Never give up.
No, really, even when you’re 0-2, and you know you’re not going to make Top 8 short of a miracle. Miracles are in short supply nowadays (just ask The Vatican; and here we thought that approaching the millennium would herald all SORTS of interesting events), and a lot of people will start off poorly and go back to the drawing board.
But now, with the first Extended qualifier past, I’ve learned something very valuable about persistence. Some of you might have read my introductory article a month ago, describing how I have progressed in my Magic skill. For those of you who haven’t (or, heck, I don’t mind a refresher, do you? Don’t answer that), most of my Magic history has been spent trying to build countless rogue decks, taking them to tournaments with wild delusions of taking first place, and more often than not playing three rounds and dropping, winless, to the countless ranks of side tournaments.
Last year, it hit an all-time low – enough to really shake my confidence and to put me in a sullen mood for quite awhile. We’ve all experienced our share of losing, certainly. However, I thought I had an incredible rogue land-destruction deck based upon fast mana production, fast mana denial, and items like Argothian Wurm, Rancor, and Smokestack. It worked great in testing against Scott; amusingly, we happened to simultaneously develop similar decks, though with some key differences. However, I felt GOOD about the deck.
It utilized Gaea’s Touch as its super-secret mana accelerant. Sure, the deck worked extremely well when Touch was on the table. However, that happened about twice the entire day, and most of the day was spent from the outside looking in, hoping for just one match victory so that I could say, "See? It works!"
It was trounced, and my months of work had been reduced to ashes in the span of a couple of hours. I decided at that point not to have that happen again. I’m going to wax philosophical for a moment – no, really, only a moment – and mention that there are critical points in everyone’s life that you can point to and say, "That’s where the change took place within me." Some of them are major; some of them seem minor to anyone else you tell it to. This one probably seems minor, but my Zero-for-Qualifier spurred me to throw myself into something that I’d only done haphazardly before: metagaming.
For the last three months, we’ve been preparing for this Qualifier. I studied the decks as never before, and took great pains to innovate. Some of you have read my articles on metagaming. At the end of last year’s tournament, I had opted for the "If you can’t beat them, join them" method of play, and said I was going to play a Survival of the Fittest deck, but with one twist – it was going to have blue in it! Blue in the form of Tradewind Riders, Force of Will, and blue and green utility creatures. But as time passed, I became disillusioned with playing blue, due to my biases against Force and the predominance of a single card in viable decks, and decided to develop something incredibly "techy."
I passed through a number of decks, but spent most of that time working on an Iron Phoenix type of deck, with utility and lifegain and Oath of Druids called, not too originally, "Iron Oath." It was red/green/white, and between Tithe and Peace of Mind it generated massive amounts of life, hardly ever lost to Trix or creature decks, stole many games from 21, and completely shut down creature decks. However, it lacked a kill component, and most of the time just sat there, passively waiting for the token handful of Oathed creatures to appear. If Stompy or Weenie Disenchanted Oath, then the deck just rolled over and died. I discarded that, and decided that I needed more creatures, so swung in the other direction and decided to make "Iron Survival"; you can guess what card it featured instead of Oath. However, mixing a creature base and a lifegain/utility base proved harder than I thought, and mixing the two of them was difficult. The common method of "tutors and bullets" is completely NOT my play style. I prefer consistency of control to single-shots, particularly in Extended, and couldn’t figure out for the life of me how to satisfy my personal boycott of blue and still have a deck that could win.
Right before the testing period, Invasion came out, and I had fallen in love with a certain card: Meteor Storm. I built a number of G/R Standard decks focused on abusing the Storm, and they had a large degree of success. Then, I remembered that Stormbind existed, and realized that I could turn the same principles into a Stormbind/Survival deck, which is commonly known as Squeebind. Within minutes I’d thrown one together, and I tested it up until Saturday – and realized that not only had I kept true to my promise of playing Survival of the Fittest, but I’d stayed away from blue and was ready to chew them up, spit them out, and leave my opponents as little more than trampled heaps underneath Masticore’s dirty, dirty paws.
(Side note: Masticores really aren’t dirty; they are, however, rather careless, and if you own one I suggest that you utilize it to chew up your opponents’ decks rather than your card binders. Mine have been champing at the bit for months wanting to be set loose, and they rewarded me with a valiant effort.)
