Peebles Primers – Playing Reveillark at the StarCityGames.com $5000 Open

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Wednesday, May 14th – Last weekend, Benjamin Peebles-Mundy sleeved up his trusty Reveillark deck and braved the fierce Standard competition on both days of the StarCityGames.com Mega-Magic Weekend. While he didn’t fare well on Day 2, on Day 2 he came agonizingly close to the money. Today’s Peebles Primers sees BPM take us through the tournaments, offering sage advice on the position of Reveillark Combo in the Faeries metagame…

This past weekend was the Star City 5K and 2K, and I played in both events with Reveillark. For most people, this was either a big surprise (because Reveillark is a big underdog against Faeries) or completely expected (I’ve been championing Reveillark for months now). I think that the choice was defensible on the first day of the weekend, but it became very clear to me that it was just not a good idea to play Reveillark on Sunday. In the nine-round tournament, Faeries may have been the most-played deck, but it was still a relatively small percentage of the room. In the seven-rounder, though, it seemed as though something like half the field was playing Faeries.

While I didn’t money in either event (one off Top 16 on breakers Day 1, 1-2 drop Day 2), I had an absolutely amazing time. The fun started Friday afternoon, when the various members of our hotel room started to trickle into the event site to play some games. While Tom and Gerry opted to play in trials, the rest of us played some Cube and worked on getting our decks together.

That night, we went out to an England-themed pub for a quick dinner before heading back to the room to take it easy before the big day. While that plan worked out for the majority of us, I found myself sidetracked by the hotel bar along with two of my roommates. When the hotel had last call at an hour that seemed absurdly early, we headed back to the original pub to continue the good times. We made it back to the hotel well after two in the morning, and got the hotel staff pretty annoyed when we tried to just hang out in the lobby rather than wake up our entire roomful of people.

I’d say that we eventually passed out around four in the morning, which left us a solid three to four hours to sleep before heading into battle the next morning. Some might believe that this was a terrible idea, but it seemed to work out very well; two of the three of us made money on the day, and I failed to complete the full trifecta when my tiebreakers let me down.

As for the tournament, I made a few small changes to my deck since the last time I wrote about it.

The creature and spell components of the deck have not changed in a long time, but I’ve been working on the lands. The deck I played at the last Star City Open ran four Deserts and four Nimbus Maze, but I’ve replaced those lands with four Mystic Gates, three Calciform Pools, and one Flagstones. The Gates are amazing; they let you cast Venser, Wrath, and Consideration extremely easily. The Pools aren’t that extraordinary, since you aren’t usually building up to a huge turn like you might with Dragonstorm, but they can let you play an extra spell on a crucial turn or, more importantly, let you play a single spell when you find yourself on the wrong end of a Mistbind Clique. The Flagstones is just another White source, but it seemed to me that the first Flagstones was better than the sixth Plains. It’s worse against Magus of the Moon (though you have twelve basics and four Lenses there), but it’s better against Cryoclasm and Enchanted Evening.

I played Reveillark because it was the deck I was most familiar with. I concede the fact that Faeries is the best deck to play if you’re going to start playing Standard with any given deck, but I felt as though Reveillark gave me two advantages. First, like I said earlier, it was the deck that I had the most experience with, and so I thought I would be able to play it very well against opponents that I had prepared for and also those who I hadn’t prepared for. Second, I believed that many people would dismiss Reveillark as something they needed to worry about when they built their decks and sideboards, so I assumed that there wouldn’t be much hate sent my way. Because of all this, I thought that playing Reveillark would allow me to beat any non-Faerie opponent, so all I had to do was avoid dropping three matches to Faeries on the day.

