The Beautiful Struggle: It’s All Good in Virginia

Before the tournament Saturday, Mark Young was debating between two decks, Critical Kudzu and something rather rogue and not completely tested. His foolish friends convinced him to run the rogue deck and it landed Mark smack dab in the middle of his first Virginia States Top 8. What deck did he play? Why Greater Good Combo, of course!

Yeah, I changed my bio. The old one was just awful, I admit it. “Dedicated Spike”? What was I thinking? I have no excuse. Let’s just move on.

My attempts at original deck design for States weren’t working out. Experiments with Weathered Wayfarer and Life From the Loam didn’t test too well, White Aggro was too inconsistent even if I added Red as in Mr. Editor Man’s deck, and my combo decks couldn’t beat aggro or control. Since I live in DC, I can play in any States I like; teammate Rick Rust lives in VA, so I usually travel down to Richmond with him. I had no idea what decks were good and was pretty sure I would be simply copying my decklist off of the Net.

Not only was I netdecking, but when the United States Postal Service decided to jerk me around on some cards I ordered from SCG, the only netdeck I could manage to build was Mike Flores‘ Super Agnostic Kudzu Deck. I had come up with the nice tech of Muddle the Mixture, to hard-cast against Gifts Ungiven or transmute for Jitte/Kudzu/Remand, but I was not convinced it was enough.

Fortunately, Justin Simpson was playing at Friday Night Magic the day before States. Simpson, an innovative deckbuilder who earlier this year missed Day 2 of GP: Boston on tiebreakers, ran a Greater Good deck to a first-place finish. I didn’t have his list or sideboard, but as he combo’d out repeatedly, I saw him draw enough of his deck that I got plenty of inspiration.

I was hesitant about playing the deck, even though I liked it. I had never tested it before. It didn’t look strong against countermagic, and I knew that reigning Virginia State Champion Shaheen “Shawn” Soorani and his crew usually preferred to counter target spell (actually, Shawn ran a four-color Greater Good deck himself, more on that later). At least I had some testing with the Kudzu deck, and some idea of what to expect when I played it.

However, Rick and Teddy Cardgame both said that I should go rogue. Although the deck was not really my design, it was a lot closer to original work than anything else I was planning, and it would be a ton of fun. In the end, this advice won out, and I gamed with the following list in Richmond:

4 Sakura-Tribe Elder

4 Kodama’s Reach

4 Dimir House Guard

4 Wrath of God

4 Sickening Shoal

4 Kagemaro, First to Suffer

4 Yosei, the Morning Star

4 Goryo’s Vengeance

3 Footsteps of the Goryo

2 Greater Good

3 Temple Garden

3 Overgrown Tomb

8 Forest

5 Swamp

4 Plains


4 Faith’s Fetters

4 Seed Spark

4 Cranial Extraction

2 Boseiju, who Shelters All

1 Nightmare Void

The goal of the deck is pretty obvious: get Yosei into play to be sacrificed for the Greater Good, either by hard-casting or by reanimation spell. Since you get to see six cards deeper (five off the Greater Good and one for the Yosei Time Walk), you’ll usually be able to start a stream of hasty Yosei the following turn via Goryo’s Vengeance, at which point the win is academic.

The only fly in the ointment comes when that first Yosei sacrifice leads to a whiff, i.e., when you don’t get any reanimation spells or extra copies of Yosei, so you can’t get him back into play the following turn. The whiff is a low-probability event, but it can happen: in seven matches of tournament play and one Top 8 match, it happened to me in one game.

Dimir House Guard is terrific in this deck. You don’t have Gifts Ungiven, but you can easily race the Gifts decks because you have the ability to tutor for your key combo part and most of your sideboard cards. In a pinch, you can hard-cast the House Guard to get a Bazaar of Baghdad effect via Greater Good, or use the House Guard’s other ability to sacrifice Yosei. On one occasion at States, I even attacked into a Meloku-bearing opponent with the House Guard; Fear, baby!

Virginia States was a long tournament, so I’ll try to give the quickest and dirtiest breakdown as I can of how things went. Most names have been omitted to protect the innocent.