What I finally came up with was this:
//NAME: Reasons to Be Beautiful
4 Survival of the Fittest
3 Refreshing Rain
4 Elvish Lyrist
4 Wall of Roots
3 Squee, Goblin Nabob
4 Spike Feeder
2 Uktabi Orangutan
1 Avalanche Riders*
1 Spike Weaver
1 Stampeding Wildebeests
1 Shard Phoenix
1 Crater Hellion
2 Treetop Village
SB: 4 Burnout
SB: 4 Pyroblast
SB: 3 Hail Storm
SB: 2 Gaea’s Blessing
SB: 1 Quirion Ranger
SB: 1 Refreshing Rain
*Late-minute substitution for Mindless Automaton, which I was unable to acquire
Round 0: Scott Forster and Will Rieffer, playing partners
The day started off typically enough, with Scott and I enjoying our pre-tourney Steak ‘n Shake ritual. This time, Will Rieffer joined us; he’s become an integral member of our playtest team, and the three of us had been feverishly preparing for the Qualifier. Scott was playing a Sligh deck, replete with maindeck Bottle Gnomes and Price of Progress, that had a severe advantage over other beatdown decks (and Trix), and an amazing sideboard. Will was playing Stasis, and had tested very well with it against the gauntlet; he was also kind enough to loan me an incredibly-difficult-to-obtain Elvish Lyrist and Spike Feeder. Yes, it’s amazing what cards can’t be found at times. I’ve had the worst trouble with green commons and uncommons. I once spent four months trying to accumulate four Muscle Slivers, to the point where the clerks knew just to tell me the moment I walked in whether they had any or not. Hopefully, they weren’t simply playing a cruel joke. I’m not sure why green creatures seem to hide from me, but if you see any, tell them that I love them all. Except that Erithizon fellow.
You can look at the deck and grasp it immediately; it has the usual assortment of optimal utility creatures that you’d expect, plus the power to repeatedly Tutor and/or deal damage to opponents. I’ll comment on some cards during my match descriptions, and will do a little more analysis at the end. However, let me throw out mad props (::cough:: Okay, I can’t say that with a straight face) to Scott for discovering Burnout. The card is simply awesome; it does not fail to make a person playing blue lean forward and raise an eyebrow in surprise. It completely alters the typical sideboard against blue, because instead of merely four Pyroblasts thrown in, you now have eight anti-counterspells with which to work – and that, my friends, is an invaluable resource. "Pyroblast your Illusions." "Force it, pitching Illusions." "Burnout your Force." If nothing else, it generates severe card advantage – even without the cantrip function of Burnout – because typically you’re spending three mana and two cards and they’re throwing out multiple cards; a five-for-two card advantage against blue is worth it any day of the week.
Once I discovered Burnout existed, the deck truly began to be fearless. "I can take anything!" I cried aloud, shaking my fist at the skies. "Throw your Forces at me! Bring out your Illusions, your River Boas, your janky tech! Fireblast me, dammit! I challenge you!"
My coworkers are still reeling from that.
I don’t think that Burnout works in all decks; however, Squeebind doesn’t need to do much in the way of sideboarding against non-blue decks, and thus it fits in perfectly for this deck and for Scott’s Sligh deck. (Do burnouts work at all? That’s a societal issue, I guess.)
Unfortunately, at first, my opponents didn’t do much of anything except laugh in the face of my defiance.
PTQ Tokyo – St. Louis, 12/9/2000 – 55 participants – 6 Rounds
Round 1: Charlie Hanford, playing Squeebind
We start off fairly similarly; I lay a Lyrist, he lays a Lyrist, he throws down a Wall and I get a Survival out. It doesn’t take a genius to see that he’s playing a deck identical in theme to mine when I see him lay a Mountain down next to his Forest. I tense up a bit, and realize that in all of my testing, I haven’t played against the mirror match, and it threw me; I know the disruptive power of the deck, but wasn’t used to have it utilized against me.
Both of us realize that it’s a mirror, and with limited maindeck removal, he lets my Survival sit on the board. Stormbind is potentially more dangerous than Survival, especially because an active Stormbind stops any further Lyrists from coming into play.
I pitch an Orangutan to grab a Squee and a Masticore, figuring that my best strategy was to be aggressive. I attack to bring him down to sixteen, but he soon lays out his own Survival and grabs some Squees and a Mindless Automaton. Mindless Automaton is simply broken in this sort of deck, and I bemoaned my inability to acquire one before the tournament. Knowing I have to switch tempo and go on the defensive, I bring out some Walls and Feeders, being sure to keep my regeneration mana open. He quickly begins pitching Squees to his Automaton, making it rather huge, and brings out a Feeder and some walls for backup, at which point he Lyrists away my Survival. His 11/11 Automaton stares at my Masticore. "Come and get me!" Masti snarls, knowing that he can regenerate ad infinitum against the mindless brute, no matter how large he is. He begins to bring out more creatures, and I try and put a stop to it, deciding that with the Survival advantage in his court, I need to equalize the board.
