Sleepwalking With The Red Cards

The words that hit my brain tell me that whoever’s on the other end of the phone needs me to tell them something, so that things can be made”ready” for whatever it is I’m doing today. I’d really like to give them some creative profanity instead, but it’s early and I’ve practically forgotten how to talk. I hear my gravel-and-salt voice scrape together five words:”Bring me The Red Cards.”

Mornings never feel right. Particularly not the godless, seven-of-the-A-M kind of mornings. The kind that figure prominently in brainwashing scenes in 1984. Waking up is the first step towards being awake, and that’s just asking for trouble.

So you can imagine my dismay Saturday morning when I realise that great colourful nothing of dreaming had given way to light and cold. Obviously, there’s something wrong with my covers. I shift, and am warm again, ready to fall back into unconsciousness.

Nope. Somebody wants something, and they want it so badly that I’m not falling asleep. I hear a muffled”I don’t mmmmrrrrrrrrrrr GPT”, that sounds like good advice. I realise that it’s probably me talking. I make a pretty strong case.

“No, you have to go.” This one farther away, so probably not me.”We have to lock the house, so if you’re not coming you have to sleep here all day.”

That sounds sensible. Especially considering I’m lying in the most comfortable cubic-metre in the known universe. Moving certainly isn’t an option.”All day, okay,” and then”yeahhhh,” which I think was me agreeing with myself. Anyways, it’s two against one. Sleep all day it is.

That would be too easy.”No, come on, it’ll be fun!” Anything more is lost in the swimming of my eyes opening. Now there’s something in my face. A cell phone. I know how these things work. I sit up and grab it.

Oh hell. Now I’m definitely awake. I put the phone to my ear. There’s a bunch of words coming out of it, and more in the room around me. The parts that hit my brain tell me that whoever’s on the other end needs me to tell them something, so that things can be made”ready” for whatever it is I’m doing today. I’d really like to give them some creative profanity instead, but it’s early and I’ve practically forgotten how to talk.

I hear my gravel-and-salt voice scrape together five words:

“Bring me The Red Cards.”


Five minutes later, I’m wearing pants and have a pretty good idea what’s going on. The night before, I’d agreed to go to the Grand Prix Trial in Oshawa with my teammates. It would make a nice warm-up for the PTQ next weekend, they said. Now I was being hustled out into a car and shipped to this tournament, where I would be expected to play. Little consideration is being given to the fact that my brain isn’t working, or the fact that I haven’t played Constructed since the Van Buren Administration. I pass out in the car. Bits of ideas start poking through. I remember the night before joking that I might have to purchase a preconstructed deck and run it with that. I don’t know if you know, but the Devastation Pre-Con has a lot going for it. Wirewood Savage and Aether Charge? Oh my! Tell your grandmother and watch her die from shock. Feel free to skip this if you like your grandmother.

I crest into consciousness as we pick up our fourth. This is joined by the realisation that we are four. Piloting the madcap adventure is Chris McGuire, recently seasoned by his first PT appearance at Houston. There he played Rector-Pattern, but now he’s got his mind on Psychatog. That plays into his strengths, since he Q’d with Upheaval-Infestation. He’s a strong player, but has trouble maintaining the focus that brings out the best in him.

In the Navigator’s Chair is Jer Elgar. Lately he’s turned sabotaging his rating into a spectator sport, but he’s better with the cards than I am. He’s playing The Rock, mostly because it has Living Death in it. Sharing the bowery with me is Duncan McGregor, who will be judging the event rather than Top 8’ing it like he always seems to. He’s also too scrupulous to be bought, so that plan is out the window.

Duncan tries to hand me a bunch of cards, saying”Build your deck”. I try to crush myself into the corner of the car and hope I turn invisible. Duncan sees what I’m trying to do.”No, you have to build it on the way there, because we’re going to show up just as they close registration. We called ahead to make sure they hold it for you. You need to be able to write down your deck as soon as you get there. I scowl and try another magic word:”Coffee.”

