Lessons from Worlds, Part 3: Never Go On Tilt

With two days of the World Championships behind him, Craig “The Professor” Jones had a possible dash-for-cash situation: with a decent performance in the Extended portion of the event, Prof could finish in the money. After a few false starts in the deck-choice arena, he settled on a deck that posted an immaculate 6-0 record… but not by him. Craig shares his thoughts on the deck, and the metagame, with his usual insight and wit.

In which our hero makes a brave run for a pot of gold, only to be thwarted by Lady Fate and the dreaded Tilt Factor at the final hurdle.

Hmm, didn’t I write an article about avoiding tilt after Nationals? Oh well, maybe I should pay more attention to what I’m writing.

Anyway, when we last left off I’d just managed to throw everything I knew about Time Spiral draft out of the window. Somehow after that I still managed to crawl out with a shaky (but not catastrophic) 3-3. It’s not good, and my dreams of Top 8 (and Level 5) are over, but a good performance in the Extended section would still enable me to finish in the money.

There’s a slight problem.

I haven’t played a single match of Extended since World’s 2005.

That’s a pretty bad confession, I know. Yeah, I should have been building Extended decks, but I was having too much fun messing around with bad goblin and Grave Pact decks. I had barely scraped a Standard deck together for the first day, so Extended had no chance.

Last year was fairly easy. I went out drinking until six in the morning and then dug out a slightly updated version of the Grave-Troll deck I’d played in Los Angeles before. The format had moved on, and chronic lack of sleep saw me manage a decidedly mediocre 2-3 before slinking off for some much needed shut-eye. When pros tell you it’s best to get a good eight hours kip before a major tournament, they’re actually onto something.

This year I didn’t even have that to fall back on. What I did have, however, was Stuart Wright.

Before leaving, Stuart had emailed us a listing of what he was intending to play. And this is basically it:

Stuart is a phenomenally good deck builder, but sometimes has off days. In Standard he and our blessed editor had taken a Husk-Glare deck to 3-3 and 1-5 records respectively (sorry dude) [Grrr… – Editor Craig]. But he did have an Extended deck and he had tested it against a representative section of the Extended field (which I believe can be found here).

Still, I wasn’t quite sure. I could sort of see how a turn 2 Destructive Flow would utterly demolish some decks, but I hadn’t quite worked out what the rest of the deck was. I saw Grim Lavamancers and Firebolts and immediately had warm and fuzzy memories of Red Deck Wins. But there doesn’t seem to be quite enough burn. How did the deck kill people? All the creatures are tiny. Doesn’t Fire / Ice just utterly destroy it?

There was another slight problem. I didn’t have any Grim Lavamancers. I’d given Andrew “Boomer” Clayton (third place finisher at the Nats, still harbors a grudge about a certain semi-final Chord of Calling) instructions to pick up some cards for me before he came out, but in a mix-up he managed to leave the cards in his car, which was of course on the other side of the Channel. In punishment I obviously roasted him slowly over some blazing coals.

Nah, not really. It was good of him to make the effort in the first place and accidents happen.

So, if I still wanted to play Stuart’s deck I’d need to dig up some Lavamancers. No problem, I could grab some from the traders. There were plenty of those around.

“Lavamancers, ha, you must be joking. They all went at the end of Tuesday. I’ve got some of the foil promo ones.”

“Oh, how much?”

“90 euros.”


No problem. You see, I had ideas. Everyone and his dog knew that most people were going to turn up with Boros Deck Wins. When a format is new, and people haven’t had time to test it thoroughly, the default is to turn up with a solid Red deck.

Ah, but I’m cunning you see. So very cunning…. Precious…

Ooh, don’t know what came over me then. Where was I? Ah yeah. Beating Red decks. In days past one of the sure-fire (as sure as you can be anyway when taking on the all-powerful Mountain) ways to beat the Red decks was to execute a combo before they got a chance to fry your head off.

Back in ’99 I threw infinite Shield Spheres at their head with Goblin Bombardment, thanks to Enduring Renewal. In 2001 I… uh… lost a lot, if I remember… although there was a plan of cheating out Verdant Force with Natural Order. And just last year in 2005 I… uh… lost quite badly to Affinity.

Okay, okay. Let’s not look at the past.

I joked at the end of the draft day that I didn’t have a deck and might just play my Standard Dragonstorm deck. It was a joke, but cogs were whirling a way in the tortured machinery of my mind. Add an Invasion sac land here… A Chrome Mox there… Yes, that could work.

