I took a unique deck to the StarCityGames.com Indianapolis Open. Unique in the sense that probably no one else in the room was likely playing it, but people who read my column on a regular basis (hey, mom) should recognize it. I had written about my Hedron Crab deck a little while ago and had be doing fairly well with it online, so after making a few minor changes and a few offerings to various deities I decided to put my money where my mouth was. Here was the deck that I sleeved up for the entirely-too-big-for-its-own-good 669-person tournament.
There are few changes that were made to this iteration of the deck from the last, mostly as a result of testing with it pretty consistently online. The biggest and by far best was the addition of Spreading Seas. How did I ever play the deck without this card? Spreading Seas is such an amazing weapon I don’t even have words to describe how much it helps. It has turned my Jund matchup from one that was a little bit of a dog, to one that I frankly have been winning more often that I’ve been losing. I hesitate to say that it’s a matchup I enjoy seeing as every game is a delicate tap dance and they certainly have the cards that can make life hard for you, but it has definitely been clocking in at over 50% lately.
When I mentioned to my friend the addition of the Blue aura, he quipped something along the lines of, “Yeah, it’s good against Jund, but it’s such a dead card in a lot of other matchups.” Au contraire, mon frÃ¨re. The aspect of Spreading Seas that I don’t think people realize is that its boon is quite often subtle. There are so many manlands running around these days that Spreading Seas is essentially a sorcery speed Journey to Nowhere that happens to also draw you a card. That statement might be a little loose, but every time I Seas a land it feels like I just cheated a little. Even more subtle than that are the possibilities of manascrewing opponents that don’t seem as if they’d be very much affected by it. Do you know how many spells Vampires can cast on their second turn with one Swamp and one Island? Zero. Do you know how many Mountains UWR control runs (on average)? Two; get both of them and they can’t cast any more Red spells for the rest of the game (that is of course assuming I haven’t milled at least one Mountain). I could go on, but I hope I made my point. The number one thing Spreading Seas does is it slows the opponent down and I aver wholeheartedly that any slow Blue deck should be playing this card. I not saying I keep 4 in every time post board, but they are certainly maindeck worthy.
The other changes I made to the deck are on a much less grand scale. I removed the Font of Mythos as it was just so awkward and clunky and replaced it with a third Ranger of Eos (aka card I most want to draw late game). Tapping out on turn 4 to cast a spell that Divinationed my opponent was always unpleasant for a whole host of reasons, and even though the Ranger also costs the same, it is a solid play on turn 4 or turn 14. The only other maindeck changes were to the manabase which is still going through some tweaks, but so far the Terramorphic Expanse have been doing well enough to earn their keep.
The changes to the sideboard, it would turn out, would be my downfall. I knew 12 of the cards that I wanted in the 15 and I was looking for some last minute holes to shore up bad matchups, so I added three additional cards (3 Kor Firewalker). As it would turn out, my super secret tech of having 16 cards in my sideboard would turn out to be strictly a no-no (I actually had 13 cards and only needed 2 additional cards), and I ended up getting a game loss round 2 that happened to coincide with my mulligan to 5 loss in that round. This was the first time I have ever gotten a deck registration error as I’m usually extremely careful to double check everything. I suppose it turns out “counting” needs to go on the to-do list from now on.
For those intending to read a tournament report, I don’t particularly enjoy writing them; however, I’ve included some short ramblings about each, as I know people love reading them. I feel like it’s better to give some idea of how the matches play out, but I don’t particularly feel like a detailed play by play is really benefiting anyone.
BR Vampires (2-0)
This was an interesting deck with a game plan that was a little bit all over the place. It was, on one hand, a straight up BR Vampire deck with the usual fare of Nighthawk/Gatekeeper/etc, but it also happened to run maindeck Thought Hemorrhage and Sadistic Sacrament. An interesting idea — probably better against my deck than most — but ultimately he chose to exile the wrong cards and I just Crabbed him to death.
UB Vampires (1-1)
This was the unfortunate match where I got the game loss. Extra unfortunate too, because I won game one after what had to be the most unlikely start ever. I mulliganed to 5 and ended up with a hand that had double Spreading Seas and two land. I was able to Spread both of his lands quickly, and it soon became apparent that we were both mana screwed on two lands apiece. Normally, this would be great news, as I needed time to recoup from my mulligan. Unfortunately however, things became a bit sticky. The single most troublesome card in Standard right now for this deck is Bloodghast, as milling your opponent becomes a huge crap shoot. Luckily, I didn’t need to worry about milling his Bloodghasts as he discarded not 1, not 2, but 4 of them consecutively at which point he promptly hit his third land drop (which to be fair he might have been sandbagging at that point). Perimeter Captain singlehandedly saved the day by stalling long enough and I super surprised him when I double Archive Trapped him out of nowhere to mill his 26 card library, with only one life left to live.