Next thing I know, I have a cup of coffee in my hand. We’ve stopped somewhere to make this miracle happen. I sip and feel the opposite responses I’ve bred into my body. The first is the feeling like finally being able to breathe. My eyes open up and my brain comes alive. The second is the shudder of revulsion that keeps me from abusing it. If only Coke didn’t taste so good, my hands would probably stop shaking. I smile, now that I’m holding the ebon goddess and am able to, and think,”Chew the pill that tastes like hell, but gives you strength.”

The rest of the night before bleeds back into my memory. Try as I might to forget, I really did lose to a forty-two card deck in the finals of an eight-man on Magic Online. I’m tired-verging-on-destroyed because I was up until all hours of the morning listening to Feindflug’s”Roter Schnee” on repeat. Twelve minutes, the last four and a half of which are the same ten-second loop. I don’t know, maybe my musical tastes have gone out the window. All I know is Stephan, the guy who mans the Industrial section of my local retail outlet, has never steered me wrong. The last thing I bought on his say-so was The Birthday Massacre”Nothing and Nowhere” which I think I’ve listened to every other day for six months.

Duncan and I get down to business. He starts flashing me cards and and I give them a yes or no. I’m trying to think of the deck as ten slots: Six creatures and four spells. Even that is too much counting for this hour of the day. Somehow we get to sixty. Duncan hands it over.

Duncan: Here it is.

OMC: All four-of’s?

Duncan: Eight Mountains.

OMC: I hope I can remember.

The Red Cards (In-the-car Remix)

4 Goblin Cadets

4 Mogg Fanatic

4 Raging Goblin

4 Goblin Lackey

4 Goblin Piledriver

4 Mogg Flunkies

4 Reckless Charge

4 Lava Dart

4 Shock

4 Volcanic Hammer

4 Barbarian Ring

4 Wooded Foothills

4 Bloodstained Mire

4 Mountain

8 Mountain

Before we go any further, I think it’s time you and I shared a secret: The reason I like to play this deck is that winning with it feels so dirty.

My favourite deck ever was a modification of classic Cade-style mono-white prison. Tons of permanents and sweeping answers. Victory is a matter of eliminating your opponent’s ability to win. Once they’re utterly broken, you can march over their corpse. Winning like that is austere. It’s composed.

The Red Cards don’t win like that. They win gasping and breathless, stealing the game just as the opponent is starting to realise their strategy. When The Red Cards win they are spent, because winning is important and red will batter itself to pieces making sure that happens. I love the way red flaunts its exception to the importance of card advantage. I love playing out the very last card in my hand and still being in a winning position.”I have no secrets, and very soon you will be dead.” say The Red Cards. And even if they answer your board, there’s plenty of cards waiting in the library that read”Game Over.” I love pulling up the top card and wearing a smile that says,”Maybe it’ll all end right here.”

As for the maindeck, you probably noticed the whole”no Jackal Pup” thing. I wish I had something better to tell you than”They weren’t in the car.” Ditto for Reckless Abandons, though I don’t know for sure about those. Maybe they should be in there. I certainly don’t know.

Sideboard (Avert your eyes, children!)

4 Firebolt

4 Arc Lightning

3 Thran Foundry

2 Bottle Gnomes

1 Grim Lavamancer

1 Mogg Salvage

Yeah, well, when you’re working out of a shoebox, you do what you can. More on this and other, actual sideboards after the event.

We arrive and are part of a field of just fifteen. Team Beast is out in force, curse their wretched hides! I fill out my reg sheet and do some quick test draws. Lands and spells. Good to go.

Round 1: Greg Cresswell, playing Red-Green LD

I win the die roll and play Fetchland, guy. Greg Razes my mountain. I’m filled with hope, briefly, until I realise that the Barbarian Ring in my hand might be the last land I draw for a while. I make some more guys and assault his life total. He Pillages my land and I pull another. Then he cycles Slice and Dice.

For a second, everything stops. I look at my board of x/1’s. My team hits the showers. River Boa shows up and starts hitting. I make men, but he has Firebolt to take them down. Unfortunately, he gets greedy and flashes back his ‘bolt, giving me an out to stop his Boa – and now he has to hold back to keep my army from getting him. I draw some burn and we’re on to game two.

