was blank.

Pre-tournament bashings had cost Jon a game loss, and he had to play the remainder of the tournament without a sideboard. Unsurprisingly, he couldn’t beat opponents with actual 15-card assistance, and lost consecutive rounds, failing to qualify for Nationals.

Being Jon, he won the first US Open of 1997’s Origins, eventually making Top 8 at Nationals.

The Lesson: Don’t let your friends screw up your testing five minutes before the tournament starts.

Even Jon Finkel can make a deck registration error when his confidence is shaken. Ignore this lesson if you’re friends are much smarter than you and you haven’t tested.


The Best Deck
: Deadguy Red

I played: TDC Heat

4 Giant Growth

4 Granger Guildmage

3 Jolrael’s Centaur

3 Lhurgoyf

4 Llanowar Elves

4 Muscle Sliver

4 Quirion Ranger

4 River Boa

4 Uktabi Orangutan

2 Fireball

4 Incinerate

9 Forest

2 Karplusan Forest

3 Mountain

4 Mountain Valley

2 Undiscovered Paradise


2 Simoon

2 Hall of Gemstones

4 Tranquil Domain

3 Dwarven Miner

4 Pyroblast

The sideboard might be a little off… but it’s close. I remember finding Hall of Gemstones right before Regionals and deciding that it was going to be good against both Mono-Blue and Cadaverous Bloom.

This deck lost to Bloom main deck but was just awesome against most everything else. I never lost to Blue and my best matchups were Deadguy Red and G5C; admittedly I didn’t know about Five-color Kastle, but when I hit it, I rules cheesed my opponent out anyway. Back in 1998, we didn’t have MODO, so I actually had to travel all over the city to play in tournaments to tune my deck. I tested hours and hours with altran, Tuna, and the boys, and was supremely confident going into Regionals, holding multiple local tournament wins and several x-1 performances at Grey Matter events. There is even a story, my last week of college, of a beautiful young Junior – you know, the slim girl in the long dress with the kicky retro glasses who works in a local shop – coming to my apartment on possibly the last night I would ever see her… and my turning her away because “I was testing the Sligh on R/G matchup.” Dan Bridy and other children were even visiting that night in order to test prior to Regionals so you can ask them about that. Earlier in the week, I even asked out the recently divorced assistant professor whom I clashed with in class the previous year – you know, the mysterious older woman who married another grad student too young, who loved Alan Moore comics and consumed my Preacher trades in the white hot fire of a true love of good writing – but never followed through on it because I was… busy testing for Regionals. I went so far as to trick my parents into showing up for my college graduation weekend a day late so that I could jaunt to NYC for the day, all in service of a U.S. Nationals invitation.

My deck was tuned. I sacrificed being with multiple improbably desirable women tuning it. When my parents found out that I suggested that they come up only on Sunday not because of my sister’s Senior Prom but because I was slinging the spells, there was righteous hell to pay… but it was all worth it. My deck was tuned. PT Top 8 competitor Andy Wolf even loved it, though with his LA performance no longer needed to Q. I felt invincible.

How terrible was it, then, that I not only lost to Sligh, but picked up my second loss to Gee Five Cee? My two best matchups? I blew out Blue like I knew I would, I tricked out a win against an unanticipated Slow Green deck with Stampeding Wildebeests, and even made the Five-color Kastle kid cry… And Then I Didn’t Qualify.

What’s the lesson, then? Is it not to get manascrewed? I played three land in two games in my loss to Ted Kaplun’s Sligh deck. He didn’t even have Cursed Scroll! Is it to draw lands and spells? Because if I had, I wouldn’t have lost to the G5C deck sporting Trained Armodon that late in the tournament. Watching bad players Fireblast Scott McCord out of his invitation or Seth eke out his Q over a manascrewed Bridy in the last round didn’t help (sorry Seth, rooting for Dan that time). After all my work, Regionals 1998 was nothing but depressing.

