The Road to Regionals – From Right Field: Chucky’s Cheese, or The Story of a Very Non-Budget Deck

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Chris brings us a fine-looking G/B deck for the upcoming Regionals. Still unsure on what to play this coming weekend? Are you a fan of the Green and Black spells? Maybe this is the deck to take it all. Plus, there’s a bonus section: Dr. Romeo’s Guide to Enjoying Regionals or Any Other Big Tournament.

{From Right Field is a column for Magic players on a budget, or players who don’t want to play netdecks. The decks are designed to let the budget-conscious player be competitive in local, Saturday tournaments. They are not decks that will qualify a player for The Pro Tour. As such, the decks written about in this column are, almost by necessity, rogue decks. They contain, at most, eight to twelve rares. When they do contain rares, those cards will either be cheap rares or staples of which new players should be trying to collect a set of four, such as Wildfire, Llanowar Wastes, or Birds of Paradise. The decks are also tested by the author, who isn’t very good at playing Magic. He will never claim that a deck has an 85% winning percentage against the entire field. He will also let you know when the decks are just plain lousy. Readers should never consider these decks "set in stone" or "done." If you think you can change some cards to make them better, well, you probably can, and the author encourages you to do so.}

{Having said all of that, this week’s deck is by no means a budget deck. Sorry. On the flip side, if you’ve been playing for a couple or four years, you should have almost all of these cards. So, completing the deck shouldn’t cost you an arm and a leg.}

I used to hate articles of any sort that talked about people I didn’t know as if I did. Why do I care? I don’t know these people? Then, one day, my brother astutely pointed something out. “You know, you don’t know the characters in a book, until the writer tells you about them.” But those are characters in a book, not real people. “So? What’s the difference? They’re all just stories. Articles and interviews are about real people like actors and musicians; books are about fictional people. It’s all just words on a page.”

How could someone so young – he was maybe fourteen at the time – be so wise?

Since then, I haven’t simply turned the page (or clicked the BACK button) on pieces that mention people that I don’t know. As long as the writer makes them interesting, I’ll read on.

I start here because this week’s piece, the last one before I head off to have my head handed to me at Regionals, is about Charles Dykes. You’ve seen his name here and there in my pieces. I credit Charles with inventing Ravager-Affinity because he was playing the deck in our testing sessions before anything like it even hit the ‘net. He’s the guy who keeps trying to play Pyroclasm during combat phases, saying “It just feels like it should be an Instant!”

That doesn’t really tell you much about Charles, the Man, though. That’s what will get you thinking you know him.

Charles is ex-Navy. Charles is married to a redheaded nurse named Jennifer. Think about that, boys. Redheaded. Nurse. Named Jennifer. Charles has a recording studio in his basement. Charles plays bass as well as anyone I’ve ever heard. He also plays a couple of other instruments. He’s handy with power tools. He wins poker tournaments. He wins Magic tournaments. Groups of us test at Charles’s house, and his wife doesn’t even mind. He’s generous. He’s funny. Men want to be him. Women want to be with him. He’s Matthew McConaughey without the fame and the glorious hair.

If I had to write one pithy line to sell Charles as the main character in a movie I was trying to get bankrolled, it would read like this:

Charles Dykes is the kind of guy that other guys should be jealous of.

Charles hadn’t been to a major tourney in a while. He was absolutely going to make it to Regionals 2006 barring any sort of natural disaster.

Then, Charles and Jen found that he had “slipped one past the goalie.” Jen is pregnant. This is a wonderful, happy, joyous event for them. They’re going to make fantastic parents. Jen will just have to make sure that Charles doesn’t spoil the kid completely rotten. He’s the kind of guy who would do that.

Jen’s pregnancy also meant that Charles was going to have to spend as little money as possible on his Regionals deck. We could forget about Dissension cards completely unless we found a card that his deck simply had to have. We wanted to use as few Guildpact cards as possible, too. There was a bit more time to get those, but he still didn’t want to spend too much money on them.

