The Beautiful Struggle – The Mockvitational: Conclusion, and What it Means for Standard

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So, when last we met I was 2-5 in the Mockvitational and about to play four rounds of Standard. The interesting thing is that three of my remaining four opponents — Christian Calcano, Asher Hecht, and Gabe Carlton-Barnes — were 1-2-3 in the standings at that point. So much like baseball’s Washington Nationals, I would get a chance to spoil the dreams of some New Yorkers in October. Calcano was even wearing a Mets jersey, it was just too perfect. I would also have to play Mike Flores, who was my main competition for the ignominious last-place finish…

So, when last we met I was 2-5 in the Mockvitational and about to play four rounds of Standard. The interesting thing is that three of my remaining four opponents – Christian Calcano, Asher Hecht, and Gabe Carlton-Barnes – were 1-2-3 in the standings at that point. So much like baseball’s Washington Nationals, I would get a chance to spoil the dreams of some New Yorkers in October. Calcano was even wearing a Mets jersey, it was just too perfect. I would also have to play Mike Flores, who was my main competition for the ignominious last-place finish.

Here is my deck, complete with sideboard. We’ll discuss the changes that need to be made to it a little later in the article.

Round 8: Gabe Carlton-Barnes

Gabe was playing an update of the G/R/W deck from Time Spiral Block Constructed, with Fiery Justice and Kavu Predator and such. In game 1 I burned down some of his creatures and attacked with an army of tokens. He got back into the game with two copies of Griffin Guide on a (non-threshold) Mystic Enforcer, but I was able to swarm him and Incinerate the face to take the game. My recall of game 2 is pretty sketchy, but I think he just blew me out with Kavu Predator and lifegain effects.

In game 3 I kept a pretty poor hand with Mogg Fanatic and some burn. Gabe had a powerful draw, with a stream of Thornscape Apprentices playing the Flametongue Kavu role against the creatures I later drew, while a pair of Call of the Herd tokens smashed me. I lost the match.

Round 9: Mike Flores

Mike was playing his U/B Haakon-Nameless Inversion deck that first appeared at the end of this article. He got me in game 1 with that combo; I had a Boggart Shenanigans to get some damage in and keep the game close, but Mike got me with Triskelavus. I was getting pretty frustrated by this point, for a lot of reasons. I was frustrated because I thought my draws against Luis in our draft match had been pretty poor and that I could easily have won. I was frustrated because I had taken Dead/Gone out of my sideboard, and Gabe had beaten me with a large number of cards that are blown out by the Gone half (Griffin Guide, Call of the Herd, Kavu Predator). I was frustrated because I was headed to a last-place finish in the Mockvitational, and some forum wiseass had offered odds that I would finish last, and I hate the smug self-superiority that is granted by Internet anonymity, which is why my name is my MTGO handle, and…

… Well, I was frustrated. If you listen to the podcast I even drop an F-bomb at one point, for which I will now profusely apologize to BDM and Matt Wang. I really needed a win here.

In game 2 I got off to a hot start, but Mike’s Damnation left me without much gas. Eventually I had a Molten Disaster, but I was short one mana of being able to Disaster Mike out with kicker (he was at five, and I had seven mana). I needed kicker because Mike had showed me Urborg, so I had to be concerned about a Tendrils of Corruption – in retrospect, I don’t even know if Mike had Tendrils in his deck or sideboard. The first topdeck where I needed a land, I ripped Thoughtseize instead. I thought this was spectacular because I would get Mike to discard whatever anti-Disaster trick he had, and then Disaster him without kicker next turn.

Mike put paid to that plan by showing me two copies of Flashfreeze! I made him discard one of them, but I would still need to topdeck a land to Split Second around his counterspell. Mike attacked with his Triskelavus and then went into the tank. I had no clue what he was considering, until finally he played Haakon from the graveyard, saying, “I hope you don’t have Molten Disaster.” I drew, and… not a land. Embarrassingly, I did not realize that I had the win nonetheless, because I had forgotten about Haakon’s “deal 2 damage to controller when he dies” ability. Eventually, I just ran the Disaster with kicker and X=4, hoping to topdeck a burn spell to end the game, and Mike pointed out to me that he was dead due to Haakon.

In game 3, Mike stalled on three land and a couple of Mind Stones, but he might have still been in it because he drew two Damnations and a Flashfreeze. However, I had drawn two copies of Thoughtseize. One Thoughtseize got the Flashfreeze, and the second one got Mike’s second Damnation, after he had already played the first one. Then I played a Siege-Gang Commander, which was more than enough against Mike’s mana-light position.

