Hello again! It’s been some time since I’ve written an article for our illustrious StarCityGames.com; unfortunately, the lack of writing is an indication of a lack of playing. My life has been extraordinarily busy for the past couple months, forcing me to put Magic on the second shelf for awhile. But recently I have been able to dust off the old cardboard and get back into the swing of things!
What a time to come back into the game! Star City Games here in Roanoke, VA has started a series of Sunday tournaments, with each week featuring a different format. This past Sunday was my first opportunity to play in a tournament in a long time, but fortunately I was able to participate despite my lack of Darksteel cards. Last Sunday was Ben Bleiweiss‘ Deck Challenge, and it was an absolute blast!
In case you missed the announcement (or are too far away from Roanoke to have cared), the format of the tournament was as follows. Ben constructed thirty-two reasonably competitive, yet very fun and flavorful decks that were assigned randomly to thirty-two players. Each player got fifteen minutes to look over the deck, and then the tournament began! The prize for the tournament was a selection of choice rares that would be used to improve the winning deck. Decks ranged from the much-complained-about Walls (by the person who got the deck) and CounterBurn (by everyone else), to the celebrated one-of-everything combo deck and the winning goblin deck. Overall, Ben did a fantastic job making the decks (though even he admits that the CounterBurn deck was overpowered).
So, how did this unique and exciting tournament play out? Read on and find out!
Round Zero versus Fate with the Box o’ Decks
Everyone was assigned a position at one of the sixteen tables, and the decks were randomly handed out. For our $15, everyone was able to receive a sixty-card deck, a fifteen-card sideboard, one hundred sleeves, a deckbox, and a cool Magic plastic bag. (Overall, a pretty sweet deal, I say!) I sat down across from a fellow named Mike, and it turned out that he and I were the last people to pick decks out from the big box o’ decks. But, random is random.
I opened up my deckbox and saw some pretty cool gold sleeves. I turned over the top card and saw… Arcades Sabboth! A big smile hit my face. I knew that the deck wouldn’t be tier one, but I did know that it was going to be fun! I had received…
designed by Ben Bleiweiss
1 Arcades Sabboth
4 Questing Phelddagrif
4 Storm Spirit
4 Treva, the Renewer
4 Treva’s Attendant
4 Deep Reconnaissance
4 Lay of the Land
4 Primal Growth
4 Treva’s Charm
4 Aysen Abbey
4 Treva’s Ruins
I love the charm (pun intended) of this deck. Every creature is either Treva’s Attendant or has GUW in its casting cost. All the noncreature spells are either Treva’s Charm or help smooth out the mana by getting lands. Aysen Abbey is cute, but I never once used its filtering ability (though I came close one game). Now, at first, I was really puzzled (and kind of annoyed) at the sideboard. What a pile! When I showed my sideboard to my third round opponent, he agreed with me. But Ben was passing by at the time and said,”You don’t get the sideboard?” Neither of us did.”Each card reflects the ability of a Green, White, and/or Blue creature.” For example, Control Magic reflects Rubinia Soulsinger, Fog reflects Angus Mackenzie, and Regeneration reflects Ragnar. After hearing that, I decided that I liked the sideboard a lot more … though I still wish it did something.
Nevertheless, I was pretty excited about my deck. I wasn’t expecting to do very well, but I was certainly ready to have fun!
Round One versus James with Domain
The first game of the tournament for me certainly helped me feel out the way the deck is supposed to work – especially since the game lasted forty-five out of our fifty minutes!
Things start out for me in a way that I soon come to recognize as standard. I search out some land the first few turns and drop a Phelddagrif on turn 4. Now, in this first game, I have to keep referring to the text, but after that tournament, I can write it from memory:
Creature – Legend
W: Flying until end of turn. Target opponent gains 2 life.
U: Return Phelddagrif to owner’s hand. Target opponent may draw a card.
G: Trample until end of turn. Put a Hippo token into play under target opponent’s control. Treat this token as a 1/1 green creature.
