Suicidal Tendencies – Grand Prix: Philadelphia *2nd*

The man on the Meddling Mage takes you behind the scenes on the deck development for his B/W homebrew at Philadelphia and then details the story of yet another Grand Prix second place finish.

[It’s been a little while since the Meddling Mage himself actually wrote anything, so in case you aren’t familiar with this Hall of Fame nominee’s resume, he got Mike Flores to write an introduction that should fill you in (Chris’s awful taste in music is even included as a bonus). – Knut]

Chris Pikula was one of my early heroes in Magic: the Gathering. I kind of barned Worth Wollpert while getting my feet wet in the larger competitive landscape, and Worth was (in his pre-Deadguy days) quite eager to get into that fun loving and largely successful circle of American teams (do the math). Chris made Top 8 at the Pro Tour immediately prior to my first, then ran the back-to-back at Dallas 1996. He was always cocky, sure of himself, and hilarious. Chris’s wit and charisma bought him a commentator’s seat for the ESPN broadcasts and the Pro Tour booth, which made him even more of a magnetic personality.

I couldn’t care less about the actual Magic accomplishments, but you probably do. The first time I ever played in a Grand Prix, Chris stood in my way in the second-to-last round of Day 1. No, he wouldn’t draw into Day 2 with me. Even though I beat him 2-0 and eventually ended the day on 14-0, it was Pikula who lost in the finals of D.C. 1999, his second consecutive Grand Prix Finals that year. A lot of people bandy Darwin Kastle’s name around regarding longevity… But what about the bespectacled vegetarian Medding Mage? First Top 8: Atlanta in 1996; most recent (and hopefully not last) Top 8: Seattle, July 2004; more in-between.

To me, Chris Pikula is most important as a mentor. I can vividly recall trying to interview Chris for The Duelist at a time when I thought my last Pro Tour was behind me, only to have the eventual Meddling Mage steer the conversation to convincing me to attend a snow day “make up” PTQ in faraway Detroit, Michigan. After that eventual win, it was a marathon road trip playtest session at the legendary CMU where Chris drove because his car had a CD player (and my Sarah McLachlan discs were stuffed into a murder of broken jewel cases in his trunk in favor of the Conan: the Barbarian soundtrack and general “shouting”); had I not been pushed to go, I would probably have quit Magic. Most recently Chris has taken players like young Josh Ravitz under his wing, elevating his game and others’ to top GP and PT finishes nearly a decade after the dawn of his own first Tour.

You can’t imagine how happy I was to see my friend succeed at this most recent event. I mean excepting the fact that he’s a choke artist in a Grand Prix Finals, Chris’s longevity, humor, integrity, and, yes, SKILL make him an asset to the Magic community and an ideal candidate for the Magic Pro Tour Hall of Fame. Let’s just hope those pesky balloteers get it right this time.

The Report

I don’t really recall the timeline of these events, but at some point I became aware of the following:

1) Type 1.5 was overhauled and became the Legacy format.

2) There were going to be GPs using the format, and one would be in Philadelphia.

3) Dark Confidant was being printed.

Once I knew that all these were true, my first instinct was to build a deck that had the following cards:

Dark Confidant

Hypnotic Specter

Hymn to Tourach




That was the core of my plan. I was also pretty certain the deck should contain Dark Ritual, although I was open to the idea that maybe Chrome Mox or Mox Diamond was better.

I feel like I should explain why this was my first instinct on what deck to build. It wasn’t because I thought the deck would be amazing (although I suspected it could be). The deck is really just a combination of the various love affairs I’ve had in my Magic lifetime. The first serious deck I ever built (over 10 years ago) was a landkill deck with Nether Void. Back then when you built a deck, that was your deck. You played it every day. In every tourney. There weren’t any other formats. I tuned the deck for months and months. I recall different changes in the deck as being real signs of me getting better as a Magic player. The day I finally traded for City of Brass, I remember thinking “man, was I really so bad before that I thought the one damage mattered?” I’ve wanted to play land destruction in every format since, but sadly it isn’t viable very often.

