T-4: Julian won with it.
T-3: Steve won with it.
T-2: According to Steve, during the weekend of U.S. Nationals, someone copied his deck from Neutral Ground and won (I found out this week that Top8Magic Podcast devotee Micah Liebert actually split in the finals against a Vore deck – not actually claiming victory, but playing the same list nonetheless).
In four weeks, the White Wafo-Tapa deck won the last four North American Challenge Qualifiers at Neutral Ground. Won! Not "did well," not "made Top 8," but won. Julian and I stumbled a bit with dees and els, and I don’t know how Micah did on his run to a favorable matchup in the finals, but Steve went 7-0, cruising to his invitation pretty effortlessly.
1) What is the North American Challenge?
The North American Challenge (NAC) used to be called the NEC, or New England Challenge (later Northeast Challenge); before that, its predecessor was the once famous Grudge Match, a titanic battle between Neutral Ground and Your Move Games that innovated the Team Standard format and produced such decks as Napster, Parallax Replenish, and ZevAtog before Your Move Games decided they were tired of losing every season to Neutral Ground. Not even a finale victory by the underrated technician and design machine Lucas Glavin over NG’s David Chung could rekindle YMG’s interest.
Since about 2001, Tom Shea of TJ’s Collectables put together a multi-store event that eventually became the NAC. Branching beyond the New England Challenge (NEC) and the Northeast Challenge (still the NEC), this event has drawn store champions from New Hampshire and Rhode Island all the way to StarCityGames itself down in Virginia, from as far north as Maine to as far south as North Carolina, to battle in a kind of teeny tiny Pro Tour that actually pays to an almost Grand Prix level of respectability.
Tom has been trying to get me to play for years, but up until last week, I had never even played in a qualifier. This changed when my young apprentice New York [Standard] State Champion Barn Julian the N’Sync Intern a.k.a. Mother Superior IV (hereafter "Julian") took our "B" deck, White Wafo-Tapa, and won one… and then Steve won with the same deck… and then they decided I should play, um, the same deck and run the last qualifier in New York.
2) What is White Wafo-Tapa?
The genesis of the deck can be found here. It grew out of a playtest version of Guillaume Wafo-Tapa U/R deck from Pro Tour: Honolulu and an attempt to correct that strong deck’s narrow count of shortcomings by swapping the flexible Red for a more relevantly powerful White (hence the name). You may not care, but there was actually some controversy within our group about publishing The Next Step in Steam Vents, because it was not clear at that point – and some would say is still not clear – which deck was better, White Wafo-Tapa or Aggro-Ideal (you know, the deck I just got done claiming was my Best. Deck. Ever. last week). The two share a common endgame plan, but White Wafo-Tapa, while less powerful, is much more flexible, doesn’t bend over to Solar Flare, and also plays the best card in the format… whereas Aggro-Ideal merely plays the former best card in the format.
They also made a subtle change that I figured out during testing (but inexplicably have – I think – yet to change in my MTGO version, despite telling myself that I should remind myself to change like each time I login), which was to add one Plains. The Plains is important because you can Ghost Quarter yourself to fix your mana (Heezy also mentioned this). White Wafo-Tapa has tons of card advantage, can recover from this play, and it is important to Ghost Quarter yourself against Annex sometimes.
The deck I qualified with was, um, the result of any number of compromises. Julian had played White Wafo-Tapa in the Nationals Grinders, narrowly lost, and then switched to Solar Flare (which shares many cards) to qualify (hooray)… However, he inexplicably loaned out his Solar Flare deck, so we didn’t have quite the U/W deck we wanted for last Sunday. As such, based on metagame reads that you can listen to at length in last week’s ‘casts, we decided Vore or Heartbeat would be the Deck to Beat Play (Canadian Nationals much?). Luckily, Julian had Heartbeat ready to go.
