The Beautiful Struggle – The Mockvitational, Un-Uncensored

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Just as promised last week, an invitation-only Magic tournament took place last Saturday at the New Yorker hotel in New York City. Sponsored by top8magic.com, it was known as the Mockvitational. I played in it, and here is my story of what happened. Sadly, some deadline problems related to Fearless Leader’s trip to Valencia means that I will be unable to give you the Standard results until next week. Up until then…

Just as promised last week, an invitation-only Magic tournament took place last Saturday at the New Yorker hotel in New York City. Sponsored by top8magic.com, it was known as the Mockvitational. I played in it, and here is my story of what happened. Sadly, some deadline problems related to Fearless Leader’s trip to Valencia means that I will be unable to give you the Standard results until next week. Up until then…

T Minus 18 Hours

Frankly, the whole experience was not a great advertisement for travel by rail. I had to buy a much more expensive ticket than expected because I waited until Wednesday to schedule my trip. I showed up at my gate an hour early, only to see every possible seat filled with travelers from an adjacent gate, waiting for an earlier train that was delayed. At my gate door, the line was already twenty people deep, and the train wouldn’t depart for another fifty minutes.

I had two decks on my person: the Goblin Disaster build from two weeks ago, and a R/G deck for Build Your Own Block suggested to me by Sean McKeown:

Mirrodin-Guildpact-Future Sight

4 Slith Firewalker
4 Storm Entity
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Giant Solifuge
4 Arc-Slogger
4 Pyrite Spellbomb
4 Shrapnel Blast
4 Seething Song
4 Thunderblade Charge
4 Chrome Mox
4 Great Furnace
4 Tree of Tales
4 Stomping Ground
8 Mountain

Yes, there’s a problem here; we’ll get to it later. That problem makes the sideboard fairly irrelevant.

The Storm Entities were my own idea; Sean had Molten Rain in those slots. I thought that “Seething Song, spell, Storm Entity” might be a fine use of my Seething Songs in those cases where they could not be used to bring forth a turn 2 Arc-Slogger. This deck seemed highly busted and I was already writing in my head the part of this article where I gave big ups to McKeown for providing it to me.

Don’t get too excited yet, Sean.

T Minus 12 Hours

My friend Valerie, who was kind enough to let me sleep on her couch this weekend, is a huge Red Sox fan. Also, one of the better “Boston bars” in New York is a short walk from her apartment. So I spent most of this evening drinking too much, watching the dramatic Game 2 playoff win against the Angels, and cursing the (Censored – insert your favorite profanity here) Yankees. I spent not a single second thinking about how there might be a flaw in my BYOB strategy.

T Minus 20 Minutes

I hung out in the lobby of the New Yorker hotel for a few minutes before running into Luis Nieman, who directed me to the room where they had the tournament.

Apparently they used to hold PTQs here, but I could tell that was a long time ago because the room looked like it would struggle to host more than 50 players. “Hashim Bello kicked the ceiling in this very room!” Mike Flores proclaimed. “There’s his footprint!” I look up, and indeed there is something up there, some kind of indentation. Wild times, those old days of Magic.

There seemed to be a shortage of both commons and Sharpies, for making proxies. Fortunately, I have brought both. Then Steve Sadin arrived, and he brought twice as many of both as I did. Sadin also revealed that, just like last week, he will have an article about the Mockvitational on the same day as mine. Always stealing my thunder, that Sadin.

T Minus 5 Minutes

Becker asked, “mm_young, wanna Block battle?” Well, obv. After smashing him in two quick games with giant Storm Entities, Chapin called from across the room, “Artifact lands are banned!”

