At Pro Tour: San Diego, I only needed 3 points (meaning a Top 200 finish) in order to catch up with Kai Budde for first place in lifetime pro points, but it was not really my goal. Of course, I’d be very proud of it, but I’m pretty sure I’ll do it at some point anyway, and I have played in so many more events than anyone else that my first place doesn’t necessarily mean so much in terms of skill, but more about self involvement and consistency. No, in San Diego, my goal was simply to post a good result and finish in the money, which I was pretty confident would happen after very convincing testing.
Let’s skip to the end: I did so badly that I couldn’t make Day 2, and not even make Top 200. But I am still convinced my deck choice was pertinent. My brother and I have come to the conclusion that both of our Howling Mine decks (UW Fog and UG Crab) were pretty good in the metagame.
First, let me give you both decklists:
PT: San Diego – 3-2 finish
4 Kabira Crossroads
3 Fieldmist Borderpost
4 Safe Passage
2 Day of Judgment
4 Rest for the Weary
1 Quest for the Ancient Secrets
1 Archive Trap
4 Time Warp
4 Howling Mine
4 Jace Beleren
3 Font of Mythos
2 Hindering Light
Here was what we expected the metagame to be, and both decks to do against them. The first number corresponds to the number of players who have been running the deck, the second to how Crab should do against it, and the third to how Fog should perform.
Jund (112): 35-50
White Weenie (41): 85-80
Vampires (33): 80-65
Bant (30): 80-60
All American Control (26): 85-80
Naya (23): 75-50
Mono Red (20): 1-75
UW Control (19): 85-50
Junk (18) 80-65
Cruel Control (14) 90-70
Eldrazi Green (9) 85-80
Boros (8) 1-20
Turbo Fog (8) 90-50
Even though Crab looks sexy, I’d rather play a deck which has a good chance against Jund. By the way, when I say I’m 50% against Jund, I don’t mean it like everyone else, who pretends they are 50/50 when they are 40/60 at best. I playtested both sides of the matchup with the players knowing both decks, and a 4 Maelstrom Pulse version. The matchup is even in these conditions, meaning it could be even better otherwise.
Here’s a (very) fast report from my tournament.
Round 1: Zvi Mowshowitz (Bant)
In game 1, despite an early Howling Mine, I’m still stuck on three lands when he casts Rampaging Baloth. I haven’t seen any threat in his deck but still can’t do a thing. Too bad, they would come up after board.
In the second I miss a couple of early land drops despite resolving an early Howling Mine, but I still manage to recover thanks to Jace. At some point, as I have a Font of Mythos on the board, I start playing my Fogs during his upkeep. I play three Safe Passage, after which he doesn’t attack Jace, allowing me to grab an unlikely win.
In game 3 I have lands, and despite several Bant Charm and Negate I’ve full control of the game, until he casts a late Admonition Angel. Six draws later I haven’t found any of my Wraths, and I pass away.
Round 2: Tsuyoshi Ikeda (Jund)
The games in the matchup usually go to the player who plays first. I win the dice roll and win the first one pretty easily, despite a pair of early Pulse which I’m able to counter. In the second I’m wondering whether I should bring in Baneslayer Angel, but I choose to keep the surprise effect for game 3, when he won’t see it coming anymore. With now 10 counters in my deck, I should be able to protect it quite easily on the play. I lose game 2 without much of a chance (as once again, this matchup is mainly about playing first) and decide to take my two kills out on the play as I’m pretty confident the Angel plan will be enough. And things go as planned: I play Baneslayer when I have 7 mana, protect it with Hindering Light, then I make Howling Mine and play double Time Warp, with three counters in hand and with Tsuyoshi on 7 life. I pass, and he plays a card in Japanese, a card which I’m not even sure what it does. I call over a judge.
The creature, Defiler of Souls, says… “At the beginning of each player’s upkeep, that player sacrifices a monocolored creature.”
So, back to my hand. Fog, Fog, Fog, Negate, Negate, Hindering Light. No Flashfreeze. In the end the game went on for quite a while and Tsuyoshi ended up winning it with 7 cards left in his deck. Whether the 5/5 was predictable or not is not the question; you should never take both decking conditions out no matter what (except against Mono Red, against which you take Howling Mine and Font of Mythos out as well). That mistake cost me a match I should have won, and my whole tournament.
