The Not-So-Killer Amoeba: Mid-Atlantic Regionals

I lost to Planar Portal.

There; I said it. I’ll even say it again:

I lost to Planar Portal.

433 out of 531.

Yes, I really did that poorly.

I really wanted to kick ass at Regionals. For the first time ever, I playtested on a weekly basis. More importantly, I actually playtested against Net Decks. You wouldn’t believe how long it took for me to learn that two rogues pitting their rogue decks against each other does not provide any useful information about how well your deck will do against the field.

I was literally struggling with what to play the night before Regionals.

For a long time, I was stuck on Sligh. The sheer consistency and ease of playing it was really appealing for an exhausting event like Regionals. It had a decent, though not great match-up against Braids. As long as your opponent didn’t draw more than one Spectral Lynx or Mortivore in the early game, you were golden. I even found that Sligh could beat Tog decks pretty often. Mogg Sentry proved to be huge in the matchup. The key is to clog up your end of the board with creatures, so that when Tog hits the table you can chump block it while throwing every burn spell at your opponent’s head.

Then there was R/G. Wild Mongrel, Call of the Herd, Firebolt, Flametongue Kavu, and Violent Eruption absolutely crushed Sligh. How can Sligh’s dorky red guys compete with green’s efficient creatures and red’s best burn? It can’t. My sideboard of four Ensnaring Bridges and Violent Eruption helped… But I didn’t want an auto-loss every first game against what I knew would be one of the most popular archetypes.

My other top deck choice was Junk. With all its bombs, it looked unstoppable on paper. Testing Junk said otherwise. It often proved too slow to win against Tog. Even after stabilizing against R/G with Pernicious Deed, producing enough threats to overrun the board proved difficult, and usually a couple Urza’s Rages and Firebolts finished what Wild Mongrels and Call of the Herd started.

I stubbornly tuned Sligh and Junk, determined to play one of them. But the night before Regionals I admitted to myself that they were both bad choices. Each struggled to hold its own against the popular decks. But the biggest issue was even more basic…

What were good matchups for Sligh and Junk?

A mana-screwed opponent seemed to be the only answer.

I was pouring over Magic-related articles on the Internet and I found one of Neutral Ground’s Grudge Match reports. Tony Tsai top-eighted with a Counter-Burn deck. The days of playing Frenetic Efreet and Hammer of Bogardan flooded my memory and my decision was made. After making a few changes to the main-deck because I like plenty of mana, here’s what I took to Regionals:

Killer Amoeba

10 Island

10 Mountain

4 Shivan Reef

4 Aquamoeba

3 Compulsion

4 Counterspell

3 Circular Logic

3 Fact or Fiction

4 Firebolt

4 Fiery Temper

4 Violent Eruption

3 Flametongue Kavu

4 Fire/Ice


4 Gainsay

3 Engulfing Flames

2 Flaming Gambit

2 Repulse

2 Hibernation

1 Compulsion

1 Persuasion

Strangely enough, it was a metagame choice. I expected to see lots of Braids and R/G decks. The combination of Fire/Ice, Flametongue Kavu, and Violent Eruption is pretty brutal in those matchups. Tog could be problematic, but squeezing out an early Compulsion usually meant big problems for Mr. Teeth.

Before getting started with the actual report, I want to apologize to my opponents – all of whose names I have forgotten. I also want to point out that every person I played against was very courteous and displayed excellent sportsmanship. Of course, it’s often easier to be on good behavior when you’re smashing someone’s (mine) face in.

(Note: For the actual report, I’m switching to the present tense. It’s just more exciting that way).

Round One: R/G/U with a really big guy (Hint: 6/8 Recycling Machine)

Game One: Things start off pretty slowly. An early Compulsion guarantees that I keep good stuff flowing, but it takes me a while to find a second source of red mana, and he knocks me around a bit with a Wild Mongrel or a Call of the Herd token. Fiery Tempers help with damage control and I eventually stabilize with a big Violent Eruption that nails two Birds of Paradise. In the meantime, he is taking points of damage here and there from his painlands and a City of Brass. Eventually, he casts Gurzigost and asks,”Is this good?” I have twelve life. Two swings with Gurzigost and I’m dead. I don’t have any counters in hand, but I do have a Flametongue Kavu and Fire/Ice, but Gurzi has a super-fat eight-toughness butt. I say okay and my opponent blinks, shocked that I’m letting the beast enter play. I Compulsion through my deck at the end of his turn but can’t find any answers. My draw phase doesn’t help either. I say go, and Gurzi comes over to smack me, but I Ice the beast to buy myself some time and a new card. At the end of my opponent’s turn, I Compulsion into a second Flametongue. I untap and play my twin Kavus, shooting Gurzigost for eight points of damage… And thankfully there isn’t a Mystic Snake to greet me. A Jungle Barrier and burn prevent my newfound army from punching through, but Compulsion draws me into the burn I need to wrap up the game.

Sideboarding: Nothing. This is one of my good matchups. Hibernation would bounce his Mystic Snakes, and Persuasion doesn’t have enough really tempting targets.

