I’ve had a very interesting time the last few weeks. I went to Regionals using someone else’s decklist, and lost. I used another new decklist today, and performed better. In either case, their builds were strange to me, and while I was comfortable with the archetypes, I wasn’t comfortable with some of the choices.
Allow me to share with you the lessons I learned when I used someone else’s deck.
What Amuses Me
I’m a lover of new tech and new decks. I find the established archetypes to be boring. I guess it’s the adventurer in me. When I see something new and shiny, I latch right on.
I don’t have a lot of time to playtest. I’m the kind of guy who will pick something up the night before a tournament and throw down the next day.
So when I saw Patrick Chapin’s Hybrid Theory/Critical Snakes deck, I loved it immediately. It had Gifts Ungiven, so it was full of interesting decisions; it had Coiling Oracle, the newest of the new tech; and it had a whole bunch of great monsters and a tutor for them (Time of Need). All of that wrapped in a Snakes package! Wow!
For reference, here is Patrick’s build.
- 4 Sakura-Tribe Elder
- 1 Meloku the Clouded Mirror
- 1 Seshiro the Anointed
- 2 Wood Elves
- 1 Kodama of the North Tree
- 1 Keiga, the Tide Star
- 2 Godo, Bandit Warlord
- 1 Arashi, the Sky Asunder
- 4 Coiling Oracle
- 2 Patagia Viper
How exciting! Delicious! Let’s go to Regionals the next morning with it!
I show up and am very excited about my prospects. The air is ripe with possibilities.
Round 1 – Sea Stompy
He plays a second turn Ninja of the Deep Hours, bouncing his Birds of Paradise, and that pretty much sets the tempo. I rip a Tribe-Elder, follow up with Snakes on a Plane (Patagia Viper), and he’s throwing down two Trygon Predators and no less than three Kird Apes! Soon I’m getting into the Danger Zone of life totals, and Something Must Be Done.
I then rip Time of Need like champ and give a call to my boy Meloku the Clouded Mirror of Ridiculousness. This play, and subsequent token-producing shenanigans, proceeds to stop his onslaught while sitting at a very delicate five life.
You know what Char smells like?
Cinnamon. True story.
Anyway, my Spider Senses were ringing all over the place, and so I had to play around it from that point. Staring down all of those 2/3’s (dual Trygon Predator and three Kird Ape) was a little scary. Until, that is, a little visit from Seshiro, and Snakes being very much on the Plane, we shuffled up for Game 2.
Did he flash me the Char while scooping? I’ll let you ponder that one.
Game 2 I’m forced to mulligan to five. I keep a Forest, Sakura-Tribe Elder, and expensive spells. He gets the ultimate Turn 1 in Today’s Fast Paced Meta: Stomping Ground untapped, Kird Ape. He turns that ape into a Ninja. He then puts a Moldervine Cloak on said Ninja.
After drawing absolutely no answers or threats or cards that didn’t say, “Land” on them, I died.
Game 3 he gets another early Kird Ape, but in this one I actually find lands in my opening seven. He fires of an early Thoughts of Ruin while I have a Sensei’s Divining Top on the board, and I recover quickly with help from Sakura-Tribe Elder. He doesn’t. It takes a little longer than I was comfortable with, but soon enough I find the Legendary gas called Seshiro, and the Snakes were slithering to victory.
Round 2 – Debtors’ Knell Reanimator
This was a very interesting match. The first game took forever. He had a lot of Wraths and Faith’s Fetters and Zombify (Zombifies?), while I had no Naturalizes. Oh how I ached for them. Kagemaro, First to Suffer kept returning to play and wiping my board. Eventually he gets Debtors’ Knell out, and I have no answer to it. I groan and we shuffle up for Game 2.
Game 2 I get a Simic Sky Swallower all up in his “grill,” and while he plays with Dragons, his dragons don’t feel like playing with him this game.
Game 3 we run out of time. The draw bracket is not where I want to be. Sigh…
Round 3 – Beach House Deck (House Guard Control)
Against a slow deck, this deck can usually power ahead. However, there is a problem, and it should be stapled on the outside of the deck box for Critical Snakes:
Warning: Cannot Deal With Phyrexian Arena
Just. Can’t. Do It.
Oh man. When you can’t Naturalize, and you watch the entire game get thrown away because the guy was drawing two cards a turn while you sit around with a few snakes and everything else is Faith’s Fettered (that you can’t remove… ever…), well, it was frustrating.