Game two is much more his speed. I get very little pressure while he gets more of those damned Boas. While I struggle, he summons a giant Magnivore, bolstered by his cycled Lay Wastes. I chump and fire back, but he has Earthquake to end it.

Game three is anticlimactic. I get a solid opening of men and removal, and he draws the wrong cards for the job. The Red Cards don’t offer him much time to draw the right ones.


Round 2: Lam Phan, playing White Weenie w/ Tradewinds

As I sit down, I’m reminded of the words my friend Rob Fool used to describe Lam:”That guy is always on.” I can already see in his eyes that he’s bringing good game to the table. Never mind that he won Provinicials and has been robbing Type 1 tournaments across Eastern Canada.

I win the die roll, and have a Lackey opening. That means that his turn 2 Powder Keg is not a factor. Luckily, we’ve got plenty of time to shuffle well for game two.

Once again I board in nothing. I have no Lackey for game two, and Lam hits me with Chill. The second one soon follows and he asks for the scoop. I’ve got more-than-average lands this draw, so I ride it out. Soon I’m up to seven on the table. However, I’m also misplaying like a fiend. I forget how Mother of Runes works, so I’m a turn slow getting the first one off the board. Later on, I forget I have active Barbarian Rings on the table, and try to use spells to fight through some creatures. It wasn’t pretty. Lam has a pair of Tradewind Riders butchering me in the air, though, so I don’t have long to regret my errors.

The real revelation of the round was when I killed something of Lam’s, and he put it in his yard before deciding to pick it up with his Tradewind. My first instinct was to call him on it, but I decided that wasn’t the way I wanted to play it. I was here to have a good time, and part of that was playing Magic while not being a hardass. I like to think this set up the karma that followed me the rest of the day.

Lam and I both mull for game three. I have the nuts draw in my six, with Lackey, Flunkies, Piledriver, Lava Dart and two land. How corrupt! Lam does nothing but Brainstorm and scoop, as his second land is nowhere on top of his library.


Round 3: Jer Elgar, playing The Rock

2-0-2 is a lock for Top 8 (God Bless the fifteen-man tournament!), so ID’ing with Jer is easy. Nothing so great as seeing teammates do well. Of course, Guire is having a rough go of it, sitting at 0-1-1. We pass the time with some laid-back games, where I take him out back 4-1. From this we were able to learn that Ravenous Baloth is too slow.


Round 4: Matt Lewis of Team Beast, playing rogue White Weenie with blue

Lewis was a key figure in my trip to GP Philly, and just spent his last round drawing with his Team Beast teammate Mike O’Brien-Walker. Their third, Nick Chen, is a comfortable 3-0. I’d hate them for their success if they weren’t such nice guys. Lewis and I ID, and after a couple of games where his secret tech mauls me, I decide to ratchet up the good times with Homestar Runner cartoons archived on my laptop.


Guire loses his last round to miss Top 8. Other than that, not too shabby. Naturally I draw Jer for the quarters. Nothing to be done.

Quarterfinals: Jer Elgar, playing The Rock

I almost feel bad for the first game. Jer Living Wishes for Baloth early, then throws down not one, not two, but three of them. Unfortunately for him, my deck is all action and his not having a Pernicious Deed means that after I burn away his 4/4’s I can swarm for the win.

I swap my Volcanic Hammers for Firebolts, figuring I need to be able to remove blockers at one mana, and bring in the Lavamancer for a Raging Goblin. Game two is much more the sort of thing The Rock can do to The Red Cards. Wall of Blossoms is just as sickening as it was three years ago. It only goes downhill from there. It may have involved Genesis-Baloth recursion. Not good.

Jer keeps a slower-than-than average draw for the third game. He opens with Treetop Village while I make some Cadets and swing in. He drops Birds of Paradise and Duresses my two cards in hand. Unfortunately, they are Firebolt and Lava Dart, so I’m free to hit in. His third land is another Treetop Village, and that’s all she wrote.


