Magic Online Championship Series Report (2nd)

White’s the best these days! Who needs Stoneforge Mystic? Reid Duke played a Block Puresteel Paladin deck to 2nd place and recommends a Standard version. Try it this weekend at SCG Open: Cincinnati.

Last week
I laid out my opinions on Scars Block Constructed and what I expected out of the Magic Online Championship Series tournament. To summarize: I wanted to
be aggressive, but Tempered Steel’s matchup against Puresteel Paladin was bad, and Puresteel itself was too inconsistent for my liking.

In the days between writing about the MOCS and actually playing it, Logan Nettles and Chase Kovac (aka Jaberwocki and FFfreaksgrandmother respectively)
threw their support behind Puresteel Paladin and encouraged me to try their decklist. Logan has a way of honing in on the best builds of decks because
he’s great at trimming the fat. He has no tolerance for fancy, flowery combos and makes sure every card is good on its own. Their build was as
different from the one I suggested last week as night is from day.

My old decklist put a huge emphasis on metalcraft because I felt that Dispatch was the most important card in the deck. That style had the side
benefits of using Mox Opal reliably, and doing obscene things when Puresteel Paladin lived. The secret that Logan figured out is that, while Dispatch
might be a great card, it’s not integral to the deck’s success. This build does not have the problems with inconsistency that I complained about
because it plays no cards that rely on metalcraft, no cards to achieve metalcraft, and it basically assumes that Puresteel Paladin will rarely live to
see an untap step. That leaves all cards that I’m happy to lift off the top of my deck in any situation.

So we had our mono-white “good cards” deck, and let me tell you: white cards are good in Scars Block. Mirran Crusader is the most underrated card in
the format, and Queen Elspeth finally found a good home in this slower take on White Weenie.

Round One—Phreakz with Mono-Black Poison

We both dropped some weenie creatures, but he eventually hit me with a Whispering Specter and made me discard my hand. I was left with a small board
advantage, but he still had three cards. Fortunately I topdecked a Mirran Crusader right away, and that card is too much for mono-black poison to
handle. Game two the only spell he played was Phyrexian Crusader before dying to its white counterpart.


Already, the changes to the deck were working out great. In the old metalcraft build, it would have taken some great luck to win after dropping my hand
to a Whispering Specter. More importantly, Mirran Crusader had already proven its worth as a maindeck card. Alone, it’s brutally efficient and hard to
answer. Combined with Equipment, crazy things can happen.

Round Two—chuyingfei with Puresteel Paladin

I got stuck on two lands for a few turns and chuyingfei hit me for fourteen with a Mirran Crusader equipped with Sword of War and Peace. I tried to
find a blue removal spell to deal with his Protection from W/G/R/B creature, but I couldn’t do it in time. Game two looked better as I started with
plenty of removal and three Swords of my own, but all I could do is deal damage and gain life while he turned the game around with two Puresteel
Paladins drawing thirty cards.


My complaint about Sword of War and Peace is that it doesn’t provide card advantage. I can be at a hundred life, and they can be at one, but if they
deal with my threats, I still can’t beat them. Sword of Feast and Famine, Sword of Fire and Ice, and Umezawa’s Jitte are the best Equipment of all time
because a single hit provides an advantage that can’t be undone later in the game.

That said, War and Peace earns its slot in this format because Mono-White and Mono-Red are popular decks that aren’t well prepared to deal with
protections. More importantly, the life gain is also big in both of those matchups. Sword of War and Peace is also certainly passable against control
decks, as it forces them to answer every creature—even Germs. However, I wished I had a second copy of Sword of Body and Mind in my sideboard, as it’s
better against Tezzeret decks.

Round Three—Kuriboh_ with Tempered Steel

Mortarpod saved me from a fast death, then two Heroes of Bladehold double-teamed him. Game two my hand had plenty of lands and my Sunblast Angel, but
not much action in the meantime, and I died on turn five. In game three I had tons of removal, and he scooped on turn 10 to Germ beatdown. Again, the
Angel was in my hand, but I didn’t hit six mana.


The team dynamic of MTG is complex and nebulous. If you try to do all of your tournament preparation on your own, you put yourself at a huge
disadvantage. However, tournaments are 100% individual undertakings, and you can’t rush in with a deck that you might not understand or might not be
right for you, just because your friends tell you to. The way to be fully prepared for a tournament is to talk to as many people as you can, while
still making sure that you have your own intimate knowledge and experience with whatever deck you finally choose.

