The Main Phase – Fear and Loathing at Ohio States ’08

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Monday, November 10th – The Planeswalker deck tries to overwhelm the opponent in an avalanche of card advantage until you can land a couple of Planeswalkers and take it home from there. Wrath of God, Plumeveil, and Runed Halo are the maindeck ways to answer the aggro threat, in addition to Garruk, Chandra, and Ajani holding down the fort.

We were somewhere around the Lancaster bypass on the edge of the county line when the idiocy began to take hold…

Wait a minute. Let me step back.

Grand Prix: Kansas City. An unrequited failure on my part, with an unacceptable Elvish Warrior’s 2-3 to my name. Terrible. Anyway, I moved on. I watched a lot of matches between big names, wandered around side events, ogled at that weird tank thing that was in the corner by the snack bar, and wondered why anyone would need an army assault vehicle in Overland Park, Kansas City. Sometime that afternoon I stumbled across Team Deck Builders play testing Standard. They had some interesting decks at their disposal, including an odd concoction that contained both Cloudthresher and Bitterblossom and a B/G Elf thing. But most exciting was a deck that contained the most planeswalkers I have even seen in one deck. Not one, not two, but five distinct planeswalkers. Garruk fighting alongside Liliana, Jace fighting alongside Chandra, and all of them fighting side-by-side with the newly printed Mythic rare Ajani Vengeant, a slightly younger and more svelte version than the old one-eyed old man lion they knew in Lorwyn.

Holy crap, it’s a lion! Get in the deck!

I was intrigued. Fourteen total Planeswalkers. Fourteen. That’s unreal. And only one creature, which (of all things) was a Realm Razer! What a joke. This deck can’t be good at all.

But it was.

I watched James Cagle, member of Team Deck Builders (and the one you’ve probably seen on YouTube if you’ve seen any of their videos) split an 8-man and the half a box that comes with that kind of finish in a side event. I loved it. There’s no way this should actually work. I mean, didn’t everyone and their momma have this idea when Lorwyn first hit? “Maybe… we could shove all the ‘Walkers into the same deck! Wow, that’d be awesome, dude! High five!” But now, to see it actually work, it was infatuating. I had to try it for myself.

The car suddenly veered off the road and we came to a sliding halt in the gravel. I was hurled against the dashboard. My friend was slumped over the wheel. “What’s wrong?” I yelled. “We can’t stop here! This is Faerie country!”

When we finished the ten-or-so hour drive back from Kansas City to Columbus, I dropped the other members of my caravan off at the Soldiery, a card shop we often meet at and a fairly central location for all members involved. Then I began my final leg of the drive, the hour and fifteen minutes or so southeast to Athens, where I go to school. Even though I was supremely tired and slightly disappointed in myself (but happy for my friend and car-mate Dewitt Kane, who got an impressive 21st place), I couldn’t help but think about the Planeswalker deck. I basically decided then and there I wanted to play it, hone it to a fine point and play it at States.

So I did.

How many weeks has it been since Planeswalkers took down the Five Color and then the Faeries that dominated the metagame? Five? Maybe Six? It seems like a lifetime. But no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of the world. And that, I think, was the handle — that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense. We didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. We had all the momentum; we were riding a crest of a high and beautiful wave. So now, less than five weeks later, you can go up on a Vivid Crag in Columbus, Ohio and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark — that place where the wave finally broke… and rolled back…

After hundreds of playtest games against all the big players in the format I prepared what I thought was the final evolution of the deck. Here’s what I created:

The deck basically tries to overwhelm the opponent in an avalanche of card advantage until you can land a couple of Planeswalkers and take it home from there. Wrath of God, Plumeveil, and Runed Halo are the maindeck ways to answer the aggro threat, in addition to Garruk, Chandra, and Ajani holding down the fort. Esper Charm not only is the best way to deal with an opposing Bitterblossom but is also a great way to empty an opponent’s hand before attempting a big turn. The singleton Realm Razer, which can also be tutored with Liliana (which is why there’s only one in the deck) is to be played when you control a Planeswalker or two and you feel comfortable enough with your board position to remove anyone’s ability to play spells from the game. Savor the Moment may look odd, but in this deck, where the control elements on the Planeswalkers are more important than the aggressive ones, the extra card from a Jace and the extra land drop are certainly worth it. In fact, one of my favorite plays with the deck is to play Savor the Moment on turn 3 as a pseudo-Rampant Growth with a cantrip. With 26 lands, there’s no reason this deck should miss any of its first five or six land drops.