The other obvious influence on the deck are the Necrodecks of Black Summer. Just about every old-school gamer has fond memories of that era. My personal Necropotence highlight was Pro Tour: Dallas, where I made the Top 4 with a B/r Necrodeck that was influenced by a PTQ deck Bob Albright piloted against me in Iowa City, Iowa (unless my memory of the location is failing me). This is a pure tangent, but that weekend in Iowa City was a truly great Magic weekend, and I’m sure other people still remember it. There was a PTQ and a Type I tourney, and tons of people showed up. In the semi-finals of the Type I, Matt Place triple-Gloomed me but still cast Balance with me and about 50 spectators watching. Savage cheats! I don’t think he meant to cheat me, though. He just forgot he had White spells in his deck. Anyway, enough of that tangent. The point is, I love landkill, and I love Necropotence.

I knew I wanted a second color, and I decided White was the best fit. Disenchant and Swords to Plowshares are excellent cards to have access to, but Vindicate was the real gem. Vindicate is obviously great on its own, and I think it has always been underplayed. Desert Twister for three is pretty good. When coupled with Sinkholes and Wastelands, Vindicate gets a whole new dimension as well. Now you can just randomly win games through total mana denial. Vindicate became part of what I considered to be the core of the deck. Into the first build, I added Phyrexian Scuta, Swords to Plowshares, and Night’s Whisper to and proxied it up. I also built a U/R Flamevault deck and a Landstill deck and got ready for some testing. At no point did I build Goblins.

The playtesting of the deck consisted of 3 or 4 shortish sessions, and then one mock tourney where someone else piloted my deck in my absence. Scutas became Shades pretty quickly. Night’s Whisper became a two-of. After losing some long drawn out games against Landstill, I changed the main deck Swords to Plowshares to Cursed Scrolls, realizing that I needed creature control which doubled as a threat. At some point I added one Tainted Field. I changed the last 2 Swords to Plowshares to Funeral Charms for the mock tourney. My deck went 4-0 beating Reanimator, Goblins, and 2 combo decks, but the feedback was that Funeral Charm stunk. I just decided to make the Charms 2 maindeck Engineered Plague. If I was only going to have 2 dedicated anti-creature spells main deck, I thought they should be high-impact. Overall, the deck seemed very strong against combo, good against control, and basically unknown against aggro. I felt the disruption alone would make the aggro matchups decent, especially because many aggro decks cheat on land a bit these days. To be fair though, my deck was largely untested against aggro decks. My Magic intuition told me the matchups would be fine, and I trusted myself.

When Friday finally rolled around, I lost all faith in the deck. I’m notoriously pessimistic just before a tourney, and I’ve thrown away at least two good decks just before a Pro Tour by making a stupid audible based more on paranoia than testing. Nobody else had any faith in my deck either. Everyone I showed it to thought I was crazy, and a couple people seemed to really think the deck was awful. I’ve never had such negative reactions. I got a “I can’t believe this guy thinks he is good at Magic” vibe from a few people. Lots of mage hating. Tony Tsai kept me on track though, and prevented me from making a last minute audible to the Flores RDW. Flores also helped out with my deck Friday night, and helped me realize that turning the last 2 Whispers into Gerrard’s Verdict was the right move. I wish I had listened to him more about my sideboard – my 2 Negators mostly just took up space.

So this is the deck I registered:

10 Swamp

4 Bloodstained Mire ( I played these rather than Polluted Delta, because against Tog I thought I might Needle Delta on turn 1 sometimes)

4 Wasteland

1 Tainted Field

4 Scrubland[/author]“][author name="Scrubland"]Scrubland[/author]

4 Dark Ritual

4 Dark Confidant

4 Hypnotic Specter

3 Nantuko Shade

4 Duress

4 Hymn to Tourach

2 Gerrard’s Verdict

4 Sinkhole

4 Vindicate

2 Cursed Scroll

2 Engineered Plague


2 Swords to Plowshares (I would sideboard 4 of these now)

2 Darkblast (These are good I think)

4 Withered Wretch (These were brought in almost every match, both for their ability but also just as a warm body)

2 Phyrexian Negator (Almost useless, good against combo but not worth the spot)

3 Pithing Needle (I struggled with the Needle vs. Seal of Cleansing decision, went with what was easier to cast and good against Togs and Time Vault)

2 Engineered Plague (obviously needed)

I’d clean up the board by getting rid of the 2 Negators and making them Swords to Plowshares. I would also try to find a way to squeeze 2 Wretches into the main deck which would free up some board room.