The worst part was after a huge, ridiculous war of attrition I thought I could overcome but couldn’t, he finally plays Debtors’ Knell and gets my Meloku… then slow-rolls Shizo and sends Ink-Eyes into the red zone complete with Fear.
Honestly? At that point in the game I was hoping to deck him. But I couldn’t take the Meloku beatings, even at our high life totals. I finally concede with 8 minutes left on the clock.
Game 2 I’m utterly furious when time is called and he gets the match from Game 1. I should’ve recognized this deck’s Achilles’ Heel and just rushed for that Naturalize which can be tutored via Muddle the Mixture.
I am also furious because I tell myself I would’ve included a Naturalize main. But that’s just silly reasoning and finger-pointing. I’m upset, and I find my next matchup quickly.
Round 4 – Jushi / Niv-Mizzet U/R Control
Game 1 he gets manascrewed and I run all over him with Kodama of the North Tree. I have no idea what to sideboard against him, as I don’t know if he’s Izzetron or Wildfire or Wafo-Tapa.
Game 2 I find out the deck cannot deal with utility creatures. Ugh. Incredibly frustrating. This one was completely my fault: I should’ve sideboarded in the Pithing Needles. Without them the deck has no answers to Jushi Apprentice, and I should’ve recognized my defeat about 10 turns before I scooped.
You know how he won that game? He flipped Jushi and beat me to death with it. Okay, and Invoke too. But still, that’s how many cards he drew.
Game 3…oh my lord…time is called…and we draw.
1-1-2. This is pathetic.
My mind is clouded with anger at this point. Extremely unhappy with my sideboarding during that matchup, unhappy with the time it took for my realization that I couldn’t win that game, unhappy with my play at various parts of the day (even the games I won I notice missed opportunities in hindsight)… I needed to pull it together.
Round 5 – Heartbeat
Oh yes, please. A match I can possibly win.
Or… not. Game 1 I rush for the beef but he combos out the turn I lay down Keiga for the next-turn-win.
I sideboard in the Hateraid. It tastes real good Game 2 when I Pithing Needle Drift of Phantasms and Muddle the Mixture, just for kicks. With no tutors, I Cranial Extraction his Maga, Traitor of Mortals and Invoke the Firemind. On to Game 3!
I am so furious at myself for this one it’s astounding. I mulligan and keep a hand of Sakura-Tribe Elder, two Muddle the Mixture, and land. I play the Elder, bring a few beats, but can’t draw a thing. Meanwhile, he’s ramping up and has a bunch of land in play thanks to two(!) Kodama’s Reach. Ack.
He lays down the Heartbeat of Spring.
I nod and glance at my two Islands.
He taps out and plays Early Harvest. I smirk. He’s going to Weird Harvest, right? He’s only got two cards in hand…
“Sure,” I say.
He taps out and plays Early Harvest again, leaving only one card in hand. Awesome! He’s just going to Invoke!
“Okay,” I say. I could’ve played both Muddle the Mixtures if I wanted to by now, but why waste them? Counter the business spells, right? Not the silly stuff like Early Harvest…
I then see the Swamp.
“Maga for twenty-four?” He says.
Earth-shattering rage fills my veins. I am the worst Magic player ever to sleeve a chunk of cardboard. I nod, and in my haste I mark his drop box. I apologize and he says he’ll fix it at the judge’s table. I nod and pack up my stuff.
I was disappointed in myself. The deck threw me a few curve balls (how fragile Seshiro is, for example) and I was disappointed in some of its choices (Godo and Tatsumasa is pure overkill).
Quite simple, it was Patrick Chapin’s baby and not mine. My God, he went 8-0 with it against some of the best players in his area, and those are respectable, Pro-Tour Level opponents. What was wrong with me? [Heh. Patrick’s area was rather illustrious, to be sure… – Craig.]
I was uncomfortable sideboarding. This is absolutely disastrous. If you misplay game 1, you’re forced to make it up on the back end. This means missing a crucial sideboard piece can spell your doom. Had I brought in Pithing Needles against Jushi would I have won that second game? Maybe, maybe not, but I would’ve improved my chances and it’s something I would have instinctively done had I not threw the deck together the night before.
I didn’t know the decklist by rote. This is a killer when playing Gifts Ungiven. While it can sometimes be wonderfully surprising (“Oh, wow, I forgot about this guy!”) it can also be debilitating for obvious reasons.
