Regionals has now come and gone, and I’m left looking at a pile of cards feeling both disheartened and encouraged, seeing favorite cards played for the last time and looking forward to the newest era of Standard.
And, wow! There’s a pretty nice Apocalypse spoiler going up on MTGnews, courtesy of a user called pwrchild. Reports have it that this user has been very reliable in the past, and if these are true, I encourage everyone to check it out. I’m all about the Penumbra/Pernicious Deed control concept. Black may very well be back. In fact, black might finally be able to get rid of enchantments.
But that’s a month from now, and I’m ready to turn my attention to tuning my Regionals deck into something with a little more oomph. (All right; that’s two imaginary "oo" words in little over a sentence. Where’s that vocabulary when I need it?)
In the weeks before Regionals, Binary21 worked with Team Hacked in order to provide more testing and data analysis. We playtested, kept match results, tweaked and edited netdecks and rogue designs alike. If you would have asked us two weeks before the tournament, we had our decks figured out and our metagame charted. After our success with analyzing IBC, we were quite excited about our chances in Lincoln, Nebraska. We had to be able to beat Rebels and Fires, and everything else didn’t seem like it was garnering much play. At the end of preparations, Netherhaups made its explosion onto the scene, and it was added to the decks. You must beat those three, we said, and finding a deck that could beat all of them was a challenge.
Scuta Forster was all about his tweaked Fires deck, which he’d run through the testing gauntlet so many times that we began to simply grumble and glare every time he wanted to play. Having an incredibly powerful deck is great – seeing this deck to beat repeatedly crush your own designs because of its sheer versatility of threats is demoralizing. Despite this, we hung in there. He began to refer to the deck as FiresMonkey, because he felt a trained monkey could run Fires and win with it. He’s right – half of the time, the deck runs itself, which I feel is the mark of a good deck. Everyone by now has experienced the "Fires Wins" draw that goldfishes you on turn 4 and leaves you looking at the pile of cards in your hand thinking that you really need more enchantment removal, unburnable blockers, and offense, all at the same time, all within your first dozen cards.
On draws like that, you never have enough. I remember recently testing against it and drawing three Disenchants and seeing not one Burst or Idol; in the next game, I drew none and saw two of each. Sigh.
People were afraid of Fires before Regionals because of this Just Win potential. People fear it because it threatens them much more vividly than other decks. There’s not a case of "Oh, man, I sure hope I don’t get a lot of stuff countered and then be Angel-locked for ten turns." You don’t see people saying, "Man, I hope that I’m not facing a lone Nether Spirit and having to push things through." Do they prepare for those? Yes. Do they devote hours of energy to obsessing about how to beat it? No. Because it’s the fastest clock in the environment, and that clock will always demand a high level of attention.
Fires was prepared for, and is perhaps the most tweaked netdeck I’ve ever seen. I saw Fires decks on the Net and during Regionals that splashed every color but blue, and I wouldn’t be surprised if someone, somewhere, sometime, gave that a shot using Arctic Merfolk to bounce their Blastoderms because Merfolk always bounces while Wurm can be countered. It seems as if everyone tried to turn Fires into Fires +1, and I saw some very goofy strategies and some very effective ones.
Unfortunately, Fires decks seemed to be tweaked mostly for the mirror match, trying to reduce the inherent topdeck factor, and wound up leaving themselves open to a wide variety of other decks. I know that at Lincoln there were a number of Blue Skies decks in the top brackets, and although I haven’t seen too many Regionals results yet, the consensus is that there were many of them out in force that should have been reckoned with.
Ever have a thought that you should stick with? I kept mentioning that we should prepare for Skies, be afraid of Skies, have something to handle Skies. No one respected the speed of Skies and its ability to simply outrace Fires. Yet towards the last couple of weeks I fell into the trap of letting my attention wander and it wasn’t tested against nearly enough.
Will had been working on his blue/green Bribery deck during most of our playtesting, with positive results. It was definitely a metagamed deck, able to thwart Fires by stealing its creatures and to race control decks with its accelerated creature beatdown. He wrote about its development in his last article, and we’d tweaked it into a viable deck. As an aficionado of opposite-color builds, I think blue/green has potential.
Carl Jarrell, who’s now an official part of the quintet that is Binary21, was planning to play his black/red T1000 deck. I’ve watched that deck evolve and grow from infancy into adolescence, and couldn’t wait to see Carl take it out driving. It threw threats at you, in a hurry, and could outrace Fires due to the acceleration that is Dark Ritual. Second turn Scuta? Very nice. Towards the final week he’d stumbled across Death Pit Offering and blown people away with 7/5 Skizziks and 7/7 Scuta. (Hi, I’m Blastoderm. I am green’s undersized fatty.)
I’d been working on Crimson Tide, and taken it to a tournament where it performed very well. I’d made some small changes to the deck, most notably Seal of Fire instead of Brawlers, and it was faster to the attack and very disturbing for opponents. I like that. I want to disturb them.
Jay doesn’t own cards. Jay doesn’t play in tournaments. Jay is ruining Magic.
Then, when everything seemed settled, either we all developed a case of the heebie-jeebies or we made brilliant metagame switches. Based on the results, I think it’s a mixture of both. We played decks that beat Fires, CounterRebels, and Netherhaups.
We lost to ideas we hadn’t even tested. Ponza. Rising Waters. Red Burn. Ah, well.
So, what did we actually play?