I Lyrist his Survival; I’d been holding a Hellion in my hand for a few turns and decided it was as good a time as any to cast it. I do so, destroying everyone’s Walls and Feeders, which we sac. I throw a counter on Masticore so that he’s 5/5, and sac my feeder to go to twenty-two life. With his feeder, he’s at twenty-four and I’m feeling happy. Quite happy, really. I attack to bring him down to fifteen, as I’m holding a Refreshing Rain in hand and think that I can whittle him down and minimize the effects of Automaton. My "get damage in while you can" strategy wasn’t the wisest, however, and he waltzed over on his turn to take me to eleven, and he drops what he’d been apparently holding until the Lyrist was gone: Stormbind.
He also puts out a Masticore he’d been holding onto; thankfully, I have a Wall to put out as a blocker. However, my aggressive tactics have backfired. Over the next few turns he pummels me into submission with Stormbind as my Masticore continues to snarl, full of sound and fury, signifying his displeasure with being a blocker. My life total descends from eleven, to five, to three, unable to stop the recurring damage abuse.
Having learned my lesson, I prepare for Game 2, noting that I don’t have much of a sideboard against the mirror. I put in my Gaea’s Blessings for a pair of Rains, in case I need to retrieve my enchantments or Lyrists, and we start. I lay a first-turn Lyrist, as does he, and I follow with a second-turn Survival. I lay a Feeder on turn 3 rather than Survivaling, and attack to bring him to eighteen. At the end of my turn, he Emerald Charms the Survival, and I don’t have the mana to utilize it. He still has a Lyrist on the table, and I attack with my Feeder to bring him to seventeen, and then fifteen. His two Lyrist hits have put me at eighteen, and I’m happy with the three-life lead.
He puts down a Wall, which stops the beatdown, and I play one of my own. I draw a Masticore, and with him showing no real defense yet except for the Wall of Roots, I think that things are really going to take off for me. I cast the Masticore on the upcoming turn and kill his Lyrist, but he draws his Automaton and puts him down next to the Wall in Masticore’s path. I’m hoping I reach another enchantment soon.
I then make my worst play of the day. He attacks with a 6/6 Automaton, and I see he’s holding cards in hand. I have two mana untapped to regenerate and a 0/4 Wall of Roots out. I don’t want to block with the Masticore, because I fear him holding an Orangutan and casting him after combat to bury my Masticore. However, I for some reason become consumed with the thought of protecting my wall as an additional blocker and mana source, and announce "Block with the Lyrist." No sooner do I say the words than I mentally slap myself.
(Slow fade to Mike, handing a knife to his opponent. "Here, these sleeves are getting in the way; let me roll them up for you." End fade.)
The Lyrist looks up at me woefully as it settles into my graveyard, pointing forlornly at the Stormbind that my opponent throws on the table. The body isn’t even cold in the grave yet, but it doesn’t matter because soon I’ll be there to keep the Lyrist warm. The game ends quickly; I can sac the feeder to gain four life, but he Stormbinds me aggressively, leaving his Automaton back to stem Masticore, and over the course of six turns I draw exactly zero answers. If I’d drawn a Lyrist, it would have died to Stormbind anyway.
My only solace was that he was indeed holding the Orangutan, and thus my instinct was correct – however, it’s easy to see that I should have let the Automaton through or thrown the Wall at it, then untapped and been able to regenerate twice while waiting for my chance to regain the momentum.
I’m annoyed by my own play mistake and by the fact that he completely outplayed me, and walk over to see that Scott and Will have also lost their first matches. A great start for our first team appearance, but we chuckle and prepare for Round 2.
Matches: 0-1, Games 0-2.
Round 2: Nick Weber, playing Trix.
I’ve played against Nick numerous times; he’s an excellent player and always a tough match for me. I lose the roll, and his first turn goes Underground Sea, Duress. I have a Survival, two Rains, some lands, and a Scragnoth in hand, and I see him pause for reflection when he sees my instant-speed lifegain. He makes the smart move, however, and buries the Survival, and unfortunately now knows that he has to combo twice.