A bitch.  He called you a bitch.

No, I think the lesson is that Karma is a B*tch (if you believe in that stuff, anyway). I probably went a bit overboard on my last couple of weeks of testing… and for what? I still think my deck was good – it certainly beat the Deck to Beat – but it wasn’t even that different from the deck I had used to a dozen tournament wins in the previous months. I really should have gone out – or stayed in – with Alex or Jill (or both), or maybe not lied to my parents going into a day that they were getting ready to be really proud of, had spent tens of thousands of dollars to see.


The Best Deck:
Mono-Black Necropotence

I played: Hatred (bschneid.dec)

There is no excuse for this one.

I tested bad versions of Hatred with Priest of Gix and other stock ‘Net stuff online for about a week, bought some black-bordered Erg Raiders, but ended up finishing my deck on the way to the tournament, in Worth’s car.

4 Cursed Scroll

4 Blood Pet

4 Carnophage

4 Dark Ritual

4 Dauthi Horror

4 Dauthi Slayer

4 Duress

3 Hatred

4 Sarcomancy

3 Skittering Skirge

3 City of Traitors

15 Swamp

4 Wasteland


4 Diabolic Edict

4 Engineered Plague

3 Persecute

4 Winter Orb

Brian Schneider is responsible for the core of this deck; Worth just took out the Unholy Strengths and Erg Raiders and had me playing Cursed Scroll and Skittering Skirge instead.

Around the Tournament:

This Regionals was awesome, and not just because I finished Top 4. It was the occasion of Randy Buehler favorite Jedi Mind Trick, as well as the subject of my first conversation with Kai (“Dave told me you forgot to pay for the Carnophage…”). It was also my first Nationals invitation ever.

The Lesson: Listen to people who are better than you are.

I can be notoriously stubborn, especially when it comes to tuning and deck selection. [I think I may have a heart attack right about now. – Knut, too shocked for more words] I very nearly played Adrian Sullivan Veggie Ponza without any playtesting. Thank God for Worth, who took that Apocalypse away from me and made me play the right deck.

When I said that Necro was the best, I was referring specifically to a three deck metagame including the Red Deck, Survival, and Necropotence. Some Survival players thought they beat Necro; same on Red Decks. In truth, the best Necropotence decks were even or better against Red and crushed Survival, even if the typical ones weren’t. The trick with playing Hatred was that Red was hard to beat – I drew with my opponent – but the deck beat both of the other Decks to Beat, not to mention mopping up all the untuned stuff like regular G5C, Tinker, etc.


The Best Deck:

I played: Napster

You can actually make an argument for Tinker as the best deck in 2000, but it was only played by like one guy in a Canadian Regionals, so that is a bit of a stretch. You can also argue for tuned Magpile, which was supposed to beat Replenish, but that is kind of a narrow answer, and Replenish did considerably better than Magpile across the Regions. I think Trinity was overrated, and it had no chance against all of the tuned Tier One decks – certainly Napster – so I never really considered it.

3 Powder Keg

1 Agonizing Memories

4 Dark Ritual

4 Duress

1 Massacre

2 Phyrexian Negator

1 Rapid Decay

2 Skittering Horror

3 Skittering Skirge

1 Stupor

1 Thrashing Wumpus

3 Unmask

3 Vampiric Tutor

4 Vicious Hunger

4 Yawgmoth’s Will

1 Dust Bowl

4 Rishadan Port

2 Spawning Pool

16 Swamp


1 Powder Keg

1 Thran Lens

1 Eradiacate

1 Massacre

2 Perish

2 Phyrexian Negator

4 Rain of Tears

2 Rapid Decay

1 Unmask

The Story:

In the waning days of The Dojo, I had nothing better to do than test Magic with my friends altran, Tuna, Brook North, and even Rob Hahn. The result was the most successful deck I will probably ever build. You probably already know the story of this deck – I have certainly talked about it enough over the years – so I’ll just get to the lesson.

