This week (and the past few weeks) has seen me pretty lost on what to write about. I have little incentive to think about Zendikar in Standard terms, and I have little incentive to talk about what I think about Zendikar in Extended terms. The ideal topic would be some kind of general strategy, but most of what I had to say about that I already have, so I’ve been a little stuck.
A friend suggested I played an 8-Man on Magic Online and then post a walkthrough with some screenshots. This seemed like a good idea, and this is what I’ll do today. I’ll play Standard — I know, I know, the format won’t be relevant for long, etc, etc, but if you think about it, not a single format I was able to play would be relevant, so it might as well be Standard, which is the one I’m most comfortable with. As for the deck, I’ll play Faeries — if I’m going to do this, might as well be the deck I like the most and play the best. Again I will try my best to make this appealing as a general MTG article, not one about Faeries or Standard. There are general lessons to learn here, and hopefully everyone will get something out of the article.
Another problem was that I didn’t have any cards in my Magic Online account — it’s surprising I even have one, to be honest. I very rarely play in it — I guess you could say I don’t really like it. That was solved when Willy offered to lend his cards for my “experiment.” Thank you! So, armed with Willy’s cards, I went to battle.
The first thing to do was build my deck. It had been some time since I had played Standard last, so I decided to stick with my list from Nationals with Doom Blades over Agony Warps, minus the Infests from the board. I wanted a fourth Vendilion Clique, but Willy only had 3 and I was not about to go looking for a fourth, so I improvised. This was the list I played, just for reference:
I went to the Tournament Room worried about not finding enough people, since the MTGO Championship was happening, but was relieved to see that the tournament had six people already. I joined the queue and noticed that the number of people was still six. I thought I was a bit lagged, and waited for some time, but the number remained unchanged — that is, until I realized I was looking at the number of tickets needed to join the tournament, not the number of people in it — which was one. I decided I was not going to wait for it to fill and went to try one of those two-man matches instead.
My first try was not very good. I got paired against a Jund deck, which I figured would be a good match to show. Game 1 I kept a somewhat slow hand, and he had turn 2 and turn 3 Putrid Leeches on the play, putting my back to the wall from the beginning. At some point, he attacks with both — I play a Spellstutter Sprite, animate my Mutavault, and take the damage, going to zero — oops.
Well, no biggie — I was probably going to lose anyway. I sideboarded and on turn 3 of game 3 he played Boggart Ram-Gang and attacked; I played Vendilion Clique, saw his hand of Bloodbraid Elf and two Lightning Bolts, took the Bloodbraid, and happily decided to trade my Clique for his Ram-Gang — except I took three when I clicked “Okay.” I thought I had simply misclicked in the previous game, but apparently I needed to do something for it to stop after he declared attackers but before blockers. This time, though, I was not going to lose, and this was a game deciding play, because he Bolted my Clique and I took a lot of damage from his Ram-Gang. In the deciding turn, I’m on two life and he has Bloodbraid Elf. I have Cryptic Command to tap his Elf and draw a card, but the phase was not checked again, and I have to end up bouncing his Elf on the attack, which is just sad. I lost the game and the match.
I realized this was not a very good match to cover — there isn’t much to be learned from it other than the fact that I don’t know how to play Magic Online. Surely the next match would be better.
I joined another 2-man, and my opponent promptly played turn 3 Goblin Chieftain — either someone who is not very competitive or someone who just couldn’t wait for the new Goblins from Zendikar. The games were pretty academic, and since he was playing cards like Coat of Arms and Fireball I decided it wouldn’t do me very good to cover this game either. I thought it would be better to wait for an 8-man to fill. I joined the queue, waited about 10 minutes, and then it fired.
I join the game, and my opponent was on the play and kept his seven. My first hand was this:
This hand doesn’t do anything, so I ship it back for this:
Which does even less. I mulligan into this:
Which is an easy keep. This hand is much better than the two previous hands, and about as good as one can hope for in a five-carder.
My opponent plays a Reflecting Pool and then a Cascade Bluffs, which puts him in a land-light Five-Color Control draw; if he had Vivid Lands, he would have played them turn 1, so the chance is he doesn’t have many lands in hand (of course, there is nothing stopping him from having 3 Pools and 2 Filters, but it is still likely that he won’t be able to play Ultimatum on turn 7, for example).