Get back, you bastards! I’ve got mace!

Before States, I decided I needed to try this deck out in a tournament setting just in case I was fooling myself into thinking this was awesome when it indeed wasn’t fooling myself. Here’s a quick recap of that tournament:

Round 1: win 2-0, Merfolk
Round 2: win 2-1, Kithkin
Round 3: loss 0-2, Faeries
Round 4: win 2-0, B/R Control
Top 4: Win 2-1, Faeries
Top 2: Split

The win against Kithkin in the Swiss and the win against Faeries in the Top 4 convinced me that this deck wasn’t just a gimmick, that it could in fact be real and beat the big boys in the format. I was already supremely confident in the Five-Color Control match-up, as it was the best match-up in my testing (since they have no way other than a Cryptic to deal with one Planeswalker, let alone three or four). Now, having beaten the other two big boys in the format in a relatively competitive setting, I was pretty confident. I was ready for States the next day.

That night, I went home for a good night’s sleep. It was going to be a big day tomorrow.

One of my friends had also given me a $300 deck, most of which was spent on extremely dangerous rares. The back seat of the car looked like a glass case at a premier event store mixed with a geek emporium. We had two ‘Jace vs. Chandra’ foils, seventy-five or so fruit snacks, five sheets of DCI foil trade bait, a bag half full of McDonald’s breakfast slop, and a whole galaxy of Vivids, Pools, Taps, Pains and also a liter of Pepsi, a liter of Mountain Dew, a case of 32 dice, a collection of the new Cryptic Commands and a few dozen other cards. Not that we needed all of that for the trip, but once you get locked into a serious Magic road trip, the tendency is to punch it as far as you can…

The next day the Athens crew drove up to the tournament at the Columbus Convention Center. Let’s get right to the action.

Round 1 — Nathan with U/W/g Bant Control

Nathan was a nice guy, with an accent I couldn’t quite place and an Ohio Math competition shirt that lead me to believe he was a smart guy. Although I guess he could have bought it at a thrift store, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt. He was playing a Blue-White control deck that had Green splashed for Bant Charm and Treetop Village. In game 1, an early Ajani kept a Treetop Village tapped for a few turns but it eventually succumbed to Faerie Conclave beats. A Garruk bit the dust to more man lands, and the Beast he created when he came into play ate a Condemn. Another Ajani came down on turn 11 or so, followed by a Savor the Moment which meant I could keep two man lands tapped and keep up Cryptic mana. After that, Nathan tapped out to Mind Spring for a bunch but he found no answers and Ajani went epic soon after and that was pretty much game.

+3 Twincast, +4 Condemn, +3 Bitterblossom
-4 Wrath of God, -3 Plumeveil, -3 Runed Halo

In retrospect, perhaps I should have kept the Halos, but I think that this decision worked out fine. This is a good place to talk about Twincast. Basically, it Negates Negate, Bant Charms Bant Charm, and Cryptic Commands Cryptic Command. It’s fun against Ultimatums of varying types as well. In this match up, I expected to be able to either copy a counterspell or piggyback on a Mind Spring.

Game 2 was a story all about how sick Realm Razer is. We went back and forth for a while, with him pouring on a decent amount of pressure with man lands while I tried to stabilize with a Bitterblossom, Jace and a Liliana. He killed Jace but I got an Ajani down the next turn. On the following main phase he cast Hurricane for four and attempted to redirect 3 of it from me to Ajani and the last point of damage to Liliana. This prompted a judge call from me. Turns out you can’t do that, only redirect to one ‘Walker at a time. He chose to kill Ajani, but the tap out was met with a Realm Razer, which went the distance for the win.

Round 2 — Ryan with Cruel Control

Ah, my best match-up. In about 50 playtest games, I lost to Five-Color Control three times. Awesome.

Or so I thought.

Game 1 I keep a three-land hand and don’t draw another land until turn 6. A Finks gets in for 15, and he Cruels me to death Fireball-style.

+3 Bitterblossom, +3 Twincast, +3 Bant Charm
-3 Wrath of God, -3 Plumeveil, -3 Runed Halo

I kept a single Wrath in the deck just in case I needed to get it with Liliana.