Therefore I spent all of my Standard playtest time tuning Heartbeat (I had not been on the "right" side of the deck, even in playtesting, since the Charleston PTQ season, and our testing for that was extremely brief). I tried any number of configurations, including three main deck Savage Twisters and various re-toolings of the singletons, from Boomerang to Meloku, but eventually decided on this version:
The only time I had lost to Heartbeat in a MTGO tournament with control, I lost to Research / Development (which led to main-deck Gigadrowse). I have never been a fan of the Vinelasher Kudzu transformation, so I decided I would just go big, like a bloated Kamigawa Block power deck, and win Jitte wars with decks that didn’t know they were fighting them. The no-Swamp Invoke the Firemind tech from Michigan Regionals and the JSS seemed pretty awesome to me… It is a lot easier to play around resistance with an extra Mountain and Invoke the Firemind than Maga, Traitor to Mortals, who requires BBB and is therefore much more vulnerable to mid-combination shenanigans. I didn’t want to play multiple Weird Harvests or Fireminds, so I decided to lean back and kick it old school with Recollect.
Forget about Solar Flare… Heartbeat seemed like a purely good local metagame deck in the abstract because in previous weeks, NAC players had shown up with all kinds of Loxodon Hierarch homebrews – Glare decks, whatever – that would have big problems with a combination or singularly overpowering high hand strategy.
So of course I called Julian on the way to Neutral Ground and he informed me that the Heartbeat deck was on its way out-of-state. Hrm. Time for a compromise!
Even though it was not exactly the deck I would have liked to play, this one was still more than moderately awesome. The main omission was two plus two Ghost Quarters… but luckily, if there was a ‘Tron deck in the room, I didn’t see it. The metagame was all about anti-Solar Flare, and this deck is very good against those kinds of decks. Even with the no Ghost Quarter version, I think the numbers on Repeal and Condemn should be reversed at least; I only sided three Repeals most of the time, and the only matches I sided all four, I also sided all three Condemns, so it would not have changed the swaps materially (the cards are about as good as one another against beatdown).
With two plus two Ghost Quarters, you are a favorite against U/R or Simic-hybrid ‘Tron decks because you can Spell Snare their Signets and all of a sudden they can’t cast, um, anything. Without them, it’s like you are playing the mirror match but they have twice as much mana and can protect their Tidings (you don’t like that). ‘Tron isn’t unbeatable, even with their mana advantage. At the end of the day, ‘Tron doesn’t have that many threats and their counters are not very good in a long game… but they’re still heavy favorites left unchecked.
White Wafo-Tapa is good against Solar Flare. Again, Spell Snare their Signets… Their deck is pretty clunky to begin with, but if you are disrupting the manabase with Boomerang and Ghost Quarter (for a little land that Shelters All), it isn’t so hard to contain their – again – relatively few threats. There are some issues given the wide variety of single card templating that can go on, but I think your biggest problem with the [is it "former" already?] deck du jour is the clock.
Round 1: Vore
I didn’t have so much as a wooden nickel on me to flip, let alone a set of dice to see who was going to go first, so my opponent got out two sideboard cards and said "pick the Blue one." I picked the Genju of the Spires, which automatically reads "Magnivore deck," (i.e. "good matchup"). One of the reasons we ever went down the Wafo-Tapa road at all in testing was that we perceived Vore to be one of the strongest decks online, and Wafo-Tapa is one of the strongest control decks against Vore, justifying it as a good predator swap. Therefore my decision to keep a no-permission hand on the draw might have been, um… not so good. The best I could muster on his first two Stone Rain effects was to Boomerang my own lands, and that really isn’t very impressive.
As you can see, my lack of Condemns was underwhelming in the first round of the tournament. The other thing you might notice is that even against a fellow control deck I will side out Hinder if at all possible because I can’t stand slow reactive cards… even when I am Draw-Go. What planet am I on?
