All things considered, a near-miss is still something that gives me a bit of hope nowadays, but maybe it’s just the long string of bad beats in full-block Ravnica drafts that’s got me down. Considering how badly that has been going, actually encountering a metagame I can predict and understand and that seems to follow logic and reasoning was pleasantly refreshing… especially since on the surface it seems entirely wide-open, and thus unpredictable. I had a strong plan for my article series last week, with an expose on the metagame shifts for Thursday on the Premium side, followed by a more in-depth look at starting with the “big four” of the metagame, the decks that did well at the PTQ season following Honolulu and thus would serve as the underpinnings of the metagame. As a bonus for last Friday’s free-side weekly Magical Hack, I was going to have a look at my deck choice for Regionals and explain the thinking that led me there.
Unfortunately, articles have a deadline and while the Friday article of my weekly series was already very long, I didn’t have any length issues as far as running the “Bonus Track” section… but I did run out of time. “No worries,” I’d figured, and I told Craig I wanted to add that but didn’t get a chance to put it in before having to submit it to the editor. I thought I’d write it up and post it as a reply in the Forums, so anyone who was interested enough to click through would find a bonus surprise and the results of my theorizing and playtesting. Nice plan… until I ended up “getting a root canal” on Friday instead of “writing anything about Magic.” I had a bad spate during college, a three-month period where at several points I woke up one morning in intense pain and realized I needed an emergency root canal or I was just going to suffer until I finally got one. Back then, I got three in the span of three months… and those three months taught me all I needed to know about “that” feeling. So when I woke up Friday with “that” feeling, I realized that my plans were not exactly going to go as I had hoped. At least it happened Friday, not Saturday, so I could call out of work and get it done, where on Saturday not only would I have had to skip Regionals, but good luck finding a specialist to do the surgery on a Saturday on short notice.
So very few people got to know what I was up to, especially as regards to the sideboarding plan I’d tested more thoroughly, with only a few people I knew from Neutral Ground also planning on playing the deck and the small NYC-area playtesters group I’d started on Yahoogroups fully “in the know.” To everyone reading my weekly articles, it was one of five decks presented at the same time, and who knows whether it was good or bad, considering that a few decks at the bottom of the article were, um, “not good”… but at least I didn’t have the presumption of calling them good, by having them added in the Deck View format, because I like to maintain something akin to standards rather than presenting garbage on a silver platter and expecting you to believe that Fertile Imagination Husk is the deck to beat for Regionals.
But at least I got to go to Regionals, which wasn’t looking quite so certain come Friday morning.
My deck had been born the week after the Dissension pre-release, through late-night conversations with Scott McCord – Blue-White mage extraordinaire – and started thusly:
It was born out of the shell of an idea I’d had when I still thought you could Tallowisp for Threads of Disloyalty, about taking some of the elements of B/W Ghost Dad and translating Sickening Shoal into Disrupting Shoal, a deck I cleverly called “Ghost Mom” and which caused me to smile when I saw that Plumes of Peace did in fact exist… part of my assumption was that a U/W Pacifism analogue existed, similar to how B/W got Pillory of the Sleepless. The deck clearly never worked out, but at least it got me thinking about what I’d need if I wanted to build a Blue-White deck that worked.
Version 2.0 shaved a Meloku for a 25th land, and wrote up a sideboard: 4 Disrupting Shoal, 4 Threads of Disloyalty, 4 Azorius Guildmage, 3 Terashi’s Grasp. Version 3.0 changed one land in the deck, adding Mikokoro, Center of the Sea instead of the fourth Plains, while I altered the sideboard after I realized the Rewind plan against Heartbeat was just better than the janky do-nothing Disrupting Shoals I was somehow convincing myself might be good… and added a pair of Pithing Needles, for Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree; and perhaps Umezawa’s Jitte or other things as they come up, shaving off one of the Terashi’s Grasps. Playtesting saw me absolutely demolishing anything aggressive, as well as having a solid match against Heartbeat and definite game against control thanks to my two- and three-mana creatures instead of klunky Dragons and no Jushis. So, for Regionals the nameless deck was ready, and also in the hands of a few friends who likewise agreed that it was the nuts against the decks everyone was playing… with the only really weak matchup being against Phyrexian Arena decks. (In the industry, this is often known as “foreshadowing”.)