I lay a Forest, and draw a Lyrist; I hope to sneak the Lyrist through, but he lets my Rain resolve and I go up to twenty-six life. I lay a Lyrist, and am surprised when it doesn’t get Forced. He throws down a Mox and begins establishing his combo; I Rain at the end of his turn. Thirty-two life is pretty good against Trix, I’m thinking.
He Firestorms away the Lyrist, dropping me to thirty life, and throws down an Illusion on turn 4. Rather than hinder myself with the upkeep, I let it die to bring myself to ten, and hope to draw some sort of a threat over the next few turns. I don’t, however. I draw land. Lots of land. I draw a Wall and a Rain in the next seven turns. I wind up casting the Rain to go to sixteen life, but with my deck rolling over and asking him to tickle its belly, he is able to grab his combo again and end the game. My eighteen life gained unfortunately doesn’t unfortunately match up to forty life lost.
Between games, I figure that he’s going to switch gears, expecting me to sideboard in Emerald Charms. Rather than that, I put in my anti-counterspells, siding out a pair of Lyrists and a few creatures hoping he’s going to be fooled into thinking his expectation is correct. I assume he’s going to put in Phyrexian Negator, and decide that I lost the first game because of a horrible run of non-threats, and that my Rains and Feeders will be enough to win me the next two games if necessary.
The game starts off more promising, as I drop a Turn 1 Lyrist. When he lets it resolve, I’m fairly confident that he isn’t going to be comboing me, and I’m sure that I can win a beatdown race. I attack to bring him to fifteen and drop a Treetop Village, which hadn’t been seen yet. On turn 3, rather than attack I put down a Feeder, as seems to happen frequently, and take him to sixteen.
His turn 3 consists of summoning a Phyrexian Negator, which immediately frightens and excites me. I continue to be aggressive, attacking with the Village, figuring that the damage done to Negator will reduce his permanents. He doesn’t seem to draw anything useful, and lets his Negator sit there. He summons a second Negator around turn 6, and I cease my attacking with a Lyrist, a Feeder, an 0/2 Wall, a Scragnoth, and two Villages in play.
In the most stunning reversal of the day, he attacks with both of his Negators. With him at seven life, I decide that I can let the Negators through for a turn, and figure I’ll throw a token Village in front of them and swing over with my Feeder, the other Village, and Scragnoth for the win on my next turn.
I activate one of my Villages, and in response he taps his Mox to cast Firestorm before I declare blockers. He didn’t have useless spells in hand; au contraire, he was merely saving them for a devastating Firestorm, targeting my Lyrist, my Feeder, my Village, and my Scragnoth. He discards a hand full of counters and utility. I sac the Feeder to go to twenty-four and throw my Wall in front of the Negator to stem the bleeding. With my other blockers commenting from the sidelines on how pretty the color blue is when it’s mixed with red and black, his Negators trample over the Wall for eight damage and drop me to sixteen. He has little in play except land and Mox, and he is fearless; the next turn, he tramples over my only remaining creature, Treetop Village, to put me at nine. He sacrifices a few token lands, and you can figure out what happens from that point.
Ouch. His timing was brilliant, and I was hoping to take advantage of him losing permanents in hope of his Negators going away. Firestorm completely wrecked my creature base, however, and I couldn’t recover from their destruction.
I’ve lost to Trix, the deck that I consistently beat and the deck that I designed my deck to beat. I’m not one to whine; Magic’s a card game, and it’s a game of luck, and I’ve had as much luck in topdecking as my opponent’s have, and I don’t have illusions that I’m prejudiced against by the great gods of fate. The first game, my deck quit on me, but the second game was a loss due to good play; but I was a turn away from victory both times, and both losses really stung.
Matches: 0-2; Games 0-4.
At this point, in the past I may have dropped, or been down on the deck and played one more token round. However, I still felt good, and felt that my deck simply was working out the kinks and that with a little luck and smart play I could have been 2-0. Being able to glean that from an 0-4 deficit in games means I’m either very intuitive or a blooming idiot.
Creature – Goblin
When Blooming Idiot comes into play, sacrifice a land. Gain 3 life.
Blooming Idiot can not attack.
Will and Scott have also had rough goes of it. Scott draws against an Oath deck, and Will loses again. We’re relegated to the loser’s bracket, which makes it relatively impossible to place respectably. Scott at least has a slight chance at 0-1-1, and we all decided to stay in and keep plugging away. I really felt that my deck would reward my faith, and indeed it did.