Unfortunately, James has a turn 4 Tribal Flames to knock out my Phelddagrif while I have no Blue left to bounce him. James follows up with a Degavolver, which I’m able to hold off with a Treva’s Attendant. James thinks he might get the advantage with a kicked Necravolver, but in another soon-to-be familiar course of events, I remove the offending creature with Treva’s Charm on his next attack. However, to keep me in my place, James then draws five cards off of Allied Strategies, and while my next turn is spent fetching two more lands, he uses the extra time to cast a Cromat.
That’s right, folks, turn 7 Cromat. I’m sitting here with a deck with two kinds of Phelddagrif in it thinking my creatures can do anything, and then along comes a possibly destructive, flying, regenerating, pumping, and unkillable 5/5 monster! With domain reached ages ago, James has the ability to do any of these things, and my thought is the best I can do is stalemate the Cromat with a Phelddagrif. Of course, my hand has nothing but land in it, so he gets a free attack next turn. I peel … Treva, the Renewer! With her lifegain ability and capacity to hurt James as much as Cromat hurts me, I’m looking pretty good. I cast the beast, ready to play.
Evasive Action. The ultra Mana Leak. I look down at my three untapped lands and frown. Wait, look there!”Okay, I’ll sacrifice Treva’s Attendant to pay it.” James says”okay” like he was expecting me to do that, though I wonder if he overlooked the Attendant just like I almost did.
Willing to play chicken with me (and win), James attacks next turn, hitting for an additional six and bringing me down to eight. I return fire with Treva and gain three (Cromat, Degavolver, and Treva are all White) putting us at eleven to fourteen. He smacks me again with Cromat and that Degavolver from long ago, knocking me down to a precipitous three. I can’t afford another attack like that … and I don’t have to. Phelddagrif to the rescue! I hold back both creatures to defend from an attack, which I do, using the Phelddagrif to block the Cromat and bouncing it to live again another day. Before I can get confident, though, James plays a fully kicked Rakavolver (making it a 5/5 Spirit Linked flier).
I replay Phelddagrif and decide to attack with Treva. If he blocks with Rakavolver (he’s tapped out of the right colors to block with Cromat), I can still hold Cromat off with Phelddagrif, and he if doesn’t block, I’ll gain enough life to let me survive another turn. He blocks Treva with Rakavolver and gains five. I block his Cromat with bouncing ‘Grif, and he uses Allied Strategies to draw five cards. Apparently, he didn’t get anything spectacular, because he played out three unkicked Emblazoned Golems. I reply my Phelddagrif and attack with Treva, and the life totals go to eleven to seven, me. On his next turn, he casts another Allied Strategies and casts Tribal Flames on my ‘Grif, forcing me to bounce it before it can block Cromat. Fortunately, by this time I’ve drawn Treva’s Charm, and his expensive turn kept him from being able to bounce the Cromat to the top of his library. This seems to severely dishearten James, because the game is practically in my hand at this point.
I recast Phelddagrif and attack with Treva, putting him at one. The next turn sees my final victory. As we’re shuffling our decks back together, Ben calls out,”Five minutes left in the round!”
“What do you want to do?” James asks. I suggest we go ahead and try to play, see what happens. We agree not to sideboard and launch into game two. By the fourth turn, he has Domain, and I don’t have much. If we’d had more time, he definitely could have beaten me. But, Ben calls time, and James concedes to me.
“Really? You don’t have to do that.”
“Well, it’s not like I’m going to win, and this makes it easier for everyone.”
James Jones: Recipient of the Great Sportsman Award for drawing eighteen extra cards, losing, smiling about it, and then forfeiting game two in order to smooth out the bracket.
Round Two versus Mike with Clerics
I hardly have a chance to catch my breath from the exhausting match with James before I’m launched into round two. I’m fortunate enough to sit down across from the same nice fellow who had been across from me when we got our decks originally – so I also happen to know what he’s playing (though he also knows that I’m packing Phelddagrif heat). I already like Mike, so my heart goes out to him when he has to mulligan. Unfortunately, it doesn’t bring back any advice with it when it returns, so I keep my hand of three land fetchers (all three-mana) and two lands.
