In keeping with the trend of "everyone I know but me does well at this Standard format," three out of the four players I know who played Orzhova Maxima at Regionals qualified for the National Championships with it.
Guess which one of the four didn’t.
Still, Quadruple Top Secret Infi Black Belt Teddy Card Game has all but threatened my life – and you know he can make good on it, with a title like that – if I don’t get off my grumpy keister and write about my defeats as well as my victories, so rather than drowning my sorrows in grape soda as I’ve been doing the rest of this Standard season, here I am.
THE SCENE: Pomona, CA. Southern California Regionals. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, the sun is shining, – a cool breeze is blowing – the sun is shining, and the sun is shining. Man, do I love Pomona.
We’re just shy of three hundred contestants this morning, meaning nine rounds of glorious Magical Cards await within.
As for my decklist, I played the same 75 cards that I told you guys about in this article. Let it never be said that I don’t practice what I preach.
- 3 Eight-and-a-Half-Tails
- 4 Tallowisp
- 4 Kami of Ancient Law
- 4 Descendant of Kiyomaro
- 4 Dark Confidant
- 3 Ghost Council of Orzhova
At this point I am still a bit groggy from having to wake up early to drive down, so I think I may come across as a bit surly. Apologies for that.
I resolve a Kami of Ancient Law early, but Bart has a pair of Mana Leaks for my next two drops. I resolve a Castigate for Wildfire, but get stuck on the three lands I had in my opening hand for several turns, making his two Remands on my successive two-mana plays rather strong. Ancient Law knocks him down to six life while he casts Compulsive Research and continues to counter my threats, and resolve an Eight-and-a-Half-Tails that threatens to lock up the game unless he Wildfires next turn. Which he does.
In the next game, Rupert plays another couple Remands on my early stuff, and then drops a Keiga. And then a Simic Sky Swallower. Having been the victim of several Remands by this time, my lone Kami of Ancient Law is ill equipped to deal with these gentlemen, and I am off to a rip-roaring start at Regionals 2006.
Before I move on to round 2, I’d like to share a quick story about this round. I can’t remember which game it was, but at some point right after he played a Keiga, my opponent cast Gifts Ungiven for the following four cards.
Now I’m not trying to bag on my opponent here, but since he had Mana Leaked a Tallowisp earlier in the match and did not need any extra lands, this is a pretty classic example of how people mess up with the card Gifts Ungiven.
At the time he cast Gifts, Orville had a Keiga in play. What good is a second Keiga against a deck you know is playing multiple Pacifism effects and ways to tutor them up? As to Life from the Loam, who cares how many lands you have out when you already have enough to play a six-mana Dragon? That’s only useful at all if you draw Wildfire and I have an answer to Keiga.
Even without knowing his decklist, I can tell you that if he’d substituted that Keiga in the Gifts stack for a Wildfire, the Gifts would have been about eight hundred times better for him.
Playing Gifts Ungiven is not about finding two good cards to put in your stack. That’s easy; if you want to actually break the card, you’ve got to make sure you spend the most time on the selection of the two worst cards in the stack. ‘Cause those are the two you’re going to get.
Not like it mattered here, of course. Horatio won the game anyway.
Round 2: Jason Rhoades – Boros
I’ll politely infer that Elroy is not a regular at the tournament Magic scene. He hardly says a word the entire match, and Skyknight Legionnaire may or may not have made an appearance alongside Scorched Rusalka, Frenzied Goblin, and Boros Guildmage.
Round 3: Chris Azhocar – B-W Control
Game 1 he leads with Top and Journeyer’s Kite, which I think is about as nice an opening as his deck can hope for. I Castigate him and strip a Wrath, leaving him with Kokusho and Faith’s Fetters. I add a Jitte to my board of Eight-and-a-Half and Ancient Law, expecting I’ll have to expend the Spirit when he plays the Fetters I know he has on 8.5 Tails. He instead aims the Fetters at the Jitte, so I just give it protection from White next turn with 8.5 and keep swinging. He Wraths; I play another Ancient Law and suit him up with the Jitte. At six life, he plays out Kokusho as a last-ditch effort, but I have the Pacifism to push the Dragon aside and let Neal of Cleansing swing in for the game.
Game 2 is much easier. After I Castigate his Hideous Laughter, he uses Cranial Extraction, naming Umezawa’s Jitte. (I’m holding one, but it’s no biggie.) I then cast Persecute, knocking the remaining Black cards (Kokusho and something else I can’t remember… Debtors’ Knell, maybe?) out of his hand, leaving him with only a Wrath of God. I proceed to lay an Ancient Law and then a Ghost Council of Orzhova, leaving one mana open.
Sergio makes a critical mistake here, saying, "end step, Mortify your Ghost Council." He realizes what he’s done a second too late, saying "oops – I mean before your end step," but it is too late. GCO phases out for the duration of his turn, and is safe from the Wrath I know he’s holding. I add another sacrificial bear to my team on my turn, and the implacable 4/4 takes it home.