Semifinals: Nick Chen playing Stompy

The tone of this match is set very early on, when Nick makes a Vine Dryad while my Goblin Lackey is charging him. Shock makes it an even trade, but I’m shaken. His next play is Wild Mongrel; I’m delighted. He’s content to wait behind Tangle Wire, so I start building up a horde of goblins. He makes a River Boa, and then another, leaving one on defense while he swings.

He taps down to one green at the end of his turn, and I spend three spells getting rid of his Boas. A second Flunkies solidifies my board. Nick’s holding five cards, which has to mean good things: If he had men, he’d have played them. I decide to chance Charging up a Flunkies and diving in with both. Nick lets it by. That’s good and bad news. Between Dart in my yard, Fanatic on board and two Barbarian Rings, I’ve got him dead. I just need to get to my next untap. I drop my last card, Raging Goblin, and hope.

Nick Rancors up his Mongrel and swings in. I block with my five one-toughness goblins. I wait for the Growth while he pitches…. None comes. I remember to Fanatic him, then untap and kill him.

In the second game, not only does Nick blunt my initial assault by turn 2, he also starts doing fair things like upkeeping Masticore by pitching Basking Rootwalla. My sideboarded Arc Lightnings aren’t much help, despite having all three in hand. I sent the Cadets to the bench, since Nick seems more than capable of blocking. Firebolts subbed in for Lava Darts quite nicely, though. He kills me in short order.

Nick has to mulligan his first seven for the deciding game. He keeps his next six and seems content. I open with Lackey. Nick makes a forest and passes it back. I gamely swing in, and am rewarded with”No blocks.” Suddenly, my board has Flunkies and Piledriver on it. Nick makes Wild Mongrel. I Charge up the Lackey and attack. Nick chooses to stop the Piledriver and pitches worthless Wild Dogs and lands to let his Mongrel live. I Firebolt it after combat. He fails to play another creature and I bash him. From there I’m able to burn him out.


Finals: Mike Viner, playing Psychatog

Well, neither of us will be competing at GP New Orleans, so we agree to split it down the middle and play for points + byes. Game one is pretty straightforward, as despite losing the die roll I’m able to resolve some men to bash him about the face and neck. I know the next two will be tougher, considering he’s got Engineered Plagues in his board.

OMC: I hear you’ve got some hate for me.

Viner: You might say that.

Even though he’s going first, I feel pretty confident when my Lackey resolves. I’m holding three Piledrivers, so I risk casting my second one, and it resolves. He, of course, drops third-turn Engineered Plague, but I’m still swinging for four, with another Piledriver just coming online. Viner untaps and drops a second Plague.

Adam Whitehead calls him a”dirty lucksack,” which seems fine from where I’m sitting. I draw more worthless goblins while thinking about how nice it would be to have a real sideboard. Viner’s ‘Tog shows up and bashes me.

Game three I start with Lackey, but don’t have Flunkies or Piledriver in hand. Worse, I’m pulling land off the top so he’s at a comfortable ten or so by the time he gets to drop his third land and an Engineered Plague. I maintain some illusions about burning him out, but even if he doesn’t have the counter I just handed him with Fact or Fiction, I haven’t drawn enough damage to do him in. Psychatog makes his appearance, and I make my exit.


We close it with a little Jack Astor’s, and the Garlic Pan Bread lives up to expectations. I crack a celebratory pack and see Peer Pressure. I guess the universe needed to make sure I understood the point about listening to your friends and going out to have a good time. Message received. All in all, a heck of a day. Every time I sit down to it, I find that Magic is a ridiculous good time.

For the PTQ this Sunday, I’ll be running these guys again. By then I may even have strategic insights, but I wouldn’t bet on it.”Make guys and attack” is about as far as I can get these days. Hopefully I’ll have Pups to swap for the Raging Goblins, as well as an actual sideboard. I’m really liking Mello’s deck from GP: Reims. Wish me luck finding the cards.

Josh Bennett


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