Game Two: This game is the total opposite of the last one. It all starts with an innocent Aquamoeba on turn 2.

(Unrelated-to-the-outcome-of-this-game interlude: During registration, I was struggling to come up with a cool name for the deck. Counter-Burn is too mundane. My theory specifically applicable to this build is that I can cast Aquamoeba on turn 2 and Violent Eruption on turn 3, providing serious card advantage and a tempo swing against R/G and Braids decks. Plus, I thought it was funny that I had four Aquamoebas main-decked – a card that until then I had only used in Limited. So the Killer Amoeba was born.)

Turn 3, I discard Fiery Temper (paying madness) to the Amoeba beatstick and attack. Turn four, I discard/madness Violent Eruption to the Killer Amoeba and attack. Turn five is a rerun of turn four. It was over so quickly that I felt like I cheated, especially because my deck is not geared toward raw aggression. It likes to counter things, too.

Wow. After that game I am totally stoked. Perhaps I can go all the way with a deck I threw together the night before. (Little did I know the beatings that were in store for me.) I walk around for a bit, trying not to suffocate in the rank air. Is that a requirement for big Magic tournaments? Terrible body odor stench? I’d like to make fun of Magic player hygiene and point the finger… But I didn’t have time to shower before Regionals, so I’ll shut up. I meet up with Marc and James, the other two member of team Triumvirate. They won their matches too. Looks good for the team…

Round Two: B/G/W Fatties, Cloaks, Discard, and Arena

Game One: At first I think he’s playing mono-black. When a Phyrexian Arena hits play on turn 3, I almost cry. A Counterspell would have been really nice. But now he’s burning himself for one point of life each turn. I can race. Then he starts playing some green and white mana sources. What the hell is he playing? Not willing to wait around while Arena does its card advantage thing, I throw all my available burn his head. He casts Spiritmonger.

Big fat Counterspell for the big fat ‘Monger.

On his next turn he casts Laquatus’s Champion, knocking me down to twelve life… But Arena and my red spells have left him at a fragile 4 life. He casts Armadillo Cloak on the Champion. I respond by activating Compulsion, but there isn’t a counter in sight. He swings with the Champ and I take eight…But it’s the life gain that I’m worried about, not that damage. At the end of his turn I have just enough mana to Compulsion once, finding Violent Eruption. Had he not cast the Cloak, that Eruption would have won me the game.

Sideboarding: I add 2 Repulse, 1 Compulsion, and 1 Persuasion, taking out 1 Aquamoeba, 2 Firebolt, and 1 Flametongue Kavu. I’m uncertain about the cards that come out of the deck, but I’m positive about the ones going in.

Game Two: An early Duress takes my Fact or Fiction. My Counterspells, Circular Logics, and Repulses deal with Spiritmonger and Necravolver (with white kicker), but a Spellbane Centaur does make it into play. But why worry, right? I can afford to take some hits while I search for the final burn spell or two.

Armadillo Cloak comes slamming down onto the Centaur and it steals the game from me. At least I lost with class to Laquatus’s Champion the first game… But Spellbane Centaur? With two toughness it should just be burn-bait for me. Oh, the ignominy.

Facing the inevitable, I play on and draw into Violent Eruptions when it’s too late, just like the first game. It’s pretty disheartening – and certainly something I didn’t expect. Discard, card drawing, fat creatures, and life gain kill the Killer Amoeba. Marc also lost his match. James, piloting Psychatog, is still undefeated. After complaining about my bad matchup to everyone that would listen, the third round finally begins.

Round Three: Control Black

Game One: My poor Aquamoebae (note the Latin plural form) die to Innocent Blood and Chainer’s Edict. When I see the first Cabal Coffers hit the table, I know my enemy almost card-for-card. I counter Duress and a Corrupt, and I peel Compulsion off the top of my deck. Then Phyrexian Arena resolves – and again, it’s a race. But racing against Corrupt and Soul Burn is pretty tough. It only gets worse when my opponent plays the best bad card in Control Black’s arsenal: Planar Portal. The Portal is not just a casual multiplayer card anymore. People are actually using it. And you know what?

I lost to Planar Portal.

There; I said it. I’ll even say it again:

I lost to Planar Portal.

First he fetches another Cabal Coffers, which becomes some good when you have two of them and six swamps in play.

But there is a glimmer of hope. With the Arena helping, I still manage to get my opponent down four 4 life. I untap, knock on my deck, and draw an Not-So-Killer Amoeba.

Sideboarding: After that grueling match where I felt totally helpless, I grab greedily at the tech in my sideboard. Flaming Gambit is fabulous against creatureless decks, and it’s friendly with discard spells as well. I add two Flaming Gambits plus a Compulsion, and drop all the Flametongue Kavus, hoping he won’t do something tricky like side in Nantuko Shade.

Game Two: My opening hand is a little land-heavy but I keep it. My opponent doesn’t do anything for the first three turns. Meanwhile, I’m searching for business spells but I can’t find any… So I throw some Firebolts at his head for good measure. I’m holding Counterspell in my hand when he casts Diabolic Tutor.