Me: “What?”
Chapin: “Artifact lands are banned in Block.”
Me: “Are you sure? I know they were banned in Standard and Extended…”
Chapin: “Did you play that block? Did you play Affinity?”
Sadin: “They’re definitely banned. I saw that deck on your forum and thought about saying something, but I didn’t.”
Me: (Censored – excrement)

Yes, the problem with the list I gave you before is that it’s completely illegal. So I needed a new Block deck in five minutes. Luis was sitting right there, and he was playing a deck also suggested in my forum last week, by Stuart Wright: Illusions-Donate. Stuart suggested Mono-Blue, but Luis had done a little work on the format and decided on a Blue-Green list:

Ice Age-Visions-Urza’s Destiny

4 Illusions of Grandeur
4 Donate
4 Wild Growth
4 Fyndhorn Elves
4 Impulse
4 Brainstorm
4 Portent
3 Counterspell
3 Powder Keg
3 Treachery
10 Forest
13 Island

4 Masticore
1 Counterspell
3 City of Solitude
3 Emerald Charm
4 Thieving Magpie

The thing about this deck is, compared to the rest of the format it (Censored – carnal knowledge of barnyard animals). As you’ll see in the match descriptions to follow, many good cards trump the Illusions-Donate combo. Also, the card-drawing here is nothing special, especially since I am on a transformative Masticore sideboard. All of the card-drawing is simply one-for-one, so it’s pretty easy to get ‘Core locked and once you’re locked you can’t escape. All in all, the deck just isn’t broken enough, given how broken this format can actually be.

T Minus 3, 2, 1, …

BDM said that we would be playing four rounds of Bring Your Own Block, three rounds of triple-Lorwyn draft, and four rounds of post-Lorwyn Standard. Everyone from devoted forum poster Pselus to Hall of Famer Jon Finkel was invited; I had been told that Osyp Lebeowicz and Gerard Fabiano were tentative for attending, but they couldn’t make it. Here’s who attended:

Mike Flores (former Resident Genius)
Patrick Chapin (current Innovator)
Steve Sadin (soon-to-be Level 5 pro*)
Jon Becker (former pro player and current coverage maestro)
Conrad Kolos (U.S. Nationals 2007 Top 8)
Asher Hecht (Top 8 Magic #1 apprentice)
Christian Calcano (up-and-coming PTQ player from Neutral Ground)
Luis Nieman (Neutral Ground regular and archetypical Good Man)
Matt Ferrando (Neutral Ground regular and, according to BDM, “secret deck designer”)
“Gabe” (don’t mean to be rude, but I don’t know you very well and I was never told your last name)
…and Yours Truly.

Round 1: Steve Sadin

How unlucky. Steve was playing a nightmare deck for me, a Tempest-VisionsFuture Sight Mono-Red deck that could easily Fireblast me out before I could even think about playing Illusions of Grandeur. In game 1 a key Treachery stole an Emberwilde Augur to buy time, and I subsequently combo’ed him out. In game 2 he smashed me with two Augurs and a Viashino Sandstalker.

In game 3 Steve mulliganed and seemed to have a crappy draw. I rushed out a Masticore and seemed to have the game in hand, although I was still wary because I had been told that Steve had Boil in his board. When Steve reached five mana, he played Tarox Bladewing with four cards in hand. I was at 15 life with a hand of Counterspell, Treachery, Illusions, Donate, and UUUGG available.

Due to the threat of Boil, the combo in my hand was pretty useless, so I was planning to pitch those cards to Masticore and just beat down. I figured Steve had at least one Boil in hand, so I wanted to save my counterspell, Treachery the dragon, and win. After the dragon resolved, Steve showed me two grandeur copies of Tarox to deal exactly 16 damage and win the match.

Me: “(Censored – carnal knowledge of a matriarch)! I wish that happened in the last round, so I could just leave. Now I have to stay here and hear about it all day!”

Steve then showed me the other two cards in his hand: Fireblast and the fourth copy of Tarox! It turned out that most of my options left me dead anyway. If I had played Illusions on my previous turn, Steve could have dealt 36 points with the Fireblast and all four copies of Tarox, killing me. If I had countered the Tarox, Steve had 16 points the following turn. So my best plan was:

* Counter the Tarox
* Pitch Treachery to the Masticore, or let it die
* Play Illusions of Grandeur
* Donate it to Steve the following turn

… but I never would have done that as it would have left me wide open to Boil. Also, I would have never done this because I couldn’t give Steve credit for all four copies of Tarox. Basically, I flopped Aces full, but Steve had quads. Literally. [Steve gave birth to four children?! – Craig.]