I parted ways with Logan and Chase on the sideboard. They played Apostle’s Blessing and Act of Aggression along with the Mutagenic Growths. I’m
passionately opposed to playing combat tricks—a topic that I’ll write about some day. Suffice it to say that if I had copied the sideboard Logan and
Chase had suggested, I would personally have just never brought those cards in. At this point, the testing that I had done with various other builds of
Puresteel Paladin helped me whip up a sideboard that, while not perfect, was at least useful for someone with my preferences and play style.

Round Four—caldwo with Mono-Red

A fast Sword of War and Peace took one game while one of my four Elspeth Tirels took the other.


The only problem with Elspeth is that opposing Sword of War and Peaces make her tokens unable to block in the Paladin mirror. She’s fine against
Tempered Steel as long as you don’t draw multiples, because she holds the ground very well, even against a Hero of Bladehold. Aside from those two big
matchups, and some obscure ones like Mono-Black Poison, I want four copies. She’s particularly good against Mono-Red.

At this point, I noticed a high concentration of top players piloting Tezzeret decks, and many of them were at the top of the standings. Popular
opinion calls U/B the foil to Puresteel Paladin, but Tempered Steel can often come out a little too fast for it. The fact that some players have byes
in the MOCS can do interesting things to the metagame, and for whatever combination of reasons, Tezzeret was extremely popular in the winning brackets.

I faced Tezzeret six times over the course of the tournament. Rather than go through each match, I’ll only give the highlights and my general thoughts
on the matchup, afterwards.

Round Five—Japanese Fisherman with Tezzeret (2-1)


Round Six—Found Omega with Grixis Tezzeret (2-0)


Round Seven—qbturtle15

He had two losses, got paired up against me, and volunteered to concede. Who needs twenty-five Qualifier Points to get a bye?


Round Eight—osmanozguney with Tezzeret (2-0)


Round Nine—The_Great_Dustini with Kuldotha Red

He kept Artillerizing my Heroes of Bladehold, which is a card that often produces easy wins against traditional red decks. However, this build of
Puresteel has too many must-answer threats for Red to win without having an aggressive start. Game one I put Dustini to the Sword. Game two, he had me
in a tough spot because he was ramping his Koth towards ultimate, but constantly leaving up mana for Into the Core. I could never activate either of my
two Inkmoth Nexuses because it would have allowed him to take out my Equipment, which was keeping me in the game. Luckily I kept Koth off ultimate with
nonartifacts, and eventually Elspeth showed up to show him who’s boss.


Round Ten—visualarts with Tezzeret

We split the first two games in about six minutes, as we each had one completely dominant performance. Game three was the most intense game of the
tournament, which was fitting as it determined which of us made the top eight. Turn four, on the play, visualarts played Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas and
made his Ratchet Bomb a 5/5 with two charge counters.

I untapped with two Plains, Inkmoth Nexus, Mirran Crusader, and Flayer Husk + Germ, and my hand had lands, Flayer Husk, Mirran Crusader, and Hero of
Bladehold. At this point, I had lost my chance to win with tempo. My best hope was to kill Tezzeret, hope he didn’t have Consecrated Sphinx, and beat
him fair and square in a long game.

I should have spent my turn activating Nexus, equipping it, and attacking the planeswalker for two. What I did instead was to convince myself through
some confused logic that if I equipped my Mirran Crusader, he wouldn’t trade his Ratchet Bomb for it, and then I would have my creature already
equipped for next turn. He did decide to block my Crusader and kept his Tezzeret alive at one counter.

Sure enough, he had a hand full of removal but not much other gas, and he got a steady stream of card advantage out of Tezz for the next few turns
before I finally finished the planeswalker off. Eventually, my luck ran out, and he played Consecrated Sphinx to go with his animated Wellspring. Where
did my Dispatches go!? He drew two; I equipped Sword of War and Peace to my Mirran Crusader, attacked, and he opted to take sixteen damage—down to
three—rather than lose his Sphinx. He attacked me and played some more stuff (another Tezzeret I believe).

He drew two and I attacked, forcing him to chump block. He played a Ratchet Bomb and an Inkmoth Nexus, and attacked me very low with Sphinx, leaving an
animated Wellspring and his Inkmoth as blockers. He drew two as I drew Leonin Relic-Warder. I played it and exiled his Wellspring, then equipped
Mortarpod to it and attacked with the Crusader. visualarts animated his Inkmoth Nexus, which I killed. There was a long pause as I thought of all the
instants that his full hand might contain to save him, but instead I saw the “good game” in the chat log and jumped out of my chair in joy!


I’d like to backtrack to that turn where I failed to kill his Tezzeret. When you make a mistake, you want to identify the correct play, but even more
important is identifying the reason that you made the mistake. That way, you can make sure to later avoid any conditions that stop you from playing
your best. In this case, I wasn’t rushing—I probably thought for three full minutes on that turn—but I had a hard time keeping track of everything I
needed to in my mind. I was thinking about his possible responses to my plays, including what cards he might play from his hand in the following turns.
When I had finished thinking about everything, I had forgotten one of the most basic facts: that he could trade with my Mirran Crusader.