Besides all that, I honestly don’t think that the Faerie matchup is that bad. It’s definitely not a deck I want to play against, and I wouldn’t have brought Reveillark to the tournament if I’d thought that the room would be half Faeries. However, you do have a lot of ways to give yourself a fighting chance, and many Faeries players just assume the matchup is a cakewalk and do little to prepare for it. When you’re playing Reveillark against Faeries, you’re essentially fighting to break through the stone wall they’re setting up. Rune Snag, Spellstutter Sprite, Cryptic Command, and Mistbind Clique are all cards that will just stop you from resolving your spells, but if you can get to the point where the cards you cast are actually making it into play, chances are good that you’re going to win the game. This is why I liked the chargelands for this tournament: they let you play one more spell than the Faerie opponent might be prepared to handle (or even just let you actually play around a Rune Snag for six). If you mulligan appropriately to gassy hands and play well, I think you can accurately estimate your chances against Faeries at somewhere around 30-40%.

With all that out of the way, I’d like to quickly talk about my matches. I didn’t take detailed notes, so I can’t go over the games play-by-play, but I’ll highlight any interesting situations that came up.

Round 1 versus White Weenie — My opponent sat down and told me that this was the first tournament he’d played in, and that he was mostly here with his friends. After talking about his ride down to the tournament, he curved out with two creatures and Glorious Anthem. My first Wrath hit after Borderguard came down, and my second Wrath cleaned up the tokens and his reinforcements. Game 2 was extremely strange, as he chose to play second and cast Wrath of God to get rid of my Wispmare and Aven Riftwatcher. With literally no pressure on me, I was able to just play out 2/2 flyers and swing for the win.

White Weenie is a pretty simple matchup; either your Riftwatchers and Wraths will let you get to the point where you can take the game over with Reveillark and Body Double, or you’ll die before you can get anything started. Because of this, cards like Mana Tithe are extremely scary, and you’ll want to at least try to play around them. Your sideboarding is relatively straightforward: you want Sowers and Wispmares, and Cloudskate and Momentary Blink are too slow to afford to keep in. If you hate the idea of boarding out Blinks here (they are very good when you’re under pressure but have a Reveillark or Body Double), then you can cut the Careful Considerations and any slow card of your choice. Sowers are an amazing answer to Kinsbaile Borderguard, or any guy that picked up a Griffin Guide, and Wispmares can kill Militia’s Pride, Glorious Anthem, Oblivion Ring, Griffin Guide, and assorted other things.

Round 2 versus Mono Red — He started the game somewhat slowly, with a Mogg War Marshal and a Countryside Crusher. I contained the beats with a Riftwatcher and a Blink when he tried to clear it out of the way, and I eventually dug to a Wrath and buried him with Body Double. I mulliganned down to essentially the ideal five-card hand: Plains, Island, Forge-Tender, Riftwatcher, and Mulldrifter. He started out even more slowly this time, but his third turn brought an Everlasting Torment that was extremely strong against my multiple Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender draw. I tried to stabilize with my White creatures, and had to simply trade off a Forge-Tender early on. However, when he attacked with an Ashenmoor Gouger, it became clear that he didn’t realize that the Torment was allowing him to kill my blocking Forge-Tenders, as I blocked the Gouger with a Riftwatcher and two Tenders, and he assigned all of the damage to the Riftwatcher. This left me at a decent life total with two Forge-Tenders against his two War Marshal tokens and a Magus of the Moon. I drew the last Tender, but he drew an Ashenmoor Liege that threatened to kill me if only he realized that he could attack through my Protection creatures. Fortunately, I topdecked a Crovax to kill most of his side and start swinging for six. Three turns later he hadn’t found enough burn to finish me off, and my Forge-Tenders swung through for the win.

There are two really scary cards that the Red deck might play against you: Sulfur Elemental and Demigod of Revenge. The Sulfur Elemental will blank all of your Forge-Tenders and Mirror Entities, so you won’t be able to hide behind a Protection wall and assemble the combo. Demigod is just a threat that’s very difficult to contain; even if you Wrath it or manage to trade with it, the next one will just bring the previous one back for another round. Everlasting Torment, on the other hand, is only good against you, not terrifying. Stopping lifegain is less important than stopping damage prevention and giving all damage sources Wither. With the Torment on the table, your Forge-Tenders are just 1/1 unblockable, untargetable dorks. However, Wispmare deals with Everlasting Torment quite nicely (along with Spiteful Visions and Manabarbs) and can block weenies all day long. I wouldn’t normally bring Crovax in against the Red decks, but I did it here because he had War Marshals and I didn’t want to get swarmed to death. To make room for all of the sideboard cards, I took out Cloudskates, Momentary Blinks, Considerations, and one Wrath.