Since his first land was Reflecting Pool, I decided to play turn 1 Island, in case I draw Sunken Ruins — It’s likely that I’m not going to attack with Mutavault turn 2 anyway, because I cannot afford losing it to a removal spell with this hand, so the chance of drawing Ruins and being able to play Bitterblossom beats the potential attack.
It’s all irrelevant, though, as I draw a Secluded Glen. My Bitterblossom gets Broken Ambitioned, my opponent winning the clash and keeping a Negate on top. We play draw-go for a turn, and then he plays a Jace Beleren and activates it for two, passing without playing a land. I draw my card and the situation is this:
Attacking with the Mutavault doesn’t seem to accomplish much here — he will just untap and charge it again and then attacking will be really bad, so it’s either Command or Sower. Commanding his Jace is an appealing play — I get to draw three more cards to see if I can punish him for tapping out again. My hand is kind of light in countermagic though, and I’m not sure I want to burn one of them just now. I think I’m better off with just playing the Sower — that way, I force him to remove it, which might be really good depending on what he has — if he has a Path I’m fine with it, if he has to Fallout it all the better, since he taps out again and I trade my worst card for his best. I play the Sower.
He untaps, powers Jace up again (so 7), plays a Land and Bolts my Sower.
I pass my turn, and my opponent powers Jace up yet again — to 9. This is probably a mistake — at seven counters, he can safely draw a card himself, and there is no need to give me one. At this point I’m thinking that he wants to mill me out — which is great for me, because milling 20 cards would leave me with 20 still and accomplish absolutely nothing.
I was planning on playing a Scion at the end of his turn, but I drew a Thoughtseize from his Jace, and he moves to his discard phase. This is the position:
I decide to wait for me to untap with the Thoughtseize — if I run the Scion there, it’s just going to get countered or killed, and I don’t really have anything to punish him even if he taps out to do it. I decide to let him discard, and draw a Bitterblossom. I Thoughtseize and see this:
I discard the Negate and play my Bitterblossom. I play a Scion, which he Bolts, and after two turns I have two tokens and I’m about to attack. Unfortunately he decided to draw a card himself instead of sticking to the mill me plan, so I have the choice to attack him or Jace:
I think I make a mistake here, by attacking the Jace. I figured the one damage to him would not make much of a difference, and since he seemed overprotective of his Jace I figured there was a chance he would defend it with a removal spell. He didn’t.
I stick a Mistbind Clique and he plays a Baneslayer Angel, and I have to counter it. I know he has the Ultimatum in hand, so bouncing his Jace is not very good — I need to draw answers. I don’t, and attack next turn with Mistbind, a Token and Mutavault — this time I attack him.
I can attempt a Mistbind Clique on his Upkeep, but I decide against it — I don’t think he is going to Ultimatum me this turn, and I’m worried about things such as double Fallout. This was probably a mistake too — looking back, I think I should have played it to try to buy myself at least another turn to draw an answer for his Ultimatum.
He plays the Cruel regardless, and I have to keep one of my cards:
Again, the text for Mistbind Clique is on top of my Lands — I have enough to use Gargoyle Castle next turn. Basically I either cast Mistbind or keep Doom Blade (I had already discarded a Blossom when I took the screenshot). I decide to keep Doom Blade, since I know he has the Angel in hand.
I attack him, he Bolts my Vault. He plays another Cruel, but I drew Broken Ambitions. My next draw is Spellstutter Sprite. On his turn, if he has Baneslayer plus Command I’m probably dead, whereas if he has Baneslayer plus Negate I’m fine. He plays Vendilion Clique, which I have to attempt to Spellstutter — if he Bolts my Faerie Rogue, I have to topdeck something, but I’ll have two chances for it — the Clique plus my draw step. He doesn’t, and I counter the Vendilion, and then play Doom Blade on his Baneslayer and attack for the win.
Whew — it definitely felt like I was going to lose this game. I mulliganed to 5 and got Cruelled. My opponent probably could have won — he had a Runed Halo and a Fallout in hand that I knew from Thoughtseize that he just never played, for example.
Game 2 I draw this:
Which I mulligan into this:
Which I decide I have to keep. The hand is pretty good, and even if I lose a land drop for a turn I can probably manage a fight ,whereas if I get lucky and draw a land in my first two turns I’ll probably stick the Bitterblossom and win, since I have the Thoughtseize.
His hand was just a terrible keep — there is no need to gamble like that, and this hand doesn’t even offer much if you manage to draw a land turn 2. If it’s a Vivid, you are not really doing anything.