Round 3: Maury, playing Stompy
You can tell I was disgruntled, because I didn’t write down Maury’s last name; I’ll remedy this error in future tournament reports. It’s a shame, because Maury was very fun to play against. I like to have fun while I play, and to joke and comment on the game situation, whether the board leans toward my advantage or disadvantage, and when I find opponents who do likewise, it makes it much more enjoyable.
Maury was great; so was Stompy.
When he laid a Forest and a Lyrist, I was afraid of a Survival deck as in Round 1, but was pleased to see him lay down a Cursed Scroll early. He puts me at nineteen with the Lyrist, while I drop a Survival and on turn 3 lay down – what else? – a Spike Feeder. Feeder takes him to eighteen life, and throws down a River Boa, looking as if he’ll mount an offensive. But Survival hits the board, and I grab Squee and Masticore. He has a Savannah out, so I am prepared for a Disenchant or a Plow.
He gets another attack in with the Boa to take me to seventeen, and I have my Feeder on the board. I drop my Masticore, but don’t ping the Boa yet, wanting to leave mana back for Masticore tricks – and defense. On my next turn, Masticore pings the Boa, forcing him to regenerate before my attack phase, and I bring over the ‘Core, who is much more angry than the Boa on any given day, and take him to fourteen. Then, astonishingly, he taps his Savannah and casts Heroes’ Reunion! I was thrilled to see someone using the cheap lifegain metagame methodology, and grinned widely as he moved his dice to twenty-one. He is able to play a Treetop Village and a Masticore of his own, and we glare at each other across the battlefield for a bit. He puts out a Gaea’s Cradle, but pitching cards to Masticore has had a negative effect on his game as he pitches a Disenchant to keep the Masticore alive.
We stall for awhile, and I begin to grow Walls, drawing them and building up a mana base. I Survival for an Orangutan to kill the Scroll, as I haven’t had to yet because he’s been tapping out to cast spells. Now that the game has plateaued, I get rid of it before it can cause too much trouble. On his turn, he kills the Orangutan with Masticore, and Wastelands my untapped Taiga and Disenchants my Survival. I quickly fetch a Crater Hellion, seeing my window appear: He only has two lands untapped, one a Treetop Village and the other a Forest.
I had been holding a Wasteland, and dropped it, targeting his tapped Cradle. I tap to bring out a Crater Hellion, and in response to its resolution I sacrifice one counter for two life and move the other onto Masticore. He allows his River Boa to die, deciding to regenerate the Masticore with his two mana. I attack and he lets my ‘Core through for five; he goes to seventeen.
His Masticore attacks and takes me to seventeen, and I finally draw Stormbind. When I drop it, he knows his time is severely limited; I opt to keep Masticore back for blocking, and use Stormbind and Squee to finish off his Masticore at the end of this turn (regenerate) and on my turn (Regeneration? Whazzat? Crash!). From there it’s a short walk with my 5/5 ‘core and Stormbind finishing him off in two turns.
I don’t have much of an answer for him, figuring I can withstand beatdown strategies. I substitute Blessings for Rains in order to recur anything he gets rid of, however.
Game 2 is very similar in that we stall for awhile. We seemed to play the exact same moves again and again. We both had an answer for everything in each other’s deck. I laid a Survival, and he Charmed it before I could use it. He lays a scroll and I draw an Orangutan. I lay a Stormbind, he Charms it. He lays a Treetop Village and I Waste it. He’s able to establish aggression early and has me worried, however, as I’m focused on laying out my foundation. A Rancored Boa and second Village take me to thirteen life. I have a Feeder out that blocks the Village on his next attempt, resulting in me going to twelve. I summon another Feeder and the same thing occurs, and I’m at eleven. Things are starting to look grim, as his creatures trample over the ones I am able to cast, and though I am able to hold it off, I go down to three life under his assault.
Then, I draw a Survival again. I use it to get Masticore, cast it, and begin staring down his creatures. I shoot his Boa so it can not attack me, and the Village wisely stays home. With Masticore on the board, I Squeevival for a Phoenix and a Feeder and a Wall – and the advantage has clearly shifted.
The game has dragged on long enough, however. Time is called, and with the board severely tilting in my favor, we shake hands and laugh at the way our decks kept thwarting each other. With this match a draw and my victory in Game 1, I’m awarded the match.
Matches: 1-2, Games 1-4-1.
Well, that’s much better. Scott’s game was over in what seemed like ten minutes, as I saw him wandering around during the match, and he’s now at 1-1-1. At 0-3, Will is playing just for the sake of playing and to see if he actually ever will draw a Stasis or a Force of Will.