Scott stuck with Fires – a version that beats Skies – though he drove himself crazy trying to ubertweak it. We eventually smacked him down into submission, which was ample repayment for the aforementioned routine crushing of non-Scott decks. In fact, in his first round, he beat Skies. However, he lost the mirror match to Noah Weil; Scott won game 2 with a pair of Shivan Wurms, and Noah won game 3 with 3 Shivan Wurms. Guess which creature wins the mirror match? He then beat Ponza handily, lost to the untested-against Rising Waters deck, loses to TangleGeddon, then destroys Fires and Counter-Rebel. He finished at 4-3 – and the fickle nature of Magic cocked its finger at us and smiled, as he could have just as easily wound up 6-1. Fascinating.
Carl decided to play Probe-Go, abandoning the object of his affections and whoring himself out to the net like Scott before him. He felt comfortable with Probe-Go and simply couldn’t see T1000 lifting itself to the next level. I think he surrendered too soon, for the build was very advanced and could clock with the best of them. Enchantment removal be damned, we’ve got discard on our side.
Meanwhile, Will was caught up in the Netherhaups craze, as he’d developed a deck very similar to it back in January. For some reason, though we tested it, no one thought of using 1) the various sac lands, or 2) Obliterate. However, it was something he naturally picked back up as an evolution of his prior deck, and we quickly realized it was a deck that would have to be answered. I love the fact that Fires decks were putting Destructive Flow in their sideboards as a countermeasure, by the way – another example of a card going from asinine to useful unexpectedly. So Will ran Haups, right?
Nah. The night before the tournament, in a hotel room at 1 a.m., he decided to run God, The Deck That Beats Fires and Rebels, and unfortunately our hastily-conceived sideboard didn’t quite match the metagame. The sideboard was meant to take care of heavy control decks. For some reason, we decided against Kris Mage and Veteran Brawlers, and thus Skies was a big sucking hole for which it wasn’t prepared – and how many control decks did Will wind up playing against? Goose egg, baby, zer-o.
It crushed Fires, beat Junk, and lost to, ironically enough, Ankh-Tide.
Poor Will Rieffer.
I’ll let him tell his own story, however, in his own article space–this is already going to be long enough.
For myself? Well, Crimson Tide I’d poured a lot of effort and heart into. However, two weeks before Regionals, I went looking for rogue ideas and settled on decks that would lock down the opponent. One of our options was Light of Day and Shifting Sky, which I couldn’t get to work, and considered unworkable–that was, until I was told by someone at Regionals that there was a 3-0 deck using that exact combo. I forget the person’s name, because I’d love to find out how that deck finished up. Foregoing that, I settled on Dueling Grounds and Questing Phelddagrif, and overnight developed Leeloo.
I think it’s time for the report now, Mr. Mason.
4x Quirion Dryad
4x Rootwater Thief
4x Meddling Mage
4x Questing Phelddagrif
4x Armadillo Cloak
4x Orim’s Chant
4x Accumulated Knowledge
4x City of Brass
4x Treva’s Ruins
2x Elfhame Palace
3x Dueling Grounds
4x Last Breath
4x Teferi’s Response
Fans of the Fifth Element will recognize the name as that of the perfect being that is the movie’s focal point. While trying to build a deck around Phelddagrif, the concept of it being the perfect creature lanced through my thoughts – and although it’s certainly not in the Morphling or Masticore class of critters, I’d say it’s the best creature in the Standard environment. I think the three-color cost has turned people away from it, but I was able to construct a mana base that was not only consistent but gave me absolutely zero problems all day. I always had land, always had the right colors of mana, and if nothing else, was pleased with having a three-color build that didn’t ACT like one. The Lairs are excellent cards if you can build a deck that doesn’t have too many high-end spells.
Grif was my perfect being, and I wanted to abuse him with Dueling Grounds. However, I found that Grounds had no useful effect on the game unless Grif was out; it was cute and comboesque, but more useful coming from the sideboard. Too often I would find I didn’t need to drop one; just as often I’d have one out for really no reason and find a second, dead one in my hand. I deplore dead cards. I want to be able to do something to generate a threat. That’s one reason I’ve always had mixed emotions about Tangle Wire, as those who read my God report may remember. It’s great on turn 3 with a deck that takes advantage of it. On turn 10, if things aren’t the way you’ve planned, it often is meaningless.
I needed some support for the Grif, and instantly thought of Quirion Dryad, whom I’d seen Jay use to good effect in an almost entirely creature-based deck called Whippo, which also featured the Grif. I quickly realized the Dryad could be abused with a handful of useful blue and white instants. Many people don’t realize at first read that once the Dryad hits, every non-green spell that you cast – regardless of whether it resolves – adds a counter to it. It’s an excellent card against control decks, and I can usually get it to 6/6 or 7/7 in a handful of turns. Throw a Cloak onto it and let it roll.
The deck originally had some counterspelling ability with Power Sink and Memory Lapse, but I wanted it to be more aggressive and not sit on its heels. Thus, I chose Orim’s Chant as both defense from a counterattack and insurance against control decks. Opt and Accumulated Knowledge milled through my library to keep my mana and threats consistent (as well as giving Dryad counters), and Disenchant is a must in the current environment.
The last two threats were odd ones, but ones that felt right. I chose Meddling Mage and Rootwater Thief, and these were complete metagame calls. I felt that I could handle Fires, and that the popular decks were likely to be Nether-Go and Netherhaups. Both of these greatly hinder those decks, and I felt that they would be useful as both early beatdown creatures and defense. Against Fires, Maging for Flametongue Kavu can be a lifesaver. Pulling out Nether Spirits and Lin Sivvis and sending them to the nebulous region known as "out of play" is particularly enjoyable. No one expects the Rootwater Thief. The deck was built, and I was satisfied.
I didn’t playtest this deck once.