Game 2 I got walloped, again on a mulligan to 5. Malakir Bloodwitch = bad news.
My opponent was gracious enough to play a third game for fun with me to benefit my curiosity as to whether I would’ve lost anyway. I won it, but it was bittersweet consolation.
White Weenie (2-0)
I was lucky to win this game as I ended up mulliganing to 5 again and my opponent had the win on board and simply forgot to equip his dude with a Sigil of Distinction. I ended up winning with one life, but I don’t feel bad as I drew approximately 23405 land in a row. Game 2 was just a routing, although he did get me to 7. I actually killed his Elspeth when I attacked with my Ranger 3 times via Time Warp. Killing Elspeth ended up not mattering, as he was pretty much dead at that point, but I get excited whenever I can do something useful with my creatures (sidenote: I’ve actually killed someone with damage before which is ridiculous).
Control decks are, by and large, byes for Crab, Go although Grixis tends to give me a little more trouble than UW Control. His deck really didn’t have many outs to Jace other than burn or his own Jaces, so we just sat there for a while, both of us drawing cards. He eventually conceded.
Game 2 was one of those times where, try as you might, the opponent’s deck just loves him more. I was able to survive easily through one Cruel off the top, I countered another (that he topdecked) with the sick play of Tectonic Edging his fetchland so he couldn’t Negate back, but he just went ahead and drew his third and final one immediately. I still had twelve life and he only had like 15 cards in his library, but he had Comet Storm and plenty of land to do me in.
Game 3 I kept the nuts: Hedron Crab, Howling Mine, Jace, 4 lands. There was no way he was winning that game.
UW Control (2-0)
This matchup is a complete and utter bye. Unless something horrible happens, there is no reason that you should ever remotely lose this matchup. Firstly, they have relatively few outs to Hedron Crab or Howling Mine or Jace, but more importantly they have such easily vanquished threats. The standard Chapin UW Control list runs around 11 cards that can actually win them the game: 4 Jace, the Mind Sculptor; 4 Celestial Colonnade; 2 Martial Coup; and 1 Iona Shield of Emeria. My Jaces are cheaper, I have Spreading Seas and Edges for their lands, and I have Negates and Day of Judgments for the Coups. The only real troubling card is Iona, but it is not terribly difficult to hamper their ability to reach that magic number through (again) Seas and Edges.
Finally, and this is the silliest part, milling their threats is actually relevant. Against most decks, milling 3 creatures isn’t that big of a deal because they’ve got 30 more to replace them with. Against UW, every threat you mill is one less they can win with. Their deck is so glacially slow that they put no pressure on you whatsoever, allowing you to sculpt unbeatable hands for when they actually attempt to cast a threat. If I could, I would play against this deck every round.
I played against Alex Bertoncini this round, winner of the last StarCityGames.com Open in Richmond. I mention his name not to call him out, but to show that the deck can perform well against an extremely competent Jund pilot.
Perimeter Captain held off his Bloodbraids and Great Sable Stags and Spreading Seas crippled his manabase providing me plenty of time to build my milling army. He Siege-Gang Commander was used to dispatch my wall, but it was for naught as I dispatched his library while at a healthy 10 life.
Game 2 I never went below 20 life as Kor Firewalker just sat and clogged up the ground while Jace wavered between 2 and 6 counters constantly. The trick to this matchup is knowing when it’s safe to tap out and when it’s absolutely necessary to keep Negate mana open. I think that Alex’s build was probably my best Jund matchup, as he runs Stags instead of Putrid Leeches, a card that definitely annoys the snot out of me.
Boss Naya (2-0)
Game 1 was the silliest hand I had all day. Turn 1, Crab, go. Turn 2, Crab, mill you for 12. I milled him for twelve about 3 turns in a row and finished it off with an Archive Trap on turn 5.
I again never went below 20 life, as Perimeter Captain simply gained me two life points a turn as he vainly tried to kill Jace. He didn’t, and I was able to Time Warp to victory.
RW Allies (1-2)
I was a little disappointed that our match wasn’t a GGSlive feature match as my opponent and I were seated at table number 4 both 6-1 and we were each playing very unique decks. This was by far the hardest matchup I played all day, and I’m fairly sure I could’ve won game 1 had a number of different things occurred in a slightly different order. I’m also sure I misplayed which is a little heart-breaking, but them’s the breaks.
