Smallpox in the Midwest: My Star City P9 Chicago Report *1st*

I hadn’t planned on writing a report. I was worried that by doing so, I’d inadvertently make fun of the Midwest and devalue my win. Then I realized I played like an asshat all day and still won, so I don’t really feel like I earned it anyway. I’m still looking at this Black Lotus wondering why it’s here, because I don’t think I played optimally in any game all day…

I hadn’t planned on writing a report. I was worried that by doing so, I’d inadvertently make fun of the Midwest, and devalue my win. Then I realized I played like an asshat all day and still won, so I don’t really feel like I earned it anyway. I’m still looking at this Black Lotus wondering why it’s here, because I don’t think I played optimally in any game all day.

I’m Ben Kowal. I write on SCG every so often, and you may also know me from The Mana Drain.com, or perhaps even as a tournament organizer in Hadley, Massachusetts. Being that I’m from Massachusetts, this drive would take roughly 17 hours for me – However, my sidekick Andy Probasco (better known to most, including his parents, as The Brass Man) had an additional two hours tacked on both ways for the trip seeing as he lives in Tiverton, Rhode Island.

Naturally, if you had to drive 19 hours with another driver in the car more than willing to take over when you get tired, you’d Iron Man the entire trip yourself, right? Right?

I didn’t think so. Andy on the other hand decided this would be a brilliant plan, and as such we left my humble abode around 8pm Thursday night in the hopes of making good enough time to sleep 15 hours upon arrival.

As is common for long voyages, I carried full travel gear. Directions, phone numbers, my trusty dusty road atlas, changes of clothes, hygenic equipment, cash, food (15 sandwiches!) and of course, the newest installment in Adam Bowers’ musical legacy, the Ghetto Mix 4.0. The Ghetto Mix is a tradition that is actually quite far from really ghetto at all – Just the really classic and often terrible rap tracks from days long past, such as Skeelo’s “I Wish I was a Little Bit Taller” and Digital Underground’s “The Humpty Dance”. Despite a couple technical fouls with the CD player in BrassMan’s new convertible, we would arrive in Chicago approximately 12:30 pm on Friday, and at that very moment we discovered that our contact and hotel reserver Justin Droba (JDizzle) would be busy until three hours later, driving from Indianapolis to Chicago.

If you decided killing three hours without falling asleep would be best accomplished by taking a nap, congratulations, you have the mental capacity to make this trip with us. I curled up in the back seat of the car, away from the burning sunlight of death for a good hour or so while our broken windows sat in the permanently down position.

After we head to the hotel, we kill time doing some pretty useless testing, since I had pretty much already determined what I’d be playing, and this was merely to convince me not to build Madness or Keeper at the last minute. This is what I had in sleeves before I fell asleep in front of some terrible Star Trek episode:

Shortbus Smallpox Blankets (SSB)

4 Force of Will

4 Mana Drain

4 Brainstorm

4 Thirst for Knowledge

2 Gifts Ungiven

1 Ancestral Recall

1 Time Walk

1 Tinker

1 Fact or Fiction

1 Mystical Tutor

1 Mana Severance

1 Chain of Vapor

2 Duress

1 Demonic Tutor

1 Yawgmoth’s Will

2 Goblin Welder

1 Recoup

1 Mindslaver

1 Pentavus

1 Goblin Charbelcher

1 Black Lotus

1 Sol Ring

1 Mana Crypt

1 Mana Vault

1 Mox Sapphire

1 Mox Jet

1 Mox Ruby

1 Mox Emerald

1 Mox Pearl

1 Lotus Petal

1 Library of Alexandria

1 Tolarian Academy

1 Darksteel Citadel

1 Island

2 Polluted Delta

2 Flooded Strand

4 Volcanic Island

3 Underground Sea

I didn’t have a sideboard together yet, because I really didn’t have much of an idea what would show up. All I counted on was for GWS to play Workshops, because the only times I’d ever seen them play, that was the only thing they touched. I’m not sure if that’s all they feel comfortable with or all they own, but from what I saw at this tournament, it didn’t serve them well.

You decide!

Also, a little note about the name of the deck: The Europeans settling in the United States gave the natives blankets covered in smallpox as a gift. Whether or not this was intentional, it’s a pretty similar gift to the kind Gifts Ungiven gives you. Recoup, Mana Severance, Yawgmoth’s Will, Tinker – Here, you decide!

