I told Ted that I was going to run a new article series with none other than BDM and Jon Becker as my collaborators. However… how shall we say this? They are somewhat, um, difficult. I think BDM has never played a game of Apprentice, and when I called Becker up to run a fight this week, he went off on how much he hates Apprentice testing.
Possibly, I am getting ahead of myself. This was going to be the format:
Playtest Like Two Horrible Old Married Men
What we are going to do is test decks built by you, the Star City Games community, against the kinds of decks that you will run up against at Regionals. Each deck we work on will be subject to two phases of testing:
I. The Litmus Tests
Each new deck will go up against an existing dedicated control deck (e.g. Kai Budde Psychatog), a dedicated beatdown deck (e.g. Kai’s R/G deck), and one other existing deck (e.g. Rob Dougherty Master A). In this way, we will get a feel for how the Star City rogue’s gallery matches up against the extremes of the metagame, as well as being able to highlight the strengths of the decks that have already made a name for themselves for you.
Each trial will be done game one only, best out of ten games. (30 games)
Before each of these sessions, we will go over our expectations for each matchup. We will probably not be very kind where we see flaws… remember, the goal of these articles is not to pat you on the back for your off-center ideas. Anyone can have a wacky deck idea. The goal is to see if we can hone the decks against what you will legitimately face at these tournaments.
Afterwards, we will comment on the game counts, and how the deck stood up to each of our expectations.
II. Tournament-style Play
In Phase Two, we will play the deck in an imaginary seven-round tournament, with sideboards. We will randomly pick a deck and a specific build from the gauntlet for the Star City deck to play against every round. Depending on the roll of the die, you could see your Graveborn Identity deck roll up against three Psychatog decks in a row , or never hit one at all; both can happen in real tournaments… there’s no reason to say they won’t happen in our forum.
The gauntlet will grow and change as new decks appear in the metagame. Ours is by no means scientific, but a”best guess” at what the environment will yield. This is the gauntlet we will run for this week:
25% UG decks
20% GR creature decks
15% Black decks
10% Board control decks
05% Rogue decks
20 Psychatog: Budde (Updated Duress version)
19 Psychatog: Budde (Cunning Wish)
18 Psychatog: Reeves (Anti-creature build)
16-17 Psychatog: Dutch (Shadowmage Infiltrator)
14-5 UG: Madness (Jeff Cunningham build)
13 UG: Hybrid (Ken Ho Standstill build)
12 UG: Threshold (Wonder Goose)
11 UG: Canu Opposition
8-10 GR: Budde
7 GR: BEASTS!
5-6 Black decks: Walamies Control
4 Black decks: Reanimator
3 Board control: Mirari’s Wake
2 Board control: Astral Slide
1 Rogue Decks: Graveborn Identity
The above is actually the skeleton of this same article series that I was going to run last year. However, certain agreements between certain parties made its publication on this fine site impossible at that time, which is a shame.
I came up with that twenty-sided die”Environmental Detail” maybe two months prior to Regionals last year. Possibly I overvalued the expectations for what I perceived to be the”big three”, and clearly I underrated the popularity of Wake. Well maybe not”clearly”… It seems to me that Wake crept up behind most of the metagame approaching U.S. Regionals last year. It wasn’t unknown or anything, it just didn’t seem to me as popular as U/G, G/R, and Psychatog were going to be, but there it was, and pretty good.
So anyway, if this year’s version ever comes alive, I will make up a similar twenty-sided die Environmental Detail based on what I think this year’s big decks are. It will probably be mostly Affinity (with sub-groups based on color and number of Aether Vial), Goblin Bidding (and maybe the odd regular Goblin deck), and”White decks” which I kind of lump together in my head. There would also be maybe two flavors of Tooth and Nail and other such oddball decks. Speaking of oddball decks, what would possess you to play Cemetery Cloud (more on this later)? With no testing whatsoever, Joshie is”pretty sure it beats every deck.” With no testing, Tim said it beat janky decks… but after a day or two of testing said that”the only good matchup is the mirror.” Like I said, more on this later.