Round 3 versus Juniper Combo — My opponent and I both started with lifegain creatures, though his were Kitchen Finks that he eventually followed up with a Heartmender. With quite a bit of power on the other side of the table, I charged my land up to three counters and then unloaded a double-Wrath. I started to poke at his thirty life with a Cloudskate, but when I dropped a Mirror Entity to threaten the kill, he blew the world up with Enchanted Evening, and then dropped a Birds of Paradise with mana he floated. I still had plenty of lands, but he had only a Gargadon for his turn. Unfortunately, four running lands later, I was a turn short of killing him before he killed me with Murderous Redcap and Juniper Order Ranger. In the second game I suspended a Cloudskate, accelerated with Lens, dumped Body Double and Mirror Entity with Consideration, and then bounced his side on my fifth turn. In the last game he led with two Wishes for the Juniper/Redcap combo, but I kept harassing his lands and combo pieces with Cloudskates and Vensers. The turn before he would die to my flying men, he managed to get his own combo together, but I had a Pact of Negation that I remembered to pay for to give me the turn I needed.

In the first game, I think that Reveillark is at a slight disadvantage. There are ways you can trick people into blowing the Enchanted Evening plus Patrician’s Scorn turn, but it’s pretty hard to stop the Juniper Order Ranger combo if you don’t have a ton of bounce effects. In the sideboarded games, though, you get to bring in Sowers and Pacts that will allow you to disrupt their combo much more easily, and you can dump the Wraths and Riftwatchers that are essentially dead. Sower effectively deals with Persist creatures, and can even snag a Ranger if they’re not being careful to defend with Gargadon. Pact of Negation is just a nice hard counter that will allow you to be somewhat aggressive so that you can try to end the game early. Overall I think that Reveillark is going to win this matchup more often than not, but I also think that most of the time you’re going to need three games to get it done.

Round 4 versus BGu Mannequin — My first feature match of the day was, unfortunately, extremely unexciting. My opponent had a pretty slow first hand that was trying to kill me with Garruk tokens, but my multiple Cloudskates stuffed that plan and Body Double on Reveillark made sure that he couldn’t ever get through. In the second game he mulliganned to five, and I had a fifth-turn combo kill that I only failed to enact because I embarrassingly forgot to play a land on the fourth turn after I resolved my Careful Consideration. The extra turn didn’t give him the Extirpate he needed to interrupt my kill, and I was able to go for it without worry when he tapped out.

I talked about the matchup with my opponent after we finished, since the match was over so quickly. He agreed that game 1 was nearly unwinnable for him; he needs a draw with a lot of pressure followed by mid-game Thoughtseizes to knock Reveillarks, Body Doubles, and Wraths out of my hand. Game 2, though, he gets access to Extirpate and Mind Shatter to go with his Thoughseizes and Profane Commands, which give him a decent chance to completely crush me (since I won’t have any counterspells) if I’m not already winning on the board. However, his large number of comes-into-play-tapped lands are very unexciting against five bounce creatures and Momentary Blinks, and he really just doesn’t have a ton of creature pressure to put me against the ropes early. I brought Sowers in even though I knew they wouldn’t be that great, because I thought that they would at least be better than the Riftwatchers that I was taking out, and could definitely save me some life if I managed to snag a Tarmogoyf or similar. Even taking a Wall of Roots on turn 3 is something I’d be excited to do. Now that I know that Mind Shatters are involved in the opposing board plan, I might bring in Pacts instead of Sowers. I’m not sure yet, though.