The Lesson:

I would probably have been the Northeast Regional Champion if I had made one decision differently in the Top 4. Sayan had kept a one spell hand, but his one spell was Enlightened Tutor, so he kept me off my game for many turns. He was sandbagging with a ton of lands and a ton of life when I drew into Unmask. I had eight cards in hand… but chose to tap out for the Unmask. Sayan responded with Mystical Tutor and got Replenish, used his Attunement twice, and mauled me. Obviously if I had just pitched into the Unmask instead of hard-casting it I would have just beaten him with the Rapid Decay in my hand… but that’s not the lesson.

Going into Regionals, I posted my deck at Neutral Ground, to little fanfare. In fact, relatively unknown writers across Mindripper and other independent sites all decried the unique elements, especially Vicious Hunger. The game’s then-leading metagame article specialist, said Mono-Black was dead. Talking a lot of rubbish with no testing – and likely a poor understanding of the most complicated tournament deck in the history of Standard – didn’t make them right.

About four or five o’clock, my friend Lan D. Ho called me from Austin to ask how I was doing. Regionals was long, but I had blown through all my rounds with just one game loss, and answered that I was going to draw into Top 8. “How was Vicious Hunger?” Lan queried. “It was great,” I responded. “Of course you knew that, right? You tested.”


The Best Deck: Obliterate

I played: PT Junk

4 Chimeric Idol

4 Armadillo Cloak

4 Noble Panther

4 Wax/Wane

4 River Boa

4 Fresh Volunteers

4 Parallax Wave

4 Ramosian Sergeant

4 Voice of All

4 Brushland

6 Forest

8 Plains

4 Rishadan Port

1 Rith’s Grove

1 Treva’s Ruins


4 Tangle Wire

4 Armageddon

3 Disenchant

4 Exile

The Story:

We had a superb rogue deck. PT Junk tested extremely well against Fires of Yavimaya, the Deck to Beat going into Regionals, and performed solidly against all the Tier Two options. The problem was that I had given the deck to Josh Ravitz, who gave the deck to his friend Eric Ziegler, who easily won a Neutral Ground Grudge Match. BDM’s policy at the time was to publish all Top 8 decks with no exceptions, so the cat was out of the bag.

We tried to keep it quiet, but slowly Junk came out and the format evolved in a way that was very hostile to the deck. While we mauled Fires, we were bad against Red Zones or other decks capable of removing a Parallax Wave (or Armadillo Cloak). Players started to bust out Wax/Wanes of their own, or even Aura Mutations.

I’m not sure if PT Junk was the right deck choice. I playtested a lot, both at NG and in the Mid-Atlantic with Becker and company, and Fires gave me The Fix over and over. I had a tuned Fires deck and knew how to play the deck strategically. In the end, Scott McCord convinced me to play PT Junk Because It Was The Right Deck For Me. It beat Fires, it beat Counter-Rebels, and it beat Obliterate… it seemed good.

The Lesson:

At the tournament, I lost to both Fires and Counter-Rebels. Against Fires I got mana screwed, and against Rebels I got mana flooded. Literally any spell in the Rebel matchup and I would have won. Wax/Wane would have pushed through lethal, another creature would have been lethal, Cloak would have trampled over, and Parallax Wave would have moved his blocker. Instead, I drew the first of a fourteen land run off the top. How did he fail to kill me given fourteen turns? I do not know. What I do know is that he countered my River Boa on turn 2 of one of the sideboard games, and then played Circle of Protection: Green the following turn.