I have three options here — three counterspells. The Bolt seems bad, since by the time I play Scion he will probably have found a land to Ambitions it, and I don’t really care if he Bolts it. I can either take the Command trying to play for the long game, or I can take the Broken Ambitions — which is better than taking the Negate since I don’t want him to Clash. I’ll not be able to outland him to eventually pay for the Ambitions, it looks like, and I have a Mistbind which his Ambitions would be able to deal with later. I take the Ambitions.
He plays a Vivid, so I resolve my Blossom. Then I draw another one, and run it into his Negate. Two turns later I have two tokens, and he plays his fourth land — a Vivid. I also have four lands, so the play of Mistbind Clique mainphase here is pretty clear — if I wait to do it any other time, he can Cryptic Command it. If I do it now, he cannot do anything unless the one card in his hand I don’t know is Broken Ambitions. The question is, what do I champion?
I thought that, if I championed a Token, he would just mainphase Cryptic the Mistbind back to my hand and I would lose a turn. Instead I decided to champion the Bitterblossom — he has to deal with the Mistbind anyway. I think it was a mistake — I should have championed a token. If I do this and he plays Runed Halo (which he should probably have sided out, but I cannot be sure he did), then I’ll have to end up Warren Weirding myself to get rid of my Mistbind. I was too caught in the “he HAS to deal with Mistbind or he will lose, and If I champion a token he will Cryptic bounce it and I’ll lose a token for nothing” train of thought, but I should have thought about the long-term consequences of it — if he deals with Mistbind, say, two turns later, I would rather have championed the Blossom because the extra token is worth more than the extra damage, since the clock will be the same — he didn’t have to deal with it in that precise moment (and he didn’t). Still, it was very unlikely to matter unless he had Halo. In response to his lands tapping, he Bolted a token, which seemed like a good play.
At the end of my next turn he attempted to Cryptic my token back, and I played Scion to deny him a card. He Bolted the Scion and passed. I attacked again, and he attempted to bounce my Mistbind with a second Cryptic.
I know one of the cards in his hand is a Cruel Ultimatum, and the other I don’t know. There is not much I’m afraid of here — I can simply replay my Mistbind mainphase and I will kill him in two turns, and even if he draws the two lands for Cruel I have the Ambitions, so it seems like there is no problem in letting it resolve — however, if he draws (or if his last card is) an Esper Charm, he can make me discard my Ambitions and then play two lands and run the Cruel in there. This is not that unlikely, since he will draw a card off the Command. I figured this was more likely to happen than him drawing both a Fallout and a third Lightning Bolt, and then the two lands for the Cruel before my remaining tokens kill him (and in that case even if he does I can draw another Counterspell or a creature), so I just countered the Cryptic.
We clashed the Broken Ambitions, and his top card was Esper Charm — that left me pretty happy with my play, because the scenario I had identified and played around in my head had a definite possibility of happening. As it was, he had to Clash it to the bottom, and had nothing else to follow up, so I won.
Round 2 I get paired against BW, which I knew because I watched his replays. I don’t understand why someone would play BW in this format, but, hey, that’s not my problem.
I win the die roll and have this mighty fine opening hand:
I keep, obviously.
On turn 3 he plays Tidehollow Sculler, which I Broken Ambitions — he wins the Clash revealing Zealous Persecution, which he keeps. I attack with my Token and he blocks very quickly, which is good for me — he has Persecution on top and Windbrisk in play, I don’t want both sides to accumulate tokens. If I had a combination of Scions and Commands it might be that I would not have attacked, not wanting to trade, but in this scenario I was only too happy to.
On his upkeep this is the position:
There isn’t much point in sitting behind Command here — this is one turn where I’ll not really care if he Paths my Mistbind, since he cannot follow it up with anything relevant, unless he has all of Path to Exile, Fetid Heath, and Spectral Procession, and even if he does it’s not that game-breaking. There is no reason to delay it, so I play Mistbind, which sticks. I attack, he chump blocks with the Token and I pass.
On his turn, he plays another Sculler. I can sit on Command, but he has only three lands left, and not WWW, so I don’t see what he can possibly play that I will want to counter — I’d rather cycle my Command on his Sculler instead of losing it for nothing. Then I’m punished, because he follows it up with Shriekmaw. I thought that, if he had a removal spell, he would either have played it last turn or, if he had drawn it then, he would find a way to sneak it in, being only one or two mana and instant speed. I did not think he would have Shriekmaw — probably a downside of not playing Standard since my Nationals, when Shriekmaw didn’t really exist.
