Mean Roon: A Commander Tournament Recap

Bennie recounts the Commander tournament he participated in last weekend, where he played a meaner version of his Roon deck.

GP Richmond

I have to admit as I write this it’s rather hard to focus. I mean, I’m days from attending what just might be the largest Magic event of all time if the preregistration rates continue as they are, and it’s right here in my own backyard. 5,000 people playing in a single Magic tournament rather boggles the mind! As a Richmond native who’s played Magic since the beginning and a longtime contributor to StarCityGames.com, the response to Grand Prix Richmond has been a great source of pride.

It has been a rough couple of months for me out here in the real world, and I really can’t wait to submerge myself in three days of Magic! I’ve taken Friday off from work and plan on hitting at least one Grand Prix Trial Friday afternoon and then practicing with my Modern deck as much as I can. Saturday of course is the main event, and with any luck I’ll do well enough to slide into day 2.

Of course, if my main event Modern dreams get crushed, there’s tons of other stuff to do. There’s the “Rebound” Modern Challenge Saturday early evening with a Dark Confidant and Modern Masters boosters on the line, and the next day is the Super Sunday Series Qualifier with a trip to Wizards of the Coast at the end of that rollercoaster ride.

And then of course there’s side events! I usually slide in a Booster Draft or two if I’ve cut loose from the main event, and unless my Modern deck has totally let me down, I might try to get in a Modern Win-A-Box.

I’ll have several Commander decks on me. In the past I pretty much avoided the organized Commander side events because the $20 in store credit seemed to draw only the spikiest of Spikes and I never found the games very much fun. I always preferred to just find some casual Commander fans out amongst the crowd for some pickup games with nothing on the line but some great haymaker stories.

But I was looking at the GP schedule under the “All Weekend” tab on the website and noticed something promising—these are four-player pods, have a $5 entry fee, and each player receives one Born of the Gods booster pack with two additional booster packs designated for the winner. When a player is eliminated from the game, that player gives their booster pack to the player still in the game they felt made the best contribution to the game.

So if some jerk combo kills everyone on the third turn, everyone else can just keep their booster pack and keep playing without “the winner.” I dunno, but my hunch is that the prospect of only walking away with three booster packs isn’t enough incentive for people to play jerky fast combo decks. Conversely, if you can win in a way that leaves everyone smiling, you could potentially walk away with six booster packs. I’m willing to give these Commander pods another shot!

Speaking of Commander, last weekend I was able to attend one of the bimonthly Commander tournaments at Richmond Comix. While I tend to enjoy a more relaxed game of Commander, I do like to support these events since they tend to drum up local excitement about the format, and sometimes it’s fun to see if I can tweak one of my decks to “fight the power” of the guys who show up with high-powered decks aiming to combo kill as quickly as possible. Not everyone brings that sort of deck, but enough do that it’s a challenge to identify and try to stop those guys from winning with those strategies.

Not long ago I wrote about my Roon of the Hidden Realm deck (Strolling Through Value Town). I’ve kept the deck together because it’s loads of fun and is totally in my wheelhouse—I mean, what’s more Bennie Smith than playing infinite value creatures? I was particularly excited to add a copy of a sweet new card from Born of the Gods: Perplexing Chimera! This card is downright weird and a total hoot to play in multiplayer, but it’s totally nuts if you’ve got a Roon in play. Okay, I’ll take that spell from you, have a Chimera, and then blink it and take it back. Woot!

Of course, a Roon deck that I bring to a casual Commander game is likely going to be steamrolled in a Commander tournament, so I decided I needed to “mean it up” some. Since I have access to blue . . .