Ultimately, the lesson is not to lie to yourself. Testing said that Junk beat Fires and Counter-Rebels, but I never felt anything but pure percentage Deck Advantage in thos matchups. Like you would not usually win games that you didn’t draw Armadillo Cloak against Fires, and the Rebel matchup was all about their not being able to block, which was a dumb excuse for strategic advantage given the fact that they had not only Wrath of God, but Rout, Absorb, and in some cases, Dominate. I wish I had worked on Dave Price Red just a few weeks earlier…

Not to bash on the deck too much, Junk qualified several of my associates, was copied to reasonable success by strangers in remote parts of the country, and was, if I recall, statistically the best archetype at 2001 Regionals, even if Paul Jordan, Matt Rubin, Jon Becker, and I all failed with it. That said, PatrickJ will never let me forget that all my best cards were in the sideboard.


The Best Deck:
Deep Dog (hadn’t been invented yet), so ZevAtog

I played: Kibler’s RUG

4 Wild Mongrel

4 Birds of Paradise

4 Flametongue Kavu

4 Merfolk Looter

4 Arrogant Wurm

4 Call of the Herd

4 Circular Logic

3 Fiery Temper

3 Violent Eruption

3 Fact or Fiction

4 Yavimaya Coast

4 Shivan Reef

3 Karplusan Forest

1 City of Brass

6 Forest

5 Mountain


4 Gainsay

1 Persuasion

3 Upheaval

4 Compost

3 Roar of the Wurm

The Story:

The weekend before Regionals, Don Lim, Josh Ravitz, Paul Jordan, and others tested exhaustively at casa Flores (a.k.a. “the Flores Living Room metagame”), and even John Shuler came up, hot off a solid Extended season, if a bad performance in Osaka. Our conclusion was that ZevAtog was the best deck, but we didn’t like the fact that it lost to Don’s Mono-Black Control. Prior to the widespread adoption of ZevAtog, I made this crazy deck:

4 Millikin

4 Fact or Fiction

4 Grim Lavamancer

4 Horned Kavu

4 Beast Attack

4 Birds of Paradise

4 Call of the Herd

4 Llanowar Elves

4 Flametongue Kavu

6 Forest

4 Karplusan Forest

4 Mossfire Valley

2 Mountain

4 Shivan Reef

4 Yavimaya Coast

Considering that its mana base is arguably worse than Kibler’s deck, it’s possible that I am remembering it wrong. Anyway, I made that deck when I figured out how insane Horned Kavu was with not just 187 creatures, but one-drop mana accelerators. Josh Ravitz pointed out that decks without Fact or Fiction just eventually lose to decks with Fact or Fiction, and the eventual inclusion of that card resulted in a truly difficult deck to play against. Jon Becker loved it and would call me at all hours, talking about how his opponents’ eyes bugged out every time he tapped Millikin to play Fact or Fiction, turning over splits like Mossfire Valley, Forest, Call of the Herd, Beast Attack, Flametongue Kavu. The deck mauled other G/R decks because in those days the rule was “the slower G/R deck always wins,” to the point that Burger King Seven was playing Shivan Dragon… and we had Fact or Fiction. The only problem?

It didn’t beat ZevAtog.

In Kibler’s RUG we had a deck, ironically the same colors, that actually did beat ZevAtog, if only by a small margin. This was better than every other deck we knew about except for Mono-Black, which I thought was just too ugly to play, with too clunky a kill condition to be good, especially against Compost.

Around the Tournament:

Right before Regionals started, Zev tried to hand me his deck, but I wouldn’t accept it. Instead I lost the 75 card mirror to Josh (who went on to qualify), and then lost to a vastly inferior R/U/G deck to finish 0-2. Don qualified with ZevAtog (sellout), so our testing group did well, even if I didn’t.

The Lesson:

After my 0-2, Zvi took me aside and taught me the most important lesson I may ever learn about deck construction. It was like that scene in Transformers: the Movie when a dying Optimus Prime tries to hand the Autobot Matrix of Leadership to Ultra Magnus but Hot Rod accidentally picks it up, foreshadowing his eventual transition to Rodimus Prime. Zvi didn’t actually die that day, but he was able to pass an extremely valuable nugget of wisdom to me.

“Why did you play that deck?”

“It beat ZevAtog.”

“Why didn’t you play ZevAtog?”