After two rounds, both of which I felt I was winning, I was now in a pretty bad shape at 0-2.
Round 3: Jason Cawley (Summoning Trap)
The third match against a deck which doesn’t seem to do much except casting Summoning Traps into guys (Iona and my good friend Admonition Angel). I don’t really see how that would be a problem to any non-Fog deck, but well, playing against decks which are out of left field is a risk when you do badly in a tournament. This game ended up in a draw, with him being one turn short of killing me. I could have conceded if the situation had been a little different, but I didn’t feel responsible for the game dragging on, and my almost losing was the results of going for an unlikely aggressive sideboard plan in order to compensate for the extra time he had spent thinking. A draw it would be.
Round 4: Michael Jacob (Naya)
I didn’t have much trouble winning the first 1, and we were having a close fight in game 2. At some point, I asked him for the number of card he had in his library. Michael added his hand, graveyard and board, and subtracted it to 60 to make 38. Two turns later, I checked his library, which was still 38. After checking his sideboard, MJ realized he had a 63-card deck, conceded the game, and dropped.
After the round, I went to see the judges to explain the situation so there wouldn’t be trouble if they found out that we didn’t feel like giving them a call. I was just pretty sure Michael hadn’t done this on purpose and, even though it would have been recommended to call over a judge in that case, I didn’t feel like adding to Michael’s disappointment and frustration.
I now had 4 points, after a “game loss” and a lucky draw. Brilliant.
Round 5: Philip Yam (Naya)
The first game comes with one piece of good news and one piece of bad one. He was running Naya, but I was not drawing a thing, not even with the help of an early Howling Mine. In game 2 I have a pretty good draw, but he resolves turn 3 Manabarbs. As he doesn’t have any threats and I already have a Borderpost, I don’t mind the card that much. I draw a lot, and thanks to my three Safe Passages, the game is pretty close. The question, basically, is to know how much time it will take me to get another Borderpost, Baneslayer Angel, or any of my 4 Rest for the Weary. The answer is too long. I’ll never be able to gain any life, and I die with him on three life.
My tournament was over from there. I still played my draft and went 2-1, but this tournament will remain a major disappointment. I can’t really blame bad luck, as good sideboarding against Ikeda would have seen me to 1-1, and could have made my tournament a lot different, but I’d still like to highly recommend the deck, as well as the Crab deck, for Regionals and States.
Let’s study the deck and its major matchups.
The key of the matchup is to get one Howling Mine, Jace Beleren, or Font of Mythos to survive. Usually you’ll just cast it anytime you can, but sometimes it is better to wait, such as when you have only one Howling Mine on the draw and have a counterspell to protect it. With Jace, you will always make both players draw, except if you have a second one as backup, in which case you’ll use it as a cantrip Fog. The reason why you must make both players draw, even if he has no card in hand, is that he has too many ways to kill it instantly (Lightning Bolt, Blightning, Bloodbraid Elf).
After board, the main question is to know whether you should bring in Baneslayer Angel or not, and whether he is running Siege-Gang Commander or not, in which case you’ll need to keep both Day of Judgments.
If you don’t have much time left, if you’re on the play, and/or if you feel like swinging for once, feel free to bring in both Angels, in which case you’ll take out 2 copies of Font of Mythos (only if you’re on the draw), Safe Passage, and Rest for the Weary.
After boarding, all your counters should nullify their hate, and it will often come back to whoever is going first, so to whoever won the dice roll.
Except for Oblivion Ring, you don’t fear anything in their deck. Day of Judgment is great, Card Drawers should usually survive, and they can’t even try and hit Jace or they’ll lose too much time. And if they do, it’s even better.
Another option would be to bring one Baneslayer in, so you can deal first strike damage then cast Fog, but you shouldn’t need it and they may have Path after board. If you still feel like bringing the Angel in, you should take out Archive Trap.
Vampires doesn’t have many cards which are annoying to you, but as you make them draw a lot, they still will draw them all the time. My first piece of advice, even when you have the opportunity to, do no play Archive trap: milling Bloodghast could be pretty annoying. About the threats themselves, their main worries are Mind Sludge and Bloodhusk Ritualist, and of course Malakir Bloodwitch and Kalastria Highborn. Vampire Hexmage, which can destroy Jace, is also a problem but not a game breaker.