When I told Ted about this project, he even assigned us Sean McKeown Obliterate deck to start. Oh well, maybe it will get up and running next week… or maybe it will have to wait another year.
Before you ask, even though it currently appears that I am without opponents, I am probably not interested in doing this same project with you. Unless you are Rob Dougherty. Last year, Rob asked to join our cadre of awful married players, but I refused him on the basis of his being possibly the best Constructed player on the planet. Now that Yellow Hat has unequivocably snatched that title away and Rob has fallen off the automatic qualification wagon, he is suddenly eligible. Rob, if you have time between changing diapers and running your successful businesses, send me an email. I would be happy to fight you.
I actually think this process would be a good one, not just for the sake of some articles, but for our own play. Even though we never actually published last year, Becker and I did a fight between the Richard Garfield Amplify deck from the Wizards of the Coast staff tournament (Garfield went undefeated) and Jeff Cunningham archetype U/G deck. The results were surprising, with Garfield’s deck dominating Cunningham’s deck. I think it would have been an enlightening or at least very interesting experiment. Not only would surprises like the Garfield deck enrich our readings of the environment, but we would actually get better at playing and playing against the expected field.
But anyway, all this talk of metagames, environmental details, and even the rogue deck articles I’ve done the past couple of weeks demanded that I lay out my actual Regionals experiences to see how my expectations of environments lined up with what I actually hit. I think the answers are surprising. I’m going to start with 1999, because that gives us half a decade of Regionals data.
I predicted that the top decks would be Sligh, Survival, and Necro. Also-rans would be Sneak Attack, some sort of Necropotence or Necrologia combination deck, and Tinker.
Prior to Regionals, I chose Hatred as my Weapon of Choice on the virtue that it beat Survival and Necro, even if it lost to Sligh. With five years under my belt, I think the absolute best deck would be Necro without Wasteland. I actually did a huge amount of Necro testing that year, with everyone from Lan D. Ho to Mike Turian, and Necro beat Sligh and Survival easily, and without Wastelands would have an advantage in the mirror.
1 Commander Grevin il-Vec W
2 Tinker W
3 Necro W
4 Survival W
5 Necro W
6 Sligh D
7 Necro L
8 Morphling W
9 Flagpole Tradewind W
So in nine rounds of Swiss, I played against my expected Big Three five rounds and was 1-0 v. Survival, 2-1 v. Necro, and got a draw v. Sligh. On one hand my predictions on the matchups were a little bit better than expected, with a winning record against the two decks I planned to beat and a draw rather than a loss against the one Sligh deck I played. On the other hand, I missed on four rounds. Luckily I played against soft decks like Commander Grevin il-Vec in one of them, and happened to have good matchups in others.
Interestingly, I lost to Necro in the Top 4, leaving me with a 2-2 on the day, even if only the first three mattered.
If you want to open up the door to good decks that no one actually played, I think Nate Heiss deck Manakin Slighwalker from 1999 was actually superb. It played up some synergies that no one else even touched.
I predicted the top decks would be Replenish, Bargain, and Stompy, with White Weenie the outside, if incorrect choice, and Ponza and Accelerated Blue the declining if still strong choices. I did not think Black would be a factor and did not know if Trinity was going to catch on in time in the U.S. (but we were good against it anyway, so I didn’t care). I had no idea that people would play Magpile and Angry Hermit (the first one).
I chose Napster as my deck, and had the benefit of a bad matchup against Accelerated Blue and not much else. This was actually a strange Regionals, because there were so many good decks. Four years later, I think Magpile was probably the best deck for the field. The best version would have had Seal of Cleansing, Powder Keg, and Treachery all main. This would shore up all the beatdown matchups, and the deck should have a great game against any of the non-beatdown decks except Replenish. Keep in mind that very few other people had Napster, so who won that particular fight wouldn’t have been much of an issue.
1 White Weenie W
2 Goblins W
3 WW W
4 Bargain W
5 Magpile W
6 Fish W
7 Magpile D
8 Accelerated Blue D
Like I said, this was a strange Regionals. I only dropped one Swiss game, and it was to a White Weenie deck in round three. The Bargain deck I played went off and fizzled after looking at most of its library. I had no idea about Magpile, but apparently my round five opponent had no idea how to play Magic, despite being undefeated. I think I must have gotten very lucky this year, because my metagame predictions were awful and I did well anyway. I ended up playing Replenish in the Top 8 and Top 4, and going 1-1.