Round 10. Christian Calcano

Calcano has been playing U/B Teachings forever, and he saw no reason to deviate here. I was a little surprised, asking, “Teachings? In a Gaddock Teeg format?” Calcano shrugged; it was certainly true that no one was playing the Kithkin Advisor in this tournament, so he was safe there. I got Calcano in two games, but the odd thing is that they weren’t remotely close – I barely remember any details. I think that I stuck Wort after a Damnation in game 1, and in game 2 I just drew a few creatures and DI burn spells, eventually dropping a kicked Molten Disaster on his head.

Round 11: Asher Hecht

Asher was playing Red/Green Sadin. For those of you who still aren’t familiar with what makes Steve Sadin’s Red/Green deck from last year different from all of the other R/G decks you might encounter, a Sadin-style deck features:

20-22 lands
12-16 burn spells
4 Greater Gargadon
At least 8 more one-drops (Asher, for instance, had Mogg Fanatic, Martyr of Ashes, and Magus of the Scroll, although I don’t think he had four copies of each)
4 copies each of Mogg War Marshal, Keldon Marauders, and Tarmogoyf
Tarmogoyf is the only Green creature (well, Asher had Treetop Village too)

If your R/G deck has Llanowar Elves, Troll Ascetic, or Loxodon Warhammer, it’s not a Sadin-style deck. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – Ascetic/Warhammer actually seems like a decent way to beat Sadin.dec – I’m just pointing this out so that everyone knows what sort of deck I am talking about.

In game 1 I mulliganed into a two-Graven Cairns hand. I decided to keep – part of the reason I ran 25 lands is for situations like that – but I didn’t get there and Asher quickly steamrolled me. In game 2 we both drew two copies of Mogg War Marshal, but I drew more burn and Siege-Gang Commander. The Siege-Gang never lived to see an untap step, but the tokens just swarmed Asher.

In game 3 Asher had three Gargadons, a War Marshal, and a Tarmogoyf, but his only lands were a Horizon Canopy and a Karplusan Forest, so his own lands did a job putting me back in the game. Asher had one big turn where he put a Gargadon into play, used a Martyr of Ashes for X=3 to blow away my tokens, and swung for nine. Fortunately, I ripped my first Black source and dropped Shriekmaw on the Gargadon. Asher emptied his hand to try and keep the pressure on, but then I summoned Wort, who stuck around for a few turns as Asher did not draw any burn. I regrew War Marshal after War Marshal before losing Wort to an Incinerate, but the damage was done. I swarmed Asher with tokens, not even needing the Molten Disaster in my hand.

So, I went 3-1 in the standard portion, and the interesting thing is that I don’t even think the first version of the deck is that good. Here are the thoughts I came away with:

1) Wort is ridiculous. You should not have taken that statement for granted as soon as you saw Wort or as soon as you saw my decklist. As both Flores and Zvi have said, by spending four or more mana you should be doing something to win the game. Siege-Gang Commander, for instance, delivers up to 13 damage if you are allowed to attack with him even once. Compared to that, it might not seem like an Oversold Cemetery on a stick is very hot, especially since that ability is a little slow.

However, one of the things that these matches revealed to me is that from the opposing player’s point of view, Wort must die immediately. If this deck gets to return even so much as one War Marshal or Tarfire, it’s a surprisingly big edge. Add to that the 3/3 evasive body, and it becomes clear that Wort gets quickly out of hand. I was happy to play against Asher, because I wanted to test my “make a large army of tokens and chump-block opposing Tarmogoyfs and Gargadons” strategy against a good player; so far, so good.

2) Greater Gargadon much? I just out-thought myself a little bit with the first version of the deck. I wanted all the Goblins that were fit to print, and Greater Gargadon is not a Goblin, so I tried to make like I could do without him. Man, when I read it now, that sounds pretty freaking stupid. Of course you want Gargadons in the deck, considering all of the times I just wrote, “I swarmed X with tokens.”

3) Boggart Shenanigans is not so good. “I don’t see this card as anything but an inefficient mess despite seeing it in play at the Mockvitational,” wrote Zvi in his LiveJournal. As always, Zvi is right.

I knew from the start that the wording on Shenanigans specifically does not count creature tokens [Are you sure? – Craig]. I thought it might still be good enough with the backing power of Molten Disaster, but that turns out not to be true. Also, additional copies of Shenanigans actually decrease in value, since you won’t always topdeck them with a lot of creature cards in play. You actually get a lot more value by putting four copies of Rift Bolt in these slots.