Round 1: Mono-Black Control

He tried to Disembowel a Sakura-Tribe Elder. He was running Sensei’s Divining Top without any shuffle effects. Still, he might have had a chance in game two with the three copies of Cranial Extraction he boarded in … except he kept a one-land hand. I won, 2-0.

Round 2: White/Green Beats

Teddy Card Game said this was one of his favorite local players. He actually steamrolled me in game one with early beats followed by Jitte + Vitu-Ghazi tokens, plus he had the news on Faith’s Fetters also. However, I was able to manage my use of Wrath, Faith’s Fetters, or Seed Spark in games two and three, and I locked him down. I won, 2-1.

Round 3: Four-Color Good Stuff

He was playing all of the cards you might expect to see in a Gifts or Heartbeat of Spring deck – Godo, Tatsumasa, Black and White Myojin, Yosei, Ink-Eyes – but he wasn’t running Gifts or Heartbeat. I locked him out easily in game one when he tapped low for Godo, but when I put Faith’s Fetters on Tatsumasa in game two he had Seed Spark for the win.

In game three I resolved a quick 5/5 Kagemaro, and could have played Greater Good for a big burst of card-drawing, but my mana was not such that I could win on the same turn, and if he had Seed Spark again then I would have been blown out. I decided to wait, but he answered with a channeled Ghost-Lit Stalker, destroying me. To add insult to injury, I was concentrating so hard on which cards I needed to keep in hand after the Stalker resolved, that I forgot to use Kagemaro to clear his Loxodon Hierarch off the board. Ink-Eyes was hiding behind the elephant and I was crushed in embarrassing fashion, 1-2.

It’s really hard to keep your mental game together after such a terrible blunder. On many occasions my entire tournament performance has been undone by a single mistake and subsequent collapse; it happened at GP: Boston, for example. One thing that becoming a writer has done for me is help sharpen my mental game in that way: “if I let that one f—up turn my whole tournament bad,” I thought, “I’ll have to write a whole article which reminds me of how much I suck.” I tried to get myself under control as I sat down for the next round.

Round 4: Black/Green Beats

As long as he doesn’t get turn 2 Hypnotic Specter I should be okay; even if he does I have outs with Shoal or Wrath. In fact he couldn’t get his Hyppies down until turn 3 in both games, at which point they were Wrathed away and followed by Greater Good lockdown. I don’t even know what he boarded in against me; if it was Naturalize, Cranial X or some other Greater Good hate, he never drew it. I won 2-0.

Round 5: G/R/w Land Denial with Wildfire

When he went turn 2 Stone Rain in game one and answered my Sakura-Tribe Elder with Thoughts of Ruin, I was pretty sure my tournament was about to end. However he was light on creature removal, so in game two I used unspliced-upon Footsteps to recur my Tribe Elders, accelerating into a quick Kagemaro and Yosei. He had a hard time dealing with the Wildfire-proof legends and we went to game three. He had turn 3 Caryatid and turn 4 Thoughts of Ruin; however, after the Thoughts I had three land in hand and he had only one. He didn’t draw out of it until I had Cranially Extracted twice and got Yosei and Greater Good on the table.

When he missed his second land drop after the Thoughts in game three, I have to admit I exulted, “Ah, sweet justice! The LD deck is mana screwed!” Which might have been a jerk thing to do. But if he’s going to run like 20 land destruction spells, he has to expect some of that kind of talk, right? At least my mana denial involves a two-card combo and some difficult decisions to get there. I won, 2-1.

Round Six: U/W/R Control

Again, I thought my tournament was over, because countermagic is not so great for me. However he was counter-light, either because of his ugly mana base or because he wanted to be, so I simply developed my mana and ran him out of counters by walking copies of Yosei and Kagemaro into them. I held back Greater Good for when he tapped low for a win condition; after Meloku turned up, I locked him down soon afterward.

In game two I drew Boseiju early, turning his sideboard tech of Quash into dead weight. I didn’t even need Greater Good this game; I simply spliced Goryo’s Vengeance for a 5/5 Kagemaro repeatedly. He made it even easier for me by forgetting to gain life with his Firemane Angel several times. I won, 2-0.