One of the contributing factors was my own fatigue. After all it was round ten of a tournament that had started at 6 pm for me. Given that it was Magic
Online, there were a few things I could have done to help myself (see the Pulp Fiction adrenaline shot scene), but in real life MTG, there’s not
much you can do except to be aware that you’re not at your best, and that you’re more likely to overlook something.

The other reason was my attitude about the matchup. I knew that Tezzeret had a better late game, so my instincts told me not to let a turn pass without
changing the board state. While this is a helpful guideline, I should have remembered that in MTG there are only ever guidelines, never hard and fast
rules of how to play a matchup. In this case, it was much better for me to enter the late game at a disadvantage than to try to rush things and lose
right away because of it.

I was in the top eight. All day I had stressed out about not having byes, but now the playing field was level, and all eight of us had the same
chances. Byes are important, and you should always try for them when you can, whether it’s a GP, a MOCS, or anything else. However, never be
discouraged if you don’t have them. Remember that it takes a good run to win a Magic tournament, and sometimes if you can go 9-1, you can go 12-1 also.

Top Eight—baconator5000 with Tezzeret

On the play, I cast a turn 3 Mirran Crusader, baconator played his third land, I equipped a Flayer Husk, baconator played his fourth land, I equipped a
Flayer Husk, baconator played his fifth land… The Crusader was never at risk of dying to a Black Sun’s Zenith. Sure, there were ways he could have
bought time to find an answer, but protecting your Crusader is a great way to win against Tezzeret. I ended up winning this match 2-1

Top Four—Xander23 with Tempered Steel

This matchup is favorable, but not quite as good as it is for the metalcraft version of Paladin. Plus, any time you face a deck this fast in a
do-or-die situation, it’s scary. In game one, I kept a slow hand because it had lands and spells, but could have lost to a good draw from Xander.
Luckily for me, he mulliganed to five in both games, and the match went according to plan for me.

Finals—__SipitHolla with Tezzeret

Up to this point, I was 5-0 against Tezzeret decks. However, I knew that my luck could run out at any time. Sipit was able to answer each of my threats
right away, particularly in game two where I didn’t hit my land drops on time. It was an anticlimactic finish to an exciting tournament.

Mono-White vs. U/B Tezzeret is a question of how quickly the Tezzeret player can answer the White player’s threats. If everything goes according to
plan for the control player, they win. However, they can miss lands, take an unexpected Sword hit, Hero of Bladehold can get in an attack, or a Mirran
Crusader can go unanswered. Statistically, I feel that it’s a totally fine matchup for Puresteel Paladin, but it’s not the type of matchup I’d want to
play all day. Just as this tournament showed, someone is bound to have the right answers at the right times.

Congratulations to __SipitHolla—a true legend of MTGO. Congratulations on qualifying, but don’t think you’ve escaped me yet! There are still open seats
for the 2011 MOCS, and one is reserved for me—right between you and Prolepsis9.

The Decklist

I’ve been proven wrong. Last week I said “As dependent as Tempered Steel is on its namesake card, the Equipment deck is that dependent on Puresteel
Paladin.” I didn’t use Paladin to run away with more than a handful of games in this tournament. The card’s real strength was that people would always
spend a removal spell on it right away. Really, Mirran Crusader did the heavy lifting for me. This deck was great because of its consistent mana base,
smooth curve, and high density of powerful cards. I wouldn’t change a card in the maindeck.

Regarding the sideboard, Contested War Zone was solid, but not thrilling. I liked having the ability to go up to twenty-five lands, but the upgrade
over basic plains is quite small (I’d typically cut two Plains and add three War Zones in control matchups) and drawing two copies can be bad.

Sunblast Angel was unreliable, and just adds variance to matchups that are already good.

My recommended sideboard is: 4 Divine Offering, 2 Elspeth Tirel, 2 Contested War Zone, 2 Mutagenic Growth, 2 Sword of Body and Mind, 1 Phyrexian
Metamorph, 1 White Sun’s Zenith, 1 Indomitable Archangel.

Puresteel Paladin in Standard

Standard offers a powerful one-drop Equipment which isn’t legal in Block, along with plenty of all-star white weenies to equip.

Tempered Steel, Paladin with metalcraft, Paladin without metalcraft, Emeria Control, Honor of the Pure White Weenie—White’s the best these days! You
could play a competitive mono-white deck every weekend for the rest of the summer, and you could do it without ever repeating an archetype! Who needs
Stoneforge Mystic?