“Wait. Are you playing?”
I got some variation of this question about ten times last Saturday, which by the time you read this is two Saturdays ago. In fact, you’ll notice that Josh Silvestri and I attend the same PTQs and I am constantly one week behind him. What gives?
Tournament reports normally come with a decklist, say, of the deck I played. Well, we’ve got this grand tradition in this column of no decklists. If you’re interested in what I played (or more importantly, how to play it right), check out Gerry T’s article last week, itself an update of his GP-winning Justice Toast deck. There’s not much point to me telling you about the deck, since I played zero games with it prior to the tournament and almost didn’t get the cards for it.
After three consecutive weeks of judging, including the four-day extravaganza of U.S. Nationals, the thin air of Grand Prix: Denver, and my first PTQ Head Judge experience, I was ready for a break. It wasn’t that I was tired of judging. It was that I was way behind in doing my reviews. In fact, I’ve just started to get my reviews from Nats in this week. Having another tournament worth of potential reviews did not really sit right with me. So after completing my HJ duties, I hinted that I might be playing at the PTQ the following week if the tournament were sufficiently staffed.
All of a sudden I needed a deck to play. The Kelpie deck looked interesting, so I IMed Josh Silvestri and asked him if he had contact info for Steve Edelson, the player who Top 8ed with the deck. Through Josh I got in touch with Steve and got a quick primer on his deck. I liked the concept a lot, but it seemed horribly complicated, at least for someone with my current level of experience with the format. I needed something simpler.
The thing is I’ve never been good at piloting the so-called simple aggro decks. I either over-commit, under-commit, or just plain count up the damage wrong. One might say that I have a problem with commitment. I decided that I needed to play a simple tap out control deck that just wiped the board a couple of times and won with some big finisher. Settling on the Toast archetype, I hit up Gerry T on Facebook for his latest iteration of the deck.
With a list in hand, I went about borrowing the cards. Ninety percent of them came from Bryce, my local judge trainee. He and his wife Skye were not playing in the PTQ because of a wedding that weekend, so he made all of his cards available to me. For the last few that Bryce didn’t have, I went to Mark, the owner of Drom’s Comics and Cards, where I had judging FNM for the past two months. I rounded out the deck with three Primal Commands borrowed onsite from Zack and Kevan.
Speaking of onsite, the tournament took place at Great Escape Games, the site of our Sacramento Regionals this year. If you recall, last time out my main complaints were about the lack of PA and AC. They still didn’t have the former, and the latter was a little underwhelming. The problem was that the room, basically a warehouse, was huge – with 147 players only half of the room was occupied. For something that big, you have to start up the AC up the night before to have any chance of keeping it cool once that many people sit down in it.
Round 1, my first sanctioned match in over a year. How exciting! Michael Starritt walked right up to me after a visit to the pairings.
“You and me,” he said.
What? I waited a year to play someone I know? Look. All of you who complain about driving to many hours just to play someone from your hometown – my player rewards had expired! Over a year. I swear that DCI Reporter hates me when I’m scorekeeping, and it clearly hates me when I’m playing.
Being friends, Michael and I exchanged looks at our decklists. Ugh. He was playing Kelpie, a rough matchup for me because of his discard. I also brought his attention to my deck name, “Eric Levine Intervention.” Michael gave me a funny look, until I pointed out the judge collecting decklists and said “That’s Eric Levine.”
I also counted my decklist, confirming that I had 60 cards maindeck and 15 cards in my sideboard, and made the standard Judge annotation at the top of the decklist: “60/15 RH.” During decklist counting, Peter Manning came across my annotated list and I got an earful about it later. Heh.
The Kelpie matchup ended up being as difficult as I had heard. His discard worked me over good in game 1. Knowing what he was playing, it’s possible that I should have mulliganed more aggressively into a hand with Runed Halo, which naming Raven’s Crime is about the only chance that this deck has.