That’s when I came up with The Theory of the Guilds. That theory went like this: if we could find a decent deck that utilized cards that Charles already had plus cards from the Ravnica Guilds, we’d probably find a deck that wouldn’t be affected too much by Guildpact and Dissension. The reason was that there wouldn’t be too many mono-colored cards in those two sets, and there would be no multi-colored cards that matched the Ravnica Guild colors. (We didn’t know about the split cards that would be coming, but they didn’t throw things off by much at all.) Because of that, very few cards from Guildpact and Dissension would even fit into a solid Ravnica Guild deck. If one or two did, well, we owed Charles enough payback from all of the time and food and drinks we’d used at his place to get them for him.

When Charles looked at Ravnica, he really only had one choice: Black and Green. Charles loves that color combination. His casual, thousand-plus-card, multi-player deck is Black and Green, filled with Mortivores, Terravores, lotsa other phat phat fatties, and mana fixing (with the occasional Mountain and Red spell thrown in for good measure).

(I got Charles four Bloodshot Cyclops for his birthday a couple of years ago. Not only is that creature just st00pid in a deck with ‘Vores and other large creatures, but the Cyclops’ nickname is Chuck.)

(Oh, by the way, Charles hates being called Chuck. I will, of course, then, name the deck something revolving around that. Out of spite, really.)

In addition, to all of that, he was intrigued by my Golgari Preconstructed Deconstruction experiment from a few months back. Even back then, when he first saw what I was doing, we had discussed adding Charles’s buddy Mortivore, as I suggested at the end of that piece.

Wait. Did I mention Mortivore? With G/B from Ravnica? Dredge with Mortivore? I think John Rizzo might have something to say about that. Something along the lines of “any sucka duck with one eye and half a cerebrum can see that Shambling Shell is too sexxxy with Mortivore. Double that for Stinkweed Imp. It’s like a chyk with a Victoria’s Secret Wonderbra and not much else playing across from you while your best friend’s hot MILF rubs her shoulders, whispering huskily into her ear ‘you can do it, Becky.’ Excuse me. I have to go. Somewhere. Now.”

Charles loves Mortivore about as much as anyone can love a single card. I don’t know for sure what Charles’ all-time favorite creature is (maybe Avatar of Woe), but the Black ‘Vore has got to be high on the list. I can understand why, too. An x/x creature with Regeneration for only four mana? That’s as solid as Daniela Pestova’s abs. Add in Dredge, and it really is just sick.

As we worked on the deck between December and February, we had the core of the deck pretty well figured out, leaving it to be “finalized” only after we saw Guildpact (and maybe Dissension). The biggest problem we had while testing was the chumps blocking the Mortivore. There’s pretty much nothing as demoralizing as having a 13/13 Mortivore stopped cold by a cheap 1/1 Saproling token. At one point, Charles asked “How the hell does a 1/1 Goblin stop a 13/13 Mortivore? Does it trip him?”

(I couldn’t help but thinking of how ridiculous it looked in Return of the Jedi to have Ewoks with their slingshots and trip ropes beat up on the Stormtroopers with their arsenal of nuclear-powered laser guns, walking ICBM platforms, and smart bombs.)

After a lot – all right, honestly, not a whole lot – of discussion, we decided that Loxodon Warhammer would be the card to break those stalls. As testing went on, we also found that the life gain was a tremendous boon, allowing the deck to play an early defense/control role and then move into an aggressive role in the mid- and late-games.

Having solved the Morty Gets Chumped problem, the next big problem was that the deck was going to be chock full o’ rares, and Charles was pretty limited budget-wise. This is where the friends come in.

Charles already had the four Birds of Paradise and the three Phyrexian Arenas. Like any good Magic-ian, he tried to get the BoPs as soon as he started playing the game. He picked up the Arenas for the mono-Black Control deck he ran at States a couple of years ago. He had four Mortivores, but he could only find two of them in his fatty/casual deck. That was fine, though, because he had a birthday coming up. I splurged and got him two more of them. He’d be borrowing the Llanowar Wastes (Apocalypse versions, boy-ee!) from me and the Overgrown Tombs from our friend Joe, who is going nowhere with a gun in his hand. The deck also needed four Warhammers. We know that he had oodles of those. They were uncommons, and he played during Mirrodin block. He just couldn’t find them. (He loaned them out to a couple of folks he hasn’t seen in months.) So, he’s borrowing some. Most of the other cards (Putrefies, Stinkies, Shambling Shells, Golgari Grave-Troll, and Elves of Deep Shadow) he got by purchasing two of the Golgari precon decks.