Game 4: Nathan Eiskant, playing CounterSliver
CounterSliver is something I fear, because it’s the best of both worlds against my deck; creatures to kill with, counters to stop me from killing with. You know the routine; it’s the best aggro-control archetype out there, in the opinion of most. Sure enough, it starts out poorly for me.
Game 1, I win the roll and lay a Forest, Lyrist. But he then Duresses a Survival out of my hand. Could there possibly be any more evil synergy between cards than Duress and Force of Will? I’m not talking board combos here; I’m talking two cards that work so well with each other that drawing both of them REALLY enhances your success and frustrates the rest of us. I attack on turn 2 to reduce him to nineteen.
He puts forth a Winged Sliver on turn 2, and I cast a Feeder on my third turn and attack with the Lyrist again, and he lets it through to go to eighteen. He Consults for a Muscle Sliver. After going through twelve or thirteen cards, he finds it, and casts it and attacks with his 2/2 Winged; we’re tied at eighteen. I was surprised by his Consult; I’m not sure why many CounterSliver players Consult so early in the game, as I tend to think it’s more detrimental than helpful unless you’re facing Sligh and need a Crystalline on the table. A lot of times it seems as if they mill away too much of their land base. Interestingly, I see a number of odd slivers passing to the graveyard, such as Talon Sliver and Victual Sliver, which he later confided were the only ones in the deck.
I send my Feeder through, wondering if he’d block with his Muscle, but of course he doesn’t. He attacks three more times, bringing me to six, and things start to look dangerous. However, I draw from my library and Masticore grins at me and says "Hey there, boss. Is it time to go to work?" I cast Masticore, and am pleased to see him resolve and stretch his muscles while yawning in the direction of the Slivers. (intercom announcer: "Advantage, Mason!" ::crowd goes wild::) Next turn, I needle his Muscle Sliver, and then his winged, and between Masticore and Feeder and Lyrist, he dies in 3 turns with me at five life.
In between rounds, I decided to leave the Lyrist in as a cheap blocker and a one-drop, whereas most people would sideboard them out. Knowing that I need creatures more than a handful of anti-counterspells, I replace both Orangutans, my Wildebeests, and my Avalanche Riders with 4 Pyroblasts, and I put Hailstorm in place of Refreshing Rain, leaving Burnout in the sideboard.
Game 2 is similar to the first at start; he Duresses away a Survival again, and my only opening is to drop the usual turn 1 Lyrist. I get the Lyrist through five times, and he counters a Stormbind and Forces another Survival. He starts to amass an army while I’m throwing my spells into his wall of permission, and my Lyrist holds back in fear.
Crystalline shows up first, and the next turn he summons two Muscle Slivers. He doesn’t throw the Crystalline at the Wall of Roots I’ve summoned, but the next turn he attacks with those three. I look at my hand and I see a Hail Storm, but it’s useless against two Muscle Sliver effects, and I take the first rush of damage and watch him commit more forces to the attack. True enough, he summons an Acidic Sliver, a Talon Sliver, and another Crystalline.
And, lo and behold, I draw another Hail Storm. I do nothing, and wait.
He attacks; I Hail Storm once. No response. I Hail Storm again. No response. My Lyrist dies, I take two damage to eight, and he throws a pair of Acidic effects at me to reduce me to four, but his entire army is pitted and ruined by the sudden change in weather, and my opponent is stunned.
Matches: 2-2, Games 3-4-1.
These games went rather quickly, and I had the pleasure of watching Scott face Mike Heffern, who is an incredible player. It was an incredibly tense matchup of Sligh on Trix, and being able to see what both players were holding only added to my enjoyment, because the bluffing and calculating going on by both of them was simply fascinating. It was intense, and a whole group of people had gathered around to watch it. When Scott pulled out the victory, I was thrilled, for he was now 2-1-1 and things were looking up for the both of us. Will’s reserving a spot for the Grand Prix Trial at 0-4, unfortunately.
Round 5: Kyle Burkhalter, playing White Weenie
White Weenie? Egads. I don’t want to see White Weenie; they’re quick, they Plow and Disenchant, and they don’t fear my main sources of removal. Well, that was my first impression, at least. He was running a fairly straightforward build, and he came out quickly.