Well, actually no it couldn’t as it happened. It started so promising. The British contingent went out together for a curry (not a strong point of French cuisine. I ordered a Vindaloo and wasn’t even sweating at the end. Weak!), and during it some of the guys talked about the Extended Dragonstorm decks that had been online. The Invasion sac lands are no-brainers, but the Dragon package was a little more interesting as the Extended version gets to run Kokusho for the drain effect and Bladewing, the Risen for an elegant piece of redundancy should you inadvertently draw a Kokusho.

I was excited by the prospect, but the reality turned out to be rather disappointing. No one had an exact decklist and my attempts to come up with one were… less than ideal. Stuart watched Paul Gower’s techy five-color Zoo Deck (not a bad deck as it turned out. I think Paul went 5-1 on the day) tore my bloated goldfish apart repeatedly before commenting:

“Craig, you appear to have made a version worse than the Standard one.”

Sad, but true.

So the remnants of the Dragonstorm deck, and dreams of playing Boros-crushing combo, were put aside and I picked up Stu’s decklist. I was still short of Grim Lavamancers, but thankfully Bryan Connolly was on hand with a nice minty playset.

I was still concerned about the everything-dying-horribly-to-Fire problem and upped the beef count with a couple more Call of the Herd. And also mainly because I might as well make some contribution (I’m not always this useless for Constructed).

This is the final list I took:

As ever, full live coverage of the day can still be found on the official coverage here.

Despite the hordes that descended onto the Extended field, the only Boros deck I faced was piloted by Arnost Zidek in round 13. I lost that clash, but it was very close in all three games. I was able to kill his thresholded Fledgling Dragon (no mean feat when you consider the deck’s burn package), but lost to the Char in his hand. The post-board matchup felt problematic as Flametongue Kavu effectively fights your main trump card, Call of the Herd, and Fledgling Dragon has always been a game-breaker in the Red deck mirror. I’ve been told this isn’t a typical sideboard strategy, although the prospect of Armadillo Cloaked Silver Knights is a thought that breaks me out in cold sweats at night.

In round 14 the deck got to show its power as a turn 2 Destructive Flow on the play against Blue/White Tron ended Duncan McGregor’s game right there. One of the interesting points of this game is the question of when to concede. McGregor chose to play on for a few more turns, discarding Decree of Justice and Fact of Fiction. The second discard was highly relevant. In the second game I had a blind Cabal Therapy against McGregor’s four untapped land. Obviously McGregor can’t cast Fact or Fiction then, as I will just take the best card with Therapy. After working this out I named the card I saw discarded in game 1, and hit the Blue card drawer in his hand. The Therapy was flashed back to pick off a Wrath, and McGregor was left with pretty much nothing.

The next game I get paired against the old fashioned Flow rock variant. It might be old fashioned, but Ohran Viper with Jitte is enough to tear my team to pieces. At this point I was doubting Stuart Wright again. All that shiny equipment… surely that must be a better version of the Flow deck. Well, not if all the creatures are killed before they ever pick up the Tuning Fork of Terror (games 2 and 3, although if Ken Ishimaru had hit a fourth land in game 3 I think I might have been in a considerable spot of bother from his Phantom Centaur)

I rolled over a goblin deck, or rather it rolled over itself. The goblin decks are fantastically powerful but also dangerously unreliable.

At this point I’m a rather useful 3-1 on the day and a respectable 10-6 overall. A win would net me my first money finish at a World Championships, and two wins would be very nice indeed.

I should have learned by now that whenever I start thinking in those terms, the wheels fall off.

In round 17 I’m paired against Jelger Wiegersma, and I’m told (by Quentin Martin I think) that Jelger needs two wins to make Level 6. At this point I almost scoop as Jelger is playing for the considerable benefits of Level 6 compared to only a lowly money finish on my part.

As an aside the Pro Player club levels have done interesting things for the game. Getting players to travel to Grand Prix tournaments on different continents is an excellent thing, but it does bring side effects. I remember Mox Radio’s Magic Dave pointing this out to Rich Hagon and I at a Grand Prix in the middle of the year. While the level system is very good incentive for competing in a Grand Prix, it is a little sad that the Pro Points awarded by a tournament become more important than winning the tournament itself. Observant watchers will have noticed that some of the later GPs in the year featured concessions in the Top 8. It will be interesting to see if this will be allowed to continue or whether action will be taken to stamp it out. I suspect it may be an unavoidable side effect of the Pro Club system, just as Intentional Draws are an unavoidable side effect of any Swiss system.

