Hello, everyone! It’s nice to find myself back here on Fridays, as I would occasionally find myself back in days of yore. I’ve been back at StarCityGames.com writing regularly for about a year now, and in that time it’s been a pleasure to make Magic more a part of my life again. I’ve had my fair share of PTQ Top 8s, and, as of this week, am returning to my second consecutive Constructed Pro Tour.
Man, it feels good to be alive.
I’m writing this article from the confines of my sick bed, but I hope that that doesn’t too dramatically affect my content. The doctors are telling me I have walking pneumonia, and while my fellow car-mate to this weekend’s PTQ insists that he feels better now, until I know differently, I’m going to be giving him dark glances in between coughing fits. At least he had the common courtesy to lose to me in the finals of the PTQ.
And while I am going to include a little bit of the tale of my PTQ, since I already so very recently wrote about my deck, I think that there is another tale worth telling from the PTQ that has nothing to do with my deck. It has to do with another deck, piloted by two people in the PTQ in Des Moines, Iowa, both of whom made the Top 8 handily.
This is no mean feat.
Often, if you see two people in the Top 8 with the same deck (let alone the same 75 cards), it will mean that these two people are a sample of the many more individuals who trudged their way through the swiss, but had varying levels of success. In my many years of tournaments, I can only think of a handful of examples when both (or all) people playing a deck made Top 8. I remember handing two players my copy of PT Junk to see them smash a roomful of Trix and Three-Deuce and other decks, only two meet in the finals with the same 75 cards, but nothing else comes to mind.
When this happens, it is definitely worth paying attention to. While two players are only a pair of instances, it is still incredibly compelling evidence that something pretty powerful is going on. And so, I turn to Chicagoan Rashad Miller, and his White/Green beats deck. You might know Rashad from the PTQ circuit, where he is a regular player and judge in the Chicago area. He’s also a fairly common face at the Pro Tour, again, both as a player and a judge. He’s also one of the members of Cabal Rogue. While we’re a little under the radar these days, it’s nice to see our members still making great decks.
There were a couple of strange card choices here, and so I decided to talk with Rashad about them, so that I could have them clarified. In talking with Rashad, I also learned the inspiration for his deck, the 2005 Worlds Extended list, “Phantom Menace” designed by Tim McKenna and played by Gerard Fabiano. I remembered this deck pretty well, but had noted that this deck also bore some strong similarities to an old White/Green Beats list that Rashad and I had worked on with Bryan Ramirez (formerly of Madison, now of D.C.) a few Extended seasons back. Much like Rashad’s current list, it included Chrome Mox and many other similarities, such as the incredibly potent Troll/Cloak. Rashad revised his Top 8 finishing list from a few weeks earlier, with much clearer roots to our earlier Stompy deck, and ended up with this little gem, which I’m going to call “Spirit Stompy,” though you could call it Phantom Menace if you really, really wanted to.
- 3 Tallowisp
- 4 Kami of Ancient Law
- 4 Phantom Centaur
- 4 Troll Ascetic
- 3 Saffi Eriksdotter
- 3 Tarmogoyf
- 4 Gaddock Teeg
Let’s examine the breakdown of the list before going any further. First, we have an inclusion of four-ofs that seems pretty reasonable:
4 Armadillo Cloak
4 Chrome Mox
4 Kami of Ancient Law
4 Phantom Centaur
4 Gaddock Teeg
4 Troll Ascetic
Troll and Centaur form the center of this deck’s real power, especially when backed up by an Armadillo Cloak. These creatures are really difficult to deal with, and sometimes just having one of them in play will cause such havoc for an opponent playing creatures that the game nearly ends right there. The Cloak, when placed upon a Troll or a Centaur, is an incredibly potent weapon. A Cloaked Centaur is essentially unkillable without something like Wrath of God, and a Cloaked Troll is a constant source of massive aggravation. Double-Cloaking is truly problematic for nearly every deck.
Gaddock Teeg is also present in four copies, despite his Legendary status. As I’m sure many of you know, Teeg wreaks havoc on an incredible swathe of decks and card choices. Blue/Green Tron truly struggles to play under Teeg, largely relegated to Platinum Angel and Triskelion as their only out (and without the ability to Gifts for them). Dread Returns cannot even be cast until a Teeg is removed, and Teeg keeps other combo decks held back as well.
The four Kami of Ancient Law was especially surprising to me, especially in light of only three Tarmogoyf, until I spoke with Rashad. The Kami’s versatility is truly impressive, both as a means to trigger Tallowisp, but as an answer to huge amounts of cards in the format, from Destructive Flow, to Threads of Disloyalty, to Counterbalance, to all of Enduring Ideal. I’m still not one hundred percent sold on a full package of four of them, but at least three makes sense to me.