For game 2 I brought in the full complement of Halos and Hallowed Burials to get rid of his persisting army of Kelpies. The plan was working for awhile. I Haloed Raven’s Crime and River Kelpie, stalling him action. When a Mulldrifter started to eat away at my life total I dropped a Wispmare (expecting him to have Everlasting Torment to counter Halosâ€”yeah, that doesn’t make much sense in retrospect). That was when things went from “I might be able to squeak this out” to “what just happened?” Michael unleashed some slick new tech for the deck in Spitting Image, which did a few sick things on successive turns like:
1) Copied Mulldrifter and drew him cards, helping him recover from a double mulligan.
2) Copied his River Kelpie, making it profitable for him to Raven’s Crime himself.
3) Copied my Wispmare and blew up my Halos, leading to a blowout.
Things were pretty elementary at that point. Spitting Image in Kelpie. What a beating.
Being the scorekeeper for most of the Northern California events over the past year, I had become familiar with some of the more esoteric names out there, and Merlin “the Magician” Catterall-Davis was surely one of them. I commented on this and said that it was finally good to meet the man behind the robes. Okay, I didn’t actually say that – I just thought of it now – but I sure wish I had said it. Merlin likewise was familiar with me from all my judging.
Merlin was rocking a Five-Color build with maindeck Stillmoon Cavaliers, which actually caused a lot of trouble. Besides Cloudthresher I didn’t have any action cards that could really do much here. The Cavalier was particularly effective at stopping Archon of Justice. I finally got a breakthrough weapon when he Vendilion Cliqued me (yet another unusual maindeck choice) and I drew into the singleton Oona, Queen of the Fae.
In game 2, Merlin blasted my hand away with Mind Shatter. Ouch! I recovered by topdecking Runed Halo after Runed Halo for each of threats: Vendilion Clique, Archon of Justice, and Chameleon Colossus. But the leftover Stillmoon Cavalier walked past my team and pumped up to victory. I got to call a Judge in this game when Merlin knocked over the top card of his library when he put something in his graveyard. It fell off the library in a way that he couldn’t see it, but I could (I believe it was Broken Ambitions). The responding Judge was Head Judge Jeff “Judge of Currents” Morrow, so he got all the stuff right. Still, being my first Judge call in over a year, I asked if I could appeal. Jeff politely informed me (as if I didn’t know) that he was the HJ, so there was no point to an appeal. And here I was hoping that he would turn around, wait for a beat, then turn around and say, “Yes, you have an appeal?” At least that’s what I would have done.
After game 2, the clock read nine minutes left in the round, which would realistically be only about seven once game 3 started. I had taken out Kitchen Finks for more Hallowed Burials and Halos for game 2 because of the Stillmoon factor, but with so little time left, I knew that my only hope of winning was with a multiple Finks draw, so I put them back in, shuffled, and drew two of them in my opening hand, running over Merlin with seconds to spare.
There aren’t too many “Must be nice” moments in judging, so I savored that victory born out of brilliant strategy and more than a little luck. I mean, if Merlin had draw a Stillmoon, the plan would have been shot to hell. After the match, I pulled out my decklist to desideboard like a noob.
While shuffling up for round 3, I noticed Eric Levine pacing nearby out of the corner of my eye. I guess being a Judge, you pick up on subtle things like this. I told my opponent, Joe McGough, that we might be facing a deck check. Good thing I desideboarded like a noob because Eric did indeed step in as soon as we presented. I gave him a little grief over the “random” deck check, and he swore that DCI-Reporter had randomly selected my table. What was I saying about that program hating me?
Joe and I chatted during our seven minutes of downtime. He was actually a friend of Merlin’s, and he filled me in on their local scene, which featured the usual tale of a store with sketchy ownership that can’t seem to get things right. I’m not out to bash card shop owners, but do they realize that most of their player base is perfectly willing to help out in a multitude of ways to make the store and its events run better?
