Still Working on my Mental Game – Grand Prix: Charlotte *10th*

Star Wars Kid checks in with tales of his most recent adventures, including money finishes at two recent Grand Prix and detailed analysis of some of his more subtle mistakes at recent premier events.

Things are going pretty well in the world of Magic for me right now. After making the Top 4 of Pro Tour: Los Angeles I followed that up with an impressive *ahem* 32nd place finish at Grand Prix: Philadelphia. Oh yeah, Legacy, impressed? Even though I missed going to Worlds this year due to school, the fact that I live in Richmond means that not only can I practically see the tournament site for Grand Prix: Richmond from my dorm room window, but that Grand Prix: Charlotte was also reasonably close. Backyard Magic tournaments are fantastic.

Since the Grand Prix was Extended, I figured I might as well play the deck I played in LA since I felt I knew it pretty well and there had been no time or desire to test after the latest tech from the European and Asian GPs and Worlds. I had no clue what the metagame was shaping up to be. Was CAL a good or bad matchup for Desire? What about “that Ichorid deck”? I hadn’t a clue. The one thing that was nice about the deck I was trying to run was that it can often play games where it doesn’t matter what your opponent is running – in almost every matchup your opponent presents some kind of a clock and the cards you need to play around become apparent. For the record this is the list I ran:

This would normally be where I would list all my card choices and reasons for including them along with their purpose. However, I feel I did more than enough of that in my last two articles, the list I played had the exact same maindeck I said talked about in my article, which is the list I ran in LA except -1 Echoing Truth and +1 Rampant Growth. After the Grand Prix I can say I honestly feel that the list is exactly where it needs to be as far as a maindeck. Every game one loss I can think of comes from keeping something like a two-land, mana acceleration hand that never managed to get a fourth land into play in order to bring the draw spells online. Even though nobody playing Desire managed to make Top 8 I still believe the deck is very good and should definitely be looked at as a competitor in the current Extended format. I lost one round on Day 1 to probably the best matchup the deck has (the G/W beat down deck with Armadillo Cloaks and basically no disruption) and then screwed myself with a needless draw that very likely ended up costing me a shot at Top 8. On the bright side I did better than I expected in the tournament (with absolutely no practice since the PT I felt like I would be too far behind the rest of the players in terms of understanding the format and what cards to play around in each matchup.), and my friend, Lawrence Creech, managed to Top 32 with the exact same deck as me, though finished just outside of qualifying for Honolulu at 17th place on breakers.

The only things I think that even need to be looked at for changing in the deck are the three sideboard slots currently taken up by Compost. I ended up Wishing for every single instant in my sideboard and all of them are definitely needed in the current metagame. I was just uncomfortable with the fact that I had no way to deck my opponent other than the single maindeck Deep Analysis. If I flashed it back, I was completely dead to a Krosan Reclamation or any other card that can prevent someone from decking. Also it meant that I actually just died to any deck playing Lava Darts if they got me below four life. Luckily those situations never came up, but I was not used to feeling vulnerable when playing this deck. I had taken out the Stifle, Memory Lapse, and Words of Wisdom at the advice of Gabe Walls and replaced them with Composts (for the Ichorid matchup) as he suggested. No sooner had I removed my answers from the sideboard that Gabe ended up removing a Compost for a Muddle the Mixture… thanks Gabe. I got him back though, he was looking for on my thoughts on how the deck had changed since the PT, he was sorely disappointed when he found out I had absolutely no clue about anything.

I’m not saying that there doesn’t need to be anything for the Friggorid matchup, just that I’m not sure Compost is the best card. From what I’ve seen, the match doesn’t seem to favor either player entirely, but that it can be somewhat draw dependent and the play skill of each player can make a big difference. Their deck is a bit less consistent than yours, and if they don’t get the dredge engine going on turn 2, then they are way too far behind. The Desire player needs to be afraid of Psycatog the most from the Ichorid player – in that deck, Tog seems like it should usually kill you the turn after they play it. The Ichorids will most likely be a bit slower themselves, giving you more time to rip something off the top of your deck (they will strip your hand most likely before you get to the four mana needed to cast the good Blue spells, which is what turns the match up probably more in their favor) and Zombie Infestation and its tokens don’t seem that threatening, other than just being a discard outlet. They run into the danger of having to mill too many cards from their deck in order to generate enough graveyard fuel to kill and disrupt you so that if you draw into a Moment’s Peace, you may only needed to fire off a Brain freeze with the storm count at two or three to win if you are able to stall a bit.