4) The jury is still out on Molten Disaster. In some spots it has proved to be an absolutely busted card, a slightly more expensive Demonfire that can also dig you out of a hole against other aggro decks. However, against those very same aggro decks I would often want to sideboard them out. I absolutely didn’t want to topdeck them in positions where I was far enough behind that taking X damage would put me in range of opposing burn.

5) The Ghitu Encampments were nice, but… no. The thing is, your plan (cheap Red creatures and Molten Disaster) is already good against control decks. The Encampment is a little bit overkill and you can get mana-screwed if your opponent has Slaughter Pact or whatever else. I bashed Calcano in both games with the Encampment, for instance, but in either case a Molten Slagheap would have served a similar purpose by preparing for a giant Molten Disaster. The only card in Calcano’s deck that could stop the Slagheap was Venser, Shaper Savant; he had plenty of removal to nail the Encampment, he just didn’t draw it during those two duels.

Against aggro, you will actually never want to activate the Encampment, since he has a large target on his chest reading, “Drop your Tarfire here.” Since you are playing the control role against other aggro decks, you will want to out-mana them. Thus, even if you read your opponent for no burn spell, you won’t want to activate if there’s even a tiny risk of three-toughness creatures blocking.

So I started my rebuild with the idea of a transformative board against U/B and other control decks, bringing in four copies of Molten Disaster and four Molten Slagheap and simply aiming to Split Second the opponent out. However, as soon as I looked at a draft decklist for that idea, I was irresistibly tempted by having storage lands and Molten Disaster back in the main deck. So I rebuilt again to this:

The Nantuko Husks in the main deck and the Detritivores in the sideboard are experimental slots; I could always fill them with obvious cards like Keldon Marauders. Indeed, I have Keldon Marauders in the board to replace the Husk against Blue decks, the matchup where the Marauders did their best work for me during TSP Block season. It may even turn out that Mad Auntie is better in that Nantuko Husk slot, although to be honest I doubt it. Troll Ascetic and Masticore are the only two creatures I have ever regenerated in all of my Constructed matches.

So why would you want to play this deck over an R/G build with Tarmogoyf? Well, in designing it I wanted to trump all of the other Red decks. Even in the last year of Standard, there’s a long history of this practice. Patrick Sullivan first went up to twenty burn spells last spring, to trump all of the Gruul decks online that ran only Seal of Fire and Char. PSulli had Gargadons in his sideboard, so Sadin upped the ante by moving Greater Gargadon into his maindeck and using Mogg War Marshal, who hadn’t previously been thought good enough to make the cut for Standard.

I would like to up the ante still further – not only do I have Gargadons, but I make more tokens than your typical Sadin deck and I can recur my goblins from the bin. Of course, I pay a price in my early game by doing this, because you can’t run Wort out there on turn 4 against most Red mirrors and expect that she’ll see the next turn alive. With this build you’re really aiming to play the control role against opposing Red decks by dropping the Wort bomb later on, in the same way a Red Deck Wins build from Extended might wait until it had threshold to drop Fledgling Dragon.

The sideboard might want Manabarbs, some sick anti-control technology sprung on the entire Mockvitational by Asher Hecht. However, I passed on that card for this build because The Goblin Disaster actually wants to tap for quite a bit of mana – regrowing Mogg War Marshal and replaying it every turn, activating storage lands in anticipation of a giant Molten Disaster, summoning Siege-Gang Commander, etc. It’s the sort of detail that needs further testing before it can be deemed a good or bad idea.

If the 2.0 decklist doesn’t appear to you, some other idea I might try include: Fatal Frenzy (as in Antonino De Rosa’s Top 8 deck from U.S. Nationals, it’s a great combo with Nantuko Husk and Greater Gargadon), Loxodon Warhammer (Why not? You are a creature deck), Squeaking Pie Sneak (I heart 2/2 Goblins, but it sure seems like running him would do a number on your mana), either of the Black or Red Planeswalkers (Liliana plus Siege-Gang Commander seems good, and Chandra is slightly faster than trying to build up to a 10-point Molten Disaster), and Boom/Bust (I always thought Bust was overkill for six mana, but might be good in concert with Gargadon).

The deck is still very much a work in process, but then again most States decks are. I’ve never seen a States deck, even one that might have won its tournament, that didn’t need one of those “if I knew then what I know now” improvements. All I know is that in such a situation, you could do a lot worse than trying to create a limitless army of Goblin tokens. Have fun.

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