Counterspells: Swan Song; Remand; Arcane Denial; Faerie Trickery; Dream Fracture; Hinder; Venser, Shaper Savant; Glen Elendra Archmage; Mindbreak Trap

If I’m gonna play counterspells, the “friendly” counterspells of Arcane Denial and Dream Fracture are the first ones I reach for. Remand is kinda friendly too—c’mon, you get the spell back, what more do you want? Faerie Trickery and Hinder are a bit less friendly, but sometimes the last thing you want to do is to have someone’s spell end up in their graveyard. Mindbreak Trap is good for that too, and it’s also a great zero-mana way to deal with a counter war that erupts over a key spell being played. It’s also a counterspell for things that can’t normally be countered. Glen Elendra Archmage, already rather obnoxious, is even more obnoxious with a Roon on the table to reset it.

Combo Busters: Jester’s Cap, Voidstone Gargoyle, Time Stop

Jester’s Cap is particularly effective in a singleton format for breaking up nasty combos if you live long enough to cast and activate it. Voidstone Gargoyle is great for shutting down a permanent in play or stopping someone from casting their commander if it’s critical to their game-winning plan. And of course nothing says “WHOA!” like a panic button Time Stop.

Unfair: Deadeye Navigator, Palinchron

Deadeye Navigator is a ridiculous card in Commander, even more so in a Roon deck and even more so when paired with Palinchron, so I never play these two cards except in the most competitive Commander environments.

I also juiced the deck up a bit with Thassa, God of the Sea and Ephara, God of the Polis. Here’s the list I ran:

We got a pretty good turnout—eighteen players split into three pods of four and two pods of three, with the winner of each pod advancing to the final table of five. I’m not at all fond of three-player pods in a hypercompetitive Commander environment, but I wasn’t unhappy when I saw that I was paired in a three-player pod with two longtime friends and Commander fans. Tommy was playing Sydri, Galvanic Genius, and I’d already heard it had more than a touch of artifact lockdown in it. Nicholas told us he had got three decks and we could choose which one he played—one of two combo decks or a “fair” Damia, Sage of Stone. Tommy and I both snap kept Damia as his choice, and we sat down to play.

It ended up being a really fun long game—after every other pod had finished, we were still battling it out. Tommy slowed things down with a turn 4 Tanglewire, and once that finished its work, Nicholas vomited a bunch of creatures on the board and followed it up with a Gravepact to make it tough for the rest of us to keep creatures in play. Thankfully I’d already cast Krosan Grip on his Skullclamp earlier in the game. I cast Woodfall Primus to take out the Gravepact, but Nicholas hit it with a Force of Will. Nicholas then cast Eternal Witness and got back his Force (crap!). I cast Sakashima the Impostor, and Nicolas thought a moment and then let it resolve. I copied his Eternal Witness, got back my Krosan Grip, and Gripped the Gravepact.

Nicolas cast Aluren, and I was totally sad to see I didn’t have a single creature in hand that cost three or less. Meanwhile Tommy had been stalling on land drops and not getting much of anything going. I drew Perplexing Chimera and with a grin put it on the stack. Nicholas grabbed it, read it, pondered for a few minutes, read it again, and decided to go ahead and hit it with the Force of Will, muttering something like “that can’t be good for me.” I then went ahead and cast Roon, and the following turn I cast Progenitor Mimic and copied Eternal Witness, getting back Krosan Grip. Woohoo, infinite Witnesses! Sadly, Tommy pulled the plug on that dream, casting Demonic Tutor to fetch up an All Is Dust and casting it, clearing the board.

We recovered, me playing Reveillark and Nicolas playing Damia. He attacked me, and I traded with Reveillark, getting back a long dead Bloom Tender and a Progenitor Mimic that had nothing better to copy. Of course, that could change in a minute once I got Roon back out there, so Nicholas went ahead and blew up the board again with Oblivion Stone and tried to play Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir. I cast Remand and then on my turn played Voidstone Gargoyle, calling Teferi and giggling a little bit. I then cast Jester’s Cap targeting Tommy and removed a Darksteel Forge, Memnarch, and Staff of Domination (pretty sure there was some way to get infinite mana in his deck).