I was worrying about losing a Grasp from my sideboard, because a resolved Phyrexian Arena could be a monster against me. I was even going so far as to consider Leave No Trace in the board, just as a more powerful card against Arenas and something that could kill all of them in my nightmare situation of multiple resolved Arenas, but I decided to stick with the versatile Grasp that can be boarded in against Umezawa’s Jitte or Phyrexian Arena instead of conceding that I was really worried about being chased through the woods, naked and in the dark, by a pack of rabid wolves. I expected even fewer Arena decks than anything else, especially given the key Arena offering, the Beach House deck, was basically awful, and was proven such not only at the Pro Tour in Honolulu but also in the PTQ season that followed it.
Round 1, then, it should come as no surprise to see that I was in fact chased through a dark forest by wolves that rabidly hungered for my naked flesh. It’s not quite the same, it’s a Black-White Rats deck, but after getting demolished in game 1 by Ravenous Rats and Cry of Contrition and this and that with a Jitte on it, without even thinking “maybe he’s boarding Arena” I brought in two Pithing Needles along with the four Threads for Bob and miscellaneous small men. An Arena resolved, because I had no relevant cards in my hand, and I died, the end. I never drew Pithing Needle, at least, to mock me from my hand for not being Terashi’s Grasp.
So I cleverly start my day 0-1, in addition to all the bad beats about having a root canal on the day before, dragging myself barely conscious to Penn Station to catch the train to Edison, New Jersey, and somehow getting up to speed for a tournament being held in the basement of a Catholic church. All things considered, I was mindful of the fact that if I didn’t tighten up and actually turn my brain on, I wouldn’t be staying in this murky basement for very long and that would be embarrassing after I went through so much effort and thought to try and actually know what was going on. Embarrassment versus the continued worry that, as an atheist, I might spontaneously combust each and every time I crossed the barrier between the church and the outside world? Tough call, really.
So I get a nice easy pairing Round 2, to bolster my confidence. I get to play against Heezy Street in the loser’s bracket, which most people would worry about and consider going home early if they ran into it, but with four Descendants main it’s a matchup that goes so far beyond the laughable that even in autopilot like I am, I take him down 2-0. Cleverly I counted the number of sideboard cards he was putting in, and came up with four. In goes Terashi’s Grasp for Blood Moons. I didn’t count five, and I hadn’t seen Flames of the Blood Hand in game 1, so who knows what was going on. (I also ended the first game at 35 life, so again… who knows.)
My opponent gets out Blood Moon against me, but fortunately I have drawn a pair of Islands to go with the rest of my cards. I took a mighty four points of early damage, and the board cleared off quickly as Threads of Disloyalty stole two early creatures and forced a trade. Threads #3 from me stole Dryad Sophisticate, and Sophisticate swung from 20 to 0 as every other relevant card (and there weren’t many of them, considering how many lands he drew) was countered. Somewhere in there I Compulsive Researched three or four times and found a Plains to go with my Terashi’s Grasp, but it hardly seemed relevant. What was harder was sideboarding, as there aren’t four cards you clearly don’t want in this matchup, much less six. One Meloku was shaved off, because I don’t want to play them too early and walk into Char, and one Compulsive Research could get taken out as well. Two Jushi Apprentices seemed like they could be taken out, mostly due to lack of other options, and for the last two cards I shaved off a Wrath of God (because so much of my game hinges on stealing early creatures and controlling the board with Descendant of Kiyomaro, making Wrath sometimes contrary to what I am trying to accomplish) and a Spell Snare as I didn’t see as many things costing two as I need to, in order to really be happy with it after sideboarding.
Having battled back to 1-1 against the Pro Tour-winning deck, I guess I don’t have to kill myself, though if I was done by 3:00 or so there was a live-action role-playing game I could attend in Connecticut as a backup plan… not a good one, but still, a plan nonetheless.
Round 3 I get to play against Ghost Husk, and my opponent happens to be wearing a suit for some reason. Given the weather, no good reason I can think of, because it was a moderately nice day with just a slight chill to it suggesting long sleeves, and down in the bowels of the church along with 221 other gamer types I imagine that a full suit would be uncomfortably warm. Early on I stabilized at 18 life, having taken a slight hit from pain lands and Rusalka, but Spell Snare and Mana Leak keep things off the board while Descendant of Kiyomaro sits in play. He’s at 15 just from his Caves and Shrines and flips from Bob, when Descendant of Kiyomaro does that thing he does and takes him down to three life. Meloku finishes from there, with backup Wraths in hand and at least one counter to spare.