Needless to say, I discard a card (one of the two legendary Phelddagrifs in my hand) on my third turn while he has out Beloved Chaplain and Edgewalker. Luckily, I pull a land turn 4 and am able to drop out Phleddagrif turn 5. It’s not much against his Doubtless One, though, especially when he plays a fourth cleric on his next turn and attacks. I don’t block and cast two Primal Growths the next turn, setting myself up to get back into the game. He attacks with everything on turn 7, and I block a creature, putting me down to five. Unfortunately, I failed to consider the Starlit Sanctum that was able to throw the Doubtless One at me for the win.
The tides turn the next game, and Mike finds himself mana screwed. I get out my customary turn 4 Phelddagrif, though for the first time, it is of the Questing sort. While I draw and play Treva and another Questing Phelddagrif, he manages to get out his third land by turn 6. By turn 8, it’s all over. While this game may have been pretty uneventful, something exciting was obviously happening elsewhere in the tournament. Unlikely to be heard at any other kind of event, the following shout echoed throughout the play room at one point:”You’ve got four Wall of Glares out!” Way to go, Ben!
Game three sees Mike starting out with much more prosperity. In the first two turns, he drops out a Songstitcher(!), Dark Supplicant, and Benevolent Bodyguard, while I lay nothing but land. Things are definitely looking good for him. On the fourth turn, I put out a fifth land; the advantage is negligible though, as he summons up Scion of Darkness. He attacks confidently, but is met by the single, sided-in Chastise. Hooray! Although the six life is very nice, Dark Supplicant convinces me I probably should have kept in the Treva’s Charm to get rid of the Scion once and for all. He recovers by playing a Doubtless One, and I still look to be in trouble. I drop Storm Spirit on turn 5, and he sends his D One to the D Ome.
Things are starting to look up for me, though, when I play Treva on turn 6. On his seventh upkeep, I use Storm Spirit to shoot his Dark Supplicant. He decides to lose it as well as the Doubtless One and the Songstitcher(!) in order to grab the Scion out of the graveyard. He plays a Beloved Chaplain and passes. I drop Questing Phelddagrif and pass, daring the Scion of Darkness to attack. He plays Benevolent Bodyguard and Cabal Archon. I play another Storm Spirit and shoot the Archon. He plays more clerics, and I shoot more clerics. I play a third Storm Spirit, finally kill the Scion of Darkness, and attack. Throughout the past turns, life totals have been juggling around, so at the beginning of my eleventh turn, I have nine, and he has twenty. Nevertheless, I take a look at what I have: Treva the Renewer, three Storm Spirits, Questing Phelddagrif, and at least one Green mana and one Blue mana. That’s twenty air damage that he can’t deal with. And he doesn’t.
Rodney, who doesn’t pay money to play Magic, but still comes to tournaments to watch, looks at my notes:
T11 Him – Benevolent, Whipgrass Entangler
Me – attack for 20
“You’ve just been dying to write that the whole tournament, haven’t you?” I grin and shake Mike’s hand.
After that game, I really come to appreciate the synergy and power of this deck. All of the creatures (aside from the Attendants) have very powerful and useful abilities. I’m never color-screwed (unless I’m manascrewed anyway), so the four-mana Phelddagrif (both of the legendary and Questing sort) are wonderful bargains. Arcades Sabboth never shows up (I think I drew him once the entire tournament), but it’s nice to know he’s in there. And the deck has such a capacity to recover (cf Round Five)! I wouldn’t take this deck to a PTQ, but it’s certainly a solid casual deck and very nice in this tournament. With a 2-0 record at this point, I’m actually thinking I have a shot at winning this thing and collecting my prize (one each of Adarkar Wastes, Brushland, City of Brass, Gemstone Mine, Savannah, Tropical Island, Tundra, and Undiscovered Paradise).
Round Three versus Wes with Ernham and Burn ’em
My next opponent was someone with whom I’ve played several times in the past. This acquaintanceship had encouraged him to find out what deck I was playing, and when he found out that I had Phelddagrif Nation, he shared with me his passion for Phelddagrif. Apparently, he recently won a reject rare draft with Questing Phelddagrif as his Most Valuable Creature and used his prize credit to acquire a pageload of flying hippopotamuses. So, the mood was light when we sat down to square off.
