Red Zone Redux

Elation. The word is cheapened by overuse. Proper elation is not mere joy brought by a lucky topdeck; one needs drama, tension, and trepidation beforehand to bring the recipient to a downcast, muttering funk before an earnest prayer is fulfilled, bringing satisfaction and a sense of pure thankfulness for good grace. Elation is when you…

Elation. The word is cheapened by overuse. Proper elation is not mere joy brought by a lucky topdeck; one needs drama, tension, and trepidation beforehand to bring the recipient to a downcast, muttering funk before an earnest prayer is fulfilled, bringing satisfaction and a sense of pure thankfulness for good grace.

Elation is when you realize that your life has been measurably improved by others around you. When I attended Pro Tour: Tokyo (merely for the last day), I looked forward to playing side drafts and actually meeting a few pros. Maybe I could snag a few more Limited points for my DCI rating! However, the tournament organizers were saying that the Booster drafts would be only for the packs’ rares and foils. BOOO!! I was at GP: Kyoto and for 1000 yen drafts, you’d get statues, magazines, and other various cool promo drek in addition to keeping the cards you drafted! So after the third draft and getting a horrid deck, I dropped in disgust and went to watch the finals of the Masters tournament. Exciting stuff. I was really rooting for Team Panzer Hunters to go all the way, as I had a bit of a grudge against Ryan Fuller for not doing Jan-ken-pon (Japanese Rock-Paper-Scissors), despite my explaining it to him at a feature match at GP: Kyoto. I also am really proud to play with Japanese players, since they’re very sporting and always fun to play with. So I was rooting for the home team. And when AlphaBetaUnlimited.com took home the win, I snapped the air and growled "che," a primal word of disgust. I was in an ill mood and posed with a dilemma. I had trouble picking a favorite in the finals: should I go with national and ethnic solidarity and support Zvi, or go with the crowd and the home team and support Fujita? I decided not to pick, and just felt happy for having two great finalists face off.

While waiting for the finals, I went into my bag to look for my foil card binder with the awesome foil Counterspell with the gold DCI promo stamp that I had received for an article on another web page, and… couldn’t find it! Nor could I find my notebook with my tournament notes! I ran up, checked every single table I had sat at or paused at, the dealer’s tables, and everywhere else I could imagine. My foil collection! All four hundred of them! I immediately thought that I had finally faced the psychological barb that would put me off Magic forever. I HATE theft and have reported it at least four tournaments in the States. Living in Japan had softened my wariness, though – and now I was stabbed in the back for letting my guard down. My vision ran red and dark with tension. I asked the kind people at the Star City table if I had by chance left the binder there, but no luck there either.

But I cleared my mind of morbidity and tried to be rational about it. I checked at the front to see if there was a Lost and Found. The kind woman at the desk asked me "Are you Eli?" I then knew that I was blessed to be living in Japan. Apparently someone had turned it in. The Japan Times released a study that ninety percent of Japanese people would hand lost wallets in to the police. At this time I felt SO great and happy to be living here in Japan. That was elation. I then ran back to the finals area and watched a brisk, tense match that swung back and forth, but finished with Zvi the winner. It didn’t matter to the Japanese, though. One of the nation’s own had finally broken into the Top 8 (and finals). And the sense of respect and love for the game surrounded me. God damn, I knew then that I was going to try my hardest to make the Pro Tour. And this resolve was greater elation yet.

Note: Always write your name on any deck you design. It helps the identification process. ^_^

So anyway, despite having been nailed to the ground by a rogue Black Ankh-Tide deck at my single Constructed outing at Pro Tour Tokyo’s Foil Set Standard tournament, I have a degree of confidence in my Regionals deck. For the last three months, I’ve been running Brian Kibler Red Zone, and piloted it to a 20-8 record over seven tournaments. (I tend to drop early, despite having a good record, to join the side Limited events.) I enjoy playing the deck, and it wins a fair share of games. Why do I like the deck? It’s a fun, solid deck with enough fatties to satisfy the little kid in me and enough removal to satisfy the tactician in me. It’s an unknown archetype here, and gets lots of surprise reactions from Japanese players. And it focuses on the metagame. In any given environment, seventy percent of the local Japanese players play islands. Most of them also are playing with Wrath of God. The rest are either packing Blue Skies or Rebels. If they ARE playing Forests, usually they’re not playing Fires, but instead a local archetype, "Steroids," which runs Elves, Birds, Kavu Titan, Skizzik, Urza’s Rage, Keldon Necropolis, and Blastoderm. (Not unlike the AlphaBetaUnlimited IBC deck) So without further ado, here’s my iteration of the Metagame solution:

Red Zone X, borrowing heavily from Brian Kibler Chicago deck, and swiping tech liberally from Zvi and Sean McKeown

SDF Heavy Infantry:
4x Nasty Blastoderm
4x Chimeric Idol (A.k.a. Kame-san, "Mr. Turtle")
2x Two-Headed Dragon
1x Shivan Wurm
1x Kavu Kavu Kavu Kavu Kavu Chameleon

The basic role of these guys is to pound the opponent into the pavement. Blastoderm’s untargetability slams through any non-Nether defenses. Chimeric Idol frustrates Wrath-Go, and provides efficiency to boot. Two-Headed Dragon is pricey, but will hammer through for the win against virtually any deck if it survives the turn. Two-Headed also wrecks Rebel decks that aren’t packing Lawbringer. Shivan Wurm just overwhelms Fires and G/W, and the Kavu Chameleon is one of two slightly sub-optimal maindeck 5CC 4/4s intended to hose Wrath-Go and Nether-Go. (The other is listed below). I usually choose to sideboard Blastoderms out against Rebels, Shivan Wurm against Skies, Kavu Chameleon against Fires.

SDF Artillery:
3x Old School Hydra
1x Assault/Battery
2x Thornscape Battlemage
1x Tahngarth, Talruun Beatstick
1x Flametongue Kavu

These guys cost a bit more for their power/toughness, but bring the firepower to bear, wiping away enemy defenses and clearing the path for the infantry to wreck the opposition. They also do okay by laying down a creature on the table against control archetypes. Assault is currently on probation, with another Battlemage threatening to dismiss the Elephant Token from my deck case. But Assault is a cheap, disposable removal spell. The Battlemage can usually serve for two, clear away a Sergeant, AND smash the opponent’s Idol if they’re running Fires. Tahngarth smashes any Blinding Angel and also smacks Nether Spirit into tapped submission.

Ancient Hydra really, really wrecks lots and lots of decks. It usually delays Fires from winning by two or three turns and gives you time to get the lock. It smashes Skies into a bloody, greasy pulp; that’s why I run three of them.

But all these creatures are a bit inconsistent, right? I’m not running enough to maintain complete offensive dominance. (See Fires.) That’s where the air support comes in to cover my backside. Coming out of nowhere, these spells radically redefine the game on my terms.

Air Support:
3x Wax/Wane
3x Armageddon
2x Eladamri’s Call

Wax/Wane shines in the Fires match, and is almost never useless against any other deck. Nonetheless, it usually gets boarded out against Skies and Wrath-Go. Armageddon will wreck any Fires, W/U, Rebels, or Machinehead deck by wiping out their mana base. ‘Geddon always gets taken out against Skies, though.

Here’s my interpretation of Eladamri’s Call: I run a lot of one-count creatures that really assist against specific archetypes in the maindeck, except for the Hydras, who just offer utility out the wazoo. It’s best to draw the creature I actually need instead of the Call, right? That way I can save myself two mana and probably a turn or so. So I ran a FEW more general efficiency cards (the two Hydras) and only two Calls, leaving me an effective count of THREE ways to draw the card I need at the given moment, while not spending too much mana. The only deck I don’t like seeing these against is Fires, where every turn requires maximum mana efficiency. But I wreck Fires after sideboarding, thanks to Simoon and Wane.

Arms Suppliers:
4x Llanowar Elves
4x Birds of Para Para
4x Rishadan Port
4x City of Brass
8x Forest
2x Karplusan Forest
2x Mountain
1x Plains
3x Brushland

I run a few less painlands because I’m running City of Brass (also there for the Decrees) and Dust Bowl, and substitute them for basics to save myself a few points of damage.