I played its early incarnations (Memory Lapse instead of Thief, Dueling Grounds instead of Mage) for a grand total of four matches on Apprentice.
Silly, silly me.
Honestly, the deck runs itself; its synergy should be apparent to anyone who pays close attention to the decklist and reads the rest of the report. However, the final version of it (as listed above) wasn’t decided upon until three days before Regionals. Without the opportunity to test before we left, I shrugged my shoulders and put Leeloo in my suitcase, feeling she would either win big or lose big, but would certainly be a hoot.
Yes, I said "A hoot."
That’ll do, pig.
We arrive at the tournament site, HobbyTown USA, and find a busy crowd of individuals mulling around what seems to be a bought out strip mall. There were around 220 people entered in the tournament, which was about twice as many as expected, but were pleased to find some other players we knew from the St. Louis area. One of them, John Eardley, was 5-0 last time I checked on him, and hopefully when I track down the results I’ll find that he finished highly.
Scott and Will played some 5 – which yes, is as incredibly fun as people say it is – but I settled in, put on my game face, and awaited the pairings. When they finally came, I felt good about Leeloo, and was confident she wouldn’t let me down – at least, not right off the bat.
ROUND 1: Harold, playing Nether-Go
Game 1 starts with what I refer to as the Clock Draw, which punishes control decks without many creatures.
I start with an Island, and see that he drops an Adarkar Wastes, which causes me to smile inside, knowing that control matchups should be very easy. I lay a City of Brass, tapping it and going to nineteen while dropping a Quirion Dryad. He looks askance at the Dryad, curious, and I don’t think he’d seen one before. He lays his second land, a swamp, and tells me to go.
I Opt on my third turn to make my Dryad 2/2, and draw into another Dryad, which I proceed to cast. I see recognition dawn in his eyes as my whip-snapping forest nymphs tap their heeled boots impatiently. The first one attacks to bring him to eighteen, and my turn ends when he casts Accumulated Knowledge, taking one from the painland, and does nothing during his main phase.
I realize that he’s really going to hate me soon.
I drop my fourth land and lay Rootwater Thief, giving me a 3/3 and 2/2 Dryad, and swing for five. He’s already at twelve, and I severely wish that I could cast the three Disenchants sitting in my hand. Give me a target, mister! Any target! I don’t care if my spell resolves! He lays out his fourth land as well, but looks helplessly at the board in front of him.
On my turn, I swing with the Dryads and Thief to drop him to six, and he Fact or Fictions, taking a point of painland damage, searching for any sort of answer (say, Wrath of God.) He doesn’t get it, however, and Harold – who was a pleasure to play, by the way – is stretched out and scourged by the Dryads, who teach him the meaning of pain in that oh-so-seductive way of theirs.
I guess if there’s any way to go, that’s the best way, eh?
Game 2, I am very confident about the matchup. I make what becomes my standard swap, trading Accumulated Knowledge for Armageddon. I also decide to put the Cloak away, as it likely won’t be needed, and substitute in Last Breath. This sideboard would be repeated throughout the day.
He lays an island from the start, as do I, and on his second turn he drops a Millstone. "Millstone," I muse. "Interesting." Fortunately, I Opt myself at the end of his turn and pull a Disenchant. I don’t mind the Millstone yet because I have Rootwater Thief in hand. If I can tie him up Millstoning, I’m confident that I can draw into more threats than he can, because I’ll be pulling his out of the game.
Rootwater Thief resolves on turn 2, and he does nothing on turn 3 except shake his head. You can imagine how the next set of turns went.
Attack with thief, you’re at 19, remove your Nether Spirit from the game.
Attack with thief, you’re at 18, remove your Nether Spirit from the game.
Attack with thief, you’re at 17, remove your Nether Spirit from the game.
Attack with thief, you’re at 16, remove your Air Elemental from the game.
Attack with thief, you’re at 15, remove your Dominate from the game.
He only had one Millstone in the deck, which I Disenchanted sometime during the run of thievery, and those were the only other threats that I saw. Once you’re out of threats, what’s a Nether-Go deck to do?
However, he does still have Wrath of God, and eventually, while I’m at seventeen due to painlands, he Wraths away the Rootwater Thief. It’s all about making a control deck react to your threats with a one-for-one trade.
I have six land in play, and cast Meddling Mage, naming Wrath of God. I cast Quirion Dryad, ready to begin the beats, and at the end of his turn he attempts to Dominate it. I’m ready with a response, however, and Last Breath my Dryad. I gain four life to go to twenty-one, and begin the Meddling Mage Pikulabeats.
Believe it or not, Mage goes the distance.
One thing which I realize is that the Dryad is highly vulnerable to Dominate, as it’s both cheap to steal (five mana) and frequently larger than I’m able to handle with anything other than a Grif. Memo to self: Beware the fickleness of women, particularly ones that carry whips. Do you really think they care WHO they abuse?
Games 2-0, Matches 1-0
ROUND 2: T.J. Playing Red Burn
I’m happy as can be after my first round rout. I settle in next to T.J., who’s playing with hot pink sleeves. For some reason, I really dig those sleeves, and need to procure some. T.J., if you’re reading this, send me your hot pink sleeves! Or at least let me know where you got them, because you kicked my rear so severely that I forgot to ask.
When your notebook indicates that your opponent didn’t take a single point of damage, you know you were beaten savagely. T.J. taught me humility.