Again, the plan is to put in Threads of Disloyalty, and having seen Pithing Needles but no Jittes I ponder my sideboarding plan. Two Jushis and a Meloku seem obvious, just to minimize the effects of Pithing Needle, to make it hit an activated ability of one of my legendary Lands or something. A fourth card has to go to allow for the fourth Threads, and a Wrath of God hits the showers. One Compulsive Research and one Mana Leak later, I’ve added two Terashi’s Grasp, very nervous about repeating my loss from round one to an unanswered Arena.
I then summarily get mauled game 2, with him casting Husk, Husk, Promise while I countered pretty much nothing of relevance, though I did pay a life to Adarkar Wastes off a weak draw to Spell Snare the Confidant. I hold up one White mana with a smile, thinking I’ll take four from the Husks and figure something out in the next turn or two to answer the board position, but he eats a freshly drawn creature his first Husk, then eats all four Promise tokens to hit me for many. He fed all the tokens to the same Husk, and I didn’t have the Condemn, and get attacked for the last four the next turn.
Game 3 saw me take out the Grasps for Pithing Needle, to at least not repeat the last game’s shenanigans, and he mulligans on the draw. He gets Pithing Needle on Jushi Apprentice and we trade cards early on, a dance of cheap countermagic versus effective threats. He “sneaks out” a Dark Confidant on a turn when I wouldn’t be able to counter twice unless I had the Spell Snare, and I then Threads of Disloyalty the Confidant. He flips over a few lands, and a few decent cards, dropping my life total lower than I would like. My opponent has resolved Ghost Council of Orzhova, but cleverly I put Pithing Needle on Ghost Council so I can at least play fair with it. I’m at six and then flip one of my two copies of Meloku, dropping me to one life, but my draw is Descendant of Kiyomaro. He doesn’t offer me the opportunity to block with Dark Confidant, but I flip a land and draw another Descendant, attack my 3/5 into the 4/4 Ghost Council and go up to 4 before dropping Descendant #2. Meloku appears and the game is done, though he wasn’t crazy because I didn’t have as much mana as I would have liked.
Round 4 is even more preposterous; I play a weak knock-off of Heezy Street and am forced to draw first, then mulligan down to a one-land five-spell hand, where that one land was Hallowed Fountain and two of the spells were Condemn and Spell Snare. My opponent has no turn 1 or turn 2 play, making me wonder what kind of hand he kept. I still haven’t drawn a second land, so thanks to not having a two-drop I have to discard on my third turn after he cast Burning-Tree Shaman. Fortunately, instead of Giant Solifuge, his play is to super-size his Burning-Tree Shaman with Moldervine Cloak, and it goes on the bottom of his library. I then draw a second and finally a third land, dropping a quick Jushi Apprentice and then two copies of Descendant of Kiyomaro. He, however, drops three Giant Solifuges, which stay back on defense, and one Descendant sneaks in to see if he’s willing to counterattack… or better yet, double block. He draws another creature he can actually drop Moldervine Cloak on, and unsurprisingly I send that man, too, to the bottom of his deck. Shenanigans ensued, especially when he finally blocked one Descendant with two Solifuges.
Game 2 he had the joy of double mulliganing on the play, but he dropped a turn 3 Blood Moon when my lands included no basic lands besides one Plains. He then tries to use his turn 1 Seal of Fire on me to activate Bloodthirst on Scab-Clan Mauler, while I have zero spells I can cast in my hand… fortunately, when he cast the Mauler, I looked and noticed Mountain, Karplusan, Stomping Ground and reminded him that his lands are also Mountains instead of their usual type. We sit here for a while, neither casting spells, but I draw a second Plains and drop Descendant. That attacks me up to 29 and him down to 12 when he draws a Forest and I draw an Island, i.e. we begin interacting again. I have a pile of land and cast Meloku, however, so that may be better than his Scab-Clan Mauler.
