This article deals with a format that will no longer be played anywhere except perhaps online. If you are looking for an edge in a tournament that matters, look elsewhere. However, if you want to read my long-winded account of how I won my first PTQ in San Diego on September 13th, then by all means, continue.
It was to be the last qualifier of the season, where four of my five top 8’s have come from. I played my own version of the green/black Oversold Cemetery deck for the last month and had one near miss to show for it, along with three total failures. I still like the deck, but something had to change. It was time to roll out something new. So I decided to play one of the original decks of the format: Beasts.
Around Monday, having decided to give the deck a shot, I looked online for previous versions of the deck; I found two, both months old. For the most part thought the deck builds itself so that wasn’t so much of a problem. The only changes made from the list I started playing with were adding additional Feral Throwbacks and land, and cutting Krosan Tuskers. The sideboard developed over a week of playing the deck in the Magic Online casual room.
Here is the deck I played. It may seem like the kind of thing that would be tossed around by rookie players first getting their feel for the game,”And I don’t care if I died already, look what I can do five turns from now if I draw more mana and you stopped attacking and if you weren’t a jerk netdecker!” But compared to the sideboard, which is straight out of a draft deck, the starting set is cutting-edge technology.
4 Thoughtbound Primoc
4 Krosan Warchief
4 Canopy Crawler
4 Ravenous Baloth
3 Feral Throwback
4 Gempalm Incinerator
4 Forgotten Cave
4 Tranquil Thicket
4 Wooded Foothills
4 Contested Cliffs
4 Wirewood Savage
4 Aether Charge
3 Nantuko Vigilante
If it doesn’t look like an elegant machine to you, well… It didn’t to me either at first. I thought I would play stuff, they would Akroma’s Vengeance, and I would be left with no hand and no board. Shows what I know. Things like Wing Shards and Cruel Revival, not to mention Akroma’s Vengeance and Decree of Pain would ruin me, and I would be relegated to watching my friends.
Indeed, this was not the case, more on that later.
The deck doesn’t really seem to have a bad matchup other than Bad Form decks with land destruction boards… But that deck is so bad against most other things that I wasn’t going to worry about it. My last deck of choice had a nightmare match against Goblins. Anyone notice the ratio of Goblin decks to Form decks over the last month?
The sideboard is really strong, and you cannot imagine how fun it is to crush people with these cards. The Aether Charges are my answer to Zombie Bidding. I didn’t play one in the PTQ – but needless to say, having a Charge in play basically prevents them from doing anything with Patriarch’s Bidding without immediately dying a massive and embarrassing death. Without Noxious Ghoul and a bunch of his little friends jumping into play, they can’t really kill anything. Even if they get a Withered Wretch in play that you can’t kill, the Charge will usually let you kill them first, since a Ravenous Baloth will give you plenty of life to play with. Aether Charge turned out to be good against a lot of decks, and I ended up bringing in at least three against every deck besides the little red men.
The Savages came in against MWC and U/W control. It really isn’t fair to them. My turns ended up taking a long time, because I had to decide which guy in my hand I wanted to sacrifice to each Shards and Vengeance. If you want, you can freely tap out with a Warchief in play in order to bait them in to Wrathing. Usually, if they don’t get more than a Baloth, 6/6 Crawler, Warchief, Avarax, Primoc, and Savage, then they messed up by Wrathing too early. Perhaps you can imagine how this might be a problem for them. That is one overpowering board position. I would go so far as to say that it is unstoppable without Wrathing. Savage is so completely dominating against MWC that I would keep an opening draw of him and six land.
My strategy for playing the deck took a lot of abuse from my friends – especially my use of cycling lands. As long as I had four non-cycle lands combined in either my hand or play, then every cycling land I draw gets used to draw a card. A couple of times this left me unable to play a Throwback on turn 6 with several cyclers in the graveyard… But it doesn’t matter. The creatures you can play are so overpowering that you can afford to wait for one of the regular lands to cast it. A 5/5 Crawler, which is easy to produce, can kill any creature in the format (except a Dawn Elemental, Akroma, Angel of Wrath, or a large Kilnmouth Dragon) with a Contested Cliffs and live. And Tephraderm can take down any random guy 50/50 or smaller, except Akroma, Silver Knight, Dawn, and Silklash Spider.
So. The actual tournament. It was at the San Diego Convention Center, which is a pretty nice place although the parking cost is a bit high. There were to be six rounds of Swiss, so two losses would effectively end your day.
I started off against Peter Kvetovsky, who was playing red/white. He played out a couple of Lightning Rifts, but was short on white mana so I didn’t even have to play around Wing Shards. That sped up the process considerably, and he went down in short order.