Round 5 versus Mono-Red — Things seemed to be going fine as I took a few burn spells to the face and played out my small guys, but then two things happened. First, Spiteful Visions hit the board and put me on a five-turn clock even without worrying about the extra gas my opponent must be drawing. Second, Demigod of Revenge came down to play, and when I Wrathed it away, a buddy brought it back to life. I fought tooth and nail to stay in the game, and a couple of mistaps by my opponent allowed me one or two extra turns to find a Reveillark that would complete my infinite life combo, but it was not to be. I brought in my Forge-Tenders and Wispmares for Cloudskates, two Considerations, and two Wraths, but got two Forge-Tenders and a Mirror Entity crushed by Sulfur Elemental on turn 4 after he dropped Everlasting Torment on turn 3. I tried to keep playing out guys, but my opponent seemed to be doing very little. That is, very little until two more Sulfur Elementals hopped out to kill my Riftwatchers while I was sitting on ten life. When he pointed Lash Out at my Mulldrifter and my Wispmare beat out his Vexing Shusher, I dropped to one but thought that I was stable. I untapped, Wrathed, Wispmared his Torment, and played a Forge-Tender. Of course, my opponent Incinerated me in response to the Forge-Tender, and I was dead.

I talked about Mono-Red earlier, and this version had all of the cards I wouldn’t want to play against in it. While I think that Red decks without Sulfur Elemental are great matchups, the ones that have Elementals, Demigods, Torments, and Visions are nightmares. I think that if we replayed that match over and over, I wouldn’t win more than a handful of them. I had an amusing thought that Wall of Shards would be good against Red if they were going to stop people from gaining life with Everlasting Torment, but then I remembered that all sources gaining Wither would make short work of even a 1/8.

Round 6 versus BG Elves — My opponent curved out with the draw that Elf players love: Llanowar Elves, Vanquisher plus Village, Mutavault plus Garruk plus untap and swing, Overrun for the win. It’s easy to wish that I’d had a Wrath there, but it’s not like Village, Mutavault, and Garruk would have been unable to beat it. The second game started out slow, with a couple of Mutavault attacks and some smallish Tarmogoyfs, but four of my five lands were Adarkar Wastes and I found myself at 11 life in the middle of the game. I cast a Sower with mana up for Momentary Blink, thinking that I had the game locked up: his threats were a 2/3 Tarmogoyf, Treetop Village, and Mutavault against my Sower and 2/3 Goyf, and I had a Reveillark to combo out when I untapped. However, he cast Cloudthresher, and suddenly I found myself dead on the board by quite a lot. After double- and triple-checking my hand, it was clear that nothing I had was going to let me live through a 7/7 and a Mutavault, let alone the two Tarmogoyfs and Treetop Village with which he could swing.

BG Elves is a good matchup for Reveillark, so I was pretty bummed to take a second loss here. Their best cards against you are Treetop Village and Profane Command, since your Wraths and various creatures are a good way to clean up most of what they can throw at you. Additionally, it’s extremely hard for them to get through a Reveillark and especially through a Body Double (this is why Profane Command is so great for them). This means that as long as you go out of your way to handle Villages and keep your life total away from the razor’s edge, you’ll usually come out the winner. However, it’s not like the matchup is a complete cakewalk either, since Vanquisher and Tarmogoyf can put you under pressure extremely quickly, so you can find yourself low on life before you can stabilize the board, at which point cards like Garruk and Profane Command can seal the deal for them. I boarded out Aven Riftwatchers for Sowers, since stealing a guy is much better than chumpblocking with a 2/3; only Mutavault is scared to run into a Riftwatcher.