On to the tourney!

I thought I only had one bye, but I had two! This let me go to the mall and get lunch with Chris Manning and Nick Neary. Nick thought my deck was atrocious, but Manning was a believer. So I’ll call lunch a 2-1 win.

Round 3 against Alex Koren with Goblins

Alex is playing Goblins, but he is an inexperienced player and very young. He doesn’t know what Cursed Scroll is when I cast it. This, however, does not prevent him from winning game 1. I’m encouraged because I had a bad draw but still likely would have won if I had peeled a Plague late in the game. Game 2 I get first turn Specter, 2nd turn Shade, 3rd turn Specter, 4th turn Specter and I win without a Plague. Game 3 I believe I get turn 3 Plague after Darkblasting or Plowing a Lackey on turn 1 and go on to win easily. My sideboarding for this match was to take out all the discard for 4 Wretch, 2 Plague, 2 StP and 2 Darkblast. Later in the tourney I started taking out Sinkholes and leaving in Hymns.

The high cost of being famous.

Round 4 against Robert Cuellari with some sort of Gro

I had just signed Robert’s Meddling Mages in between rounds, so it was strange to get paired against him. I don’t recall game 1 at all, so I must have destroyed all his lands. Game 2 he gets out two of those Green dudes who keep getting bigger (Vinelasher Kudzu), and he gets out a Meddling Mage on Vindicate. Luckily I draw a StP and get rid of myself and have 2 Vindicates for the fatties when I’m low on life. I get a Hyppie and a Shade out, and the huge Shade seals the deal. This match felt easy, but in reality if I don’t draw a Swords I just get crushed game 2.

Round 5 against Chris Ripple playing Goblins

Game 1 my opening draw is Swamp, Ritual, Specter, Plague and 3 other cards drawing first. He plays first turn Lackey, so my first turn Plague destroys him. I feel bad because I slowrolled the Plague, but I had drawn a second Ritual and I was honestly trying to decide if I wanted to burn both on the first turn or if I should hold back one. I don’t recall what my two-mana spell was going to be. I won game 2 easily if I remember right.

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Round 6 vs Ray Tautic playing Flamevault with Stasis

This is a feature match, and the table judge asks which one of us is Chris when he has to place the name tags up on the feature match board. Ouch. This match was featured on the online coverage as well, so I’ll be brief. Game 1 I think I’m going to win through land kill and a first turn shade, but he beats me with Stasis. Game 2 and 3 I disrupt him badly and get out a Needle on Time Vault and they seemed like easy wins. Ray really seemed to do me a favor by countering first turn Dark Rituals with Force of Will. I guess I can understand why he would think this is a good play, but in reality it just let me cast first turn synthetic “hymn”, second turn Hymn, third turn Hymn.

Round 7 vs Antonino De Rosa playing Landstill with Enlightened Tutor

This is the first match where I’m worried, because there is no way I’m better than this guy at Magic right now. Game 1 I disrupt him badly early, but he stabilizes. I’ve Duressed him and I know he has Wrath of God in hand and another card. I have five mana and I cast a Cursed Scroll which goes through. Then I cast Nantuko Shade, and he Brainstorms in response. After he resolves the Brainstorm he Tutors and I say “is this all in response to the Shade?” and he says “No, the Shade resolved”. For some reason he forgot what was going on and thought it was the end of my turn. He tutors up Pithing Needle, so I decide the up points from the Shade every turn isn’t going to get the job done so I cast a second Shade because he needs to draw a White mana source to successfully Wrath. It turns out when he brainstormed/tutored he shuffled the Wrath away and kept Swords to Plowshares. So he Plows one Shade and Needles my Scroll. I get one good beat in with the Shade but he draws another StP. Then I topdeck the last Shade and it kills him. Game 2 I simply destroy all his land that makes anything but colorless mana.