When Guildpact rolled around, we tried various Black cards and various Green cards. The only thing we found that helped the deck at all was Plagued Rusalka. Since Rusalka was an uncommon, it was easy for Joe and Harmon to come up with the three or four that Charles would need. (I only have four, and I might be playing the same deck. So, I couldn’t offer mine.)

You probably don’t want to try to figure out the deck just by reading the last couple of paragraphs. How about an actual decklist, then, eh?

“You’re a star, Denny.”
“Big star. Shoot solar flares outta my ass.” – Alan Shore (James Spader) and Denny Crane (William Shatner), Boston Legal

Now, before I get the flames to the head here, yes, yes, I know that this is way beyond the From Right Field budget. Again, though, that’s what friends are for. The eight rare lands and the Warhammers? Borrowed. The BoPs and Arenas? He already owned them. Ditto for two of the Mortivores. The other two Mortys? Birthday presents. Everything else was either: a common that he already had (Nantuko Husk was a common in Onslaught); an uncommon (Creeping Mold) that he already had; came from the two Golgari precons that he got for about twenty-five bucks; or was a common (Shred Memory) or uncommon (Trophy Hunter, Plagues Rusalka) that our group easily had extras to lend.

That, folks, is what friends are for.

You are Special. You are Unique. Just like Everybody Else.

The deck has performed incredibly well against everything that we’ve been able to throw at it… except – say it with me – U/R Wildfire and Heartbeat.

As a digression here, having tested a ton of decks over the last three months, I fully expect that the two decks that will post the best numbers will be U/R Wildfire and Heartbeat. Now, don’t confused “best” numbers with “biggest” numbers. Truth be told, I’m getting quite frustrated by the writers and “statisticians” who tout the raw number of Top 8s or wins that a deck has as the be all and end all of performance. I don’t care about raw numbers of wins. I care about percentages. If two people out of a hundred play a certain deck, and both of those people make Top 8, that is a whole lot more impressive than if forty people out of the same hundred play another deck with four of them making the Top 8. In other words, when Regionals is over, while U/R Wildfire and/or Heartbeat may not make up the majority of Top 8’s, if we look deeper – if we look at the percentages – I’ll bet you’ll find that those are the two strongest decks.

As I said above, though, Chucky’s Revenge has beaten everything we’ve thrown at it. Mono-White. Mono-Red. IzzeTron. B/W Control. Zoo. Mono-Green. G/R/w and G/R/u Control. Ghost Dad. Mono-Blue and Eminent Domain. Ghazi-Glare. Gruul Beats. Greater Good-based decks. Owling Mine. Only U/R Wildfire and Heartbeat decks are a problem before sideboarding. After sideboarding, only U/R Wildfire is a problem.

I don’t really expect you to just believe me, but I’m still going to leave it like that. Why? Because after nearly three months of testing versions of Chucky’s Revenge, I don’t have the time or space to give you a rundown of all of the games played. In addition, raw data won’t convince you anymore than my heartfelt assertions.

Look at the deck, though. Don’t just run down the list. Really look at what the cards do. Look at the multiple synergies there. Ask yourself, how does this beat a deck that tries to steal its stuff? (You sacrifice it.) Beatdown decks? (Stinky. Putrefy. 3/1 Shambling Shell. A 12/9 Trampling, lifegaining Mortivore.) How do you win against a deck that makes you discard? (Bring them back from the dead; draw two cards per turn.) How do you beat a deck that can drain you for 35 or 40 life in on turn? (Gain life.) This deck is one of the most versatile that I’ve ever played. It has answers that are rarely wrong. I mean, against what deck is Putrefy dead? It has threats that are incredibly hard to deal with. It can come back from the brink of death.

Believe me or don’t, Charles is playing this at Regionals. I might be, too. If, when all is said and done, you see Chucky’s Revenge in the money at the Southeast Regionals, you’ll know who was right. Of course, if neither of us make Top 32, then it will probably be the pilot’s fault and not the plane.

Playing the Deck, for Those That Care

For those of you that haven’t simply given up, though, some advice on the tougher matchups. Don’t be afraid to drop a card that looks crucial. For example, against Heartbeat, Phyrexian Arena has to go. You can’t afford the lifeloss. Bring in Naturalize and Creeping Mold. Typically, the other four that go are Putrefy. The only thing you can (normally) hit in that deck (depending on weird sideboard strategies) is Maga. If Maga hits, you can deal with it in combat quite easily. Stinkweed Imp. Or just chump block it. If you get a chance to cast Creeping Mold on a Swamp, do it. Don’t wait. Don’t think. Just do it.