Shortly after the round began, rain started to pour down from the heavens. It was really torrential, and the refreshingly casual atmosphere of the tournament was reinforced by comments made regarding the storm. I suggested that the Merfolk deck play outside, and Wes proposed that Merfolk gain affinity for rain. Even Ben, our TO, proclaimed that the two players in last place would have to complete their match outside.
This was appreciated banter during my first game with Wes. We both start out fairly routinely, I searching for land and he playing Quirion Elves. On his fourth turn, Wes lays Ernham Djinn, and I grimace. I untap, draw, and scratch my head.”Well,” I say, pulling a card out of my hand,”I can lay a land.” He laughs and says something to the effect of”Good enough.” He attacks with the Djinn, and I reveal my Jedi Mind Trick.”Remove him with Treva’s Charm.” His surprised disappointment makes the deception ultimately delightful. The next turn adds injury to insult as I cast Questing Phelddagrif. Wes shows his extreme respect for the creature by conceding, much to my surprise!
The next game is ruled by two spells – unfortunately, neither of them were mine. Wes casts River Boa on turn 2 and then Stone Rain on turn 3. His hasty Suq’ata Lancer(!) adds to the beats, and by the time I get out Phelddagrif on turn 5, it’s too late to recover. Two turns later, I’m toast.
The next game starts out average for me and above average for Wes. I get the right lands I need, but he comes out charging with a Seal of Fire and a River Boa. On his third turn, he plays Suq’ata Lancer and hits me for four. I get out my customary turn 4 Phelddagrif, but can’t block with it the next turn because Seal will kill it before I can bounce it. In addition to running past my Phelddagrif with his creatures, Wes casts Stone Rain on my Treva’s Ruins, forcing me to cast the Island I had previously returned in order to stay in the game (therefore making his River Boas unblockable). Since I want to save my Phelddagrif (and I have time to find an answer), I attack him on turn 5, and he blocks with his once-activated Wall of Roots. He attacks, and I remove the River Boa with Treva’s Charm. Now very worried, I keep my Phelddagrif home, and when he attacks again (using Flash of Defiance to make his creatures unblockable), I Charm the Djinn, letting his sole Lancer through. Things are looking good for me (for about a half-step); then he plays another River Boa. I’m at eight (with the Seal, effectively six), and all I have is the Phelddagrif to stave off his two-creature horde. I desperately need a Treva’s Charm (or the boarded-in Congregate) in the next three turns.
My next card… Not useful. I keep Phelddagrif home to block (forgetting that Flash of Defiance flashes back), and his next turn he recasts the Flash and knocks me to four. When he Seals me, I know my fate is sealed, and when he shows me the Incinerate, it’s confirmed. One would not think that this fate would be ironic against an Ernham and Burn ’em deck – but Wes later tells me that he has only eight burn spells in his deck, making it more of an Ernham and Slightly Singe ’em deck. Oh well, at my first match loss is against an opponent who truly respects the power of the ‘Grif.
Round Four versus Felicia with Sligh
The first thing that I notice when I sit down across from Felicia is that she’s weaving her deck. She’s got two piles of cards in front of her, and she puts two cards from one pile into a third pile, and then one card from the smaller pile into that third pile. It’s obvious that she’s threading lands into her deck in such a way as to reduce the possibility of mana screw. What wasn’t obvious was what I should do about it.
I’ve been ambivalent on this issue for a while. I used to weave my own decks and then shuffle, and of course I always presented my deck to my opponent for shuffling. But, something just didn’t feel kosher about it. And you know what they say: if you have to ask, it’s probably wrong. Well, I did ask once, and Sheldon Menery expressed an opinion that it’s very close to deck-stacking, so close that you shouldn’t do it. So I stopped, and I’ve been happier ever since.
