The Beautiful Struggle – The Mockvitational

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Brian David-Marshall caught up to me on Magic Online about a month ago and sent me a message: “How would you like to come up to NYC on October 6 to play in the top8magic Mockvitational?” Competitors? Lebedowicz, Chapin, and other luminaries will be turning out. Formats? Hey, I’ve always wanted to build my own block. Prizes? Amongst this crowd, what better prize could there possibly be than… bragging rights.

Things got all screwed up with the prerelease last weekend. I actually didn’t even play.

I simply loathe the site Dream Wizards was using — I have to take an hour’s worth of public transportation to get there, there are almost no food options, and the room itself is nothing spectacular either. So, my original plan was to go to New York City for the Neutral Ground events, and stay for podcasting with the Top 8 Magic team. I did the same thing last year and chronicled it in No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn, but this year would be even better because I have a friend’s couch in Manhattan to crash on, saving me a pile of money over last year.

However, Brian David-Marshall caught up to me on Magic Online about a month ago and sent me a message that changed my plans completely:

“How would you like to come up to NYC on October 6 to play in the top8magic Mockvitational?”

The request was just a formality; I’m sure BDM already knew that I was going to insta-agree. Competitors? Lebedowicz, Chapin, and other luminaries will be turning out. Formats? Hey, I’ve always wanted to build my own block. Prizes? Amongst this crowd, what better prize could there possibly be than… bragging rights.

Man, I am so in. And you, dear reader, get to be in there with me. Well, not really. It’s not like I’ll be recording the experience or anything. But I will tell you what I’m planning to play, and next week I’ll tell you how everything went.

Why would I do this, you ask? Won’t I be giving myself away to the other competitors? Well, maybe. I seriously doubt that the majority of Mockvitationalists read my stuff. DCDave probably does, and maybe Asher, but that’s about it. Also, I think that for most of the competitors the Mockvitational is all about having fun, so knowing each other’s decklists isn’t really that big a deal even if they do read me. As far as I’m concerned, everybody is a winner, including you readers out there.

On to the formats!

Lorwyn Draft

This one should be self-explanatory. I was told that the intention is simply to draft LLL, but it may turn out that product is not available. After all, the set isn’t even out yet. So there may be some kind of tricky compromise, such as mixing Lorwyn with other sets. At any rate, I’m just going to give my thoughts on LLL and if something weird happens, so be it.

This format seems a lot like Onslaught to me… if Sparksmith was never printed, that is. There’s a whole bunch of ridiculous rares: all the Planeswalkers, all the Incarnations, all the Legends, and all Commands except the Green one. However, there are also a lot of commons that look like bombs if you are in the necessary tribe, and stains otherwise. In the same way that you never wanted to gain just one life with Wellwisher, your dream scenario is not to mill only one card per turn with Drowner of Secrets or use Giant’s Ire as a bad Lava Axe.

The big difference between Lorwyn and Onslaught is that blue is playable in Lorwyn, enough so to support two or more drafters at a table. Aethersnipe is a powerful common even if you never Evoke it, although don’t go thinking it’s as good as Vedalken Dismisser because it isn’t (putting a creature on top of its opponent’s library is a lot better than just bouncing it). As you’ll see in the Standard section below, I think Mulldrifter is quite the spicy number, as good as Riftwing Cloudskate even if you never Evoked.

Under your typical conditions in a draft at your local store or on Magic Online, I might suggest that Red is a color people will be sleeping on. Obviously everybody knows that Tarfire is good, but Red also has a Craw Wurm at common (Axegrinder Giant), a common mana accelerator for its elementals (Smokebraider), and a good common with clash that rewards you for playing those expensive elementals and giants (Lash Out). However, these are not your typical conditions. The set is still young, and many of the players on Saturday may not have played prereleases either, might not have even drafted the set before. It will likely be easier for them to draft Red removal and big giants than figure out how to negotiate a removal-light Merfolk deck.

My plan (and the plan I would recommend for you, at release event drafts in a week) is to be as flexible as possible with the first pick, and to see what tribes you are receiving from your right. Of course, “be flexible and see what signals are being sent” is good advice for any draft format, but it didn’t matter quite as much in Time Spiral block because the packs were ridiculously deep. It was not uncommon for me to enter the finals of an online draft in TTT or TTP and find that a drafter adjacent to me ended up in one or more of the same colors I was in. I don’t think you’ll see a lot of this in Lorwyn.