Tiago Chan may be able to pick up Owling Mine the morning of and make Top 8 of a Pro Tour, but I am not that kind of player.
This is the part where I preach about “knowing your deck,” but how can you further the environment or your own playskill if you’re afraid to try new things?
Simply, the deck isn’t as forgiving as some of the huge environment-defining decks of the past and present, and it doesn’t have to be. Hell, Gifts Ungiven alone pushes the deck from “average” to “high” on the Difficulty level in the Options screen. Kid brothers need not apply.
So with tail firmly between legs, I ducked out with 1-2-2. I lose a grand total of forty points off my rating and think I’ve learned my lesson. Never play a deck unless you’ve had some time to playtest and get familiar with it.
Tempted By the Fruit of Another
Then, of course, I find another deck that tickles my fancy. This time it’s Nick Eisel’s GhaziGlare Dovescape deck. My playtest group and I were working furiously on breaking Dovescape, because it had some incredible potential.
Supply and Demand was dismissed for Chord of Calling (since it breaks Dovescape in half, and we were, after all, designing a Dovescape Deck™), and Novijen, Heart of Progress is absolutely ridiculous with Dovescape.
Magic Tip™: Never activate Novijen while an opponent has a Meloku and mana available. When you activate Novijen, they can respond by making X tokens, and those tokens get +1/+1 counters also (go ahead and read it to brush up on the wording).
Anyway, I read about it on Friday via Eisel’s own article and really dug it. It seemed to be a mesh for Glare and Dovescape (something my group was testing with), and seemed like a tuned version of what my playtest version was dabbling in.
So I built it and this morning (Saturday), I went to a local tournament to get my Magic on.
It was a 33-man, $10 entry, $400 cash first place tournament. I had to switch out an Arashi for the Silklash Spider, because I couldn’t find one before the tournament. Otherwise it’s card-for-card Eisel’s build (he also notes that he would make this change anyway at the bottom of the article – and I concur).
Pairings were announced, and we were off:
Round 1 – Black/White Control
Ooh, lookee: it’s a Debtors’ Knell deck. While he has Castigate and Wrath, I have tons of mana and huge monsters. He almost kills me on this one with Yosei and Kokusho, but I finally get the Sky Swallower down and stabilize. The turn after, he doesn’t realize that double Yosei doesn’t actually tap the Simic Sky Swallower because it can’t be targeted. And he’s at six. Oops.
I sideboard in the Trees of the North, two Arashi, and a trifecta of Yosei, the Morning Star. I remove stuff like Grand Arbiter and Patron for Yoseis and Arashis. I begin to wish these were switched to begin with.
Game 2 I get out Yosei and he can only deal with it by playing another Yosei. Then I draw a second Yosei. He doesn’t find another one of his own.
Round 2 – Mono-Green Beats
This was a fun little deck. It featured the full complement of Giant Growth, Might of Oaks, Dryad Sophisticate, Silhana Ledgewalker and so on (it practically builds itself!).
Game 1 he gets in a lot of early beats and his unblockable monsters (Dryad, Silhana Ledgewalker) do too much damage before I can get control. I begin to see the light when a Silhana Ledgewalker comes in with the Might of Oaks and kills me.
Out go the Grand Arbiter (ze goggles! zey do nothing!) and Dovescapes for Fetters, Glare, and Congregation.
It’s then I realize I can’t lose. Because Mono-Green can’t beat Hierarch.
Specifically, three Hierarchs in a row via Congregation at Dawn. So that’s what I do game 2 and win.
I do it game 3, and he scoops before I have to play any of them.
Round 3 – Simic Beats
I don’t remember much about this game except I had to enforce some "You’ve committed to this action" rules lawyering. That was uncomfortable.
I swing in with Hierarch and he creates three Meloku tokens. He then switches his six-sided die to a four. He had attacked with the 4th Illusion and Meloku the turn before.
"Block with all of them," he says.
"Okay," I say. Then wait. It’s that uncomfortable did-he-realize-he-just-screwed-up wait.
Then he wants to block elsewhere and I have to call the judge. Ugh.
I sideboard out Grand Arbiter (ze goggles!) for Arashi, to stop annoying stuff like Trygon Predator and Meloku. I easily beat him Game 2.
Round 4 – Vore
This is not a good matchup. Seriously. I don’t know what Eisel is playing against, or maybe I’m playing it like a doof, but this guy’s build was packing three Demolish and four Mana Leak, and it was very tough.