Round Seven: Boros

I was expecting a really tough matchup; instead I got an opponent who scooped a turn early in game one, seemingly unaware that he could gain life with his Jitte. Between drawing normally and Transmuting, I drew all four Faith’s Fetters in game two; having already locked down his creatures and a Jitte, I put the final Fetters on one of my own lands, just to gain the life and put me out of double-Char range. I won, 2-0.

Round Eight: Intentional Draw

Top 8: Brian with U/W/g Ninjas

I had thought he was just White Aggro, which I should destroy as easily as in round seven. However, he was actually playing a Ninja deck with Hinder and Mana Leak, which is a nightmare for me. Afterward, Jim Ferriaolo suggested that I had just about zero chance of winning this match, and I could not do anything but agree.

I have no idea what the Green in his deck was for – Watchwolf, maybe? – because he didn’t need it. Simply countering my Wraths and using Consuming Vortex on my Yosei was more than enough. He even boarded in Kami of Ancient Law to ensure that I was never beating him in the history of the universe.

Plus, I have to admit that I went a little on tilt in this match. At one point, someone walked up to my right shoulder and asked, “What game is it, Brian?” I answered, “Game one.” The guy retorted, “Is your name Brian?” in a tone of voice which suggested that I had just gotten it on with his mother. But she was a good-lookin’ older woman, you gotta give me that. Anyway, I had him leave the Top 8 area because he was being a punk, but I felt a little more pressure to win the match, so that the punk doesn’t think that his behavior is somehow justified by my losing. It probably had a negative effect on my game.

Of course, as I said before, there was virtually zero chance of my beating the ninja deck anyway. He stalled on one land for a couple turns in game two and it didn’t even matter; he started drawing Islands and my spells stopped resolving. I lost, 0-2. Brian went on to beat Shawn Soorani in the finals.

So, Top 8 with a deck that I had built less than 10 hours before the tournament started; that ain’t bad. Of course, it doesn’t mean that the deck is perfect. If I had the deck to build again – or if you want to run it on your local scene – here are some suggestions I would make:

1) Cut Sickening Shoal.

The Shoal is a great card, and I killed a Hokori or two with it at States, but on many occasions I felt constrained in my sideboarding because I had to have sufficient Black cards to power it up. The arcane-ness of the Shoal was never an issue all day; although I did splice Vengeance onto a Shoal a few times, in every case I had another Arcane spell in hand anyway (drawing five cards for the Greater Good will help you with that). I think that Last Gasp is equally good against White Aggro, while Putrefy also deserves consideration because it blows away Jitte.

2) At least one copy of Kagemaro should be cut for Kokusho.

On more than one occasion I was worried that opponents playing Black cards would Cranially Extract Yosei, leaving me hard-pressed to win. Kokusho should definitely be in the deck, to give yourself outs in this situation. You cut a copy of Kagemaro, because the deck empties its hand occasionally to accelerate into its Dragons; you might even go down to two Kagemaro to include a second copy of the Evening Star.

3) That Nightmare Void in the board did me no good whatsoever.

I thought being able to tutor for it with House Guard might be good enough, but against slow decks I wanted Cranial X instead. Gifts is pretty invulnerable to Nightmare Void anyway, with their recursion engine so Void is simply a bullet for mono-Blue, where Boseiju is a good enough weapon.

4) Hunted Troll?

I considered him, because he can be transmuted for and nets you five cards when he gives himself up for the Greater Good. However, I expected so much White Aggro at States that I was reluctant to give my opponents fliers, lest I run into a Glorious Anthem or Jitte. Maybe he replaces that copy of Nightmare Void in the sideboard, for Gifts and other slow matchups.

So here is the list I would run next time:

Until next time, I’d just like to thank the following people again for their contributions: Rick Rust, Justin Simpson, Richard Feldman, Pete Hoefling, Jim Ferriaolo, and Ted Knutson.

This article written while listening to Game Two of the World Series.

mmyoungster at aim dot com

mmyoungster on AIM