I really hope this deck takes off as I’m all for interesting decks, and I for one give it my seal of approval. I will be frank: this deck absolutely ROLLED me, especially game 3. He had a Hada Freeblade, double Akoum Battlesinger draw and was attacking me for 10 on turn 3. After the match, I stood up with the look of someone who is walking away from a car accident. I lasted a few more turns, and I did win game 2, but man… what a beating.
Boss Naya (2-1)
I probably should’ve lost this match, but in game 3 my opponent made the bizarre choice of attacking with his Dauntless Escort. I looked at the 3 Day of Judgments clogging my hand and couldn’t have blocked faster with my Ranger of Eos. I can only assume that he was worried about Jace’s ultimate happening (Jace was at 11) but he still had 30+ cards in his library. I was also able to chump block with both of my Perimeter Captains which gained me 8 life, a very relevant fact considering his soon cast double Manabarbs. I had the Oblivion Ring for one, but nothing for the other, and it boiled down to a very interesting game state with him having only a Stirring Wildwood versus my Jace with 10 counters and Tectonic Edge. He ended up having to fetch for the lone remaining plains in his deck to attacking with the manland which let me cast the Archive Trap in my hand despite being at 4 life.
Mono Red (1-2)
By far the worst matchup for this deck. Not only are you giving them mucho cards, but you’re milling Hell’s Thunders and Hellspark Elementals into their graveyard. It’s such a bad matchup especially game 1 that I debated conceding after he played the turn 1 Goblin Guide and I hadn’t shown him anything. I ended up winning game 2 and actually could’ve won game 3, but I made a giant blunder which was totally uncalled for (discarding a land for some reason) and, while I might not have won the game, the double Kor Firewalkers on top of my deck might have helped in the comeback.
Overall I was very happy with the deck. I ended up in 44th place. Not exactly where I wanted to find myself finishing, but in a 669 tournament — bigger than GP: Kuala Lumpur — not a terrible finish. The Into the Roil in the board was meant to be a catchall to bizarre permanents as well as an out to Iona, but all in all I think the deck doesn’t need a whole lot of help against UW Control and it would be more useful as a Celestial Purge or something.
A note for those who want to play the deck: One trend find is that people will occasionally try a deck, do poorly with it, and write it off as a “poor” deck choice when in reality it’s their unfamiliarity with the deck that tends to lead them down the path of losing. I feel like this is such as deck, as there are many intricacies that might not be readily apparent. For example:
The deck should, for the most part, be looked at as a combo deck and should be treated like one. One of the main ways in which this is necessary is learning why and when to mulligan. Consider the following hand: Archive Trap, Time Warp, Negate, Hedron Crab, Island, Island, Plains, Celestial Colonnade. This hand has all colors of mana, four lands, and a Hedron Crab. What’s not to like? Against an unknown deck I would probably mulligan this hand. Essentially, this hand doesn’t do anything. Yes, while you can drop a first turn Crab, there’s not much else going on here. A single Lightning Bolt turn 1 — even a Path to Exile — and your entire game play is gone. Perhaps I mulligan too aggressively, but I’ve found that a starting hand without a Howling Mine or a Jace Beleren is just asking for trouble. I wouldn’t fault anyone for keeping these 7 — my friend/boss is standing behind me arguing about how it’s a solid keeper — but I generally mulligan until I have a drawing permanent in hand. The thing to remember is that if you’re mulliganing and end up with a Howling Mine of Jace, you’re undoing your card shortage very quickly.
Another thing to consider is the fact that, unless it’s winning you the game right then or very quickly, Archive Trap is essentially a blank. Even worse, if you’re opponents are playing Knight of the Reliquary or Bloodghast then Trapping them preemptively is just gave them a huge helping hand. I have and usually do sit on my Archive Traps for the longest possible time, balancing between wanting to cast it for free and not giving my opponent’s a ton of potentially helpful cards in their graveyard. Another reason sitting on Archive Traps is beneficial is that opponents will be much more willing to search their library (and therefore make my job easier) when they have more cards with which to spare. I have sat on Archive Traps that were in my opening hand for 8 turns while my opponent constantly searched their library before finally hard casting it to win the game.
Finally, there are some subtle fetchland uses that just have to be learned via playing with the deck. If you drop a Hedron Crab and suspect that your opponent is holding removal for it and absolutely want to get that second mill out of the deal, simply don’t crack the fetchland until they make the first move. I also usually hold fetchlands if I have a Ranger in hand with the hope that I can get the double Crab down in order to mill twelve. There’s only a limited number of basics in the deck so plan accordingly.
I’m sure there are other tips and tricks that I’ve failed to mention but hopefully the above paragraphs offer a little bit of help to those looking to play the deck. If you’ve got any questions, feel free to shoot me an email or post in the forums.
Zoochz on MTGO