3-1 with ease, even though Heezy Street can be hard for most decks to beat. Not those draws, and not me with my friendly neighborhood Exalted Angels on my side. It’s now 3:00 or so, and I’m still playing Magic, so I buckle down to shoot for Top 8 instead of thinking about going to that LARP…
Round 5 I have the joy of playing against U/R Wildfire Tron. Game 1 we both mulligan, and play some early drops, like a Signet from him or a Jushi Apprentice from me (who promptly dies). We’re both just dropping land, when he drops a Dragon instead. Keiga gets Condemned, and I’m looking towards a really long game and not countering anything I don’t have to. He’s playing Hinder, so we’re pretty evenly matched for countermagic, with my Mana Leaks dead versus his generally useless Remands and Mana Leaks, plus Spell Snare from me only really countering those and Signets. It looks bad, really bad. He keeps playing a variety of creatures that we fight over, and I aim to see every creature he has dead before they can hit me. I get Descendant of Kiyomaro going and gain some life while getting hit by another Dragon, but when a second threat appears I Wrath. He turns his Tatsumasa, the Dragon’s Fang into a token creature, and that gets Condemned. While playing for the long-long-long game, I was trying to hold up a Hinder for countermagic plus Mikokoro, Center of the Sea to fend off Demonfire, but repeated Wildfires plus him Confiscating a Chancery means that one of those Wildfires eats Mikokoro. The game’s been on for twenty minutes and I don’t think I’m winning, when he Electrolyzes me down to ten and concedes despite me not having any threats on the board. He’d been Compulsive Researching and casting Tidings and all that, and having been cleverly counting and keeping track of things, he conceded to the Wrath of God on the last Dragon in his deck that wasn’t also the last card in his deck… and here I was thinking this was going really, really badly for me.
I check my sideboard and confirm that the only cards of any relevance are Rewinds, and start shaving Mana Leaks out of my deck. Three Rewinds came in, and the last Mana Leak bought me Terashi’s Grasp for, um, Confiscates and maybe Tatsumasa or, um, who knows. It’s better than a Mana Leak, surely. The opponent plays first and mulligans, playing two lands and a Signet. I Terashi’s Grasp said Signet, and he misses his next land drop, but nothing is really going on. We do the trade counters and trade creatures and play lands game again, and every Wildfire he casts resolves because my game plan is basically to just keep playing lands. Jushi Apprentices can die in a variety of terrible ways, and I take two hits from a Dragon before Wrath and Condemn again appear to get legendary dragons off my back. I cast Meloku with a bunch of mana up, he gets Remanded. I try again next turn, he sticks; he doesn’t die on my opponent’s turn. I make some counters and bad things happen, though I guess they’re good things in my book.
Now I’m up to 4-1, and just hoping to find some nice easy matches for the next two rounds, like Heartbeat or Heezy Street. The decks I designed my deck to beat blindfolded with one arm tied behind its back, because the templating for the deck is surprisingly based off of Chad Ellis’s Stake Through The Heart(beat), which is also just based on Jushi Blue. Sure, a lot of things changed along the way, but if your Blue deck had access to Descendant of Kiyomaro I suspect you’d play it too.
Round 6, I cleverly get to play against Heartbeat. This matchup is not very interesting, but fortunately it usually doesn’t take very long. (This, of course, is not to be confused with my ever having actually played it before then, but instead is based off of templating previous similar matchups and mapping their tools and my tools over. The long and short of it: it may not be pretty, but I win more often than I lose and I definitely win if I win the first game.) He gets to play first, and I have Spell Snare for Sakura-Tribe Elder. My hand is geared against creature decks and has no action whatsoever as far as beating down itself, so I am hoping that he’s playing a Critical Mass deck instead of Heartbeat. He plays Divining Top and peeks, while I play a land. He casts Kodama’s Reach and I counter it with Mana Leak, trying to burn through the three Mana Leaks early in the game while they’re still useful, leaving myself with Leak and Hinder for his critical turn. This is exactly what happens… he doesn’t play a land the next turn and tries to Reach again, which I again Leak. On my fifth turn I cleverly cast a Meloku that has appeared from nowhere, while he has two Forests and two Islands. I know he doesn’t have a fifth land, and it’s certainly not going to be easy for a Swamp or Mountain to appear, so the classic Blue strategy of “grab the ankles” seemed appropriate as I wasn’t dead the next turn. I untap and attack him to 18, and he drops a land and Tops and twiddles and Transmutes to his heart’s content. I make one flying token, the math for attacking him to 15 and making two more tokens working out exactly as I want it to, with Mana Leak and Hinder always available in that sequence of plays. He does stuff, and shuffles, and gets attacked down to 10. He sees this as his opportunity to go off, and casts Heartbeat of Spring. I Mana Leak it, as he has four mana left and I think that’s the right way to play this fight through, even though burning both Leak and Hinder leaves me with no counters in hand. I lead with Leak first because I want to find out if he has Early Harvest first and be able to respond to it with Hinder, and he just pays. So I Hinder, and get another turn. I attack him to five, and on his turn he doesn’t have Heartbeat so he double-Harvests and casts Train of Thought for five with seven lands untapped. Unsurprisingly, those five cards aren’t as good as the two Harvests he burned for them, and he can’t kill me. Go me, with nothing but lands and Wraths in hand!