I still don’t know what to do about U/R Wildfire except to bring in Shred Memory, rip all of the sorceries from their ‘yard, and hope that Magnivore is really, really small. Like I’ve said, I am convinced that these are the two toughest decks in Standard. Dismiss them at your own peril.

For most of the other decks, what you bring in is easy to spot. For example, against Glare of Subdual and Great Good-based decks, you want Naturalize. If Gifts Ungiven is involved, you probably want to bring in Shred Memory, too. What do you take out, though? That, kiddies, you’ll have to figure out for yourself. You’ll need to remember how they played the deck, remember the kinds of things they seemed most worried about. It may end up being more a question of what stays in. If Faith’s Fetters is in the opposing deck, leave in anything that allows you to sacrifice a creature out from under it. The Rusalkas, Husk, and Shell all must stay in that case. Sometimes, we even dropped Mortivore (if they’d seen it in game one) just to frustrate Cranial Extraction plans. Ditto with the Warhammer. Again, it just depends.

I know you don’t have much time to practice with this deck. Partly, that was done on purpose. Since this is the deck that Charles is playing this weekend, I didn’t want people reading about it and knowing what they’d be facing when they sat down across from him. Paranoid, I know. But I’ve lost enough matches because the guy I played against said, “I know that deck. You wrote about it this week.” Yeah, the chance of that happening at Regionals is much, much less than at a local Saturday tourney. I just didn’t want to take any chances since it wasn’t “just my deck,” so to speak.

It was tough for me to hold off, though. On the one hand, I didn’t want to ruin the deck for him. On the other hand, I wanted the world to know it was his deck. If I’d written about Ravager-Affinity when he first showed it to me, the world would know that it was brought to light by Charles Dykes. Instead, all we have is anecdotal evidence. For that, I shed a tear. Just one, though.

There you have it. Charles’ (and maybe my) G/B deck for Regionals 2006. If you lose to one of us, it was inevitable. If you beat one of us, way to go, matey!

Free Bonus Section: Dr. Romeo’s Guide to Enjoying Regionals or Any Other Big Tournament

I try to do this every year for States and Regionals. A lot of it is logical. Some of it some folks have never considered before.

1) Take a shower or bath before the tourney: There will be a lot of males in a room that probably won’t be well ventilated. Some people will stink from the get-go. Others will seem fine at first but will start to emanate funk as the day goes on. Bathing stops a lot of that and makes the day a tad more pleasant, whether you go 0-3-drop or win the entire thing. You know, this is also a good idea just for every day life. Also, slap on some deodorant or antiperspirant. Cologne is optional. Remember, you might love the smell of Obsession, but it might make some folks sick.

2) Show up early: I don’t care if sign-ups start at 9:30 AM, get there at 9:00 or even 8:55. You don’t want to be rushed. You don’t want to mess things up. And you sure don’t want to be responsible for things starting late.

3) Have your deck ready: I am constantly amazed by the folks I see who are still getting the cards they need for their decks while other people are signing up. I mean, it’s the day of the freakin’ tournament. Worse, it’s a few minutes before the tournament begins. I’d love to do an analysis of how two groups of players do in such tourneys. The first group would be the folks who have all of the cards they need and are ready to go when they get to the tourney site. The second would be the folks trying to finish their decks. My gut feeling is that the prepared folks do better.

4) Know your deck: At this point, it’s almost too late. However, you still have three or four days to test your deck. Get to know how it functions. Learn what are good hands to keep and what to throw back. Have you missed any tricks or synergies in your deck? I am constantly amazed by how smart my playtest partners are. They’ll see things that never crossed my mind. Here’s an example. We were looking at Necroplasm as a sideboard card for Chucky’s Revenge. I was worried about how slow it would be. Then, Bill Bryant pointed out that we could sacrifice Shambling Shell to put counters on it. In other words, we could kill two-casting-cost creatures at the end of the very first turn the thing came into play if we had two Shells on board. You might say “no, duh.” I said, “Holy cow.” Also, stop tweaking your deck. If you make changes at this point, you probably won’t have time to test them properly. If you do, make sure you test them.

