One Step Ahead – Aggressive Tendencies and Wargate with _ShipitHolla

Friday, January 7th – Gerry, SCG Invitational and GP Nashville champion, explains why attacking is miserable and interviews MTGO ringer and SCG Talent Search contestant, Michael Hetrick, about playing Wargate in the MTGO PTQ.

Tim Bulger is aggro incarnate. I didn’t notice that when I first met him, possibly because Magic was still a relatively new game for us but most likely because he was a scant fifteen years old at the time. The one we affectionately refer to as TBulge likely didn’t even know who or what he was either. A year ago, I moved back to Minnesota and really got to know the man. From how he drafts, to the way he plays out the games (even with control decks), and

how he hits on women, one thing is consistent — the man is aggressive. I’m not sure why I didn’t assume that was his strategy in poker as well, but I wasn’t surprised to see some of the hands that he’d three-bet with.

He’s a maniac, dangerous even. Unpredictable. How do you fight against a rabid, recently un-caged creature? Whether it’s the Utvara Scalper who just developed a little Taste for Mayhem, or a Goblin Deathraiders with a Savage Hunger that he just can’t cure (I’ve seen it happen more than once), Tim Bulger is most likely the wizard summoning those animals.

For some reason, whenever a Constructed season rolls around, I try to get him to change his ways. It’s a lost cause and ultimately fruitless, but apparently I’m a glutton for punishment. I did, in fact, live in Montana for

eight months. Playing control is awesome. You get to dictate the pace of the game, your spells typically have utility, and as Zac Hill put it, all your spells have haste. Why wouldn’t Tim want a part of that?

Imagine Guillaume Wafo-Tapa attacking with Wild Nacatl. Observe the stoic manner in which he would point Stone Rain at your last land or show you the topdecked Lightning Bolt that kills you the turn before you attack for lethal. It’s as if he knew it was there all along, or at the very least, didn’t care. His expression didn’t change; he didn’t even flinch.
This dude is some kind of soulless


Difference in appearances aside, now you’re familiar with Andrew Lipkin, another Minnesota local. I’ve known him for ten years as well, and the entire time, he’s been quietly attacking for two. What

it with these people? Don’t they know that control is where it’s at?

While trying to train Andrew in the ways of the Wargate during a recent MTGO PTQ, I just gave up. Not to slight Andrew by any means; he’s a more than capable magician, but it was just too painful for both of us. He didn’t want to ramp and cast counterspells, nor did I want to teach any longer.

I had given in and suggested that either we could enroll him in Land-Go University or brew a sweet beatdown deck that attacks the metagame. We both decided that it would be a poor idea for him to switch decks week in and week out. Making a committed decision to aggro or control would likely yield higher dividends.

Creatures are boring. They attack and block but usually don’t do anything else. Most of them are summoning sick, and in order for them to have haste, it usually costs you an extra mana. Most don’t have utility. Some have the advantage of doing one thing incredibly well, like attack for three if you’re a one-drop Wild Nacatl, but at the end of the day, it’s still just a vanilla dude.

If your opponent has a game plan that involves ignoring what the creature decks do, like comboing out with Ad Nauseam Tendrils, most of your cards are effectively blank pieces of cardboard. Sure, you can play out the game, but ANT is usually going to race you. They don’t care about your creatures because they don’t disrupt, and they’re not fast enough. What’s the rest of your deck? Oh, Lightning Bolts and removal spells? That’s just adorable. I bet you’ll do well against your mirror match in the 0-1 bracket!

Did you ever wonder why most sideboard cards are spells or why the powerful creatures have spell-like abilities? It’s because spells are awesome! By
that logic,

attacking must then be miserable.

Don’t get it twisted. I’ve attacked before. See: Dark Confidant, Vengevine, occasionally Bloodbraid Elf, and that one time at Regionals with Wild Mongrel. Honestly, it takes a really good reason for me to attack, but at least I have the balls to go for it when it’s correct.

The best cards in this Extended format (and truthfully, most formats) are blue, and blue cards don’t go well with creatures. Personally, I start by looking for the most broken strategy possible. If that one is easily hated out and has a target on its back, I probably won’t get far with it. Still, it’s something to keep in the back of my mind as the season goes on, and the metagame shifts. After that, I’ll figure out the metagame, update the decks to reflect what going’s on, and then try to create something that defeats the decks that I expect.

If, at some point, being aggressive becomes the best strategy, I’m all for it. Once you’ve been as immersed in Magic as I have, there’s no point to sticking to one strategy. It might suck for a brief moment to be out of your comfort zone, but you’ll need to learn eventually. Playing both sides of a matchup will provide some much-needed insight, both into how the aggro deck operates and what they need to do to fight the control deck.

Sometimes, you need to audible decks, but you can’t effectively do that unless you know the ins and outs of the format. Right now, I could pick up any deck in Standard and play it near 100%. Can you say the same? If not, maybe you have something you should work on during your next playtest session…

Anyway, Tim really likes the idea of putting his opponent under pressure from the get-go. Over the many years he’s spent gaming, he’s realized that players tend to make critical mistakes when they’re under pressure. Either they overvalue their creature, undervalue the damage you’re representing, or become so petrified of a certain card that they play in a way that gives you plenty of extra turns to draw something.