Post-Lorwyn Standard

I should note that proxies are allowed in the Mockvitational, so the availability of certain rares a week after the prerelease is not an issue. I mentioned my Goblin deck last week, but that’s not the only deck I am looking at, not by a long shot. I also have a version of The Deck Everyone Is Talking About:

I’m always skeptical of The Deck Everyone Is Talking About; most of the time it just sucks. Don’t get me wrong, TDEITA can win States for you now and then, but looking back, they almost always seem infinitely worse than the decks that come out of Worlds. Two years ago it was Fungus Fires, two years before that it was Broodstar Affinity, the year before that it was Astral Slide…. out of that group, only Slide proved to be good. I mean, Broodstar? In a format with Akroma’s Vengeance? What were we thinking?

However, that doesn’t stop me from talking about TDEITA, same as everyone else. My version was really scuffling until Patrick Chapin pointed out something which in retrospect seems really obvious: Mirror Entity is a Rebel. This is big because you want to have the Entity available as a threat, but you don’t really want to have four copies of him. The turn after you play him, he’s really just a giant stain with a target on his chest, especially because people will be carrying spot removal to kill Gaddock Teeg.

You’d rather wait until the coast is clear to bring the Entity forth during your opponent’s EOT and swing for the win on your own turn. So, I built a small Rebel chain into my main deck, with the option of sideboarding into a full-blown Rebel deck in creature matchups. The chain itself is pretty simple: work your way up to Ramosian Revivalist, who can give you recurring blockers, Mirror Entity alpha strikes, or Bound in Silence as needed.

Tell you the truth, I’d love to cut Tarmogoyf from the deck. Just because Mister T counts both graveyards doesn’t mean you can just wave your hand and say, “I don’t have to worry about how big he’ll get, my opponent will feed him.” You want to have an aggressive two-drop, not one that might sit at 0/1 or 1/2 for a few turns until your opponent drops one that’s as big as he would like it to be. I’d really like to be virtually Mono-White, with the Green for Gaddock Teeg alone, because here’s the thing. Once you add Mister T, then you think about Mystic Enforcer, then you wonder about Call of the Herd and Riftsweeper, and pretty soon you have a G/W deck which doesn’t have a Kithkin theme any more, and basically tries to beat control with a Teeg and a prayer. However, I have to bow down to Mister T’s recognized awesomeness until I can prove that he’s bad in the deck.

I also have a control deck on file — or at least, as much a control deck as you can have in a Gaddock Teeg format:

My problem with the Mono-Blue deck in Block was that matchups got really complicated against decks where the Brine Elemental lock was not an option, such as Mono-Red (they can burn your Brine) or U/G (they have their own Shapeshifters, and sometimes Pongify or Scryb Ranger). Now these situations get relatively simple: put Guile down there and defend him like grim death. It may even be that I should change the Brine/Guile split to 2/2, but I was concerned about having UUU every single time Guile is in hand and six mana is available.

Rune Snag is exactly what the deck needs; a two-mana counter (as opposed to Cancel) that stops the problem spell cold (as opposed to Delay). Given what I just said, you might wonder why I like Cryptic Command so much, but the fact is that I’ll rarely cast it as Dismiss. Instead I’ll be tapping all of my opponents’ creatures to set up a Brine flip, or playing Repulse, or mixing some other effects as needed to buy tempo.

Build Your Own Block

This format used to be a staple of the “regular” Invitational, but they’re doing Build Your Own Standard this year. The idea of BYOB is, you can take any “first” set from the Block era (that is, from Ice Age onward, when expansions were designed as blocks for the first time), any “second” set, and any “third” set and build a deck with those cards. This restriction means that you can’t have, say, Mirrodin and Invasion together. The banned and restricted list from Legacy is used, with the added rule that any card which is banned in its own block cannot be played (sorry, Lin-Sivvi).

Three different aspects of this format immediately struck me:

1) Mirage offers Lion’s Eye Diamond and Dark Ritual, and Scourge offers Tendrils of Agony, thus forming a backbone of the sort of storm combo deck that has been a player in Vintage for years. All you have to do is use the remaining cards from those sets, as well as any “second” set you can come up with, to find a way to build your storm count.