I predicted Obliterate to be the best deck with Fires as the most populous. I thought the second most populous deck would be Counter-Rebels. Ponza returned right before Regionals, but I did not think it would be that common. There would be random control decks following such as Nether-Go, Eye-Go, Chevy Blue, and Mafia King, but I did not expect any to be particularly popular… or particularly good in the field.
I chose Junk because I made it and I was stubborn. Also it beat all three of the decks I predicted as the most popular consistently. Junk was only pretty good against control decks, but they had not yet been tuned to the quality we saw with Zvi’s deck at Nationals or the Go-Mar decks that we saw at Worlds that year. Clearly if I were less stubborn, I would have played Obliterate, though if it had been invented at that point, I might have tried Dave Price Red.
1 Fires L
2 Obliterate W
3 Ponza W
4 Counter-Rebels L
This was the year we had the ingenious idea of”splitting up the squad” and road tripping half our people to the ostensibly softer D.C. Regionals. Matt Rubin, Becker, PJ, and I all played Junk and failed to qualify. Even more embarrassing was the fact that I lost to the two decks that I was most gunning to beat. On the other hand, I correctly predicted three of my four rounds given my big three for 2001.
I predicted Kibler’s RUG to be the best deck, with Zevatog the most populous. Other decks would be straight G/R in up to three variations and less common would be U/G Opposition decks and Braids decks.
I think U/G Madness was the best deck available, but it had not been invented yet. [And it didn’t have Wonder yet, either. – Knut]
1 RUG L
2 RUG L
Yeah that was an awful year. At least I lost to Rabbit, who went on to Top 8.
The thing that I learned in a concrete manner in 2001 was never to lose to my own mana (if I could help it). Zvi said that is the first rule and possibly the most important rule of deck selection at the PTQ level. If you are not playing on a field where your opponents are of equal or greater skill (like at the Pro Tour), there is no reason to handicap yourself. My second round opponent wasn’t very good, but the fact that I tapped so many Yavimaya Coasts and Cities of Brass meant that his sub-optimal build was able to run all over me as I struggled to assemble the mana for such greedy cards as Violent Eruption.
That is the reason I would never consider playing Cemetery Cloud. Sure the cards are powerful and it is potentially good at chump blocking. But at the PTQ (or Regionals) level, why burden yourself with a deck that has to assemble GG early and BBB in its secondary color in order to function on a basic level? I’m not even talking about bad stuff that can happen to you when you play Death Cloud against the wrong opponent. I’m just talking about basic operation mana. It’s hard enough to assemble land and spells against a deck with the speed of Affinity. Why should I have to have GG and BBB just so I don’t die?
I’m guessing many of the Cemetery Cloud afficionados out there are suffering from Pro Bowl syndrome. Unlike the All Star Games, the Pro Bowl is held at the end of the year and the players are selected by other players. Now when you have players selecting from their peer group, you have a necessarily more limited focus… You can play against a particular team in football maybe two times in a year. Furthermore, you are going to remember the guy who smashed you. It doesn’t matter if he is a fumble machine in every other game and his team failed to make the playoffs. That one time he smashed you, made your bones crunch, and cost you the down, is going to be what you remember. It’s kind of like how Dean Malenko is one of my favorite wrestlers purely by the virtue of one suplex I saw him execute in 1995. I can’t see past the fact that he’s kind of too small and uncharismatic. He planted that jobber and then drop kicked him in the knees.
When Cemetery Cloud wins, it has Skullclamp and Oversold Cemetery online, seven cards in hand, and a huge life advantage and the opponent has no cards. Not just cards in play: he has no Magical cards. Everything is empty but his bin. Wins like these make it really difficult to remember the games where BBB didn’t show up before Shrapnel Blast did.
I predicted basically a three-deck metagame of UG, GR, and Psychatog. Decks off to the side would be Reanimator, Wake, and Slide.