I didn’t scoop to Jelger. I felt that volunteering to do the Player’s Blog brought with it certain responsibilities, and that’s probably a position I’ll maintain throughout the next year. While I do feel a little guilty that I’m effectively trying to beat Jelger out of large sums of money, another part of me thinks that for the integrity of the game the Pro Levels need to be earned fair and square. I’m just old-fashioned and sickeningly moralistic (hmm, not that moralistic. Why, just last week <censored>).

As it happened, Jelger was more than capable of beating me fair and square. He was running the Ritual-Desire deck, and this comes purely down to whether I draw disruption. I can’t race the deck as it kills me the turn before I’m lethal (games 1 and 3), but my disruption – Cabal Therapy, Destructive Flow – is more than capable of preventing the deck from going off (game 2). Game 3 was interesting as I felt I maybe should have mulliganed a hand that was otherwise perfect. Stuart thought it was probably a keeper, but I think that without Flow or Therapy it just isn’t possible to win as you aren’t fast enough to race (as happened). With the various Storm decks gaining in popularity, decisions like this will become especially important during the forthcoming Extended PTQ season.

Jelger went onto win the next round, but then missed out on Level 6 by one point as tiebreakers put him in 34th place.

The last round and, oh dear, the demons were at it again. Yes, it’s that point in the article when I pick out a match and show all the kiddies exactly how not to play.

Okay, so my opponent is Finnish national team member Erkki Siira. I immediately get off to a rocky start when I fail to mulligan a hand of one Elves of Deep Shadow and multiple burn. Okay, so that might be playable against a creature deck, but I should have known better as I’d seen Scandinavian players on tables next to me all day and they were all running Blue/White control decks.

Siira doesn’t have much trouble beating that hand, but Bob and twins fed me enough gas to square the match in game 2.

Game 3, and I sort of lost to my own Flow. It’s kind of embarrassing really. In the first game I lost to Cloudpost, Vesuva, Vesuva shenanigans, so it felt Flow was worth the sacrifice of a Stomping Ground, especially as I had Bob in hand and should in all likelihood find another Red source quickly.


Unfortunately, games don’t always turn out the way they initially seem. Flow actually isn’t as effective against the Blue/White Cloudpost decks as you might think. The Flow cuts off the Cloudpost engine but the only other thing the Flow can eat is Hallowed Fountains. Vesuvas duck it by copying basic land. The ineffectiveness of my “trump” card quickly became apparent as Siira fetched out basic land and made signets.

Meanwhile, that “in all likelihood” started to be translated as “never,” as Bob became so spectacularly bad for me I was tempted go and throw darts at the original. No land, just more Red spells clogging up my hand as a Descendant of Kiyomara held me off. When you’re screwed and not drawing land it’s bad. When you’re screwed and still not drawing land despite having an extra source of card drawing such as Arena or Dark Confidant it’s more than frustrating… it feels that Lady Fate has personally sailed down herself to deposit a great steaming turd on top of your skull. Even worse, I couldn’t find a Cabal Therapy either. There was a real chance Bob might just kill me.

This game was highly frustrating, as you may have guessed from the blog. I just needed to get two Red sources down and then the Grim Lavamancer in play and Firebolts in hand would quickly shoot through his Descendant and Ironfoot and allow me to batter him senseless. Not to be.

Unfortunately the frustration got to me, and then the dreaded Tilt hit. Instead of sitting back and staying calm I kept moaning about my bad fortune and committing Kird Apes to the board I didn’t need to.

Yeah, I really should have seen the Wrath coming. That was a nice nine-for-three (or possibly worse) I just gave my opponent. I realized how much of a prat I’d been when I looked at my hand and realised there wasn’t a creature there I could follow with.

I was even more of a prat when I just Firebolted him to the dome. And so he (of course) made another Descendant I couldn’t kill because the second Firebolt I needed to do it would take me to less cards in hand than him.

Okay, so I could take the easy way out and blame it on a horrible series of draws after I’d lost the Stomping Ground to my own Flow. It’s not a bad excuse, making Dark Confidant and taking around ten points of damage over the following seven turns and failing to draw land is fairly bad (I tell a lie – I drew a Blood Crypt. Very powerful with my own Flow down). And yeah, if I’d drawn two Red sources quickly I would have been able to mow down Siira’s Ironfoot and Descendant of Kiyomaro and probably put the game away quickly. But I didn’t. Stupid Bob. Chalk one up to rotten draws and move on.