Some turns later I use my second Command on his Procession, and then he plays a Cloudgoat Ranger, which resolves. I have double Scion of Oona in hand by then, and I know he still has that Procession. I can play passively, hoping he will play one Zealous Persecution, and then after that I can stick double Scion, or I can just play double Scion then, and if he does not have access to another Persecution he cannot win. He has one more card in hand, and the card from Windbrisk that he played turn 1. At this point, I have to think about the chances of that card being a Zealous Persecution. For that, I look back at my first land drop — did I give him much indication that I was playing Faeries? If I played Secluded Glen or Drowned Catacombs, he is much more likely to select a Persecution. If I played an Island or a Sunken Ruins, though, he might put me on Five-Color Control or UW, and then Persecution is a terrible card to select and he might have gone with something more generic instead of just gambling all in on Faeries. I scroll up, and see that I’ve played the Island, which is good for me.
(Of course, in this game it’s all a moot point, since he also had access to my replays and would know I was Faeries, but I am not used to it and I forgot about the feature. In any case, I probably do not have much choice other than playing the two Scions here, because my life total is not high and if I take a Persecution enhanced attack I will have to topdeck something to live through my Bitterblossom, so I will probably respond with double Scion if he plays it. I think the train of thought of going back all the way to turn 1 to see what he knew when he played Windbrisk to try to deduce which cards can be in there is interesting, so I decided to include it anyway).
In my turn I attack, he blocks a token with a token, and a token with his Cloudgoat, and I go for the double Scion. He attacks the following turn and the card behind his Windbrisk turns out to be a Persecution, so I die.
My hand game 2 is again pretty good, so I keep:
I can play a land and Sower his Finks, attacking with my Vault too, or I can Sower a Token. I decide to go more aggressively, and Sower the Finks. He double blocks my Vault and blocks a token, and then on his turn he plays Infest.
I have two options here — attempt to counter it or not. If it was just counter, I would not do it — I have a favorable board position, and Clashing in this situation is not good. However, I might make him tap out, which, depending on what he has, might buy me a turn — it’s likely that he has nothing, since last turn he played Bitterblossom and nothing else, but I think the pros outweigh the cons. Now I can counter it for everything or for a small amount — I think it is very safe to assume he does not have a two-mana card that he would like to play (Sculler, basically), or that would have been played last turn. If I Broken Ambitions for a lot, he might not pay and play Ajani, which is the card he could conceivably have that I do not want to see (though even the Ajani is not really that bad for me since my hand is double Sower, unless he follows it up with another token-maker). However, since I’m fairly certain he does not have a two- or three-mana card that he would have liked to play, Broken Ambitioning it for three, leaving two mana up, seems to be the better play — He will probably not put me into another Spell, but he will think I have Spellstutter Sprite, which might want to make him pay just to see my hand since playing Ajani that turn is not appealing. Or he might just want to think I want to trick him into not paying and pay because of that — either is fine with me. I Broken for three, he pays and passes.
I draw a Command, and my decision is either play the Sower or hold the Command mana. I think I don’t have enough board pressure at this point to sit on counters — I have two Blossoms and he has one, and he is at more than twenty, so I cannot afford to play the waiting game. At some point I’ll have to tap out, and I’d rather have to do that just once, and at once — if I Sower now and he does not draw something relevant, then I can sit on Command for the rest of the game because my board will be superior enough to allow me to kill him before my Blossoms kill me. He doesn’t play anything in the turn he has a breach, and then it’s easy from there on.
My hand game 3 is this:
And I mulligan into this:
Which I have to keep. This is not the perfect hand, but it definitely has a strategy, and a good one against his deck.
He plays a turn 2 Sculler, removing one of my two Scions (it was my first draw), and two turns later plays a Duress that hits nothing once again. I play Scion, Sower his Sculler, and he never really plays anything else other than an Ajani that I just killed by attacking.
Round 3 I got paired against Tim Landale, playing UW Baneslayer.
He mulligans and my hand is this:
This hand is actually not all that bad against him, since his deck should have some problems with a board of Stutters and Scions, but it’s not good enough, so I ship it for this:
Which is basically the same hand, though this time I keep.
I play a turn 2 Spellstutter Sprite, and I plan on mainphasing a Scion on turn 3 — I don’t have any follow ups, and I cannot afford that he plays Cryptic on it, so I cannot wait for the end of the turn. If he has Path or Broken Ambitions, then fine, he would have played it anyway, but at least I take away the Command chance. However, he does not play a land on his turn three, and now that Command is out of question the one damage is not good enough a reason for me to run it there on my own turn. I decide to wait.