As such, I’m going to try and mimic the actual speed of the game in my summarization. Total reading time: Two minutes. Total game time: Roughly the same. I swear, I spent more time shuffling than playing.
turns 1: Nothing, Kris Mage.
turns 2: Rootwater Thief, Seal of Fire.
turns 3: Rootwater Thief, Seal of Fire, Kris Mage.
turns 4: Meddling Mage, naming Urza’s Rage (figuring it’s the next logical step, and will make him think I fear the uncounterable, possibly making him believe I have counters, since I’m obviously showing blue/white).
turns 5: My third Rootwater Thief – and his third Seal of Fire and an unkicked Skizzik.
turn 6: Kicked Skizzik.
Um, yeah. I think I’m dead now.
Thank goodness I had creatures, or I would have gone out faster than 20-19-13-12-11-9-3. I felt like I was playing against Scott’s Extended Gnome Rage deck.
I don’t have a sideboard against red. I didn’t expect to play red. I really should learn – I make great Constructed decks, but can’t seem to have the sideboard cards that I need when I need them. I know good sideboard cards, but I seem to make the wrong choice. I thought about Chill for a long time, but decided against it. I would have really liked it here. Instead, I opted (no pun intended) to put in Teferi’s Response to combat both Rishadan Port (a potential danger for three-color decks) or any sort of land destruction.
Ports seen all day: Zero.
Land destruction seen all day: Zero.
Matches lost because of the opponent casting important red spells: Two.
The second game is more of the same – I drop a threat, he gets rid of it. He apparently went shopping at the Cheap Red Burn Discount Clearance Store, and had a full complement of Shocks, Seals, Lavas, and Rages at his disposal, which he hurled at me with abandon. He had more than enough burn to take care of any of my creatures. Even the Dryads couldn’t get pumped up quickly enough because he simply never ran out. He had me on a clock, and Kris Mage was the beatdown until Skizzik showed up.
There was one point, however, which I wish in particular would have worked out better. He hadn’t seen a Grif yet, so I felt that dropping him would be a huge advantage, particularly with a Cloak in hand. It was turn 4, and I was at fourteen life with an Island, Elfhame Palace, Treva’s Ruins, and Forest in play. I could have dropped the Grif, but wanted to be able to make him pro-red at least once. No problem, I thought to myself, I’ll just wait a turn. I had a Brushland in hand, along with the Cloak, and figured I would drop the Grif on turn 5 and Cloak it on turn 6 and swoop in for the beats.
T.J.: "Pillage your Elfhame Palace."
I didn’t draw a land, and saw that he was approaching Skizzik mana. I decided to risk casting the Grif since I was at nine life, thinking that if I didn’t cast him and didn’t draw another land, I’d be in severe trouble.
So I cast him.
And T.J. immediately Raged and Maged him. Goodbye, Phelddagrif.
This would haunt me all day. The Pillage was a great play on T.J.’s part, but I kept thinking that I was this close to having Cloaked Grif win the match for me. Ah, well. If I’m going to lose to anyone, might as well be someone with hot pink sleeves.
Matches 1-1, Games 2-2.
ROUND 3: Rob Fabian, Counter Rebels
Rob lays an Island to start the game, and I am immediately comfortable again. I lay an Island of my own and do nothing. When he lays a Plains – and therefore a Defiant Falcon – I know that I need to get moving, but that the advantage is mine.
My hand is full of land, Disenchants, Orim’s Chant, and an Opt. I Opt at the end of his turn and draw into a Dryad. My draw phase nets me a Rootwater Thief – and suddenly, I’m in business. I figure that I want to try and steal a few valuables from his deck before introducing him to my girl, but that the Dryad is still my best chance at victory.
I lay City of Brass and drop the Dryad again, prompting a raised eyebrow and quizzical look. I enjoyed the looks my opponents gave me all day long, as not one opponent failed to say they didn’t expect to see a deck like mine. He puts down his third land, and brings out a Defiant Vanguard.
Well, that’s no good. Why isn’t Last Breath maindeck, dammit?
Thank goodness I have a Thief. I lay another land and bring out the Thief, who salivates at the thought of rifling through a Rebel deck and winks knowingly at me. If you’ve ever seen a Rootwater Thief winking, you know it’s not the prettiest thing in the world, so I told him to quit and get back to work. His presence boosts the Dryad to 2/2, and I wonder about getting rid of that Vanguard and motion that it’s his turn.
He lays his fourth land, and decides to attack with the Vanguard. Wanting to get rid of it, I make the decision to trade my Dryad for the Vanguard. I figure it’ll stop him from calling out to Lin Sivvi.
Turn four arrives, and I draw another Dryad. However, I need to thin his deck first, right? I make the Thief flying and prepare to capsize Lin Sivvi as she crosses the Delaware and remove her from the game. He’ll probably pull one with the Falcon, but I want to see what else is in his deck.
Imagine my chagrin, therefore, when he taps the Falcon and searches out a Thermal Glider and trades it for my Thief.
For some reason, I forgot that, um, Rebels have fliers that can kill me, and my opponents don’t always do what I expect. As the Thief’s haunting final gurgle echoes in my ears, I remember the other Dryad in my hand and smile.
On his turn, he summons my favorite underused Rebel, Rappelling Scouts: An excellent defensive creature. He swings with the Scouts. Having taken a couple of points of City damage, I’m down to seventeen after this attack. He leaves his mana open for countering, but as I’m playing Counterdeck’s Nightmare, I’m not afeared in the least. I draw and cast Orim’s Chant, which resolves, and drop the Dryad on turn 5, following it up with an Opt that nets me another Opt and makes the Dryad 2/2, then 3/3. Oh yeah, she’s on a roll, she has her fighting leathers on, and she wants YOU to call her Mistress.
Opt IS the best aggro blue card drawer.