Eric came back and I was happy to have passed my first deck check in forever and a half. It was a little surprising how nervous I was. In fact, throughout the day, I was constantly doing things like checking my sleeves and making sure my one foil Cloudthresher wasn’t too curved. You can take the boy off the farm…
Joe was playing UW Merfolk and came out of the gates with Stonybrook Banneret, Merrow Reejerey, and Silvergill Adept, all of whom got Buried Hallowed. He rebuilt with Wake Thrasher, which wasn’t much of a match for my Archons of Justice. On his final turn, Joe went into the tank, did some counting, and passed back. I missed another opportunity to call a Judge right there for slow play. When I attacked with my flyers, he played Mirrorweave targeting Wake Thrasher, which would have kept him alive had I not had Cryptic Command. In further retrospect, I should have just flashed him the Cryptic and gotten him to scoop since he only had one card in hand.
Game 2 was a blow out. He played a Silvergill Adept, but didn’t commit any more creatures to the board, respecting the deck’s multiple board sweep effects. He also had multiple Mutavaults, but didn’t attack with them, obviously holding his mana for Sage’s Dousing. Here I made a critical mistake by fearing the counterspell. I should have just run my Firespout into his Dousing (what poetry that line is). My deck had enough board sweepers to handle one getting countered, and he might have even played out some creatures after that.
Instead, I didn’t go for the Firespout until way too late, and I eventually got wrecked by those Mutavaults. In game 3, Joe opened up with a quick Cursecatcher and Banneret. Runed Halo shut down his Mutavaults, but Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender did likewise for my Firespout. I had to fire off back to back Spouts to clear the board, and he still rebuilt with a Reejerey with me at four life. At this point, I made one of those “I haven’t played in a year-and-a-half” types of mistakes. I played Cloudthresher out as my only blocker. Not only did it take me to two life, enough for the Reej to kill me if he had, well, any Merfolk. But I also did it on my turn to play around counterspells. Given the ratios in his deck, I should have flashed it out during his combat, braving his counterspell and playing around his tap effect (which he ended having).
Oh, and I also could have bought some time by playing Runed Halo on Merrow Reejerey. That would have been the best thing to do, keeping me at a respectable 4 life. No one said I was good at this game.
My fourth round opponent, Hugh Moore, was another familiar face, a warrior who has been battling in Nor Cal for as long as I could remember with the occasional qualification. Hugh started with my deck’s nemesis, turn 2 Bitterblossom. Luckily, when he went for the Scion of Oona to pump up his squad I had the Cryptic. But still, free 1/1s were too much for me to handle. By the time I tried to stick a Cloudthresher, he had enough Faeries to Spellstutter Sprite it. Yeah, that’s kind of silly.
In game 2, I managed to counter a few key spells, blow up his creatures, and creep my way to victory with an army of Kitchen Finks. Game 3 was painful. It was a back and forth battle for Mulldrifters out of my graveyard. The first time he went for a Puppeteer Clique on my Drifter, I used Makeshift Mannequin to counter it. That didn’t stop him from drawing lots of cards off my Mulldrifters several times after that. Again, a better player probably would have figured out how to stop this from happening, like taking out Mulldrifters altogether, or at least not evoking them. Eventually the match went to time and I thought that had at least the draw locked up until Hugh ripped a Scion off the top to alter his clock significantly.
At that point, sitting with a 1-3 record, I dropped. It wasn’t just the record. I also had a headache from the aforementioned slow to work AC. It surprised me just how fatigued I was from playing four rounds. In comparison, judging is much easier, at least for me. Walking around can keep you much cooler than sitting between two other people. Plus, your blood is circulating, which was a problem for me playing as my butt was sore from the hard metal chairs. So while I enjoyed sleeving up and playing a few rounds, it may be another year before I do so again.
Until next time, this is Riki Hayashi telling you to call a judge.
Rikipedia at Gmail dot dsj
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