Round 4: Dave Self – Zoo
Lester mulligans to five, so I am able to smoke his Burning-Tree Shaman with a free Shining Shoal and still keep Descendant of Kiyomaro nice and large while playing out other dudes. Then that particular good man does what he does best, and game 1 is mine.
Game 2 I do my usual early-game trading, but topdeck a glut of land in the midgame and find myself stuck with a naked Ghost Council and a fistful of lands. GCO starts racing a Kird Ape and a Frenzied Goblin while I draw more and more land. Eventually I have Bartholomew down to four life, whereupon I finally play the Shizo I have been holding and attack for lethal damage.
Him: "Damage on the stack?"
Him: "Play this card, targeting you."
I pick up his Boros Fury Shield and look at it. Then I look back at him.
Well, okay, then. Game 3 it is.
In the deciding game I play this Tallowisp card, and then these Spirit cards, and then I have all these dudes and Michelangelo doesn’t have any. And then I win.
Lumengrid Warden looks so much better in White.
Round 5: Jesse Renteria – Ghost Husk
Vladimir leads with a Paladin en-Vec, so when I Castigate and see two Jittes and a Hand of Honor, I take the Hand. I have no Jitte of my own, but I do have 8.5 Tails, so I can hold off a single Paladin wearing a Jitte indefinitely unless he’s playing (and draws) Mortify. I start beating down with pro-White dudes and he doesn’t find another man in time to stop me from overwhelming him. The Jitte never even gets a single counter.
Game 2 I have Phyrexian Arena, and he does not. This delivers three Descendants of Kiyomaro and Jitte advantage, which is plenty enough advantage to tip things in my favor. Ronald has two Descendants of his own, but mine are always bigger, and they fall to Jitte in short order.
Round 6: Adam Rieser – Hand in Hand
As we are shuffling up to begin playing, someone walks by and points to my opponent.
Him: "Hey, you’d better watch out! This kid’s got Pro Points!"
Me: "Um, so do I."
My Opponent: [rolls eyes] "I don’t know that guy."
Needless to say, I was thoroughly rattled by this intimidation tactic. In fact, I was so impressed by it, I’ve decided to adopt a similar strategy for helping my friends out at future Magic tournaments:
"Hey, know what? This guy’s Magic Online avatar has the extra graphics on it that mean he’s good. Yeah, that’s right. You better just watch yourself."
I’ll make sure to be wearing sunglasses when I do it, too.
I win game 1 by having Jitte when all he has to defend against it is Plagued Rusalka. That guy’s not quite as good at keeping counters off the thing as Star Fox is, apparently.
In game 2, things are looking good for Carmelo when he plays a turn 2 Dark Confidant and I have no answer. I glumly play my 8.5 Tails and pass back. Seeing that I have no untapped mana, and that this may be his last chance to get a swing in on the Invincible Fox, Ezekiel attacks with his Confidant.
Boy, you have never seen a man block so fast.
I will trade my second turn 8.5 Tails for your second turn Dark Confidant every day of the week, and twice on Sunday. I mean, my dude’s not good for another four turns or so; by that time, yours will have given you a free Tidings! And we’re calling this a trade?
It looks like I am still in trouble when he lays a second Bob, but I topdeck Mortify like an expert and take his card advantage engine offline once again.
We trade Ghost Councils, then do it again, then I play Phyrexian Arena. That card might tip the scales a bit. He has no timely answer to the Arena, and I win in a landslide of card advantage.
I never lost a game all day in which a Phyrexian Arena was in play on my side. Man, is that thing ever unfair.
Round 7: Donovan Harvie – Ghost Husk
Dimitri Castigates me, thinks for a long time, and takes a something-I-forget. Then I draw Jitte, he Castigates me again, and takes that before I can play my fourth land for the play-and-equip play I had in mind. He then lays Isamaru and Promise of Bunrei. By this time I’ve got him on his heels in the life race (as double-Castigate is not exactly board-affecting), so I Pacifism-Isamaru and bash-in. He adds another Promise and passes back, having no other creatures-to-sacrifice in order to trigger it. I smash the face yet again; he is dead next turn unless he rips…
… Nantuko Husk. Blech. This allows him to cash in the Pacified Isamaru for eight 1/1s at any time, so I can no longer profitably attack. Once again I have drawn a pile of land, and am unwilling to sacrifice my Tallowisp or Descendant of Kiyomaro just to let Ghost Council fight with Nantuko Husk. So I just cast Enfeeblement on the Husk (he sacrifices Isamaru in response so that it survives the turn as a 2/2) and prepare for an attack next turn.
About now is when his deck decides to serve up an Umezawa’s Jitte.
Several turns later, I have a good deal more lands in hand, no more creatures, and I am dead. Ah, Jitte.
Game 2 is much less drawn-out. He has Jitte on me from the start, I have no Jitte of my own or Manriki-Gusari, 8.5 Tails, or Ghost Council to defend myself from its counters, and I get destroyed.
Betrayers of Kamigawa: bringing all aggro mirrors closer to 50-50 matchups regardless of playskill or deck design since 2005.