Does it sound weird to run 35 mana sources and still have problems with Vore?
Game 1 I hiccup a fourth land (after playing Sakura-Tribe Elder) so I can’t get Hierarch. He’s drawing a thousand cards and begins to Stone Rain my land. He then draws a thousand more cards and plays a huge Magnivore. I then rip Sakura-Tribe Elder for Chump Blocking Duties™.
He then plays a second ‘Vore. Ouch.
Game 2 I bring in things that don’t die to Wildfire (Arashi) and untargetable monsters that can’t be bounced (North Side).
I then get the perfect hand. Turn 1 Birds. Turn 2 Wood Elves, land. Turn 3 land, North Side. His draw was not perfect, and so he lost.
Game 3 I get a decent hand, but he’s got Pyroclasm for my Bird and Mana Leak for my Wood Elves. I begin to draw lots of interesting spells I can’t play. He begins to draw cards and destroy land. You know the drill. Birds get burned via Volcanic Hammer, and Wood Elves resolve only to see their retrieved lands destroyed. He plays two Tidings and I play the discard game. He wins with a very large Magnivore (13/13, I think).
This guy eventually splits Top 2 for $200.
Round 5 – Izzetron Wildfire
Eek. This is not a great matchup either. They can outdraw and outmana you.
Straight up? This deck has issues with Wildfire. Bad ones. I know it sounds silly in such a mana-heavy deck, but it’s not the ability to create mana, it’s the ability to recover from Wildfire. I’ll get to this solution later in the article.
So… I try my best game 1, but with a single Compulsive Research he finds Tron and a Keiga and a Wildfire, and I scoop.
Game 2 I drop Dovescape and he proudly makes fifteen tokens with a Demonfire and Tron lands. On my turn I tap three mana and channel Arashi to kill all of his Dovescape tokens. Fun! I then Shining Shoal for eight (providing ten tokens) and drop my Selesnya Guildmage the next turn for a quick ending.
Game 3 came down to another overzealous Demonfire. I was at fourteen. I had beat him down pretty good, getting him to seven. I had a lone Sakura-Tribe Elder on the board, which had just swung for one. We were both living off the top of our decks. I had topdecked something potentially powerful, but would it be enough?
He draws, gets all excited, taps all of his mana… "Demonfire for nineteen?"
I then look at my Shining Shoal and count my mana.
"Shining Shoal six of it back to you."
I believe the Tribe-Elder actually giggled when my opponent went to one life.
Round 6 – Draw into Top 8
Top 8 – Ghost Husk
Game 1 he gets a Turn 2 Dark Confidant and draws a (record, I think) five lands in a row off it. I can’t draw enough threats and he gets down both Kami of Ancient Law and Nantuko Husk.
Some Ghost Husk Matchup Truths:
Pontiff = ridiculous against this deck. Kills all of your mana guys (Birds, Elders, Wood Elves) and makes Dovescape a dead card. Ugh.
Dark Confidant = ridiculous against this deck. Your deck can’t draw more than one card per turn, ever, and you have no Divining Top that could give you a “pseudo” Confidant-like ability to draw more than a single card each turn. The worst part: You have no way of killing him. Period.
Simple truth: A turn 2 Confidant is a beating against this deck.
Game 2 I take out the Grand Arbiters (ze…well, yeah, you know) and Glare (Mortify bait) for untargetable monsters and huge dragons.
I get a great draw with Birds of Paradise and Wood Elves, but he plucks a potential Turn 3 Kodama of the North Tree with Castigate. Bummer. Note: He does not get a second turn Confidant. This allows me to ramp my mana and play my spells like Yosei that he can’t deal with. When his personal Howling Mine isn’t exploding everywhere, I have a shot.
Game 3 I get a slow draw and he gets a 1st turn Isamaru and 2nd Turn Confidant. I immediately try to figure out how I can kill that Confidant if he doesn’t attack with it. Which means I’m now in race mode with a deck that can pump all of its creatures and kill my chump blockers in a single package (Orzhov Pontiff). With a deck that has the ability to create four creatures for little or no recourse (Promise of Bunrei), kill my creatures and enchantments (Mortify) and also packs that broken piece of equipment this deck has no easily-findable answers to (Jitte). Two Congregation of Dawn and one Indrik Stomphowler do not a Jitte strategy make.