I typically counter with the fact that if you’re better than your opponent, and make no mistake, both of these guys usually are, you want the game to go late. The more turns you play, the more turns your opponent has to play poorly. Both of us agree: We want to give our opponents as much rope as possible to give them the opportunity to hang themselves. We just go about it a different way.

Tim suggested that my theory had plenty of holes. If I’m not engaging in combat, then there isn’t much interaction. For sideboarding, they have easy choices. Out goes the removal, and in come the Duresses. At least when he’s packing animals, Tim is giving them the choice to overly dilute their deck by watering it down with removal spells. At that point, he can find an alternative route to victory, like Vengevine, Dark Tutelage, or something similar.

However, a lot of his strategy hinges on his ability to read people, so perhaps you’re better off not trying this at home. TBulge is a keen enough observer that he can sense if his opponent is likely to call his bluff, either because they think he’s bluffing or because they don’t know any better.

Sometimes you need to run a bluff in order to get a baseline, but that’s all part of the game. The short-term costs are a creature and some tempo, but the long-term effects are something that you can’t gain through conventional methods.

Magic may seem like more of gamble in Tim’s hands, but the man has more control with a stack of creatures, Giant Growths, and land than I do with Buehler Blue. No matter what I do, it’s unlikely that I’ll convince my opponent to throw away all of his creatures, yet TBulge accomplishes this feat approximately once per draft, seemingly without effort.

And then there are those among us who just like to gamble:

Ced 2:32 am
    rather give that 10 to you instead of *** in a money draft

GerryT 2:33 am
    he wont beat you
    neither will his teammates

Ced 2:33 am
    but his ringer friends
    ok fine you’re right

GerryT 2:33 am
    can you beat *** and *** in draft?

Ced 2:33 am
    id like to think so but
    my skills are a bit tarnished
    i can still attack with blanks in my hand with the best of em

GerryT 2:34 am
    your greatest skill
    when will they ever find out

Ced 2:34 am
    its actually
    very true
    whenever anyone calls
    i get real mad too
    look can i get some respect
    i am seasoned veteran
    if cedric phillips is attacking a 2/2 into a 4/4
    he probably has it
    and by it
    i mean another plains

GerryT 2:35 am
    4 turns later, youve cast nothing
    its apparent you dont have it
    attack again OH LOOK WHAT I DREW THIS TURN

Ced 2:36 am
    i get off on attacking with nothing
    you can QUOTE THAT
    id attack devoted druid into a 5/5
    if given the chance

GerryT 2:36 am
    actually laughing at that

Ced 2:37 am
    the payoff is just worth it
    it really is
    the mental supremacy

 *** Names bleeped out to protect the innocent.

Andrew’s reasoning for sticking with under-costed beaters is a tad different. Simplicity is a nice feeling to have, especially in those longer, mentally exhausting tournaments. He knows that he’s out to do something specific every game and can simply adjust off a single base line. It’s also easy to make a redundant deck without your cards being overwhelmingly good.

While flashing a rare smile, Andrew told me, “I also like blowing people out and not having to use my brain.”


Last weekend, the Extended season officially kicked off with the Magic Online PTQ. Expectedly,
the Top 8 was very diverse

(including a carbon copy of my Wargate list from last week, ding!), but the big bad boogeyman took it down. Faeries is getting hyped up as the deck to beat (and probably rightfully so), but that takes attention away from my beloved Wargate deck! We can’t be having that now, can we…

Michael Hetrick (_shipitholla on MTGO) started strong with his own version of Wargate, packing some surprise Primeval Titan action. I sat down to talk to him via the interwebs, since he’s exactly the type of player I enjoy. He’s not out there simply to pick up a deck, jam some games, and hopefully walk away with a trophy or blue envelope. Week in and week out, I’m constantly surprised by his innovations, both in the quality and quantity.

Why did you decide to play Wargate in the MTGO PTQ? How did you prepare?

When I was testing for Amsterdam, I had a Valakut list that featured Wargate, but the deck didn’t stay in consideration for very long. It was far from being tuned, and I wanted to devote time to other decks. A few months later, I was looking for decks that interested me from Worlds. I saw a few
different Wargate decks, and I was excited to try one out. I picked
Masashi Oiso list
and started testing it on MTGO. I liked the deck a lot and started making improvements until I got to a point that I liked. I was skeptical of the Faeries matchup at the time, so I moved on to testing another deck that had piqued my interest, U/W Control. I can’t resist playing U/W Control, so I gave it a shot. I’ll probably try the deck again as the format evolves, but I realized that the Faeries matchup for Wargate was actually fine (and a lot better than U/W’s). And finally, I did some IRL testing before the PTQ to solidify my choice.

Was there anything/anyone you wanted to dodge?