In game 2, he mulls to five. He puts up a decent fight for a while, but eventually I make Ajani go epic and that’s game.

In game 3 I lose to his singletons. He drew the Broodmate Dragon, which hit me for 8 before I could draw the Wrath that I Liliana’d. Eventually, I have a Chandra with 9 counters and a Jace plus a Garruk producing Beast beats, but he manages to resolve a Cruel Ultimatum on one of the turns I tapped out, plus cycling his Resounding Thunder for the win. Bad beats.

Round 3 — Akil with Bloom Razer

Akil Steele. ‘The Real Deal,’ as he’s known, is playing the Bloom Tender deck. For those of you that don’t know, here’s how this deck is supposed to function:

Turn 1: Figure of Destiny
Turn 2: Bloom Tender
Turn 3: Realm Razer

This is one of my next best match-ups because they’re a slow aggro deck. The only route to victory they realistically have is the god-draw detailed above, and even then I typically just keep laying lands and get back in the game before it’s too late. I practiced against this deck about twenty times and I lost twice.

Game 1, I stabilized at 1 life and he’s hellbent, living off the top deck for 4 turns. Unfortunately, all 4 of those turns he topdecks gas all while producing occasional Beasts from his last remaining non-land permanent on board, a Garruk. I Wrath twice but he eventually topdecks a Realm Razer, and even with a Jace and a Liliana on board I can’t beat that.

+4 Condemn, +3 Bant Charm, +1 Plumeveil
-3 Savor the Moment, -3 Esper Charm, -1 Realm Razer, -1 Runed Halo

I took out the Esper Charms and Savors because they only really shine against control. Against aggressive decks, I’m either dead or I’m not, it doesn’t matter how long it takes to get there.

In this game, I keep what I believe to be nearly the nuts: Vivid, Pool, Halo, Bant Charm, Wrath, Wrath, and a Planeswalker of some type (I forget which). Of course, I don’t draw one of the remaining 24 lands in my 53 card deck until turn 5, and by that point he’s got too much pressure on board.

I decided to stay around and beat up on 1-2s for a bit, maybe drop at a respectable 3-2.

Round 4 — Corey with Mill

This is the Sanity Grinding deck. This match-up is also very good for me, as the slow clock they have is like they’re a slow aggro deck. The only realistic way they have to win is if I get stuck on mana or they draw basically every bounce spell in their deck and none of the dead cards, like Plumeveil and Remove Soul. In about twenty playtest games against this deck I lost exactly two times.

But clearly, as my results so far have shown, playtesting means nothing.

In game 1, he draws all four Boomerangs, two Resounding Waves and a pair of Cryptic Commands, all of which bounce Vivids. It doesn’t much matter though, as I didn’t draw another land this game until turn eight or nine after keeping a three land hand. He beats me to death with Mulldrifters.

-4 Wrath of God, -3 Plumeveil
+3 Bant Charm, +3 Bitterblossom, +1 Esper Charm

So, in game 1 I didn’t draw a land after keeping a three lander. In game 2, I keep a four lander… and don’t draw another spell for the duration. Corey goes back to the ‘bounce your Vivid’ plan, but cuts that off once he realizes I can’t stop drawing them. I end this game with three spells in my graveyard, nine lands in play and four in my hand.

“Well,” I thought, “This is how the world works.” All energy flows according to the whims of the Great Magnet. What a fool I was to defy him. He knew all along.

1-3. Ophidian. Good card, bad result. I drop after round 4, dejected and pissed off at my terrible performance.

Luckily, some of my friends are still doing pretty well. Remember the Faerie player I beat in the Top for at FNM on Friday? His name is Josh McGraw and he Top 8’d this tournament with the very same Fae deck, piloting it to a 7-1-1 record before falling in the quarterfinals.

And what about Planeswalkers? Well, Rich Stachurski, who also first spotted the deck in K.C, rebuilt and reinvented the deck in his playtest group and also made the Top 8. I talked with Rich about Planeswalkers after the tournament:

Reubs: What are your Magic related accomplishments?

Rich: Top 8 Ohio Regionals and now an Ohio States Top 8. Day 2 Grand Prix: Toulouse.

Reubs: Which States did you attend? Where did you place? How many players were there?

Rich: Ohio, where I placed 5-8th. I do not recall how many players, but there were nine rounds of Swiss.

Reubs: What deck did you play?