Because not only do I no longer feel any compunctions about the way I handle myself at a tournament, but I’ve also shed myself of a danger. See, I discovered that unless you shuffle the woven deck a certain number of times (or not at all), you’re manascrewing yourself. The spell, spell, land, spell, spell, land turn into something like spell, spell, spell, spell, land, land, spell, spell, spell, spell after one shuffle and can even get to look like spell times eight, land times four, spell times eight. Of course, it’s not that mathematically perfect, but it’s happened to me enough times to know that without rigorous shuffling, the advantage you gain by weaving goes away. By rigorous shuffling, the advantage you gain by weaving goes away. Thus, weaving is an entirely pointless endeavor.
But I don’t quite know what to do when I see Felecia weaving her deck. She finishes and then only shuffles like three times. I don’t want to confront her on it, so I decide to contribute to her ability to come to the same realization I did. I shuffle her deck twice more (i.e., not very shuffled) and give it back to her. If the deck is sufficiently randomized, then great. If not … well, I guess that’s her lesson to learn.
And maybe she learned it. After two Goblin Patrols, she stops dropping land, while I get out my turn 4 Phelddagrif. I don’t block either Patrol next turn for fear of burn, and when I block on turn 5, Lava Darts shows me I made the right decision. She sacrifices one of her few Mountains, and I bounced Phelddagrif back to my hand. Surprised at Phelddagrif’s sneaky ability, Felicia makes my favorite statement of the tournament:”That’s a tricky card.” She then proceeds to Incinerate me.
I recast the ‘Grif to hold off the Patrols and follow up with a turn 7 Treva. Things are looking especially bright when I drop Storm Spirit, who has the ability to deal with any of her three creatures. We stare at each other for a turn, and, with Phelddagrif and Storm Spirit to guard home, I begin the beats with Treva. She sends everything, and I block two creatures, killing the third when she reveals another Lava Darts for Storm Spirit. With my Treva and Phelddagrif to her lands, I swing for ten and bring home the gold next turn. As we shuffle up for game two, she remarks,”You shuffled all my land to the bottom.” Ahem.
The next game lasted the same number of turns, but many more minutes. She pulls out a Mad Dog and a Goblin Vandal, and I bring in extra lands and my turn 4 Questing Phelddagrif. She drops an Incinerate and a Lava Darts on my non-bouncable Questing Phelddagrif, and at this point, I decide that I like the legendary hippo better than the questing kind. Not to worry, I think, I’ll just play this turn 5 Treva. Haha!
I’ve never had Pyroblast cast against me before, and I’m shocked!”Okay,” I say, downtrodden. I suck up an attack and then play Storm Spirit. She plays an Orcish Artillery, which could certainly spell trouble (or at least”I rate Chill sorry.”). Luckily, I pull another Treva.
“Treva, the Renewer.” She frowns.”Is that okay?”
I’m puzzled.”But there’s nothing you can do about it?”
She looks resigned as she Pyroblasts yet another Treva, though I don’t know what she has to be down about! Especially since she uses Orcish Artillery and Keldon Necropolis to kill my Storm Spirit on her next turn. I get out a Treva’s Attendant, but she counters with a Keldon Champion, which gets Charmed on the attack. I’m very low on health, and I know she’s packing burn. The Orcish Artillery and Keldon Necropolis can deal me a lot of damage, so I’ve got to win fast. I play Phelddagrif and attack with Attendant, and she hits me with Orcish Artillery. I attack, and at the end of my turn, she throws enough burn at me for the win. I sigh.
Then I tap four and play the Congregate that I’d boarded in! She’s got nothing to do on her turn, and I hit her with Treva’s Attendant and Phelddagrif, giving the ‘Grif Trample in order to go through for the win. When the game ends, I’m at six. If she’d had one more turn (and six more life), she could have used the Artillery on my turn, then untap, Artillery me, and use the Keldon Necropolis for the win. Any burn spell could have finished me off on my last turn. I scraped out a win, and she was very gracious about it. Whew!
Round Five versus Kevin with Stompy
I’m 3-1, and to make it into the top eight, I have to win this match. There’s a possibility that I could get in with a 3-2 record, but I’m not confident about it. So, this is for some of the marbles.