Game 2, he had an Exalted Angel face up on turn 5. He cycled a Decree of Annihilation turn 6 to take the game – until I pointed out that it cost double red, which he didn’t have. I should have just let him have it since I lost the game anyway. Game 3 he had the Rift again, but my 5/5 Crawler and Avarax took him down rather quickly.
Always nice to get the first round over with a win.
I lost the paper with my round 2 opponent’s name – which is too bad, since he was a nice guy and we talked some throughout the rest of the day. He brought Goblins and I didn’t draw a Ravenous Baloth in the match. I thought I was going to win game 3 since he only had two cards and no creatures – but both of his cards happened to be Searing Fleshes, and when he drew enough mana I died.
I played a green/black Cemetery deck that was nothing like the one I had been playing; it had Nantuko Husks and Wirewood Heralds.
I double-mulligan in the first and second game and thought that I was going to be done competing for the day. My deck served up three Mountains and three Primocs, though, and that was enough. I didn’t cast anything else. In the third game, I kept a seven-card hard and crushed him. He had a couple Revivals for my guys, but all he had were Rotlung Reanimators and Husks, so I rolled him anyway.
…and I’m starting to feel good about my deck! Nick Gianis brought along a red/white deck. After losing the first game, I brought in Shock, four Charges, and three Stabilizers for the Starstorms and Incinerators, just like always. Those eight get boarded out constantly, but I think they still need to be maindeck.
He played a turn 3 morphed Angel, and I had my Shock. Before the finals, he found out that it was the only one I had and expressed some unhappiness at that. In the last game, I took one damage from a Wooded Foothills and one hit from an Eternal Dragon.
One more win and I can draw in… Or so I thought.
Chris Armbruster. Great.
Chris is a player I respect, and he is running black white/control with a ton of removal. Game 1 I keep a hand of Cave, Mountain, Gempalm, and some bigger stuff. I manage to get four red mana into play while he crushed me with little guys. I finally got a Forest and I was probably dead even if he didn’t have a Revival – but he did, so we started shuffling about three minutes into the round.
Game 2 is perfect. I laid a Primoc, turn 4 I dropped a Cliffs and smashed his morphed Angel. I took two damage this game, both from Foothills. The Primoc got in three hits before it was dealt with. Around this time, I played an Aether Charge, which he had to read. I think he knew what it was, but was just making sure exactly how it worked. I didn’t bother attacking for the rest of the game, and he died a few turns later.
It is very comforting when the other person is at fourteen and you have twenty points of direct damage in your hand.
I offered him the draw at this point, even though I didn’t think he would take it. Having not played much against his deck, I was afraid of his removal. He turned it down. He went back to the sideboard before game 3, probably to bring his Daru Sanctifiers back in. My big creatures took him down this game. He seemed stalled on land even though he had six or seven. I drew the first Avarax after both of our initial spell sets had been depleted, and they finished him off.
As it turned out, he was holding a pair of Decree of Pains, which might not have done him all that much good – but obviously, he would have rather had that eighth land. He said afterward that he boarded incorrectly, and he very well may have. He didn’t think he should have had Decree of Pain in there. I asked if he played Akroma and he said no.
Standings were posted and everyone went to see if they could draw. It turned out that I couldn’t – which sucked. I sat down to play and the three guys I came with pored over the list to check every possibility. Matt Demine and Zach Scales make up the current roster of Superchuckers, which is my team. (Our other member was off in St. Louis for the year.)
The other guy we came with was Danny Cahir. He is from Seattle, but I tried not to hold that against him. He sometimes mentioned this myth about water”falling from the sky and spreading around.” Everyone here knows water comes in a pipe from Colorado.
Anyway, Zach had gone undefeated again with MWC for his third top 8 this block, and the other two were out of the running. Zach would have had four top 8’s, but I made a horrendous mistake in an earlier PTQ, which changed my tiebreakers from 4-0-2 to 3-3. Since I had played him in the first round, my record caused his breakers to come up short. The word came back: Play.
This was against Michael Chip, and I felt bad because he could afford to draw. He was playing Goblins. He made a big mistake in the first game by forgetting that my 6/6 Crawler could actually block as a 12/12, so his Clickslither and sacrificial teammates died without accomplishing a whole lot. He still managed to do exactly twenty damage this game, but that wasn’t close to enough to kill me. Game 2 he drew three Siege-Gang Commanders, but I drew three Gempalms and a Cliffs, and had no trouble. I was happy to see Michael end up with the amateur prize.