Four Chrome Mox instead of the Bird/Elf plan of McKenna goes back to the hope that you’ll be putting on such a fast beatdown that you won’t miss the card you lose to the Mox. I remember with the earlier Stompy absolutely loving my Chrome Moxen, though the speed the Mox afforded me sometimes was still not fast enough to handle certain decks. Thankfully, those holes are largely shored up by four Gaddock Teeg. I do recall at least two games where either Rashad or Rusty put down an incredibly fast monster on the backs of the Moxen. My favorite had to be Rusty dropping two Mox on turn 2, emptying his hand of everything but a Treetop Village and Cloak, and dropping a Phantom Centaur. On the next turn, he Cloaked up and dropped the Village, and his opponent just packed it up. Awesome!
Next we get to the three-ofs, one of the more hard to justify numbers in a deck:
3 Otherworldly Journey
3 Saffi Eriksdotter
Worship and Saffi are both less surprising for me as three-ofs in the deck. Worship can be a hard lock against many decks, but at the same time, completely and utterly dead in other matchups. Running four of them might increase your chances against a deck like Affinity or Goblins (which largely would have to rely on discard to get rid of it), but there is a real possibility that you wouldn’t get much return for it. Saffi is best when it is protecting Gaddock Teeg, and as a supporter in that role, running three makes a bit of sense to me.
In the “t” section of the decklist, though, I was a bit surprised by only three Tarmogoyf and Tallowisp. Rashad quickly explained that choice to my satisfaction. “In this deck, an early Tarmogoyf is your most likely card to be imprinted on a Mox. He’s likely to be an 0/1 or 1/2 most of the time, and that isn’t good enough. Tallowisp is a three-of for similar reasons. You never actually want to have a second one. Just getting the first one out there and finding a Griffin Guide or Armadillo Cloak or two is all you need it to do. The second one just slows you down.” Okay. Sold! But what about the Otherworldly Journey?
In Rashad’s experience, they were great. They managed to serve as a kind of faux-Disenchant, taking out Threads just long enough to matter, or Platinum Angel just long enough to matter. They were a way to get Teeg out of play long enough to play Worship (a trick I saw more than once at the PTQ). Sometimes they merely served as a kind of counterspell to a creature elimination spell, or a means to trigger Tallowisp to find a useful enchantment. Sometimes, it was a way of reclaiming a stolen creature, regardless of what stole it, even Sower! The most important thing, though, was how difficult it could make killing Teeg.
His sideboard was filled with largely straight up answers to specific problems.
Pyroclasm was an answer to one of the deck’s most difficult matchups, Goblins, as well as a means to get rid of unwanted weenies in a creature war. Tormod’s Crypt is a fast and effective card for dealing with Dredge. Ancient Grudge was the reason that Rashad went with Red, providing him both one of the most powerful anti-Affinity cards, but also a means to answer cards like Vedalken Shackles, the odd Isochron Scepter, and Pithing Needle from Dredge (on Crypt). Pithing Needle was a kind of catch-all answer to anything that might not be abundantly obvious. As a one-cast, it is incredibly quick, but it can preemptively shut off Deed, Shackles, Plating, and any number of other problematic cards. The three Orim’s Chant were a last minute inclusion to deal with the potentially problematic TEPS matchup. Between Teeg and Saffi, siding in Chant became yet another way to disrupt them, and I know that he and his friend both got good use out of them all day at the tourney.
Their combined record in the Swiss was 12-1-3, with Rashad holding strong as the clear number one seed.
According to Rashad the deck has no real unwinnable matchups, though Goblins and Affinity can be somewhat rough, largely because of their ability to simply win through and Armadillo Cloak. “Goblins can swarm you, and Affinity has Plating. I had double Cloak going, and I still lost to Goblins because he had so much damage.”
RDW, Zoo, Ideal, and Blue/Green Tron he considers close to being byes. Most of the other matches, he feels are somewhat advantageous, largely because they are so slow. The Blue decks tend to rely so much on their creature stealing powers, that they are often just a little bit behind, and a Troll can simply be too much for them. Rock decks are often slow in getting up their own answers, and again, Troll is especially problematic, particularly if it is flying in with Griffin Guide.
“The Moxes are like little Time Walks. I just need to kill them before the card loss catches up to me.”
Great work, Rashad. I imagine you’ll be plugging away, ready to stomp all over anyone unready for you this coming weekend.
I know that as I watched the deck play, I felt like it was probably the best deck in the room. Rashad largely scoffed at that, feeling that it is impossible to be a “best deck” in this format. In general, I agree with him, but there really was something impressive going on with this deck. While I wouldn’t want to be playing it in a roomful of Goblins, I’d be happy to be playing it pretty much any other time.
Until next week, game on! See you in Hollywood!
Special Bonus Mini-Tourney Report!
I played Miser Rock again. Bennie Smith also played the deck, and he was excited to playtest it more and play it again soon. Please talk him out of putting in Dodecapod versus Death Cloud, though (Pssst… Bennie, it doesn’t work).
The sideboard is actually 17 cards. It can include up to 2 Darkblast, 2 Damnation, and 1 Gigapege. Choose three of those five that best suits the metagame. And, Bennie, don’t cut the Spiritmonger!