Games 2 and 3 went essentially the same way. He sided out Pyroclasm, or at least didn’t see it, and I resolved Azorius Guildmage and won easily. Game 2 was a bit dicey, with me down many cards and not using my Mikokoro to his board of multiple Goblin Flectomancers and Magnivores (to my lonely ‘mage), which seemed to infuriate any number of spectators. I justified this later that he had one Wildfire down and that I had mana to contain his big Lhurgoyf at least, but that I was kold to Wildfire and didn’t want to help him out. Keiga ended up saving my proverbial bacon. The next game I got the Guildmage again, which vastly outclasses the Flectomancer if you’ve contained their mana denial. At the end of the game I was up more than enough cards to manage.
Round 2: Heartbeat
This round was against Chad Kastel, an Atlantic City-based player who had just won a U.S. Nationals meatgrinder with Osyp’s Glare deck. We tested with Chad at Jonny Magic’s some for Pro Tour: Charleston… an all-round thumbs up fellow and gentleman.
This match was a jumble of bad play from Chad in Game 1, and bad play from me in Game 2 where we allowed take-backs. I won Game 3, but couldn’t morally report a win given that it was only via a take-back that I got the second game. I offered the draw, which Chad happily took. Good karma prevailed, and we ended up meeting in the finals.
Round 3: Heartbeat
Game 1 I am told I threw away by fighting over an Early Harvest when I knew four of his six cards. The last two had to be his third Early Harvest and an incremental Remand in order for me to not win the next turn, so obviously they were.
Game 3 I lost due to playing two mid-game Hallowed Fountains untapped. I wanted maximum access to mana to fight with my Azorius Guildmage, but it turned out that damage was relevant because he was able to sequence for just enough without elaborate sleight of hand, which I thought I would have covered with ‘mages.
Round 4: Husk
Game 1 I contained his early Bob, and Remanded the same Promise of Bunrei two or three times to hit lands. Then I got a Wrath, drew a ton of cards, and eventually won with a Dragon. Beatdown is pretty easy for this deck.
This swap shows how much the deck is missing the Ghost Quarters. Out Boomerang, in Repeal? It’s right given the compromised list… I guess… but not so right that you actually need four Repeals in the side. One would be nice (or maybe the third Tidings), and definitely a fourth Condemn.
Game 2 he sided in Eight-And-A-Half-Tails for all my Faith’s Fetters and Condemns. I stole it with a tricky Keiga plus Miren play, and just started cracking with Minamo and a ton of other lands supporting the borrowed Legend. Some other stuff probably happened that can be summarized as a bunch of two-for-ones for me while keeping Promise off the table.
Top 8: Sea Stompy
Game 1 I kept six lands and a Compulsive Research, which nearly gave Julian an aneurysm when the opponent ran out first turn Kird Ape. It looked really bad for me until I ripped Wrath of God while staring at the kill. A Spell Snare on Plaxmanta later, I was in the clear. Four cards up. Three more cards up. Dragon. Miren. Whew. At the end of a long sequence, I ended up Hindering the same Rumbling Slum three times while cracking for five a turn.
Game 2 was pretty close because he had this card called Giant Solifuge that I consistently forget people might cast against me (I spent a Wrath on Plaxmanta plus Moldervine Cloak the previous turn). I had a strong Faith’s Fetters draw, but that’s not overly impressive against Solifuge. Jitte, sure, but not Solifuge. However, when I started to run Fetters on land to stay even and then re-buy with Repeal, he had to commit more forces… It was Dragons, M&M (Miren and Minamo in this case… though I suppose Mikokoro is pretty insane too), Wraths, and Knell from there.
Top 4: Heartbeat (same as Round 3)
Game 1 was exhaustive shenanigans. Basically I took eight or more from a Sakura-Tribe Elder while trying to find land, played Wrath (Muddled), and eventually had to run a Boomerang on the damn Snake. Of course he tried to go off (for the first time), and I kept him from doing so, at least temporarily. After that, it was me desperately finding Hinders and Remands while hitting with Keiga. I felt quite happy with myself when I realized that his "Maga you for 12" would not be lethal due to Miren (this was our third consecutive Maga and Invoke turn), and stole his non-lethal Maga with an Invoke counter in hand… This happiness dissipated when BDM and Julian informed me I could have made the same play a turn earlier and swung for the win. Nice friends.