Rob swings again with the Scouts, apparently attempting to engage me in a race. I’m more than willing to do this, and when I draw a Grif for backup, I consider casting him and realize he’s not needed until he starts to either block with the Scouts or blow up the world. We trade blows for a few turns; he goes to 17, I go to 16, he goes to 14, I go to 15, he goes to 11, I go to 14.
Whoo-hoo! Can the Dryad go all the way?
Nope. He decides he’s losing the race and Wraths it away, dropping a Sergeant to help himself recover – theoretically, more quickly than I can.
Little does he know that, with eight land out by now, I’m able to perform this play:
Orim’s Chant. Questing Phelddagrif. Armadillo Cloak. Go.
It’s all over.
I make the Grif flying; he draws some cards, but isn’t really able to get going. Two quick swings and the game is complete, done, fini. Over.
Game 2: Once again, I’ve swapped cards for Armageddon and Last Breath, but this time Cloak and Disenchant head towards the sideboard. Although Cloak helped to finish Rob off last game, I don’t need it there presenting a Disenchant target, and know that removal and destruction outweigh a cute creature enchantment most days of the week.
We start off slowly; I have a hand full of tricks, including a Chant, Grif, a pair of Last Breaths that I know will be important, an Island, an Adarkar Wastes, and a Forest. Sure enough, when he drops his third land and promptly taps out to put Lin Sivvi on the board, I’m grinning like a totem and send her out of the game, taking a point from the Wastes as I do so. Leave, Rebel scum! Don’t make Dryad punish you.
I’m at nineteen, he’s at twenty-four.
On my third turn, I draw an Opt and pick myself up a Meddling Mage – but I don’t have the mana to cast him yet. I need to give my opponent something to think about and deal with. He and I both know the biggest threat to me is not counterspelling, due to my Chants; the threat to me is his ability to Wrath. His fourth turn? Nothing, but he sits and waits and I’m certain he has a counterspell of some sort.
I cast a Meddling Mage, expecting to draw a counter – yet none comes, which somewhat surprises me, and when he resolves I name Wrath of God. Things are looking good. I’m going to let Mage walk as long as he can, as the worst thing you can do is overcommit against Counter-Rebels because their ability to recover is so much stronger. He lays a fifth land. Nothing. Strange.
I draw Armageddon.
I attack with the Mage, and imagine my glee when he taps out to Dominate it. Aha! I knew he had something in his hand. You can have my Mage, pal, because I have a fat hippo in my hand who’s dying to get into the action. Did I mention my boy Grif is Greek? QP hits the board like a two-year-old throwing a tantrum and sends shockwaves in his wake.
I’m thinking Grif vs. Stolen Mage is a matchup I’m going to win, and if I ‘Geddon next turn, all the better.
He does nothing on his turn except dread the Grif, though I thought he’d send it to die to the Grif – and I see he doesn’t have mana to Dominate the big Hippo, which makes me very happy. He has five land on the board, and needs 7 to take over my Grif, and by the way he’s counting his lands, I’m pretty sure that he has one in hand. I decide to try and maximize my Armageddon. I still have my opening Chant in hand, and feel confident that my Armageddon will resolve. I swing with the Grif, making him fly, and taking him down to twenty.
Sure enough, he drops a land on the next turn, and taps out to summon Mageta, taking a couple of painland points in the process. He’s at eighteen, and Pikula charges at me and takes me down to seventeen.
No problem. Now, Mageta’s an excellent card, and a definite threat – but not when he has no alternate-casting cost counterspells.
My turn: Armageddon.
He shakes his head in chagrin.
The race is on, and the advantage is mine. I drop an island and the Grif soars across the battlefield, knocking Rob to fourteen. On his turn, he predictably swings for five, dropping an island, and I’m at twelve.
I drop a forest on my next turn and attack again. I know that I don’t need to pump the Hippo because the extra tokens generated will throw the advantage into Rob’s favor. I attack once again for four, dropping him to ten. He doesn’t lay a land, and all he can do is swing again. Seven life for me – looks like a comfortable cushion. Grif rides again, as I drop yet another land, and on his turn he’s left looking at the life totals: me at seven, him at two, and my having the advantage with mana to fly over.
Games 4-2, Matches 2-1
ROUND 4: Matt Simon, playing Fires
Now, this is more like it. I’m 2-1, got that weird loss out of the way, and I’m feeling good about myself – feeling carefree. I find Matt and discover that he’s a friend of Rob; indeed, Rob decided to drop at 1-2 and winds up watching our entire match. I had a great time playing both of them, and in fact had a great series of opponents all day long. That contributed greatly to the fun that I had even though I didn’t finish with a winning record.
When he wins the roll and plays Forest/Birds, I know that I’m in trouble because all I have to stare things down is a Rootwater Thief. Yep, Matt is playing Fires, and we joke back and forth about him playing it.
He casts Fires on his second turn, and I drop the Thief, who’s very nervous about facing the oncoming horde. He plops down a Llanowar Elf and a Thornscape Battlemage sans kicker, swinging for three. I don’t block, and my life drops to seventeen as I try and mount a comeback. I attack with the Thief to put him at nineteen and find I’m drawing nothing of any goodness except for a Cloak.
He doesn’t cast anything, but swings again for three, putting me at fourteen. I find myself holding an Armadillo Cloak, and think that I just may be able to pull it out. I Cloak the Merfolk, and attack, putting him at sixteen and myself at seventeen. That’s a good race; I like that race. Lifegain good.
What I don’t like is that he promptly Flametongues the Thief on his turn, and attacks, and then follows it up on his next turn with a Saproling Burst.
Now I have destroyed Fires with this deck, so I know that the tools are there. However, that whole Burst/Fires thing is simply Wrong. Never fear! I have answers to it. I bring in Dueling Grounds for some of my card drawing, knowing that Fires will lose to the Grif/Grounds combo.