Round 7 versus Faeries — My opponent kept a land-light hand with a first-turn Ancestral Visions, which meant that he had to fight over my Suspended Cloudskate, which allowed me to resolve a Reveillark with two juicy targets in the bin. I just attacked him with the Reveillark until he tried to cast a Bitterblossom, at which point I unloaded a chargeland and forced a Mirror Entity into play, which promptly bounced all of his permanents. In game 2, I kept a great hand featuring three lands, Cloudskate, Mulldrifter, Sower, and Consideration. However, my Cloudskate and then my Mulldrifter got taken by Thoughtseize, though a Mirror Entity that I’d drawn was answered only by Scion of Oona. When he just hit me for one and then passed with four mana up, I did the same. He attacked for one again, but had no fifth land, and I went for a Consideration that got countered by a Cryptic Command that also bounced my Mirror Entity. This let me steal his Scion with Sower of Temptation, and he felt that that was bad enough that he needed to kill both with Nameless Inversion. This let me re-resolve my Mirror Entity. He passed again, and I attacked and pumped up to 7/7. He passed yet again, and I attacked and pumped up to 8/8, which combined with the single point from turn 4 and the two Thoughtseizes, was just enough to finish him off.

I went over the general idea of the Faerie matchup earlier, so I’ll just review here. You’re mostly looking to just get your big spells into play (Mirror Entity, Reveillark, and Body Double). Resolving the other guys will make that easier, though, so anything you can force through is great. Careful Consideration is not actually that amazing, and mostly it’s used as a bait spell against people who aren’t correctly evaluating its impact on the game. Endstep Considerations and Suspended Cloudskates can give you turns where you can slide something under their defenses, and it’s not that unusual to be able to ride that one threat most of the way there. Of course, a second-turn Bitterblossom in the first game is going to be extremely hard to beat if they have any defense against your big spells.

Sideboarding gives you three Wispmares, three Sowers, three Pact of Negtions, and two Crovax. To make room for them, cut the Aven Riftwatchers, Momentary Blinks, Wraths, and Mind Stone. Aven Riftwatcher is bad because it is a card that dies on its own and that Faeries just doesn’t have to pay any attention to. Blink is bad because it can clog up your hand while your ideal targets for it get countered off one by one. Wrath of God is unimpressive against Bitterblossom and flash creatures in general, and the Mind Stone cut is a nod to the fact that you can’t waste precious cards on things that don’t actually affect the board. The cards that you bring in are all very good in different stages of the game. Wispmare answers Bitterblossom and blocks just as well as Aven Riftwatcher without just taking a break in three turns. If you’re on the draw after boards and your opponent has the second-turn Bitterblossom, you should just Evoke the Wispmare 99% of the time; not only will they be able to defend it with Spellstutter and Rune Snag if you don’t go for it right away, they can even save it with Scion of Oona. Sower of Temptation is pretty terrible if they have two Scions in play, but taking their Scion away is threatening enough that it’s almost always a spell they need to deal with. People have known how good Crovax is against Faeries for a long time, and he’s extra-good here because you can copy him with Body Double if he doesn’t make it into play the first time around. Pact of Negation helps you fight through the counter wall and lets you stop a Clique and resolve something big in the same turn. Altogether, the sideboard package just lets you fight a much more even game, and if you win the first game of the match, you can almost always manage one of the next two to finish them.

Round 8 versus Mono-Green Elves — He came out of the gates blazingly fast, leading with Llanowar Elves and multiple Wolf-Skull Shamans that seemed to hit Kinship every turn. He added Imperious Perfect to his side and bashed me down to two life, but I had two Wraths so I thought I was safe; his maindeck Hurricane disagreed. My deck was having none of him in game 2, giving me a third-turn Wrath and an unending procession of five-mana 2/2s that made his life terrible. When he went for a big turn involving three Perfects, I had Momentary Blink to completely break up his attack, and a Mirror Entity to swing back for the win. He mulliganned in game t3, and I led with Lens, Lens plus Mulldrifter, Crovax. The Crovax killed two Llanowar Elves and left him with just a 2/2 Vanquisher, while I played out a few of my five-mana men. I ended up “trading” Crovax for the Vanquisher at some point, but he just couldn’t get back in the game, and I ended at fifteen life.