Round 4: Patrick Chapin

Crap. I had been hoping to get Patrick in the Limited part of the event. Sure, he’s good at Limited also, but he just works on Constructed formats a lot more, so I figured my odds were better in Draft. Chapin was playing a Tempest-Alliances-Urza’s Destiny Mono-Blue deck, with Stalking Stones and Treachery on opposing creatures as his only win conditions. Chapin had drawn in round 1 against Flores’s Survival of the Fittest deck.

Game 1 I had no shot; I can never try to play Illusions because he can Capsize it with the lifegain on the stack, sending a 20-point bolt to my face. I stole game 2 with City of Solitude and Masticore; I guess Pat had boarded out his Treacheries. He didn’t make that mistake in game 3, and even though I forced down City of Solitude he just ran main-phase Capsize on stuff until he drew Treachery and beat me with my own Masticore. City of Solitude was actually a hindrance, since I could never counter any Capsizes he played on his own turn.

Round 3: Jon Becker

Becker was the other Survival of the Fittest deck in the event. In game 1 he seemed to have mana problems and I comboed him out quickly. In game 2 I played Emerald Charm on his Survival, but he summoned Deranged Hermit and had two Recurring Nightmares; things quickly got out of hand.

In game 3 I had the perfect hand to combo-kill Jon on turn 5… Except he had mana acceleration enough to find a Plains and play Radiant’s Dragoons on turn 4. So I comboed him down to 5 life, and I had another Illusions in hand but no Donate. In the meantime, Jon had Survival-Squee going, found more Dragoons… Eventually I had to pitch the Illusions to a Masticore just so I could try and kill his army, but he had a pair of Phyrexian Plaguelords to get me.

Round 4: Matt Ferrando

Matt was playing U/G Threshold, using the set combination Odyssey-Betrayers of Kamigawa-Future Sight. I actually thought he had an awesome deck prior to the start of the tournament, but he was 0-3. So I thought I had a decent chance of beating him.

Game 1 he played Umezawa’s Jitte and I had no Counterspell. Game over; the lifegain from the Jitte trumps my combo. The adjacent match between Chapin and Kolos was much more entertaining. Maybe it was because both men are notably intense magicians, or maybe it was because one of Chapin’s Michigan proteges, Michael Jacob, eliminated Kolos from U.S. Nationals. Either way, the hostilities started from the die roll and didn’t go away. They quickly escalated until this exchange:

Kolos: “If we were in Philadelphia, you would have been shot for that.”
Chapin: “I’m from Detroit!”**

In my game 2 I blew Ferrando out with Masticore and Treachery; I guess he hadn’t expected me to be on the creature plan. In game 3 he brought his Aether Bursts back in, and they served him well: I drew all three Treacheries, each one targeted a Tarmogoyf, and I still lost. This was mainly because all three Treacheries targeted the same copy of Mister T, who kept coming back for more.

So, that’s a big 0-4 in the Bring Your Own Block portion for me. Guess I got what I deserved, considering how half-ass my preparation was.

Time to draft. We had 11 people, so noted Neutral Ground judge Eric Smith stepped in to allow us to have two 6-man tables. My table, starting with me and going to my left, was

Eric Smith

My plan was to stay flexible with my first pick, and see what tribes I received from my right. I seemed to be on target with that plan when I opened Changeling Hero, but then I saw Wort, Boggart Auntie staring back at me from the rare slot in the same pack. The Hero is awesome, and doesn’t even commit you to a color since there is so much mana-fixing in the format, but Wort is a bomb that ought to win the game if you untap with it in play. The was also a foil Neck Snap and some other decent White cards in the pack, so I decided to take Wort and hope to put Sadin in White. Then Eric Smith passed me Nameless Inversion, putting me firmly on Wort.dec.