Here’s where I make the big mistake: I tell him to wait, giving myself time to rationalize the situation. Better to let him waste the turn tutoring and then counter the threat later, right?


I let Diabolic Tutor resolve and he searches his library, turning the card he finds face up and putting it into play to my surprise.

Cabal Coffers.

My next turn I don’t do anything worth mentioning. On his turn I counter Phyrexian Arena. Next turn, he plays Planar Portal.

It resolves. And I lose to Planar Portal again.

He resolves Haunting Echoes a few turns later, and strips my library of almost everything except Flaming Gambit and Fire/Ice. Land and Flaming Gambit: It could be worse.

Here’s where I screw up: I’m having a long turn, using Compulsion to dig for burn, and for some reason I main-phase Fact or Fiction. I do manage to draw Flaming Gambit, but on his turn he Duresses it away, then he Echoes again. In response, I flashback the Gambit for a measly four points of damage – but at least it ensures that the other Gambit won’t be removed from my graveyard. Unfortunately, the second Gambit continues to hide out on the bottom of my library somewhere.

And I lose to Planar Portal again. Did I mention that already?

Things are looking rough for the team. James won again, but he’s feeling really sick (later I’d discover that he caught the nasty two-week head/lung virus I had). Marc lost again, bringing his record to 1-2. We decide to stick it out for another round.

Round Four: R/G/b with Spiritmonger

Game One: This is the matchup I like, with little creatures to burn and big ones to counter… But I have to Paris a one-land hand. I draw six cards and this time there are no lands. Pile shuffling for a few extra minutes doesn’t help much, and when I draw five cards there is only one land. For obvious reasons, I refuse to Paris to four. A Raging Kavu and Firebolts do near-critical damage to me. Fortunately, it doesn’t take too long to find some land, and at six life it looks like I’m going to stabilize and pull it off with a well-timed Ice on Skizzik sans kicker. Six life…

3 + 3 = 6

Urza’s Rage + Urza’s Rage = I’m Dead

That’s exactly what happens. At the end of my opponent’s turn, I tap out to Compulsion through my library – and that’s when I get double Raged. My opponent explains that he would have done it sooner had it not been for fear of Divert. Did I mention that this kid was a good player?

Sideboarding: I drop a Fact of Fiction for Persuasion, figuring that it’s a faster answer and an immediate threat. Similarly I drop a couple of Circular Logics for Repulses because too often the Logics are dead weight versus his early threats.

Game Two: I look at my opening hand and can’t believe my bad luck. One land! I Paris down to six cards, but this time it looks like there is too much land and too few spells. Despite a quick Compulsion, I struggle to get to a second source of red mana for the whole game. This seriously limits my ability to control the creatures that are flying at me and I lose very quickly. I also remember trying to cast Counterspell at some point when I only have one blue mana source free. I was so totally demoralized and frustrated that I couldn’t keep the mana colors straight.

Total Matches: 1-3

Total Games: 2-6

Yeah, I know the record sucks, and I dropped as fast as possible after the fourth match. Here’s a summary for those of you who scanned through the game-by-game details:

Match One: I win a favorable matchup

Match Two: I lose in a very bad matchup

Match Three: I lose in a very bad matchup

Match Four: Horrendous draws make me lose a favorable matchup

Nevertheless, I think that Counter-Burn is a respectable rogue deck. While I doubt it is tier 1 quality, I think that with some tuning it could be tier 1.5.

My newest version of the deck has dropped Aquamoeba in favor of Merfolk Looter. Sadly, that means that I can no longer call the deck Killer Amoeba… So for now it’s just trendy Counter-Burn. Here’s the current deck list:

10 Island

9 Mountain

4 Shivan Reef

4 Compulsion

4 Merfolk Looter

4 Counterspell

4 Circular Logic

3 Fact or Fiction

3 Grim Lavamancer

4 Fiery Temper

4 Flametongue Kavu

3 Violent Eruption

4 Fire/Ice

Just a few quick comments about some of the card choices: While Aquamoeba can dish out the beats, it doesn’t generate card advantage with madness like Merfolk Looter does. The fourth Flametongue is a must, since each one can effectively handle both tokens generated by Call of the Herd. It’s also a great finisher. Firebolt’s sorcery speed always bothered me, and flashing it back in the mid-game leaves a gap in your counter shield. Grim Lavamancer replaces the Bolt. The Lavamancer can slip under Standstill and Counterspell in the early game, and its synergy with Compulsion and Merfolk Looter is ridiculous.

This deck is inexpensive to build and it’s fun to play. Don’t write it off solely based on my poor performance at Regionals: Counter-Burn could take you to a Top 8 if you give it a try.


  • All my opponents, for being good sports

  • Aquamoeba, for killing my first round opponent in game two

  • James, for doing excellent Tog math despite his ailments


  • Dream Wizards for running such a slow, poorly-organized tournament.

  • Everyone who didn’t wear deodorant

  • Me, for not countering Diabolic Tutor

  • Me, for trying to cast Counterspell with only one blue mana

Take it easy,

Rick Rust

[email protected]

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