Regardless, I wake up around 11 hours later to discover I missed a small party in the next hotel room over, where Mark Biller (Windfall, GenCon World Champ), Justin Droba (our host, JDizzle), Ben Perry (everythingitouchdies), Jim Gaffney (godot), Bob Yu (Clown of Tresserhorn), and Scott Limoges (Lime, former New Englander) were d*cking around until well in to 2 am. We grab a little chow at the local McDonalds and head off with the intent of seeing what’s there with enough time to fix our sideboards before registration is due.

The room, oh God, the room! It was from what I could tell full to the brim with junk like Workshop Aggro, Food Chain Goblins, Dragon, and Oath. I went back and forth on a couple sideboard slots, and even had to get my decklist back twice to add things I’d forgotten. I finally settled on this:

3 Red Elemental Blast

3 Tormod’s Crypt

3 Chalice of the Void

2 Blue Elemental Blast

2 Rack and Ruin

2 Rushing River

In hindsight, I fell in to the most common trap of sideboarding with those Tormod’s Crypts: I had not enough room to board in all three, since in most matchups I wanted them, I wanted Rack and Ruin, Red Elemental Blast, or Blue Elemental Blast more. If I could go back in time, I’d cut a Crypt for something I haven’t yet determined. Picking at random through my box of possible inclusions, I yank Strip Mine. That seems playable. Play that.

I help Andy and Bill Dicks (Dante) build their lists, and the pairings go up eerily early, considering the size of the event: 154 people.

I don’t take notes, and I have a very limited memory. If any of the following information is inaccurate or lacks your name, I apologize for the discrepancy.

Round One: Travis LaPlante (JuggernautGO) with Metalworker-Staff

Game one, Travis has Force of Will backup for his second turn hardcast Memnarch. I try to race it, but that’s one of those openings that any deck with Mana Drain has a little difficulty recovering from.

Game two on the other hand, I Duress away his Ancestral Recall, and begin drawing cards with Thirst for Knowledge until I finally get to Drain some large spell of his (presumably Juggernaut) and use the mana to go off with Gifts Ungiven.

Game three, he keeps a sketchy mana light hand, and I complicate things with a Rack and Ruin that has enough counters to answer his Blue Elemental Blast and Force of Will. Once again, I just put Drain mana into my Gifts Ungiven to power out the Belcher-Severance combo.

Beating Travis was unfortunate, because he’s one of the four people who were insane enough to make the trip from New England. Travis is actually a tournament organizer for a venue about 20 minutes from my house.

1-0, 2-1

Round Two: Chris Nighbor (I think), with Oath

Game one, my opponent manages to get Oath online, and digs up a very large and hasted Black spirit to slap me in the face for six. Then I cast Yawgmoth’s Will without a whole lot of gas in the graveyard, and he scoops. I’m pretty sure he saw my Mindslaver and assumed my Will would be enough Slaves to kill him with his own Oath.

Game two however goes pretty basic. I hardcast turn 2 Goblin Charbelcher, and Mystical Tutor on my upkeep for the Mana Severance to make it lethal. We fight over it, and he wins the fight, but Recoup on the following turn seals the deal and he takes something like 36 to the face.

2-0, 4-1

Round Three: Zoo!

I haven’t ever seen Zoo since its existence was ended by faster mono-colored decks before I started playing Type One. Regardless, his list was what I believe to be pretty basic in terms of Zoo standards: Kird Ape, Null Rod, and he even had Mana Leak and Force of Will to not autolose to combo. Unfortunately, the counters weaken his game against me, and I have little difficulty setting up a massive Yawgmoth’s Will in game one before getting an infinite Slaver lock.

Game two I have a lot more difficulty, as I can’t counter both of his Wild Mongrels, and he starts taking seven-point chunks out of my life total with a dog and some goons backing him up, like Grim Lavamancer. I have enough mana to cast Yawgmoth’s Will, and I stare at my graveyard for a while before I realize I have exactly enough for Severance, Tinker, and activation of a Belcher. Sometimes, playing with the Slaver alternative fools you in to thinking you’re playing simply better Slaver, and you lose track of the fact you also have a better win condition.