As I mentioned though, a turn 2 or 3 Tog will probably kill you unless you get pretty lucky. Since you will have no hand, it will come down to whether or not in the one or two draw steps you get whether you hit any action. This is why Compost is in the board. Of course if they don’t naturally draw a discard spell, you could be in a little better shape as it will take them a bit longer to get rid of your hand and if you are on the play, dropping it on turn 2 seems like it should be almost game if they don’t have the Ray immediately. I’ve been trying to figure out a way to stall against this deck without compromising your game plan too much or taking up too many card slots. The thing is, Compost is kind of slow if they get a fast enough draw and they always board in Ray of Revelation, which can just knock it out of commission before it even does anything. What can’t they deal with? Well artifacts I guess, but nothing springs to mind right away. Isochron Scepter, Caltrops, Sensei’s Diving Top, and Ensnaring Bridge could potentially shine in certain scenarios but ultimately seem too narrow or slow or too likely to be dead draws. Compost is probably the best card to board in, but it will be interesting to see if anything else becomes apparent as a better sideboard card.

As it stands I still don’t really know the best way to sideboard for the matchup. I was taking out 3 Mind’s Desires, leaving one in the deck to Gifts for since you don’t need a high storm count to mill them out. I was also taking out 2 Nostalgic Dreams, since you probably won’t have many cards to pitch to them so they will most likely only be good when (as with Desire), you’re casting a Gifts Ungiven. I was then bringing 1 Moment’s Peace, 3 Compost, and 1 Brain Freeze. Brain Freeze can mill them out if you happen to get lucky with some fogs, as they will probably need to keep the dredging up in order to generate enough fuel to feed their Ichorids or Togs or whatever. It also has the benefit of acting as a cheap draw spell should you get a Compost out. As always, if you get desperate, it can dig for that important Moment’s Peace to live another turn and try to topdeck.

As I said, I haven’t tested against the Ichorid deck quite enough to comfortably voice any strong opinions on the matchup, but against that deck (probably more than any other), how you mulligan is going to have a huge impact on how the game plays out. If your opponent has even an average draw, they should be able to shred your hand of Blue spells before you get to the important four mana point, so having a hand with a good amount of lands, land searchers, and no duplicate cards (to make Therapy not as painful) is what you want ideally. If you have a high amount of mana sources, you reduce the effectiveness of their discard spells simply by not having many good targets for them. The less Blue cards you see initially, the more of them that are left in the deck to topdeck for the win. Finally, having a high amount of mana sources allows you to be able to effectively use any cards you manage to rip as the game progresses.

There really isn’t much to say about Day 1 of the Grand Prix, I beat one G/W Cloak, a U/B Tog, a Rock with Watchwolves and Vindicates, and a U/G Heartbeat deck without Desires. My only loss, as I mentioned before, was to a second G/W Cloak deck, which probably needs some elaboration as to how this happened. Game one he played some guys like Troll Ascetic and Phantom Centaur and maybe an Armadillo Cloak or Jitte, I cast a Moment’s Peace and had no problem comboing off in time. For some reason I can’t remember game two, but I think it involved a mulligan or two and either failing to get the right mana into play or having to fire off a Desire for four or five that didn’t yield anything. In game three I stumbled a bit but had Moment’s Peace in order to buy the necessary time. I fizzled with a Desire for five but had the kill next turn thanks to a Gifts Ungiven snagged off of a free Fact or Fiction, provided he didn’t have anything. He drew a Chalice of the Void and set it at two, which stopped not only any Moment’s Peaces to buy me time but also the ability to win the game on my turn because I could no longer Gift for Nostalgic Dreams/Revive plus the win. Oof!