U/W Control has a lot of ways of disrupting the deck. It was a deck that I didn’t really want to try my luck against. Then, in the event, I played against a deck that was new to me, Naya. It featured maindeck Gaddock Teeg and Qasali Pridemage coupled with Fauna Shaman and fast threats. The matchup seemed to be very bad. If that deck becomes a bigger part of the field, I’d have to reconsider playing Wargate again or at least think about making some changes to the deck.

Were there cards you were scared to face?

After playing against the Naya deck for the first time in the event, I found Gaddock Teeg (coupled with a clock) to be quite problematic. Fulminator Mage and Tectonic Edge aren’t very fun to play against, but they tend to not be backed up by a clock.

What happened after you were 5-0? I thought for sure you were gonna ship it (hollaaaaaa).

I’d say that the lack of sleep had caught up with me, but I’m not sure if I started making mistakes or if I just ran out of luck. In the sixth round, I mulliganed to four in game 1 and got Thoughtseized, and in game 2, I met Thoughtseize, 2x Fulminator, and a very big Quillspike that would’ve killed me on turn 4 if I didn’t have a Kitchen Finks. Interestingly enough, I was very close to making a comeback in both of those games, showing that the deck is quite good, but after that, I didn’t win another match.

How did you arrive at your mana base?

I started with Oiso’s mana and made a few changes as the deck changed. I added one of each manland to go with Primeval Titan and a Seachrome Coast to round out the white mana. I had a Halimar Depths at a point but cut it for another Ponder. The sketchy mana base is probably the biggest weakness of the deck because it will catch up with you eventually. Flooded Grove is very good when it’s adding colored mana, but cutting a Flooded Grove for a different land is one of the only solutions. Halimar Depths as a 26th land is another way to help with the mana and get a little extra value out of Primeval Titan in certain situations. I’ll probably make these switches for future testing.

What was your toughest mulligan decision? You can get some strange Plains, Valakut, Flooded Grove hands. Are those keepers if the rest of the hand is great or no?

I mulligan every hand that doesn’t produce blue or green mana on the play and most on the draw. As far as toughest mulligans in the tournament, one-land, Preordain/Ponder hands can be iffy, but I think I kept them all.

Why the Primeval Titan?

Scapeshift was in the original list, but I didn’t even have to play with it to know that it’s pointless in this deck. I still wanted something that could win outright with a Prismatic Omen in play, so I started playing with a Primeval Titan. It also served as a backup plan when you can’t make an Omen stick and can be tutored with Wargate (it matters). The deck has a lot of ramp spells, but nothing to do with all the mana if you don’t have Omen or Valakut. Primeval Titan can fill that void, too. When you wrote about Sun Titan, I started comparing Primeval Titan to it during gameplay situations and found that Primeval Titan was better a lot more often. I was skeptical of adding a second copy because I never wanted to draw both, but it was good often enough that I added it before the PTQ started.

In a recent article, Josh Silvestri said that the Faerie matchup was difficult, but Patrick Chapin just claimed that Wargate might be Faeries’ only bad matchup. Thoughts?

For a while, I thought the Faerie matchup was bad, too, but in an IRL playtesting session before the PTQ, I went 6-2 against Faeries while he had Bitterblossom on turn 2 75% of games and Thoughtseize turn 1 50% of games. That’s when I decided the Faeries matchup wasn’t as much of a problem as I thought.

How do you feel about Extended? Do you think it has potential to be a “real” format, with tournaments all year round?

I actually like the new Extended a lot, and I think the only things keeping it from being popular are time and support. There are two reasons that I’ve never played Legacy before: it requires a lot of expensive cards that I can’t make use of outside of the format, and there’s no support in my area. Extended has become a lot more accessible than before, with many old and current Standard cards being relevant in the format. I think that will lead to it being played a lot more online, but it will be hard for it to make the leap IRL without support from Wizards and/or stores. Personally, I’d love to see Extended as an FNM format when Lorwyn block rotates, and I think that would do a lot for the advancement of the format.

Are you going to Grand Prix Atlanta?

I’m not really in a monetary position to go to Atlanta, but I’m trying to find a way to go. A local PTQ on the same day has me defaulting to “not going” though.

Do you think you’re more or less locked in on Wargate for the season, or do you adopt different decks as the metagame shifts?

If I can get Wargate past its flaws, then I’ll keep playing it, but I’m definitely keeping other decks in mind.

Any thoughts on the MTGO PTQs being Extended

Sealed? Probably a stupid question, but will you play the Limited ones? I assume you like Constructed more.

I’ve never liked Sealed, and I’ve grown to dislike it even more during this season, but they’ve only included five Sealed PTQs out of sixteen total. I’d be a lot more upset if it were 50/50, but this way, it seems more like a PTQ format experiment rather than a way to rake in more money from Sealed PTQs. I’ll probably play in some of the Sealed ones but will enjoy the Extended ones five times as much.

If you were a betting man, would you place a non-zero amount on you qualifying this season?

I actually don’t think my chances of qualifying are above 50%, but if I’m going to qualify, I think this is the best chance I’ll have.

Next week: Extended or potentially a SCG Kansas City Open report!