He produced a White Knight, and then a second one, while I laid down a solitary Spike Feeder. We traded blows for multiple turns, until I was at ten and he was at fourteen. I plucked a Stormbind from my deck and laid it on the table, using it to remove both of his White Knights from my Feeder’s path, and sent the Feeder in for the remains. He was at twelve but he had a Soltari Priest in play – and when he cast Empyrial Armor on it, I started to worry.
Okay, you’ve seen the Feeder beatdown of this match – what’s coming up next? You know it. Survival is played, and I quickly accumulate a pair of Squees and a Masticore. He summons another Knight, but I Bind it away and use Masticore to eliminate the Priest, and even with a Disenchant attempt on my Masticore to stop it from attacking for one turn, I win the match handily.
I don’t have much of a sideboard for White Weenie, except that I remove my Phoenix, Hellion, and a Feeder and replace them with Hail Storms.
This game, his first turn play is a Soul Warden, which happens to be one of my favorite creatures. I’ve always been partial to WW, and gave heavy consideration to playing it; in fact, the Life deck piloted by Tyler Kopp at the tournament was brilliance. If you’re unfamiliar with it, it features En-Kor, Angelic Protector, Task Force, Worthy Cause, Altar of Dementia, and About Face. Talk amongst yourselves about the potential there; it’s simply amazing. More on this later.
So, Warden’s on the table, and of course it’s followed by a Knight, which proceeds to attack me. I summon a Feeder and a Wall, and he follows with a Paladin en-Vec, and soon he’s benefiting greatly from the Warden and is at twenty-six life. While I don’t see a Survival, I manage to draw Stormbind, and have a Squee in hand from the opening draw. I bind the Warden and the Knight and begin to counterattack with the Feeder, and then summon, yet again, Masticore.
(Have I mentioned he calls me boss? I love my little ‘Core.)
We begin to race, and his Knight falls when Squee drops on him, and the Paladin sprouts a few spikes from the ‘core’s tail. Empyrial Armor on a Priest manages to keep him out of pinging range, but my volume is too much for him to handle. I’m saved by the Feeder, who drops a counter to keep me at two life, and when Feeder and Masticore attack and I double-Bind him, the game is mine.
Matches: 3-2, Games 5-4-1.
This was an amazingly fearful matchup for me, but Masticore proved again why he’s the second best creature in the environment (the first being Morphling, of course.) Protection from Red makes me nervous, but thankfully Spike Feeder bought me the extra turn needed for victory. It was at this point, despite my success in the last three rounds, that I realized I really needed to find more of an early game for this deck, because I was falling prey to beatdown repeatedly. While I’d always managed to stabilize – correction, while MASTICORE AND FEEDER were always able to stabilize–there was a definite risk factor there like what happened in my matchup against Trix, where spells were a little too expensive or not game-affecting enough to make a difference.
Scott is playing Sligh, and beats it to make his record 3-1-1. He has a very real chance of making Top 8, and I’m pulling for him. The key to victory were the Cursed Scrolls, which Chet Skolos mailed to him from Canada expressly to use for this tournament. Chet deserves a hearty round of applause for his selfless act in helping out a fellow player whom he’s never met and has only spoken to for about two weeks.
Round 6: John, playing Stasis
I slipped up and didn’t write down John’s last name, though I could have sworn that I did. He was also a joy to play against, and we joked around during the match.
Interestingly, the matches against Stasis were the quickest ones of my day.
He won the roll in Game 1, and I try to summon a first-turn Lyrist again, thinking to myself that I’m caught in a time warp. He bounces his island to his hand and reveals Daze, and I set the Lyrist in the graveyard happily. "I just spent two weeks playtesting against that deck," I say to him. John had been in 7th place, but a Round 5 loss had dropped him back into my area of the bracket. I’m glad to see Stasis do so well, as it’s always been a pet deck of mine. However, I knew how to play against it, and attacked it quickly. Turn 2, I try and cast a Survival, but it’s countered, and he seems to be having mana problems, which I try to take advantage of. I summon a Wall of Roots, and am glad to see it resolve; the following turn, he drops a Stasis. I rip off some branches to summon my second Lyrist, and it gets through; he keeps me pinned down for another turn, but is unable to garner the land to pay upkeep and the Stasis soon dissipates of its own accord. I summon another Wall of Roots, and then Survival in quick fashion, leaving most of my land untapped. He shakes his head, as I think he had a hand full of nothin’, and I abuse Survival over the next two turns to get Squees, Masticore, Scragnoth, and multiple Lyrists. I proceed to cast said Scragnoth and Lyrists, and begin to beat him down. When Stormbind hits the table, he’s been taking Masticore and Scragnoth damage for a pair of turns, and the finishing blow is quick and painful.