At this point Tommy referred to our game as a big slap fight, and I had to agree with a laugh. We slapped each other around a few more rounds, but I eventually got a Deadeye Navigator and Woodfall Primus into play, and as if that wasn’t silly enough, I drew a Karmic Guide, cast it, and got back Sakashima, copying Karmic Guide, which then got back Progenitor Mimic, copying Karmic Guide, which got back Perplexing Chimera. I used Deadeye to reset all the clones to Woodfall Primuses, and that pretty much sealed the game. I advanced to the final table for the first time in a while. Woohoo!

The final table was Roon of the Hidden Realm; Krenko, Mob Boss; Nekusar, the Mindrazer; Maelstrom Wanderer; and Zur the Enchanter. Yeah, that’s a tough table, eh?

Final Table

The grand prize for the tournament was all five of the Commander 2013 decks, so four of us sitting at the table discussed splitting the prize so that everyone got a deck, and when the fifth player (Nekusar) got back from smoking, we pitched the idea to him. He refused, saying he came here to win the whole thing, he never splits prizes, and he was going to kill all of us on turn 3 or 4. Word ran around quickly that he was playing storm combo, so the four of us decided that we would all gang up on him to try to stop him; once we eliminated him, we’d then play and split the five decks between the four of us.

Of course, he won the die roll and went first, making it rather nerve-wracking.

Nekusar started off with two fetch lands, cracked them, and played Preordain and then Imperial Seal. Turn 3 he played Ponder, Brainstorm, and then Mystical Tutor and put a Flusterstorm on top of his deck, tapping out. We realized that we didn’t have much time. I played a land and passed the turn with all my mana up, bluffing a counterspell I did not have. Krenko played a few Goblins and his signature card and sent over a few 1/1s.

Zur, the unlikeliest of heroes, saved the day by ripping a turn 4 Arcane Lab and playing it. Nekusar had no Force of Will, and suddenly his life was made that much more difficult. He did have some bounce in his deck, but now he had to find it one spell at a time each turn.

Krenko didn’t give him the time, playing Thousand-Year Elixir and going a little nuts with Krenko, and after a few turns Nekusar was dead from self-inflicted wounds and a growing Goblin horde. Hooray, the bad guy lost!

Now we had a Goblin horde to deal with. I played Hornet Queen to flood the board with some blockers and then ripped Progenitor Mimic to copy the Hornet Queen, and if I could survive a couple of rounds, I felt pretty good about my chances. Krenko was hindered just a little bit because the Arcane Lab prevented him from emptying his hand and killing us all quickly, but then he ripped a Goblin Chieftain and let him go nuts with Krenko/Elixir, doubling all the Goblins’ power and giving them haste, more than enough to kill us all.

At this point I realized that I made a mistake by not putting some creature sweepers in my deck. I figured that the last thing Roon would want is to kill all its own creatures. But I’ve got a fair number of ways to recover out of my own graveyard, and Roon himself can blink out a dude I’d want to keep around on an empty board.

Congrats to “Chris the Goblin Lord” on his victory, and thanks to Richmond Comix for another fun Commander event!

That wraps things up for this week. I know some of you might be wondering what Commander decks I’m bringing to Grand Prix Richmond; I decided to keep that a surprise for now, though suffice to say anyone who sees it in action won’t be at all surprised. If you’re going to be in Richmond, track me down, say hi, and I’ll be happy to show you my deck. Also, if you want an exclusive Clone token promotion for The Complete Commander, just ask, and I’ll hook you up. If you won’t be there, keep an eye on Twitter, and I’ll try and tweet my progress and take some pictures during my matches.

Next week I’ll be back to share my experiences from the trenches of the biggest Magic event of all time! In the meantime, let me know what you think of my build of “Mean Roon” and how you might have made it meaner in the comments below.

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New to Commander?
If you’re just curious about the format, building your first deck, or trying to take your Commander deck up a notch, here are some handy links:

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GP Richmond