Round 8 vs Gerrard Fabiano playing GR beats

This match was also covered online. I won game 1, and then lost game 2 mostly to Grim Lavamancer. I boarded in a couple Wretches for game 2 but they were useless so I just took them out for Game 3. Game 3 featured some savage bad luck on my part with Cursed Scroll, and then a final couple turns where both of us play badly. Gerrard waits until my turn to Wasteland for no reason, but then my poor understanding of the rules and general confusion lead me to think that his play was not bad enough to lose the game for him. It was. Luckily, I finally hit a 50/50 with a Cursed Scroll and win a game that almost slipped away. There were tons of spectators watching this match, and everyone seemed excited when I won to go to 8-0. Two little kids ran up and had me sign their Meddling Mages. It was a nice little moment.

Saturday night the six of us who work for Susquehanna International Group (myself, Bryan Manolakas, Chris Manning, Jamie Parke, Nick Neary and Robert Dixon) ate dinner at a place called Rock Bottom. I have no idea why you would name your place Rock Bottom, but it was fun to say Rock Bottom a lot. Nobody else had any GP success, despite Mano and Parke having a cool build of B/R Flamevault.

Round 9 vs Sean Colgan playing U/B/R Standstill/Burn/Weenie

This guy’s deck was way more homebrew than mine. He had some really great ideas in there, but also some that weren’t optimal. His deck had:

Grim Lavamancer

Cloud of Faeries

Dark Confidant

Mishra’s Factory

Lightning Bolt


Lava Spike

Chain Lightning



Engineered Plague

and possibly some gas I’m forgetting. Lava Spikes and Chain Lightning seem like they would be better as Shock and Incinerate. I’m also not sold on the Cloud of Faeries.

Game 1 I win pretty easily because I get out the first Dark Confidant and it wins me the game. I think Sean Chain Lightning’d me on turn 1, if he had held it back I probably lose this game. Game 2 I destroy everything he plays and his whole hand plus many lands, but I can’t find a threat. Then he gets down Engineered Plague on Shades and Humans. It is very unfortunate that Grim Lavamancer is a Wizard, but Dark Confidant is a Human Wizard. I had Darkblast going, so his Confidants were already dead. He just burns me out this game before I find a way to win. One more interesting thing about this game: at one point Sean uses a Flooded Strand, grabs a basic Mountain, and starts shuffling. I point out that he can’t get Mountain with a Strand, and he grabs a different land. I think if I just let him shuffle and untap and draw, and then say “hey, you can’t get a Mountain with a Strand!” he would probably get a game loss. What do most people do here? Do all the top pros try to get the game win there? It seems unethical to me, but it is unfortunate that being honest can put you in a spot where you lose a match that someone else would win. Anyway, it felt right to tell him, so I did. No point in trying to come back to Magic and win games cheaply. Game 3 he just basically burns me out with dorks and bolts, but I still win the game easily if I ever draw Cursed Scroll. Standstill was really awful for me in both games I lost. So I go to 8-1.

Round 10 vs Tom Smart playing Goblins

I admit it. I completely savaged this guy. Game 1 I knew he was playing Goblins, so I kept a first turn Specter draw because that is better than a random six-card hand. He played first and played a Lackey. I peeled Plague right off the top. Game 2 I got a Plague down turn 3 and had a Darkblast as well, but he drew lots of Piledrivers and Ringleaders and I started losing anyway. Twice when I dredged Darkblast the card I was going to draw was Engineered Plague. Eventually, I was at three with nothing in my hand and he had out Piledriver and 2 Ringleaders. I tried to get lucky and drew Swords to Plowshares. I Plowed the Piledriver and he attacked me down to 1. My next draw was the last Engineered Plague in my deck and right after that I drew Nantuko Shade and ended the game in one turn. How lucky!

Round 11 vs Jeff Rabovsky playing Goblins

Jeff seemed like an inexperienced player, so I kept a draw game 1 that I might not normally keep against Goblins because I had lands and a Cursed Scroll. I was rewarded because Jeff kept a slow draw, and I won the game by taking control with the Scroll. Game 2 I lose to Disenchant when he takes out a Plague. I could have Hymned first, but if he cast a hasty goblin I would have taken a ton of damage and could have easily lost even with the Plague out. Game 3 I don’t remember, but I think I just drew my Plagues and won.