2x Obliterate (great against Counter-Rebels, Wrath-Go)
3x Kavu Chameleon (vs. Nether-Go, and good against Wrath-Go)
4x Simoon (wrecks Fires and Skies decks)
3x Tsabo’s Decree. (REALLY, REALLY Crush the Rebellion! Also, one against Nether-Go really ruins their day if you can manage to cast it.)
2x Arma-whut-tha-dealie-yo Cloaks (vs. Skies decks, and some good in the mirror match. NOT Fires, but Red Zone mirror)
1x Nightwind Glider (This has been Reverent Silence, Samite Elder, Seal of Cleansing, and Flashfires in recent weeks, but I feel that I need something that can muck up Machinehead)

This deck wins by laying down fatties while using utility to smash the opponent’s efforts to stop you. Eladamri’s Call usually puts the opposition on some serious pressure, or gets you out of a bad situation. You want to use the direct damage to put away your opponent’s mana producers/rebel searchers/Rishadan Airships.

My testing’s gone down as follows:
Vs. Chevy Fires, 65 percent of the time, ditto after sideboarding. The "You Win" spell? Two-Headed Dragon or Ancient Hydra
Vs. Wrath-go, 40 percent of the time, 70 percent in games 2 and 3. This is a bit spotty. I almost always lose the first game, but go all the way in game 2 and 3. Two Obliterates guarantees me the failsafe. The "You Win" spell? Armageddon.
Vs. Counter-Rebel, 50 percent in game 1, 90 percent after sideboarding. Two Obliterates, ‘Geddon, and three Tsabo’s Decrees ruins their day. The "You Win" spell? Two-Headed Dragon.
Vs. Blue Skies: 40 percent in game 1, 70 percent in games 2 and 3. The "You Win" spell? Ancient Hydra and Two-Headed Dragon. Of course, that’s provided that they actually resolve…
Vs. Machinehead, 60 percent game 1, 35 percent game 2. Oops, here’s a deck that actually does pretty well against me. And yes, it is a bit popular here in Japan. No "You Win" card.
Vs. White/Green, 80 percent game 1, ditto game 2. I happen to be every bit as fast as this deck and just as fat, but with more nasty removal and Wane for those bloody Waves.
Vs. Turbo-Chant: I have NOT tested against this deck; what happens to Turbo-Chant when the other guy plays a turn 1 Llanowar Elf, though? Since Japan tends to be a TAD behind on the tech curve, I’m not going to worry about it, though I do remember playing the guy with the Infinite Holy Day/Tangle deck…

Anyway, I’m taking this deck with me to Regionals this weekend. Yeah, this weekend! Japanese Regionals are quite early, but I feel prepared to go for glory. My local store’s players have been testing heavily with the Steroids build (Utopia Tree, Skizzik, Battlemages, No Fires) but have not been playing with ‘Geddon. I hope the ‘Geddon tech will be able to go all the way. I also hope to write a report, so look for that coming up soon. And if you happen to feel this event did change your views or think I’m dead wrong, I’d also appreciate being told.


Eli Kaplan

Pro Tour Tokyo P&S:

Props: To Ron Foster, Omeed, and the fine Wizards crew, who not only kept it fun for the pros, but for those of us who came to watch, play, and gab.
To Bram from Germany! God, I haven’t had so much fun talking during a Magic match in ages! It felt good to cut loose and actually speak ENGLISH in a Magic match for once!
To all the great guys who signed cards: Olle Rade (rhymes with code), Zvi, Mike Turian, and Paul Barclay.
To the saint who returned my binder and notebook to the info booth. I hope to return the favor someday, and so will work harder to be a model player for the Magic community and an ambassador for foreigners playing Magic in Japan.

Apologies: To Kim E. at the Sideboard, for making her feel uncomfortable while commenting on the great bento she was eating. Other People’s Food always looks good.

Slops: The line for the artist signings. WAY too long. There’s only one solution: Fly in more artists! That way, the lines are shorter and everyone’s happier. This is truly a minor complaint, however.