Game 2, I get off to a wonderful start. My lands are Island, City of Brass, and I drop a second-turn Mage naming Blastoderm, though I haven’t seen any. However, I’m holding a Disenchant from the draw, and thus am very happy with myself.
He has a Bird out from his opening Karplusan Forest, and casts Fires on turn 3.
I play a third-turn Dueling Grounds, and my attack phase sees Mage doing his spooky thang and putting Matt at sixteen and myself at nineteen .
He brings out a second Fires, but leaves the Bird untapped. I’m not going to slam my Mage into the Bird without provocation, and I’m hoping to draw a Cloak at some point. I Opt at the end of his turn and dig deeper into my library, hoping to find some goodness, and net a Grif. On my next draw phase, booya, there it is: The Grif. I need to ramp up to five mana, and I’m at three. What should I do?
Well, I drop the Cloak on the Meddling Mage, losing a point to City in the process, and I keep him back as a blocker to prevent any weird Bird tricks. Just knowing I have a Cloaked creature out makes me feel better. Somewhere during this madness I forget that Flametongue Kavu is annoyingly awesome. I’m too pleased with the face that Grif is some good. I just need to stall and get to the point where I cast him. I need more mana to make him work, so I hold back on him and drop a Quirion Dryad, and look forward to boosting her up to the good seats.
What’s the creature that redefined Standard? No, not Blastoderm this time. I’m talking recent: Flametongue Kavu. Dryad doesn’t like being torched, and as her wood-lovin’ limbs twist and crackle in its fiery breath like so much kindling, Kavu rushes at me. I decline to block, dropping to twelve life.
Ahem. No problem. I get up to four land in play. Realizing I’m at twelve and need to put myself a bit further out of reach, I attack with the Mage, putting him at twelve and myself at sixteen. Much better. Much, much better.
Can anyone outrace Fires? Oh yeah, Blue Skies can.
He swings again with the Flametongue and puts me at twelve life. I don’t have my fifth land, but know it’ll be coming soon, and am still telling myself that when he drops another Flametongue and grills the Mage.
Pikula flambe. Tasty.
Okay, so I’m at twelve life and have a Grif in hand and just need another land to protect him from red, right? What do I draw instead of a land? A Cloak.
Well, that’s pretty good, too. However, I hold off on doing anything. I have a Disenchant in hand in case he tries to Burst, and there’s nothing else that can do twelve points of damage to me with Dueling Grounds out.
Slap me, please.
Shivan Wurm. Bounce the Flametongue, attack with the Wurm, sacrifice both fires, and Shock me.
That’s thirteen points of damage. That’s pain.
The quarterback IS toast.
Matt swore that he’d never played Fires and had those kinds of draws – I severely doubted him, because, hey, Fires Just Wins. My next card, which I of course looked at, was the land I needed to protect Grif. The turn after would have been a Cloak and a virtually unloseable situation, as I would have attacked for nine, gained nine life – and then even that Wurm trick wouldn’t have worked.
Oh, well. It’s Fires.
My deck had the tools to win, but rolled over in Game 1 and was a bit too slow in Game 2, as well as playing incorrectly. If Mage had been, say, a Noble Panther, then things would have been a bit different as he would have had to work harder to kill it. I discovered here that Mage is incredible against control decks, but suboptimal against beatdown decks with their variety of threats. Is this what playtesting is for? ::grimace::
Games 4-4, Matches 2-2
ROUND 5: Marty, playing Counter-Rebels
The first game started off well. Though he went first, I had my solid opening of Quirion Dryad, which always catches opponents by surprise. I drop the Dryad on turn 2, only to see him respond with Lin Sivvi.
I drop an Island, and see him drop one in response. I’m hoping it’s a control matchup, because I eat control, as we should all know by now. I drop a forest and summon a Quirion Dryad on turn 2. Dryad rules. Everyone loves Dryad. Dryad is my friend. He puts out Lin Sivvi, however, which means that my party is going to be over rather quickly.
The problem with Dryad is that sometimes it stalls; it’s really its own miniature combo engine in some ways. I garner a plains, which gives me all of my casting options, and decide to cast my Rootwater Thief. It pumps the Dryad to 2/2, but is Absorbed, which puts him at twenty-three life with a Sivvi on the board. I’m not optimistic, because we know what’s coming – Defiant Vanguard. I figure he’s not going to summon him right away, but if I can get through a Cloak, I can do a lot of damage to him while also maintaining a good blocking setup. True enough, I draw the Cloak and cast it – the Dryad is now 5/5.
I run into a land rut, however, with a few Disenchants worthlessly in hand. Three of them, in fact. They’re useless even as pumpers without targets, and eventually I find myself being beaten down by a Ramosian Sky Marshal. I throw the Dryad at the Vanguard in order to gain enough life to save myself, and hope to buy time – however, the battle was already lost and the game ended.
The second game was much more to my liking. Do I have to say what I sideboarded? I removed my Disenchants for Last Breath and my Accumulated Knowledges for Armageddon, and felt comfortable I can take the last two games.
I put out a second turn Rootwater Thief, a huge advantage against control decks, and thumb through his library. I notice he has a lot of single cards, such as Exile and Bribery. He also has three Lin Sivvis, and I quickly grab one and remove it from the game.
However, between that and my next attack phase, I decide I’d be much better served taking out things that I can’t Last Breath. Over the next three turns, I do just that.
I attack, he’s at eighteen, grab a Wrath. He puts out nothing.
I attack, he’s at seventeen, grab a Dominate. He puts out a Vanguard.