Mono-Green Elves can be very scary if they’re on the play and you don’t have a Prismatic Lens for the second turn and a Wrath for the third. However, they don’t have the disruption and reach that BG Elves does, and so you can usually feel confident if you manage to weather the initial storm. I make the usual swap of Sowers for Riftwatchers because, again, there aren’t many creatures in their deck that are afraid of a 2/3, and I brought in Crovax for Careful Consideration to lock the game up. If you win the die roll, you’ll find it very hard to lose the match, and even if you lose it I think that you’re still at an advantage.

Round 9 versus Doran — Prior to the match, I checked with the Head Judge about the legality of a prize split that didn’t involve a concession, and my opponent and I agreed to split the Top 16 prize evenly if either of us managed to sneak in with our terrible tiebreakers. The first game was pretty strange, as he continuously cast small Profane Commands to hit me for two damage and sneak a Doran past my blockers. I had a Venser to bounce his Doran when the third Command hit, and I chump-blocked his Village with it when he tried to get me for three. This two extra life proved critical in staying alive while Reveillark took the game over. He led with the full god draw in game 2: Birds, Doran, and two Tarmogoyfs in the first three turns, while all I had by this time was a Mirror Entity that made his Goyfs 3/4 when it died to Nameless Inversion. A fourth-turn Wrath would have let me live at one life, but I’m sure that something would have cleaned me up even if I’d had it. He had a similar draw for the third game, but this time I had a third-turn Wrath to answer the Doran before it could hit me once, and from there the five-drops took the game over.

Unfortunately, I wound up tiebreaking to seventeenth place. However, my two drinking buddies from the night before ended up splitting $100 with their last-round opponents, so the tournament ended on an overall high note.

The tournament the next day went much worse. I played against Sean McKeown in the first round, and could only take game 2 off his Faerie deck, though he seemed to have no fear of Crovax in game 3 even though it had just beaten him. However, it never came off the top of my deck, so I quickly died to Mistbind Cliques. I quickly defeated RG Big Mana in the second round before playing against hotel roommate Tom LaPille in the third round. I mulliganned the one land, Lens, Mulldrifter hand all three games, but amazingly only won the first game of this Faerie matchup. In that game I led with Cloudskate while he led with Bitterblossom but no third land. He still had only two lands when my Cloudskate went on the stack, and then it resolved. I targeted a land, he attempted Nameless Inversion, and I had the Momentary Blink to bounce his other land and his Bitterblossom, leaving him with two tokens against my six mana sources and a 2/2 that would eventually be joined by more five-drops. Tom managed to come back all the way up to four mana, but when he Cliqued me on the ninth turn, a Calciform Pools and two Lenses allowed me to cast Wrath of God, wiping his side and triggering my Reveillark to bring back Body Double and Cloudskate. However, despite my eleven-card sideboard, neither game 2 nor 3 were particularly close. Already down to 1-2 and facing the prospect of probably two or three more Faerie pairings, I dropped from the tournament to Cube draft.

In retrospect, I would still play Reveillark in the Saturday tournament (my usual prediction that any nine-round tournament will result in pairings against at least seven unique archetypes held up yet again), but in the smaller, more-focused Sunday tournament, Reveillark was just not the deck to play. Going forward, I still think that Reveillark is a contender because of how good it is against the non-Faerie field. I’m going to continue working on the numbers in the maindeck and ideas for an anti-Red sideboard card (Dragon’s Claw is pretty awful against the new versions, and Forge-Tender is pretty bad against Sulfur Elemental and Everlasting Torment), but chances are very good that I’ll be bringing Reveillark to Regionals in a few weeks.

Tournaments like these are actually the reason I play Magic. I got to spend the whole weekend with friends I see every week, friends I see once every month or two, and friends of friends that I only see at these huge tournaments. All of these people are just amazing to hang around with, and the various dinners and Cube drafts we participated in over the course of the weekend were worth well more than the price of admission. Everyone I met for the first time was very nice, and I can’t wait to go back to the next Open.

As always, if you have any questions, feel free to contact me in the forums, via email, or on AIM.

Benjamin Peebles-Mundy
ben at mundy dot net
SlickPeebles on AIM