After a mulligan, Kevin drops a turn 1 Wild Dogs and a turn 2 elf and Most Valuable Enchantment Mirri’s Guile. He cycles Tranquil Thicket twice and plays a Quirion Ranger on the third turn, and I go down to fifteen. Finally, I play my first permanent on turn four – Questing Phelddagrif! His hand is looking slim, and this one creature is making me feel good. He attacks, and I block. Unfortunately for me, he has a Giant Growth. Unfortunately for him, I have another Phelddagrif of the Questing sort.
On his next turn, he cycles Wild Dogs (though I can’t imagine why), attacks, and hard casts an Elvish Spirit Guide. I lay a land and am completely on the defensive. He applies pressure, and I block a Wild Dogs and Charm an Elvish Spirit Guide. At this point, I’m at three, I have Questing Phelddagrif out, and he’s got four creatures. I desperately need something spectacular…
I play a Forest and say go.
He swings with everything.”I’ll tap these exactly correct six lands to cast two Treva’s Charms, and I’ll block one creature.” May I say,”!”? I go down to one, and his sole creature is facing my sole Questing Phelddagrif. My ‘Grif is joined next turn by Treva, and things are looking up! I send in the ‘Grif, knowing he can’t haste anything past my Treva. He plays a Quirion Ranger and passes the turn. Next, I send in only Treva and gain five from the Green permanents in play. Holding hands, the newly flying Questing Phelddagrif and Treva, the Renewer traipse to the hard-won victory next turn. Whew!
Game two starts remarkably like game one. He plays creatures, gets Mirri’s Guile out on the second turn, and I play Questing Phelddagrif on the fourth turn. However, even my fifth turn Questing Phelddagrif and sixth turn Treva’s Attendant aren’t enough to stop his onslaught. I think my life total chart speaks for itself:
Me: 20 18 16 11 6 1 X
Shuffle ’em up for game three!
I miss a third turn land drop, but even two land fetchers and two Phelddagrifs (one of the Questing sort) aren’t enough to help me fend off the Horde. Again, I’ll allow the life totals to speak for themselves:
Me: 20 18 17 11 4 1 X
Looks vaguely familiar, doesn’t it? I apologize for the brevity shown on these last two games – they just really weren’t that exciting.
After all is said and done, I’m in tenth place. Well, at least it’s not in that unbearable ninth slot! Despite not even making top 8 of a thirty-two player tournament, I look back on the day with a great sense of value. I had a wonderful time, and the casual atmosphere and lighthearted decks really made the tournament a great experience! I liked my deck so much, in fact, that after the tournament I improved on it just a bit without disrupting the theme at all. (For example, I didn’t take out Storm Spirit and replace it with a non-UGW creature.) In the end, I just replaced the once-flashed back Deep Reconnaissance with Rampant Growth and the never-filtered Aysen Abbey with City of Brass.
While thinking about my deck, I watched another match in progress. The Equipment deck was facing the walls deck, and James, the walls player, was none too happy with the way the day had gone. He complained a great deal about the lack of power his deck had, even though several people commented that without the sloppy play James was exhibiting, he could have won. I’ll let you judge by the following interchange:
James, resignedly:”I’ve missed my Stinging Barrier like twenty times…”
Wes, brightly:”You could have killed him – he’s at eighteen!”
Also, when James griped about Smite, Wes defended the card. Ben, who was also trying to back up his decks, remarked about the instant that,”It’smitey good!” (A few turns later, James used two Smites to remove two gargantuan attackers from play.)
After I fixed up my deck, I played several games that were much more fun than James’ (which he lost). I ended up squaring off against the one-of combo deck, piloted by Ben. When the combo didn’t work, Ben asked for a rematch. He got land screwed, so we played again. He gave it another shot after not being able to go off before losing to my opening hand of Phelddagrif, Phelddagrif, Questing Phelddagrif, Questing Phelddagrif, Questing Phelddagrif, Treva’s Something, land. Then he beat me without going off, so we tried again. And again. And again.
I think that was about it.
All in all, I had a wonderful day, and I cherish my new Phelddagrif deck. Ben, thanks for organizing such a delightful tournament – I look forward to future innovations in”competitive” Magic!