For the discard spells, the plan is simply to resolve as many Artifacts as possible in the early game to make sure you’ll be able to draw a Fog or a Wrath immediately after your hand was emptied. Luckily, Mind Sludge seems to be still more popular than the multikick Vampire, and it’s rather easy to counter. Concerning Bloodwitch and Kalastria, just remember not to wait until the last moment before you play Day of Judgment, otherwise you could get a nasty surprise.
Negate is not to be feared. As long as you consider it, it is not so hard to play around. The match-ups true problem is Qasali Pridemage. It could be worse, especially if the pair of Pithing Needles in the sideboard if LSV’s deck from San Diego became was to become more popular. The reason why it is so annoying is that it is a Maelstrom Pulse you can’t counter with Negate or Hindering Light. It does allow Jace to live, but it can also attack. However, it may be a little more annoying than Pulse, as the deck surrounding it is much less of a problem than Jund, and you should still be able to grow a Jace and do well. Just don’t tap out unnecessarily if you’re in Rafiq or Finest Hour reach, and you should do fine.
Zvi’s version will be played as he has written a report, in which case you should pay attention to Bant Charm. Just as Negate the card is a little annoying, but it is not so bad if you play around it, as it’s pretty obvious.
All American Control
This matchup is almost impossible to lose. To put it simply, they have only one card you fear in their main deck: Ajani Vengeant. Usually, the Planeswalker is a bit scary but still not good enough to kill you, as it ends up being one or two turns too slow. If they have Oblivion Ring main deck and resolve both it and Ajani very early, then they have an outside chance. Otherwise, game 1 is yours.
After boarding, they have some Rings and countermagic at best, while you have counters as well: the matchup doesn’t change that much, and you should still win.
Game 1 is pretty easy, as a pair of Rings won’t do too much, and as Ajani is, once again, quite slow. After board, however, Manabarbs and Qasali Pridemage make the matchup worse. Then they are cards you can beat, as Flashfreeze works against both of them, but the fact is that the number of annoying cards (along with Dauntless Escort) grows so much that you’ll often need them to draw worse than you to win. Luckily, Baneslayer can win games on its own, and it should always survive as they instantly play their O-Ring on a draw artifact whenever they have the chance.
The matchup for which the sideboard has been built. The thing is, the day before the tournament, the deck was losing pretty badly to two decks I expected to be popular at the PT: Mono Red and Boros. Or, more precisely, it was losing to one card: Unstable Footing. As the deck only needed a few sideboard cards versus everything else, I tried experimental sideboards against both those decks. Against Boros, things turned out to be impossible. The matchup may be 50/50 main, but I didn’t find a sideboard plan which would give me over 10 to 15%. However, against Mono Red, there was a plan which would appear to be working. In the first game the matchup is good, mostly because of Rest for the Weary. Then, after board, the plan would just be to take out all the drawers, and their Fog preventers would not be nearly as efficient. I’ve played only 7 or 8 games post board with that plan, but I haven’t lost one. I can’t call the matchup a bye, as you can lose game 1, and I haven’t faced versions which have cards like Manabarbs in the board, but I’m still pretty confident about it.
The matchup is very close. They don’t have too many threats, but they have many ways to resolve them (counterspells) and to deal with yours (Jace). The key, in game 1, will be to keep Jace under control. If he does manage to get the planeswalker on the board, he should be able to adjust both player’s draws just enough to take a small advantage. Then, the second threat is obviously Iona, which wins the game if it resolves very quickly and you don’t have a way to deal with it (except for winning quickly, which is still a good option). After board he’ll bring in Baneslayer for the same reason as you: too many dead cards main deck. Still, you can afford to take out most Fogs, as you’ll still have more than enough.
Before finishing up, I’d just like to write a few words about possible changes for the deck. I’m pretty happy with the maindeck, but here are a few cards you may need in the sideboard, depending on the field in which you play:
2 Pithing Needle (Against Qasali Pridemage, as well as Ajani Vengeant)
1 or 2 Essence Scatter (against Zvi’s deck and possibly against Iona)
2 Celestial Purge (probably necessary if Naya becomes popular)
Thanks for reading, and see you soon!