Game 2, I summon a Wall on turn 2, but he counters it. I summon another on turn 3, and he hard-casts Daze to stop it; he fears the free mana, but I question him spending his counterspells on them. On turn 4, I plop down Survival, and when he casts Annul, I respond with Burnout, and he has no response except for a look of complete chagrin. I proceed to Tutor for three Lyrists, and when two of them reach the table, he concedes the match to me.
Total match time was about ten minutes, and I was shocked; I think that I was the beneficiary of luck in the first game, to be honest, with his relative lack of countering.
Matches: 4-2, Games 7-4-1.
With that, my day was over. Scott lost to Charlie Hanford, and thus you might argue that Charlie is responsible for knocking both of us out; my first match, Scott’s last match. I’m very glad that I didn’t quit after 2 rounds, as I finished up placing 13th. If you take away those two matches, I ran the table from that point forward, and while some matches made me nervous, the deck handled them very well.
Most of all, it restored my faith in the deck and my ability to contend successfully at major qualifiers. I encourage people to keep playing even after a poor start, because the practice is invaluable. I have a relatively small playtest group (Scott and Will, and Will’s only been on board for the last month or so) and thus it causes play to stagnate a bit because, for example, I know how Scott plays, the reactions he tends to make, etc. Practice against others helped me tune this deck, because I realized there were creatures I’d rather have.
I really missed the Automaton, though Avalanche Riders’ land destruction won me one game and it was always in the back of my mind as a tutorable Village killer. The Hellion, while powerful, is often as much a danger to my own creatures as my opponents; the Shard Phoenix should serve a similar purpose, and is of course recurrable.
My experiment with Refreshing Rain resulted in me playing one Trix deck, no Sligh or Hatred, and no 21. As such, I’ll be pushing it to the sideboard and replacing it with Firestorm, which is just as abusive as Stormbind or Survival with a Squee in hand. The mass removal potential and the "finisher" potential are too great to ignore.
Orangutan often was ineffective, because Masticore could regenerate. I am going to replace the monkey with Viashino Heretic, which is a tougher creature at 1/3 and has a repeatable artifact destruction mechanic for 1R. Even if Masticore regenerates, he’ll do his owner four damage a turn, and I think it’s worth the one-turn delay. Between Spikes and the quick ability to get creatures in play, Heretic should be able to beat Masticore to the punch and punish people for using artifacts.
Thus, at first glance, I’d replace one Orangutan with a Heretic, three Rains with three Firestorms ("It’s the same rain, it’s just much warmer."), Avalanche Riders with an Automaton, and Hellion with Miner. I put three Rains in the sideboard, dropping one Burnout and the Quirion Ranger.
The deck was remarkably consistent from start to finish, despite the occasional runs of bad luck. I drew quality spells and quality responses, and the Lyrist/Wall/Feeder/Masticore progression was very frequent. Squeebind is a fun deck to play.
The day before the tournament, I read Paul Barclay’s Neutral Ground article on his Volrath’s Shapeshifter deck, "Full English Breakfast." That deck is a horrible piece of brokenness, and I’m tempted to run out and grab all of the cards for it so that I can play it in the next Qualifier. I recommend that you check it out. That and "Life" are excellently abusive new decks, though the level of abuse is one of those that make me shake my head. Infinite combos are enjoyable, but do they really have a place in the game? I’m not sure. Regardless, I’m going to be enjoying playtesting "Life" and reveling in mono-color combo action.
Just for the record, the Top 8 consisted of a wide variety of decks, which was great to see. The tournament was won by Matt Place, playing a TurboLand variant, over Ped Bun’s Counter-Oath deck. A lot of the top 8 were trickily metagamed decks, including Peter Sauer’s innovative Three-Deuce deck that included Survival and utility creatures like Orangutan and Monk Realist (he finished 8th). Life, Hatred, PT Junk, and Squeebind were all present in addition to the finalists. I think that speaks wonderfully about the environment’s ability to adjust to Force of Will.
I want to quickly clear up something about Force of Will; a lot of people have the perception that I’m vehemently in favor of banning it. The truth is that I think that it’s imbalanced, and that alternatives need to be developed in order to equalize the playing field, particularly with the wealth of alternate-cost counterspells that exist. Without that balance being present, then perhaps the card should be banned – and perhaps it will all be moot if the "Ice Age block" rotates out, as many expect. We’ll see.