I realize I can’t fight it, so I try to race it. He simply draws into everything he needs (Promise of Bunrei, Husk, Pontiff) off the Confidant. He then plays and equips Umezawa’s Jitte and I can’t play a creature that won’t immediately die to a Jitte token. Somehow I rip Indrik Stomphowler, but he’s still drawing the goods with Confidant. He quickly Mortifies my Stomphowler and I buy a few turns with Yosei. But time runs out quickly as he gets a second Nantuko Husk and plays an Orzhov Pontiff with two Promise of Bunrei on the board.
The Nantuko Husks were 10/10’s. Isamaru was a 6/6 and Dark Confidant was a 6/5. My Yosei became a 4/4 when Pontiff killed my Wood Elves and Birds of Paradise. I had a Shining Shoal and nothing else in my hand. Good game, sir. A $100 Top-4 split wasted.
Patron is trash. Sorry, I don’t “get” it. I never played against a single deck that couldn’t trump it with a flier, or I drew it early and always wished it was a 5/5 Flying Legendary Dragon Spirit. Maybe it’s me. I didn’t write much about him above because a) I rarely drew him and b) he really did nothing when he was in my hand, or he was killed immediately when he did hit play. He gives all of your opponent’s creatures -1/-0 and gives you Dovescape advantage… if you can get Dovescape advantage before their deck takes off. Most of the decks I played could out-mana-manage (Vore), out-mana-produce (Tron), or outdraw (Confidant). The fact that it doesn’t fly just kills me.
I absolutely hate Grand Arbiter in this deck (though he can be amazing elsewhere). He did absolutely nothing for me the entire day. He doesn’t do enough for a deck full of mono-Green spells, and getting a one-mana discount on Yosei or Simic Sky Swallower isn’t that big of a deal for a deck with a bajillion (yes, that’s a billion jillion) mana sources. Ze Goggles, indeed.
Yosei the Morning Star should be main. He’s just big, scary, and you never feel bad about getting three of him with Congregation at Dawn.
Miren should be in here. ‘Nuff said.
An Arashi could fit in here too. It’s great Dovescape tech when they blow their big X spell and you just trump it.
Having no direct answer to Jitte other than Stomphowler and Glare is dangerous. Even if you do resolve Glare, when you play one of your non-huge creatures (which are numerous: Elders, Wood Elves, Birds), they just die to Jitte tokens and never get to tap anything. Yeesh. I wished for Naturalize a lot.
No enchantment removal other than Stomphowler? In the entire 75 cards. Don’t believe me? Go look for yourself. Fetters can answer their Glare, but Debtors’ Knell or their Fetters on your stuff? Hope you draw that one answer…
Sensei’s Divining Top should be in here. I don’t understand why all of this mana acceleration is here when you basically blow it and either tutor up an answer (and hope that tutor/answer isn’t disrupted) or you can play a card that is synergetic across the board (shuffle effects/tutors/extra cards when necessary).
So, my suggested changes:
-4 Birds of Paradise
+4 Sensei’s Divining Top
(Don’t sub out the Sakura-Tribe Elders, they keep counters off a Jitte and shuffle your deck.)
-2 Patron of the Kitsune
-3 Grand Arbiter Augustin IV
+3 Yosei the Morning Star
+1 Arashi the Sky Asunder
-1 Breeding Pool
That would then leave you with this decklist:
- 4 Sakura-Tribe Elder
- 4 Wood Elves
- 3 Yosei, the Morning Star
- 1 Arashi, the Sky Asunder
- 4 Loxodon Hierarch
- 3 Selesnya Guildmage
- 1 Indrik Stomphowler
- 1 Simic Sky Swallower
I moved the Patrons and Grand Arbiter into the sideboard, and bring them in on the matchups you need them. While the loss of a Green source isn’t optimal, with three Karoos you should still have land to bounce to your hand and mana consistency was never something I struggled for.
That does it for the last two weeks in my meager Magic career. I still love building decks and working on them to be the best they can be. My friend Jordan built an interesting aggro-control U/W build that lost to the same Ghost Husk I did in the Top 4. But part me wants to see what others have done, because others qualify and I have yet to do so.
I can smell that qualification, though. And retribution comes shortly after. Or, at least, some interesting stories.
Could we call this a beautiful struggle for myself? Perhaps Mr. Young would agree. Until then, I’ll fight the good fight, and you can read about it here.
Until next time,
Evan “misterorange” Erwin
dubya dubya dubya dot misterorange dot com
eerwin +at+ gmail +dot+ com