3-0, 6-1

Round Four: Feature Match with Dan Carp (Angry Pheldagrif), with Workshop Aggro

I agree with Ted and Pugg Fugly: Putting all the trashtalking on the screen is too difficult to do without losing the bite it carries in person. Regardless, I consider myself to have acted pretty rude in this match, feeling more than slightly obliged to do so seeing as every single TMDer reading the coverage at home was counting on me to make a complete ass of myself. In direct contrast, Dan bet me a can of Red Bull that I couldn’t 2-0 him, and after I did so, he upheld his deal like a true sport. Props.

Even so, the coverage was a little inaccurate here, which I don’t blame on Pugg, since it must be difficult to keep up with the speed of our play as well as the Asianness of most of what I was playing with. Game one Dan mulls to six, and keeps a hand with tons of mana to hardcast any threat in his deck, but no gas except Goblin Welder. I have to burn my Chain of Vapor to keep the Welder from becoming active, since he could topdeck any bomb like Sundering Titan and the only answer I have in hand is Mana Drain. Welding it in would ruin my entire gameplan, and I wasn’t in the mood to lose another game yet.

Eventually I counter something – I think it was Chains of Mephistopheles – and I decide then to take my chance and cast Gifts Ungiven on his endstep, getting the usual suspects of Mana Severance, Tinker, Yawgmoth’s Will, and Recoup. I get Severance and Recoup, and cast both, flashing back Tinker for Charbelcher, and activating to roast him for 28.

Game two I mull to five and he mulls to six, and he keeps an opening of Mishra’s Workshop, Black Lotus, Orb of Dreams. I started trashtalking quite a bit more here, because back at home my sidekick Justin Timoney (Outlaw) was trying to convince me this card was good in post-restriction Workshop aggro, and every time he played it, I ruined him. I played around his Orb by doing little things like breaking fetchlands in my upkeep to thin out my deck before the draw, and eventually he got a Su-Chi to stick and started beating me up with it.

I wanted to wait for the second threat before using the Rack and Ruin I had in my opening hand, but my life total combined with a Chalice for 3 on the stack made me re-evaluate the situation and I chose to Rack his Orb and Ruin his Su-Chi. I finally come across a Gifts Ungiven and cast it, getting Goblin Welder, Goblin Charbelcher, Mana Severance, and Recoup. He gives me Severance and Recoup, and I cast both, flashing back Time Walk, and topdecking Drain. He keeps topdecking non-spells and I keep topdecking counters until I find a Brainstorm, which finds me a Welder. He asks to count my library, and I hand it to him, saying, “Go ahead, it’s lethal.” He looks back at me, and hands the deck back, scooping.

4-0, 8-1

Round Five: Sligh!

We’re 4-0 at table one, and this is probably the last match I expected to face. However, though the archetype itself is quite mediocre, the build in question was at least done correctly.

Game one he aims a bunch of burn at my face, but the only creature he can get online is a Mogg Fanatic. I tinker in a Pentavus around seven life, and deal lethal damage before he can reduce my total to 0 through a counterwall.

Game two I make a massive mistake and lose track of a Null Rod he has in play due to a proxied Mox Ruby sitting in front of it. There was nothing illegal about this – the Ruby wasn’t obscuring the entirety of the card, merely 1/4 or so of it. That was enough for me though, and I made the nimrod play of Demonic Tutor for Goblin Charbelcher because I saw I had enough mana to go lethal. Instead, I got to leave three lands untapped while he cast Price of Progress for a million zillion life.

Game three I decide I have to make up for it, since Jesus Roxas (oh God, that’s his real name!) and Andy are watching me and still laughing at me for being dumb in game two. I cast a turn 2 Gifts Ungiven off Mana Crypt, holding Yawgmoth’s Will. Getting Tinker, Severance, Lotus, Academy is good enough to kill him this turn.

5-0, 10-2

Round Six: Robert Vroman with Uba Stax

This match is kind of a blur for me. The sheer rogueness of his list confused and disoriented me. Details are going to be sketchy here.

I do remember game one. He opened with land, Mox, Mana Vault, Uba Mask. I knew what the card did, but I had to read it just to double check. My hand had been reduced to complete garbage. I played some of it out, and cast Thirst for Knowledge looking for some additional mana to play. Instead I flipped over Mana Drain, Mana Drain, Force of Will. It didn’t take long for a hardcast Triskelion to take me out.