This took all of six minutes, up until the part where he slowed down at ten life to actually try and combo-kill me. It’s not like I do anything on my turn, except maybe cast Meloku and attack.
I sideboard as I’d been considering very carefully before the tournament, to leave myself able to answer whichever side of the man plan he boards into, which is the real joy of the Azorius Guildmage in the U/W deck. I keep two Wraths in case he gets Meloku advantage, siding the other two out, and I side out one of the four Condemns… it may need to answer Dragons or Kudzu or whatever, so they’re still solid. Two Meloku can go because I am adding cheaper things, and I pretty much never want to spend five mana on my turn anyway. And for the last two cards, double Compulsive Research, again because I don’t really want to be spending mana on my turn. In come four Guildmages and three Rewinds.
I cast turn 2 Guildmage, which gets Remanded. Turn 3 Guildmage sticks, turn 4 Guildmage sticks, Descendant of Kiyomaro sticks but is “just” a 2/3. He still attacks. I stop doing stuff and just attack from here on, and burn counters on anything he tries to do. He dies. Badly. Elapsed time: about fifteen minutes. I get up to stretch and walk around a bit, since I get to enjoy finishing quickly this round, and want just one more easy matchup like that or Heezy Street so I can draw into the Top 8.
However, round 7 I am paired against the deck I can’t beat, Black-based Arena control. I get to play first, but it doesn’t really get me anywhere; Jushi Apprentice gets Last Gasped before I get to untap, and I think that was pretty much the game right there. Eventually, a long time after I start countering his spells, Debtor’s Knell #2 (well, actually, #1 that got Hindered and then Diabolic Tutored for) resolves and I die a hideous death to Kokusho recursion with Miren, the Moaning Well out. I sideboard the Rewinds and Terashi’s Grasps for four Mana Leaks (again, they turn off far too quickly against this kind of deck, and I’m still going to be on the play for any turn 3 Arena shenanigans so Hinder will just have to catch it if he has it. I actually think I was doing okay here, before I overextended for no reason. He and I do nothing early, with maybe a Jushi Apprentice dying. The first change in life totals is him gaining five off Condemn, who eats Yosei. Spells are cast and countered, mostly Distresses and Castigates being negated by Spell Snares that protect “better” counters very effectively. Descendant of Kiyomaro gets going, then gets Fettered. Meloku and tokens start online, but then he gets Phyrexian Arena, and then a second Phyrexian Arena. Meloku and four tokens bite it to Wrath of God, as does the fresh Descendant of Kiyomaro I had played to the table for, well, no good reason. He casts Debtor’s Knell and I search deep with Compulsive Research twice the next turn, then get Terashi’s Grasp and knock off the Knell. Double Arena looks like my best win condition, but he’s got the Church of Deals so he’s not actually losing as much as I’d like. Dragons come into play and demand Wrath, but I’m never actually in this one and eventually a second Knell appears and just hits me with Dragons.
I die. 5-2. While at the start of the round I confessed that I would be quite happier to wish him a vicious, horrible manascrewing than to say “good luck” when I didn’t mean it, afterwards I was happy to wish him good luck on the tiebreakers and tell him I’d do my part for that next round. My tiebreakers were the best in our bracket coming into this, so if I’d snuck through I’d have been able to draw into Top 8, but two Arena decks reared their ugly heads against me and thus I was down two rounds to them and up five rounds to everything else in the room. With one more round, I can help my last opponent’s tiebreakers and maybe pick up a sizable bit of product, because everyone in 9th — 16th is walking away with a box.