After actually winning a Game 1 with a Dragon, I decided that the fourth 5/5 was worth more to me than the dream of recurring the opponent’s Sakura-Tribe Elder.
Game 2 I Spell Snared a Vinelasher Kudzu, which did not make him happy. It took me something like four turns to realize he had transformed and that he had no real way to beat my Azorius Guildmage with his Jitte and animals, given that I kept hitting my land drops. I don’t see why transforming makes any sense in this matchup; sure, I am taking out Wrath, but I am siding in Repeal and Azorius Guildmage, which are arguably better against the Vinelasher transformation than Wrath of God anyway.
Top 2: Heartbeat (same as Round 2)
Game 1 Chad had me kold with a second turn Sakura-Tribe Elder… except I had Spell Snare. That Elder was his planned path to Island, and in its absence, all he had were Forests. I Remanded and Mana Leaked every Kodama’s Reach from that point, and went to work on his Forests with Boomerang, forced draws and discards with Mikokoro, and ultimately resolved Yosei with a ten-plus to four mana advantage. You need to get a little lucky to win Game 1. Drawing essentially perfect answers, I got a lot lucky.
Game 2 Chad played really well to resist my aggressive Guildmage and permission draw, culminating in an end of turn Early Harvest plus Gigadrowse sequence that almost snuck past my resources… but it was ultimately not to be.
4) Lesbian Rock (or, “The ‘Lesbian Rock’ formerly known as ‘Bonus Section'”)
Actually, Lesbian Rock might not be accurate at all. I have no idea if lesbians, in general, even like The Sounds… but I sure do.
Back two or three years ago, when I was periodically hurting for article topics, Teddy Card Game would tell me to just write a chick rock primer because even if the average reader didn’t care, he needed to know what to get for himself. I haven’t talked about music in some time, but honestly, whenever I do, somebody comes up to me at the next tournament to tell me how much he loves whatever band I just wrote about and how glad he is he bought whatever album I said was good. This is actually a convoluted story. Basically I made a Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins station on Pandora (Jenny Lewis is the lead singer of my favorite band Rilo Kiley, whom I had only ever heard of at the urgings of my good friend Josh Ravitz), and Mike Aten (Tim Aten less miserable but somehow more ornery older brother) gave me all these bands to plug into the said station and it ended up, for a short time at least, as the most insane Pandora station of all time. The Jenny Lewis Station became essentially the realization of everything Pandora is meant to do, pumping out all kinds of eclectic and wonderful music I had never heard of, but loved, viz. Metric.
Now sadly, the Jenny Lewis Station has somehow devolved into a trite hash of Shawn Colvin and Michelle Branch (nothing against them – and there was a point when Shawn was on my short list – but what happened to the sublimely violent ruckus of those previous and fresh international artists?), but not before it could deliver my current favorite song, "Queen of Apology" by Swedish band The Sounds. With The Sounds as my favorite new band (as opposed to new favorite band, which they aren’t, at least not yet), I now have a 100% love affair with Swedish chick-fronted bands given that my "other" (read: non-Rilo Kiley) favorite band is perennial movie soundtrack favorites-turned-introspective pop balladeers The Cardigans.
So, The Sounds… Basically they are awesome. The album of theirs, Dying to Say This to You, that my lovely – very lovely, kind, thoughtful, and all-around perfect – better half bought me starts with cowbell. More cowbell. They rock like a love affair between Blondie and The Killers. You can listen to some of their best stuff for free here (my favorite is "Queen of Apology" but I also quite like "Painted by Numbers" and almost everything I’ve heard).
I vaguely remember Lan D. Ho telling me about them when he was up visiting Jonny Magic, but I’m not 100% sure; what I am 100% sure of is how awesome The Sounds are.
Peace out, go listen… or in the alternative, at least purchase a copy of Deckade, available exclusively at top8magic.com.