Thus ends my shot at Nationals. Bartleby tells me he only maindecks three copies of Jitte, which is not something a man who has just gotten knocked out of a nine-round tournament due to back-to-back games of Jitte disadvantage wants to hear, but I take it pretty well.
Naturally, I play out the last two rounds for kicks.
Round 8: Thomas Machan – Rakdos
Thaddeus, despite his goofy name, (figured out the title of the article yet?) has built what I would consider a proper Rakdos deck.
I almost wrote an entire article before Regionals about why I feel Hellbent is more of a "skill-testing" mechanic (much in the same way that Kumano’s Blessing was "skill-testing" in Limited), but I ended up writing about the B/W deck instead at the last minute. (And now I’m glad I did, as that article qualified at least three other people. Score!)
Look. Here’s the basic gameplan plan for Hellbent decks.
Step 1: Discard my hand.
Step 2: ?
Step 3: Profit.
…Where the question mark represents things like "+1/+0 and regenerates" or "adds a strong-if-you-connect ability to a non-evasive 3/4 that can’t profitably fight anything pre-Hellbent and which can torpedo your entire game if hit by a single burn spell." Man, where do I sign up?
The thing is, the Hellbent cards only become playable when you have Hellbent. Jagged Poppet is frighteningly bad when you have cards in hand, and merely good when you have none. He’s excellent when he’s actually connecting with the opponent, but how hard is it for any deck in this format to stop one creature from connecting? Even Heartbeat can drop a Drift into play to stop it. He’s more of an inconvenience than anything else. Sorry, Mr. Young, but I don’t even set this guy aside in the "Playable Constructed Uncommons" pile at the end of a draft.
Then there’s Gobhobbler Rats, the bear that turns into a respectable fighter when you have no cards in hand – in other words, sometime around turn 5 or so, assuming you’ve built your deck to empty its hand posthaste. I mean, compare that guy to Eight-and-a-Half-Tails, the bear that turns into a "Hey Guess What, The Entire Combat Step Is Now On My Terms" fighter when you have untapped mana. Or Dark Confidant, which some Hellbent lists (despite being black aggro decks) omitted due to dissynergy. Or even just Kami of Ancient Law. Or even just Dryad Sophisticate. Or even just Watchwolf. Every aggro deck on the planet is playing better bears than the Rats, and they aren’t having to warp their decks so that they can quickly empty their hands to do it.
Let’s not even get into the issue of what forcing yourself to empty your reserve does to your matchup against board sweepers. Instead, I’ll conclude this rant by saying that you simply put in far more than you get out of the Hellbent mechanic. It just ain’t worth it.
This realization is at least in part why Serj has at made it to 5-2 with his Rakdos deck: he isn’t playing any Hellbent cards. He is, however, playing maindeck Phyrexian Arena, which is more than a little scary in a card advantage war like the one we’re about to fight.
Er, well, I guess I should say the Arena is scary for decks not packing four Kami of Ancient Law in the main. Heh. I get to trade one-for-onesies with his game-ending enchantment, then trigger Tallowisp a bunch of times and can’t lose. (A lot of aggro mirrors tend to end this way when I draw Tallowisp.)
Game 2 is… well, amusing, at least. I keep a four-land, three-spells hand, and draw another land on my first turn. Then Herman casts Fall, plucking Phyrexian Arena and Descendant of Kiyomaro from my hand, leaving me with Kami of Ancient Law and straight lands. And, I mean, Neal’s a guy good and all, but… yeah, I don’t win this one.
I do win the third one, though. Black and Red cannot remove a Phyrexian Arena from play, I tell you what. And I tell you what else, that card is some good with Descendant of Kiyomaro. Yes sir. No foolies.
Round 9: Jared Pettujohn – U/G Graft
Jeremiah and I know each other, so we agree on a 50-50 prize split to make sure we don’t get burned. Then we play it out as normal.
Game 1, I get Jitte advantage and win.
Game 2, he gets Jitte advantage and wins.
Game 3 involves no Jitte advantage on either side, but I draw Tallowisp and trigger it multiple times. So I win.
So that was Regionals.
Tim Galbiati, Clement Warr, and Jason Shumacher, for qualifying with Orzhova Maxima. (Tim is on record as preferring Eiganjo Castle, Isamaru, and Riot Spikes to Plains, 8.5 Tails, and Enfeeblement; I still recommend the exact build I gave in the article.)
The generous benefactors of the Feed The Starving Redhead Foundation: Michael Franklin (two soft tacos), Jared Pettujohn (one soft taco), and Navin Ram (one nacho). Without them, the drive home might well have ended in disaster.
Andrej "Lamp Post" Selivra, for casting Supply with Glare of Subdual in play on several different occasions on the day. Seriously, how cute is that?
Anyway, as the upcoming PTQ season is Limited, I don’t have much to discuss in terms of Constructed formats and decklists like usual. If there are any topics you guys would like to hear about in the coming weeks, sound off in the forums and I’ll see what I can come up with.
Until next time, hope you all had a good time at Regionals. I sure did, even though I didn’t make the cut this time around.