Except maybe not…

Way back in my Nationals article, I talked about how sometimes you’ll fall victim to lousy draws and there won’t be a single thing you can do to save the match. That happens, and you have to get over it. But I also warned that you have to be careful that you don’t let moaning about bad draws blind you to possible ways out.

Yeah, my draws were fairly bad, and yeah, a second Red source would have won the game quickly, but… who said I had to win the game quickly? There was no need to panic. Sure, I was taking damage off Dark Confidant, but he’s a Blue/White deck and hardly likely to Char me to death. I was drawing two cards a turn to his one, and he currently wasn’t going anywhere fast. All I had to do was anticipate the Wrath and hold the last few creatures back. If that put my hand size above seven I could always fire off the odd Firebolt to the dome. That way, once the Wrath hits, I’ve got creatures to follow. The game isn’t the one-sided bloodbath it seemed when I made the Flow with Bob to follow, but it’s a game I still have a chance of winning. Instead I went on tilt at my bad draws and threw the game way with some bad tactical choices.

This was costly, as it meant I missed out finishing in the money and ended with a rather average, but not too disgraceful, 10-8.

Overall, I think the deck is odd. A lot of the games I was sitting down and thinking, “this must be a bad matchup,” only for the deck to go on to win. Even though my record was a rather mediocre 3-3 I think a little more practise or slightly better draws might have improved on that. Stuart Wright proved this as he went 6-0 on the day and stormed to a fifteenth place finish overall.

The deck does have a lot of game against the majority of the Extended field. Wild Mongrel and Call of the Herd are very strong against other Red Decks, Dark Confidant is fantastic card advantage (don’t be afraid to keep it in against Boros either), and Destructive Flow wrecks any deck reliant on non-basic lands. If there is a criticism, it’s that you often need to see the right part of the deck in a lot of matchups, but that’s generally true of most Magic decks.

After playing the deck there were a number of opinions on how to improve it. Stuart thought he wanted more Elephants over the Shadow Guildmage, but four seemed too slow in some matches. I think we decided three was an optimal number, but this leaves a space in the main deck. It should probably be a one-drop, but I don’t know what it is.

I think I’d definitely want a non-Red source of removal in the sideboard. A Karsten-style Boros deck with Armadillo Cloaks in the board feels very awkward to deal with if they drop it on a Soltari Priest or Silver Knight. Nicolai Herzog ran Deathmark in his board, which seems a solid choice.

Stewart Shinkins ran the deck in a PTQ and his suggestion was to switch the Destructive Flows for Cabal Therapies in the main.

The sideboard – in fact, all sideboards for Extended – is tricky to build. There are a number of decks in the Extended format that have tightly-focused game plans around a particular strategy. The current listing has Ancient Grudge to bust up Affinity; Tormod’s Crypt for decks based around the graveyard such as Tog, Friggorid and Aggro-Loam; Cabal Therapy versus control / combo; and Umezawa’s Jitte for other Red decks. I think I would probably bring in Deathmark over possibly the Tormod’s Crypts, but this is tricky.

My feeling is that the Extended metagame is too large for sideboards to cover, and that you’re probably going to have to leave a hole against a certain strategy. At Worlds it seemed like a lot of the decks reliant on graveyards were scared away by the presence of Tormod’s Crypt. This might cause players to start dropping the hate from their boards and then leave the way open for those decks to return. Because of this, I think the Extended metagame probably won’t settle down over the forthcoming weeks of the PTQ season. Instead we’ll see it fluctuate from week to week. Should be interesting. If you are looking for something to play, I heartily recommend Stu’s deck. Hopefully the man himself will be persuaded to talk about it greater detail at some point in the future (or maybe he already has – circumstances have left me without a regular net connection at the moment).

Okay, so next week we have the Team draft day:

Prof stayed in bed until midday.

Yep, that was easy. Send payment to the usual address.

Oh, I can’t get away with that?

As much as I’d like to regale you with odd tales about roflcopters and pigeons I think I’m probably going to have to leave that to the English team.

So I suppose that brings me to the end of my World’s odyssey. The tournament wasn’t too bad for me. I was in contention for a money finish even in the very last round and more importantly had a lot of fun. The event itself was the largest World Championships I’d been too. There were two halls full to the brim of people wanting to play side events. Nicholas Lovett capped off a very good year for British Magic with a Semi-Final finish, and the Welsh team had a very good run in the team event as their last hurrah.

So that’s it for 2006. Next year kicks off with Pro Tour Geneva and… sigh… draft.

Thanks for reading.