Thing is, it’s surprisingly difficult to find cards that do this. Visions offers Impulse and the tutors (Vampiric, Mystical, etc), so it was the front-runner early on. However, if you start a decklist…

4 Lion’s Eye Diamond
4 Dark Ritual
4 Vampiric Tutor
4 Mystical Tutor
4 Impulse
4 Tendrils of Agony

…you begin to realize that actually putting cards in your hand is going to be a problem. Sure, you can tutor a card to the top of your deck, and rustle up some cheap mana, but when the rubber meets the road, how are you actually going to build a storm count? They key isn’t merely all that fast mana; it’s also that you have a ton of ways to cheaply get +1 storm. In Legacy the same thing is achieved with Ill-Gotten Gains, but IGG can’t be played alongside Lion’s Eye Diamond in this format; as they’re both from first sets. I struggled with the storm problem for some time before eventually abandoning it.

2) Survival of the Fittest and Aluren strike me as the most breakable legal cards. Given enough time, I thought I could break them in half, but sadly I wasn’t able to do it in the limited time I had.

With Aluren, I just couldn’t find a good combo. This was mainly because Cavern Harpy, Soul Warden, Essence Warden, Raven Familiar, and other traditional Aluren combo cards all seem to be from second sets. For example, I got all excited about Planeshift’s Cavern Harpy plus Merchant of Secrets, because I thought the Merchant was in Scourge, but sadly he is in Legions. Aluren plus Man o’ War is, um, alluring, except that then I lose all of the gating creatures from Planeshift. For a minute I thought I could break Silvergill Adept before I realized that Lorwyn is a first set and can’t be played alongside anything from Tempest. I decided to scrap the whole Aluren experiment before it got out of hand, and move on.

That leaves Survival of the Fittest. Of course it’s an awesome card, but the problem is finding good creatures to go with it. Playing Survival-Squee is rough because it means that your first set must be Mercadian Masques and your second set has to be the relatively creature-poor Exodus. Survival-Genesis is still a staple Legacy combo, and Genesis is in the same set as Anger, but I had a hard time finding the right first set to accompany them.

It occurred to me that I could go Time Spiral-Exodus-Dissension, combining Survival of the Fittest with Project X… you discard Saffi Eriksdotter to find Crypt Champion, play the Champion, and voila! Infinite recursion. Exodus also offers Soul Warden to turn that recursion into infinite life, and Recurring Nightmare as a way to reanimate the Champion. However, in those three sets I couldn’t find a really good way to actually win. Hatred seemed a little iffy, and I felt like trying to deck people with infinite life isn’t a very fun way to win a tournament with all your friends, so I decided to try something else.

3) You might recall that most of the “free” creatures — Cloud of Fairies, Peregrine Drake, and the like — had errata removed earlier this year. This change happened at the same time Flash was changed, so you could be forgiven for not noticing. Anyway, these creatures had previously possessed errata saying that they had to be played from your hand to get the “untap X lands” ability. Now they’re back to their printed wording: the lands untap if the creature comes into play in any way, such as a reanimation spell. You know what that means: COMBO!

The trick that started the whole mess was Palinchron plus High Tide, but High Tide is not in this format (Fallen Empires was not part of a block). So, I looked into Great Whale plus Recurring Nightmare — conveniently, Urza’s Saga is a first set and Exodus is a second set. Also conveniently, Recurring Nightmare is in the same set as a nice card to get Great Whale in the bin (Merfolk Looter) and Great Whale is in the same set as a nice win condition to pour all of that mana into (Stroke of Genius).

I looked up Urza’s Saga in Gatherer and discovered some other fine cards for the deck, including Catalog, Attunement, and Exhume — nice set, guys, good power level — so it looks great for me, right? Except I need a third set, and it would have to help fill the deck with things I need. That’s not so easy. If you look at the Whale-Nightmare decks from PT Rome way back when (you can find one of them here), they had cards like Force of Will and Intuition in them, but also creatures like Merfolk Traders, which makes for a pretty diverse collection of sets.

Wait a minute… Merfolk Traders is from a third set! Eureka! While looking at Weatherlight in Gatherer I also noticed Noble Benefactor, who seems like a spectacular creature to be sacrificed to Recurring Nightmare. Saga-Exodus-Weatherlight also offers lots of sideboard options: I can go for a sideboard full of hosers (Null Rod, etc) or a transformative sideboard into a control deck (Forbid, Ophidian, and Morphling are all available, among others).

4 Great Whale
4 Merfolk Looter
4 Merfolk Traders
4 Noble Benefactor
4 Recurring Nightmare
4 Catalog
4 Attunement
4 Rescind
2 Stroke of Genius
3 Exhume
14 Island
9 Swamp

I haven’t yet decided on the sideboard yet … gotta save some of my tech for this weekend.

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