Game two on the other hand, he gets Artificer’s Intuition active, and starts digging up Tormod’s Crypt. I Slave him, and stupidly decide to use some of his resources in hand instead of making him use the Intuition so I could look at his deck and sideboarding plan. Thankfully he doesn’t get a second Tormod’s Crypt the following turn, and I kill him right then with a Belcher..

Game three he has a Bazaar of Baghdad active, and drops a Chalice at 0, making my hand of Mox, Mox, Thirst for Knowledge, Tormod’s Crypt, Tolarian Academy, Volcanic Island, and Goblin Welder much less impressive. I play the Welder, and thankfully for me he drops some artifacts in his graveyard, giving me something to Weld his Chalice in to. I swap in Citanul Flute for Chalice, not paying attention to the fact it says X, T and not 5, T. Whoops. I should play more Five Color. Anyway, I drop my hand on the table, and Thirst in to Goblin Charbelcher and Mystical Tutor. I get the Belcher online, and after he Flutes up Gorilla Shaman to turn off some of my mana, I cast Mystical Tutor looking for Mana Severance. I play Severance, and drop the Mana Vault I’d been holding back to activate the Belcher this turn and win the game.

6-0, 12-3

There is nothing in the world that’s both more comforting and more boring than drawing into the Top 8. I walked around for two hours looking for Type Four games, people who wanted to get some dinner, and interesting contention games to watch. None were to be found, so instead I flicked quarters at Jesus Roxas, and stole his dice when he wasn’t watching. Owned.

Round Seven: Intentional Draw with Thomas Lee, with Auriok Salvagers Oath

Little known fact, I hate ID’ing with people I don’t know unless I’m particularly tired. However, I consider myself to have a favorable matchup for his deck, so IDing was good for me.

6-0-1, 12-3

Round Eight: Intentional Draw with Luke Ojala, with TPS

This would have been the same, except I was tired and not entirely sure how my TPS matchup was. I hate playing against Duress.

6-0-2, 12-3

At last, the Top 8 gets called. To my dismay, Kevin Cron at 6-1-1 get shafted with the booby prize at 9th seed, but at the same time fellow New Englander (and part time New Yorker) Jeff Anand a.k.a. Samite Dealer makes the cut, and in the correct bracket to face off with me in the finals!

Make Your Time.

Top Eight: Robert Vroman, with Uba Stax

Once again, his deck pummels me game one, but this one was much closer to something I’d played against before. An early Goblin Welder resolved, which made it impossible for me to stop his Smokestack and Trinisphere. I Drained a Duplicant or Triskelion he played, and used the mana to force through some mana and draw spells, but his Chalice at 0 meant I couldn’t really ramp up any permanents to beat him. I scooped when I realized even my Goblin Welder had no chance to survive make his time.

Game two begins, and I make a poker reference because I know people eat that crap up. Me personally? I play poker once every three months, to take the money of drunken friends back from college.

Knut did a really good job of catching what happened in game two, but to recap (or if you missed it to lack of Premium or something) my opponent ruins my first turn Island and burns a Tormod’s Crypt early to keep me from Welding in my Goblin Charbelcher. Due to a first turn Ancestral, I have enough mana to set up a fairly early Gifts Ungiven, but unfortunately for Robert, I couldn’t find any cards beyond Mindslaver and Pentavus. Oh woe is me! I Slave him and he wisely decides to scoop.

Game three Robert’s mana is pretty weak, and he gives me enough time to develop a pretty thick board position, albeit it one without accompanying thick cards in hand. I Drain a Chalice of the Void at 2 and rip Pentavus off the top, and at that very moment I felt like running a victory lap. I slam the Pentavus on the table, and it goes the distance.

7-0-2, 14-4

Top Four: Thomas Lee, with Salvagers Oath

Thomas took a very long time to complete his quarterfinals match, which went to sudden death. I’m surprised he managed to take the sudden death match against Workshop Aggro playing a deck with Forbidden Orchard, but I would imagine his first turn went something like land, Mox, Pyrite Spellbomb, GG.