5) Get a good night’s sleep: These things are, with a few exceptions, pretty long. Magic is a game that takes brain power. Go to bed on time the night before. If you have a long drive ahead of you (like we do), consider getting a hotel room (like we did). If you can’t afford that, go to bed really early the night before. Don’t stay up all night. You’ll be tired and make bad decisions. “Like playing one of Romeo’s decks!” Shaddup!

6) Eat and drink right: The other half of the brain power equation is to make sure you’re feeding your body correctly. Chips and soda will keep you going, but not well. I always bring cereal bars and water or fruit juice just in case I have to have something between rounds and don’t have time to go out for real food. Also, our group loads up a cooler with bread and sandwich fixings so that we can have a decent meal. We don’t want to waste time in line with everyone else at the fast food places. Not only is a turkey sandwich on whole wheat much better for you than a hot dog, it’s going to be about three bucks cheaper. Besides, who wants to eat a food whose package has a big yellow label on it that screams “Bubba’s Pork Dogs: Now 100% Rectum Free!”

7) Use a pen to keep score, and be specific: For the first few rounds, at least, you’re liable to be squished in the tourney room like a veal calf. Dice are notorious for rolling when jostled. In fact, isn’t that how they’re normally used? You want your score pad to tell a story in case a judge is called. How did your opponent go from 18 to 16? Brought that Sacred Foundry into play untapped. How’d she get from 16 to 11? Taking five from your Dryad Sophisticate with a Moldervine Cloak. I promise that if you keep detailed scoring notes, the judge is about a gazillion percent more likely to believe you than an opponent with dice.

8) Lift the toilet seat: There will be a ton of peeing going on. Mountain Dew will be consumed in large quantities. Lift the freakin’ seat because someone – maybe you, more likely me – will have to go Number Two at some point in the day. Think about it. (Corollary: Bring some Lysol or Clorox wipes.)

9) Call the judge: Don’t let your opponent browbeat you into giving in on something. If you question a rule or a play, let the judge tell you what the real deal is. If your opponent was right, then, so be it. You don’t lose points for calling a judge. Also, don’t let shady play go without calling a judge. Players cheat in ways that don’t always look like cheating.

“Oh, I accidentally saw that next card. I’ll just put it back.” Or;

“Oh, I accidentally saw that next card. I’ll just out it on the bottom.”

Wrong. Call a judge. Behavior like that may seem harmless, and often it is. But it can also be an insidious form of cheating. Think about it this way. See the two things I wrote above? That’s what Opt does. If you’d need to pay mana and lose a card to do that in an Extended or Legacy tourney, why should your opponent get to do that for free? When in doubt, and sometimes even when not, call the judge.

10) Have fun: You’re not going to win your Regional tournament. This, of course, is like me telling all 32 NFL teams that they won’t win the Super Bowl this year. I’m gonna be right 31 times. With a 96.9% correct prediction rate, I must be psychic! Nope, I just know that only one can win. The point is that you need to make sure that you enjoy the day outside of winning the whole thing.

A Final Pre-Regionals Pre-Diction: U/W Control has been an orphan since Onslaught rotated out of Standard. I personally think it could still have worked, but no one would help me. Wah! With the addition of the Azorius guild, I fully expect to see UWC to thrive again. It may even post a couple of Regional wins, depending on whether people can get the cards in time. The Azorius Guildmage is simply nuts.

I’d love to be able to tell you about what we found from Dissension while testing, but, to be honest, we decided to forego guessing what Dissension would do to the Standard environment. My gang is smart, but we’re not smart enough to design our new decks, test our new designs against an established field, and also try to figure out what decks the new guilds would bring. In addition, we figured that B/R would spawn, at best, a discard deck and a beatdown deck, which the environment already has. U/G might spawn some weird deck but will probably just give us another aggro-control deck. Thus, while we might now know specifics, we could pretty much figure out what was coming in general.

Having looked at the cards from Dissension, I’m comfortable with these assessments, at least for now. Still, I’m predicting huge things for U/W Control. Also, I’m very scared of Voidslime.

As usual, you’ve been a great audience. Have fun at Regionals. If you can’t make it to Regionals, just play Magic of some sort that day.

Chris Romeo