I chose mono-Black control based on Zvi’s rule. It was powerful and had the most consistent mana. It also smashed most of above decks without blinking an eye (remember I underrated Wake). In hindsight, I still think mono-Black was the best deck, but would also consider playing Slide or Zombies.
1 Reanimator W
2 UG W
3 UG W
4 Wake D
5 Zombies L
6 UW W
7 GR W
8 UG W
9 Slide L
10 BUW W
2003 is probably my toughest failure to qualify for Nationals ever. I mean in 2001 and 2002 I played Green creature decks, so I can’t really complain if I didn’t do well. But in 2003, I predicted the metagame reasonably well and could have won all three of the matches I didn’t win. In the Wake matchup, I was actually up a game but sideboarded correctly, so I lost. With fifteen minutes on the clock, there wasn’t really any reason to sideboard correctly, and I should have just left in all my creature kill. As it happened, I set up a lightning fast Haunting Echoes for three Exalted Angels, but he had the fourth (who plays four?) in his hand. He won that one when I drew no creature kill for five turns and we got a draw. Against Zombies I was up a game and refused to mulligan properly in either of the next games. Slide was the worst. Slide was a really easy matchup for our deck. I actually knocked him to no cards in game one… and drew ten lands in a row. Ironically, if I had gone for Undead Gladiator against the Lightning Rift deck, I might have won the game rather than Tutoring for the Mind Sludge that”wrecked” him. Very disappointing.
That being said, how were the metagame predictions? Decent. Not great. I played against”Big Three” decks in only five of ten rounds, and if you scroll to the top of the article, you will note that I thought Psychatog would be probably the most populous deck. Nope, no Atogs here.
So what have we learned? In the last five years, as one of the better environment predicting writers out there, I failed to do a great job predicting all of my actual opponents in any of the Regionals I played in. In the two qualifications (should have been three, damn it), I played mono-Black decks. In one case, the proactive plan (Hatred) was so strong that it didn’t matter that I didn’t get the metagame right. In the other case, the deck beat everything, so it didn’t matter that I didn’t get the matchups right (as long as the matchup wasn’t Accelerated Blue).
Additionally, according to this data:
1. Don’t play Green creature decks.
2. Don’t make your deck choice based entirely on metagame predictions. In 2001 I got them right and lost anyway!
Last, but most importantly, remember Zvi’s rule. Don’t lose to your own mana. I’m sure some of you aren’t going to listen to me and will play Cemetery Cloud, but I think you might end up kicking yourself when you finish this close to the blue envelope. Why didn’t you draw the Forest? It’s Single Forest, Double Island all over again… except this time around you need Double Forest, Triple Island [Swamp] and don’t have the Blue cantrips to fix your mana. I would honestly sooner cast Savannah Lions.
April Fool’s: John of Death
So anyway, I was talking to my good friend John Shuler this week. We started talking about this blog concerning Anne Coulter, how people don’t know what words mean (for example”fascism”), and my daughter’s naming, but ended up stumbling into Nate Heiss article aping John from last Thursday.
One thing led to another and I told John about this dressing down I gave to ignorant forum user Joao de Matos:
“Don’t worry, I wasn’t insulted,” said John.
“No, not you, dummy,” I responded.”I said he didn’t have any taste.”
“But he had nineteen posts!” [actually it’s like twelve, but I thought it was nineteen at the time]
“I have been planning this one for a while. I actually thought it was too obvious.”
“I could see that it was a Portuguese name… and a restaurant worker in New York?”
“I was pretty sure that if I blinded you by insulting, well, me, that you would miss the similarity in writing style… but I did try to drop some hints.”
The irony?”Joao” is basically Portuguese for John.”Eu Mato” is”I kill.” So”Joao de Matos” is basically the”John of Death.” But what about all that talk about a Portuguese name and being a restauranteur in New York – and somehow a New York a Magic player who I didn’t know at all? Oh, bitter, bitter, hate.
Joao de Matos is a real dude. Imagine my horror at figuring out what restaurant he owns.
Nice one, John.