“It lost to Mono-Black.”

“Um, okay. Why didn’t you play Mono-Black?”

“It loses to Compost.”

“Let me ask you a different question… What percentage of players in this tournament are you better than?”

“Maybe 98%.”

“Conservatively. Look around.”


“Why do you choose a deck that can betray you with its mana? Any deck can get manascrewed, but you court it with all those pain lands. ZevAtog doesn’t do that; neither does Mono-Black. They aren’t as splashy as the deck you played, but if you had played one of them, you wouldn’t have lost your second round match.”

I looked back at my loss to Fires the previous year, to my second round loss to the worse R/U/G when all I drew were pain lands, and have tried, more than anything else, to build more mana consistent decks since.


The Best Deck
: Mono-Black Control

I played: Mono-Black Control

You are probably thinking that Wake was the best deck. You are wrong. Wake and MBC were of comparable power, but over 9-10 rounds of Swiss, the one color deck is better than the three color deck for exactly the reason that playing Kibler’s R/U/G wasn’t right the previous year: you have many, many trials wherein your opponent can exploit color screw.

Kai designed the core of our deck:

4 Undead Gladiator

2 Visara the Dreadful

1 Chainer’s Edict

4 Corrupt

4 Diabolic Tutor

4 Duress

1 Haunting Echoes

3 Innocent Blood

1 Mind Sludge

4 Mutilate

2 Skeletal Scrying

4 Smother

2 Cabal Coffers

24 Swamp


2 Cabal Therapy

2 Chainer’s Edict

1 Engineered Plague

1 Haunting Echoes

2 Laquatus’s Champion

1 Mind Sludge

4 Nantuko Shade

1 Skeletal Scrying

1 Visara the Dreadful

MBC tested best across the board for us. We saw G/R, Madness, and Psychatog as the Big Three that year, and MBC had the advantage against all of them. G/R was a better matchup than Madness because of Circular Logic, but they were both easy. Psychatog was the easiest of all; I went on a 30 game win streak against Josh, before and after boards, one day in testing. He just wouldn’t give up. The problem was that 2/3 of the Decks to Beat had Compost access, and no one was beating Compost after boards… So I eventually invented the Laquatus’s Champion “Fireball” sideboard plan, which changed the paradigm of the game. The theory was that the opponent could draw all the cards he wanted, they didn’t matter. As long as you were restricting the opponent’s board with creature elimination and he wasn’t damaging you, 2-3 Corrupts and Champions would kill him before he could burn you out; against Madness, Compost wasn’t relevant at all because it didn’t matter how many cards he had in hand, he only had four Circular Logics, and you could just lead with Duress and resolve Visara for the GG. I eventually went undefeated against Compost at Regionals, including 3-0 v. players with two Composts in play.

Ultimately we under-prepared for Zombies and Wake. We just didn’t anticipate them until it was too late. I don’t know if we would have switched if we had known, and despite the fact that two of my non-wins were to these decks, I don’t know that we should have. I just would have done a couple of things differently.

I was only up against Zombies at all because of the draw with Wake. I won my first game against Zombies. Game Two I mulliganed a two land hand, turned over a bunch of lands, and eventually lost to a Persecute. Game Three I kept a Swamp/Coffers hand because of the Game Two hand, lost to manascrew.

In the “win and I’m in” round, I lost to Slide, which was awful. In game one, on turn 4, I Diabolic Tutored for Mind Sludge, and showed him the big five-for-one. Then I drew ten Swamps in a row. Ten. I 1-for-1’d him a couple of times, but not ten times, and he eventually killed me with a Gigapede of all things. Game Two I “won the sideboard war,” figuring he would remove Wrath of God but leave Starstorm, and killed him quickly with Laquatus’s Champion. I knew I had Deck Advantage and Strategy Superiority going into Game Three. What I didn’t have was land and spells, and despite a trip or two to Paris, the mana gods decided I was getting Top 16 that year.