I wouldn’t change a card.
155 players, 8 rounds of Swiss, run by Moy Events in Des Moines, Iowa.
Round 1 — Red/Green beats
I win in two quick games, largely on the back of Wishing for Goyf to slow him down, and then popping a Deed to keep his men down. I followed up with Baloths for the win, dropping to four life in one game, but largely in great shape.
1-0 / 2-0
Round 2 — Sam Black with Blue/Green Tron
I know this to be a very good matchup, but Sam is definitely getting the better of me. He’s playing fairly slowly, and I ask him to speed up when we have over thirty minutes left, but it isn’t enough time. We draw in the third game. One of his later round opponents put it well: “You don’t take too much time on any decision, but you sure manage to take time on every decision.” They also drew, and ended up both not making Top 8.
1-0-1 / 3-1-1
Round 3 — Death Cloud
We go to three games. He gets a very early table advantage in the first game, and just holds onto it. In the second and third games, my Flows keep him off of the big mana, and I Extirpate Cloud to keep him off of that card’s crippling power. (It probably is the only card I truly fear in his deck.) Further Extirpates knock away his Divining Top, and I mop him up with Baloths and Witnesses.
2-0-1 / 5-2-1
Round 4 — Zoo with Vindicate
In both games, I get no lower than 13, with Wish for Tarmogoyf, combined with Flow holding him back hugely. This match ended very quickly.
3-0-1 / 7-2-1
Round 5 — White/Green Beats with Vindicate
This deck is much like Rashad’s, but added in Black for creature removal and Vindicate. Much like the previous Zoo match, he managed to get my life down, but without a means to burn me to my face, when he knocked me to four, he didn’t have a way to recover. I slow him down with Wish for Goyf in the second game, and Deed several times to maintain control.
4-0-1 / 9-2-1
Round 6 — Dryad/Charge
This is one of the best aggressive matchups for me. Relying as heavily as they do on both the Dryad and Charge makes my creature elimination all the more potent, and their deck is really weak under Flow. I drop to 10 in game 2, but pretty easily mop him up in two games.
5-0-1 / 11-2-1
Round 7 — Rashad with Spirit Stompy
I’m close both games in this match, but he really does annihilate me something fierce. In one game I stumble on mana, and for an aggressive deck, his is particularly well suited to taking me down when I do.
5-1-1 / 11-4-1
Round 8 — Jeff with “Previous” Level Blue
Testing had proved that this was a particularly good matchup when played correctly. The deck has very few finishers, and his was even more prone to mine, since he was running Smother over Threads for the first game. My Extirpate knocks out Tarmogoyf in the first game, and a second one knocks out his countermagic, as well as shuffling away a Top. It’s much the same in the second game, except for I also take out Shackles.
6-1-1 / 13-4-1
2 Spirit Stompy
1 Rock with Vindicate
1 Previous Level Blue
1 Miser Rock
1 cross between Miser Rock and Cedric Phillip’s Aggro-Flow deck (Constantine, the deck’s pilot, said he had been inspired by my article. Yay!)
Three Madison players! Yay!
Tied at 9th, Zoo with Vindicate.
Quarterfinals — Christian with TEPS
A Flow spooks him in Game 1, though he manages to go off. Flow plus Deed knocks out all of his mana in Game 2, and in Game 3, he tries to go off sooner than he probably should because I’m threatening a Flow on the next turn. He fails to go off, and I drop the Flow. A few turns later, he scoops.
7-1-1 / 15-5-1
Semi-finals — Rusty Kubis with Spirit Stompy
We go to three games, and he gets me down, every game, to the lowest life totals (1, 3, and 1). I win two of those games, largely, I think, based on slight miscalculations by Rusty. He picks up the middle game, where I make my own mistake (though I’m sure I would have lost anyway). These were real squeakers, and it was a great match of Magic.
8-1-1 / 17-6-1
Finals — Ben Rasmussen playing The Rock (with Vindicate)
Ben has been a friend from Madison for a long while, and we had worked on his deck the night before. We both wanted to go to Hollywood, so we’ll have to duke it out. I’d recommended a few tweaks, and knowing the composition of his decklist, I knew that it would be vulnerable to Flow, but that he would have access to good weapons against me. In both games, the Flow keeps his mana down. In the first game, I end up with a Genesis in the yard, and it largely gets the job done (though I did have to Putrefy my own Witness to get back a Duress to knock out a potentially game winning Profane Command from his hand). In the next game, I put out the beats, dropping an early Gigapede that I sided in (I didn’t plan on Wishing for it, but it still seemed like a great card in the matchup), joining a Baloth and Goyf. He has access to a Deed, but not enough time to solve all of the problems, so he folds.
9-1-1 / 19-6-1
All told, a great tourney. I hope you enjoyed this mini-tourney report.
See you next week!
R.I.P. Gary Gygax, co-inventor of D&D. My life would be so much different without you…