Sometimes it's the subtle mistakes that get ya.

These things happen though and I think I made at least one misplay in keeping a hand that I shouldn’t have in this match. I also learned an important lesson about how to board against decks that probably have Chalice of the Void in them, a card that seems like it may be seeing more play. I had boarded in Chain of Vapor to deal with the problematic artifact and left Naturalize in the sideboard. My logic was that Chain of Vapor could randomly act as a lifesaver by bouncing a lethal creature if there was no Chalice out, while a Naturalize is basically a dead card against anything but the Chalice. The problem lies not in situations where the Chalice doesn’t show, but in situations it does. The Chalice player only has two real options to set the Chalice at: two or three. If you bring in Chain of Vapor while leaving the Naturalize in the board to Wish for, and they set the Chalice at two, you are forced into having to draw your single copy of Chain or probably just lose. Because the Chalice shuts down all your Regrowth effects, you can’t just Gifts Ungiven for Revive/Dreams/Chain/X as they will happily give you both the spells you can’t cast and get rid of your only real out. You also can’t do anything with a Cunning Wish because the only removal/bounce spell left in your board costs two mana. Not a good situation to be in. If you have Naturalize in your deck instead of Chain, suddenly you only have four Cunning Wishes (to get Chain of Vapor) to draw instead of just the one Chain you would have had, much better odds. If your opponent sets the Chalice at three your Cunning Wishes are neutralized anyway, but your Regrowth effects are still worth something, allowing you to be able to Gifts for Revive/Dreams/Nostalgic Dream/X and have a definite way to remove the problematic artifact. If your opponent manages to get down both a Chalice on two and three before you can win or respond with a Wish for the Chain… well you probably weren’t going to win that one anyway.

Round one of Day 2, I get paired against my first Ichorid deck of the tournament, played by Shawn Magner. Shawn had to mulligan a lot during the match. In fact, his draws were so bad that he didn’t even manage to actually dredge until the turn before I killed him game two. When your opponent basically draws as poorly as possible there really isn’t much to go over. In game 2 I was presented with the opportunity to attack for the first time in a while on turn 4 or so with my Sakura-Tribe Elder, Shawn was at 10 and it was awfully tempting. Ultimately I decided I would just feel too dirty attacking and passed the turn with Sakura untapped. Shawn untapped and sheepishly played an Ichorid, letting the silly snake block. Boy, did I feel smart!

The Sheriff rides a pale horse.

Round two of the day was probably the most important round of the tournament and showcases that not all mistakes are necessary completely skill related. It seems that usually once per tournament I will make an out of game mistake that directly changes the course of a match and often the tournament. This is something that I really need to get better at, and I’m still trying to learn from all of my mistakes. It usually has something to do with me not appealing to the head judge, misreading the play clock, or generally not knowing when to scoop game one or two in order to finish the next game(s) in time.

This round I get paired against a mono-Green beatdown deck with Chalices of the Void. Game one, things go about as they are expected – his deck doesn’t have much in the way of disruption other than Chalices and Scrabbling Claws and without a real way to kill me fast enough, I combo off without any real difficulty, but he makes me shuffle after each Desire. This is where I made my mistake.

For those who don’t know, even though the card Mind’s Desire says to shuffle before you remove the top card of your deck from the game (thus meaning each copy says to shuffle before removing the top card) it is not actually required to shuffle between each copy so long as you shuffle once initially. The reason is, if your deck is sufficiently randomized, then flipping over eight cards in a row on a Desire for eight is no more or less random than flipping over one card at a time, shuffling between each flip. The only reason you would need to reshuffle between copies would be if there was a response after a card was revealed that changed the order of the cards in your library. So basically all that shuffling between each copy does is run down the clock, increasing the likelihood of a draw. If I had just called a judge, he would have explained that shuffling for each copy is not only not required, but also discouraged by judges. Instead I didn’t even think about it and ate precious minutes from the clock.