Rich: I played Planeswalker Control minus Savor the Moment.

Reubs: Why did you decide to play this deck? Metagame choice, more comfortable playing the deck, or just what was available to you?

Rich: The reason I played this deck was twofold. One, I wanted to bring a deck that had a very good match-up against Five-Color Control. I figured a lot of the really good Magic players would take some version of Five-Color to States and I wanted some type of edge in that category. Second, I wanted to run a deck that wasn’t one of the big three: Kithkin, Five-Color, or Faeries. Faeries is a really bad match-up for this deck, and I was just rolling the dice with the hope of not running into it but once. In addition, a built in advantage is present in running Planeswalker Control in that your opponent is probably running anywhere from 4-12 dead cards game 1.

Reuben: How did you prepare for the tournament?

Rich: Playtesting with some of the better Magic players in my area for three weeks leading up to States.

Reubs: Were there any important changes you made to the deck?

Rich: Yes. I found out pretty quickly that I could not win a pre-sideboard game against Kithkin, and Mono Red was really difficult as well. To shore up those match-ups, three Bant Charms were dropped for three Condemns and Negate was moved to the sideboard for Remove Soul. Also, Dan McCartney and Dale Dewood took a look at my first draft of Planeswalker Control and suggested a few changes: drop Chandra for Elspeth, drop Liliana Vess for an additional Garruk and Ajani Vengeant, and up the count of Realm Razer to three.

Reubs: What matchups did you play during the tournament?

Rich: UGW Rafiq, UGW homebrew with Treetops and Hoofprints of the Stag, R/B Token Torrent, Five-Color Cruel twice, Red Blighting, Reveillark with Fulminator Mages, Kithkin, and G/B Elves. I also was paired against Faeries during Swiss, but luckily it was the last round and we just drew into the Top 8. During the Swiss, I lost to Adam Yurichick in three quick games (who was running Five-Color). I was lucky to beat the R/B Token deck round 6 after he got stuck on two lands forever. Therefore, I was able to lose my best match-up, dodge my worst match-up and get lucky in another hard match.

Reubs: What was the tournament field like as a whole? Did it differ from what you expected?

Rich: The one pleasant surprise was how few Faerie decks were present. Unfortunately, the few that were present were being piloted by very competent players. Otherwise, I expected a broad field and only ran into the same deck once.

Reubs: Are there any changes you would make to the main deck or the sideboard?

Rich: In the main deck the only thing I would take another look at is the manabase. I never had a problem casting my spells, but there was a lot of life lost from the pain lands. The sideboard, however, had five dead cards: 4x Bant Charm and 1x Oblivion Ring. They sat on the bench all day and if I had to sleeve up for another nine rounds of Swiss I’d bring one more Negate, 2-3 Mind Shatters, and maybe Reuben’s tech of Twincast. How’d that work out for you anyway?

Reubs: It was great whenever I had it. I got to Twincast a Cancel, a Negate and a Bant Charm to counter spells for UU like it was 1998. I also Twin’d a bounce spell once. Unfortunately, I never got to Twin a Cruel Ultimatum or something exciting like that, as I only had 1 untapped mana when it was cast on me in the second round. However, they were solid for me all day and I heartily approve of them. So you’d devote the five new sideboard slots to Five-Color Control? Why?

Rich: I was a little overconfident with this deck’s ability to beat Five-Color and never tested a sideboard match-up. Therefore I didn’t realize I needed the full four Negates and a way to disrupt their hand games two and three.

Reubs: Would you suggest playing this deck to others in the future?

Rich: It’s a lot of fun to play, there were many people who came up to me and loved the thought of playing with so many Planeswalkers. I never did play test the mirror match, and if it’s as bad as Reuben says it is then I’d recommend no one else run this deck. Just me.

Congrats to Rich on Top 8-ing States! Even small changes and a bit of luck can mean the difference between a Top 8 birth and a 1-3 finish.

Oh well. The difference between the right deck and the nearly right deck is the difference between lightning and Lightning Talons.

See you in Atlanta.


Reuben Bresler
Reubs in the forums
[email protected]
CleverMonikerMan on AIM

Current Playlist:

One Toke Over the Line — Brewer and Shipley
It’s Not Unusual — Tom Jones
Strangers in the Night — Wayne Newton
Viva Las Vegas — The Dead Kennedys
White Rabbit — Grace Slick