I run the Scion at the end of the turn and he scoops the next turn, without a third land.
I don’t have much clue what to board, since that deck did not exist when I played Standard, but I decided for:
This looks like the worst sideboarding strategy ever — I boarded in Cliques because I knew he had Mulldrifters, but they are probably just worse than what I am taking out — a Doom Blade and the Broken Ambitions would likely be much better. I had to think of the cards in one minute, though, so I just boarded the first thing I thought about.
My hand is this:
I decide to take the Path, since the Sower looks like a really big card there and everything else is kind of redundant. I don’t think he will play a Vendilion before I have the opportunity to play Sower, but if he does I’m fine either way.
I draw my third removal spell, and on his turn 4 he attacks with a Finks — I see no reason to take three, so I Doom Blade it, which I’ll have to end up doing sooner or later. He plays another Finks.
I draw an irrelevant four-mana spell, and Agony Warp both his Finks on his next turn, killing the small one. He plays a third Finks and I draw another blank, so I Doom Blade one of them the following turn, and he plays a fourth Finks.
I draw my fourth land (he is still stuck on three) and Sower one of his guys, but he has a Path for my Sower. That brings me to five lands, and I can now play Puppeteer Clique, stealing a Finks and gaining two.
I decide against attacking here — if I attack and he blocks, he will end up with two 2/1 creatures instead of a 3/2 with Persist. I would rather leave him with the 3/2, so I pass and let his Finks be removed.
He cannot attack now — if he does, I will block one of his 3/2 and steal it before the Persist resolves, essentially trading half my Puppeteer for one of his Finks plus two life. He could, however, have attacked with his 2/1 Finks — that would have traded his half Finks for my half Puppeteer, but I would have gained two. If he does that, then he can attack with his 3/2s without fear next turn, and when he doesn’t do it, I put him on having Cryptic Command — it’s clear he wants to just Command and alpha strike me, so trading a creature for board position is not relevant for him.
He mainphases a Vendilion on himself and passes without playing a land. I play another Puppeteer and pass, and if he doesn’t draw a land now I’m pretty good, but he finally draws it and Commands, tapping my team and bouncing one of my Cliques.
I go to one, and on his upkeep I Cryptic, tapping his team, but he has another one and we go to game 3. I sideboard out the Puppeteers — though they were good this game, I realized that game was an exception and they were likely to be bad. Also, now that he had seen it, he might play around it, taking out his Mulldrifters or not exposing them to them, so that’s another reason for taking them out.
I draw this hand:
This will very likely win if I draw a land, and also very likely win if I don’t, unless he has a turn 3 Archmage.
I don’t draw a land, and have to play a Bitterblossom on turn 3 instead. By then, he has a Borderpost plus Knight combination, which allows him to play a Glen Elendra Archmage on turn 3 — frown. I don’t draw a fourth land, and when he attempts a second Glen Elendra I Essence Scatter it, essentially killing a persist counter.
I don’t draw my fourth land still, and the best I can do with my turn while he is tapped out is Doom Blading the Knight. I could kill another Persist counter, but, as it is, that Knight is just going to kill me — the Archmages at least I can block.
He attacks, and I block his 1/1. He Vendilions himself again, and I still haven’t drawn my fourth land.
In what is probably the last possible turn I have, I draw my fourth land — but it’s the third Drowned Catacomb. It comes into play tapped, and he has a Cryptic to tap my guys and attack me down to two, one on my upkeep.
On his upkeep, I try Mistbind Clique — if he can answer it, I’m dead. He responds to the trigger by playing Path to Exile — which brings my hopes up, since I can remove the Bitterblossom forever. If he lets me champion the Blossom and then kills it, the Blossom comes back and I just lose. It didn’t really matter, though, since he had a Cryptic Command as well — probably the reason he didn’t give the Path play much thought, since he couldn’t lose anyway. So he attacked, and I lost.
Well, this is it. I hope you can get something out of this article — I made some mistakes, but most of them I realized I had made, which was good, and I also made some good plays that were well thought. I was not really used to playing Magic Online. My opponents always have 10 minutes more than me because I never know what to click (and also because I was taking screenshots), but it was a good experience for me too — maybe I’ll start playing more, and maybe *gasp* even with my own cards(my account, by the way, is NOT PVDDR).
I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and see you next week!