The Top 8
I was 4th and Zach was 2nd, so we would not potentially play until the semis. To get there, I had to beat Mike Ndouati. He is friends with Armbruster and was playing the same deck.
Matt was keeping my life totals from this point on, so I don’t have any notes to refer to; I know that he gained twelve life from an Exalted in the first game, and that I won having taken eighteen damage and being at ten, with plenty more life of the board. This match was made easier knowing that he didn’t have Akroma, as I never had to keep Cliffs mana open on his turn.
Actually, I guess the match was also made easier by him not having a creature in his deck that was a threat to me…. Not that Akroma would change that statement.
I lost game 2 to a bunch of Exalted hits – that must be what it was, since his life total ended up at thirty, even though I did six whole damage to him. Head Games didn’t do me any favors, either.
Game 3 was kind of anticlimactic. He only drew swamps and wasn’t able to do anything. I heard afterwards that he sided out his Eternal Dragons – which seems like it was a bad decision. It’s his deck, not mine, but it seems to me that decks with the Dragons include them in their mana expectations. I took no damage and I was through to the semis. Zach had squashed a Goblin deck half an hour ago, so we would play in the top 4. The other match was MWC vs. red/white.
My last couple rounds drew most of the people interested in watching matches, probably because the beasts deck is fairly amusing to watch. Scott Gerhardt, who runs Shuffle and Cut cards, said that he first thought I was playing a Limited deck. I can’t blame him since my board consisted of Wirewood Savage, Aether Charge, and a Canopy Crawler.
Zach and I had a friendly match, even though I was pretty furious at losing the first game. We both knew that his deck was really good against most every deck in the format. We also knew that his only chance was to get at least one Dawn Elemental with a Dragon Scales on it, and fast. So game 1 on turn 6 I had 16/16 worth of Canopy Crawlers on the board; I don’t think I even did a damage to him. He played an Angel, then dropped three Scales on it at once. It hit me, and I smashed it – as my deck does to everything that is not invincible – and then he played Akroma. This particular Akroma was of the 9/12 variety. I needed a land and at another turn to kill it, which I didn’t have.
The second game was looking pretty bad for my side as well; I drew a series of Primocs with a Savage in play in order to block a Scaled Eternal every turn and stall until I got some offense working. The one Shock in the deck allowed me to finish him off a turn earlier than I would have otherwise… And I might not have been alive to see that next turn.
Game 3 was a good time for everyone who was watching, although perhaps a little frustrating. It would be fair to say that I am conservative when playing the deck, which led to me never walking into a double Wing Shards on the day… But it also led to a lot of second-guessing and not attacking. I had a Savage out early and that pretty much ended the game, even though it took a while. I enjoyed the reaction of all the spectators each time a Crawler or Throwback came down and I laid down my hand of gigantic monsters. My 13/13 Throwback got the biggest cheer and several murmurs about the unfairness of it all. Zach was a good sport about it and rode it down to the bitter end, never conceding. With a Savage in play, I actually ended up discarding when I am casting and searching for Avaraxes. He actually dealt a fair amount of damage since he did get a Dawn Elemental along with a couple of Eternal Dragons and Scales… But it didn’t matter. By Matt’s notes, it looks like I took twenty-nine damage that game.
Justin Smith won the other match with his MWC deck. He and I have played several times before – most notably in the last round day 1 of Grand Prix: LA with the winner going on to the next day. I beat him then with Dragon Roost. Sadly for him, most of the guys in this deck are bigger than those, and about as replenishable.
I don’t remember the first game other than the very end. I attacked with two guys for the win, he cycled a Decree of Justice for two tokens, and my pair of Cliffs shot them down. Game 2 was the double Dawn Elemental draw that I was afraid of facing. I had an Aether Charge in my hand but I would not have been able to race so I didn’t show it to him on the chance that he didn’t know I was playing with them. The last game of the day was a war of attrition. We traded cards more or less one-for-one, but I was drawing two a turn for most of the game, first with Savage then with Avarax, so I crushed him. In the end, I had three active Cliffs and there was no way out for him. He was gracious in defeat and wished me luck in New Orleans.
So there ends my story. If you read the whole thing, you must be one of the people who was there, or you’re really bored – but thank you for your attention. I had a great time playing Beasts – and if you play online or still play Onslaught Block with friends, give it a try,
Now I have to figure out something to play on the Pro Tour. Oh well, I actually get to go – so how can I lose? Feel free to write me if you have a question or something you want to say about the deck or the article, or any super top-secret unstoppable power decks for the new Extended format.
oarsman on magic online