The last round is definitely an anticlimactic one. Now that I was away from the topmost tables, where Phyrexian Arena decks were gleefully battling each other and actually killing each other with Aladdin’s Rings, I was back in the neighborhood of decks I could beat (the ones without Phyrexian Arena) and that’s exactly what happened. I played against Ghost Husk and lost the die roll, then double-mulliganed. Just what one expects to get when one is nice and doesn’t ask the judge if the opponent being late is worth the first game yet, when the opponent is the poor guy who’d lost his deck that everyone in the room was looking around for. Despite the double mulligan, I only get knocked down to eight, because he drops a bunch of creatures then a bunch more on his fourth turn and I Wrath five creatures away. I then play Meloku and start doing what Meloku does, but not until there are several turns of enforced nothingness going on so I can play Meloku with backup. Meloku with backup gets targeted with Mortify, which then goes on the bottom of his deck. He gets Mortified on the opponent’s turn, but hey, that’s what the backup Meloku was for.
Game 2 went better, and involved Ghost Council of Orzhova resolving. That’s usually bad for me, but it was really the Ghost Council’s friends that did all the work. Game 3, Confidant gets Spell Snared and I get a turn 3 Descendant, he gets a third turn Husk, and I go on the offensive. A second Descendant to hold the fort doesn’t hurt with that plan, much better than his second Dark Confidant. I try and Threads Bob, but he gets fed to the Husk. This goes on forever, and Meloku gets bored. Meloku is not the kind of individual you want to see getting bored anywhere near you, because a flying army soon appears. That ends the tournament for me.
I get a box of product to draft with in the next few weeks, my round seven opponent saw me as the only one of his prior opponents who won the last round, and misses on tiebreakers to come in tenth. He then remarks, “Well, at least I got to beat a Pro”, which anyone who is anyone would snort as they heard it, what with my mighty four lifetime Pro Tour Points. I may be vocal, and I even know what I’m talking about and am pretty good at Magic, but a pro I am not.
I got home near midnight and found out I did better than Michael J. Flores, in the Connecticut tournament. It may be cold comfort, but it’s still comfort. I was hoping to play his Boros deck every round all tournament, because all of my opponents wisely purchased Deckade and played the “last minute Hail Mary” Flores deck. You know, the deck he said couldn’t beat my deck when he was talking about it all on his Podcasts on Top 8 Magic.
So, in sum: Blue/White is good, bring Leave No Trace if you want to beat Arena decks, and the matchup against Heartbeat is so good that you can probably afford to shave down to “just” three Guildmages against them. If I were to do this all over again, my sideboard would be as follows:
I never needed to kill an artifact, and the only one that I think asks to be killed is better answered with Pithing Needle anyway. My associates playing the deck all did well but not spectacularly, all being in contention halfway through the tournament when I was thinking maybe just maybe I should be on my way up to a LARP at that time. The combined record for the deck was 15-8, but that includes some sketchy choices from my PTQ Team Constructed team-mate Jim Halter, who loves to over-sideboard just because the tools are there if you want to mash them into the deck, and Myles Rodrigues, a local Neutral Ground up-and-comer who is still not quite up to the level he’d need to be to survive Regionals… and wasn’t helped by not having playtested the deck until, well, his Round 1 playtest session.
Blue/White is good. Try it out. The choices may be a little wonky, like a Blue deck without Remand, but the reasoning behind it all is solid and the deck is incredibly powerful against any aggressive deck, which lends it a lot of credence in the current environment.
Oh… and yes, I did better than Rizzo, too. For those who pay attention to these things… like Rizzo.
I’ve been driving around town, with my head spinning around
Everywhere I look, I see your ’96 Jeep Cherokee…
You’re a bully and a clown, you made me cry and put me down
After all that I’ve been through, you’d think I’d hate the sight of you…
But with every Jeep I see, my broken heart still skips a beat
I guess it’s just my stupid luck, that all of Boston drives the same black f***ing truck…
The Dresden Dolls, “The Jeep Song”