For a couple of picks I thought I might be in Treefolk to go with my Goblins; I received a third-pick Thorntooth Witch and I opened Briarhorn in pack 2. But then Sadin passed me Incendiary Command, and I was in Black/Red goblins for good. In pack 3 I received Mad Auntie, Boggart Mob, and Fodder Launch just for good measure, and my deck was looking to be insane:

Knucklebone Witch
2 Exiled Boggart
Squeaking Pie Sneak
Mad Auntie
Boggart Loggers
Boggart Harbinger
Spiderwig Boggart
Moonglove Winnower
Boggart Mob
Quill-Slinger Boggart
Hornet Harasser
Wort, Boggart Auntie
Caterwauling Boggart
2 Warren Pilferers
Nameless Inversion
Eyeblight’s Ending
2 Moonglove Extract
Fodder Launch
Makeshift Mannequin
Incendiary Command
Vivid Crag
11 Swamp
5 Mountain

Some notes about this deck:

* Both copies of Warren Pilferers tabled. Am I missing something? Isn’t this guy a Gravedigger, even if you’re not in Goblins? And splashable off of the DI mana-fixing in the format? The whole table gave me odd looks when I windmill-slammed them.

* Makeshift Mannequin and Incendiary Command were never played. I assume the Command is awesome nonetheless – Pyroclasm almost always is – but I’m starting to think that the instant might not be good; you won’t always have a guy in the graveyard worth reanimating.

Round 5: Bye

I played Eric Smith, whose G/W deck had Ajani and not much else, and pounded him in two quick games. Then I went to get some lunch.

Round 6: Conrad Kolos

Conrad had a mostly-Green deck that was running a ton of splashes: it looked like he had every Vivid land in the draft, except the Crag in my deck. In game 1 I had some mana problems, and just when I thought I could see the light at the end of the tunnel, Conrad played Incremental Growth to get me. Game 2 I came out stronger, and had Boggart Mob plus Squeaking Pie Sneak plus Mad Auntie building an army of 2/2 tokens. But then Conrad played a splashed-for Mulldrifter, which drew him into Incremental Growth the next turn, piling the three counters on his Mulldrifter. Suddenly I was dead on board, and I needed to topdeck Fodder Launch, Incendiary Command, or Caterwauling Boggart to win. I ripped the needed Boggart.

In game 3 I simply played guys, including Boggart Harbinger, and found Wort. In the meantime Conrad did not seem to have a lot of gas, playing just a couple of Kithkin Daggerdare. I played Wort with Nameless Inversion in the bin, and Conrad packed the cards after he drew.

Round 7: Luis Nieman

Eric Smith opened Ajani and moved into White late; Kolos was splashing for a couple White cards. Other than that, Luis ended up with every White card at the table, and most of them were Kithkin. He also had two copies of Tarfire; I cried a little when I realized they were in the draft but that I could not have them. In game 1 I scuffled with my mana while he ran me over. In game 2 he went turn 1 Goldmeadow Stalwart, turn 2 Cenn’s Heir, turn 3 Goldmeadow Harrier and Ruined Stalactite. I tried to get back in it, but was finished off by his Hillcomber Giant.

So I 2-1ed the draft, but it easily could have been 3-0 if I had drawn a little better against Luis; my Incendiary Command, for example, would have destroyed him. Shrug; these things happen. My 2-5 start did not quite have me in last place – Flores had received the bye and had a draw, but had not yet won a match – but if I did not pick things up last was definitely a danger. To make matters worse, three of the four remaining people I would have to play were 1-2-3 in the standings.

Next week we will discuss the Standard portion.

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* I don’t know if it’s mathematically possible for Sadin to reach Level 5 this year, even if he wins both Valencia and Worlds. I assert that he will soon be Level 5 anyway, based on the fact that he’s awesome.
** For my foreign readers: while Philadelphia has a notoriously tough reputation, Detroit has led all U.S. cities in murder rate many times.