Game one however, is also destined to take a long time despite his claiming it would be a quick match. He manages to find both his Lotus and a Salvager pretty early, but I stop the first Salvager and the second gets Chain of Vapor’d. He wins the counter war over it the second time, but doesn’t have anything to kill me with since his hand is empty and he hasn’t found a Spellbomb or a Furnace or anything yet. I set up the Belcher kill that turn and aim at his face.

Game two he boards in a Pristine (or had it maindeck, I still don’t really know) and he both sticks Oath early and Oaths her up. I felt pretty strong since I had boarded appropriately for the conversion, but I didn’t topdeck any spells, so she went the distance.

Game three was really short. He managed to Oath once, but I had the correct circumstances to prevent his Salvager from winning this turn. On that turn, I cast Gifts Ungiven for a bunch of junk, and dropped a whole hand of mana when I untapped to cast all of it and go lethal before he untapped.

8-0-2, 16-5

Finals: Brian Demar, with Thirsty Oath

We had agreed to a prize split, which I still say is in my favor pretty heavily. Regardless, my assumption is that he and Mark Biller, his split advisor, rightly considered the matchup unfavorable, and I’m also willing to bet both were eager to go get some food and some sleep since the day had taken forever. At this moment, Ted Knutson informs us that we have to play a finals match anyway. [Well, they could have NOT played the finals and we would have simply kept their pieces of power… – Knut, not joking around]

Game one, Brian sticks his Oath and flips over an Ancient Hydra with which to burninate my absent Welders. Instead of them showing up, Gifts Ungiven showed up. Brian checks his graveyard when I play Gifts, and he realizes he flipped over a Gaea’s Blessing and didn’t shuffle, so he concedes anyway.

Game two Brian opts to not sideboard, and I board in three Red Elemental Blast and two Rushing River for five cards at random. When I flip them face up, the judge seated to my right gives me the evil eye. They were Mox Sapphire, Volcanic Island, Underground Sea, Lotus Petal, and Tinker. Ouch.

I keep a hand with Tolarian Academy and Mox Pearl, sensing good mojo. I was right, and Brainstorm dug me in to enough mana for Duress and Thirst for Knowledge on my second turn. I keep Brian’s Oath off the table, through a counter war in which I Force of Will his Oath of Druids, he Force of Wills back, and I Mana Drain his Force of Will. I play a hardcast Pentavus and proceed to turn it and some spirits sideways three times while he draws dead.

9-0-2, 18-5

For my trouble I’m awarded a Black Lotus and a championship title. For my poor planning and Andy’s automobile related curse, we’re awarded with rain while his car’s top is down. Whoops.

The seats are mostly dry by the time we get back to the car, and nothing seems to be broken that wasn’t before, so we head off to the hotel to pick up some junk we left behind. A couple hours in some bizarre 1am Chicago traffic, and we’re on 90 East, for about a million hours to get back to New England. Once again, Andy Iron Mans the trip, this time having already been awake from 7am. Ninjitsu is helpful stuff, I tell you.

It’s customary to add props and slops to reports, but I can’t think of any slops I’d like to give, since even the rain that fell in Andy’s car didn’t leave my seat wet. So here, fine people, is my props section.

  • Kevin Cron, for making the trip despite being the only Meandeck representative and for being very fun to hang out with

  • Jeff Anand, for making the Top 4 and thus putting 50% of the attending New Englanders in the Top 4

  • Jacob Orlove, for transcribing TMDers position in line via cell phone during the event

  • Justin Droba, for sharing a hotel room and some company the Friday of Ben Perry, Scott Limoges, Jim Gaffney, and Bob Yu for being good company

  • My very dear mother, who insisted I carry the random amounts of cash and free food she handed me on my way out of town

  • Starcitygames, for organizing a fantastic tournament in which I had a blast

  • Bill Dicks, Jesus Roxas, and Frankson for once again being great company

  • All my opponents for being polite and good sports

  • Dan Carp for the free Red Bull

And last, but certainly not least, the Man of Brass, Andy Probasco. Andy Iron Manned the trip both ways, created the deck I played (albeit with a mana source too few) and convinced me the day before not to play a pile at the last minute. On top of all this, he took me along promising I wouldn’t have to pay him gas money despite gas and tolls coming to well over $250. Don’t worry Andy – You’ll get your gas money.

Ben Kowal

Kowal on TheManaDrain.com

Team Short Bus

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