In game two I mulligan to five and have to settle with a Desire for three on turn 5 or so with no cards in hand but lots of mana up in order to try and beat a Chalice that was likely to be about to come out of his hand. I hit all lands and land searchers and have to pass it back. I have Moment’s Peace to buy some more time and draw Brain Freeze and another Desire before he gets out a Chalice on three with lethal on the board. I draw a Cunning Wish the next turn, which was a turn late. I cast the Wish and it gets countered by Void, then I Brain Freeze myself looking for flashback spells to cast but find none and then play the Desire for three, still shuffling between each copy. It turns up a land and a Revive first, meaning that anything that puts a card into my hand wins me the game as I have plenty of mana open and can Revive a Nostalgic Dreams and cast the Dreams for at least one, targeting the Desire. I whiff and hit another land and see that the clock only has two and a half minutes left. I quickly shuffle up as I can still win potentially as long as time isn’t called on the very first turn of the game. My opponent however isn’t shuffling, he is filling out the slip. I tell him that there is still two minutes on the clock and that we should start the third game. Now obviously his deck can’t possibly win in this time so he takes the opportunity to go through his sideboard some more and finally starts to pile shuffle his deck.

I get basically the perfect opening hand – it has everything to basically guarantee a turn four kill. He studies his hand and then decides to mulligan, and starts to pile shuffle again as time is called. It is a draw at this point unless I get really lucky and draw the exact cards I need on turns 3 and 5 of extra time. I don’t and the game is a draw. With just a few more seconds I would have easily taken the match as his mulligan only yielded a turn 1 elf and a turn 2 featuring three different Scrabbling Claws. Really, it’s all my fault for not calling over a judge and making it so I didn’t have to shuffle for each of my Desires, which took away enough time to cause the match to draw.

So instead of being 9-1 with only four rounds to go I am a sketchy 8-1-1. The draw was little better than a loss for either of us as we could still only afford to lose one more round if we hoped to make Top 8. I would have to go either 3-1 or 3-0-1 in the next four rounds.

The next round I get paired against Boros and have a typical game one in which my deck comes up with the kill a turn faster than his deck can. Game two I keep a risky hand but draw just what I need in order to go off on turn 4 at seven life when he has three cards in hand and two Mountains and a Plains open with a Goblin Legionnaire in play. At this point I am really regretting my decision of not having a way of dealing with Lava Dart, as if he has any burn in his hand I am dead. I make the only play I can which is to hope that he has drawn two Lava Darts and therefore doesn’t have the mana to cast both and sacrifice the Legionnaire. This plan also means I cannot cast the Heartbeat of Spring in my hand, as it would give him enough mana in this situation to kill me even if he was unlucky enough to have drawn two of the three Darts. So I have to make the pathetic series of plays where I Revive and Wish for Early Harvests that generate zero mana just to pump up my storm count. I cast a big Desire and flip over another Harvest in order to go off now that I’m tapped out. My gambit paid off as he had actually boarded his Lava Darts out for some reason, but had a hand of two Lightning Helix, meaning he would have killed me immediately had I played the Heartbeat at anytime during the game.

Round 12 I play against Tooth and Nail. I keep a Forest, Island, Heartbeat, and gas hand. By turn 4 I am discarding and never get a third land into play and he gets out a Sundering Titan, which quickly ends any hope of recovering from my stumble. Game two I make an outright misplay of not playing around a Seedtime and casting Gifts at the end of his third turn. I was familiar with Kyle Goodman Tooth list, which did not include Seedtime, and I figured he was just playing Kyle’s deck from the PTQ the week before. Even still, there was no actual reason to cast the Gifts at the end of his turn. There was nothing he could do on his third turn that would change what I Gifted for, there was no reason not to play around Seedtime anyway. He has the Seedtime and it turns out Time Walk is pretty good in Tooth and Nail and it catches him up enough to Tooth for Kiki-Jiki and Titan the turn before I go off.