I attack, he’s at sixteen, grab Bribery. No Grif for you, one game!
His deck is gradually being thinned of threats, and I know that he’ll be forced to respond to the Thief eventually. I have two Grifs in hand and bet that I can draw one of his remaining Wraths by dropping it. I know he has one in his hand because there were only three in the deck when I rooted through it – certainly he’s not just running three of THOSE. I cast the Grif, which ties up my blue mana and keeps the Thief on the ground (and thus not attacking) for the turn. At the time, I’m holding a Grif, two land, a Last Breath, and a ‘Geddon. We’ve both been laying out land consistently, and there are six on my side and seven on his.
Sure enough, he Wraths, tapping himself out. I’m all sorts of happy, and promptly drop a second Grif on my turn, and begin the mental victory dance.
He Wraths again. Not just that, however. He also throws out Lin Sivvi afterwards. Okay, I guess if I can draw two crucial cards, so can he. But, what’s this? Tapped out again, CounterRebels? That’s no good. End of his turn, I Last Breath ol’ Lin and decide to go for it. Breathing in the fumes of Lin’s stinking corpse lifts him to twenty, and I cast Armageddon and once again bet that I can win any race with this deck.
Armageddon. Six of mine are gone, eight lands of his are destroyed, and I lay a City of Brass.
Marty doesn’t have much land in hand, it seems, and stalls on a pair of islands. Right on schedule, four turns later, I cast Phelddagrif, which is met with a round of cheering and applause from the people gathered around, and disbelief by Marty. He shakes his head and laughs, as he hadn’t seen this the first game at all. It’s a short trip from twenty to zero, and I swing for five, then seven, and then the last eight, dropping lands unimpeded and pumping my fat bastard for the victory.
It was a well-played victory, and I was certain that the final game was mine. Armageddon is my best weapon against control. I’m curious what’s going to replace it now that 7th is around.
Game 3 begins.
This is perhaps one of the most exciting games I’ve played. My kudos to Marty for being a great opponent and for consistently making good plays. This goes down as one of my favorites of all time.
He plays first, and drops a Plains and a Sergeant. I respond with an Island and am pleased to see a Grif, Last Breath, and a Cloak in hand. Happy happy joy joy, it’s log, it’s log, it’s big, it’s heavy, it’s wood.
He drops an Island and plays a Falcon, attacking with the Sergeant to drop me to nineteen. I’m able to follow suit and drop a Plains, but don’t have anything I can cast yet.
His third turn sees the Sergeant attacking again, putting me at 18. He doesn’t need to use it for anything else with the Falcon in play. I respond with a Meddling Mage, naming Wrath of God when it resolves. It gets through, and I’m thrilled. Have I mentioned that’s a good play?
He’s fully on the attack with the Falcon, however. I’m unsure why he’s not summoning Rebels, but there should be a good reason. He puts me at eighteen, but I Last Breath the Falcon and he goes up to twenty-four. With only Sergeant left, it’s time for what you’ve all wanted – Meddling Mage beatdown, baby, wacky, wild, Kool-Aid style.
The Mage swings to put him at twenty-two, and of course he doesn’t block. He lays his fifth land and attacks, putting a Defiant Vanguard into play. Ah, that’s why he’s not searching. Well, so much for Kool-Aid. He’s confident in his critter advantage and can accomplish more by attacking and summoning than sitting back and recruiting. Sergeant comes across, and I’m at seventeen.
On my turn, I’m sure not going to run my Mage into the Vanguard. He has two blue untapped, but I’m feeling good – I tap the City to Chant, ensuring my Grif will get through, drop Treva’s Ruins and draw the white mana I need from it to cast the big hippo. Cloak’s in hand and Grif wants to go partying.
Marty doesn’t attack with the Vanguard, and I can tell he’s ready to start recruiting. On my turn, I Cloak the Grif and pump him once, attacking for seven. I’m up to twenty-three and this drops him to fifteen life – and when he searches out Lin Sivvi at the end of his turn with the Vanguard, I know that it’s going to be close.
Since the start, I’ve drawn another Grif, however, and know that he’s mine for the taking. I attack for six again, putting me at twenty-nine and taking him to nine. Count them, nine, he’s on his way down, peeps. I attempt to cast Grif number two, tapping a City in the process and dropping me to twenty-eight. Life is of minimal importance right now. He Absorbs it, going to twelve, and with him tapped, I Last Breath Lin Sivvi, putting him at sixteen. Whoo-hoo! He is four turns away from Death By Hippo.
Game situation: He has Vanguard, Sergeant, and a hippo. I still have Mage back there. He attacks with everything, and I believe he was trying to get me to block the Vanguard so that he could Wrath. I let all but the hippo through. Come back to mama, baby 1/1. This puts me at twenty-six, and I see there’s no need to be greedy with tokens in case he has something tricky. He casts another Lin Sivvi, which amazes me, and swings with the Vanguard again. This puts me at twenty-four, and I need to get rid of Lin once again. No wonder he wasn’t bothering to search her out – she was in his hand!
Topdeck mode: On. I draw another Last Breath to match Lin. I attack with Grif, no pump, and he’s at eight. I don’t have the mana to kill him outright, so I resign myself to removing Lin from the game (she never stays gone). He’s at twelve life.
Three turns away, baby.
Then he drops Mageta.
I guess that Wrath isn’t so important after all. I have a free turn while Mageta reels from his summoning, and I attack to put him at eight life.
His Vanguard continues to beat on me, putting me at twenty-four, and does nothing else. It looks like we’re in for a game of chicken. I’m holding Armageddon in hand. I know that he’s going to activate Mageta when I attack, which means I’m losing my Cloaked Grif. I decide to force the issue by casting Armageddon.