Eventual Record: 7-2-1

The Lesson:

All of this could have been avoided if I just won my match against Wake at the 3-0 table. Usually we lost Game One to Wake, sided in the Nantuko Shades, and crossed our fingers. This didn’t happen for me; I in fact tricked my opponent and Corrupted him out when he had Wake in play and active Compulsion going for a couple of turns. As we were both control decks, we played a long, protracted Game One that I constantly chastised myself for not conceding. I was overjoyed when I out-played him… and let that cloud my decision making process.

When I won, I sideboarded normally: out creature kill; in control elements, in aggression.

This was a huge strategic mistake! There were only 15 minutes on the clock and I no longer had to win two games. I didn’t need the Shades at all. All I needed was to not get killed by Exalted Angel. I opened with Duress for Counterspell setting up Therapy for Exalted Angel. Great. Turn 4 Diabolic Tutor. Turn 5 my Mind Sludge was countered, but Turn 6 I resolved Haunting Echoes for the remaining two Angels in his deck.

Home free, right?


My opponent had drawn a fourth Exalted Angel on turn 5 and killed me with it. Who plays four Angels? Having taken out a significant amount of my normally voluminous creature kill, I just didn’t have the weapons to deal with his Compulsion.

With 15 minutes on the clock, I should have actually maxed out on control elements, including creature kill, bringing in the Edicts or even Visara instead of the Shades. I’m not advocating Slow Play to stall him out, I’m saying that given the fact that there is no way two slow control decks can finish two games with only 15 minutes left, there is nothing ethically wrong with my taking a defensive position for Game Two, in order to rob him of his only out: the quick kill.

Instead he mised me with the last Angel and we didn’t have time for a third game.


The Best Deck
: Ravager Affinity – by a mile

I played: G/W Control

4 Scrabbling Claws

4 Oxidize

3 Akroma, Angel of Wrath

4 Akroma’s Vengeance

4 Eternal Dragon

2 Gilded Light

4 Pulse of the Fields

4 Wing Shards

4 Wrath of God

4 Elfhame Palace

3 Forest

12 Plains

4 Temple of the False God

4 Windswept Heath


2 Darksteel Colossus

4 Duplicant

3 Naturalize

4 Tooth and Nail

2 Gilded Light

G/W control was actually a superb deck to play at this Regionals, handily beating Ravager, and presenting an even better game against Goblins. The problem was Tooth and Nail.

I actually had the draw to beat Tooth and Nail, but failed because my opponent splashed White for Decree of Justice. As good as my deck was against creatures, I was bad against Cloudpost-powered Soldier tokens, and lost both games the same way (I actually didn’t main phase cycle in Game Two when I would have drawn into a lethal Akroma). If I had just made my friend Brian Kibler Nationals modification to my deck, playing Decree of Justice instead of Akroma, I would have easily won both games.

But that’s not the lesson.

Much like Jon Finkel sad tale back in 1997, I was tricked into changing my deck right before the tournament started by Seth Burn. Seth said I had “the Fear” (damn you, Dan Paskins) and convinced me to remove my Scared Grounds (sic). So of course, after winning Game One, I had to somehow beat Death Cloud without the key sideboard card for the matchup. That’s okay. I beat on some Ravagers. Eventually I hit an opponent with a Red Deck. I mauled him in Game One, but knew the jig was up when he removed Flashfires from the game to imprint his Chrome Mox. I lost both games to that ineffable threat.

So not only did my changing my deck to beat Tooth and Nail not actually yield a win against Tooth and Nail (where I could have just played better and won anyway), but I ruined my deck for a matchup that I should always win. Thanks a lot, Seth.

Around the Tournament:

In other news, Seth qualified… and then tricked Mike Clair and Steve Sadin into playing Inbred Red – an alleged Red Deck worse than Ponza with only three Skullclamps, and even then only after boards – at Nationals.


The Best Deck: ?

I played: ?