Round 13 I play against Antonino Derosa. I mulligan into a pretty awesome hand of two land, a Sakura, Cunning Wish, and Gifts Ungiven, but never draw a third land to get going. He has no early hand disruption and actually just kills me on turn 6 or so with just Ichorids. Game 2 he casts all three copies of Duress in his deck by turn 2 and has the turn 3 Psychatog with his dredge engine fully online and my hand completely empty. I get lucky and rip a Moment’s Peace to by me a few turns but I don’t draw anything relevant to overcome the initial pounding my hand took as Flashbacked Therapies mop up the rest.

Round 14 I play against Sol Malka playing the Rock and am no longer playing for Top 8 but for Top 16. Game one he doesn’t have any hand disruption at all but has a Withered Wretch. The Wretch isn’t enough though and I am able to combo off with my undisturbed hand by turn 5.

Game two he has Duress, Cabal Therapy, Withered Wretch and Living Wish for Eternal Witness to get the Therapy back. I cast the Heartbeat in my hand before he can take it, but he is able to discard my hand except for lands and remove my graveyard. He gets a second Wretch out there and I am on a three-turn clock with no hand. The first turn I draw a land, but on the second I luck out and rip a Gifts Ungiven. Since he has Withered Wretch out with lots of mana open I can’t just Gifts for the win, so I pass back the turn to him and hope he doesn’t draw anything relevant and hope I top deck something on my next turn, which would also be my last.

He draws a Baloth and casts it so a Sakura won’t buy me an extra turn, should I draw one. I cross my fingers and draw…Cunning Wish. I’m such a luck sack. I Gifts for Mind’s Desire, Fact or Fiction, Deep Analysis, and Early Harvest. I get the Harvest and the Analysis. I cast and Flashback the Analysis finding two land, a Moment’s Peace, and a useless Nostalgic Dreams. I wish for Fact or Fiction, which yields Early Harvest, Desire, Revive, Brain Freeze and a land. He puts the Desire with the land as I only have five mana up and have already played a land. I think about scooping, as the best I can do is cast a Nostalgic Dreams for five, keeping the Harvest back for the needed mana. This plan won’t work as he has two lands and a Bird of Paradise open, which lets him remove exactly five cards from the game.

My only hope is to cast Revive targeting an Early Harvest in my graveyard and hope he taps a land to remove it from the game, then I can declare my attack phase and he will have to use the remaining mana to eat one of the six relevant Blue spells in my yard. This would leave him with only a land and a Bird open, meaning my Nostalgic Dreams for four cards would be just enough to keep me going. I go for it and he indeed taps a land to remove the Harvest from the game. I cast the Dreams targeting Fact or Fiction, Fact or Fiction, Gifts, Mind’s Desire. He correctly allows me to get a Fact or Fiction, which reveals four meaningless cards and a Desire. At this point I have an empty hand and cast a Desire for a mighty ten cards with a pretty thin deck. The first eight cards reveal seven lands/land searchers and a Nostalgic Dreams. After all this luck sacking and tricky play, it’s sick to think I lose by fizzling on a Desire this big. My deck however, shows that it still loves me and the last two cards are the final Fact or Fictions in the deck which put cards in my hand to be discarded to a huge Nostalgic Dreams that wins the game for me.

So I end up in 10th place when all is said and done, which I am definitely happy about considering I had not really prepared at all for the tournament. I was just a bit disappointed with myself at the way I screwed up on Day 2 by getting the unnecessary draw. After I had gotten paired with a good matchup in round 10 at 9-1, I thought I had a good shot at making my very first Grand Prix Top 8, but I’m certainly not going to frown at two pro points and $500. Also the final standings have me listed as being an amateur so I’m really crossing my fingers on that extra $400. Hey, I can dream can’t I?

Even though the current Extended season is over, I definitely think Desire is a tier one deck in the format as is and that if you think it’s the kind of deck you like to play that you test it often, it is most certainly a deck that rewards preparation… or as it often seems, luck.