Round 12 vs Pasquale Ruggiero playing W/R Lightning Rift

I had no idea if this was a good matchup or not. I suspected I could attack one color mana and force him to play his cycling lands and then hurt him with Wasteland. Game 1 I double Hymn on turn 2 and he never really recovers. Game 2 is similar. Neither of these games were close. One interesting thing about this match is that I sideboarded out 2 Dark Rituals, because they just weren’t very important here.

At this point I’m 11-1 and I’m 100% in with a draw, so I just want to draw for 2 rounds and take a break.

Round 13 I convince Nassim Ketita and his Ill Gotten Gains deck to draw with me. It is a bad matchup for him, and he seemed more concerned with qualifying than he did with making the Top 8. The draw was perfect for him because it basically guaranteed him top 16.

Round 14 I draw with Sonne because there is no reason to play.

So I finished the swiss 11-1-2, 9-1 in matches I actually played.

My Top 8 matches are covered already online. The threshold deck destroyed me game 1, but he really did himself in games 2 and 3. Game 2 he kept a hand of Forest, Goose, Needle, 2 FOW and 2 Blue card drawers. Seems crazy against a deck with 4 sinkholes. I never drew a landkill but he never drew a second land. Game 3 he basically did exactly what I needed him to do. He got greedy and threw away 2 lands to the Verdict, and then I just took out the rest of his land.

Games 1 and 3 against the Rift deck were just like our first match – I won them easily. Game 3 I threw a Shade out there knowing it would die to Pyroclasm because I had Specter in hand. I’m not sure if that was a mistake or not. It worked out though. Game 2 I never got any threats out there and got smashed in a long game.

Sonne beat me game 1, but I beat him game 2 easily without Plague. Game 3 has been discussed in the forums. I had only one land, but I knew he had the Patron in hand due to his body language. I thought I had to Darkblast to try and buy a couple turns, but it might have been a mistake to dredge. I’ve talked to a few good players who agreed that their first instinct is to dredge as well, but it could just be a mistake. Dredging or not, I’m not likely to win the game against a Patron.

Overall I’m very happy. It was a bummer to lose my third Grand Prix finals, but I lost to a world class player and I was piloting a deck that I made myself that was dismissed by basically everyone who plays the format. Here are a bunch of random thoughts and observations about the deck:

The Cursed Scrolls were really good. I had never actually played a game with the deck after I put the Scrolls in, so during the tourney I was really impressed with my inclusion of them. I pat myself on the back a few times. I really can’t imagine the deck without Scroll now. I’m guessing some people will try Jitte in its place, but the deck only has 11 guys and they aren’t that hard to kill.

This is not a deck you can really judge based on how matchups look “on paper.” Disruption is difficult to quantify on paper. It is really easy to just replace Sinkholes with something else, but it is not easy to guess how that might affect the deck.

The lack of Cabal Therapy is a shame, because that card is very powerful. But, I didn’t play it for 2 reasons. 1) I don’t have enough guys 2) I had no idea what anyone would be playing. I’m sure I would have whiffed a lot. I obviously considered playing these in the Gerrard’s Verdict slot. However, because I felt my deck had a poor matchup against burn deck, the Verdicts would be better. Also, I wanted to give people a shot to bury themselves by discarding land.

I still think the deck needs the Shades despite how much I like the Wretch. The way the games play out often leaves my opponent with very little land and no cards, and I have one or two threats out. If I can end the game in 2 turns with a Shade rather than four turns, that is two cards they never draw. Also, I sometimes need to end the game quickly because Confidant pain starts to hurt. Finally, they are great against burn and I need whatever I can against a deck with a lot of Bolts. My other 8 threats can’t live through a Shock.

I think it is really cool how the deck is built around the double-roles that so many of the cards serve. Confidant is a card drawer and a threat. Scroll is creature kill and a threat. Specter is disruption and a threat. Vindicate can be disruption or reactive. Wasteland lets me play 23 lands and not feel flooded when I draw too many. The deck just doesn’t work if I had to play spells that were less versatile.

One final note, I may not be able to attend Pro Tour Honolulu. I just want the Hall of Fame voters to know this is not because I don’t love Magic enough. It is because my wife and I have a baby due in February, and it might be too soon for me to ditch my family for a long weekend at that point. My wife and I are currently in negotiations…