My favorite new white spell – Orim’s Chant – seals the deal. The Armageddon gets through, and his only option is to activate Mageta in response and clear the board of all non-The Lion critters and lands. Someone from the crowd says "Hey, let’s start over – but you get to have Mageta in play!" I smile.
Armageddon’s my best play. So, having take the plunge and with ice and fire in my veins, I attempt to race him, knowing that I must trust my deck to regain the advantage. I know Dryad can boost faster than Mageta can kill, and I’m in a losing situation otherwise. I have a Last Breath and three lands in hand.
C’mon, woman, don’t fail me.
I play an Island, and say "Go." I am at twenty-four life and he is at eight. I’m fairly confident I can do this.
He drops an Island and attacks with Mageta, dropping me to twenty-one. With topdecking skill in full mode, I draw a Dryad, proudly lay a Forest and tap it, bringing the beatstick into play. The audience murmurs, knowing what I’m trying to do.
He Brainstorms at the end of his turn, searching frantically for land, and pulls one. He plays a Plains and swings with the Lion, dropping me to eighteen.
I play another Forest, and draw Rootwater Thief. Good – another critter. That plus Last Breath make me very happy. If nothing else, I can stall by killing my own Dryad, right? I attack with the 1/1 Dryad, and he goes to seven. He Brainstorms again on his turn, lays an Island, and attacks. I am now at fifteen.
I draw a City of Brass and play it. I tap to summon the Thief, bringing the Dryad to 2/2. Then, knowing that I need the life and the boost, I tap the City and Forest to Last Breath the poor Merfolk, summoned only to die, giving myself three more life and making the Dryad 3/3. Now, aren’t things interesting? I take him to four, while I raise to eighteen life.
He plays a fourth consecutive land – another Island – and Brainstorms. He has two islands and a plains untapped, and he attacks. This drops me to 15, and he says, "Why did I do that?" Either he’s foolish or he’s holding something, and although I’m certain it’s the last, I can’t imagine for the life of me what it could be other than a counterspell. I fear the Absorb, but am still ahead on turns.
I Opt up the Dryad, and attack with it. I attack with the 4/4 dominatrix that will win the game – and my fears are justified as he casts Exile. Exile! The card I saw one of in game 2, the card I forgot about, the card that saved the game for him. The Dryad is gone, he’s now at seven life, and I curse his name vividly.
He attacks to put me at twelve, and I draw a land. He attacks again to put me at nine and sits back on his land, doing nothing, but still not having two plains out to activate Mageta.
I draw another Dryad, and cast it. He attacks with Mageta, putting me at six.
I draw a Meddling Mage, and try to cast it, naming Dominate. He counters it. That’s okay. My Dryad is 2/2, the chances of me pumping him are very high, and Mageta’s only going to be able to attack and drop me to three. No problem, right? He’s stuck on only one plains and I’m not fearing a Wrath, and if nothing else I’ll make him work for it. I keep the Dryad back to bluff a potential tricky block, leaving mana open to potentially Opt and boost the Dryad to 3/3.
Alas, my bluff is meaningless. He untaps and proceeds to Dominate my Dryad on his turn. He swings with Mageta, ridding me of three completely unnecessary life, putting me at four, and I draw nothing and cede the match.
Games 5-7, Matches 2-3.
A wonderful game, and one that still echoes in my blood.
I would have liked to keep going in the tournament at this point, but I dropped. Will had just lost to drop to 3-2, and Scott had suffered a defeat to Waters that placed him at 2-3. They were going to continue, but sometime during an intermission, Will had noticed a spot that looked like an air bubble on one of the tires of the van. I was willing to risk our lives and drive back on it, but he was anxious to try and get it fixed. I decided to drop and spend the rest of the afternoon trying to find a tire place that was open in order to replace the tire. I wanted to keep playing, but felt that while my deck was very fun and enjoyable, that I had the least chance of pulling anything out of the competition, and thus dropped and went on my search.
I didn’t find a tire place, by the way, and we wound up driving home safe and sound on the tire. The two hours I spent searching are another story for another time that y’all probably aren’t too interested in hearing about.
I was very pleased with my deck, and with a bit more playtesting, I think it could have done very well. I feel that I should have included another creature/potential beatstick, and afterwards considered Noble Panther the optimal choice. Putting it in for Accumulated Knowledge probably wouldn’t cost me too much, as AK was merely there to pump the Dryads and to generate more threats. Panther would fit the bill nicely, which would also allow me more flexibility in sideboarding instead of the "always pull the AK for something" philosophy that I followed.
Questing Phelddagrif IS that good. Its ability to pump, fly, and protect itself make it probably the best creature in the environment – and yes, I say that with full knowledge that Blastoderm and Flametongue Kavu are out there. In a one-on-one battle with either, the Hippo wins – it’s just more difficult to build a deck around it due to its three-color requirement. Quirion Dryad has been largely ignored but is a perfect fit, and I encourage people to start using both innovatively, and to continue building decks that no one is prepared to face.
People were very intrigued by my deck, and a lot of people said they tested the Grounds/Grif combination, but I was surprised that no one relegated the Dueling Grounds to the sideboard and focused on maximizing the beatdown aspect with supplementary creatures. I was glad to spark conversation, generate some ideas, and to have a great time with some very enjoyable opponents. Sure, I would have liked to win more, but I can say safely that the trip to Regionals was worth it, and that I look forward to tuning Leeloo for the post-7th environment and seeing where she can take me. I hope all of you had just as much fun.
The tech is out there.
-m / 00010101