The Road to Regionals – Mixed kNuts: Regionals 2006, Card Game UNLEASHED!

Magic the Gathering Regionals!

As is customary for any large Constructed tournament, the esteemed Theodore Cardgame presents his metagame breakdown… or does he? We know Regionals is gonna be huge, but we also know that the current Standard metagame is mesmerizing in its complexity. So, has Ted pulled it off? Or has he fallen by the wayside, blind and impotent, raging at the sky? You’ll have to read on to find out…

Are you feeling jaded? Worn out from testing Regionals decks? Tired of having a small pebnis? Pedro Alvorado can help. Go here, read his article, and remember why you like playing Magic again. Be careful about checking his archives though, or you might run across (weird, but amusing) statements like this:

Jon Finkel = Shadowmage Infiltrator. I know Jon is making sooooo much money playing poker that he couldn’t care less about a little Magic tournament, but his ugly mug is traveling in a binder across an ocean just in case. I’ll even put him in the same pocket with Akroma so he’ll have a good trip.”

Feeling better? Good, then it’s time to ruin that. This shouldn’t take too long, I promise.

Music Cue: You get two to choose from this time, kiddies. Depending on your orientation, you may either choose Gnarls Barkley – St. Elsewhere or the new Pearl Jam album. Both should get you through this article just fine.

Stop! Thief!
Back in 2003 I think it was, Scott Johns had started writing for our site (you might have heard of him…), and did this e-normous Regionals metagame breakdown that lasted something like 7 days (Ferrett even published it over weekends just to get everything up in time*). I had only been writing for about a year at the time, so Scott definitely got top billing and by the time he had finished, he had completely obliterated just about everything I had planned to write about, forcing me to audible into this article. Scott’s a legend and I was a relative n00b, so I took my medicine and I liked it.

The point? Well this year, for whatever reason, it’s happening again. Between Craig Jones, Sean McKeown, and Steve Sadin, my usual schtick has been completely schtolen, leaving me bereft of material to write about lest I repeat what they have already said. Five years of Regionals metagame predictions, and this is the thanks I get?!? Like it’s not enough that I have to deal with the whole “metagame guru/master” moniker (editor created hype!), or the utter lack of respect from Pro Tour players for my skills, or the years where the ungrateful, unedumacated, unwashed masses tried to tell me how to do my motherf***ing job – as if they had a motherf***ing clue No, now I have former retirees, teenagers, and bloody Englishmen stealing my niche from me as if I had never staked out a claim to the territory. I mean, come on people. If a man can only do one thing well, you can’t take that from him and expect him to simply accept it without comment.

Don’t you need to go topdeck something, Mr. Jones? Shouldn’t you be titrating something, Sean, or maybe GMing a Vampire LARP perhaps? And you, Sadin! I demand that you stop swiping my material and go find a cute teenage girl to turn you into a man. There are literally millions of women where you live, and as far as I’m concerned, any one of them will do for you. Go!

You know what, screw it. I’m done. Assuming you have already read these yahoos, then you already have all the information you need, so do with it what you will. What I had to say can’t help you at this point, anyway, so I’ll simply give you some sage advice and expect that it will be more than enough for once. You ready? Here it is:

This year, more than any other in recent Regionals history, I suggest you play a deck that you like and you know how to play well.

That’s it. I’m done. I hope you enjoy listening to these lads for States too, because I won’t be here then either. Good luck, have fun, and I hope you don’t overhear any man on man sex in the bathroom between rounds. [The link is work safe. Honest.]

Peace out,
Teddy Card Game
[email protected]

* I might be lying.

Post Script
I expect a lot of my readers, so if you made it this far, I congratulate you. At the very least, you know how to pick up on contextual clues like the scroll bar on your browser to realize we’re not quite done yet. I hope that after all this time you don’t expect me to leave you completely high and dry regarding Regionals. I mean, I know I’m running a bit behind this year, but “behind” does not equal “absent,” and I gots obligations to keep up. Even if you get nothing out of the rest of this article, you’ll probably be able to enjoy the ranting of the forums for the rest of the weekend, which should be good times for all.

Enough with the blathering. Let’s kick this pig!

By the Numbers
Ah Regionals, the time of year when all my friends start intentionally leaving me out of their conversations so that I can’t even mention what decks they might be playing, never mind the fact that I would never post their decklists unasked. Flores asked me what I thought the metagame would be this year, and my response was, “effectively random.” He scoffed at me, saying that I clearly didn’t know what I was talking about, and ya know… he might be right. Regardless, I figure I might as well explain what I mean here and see if it resonates with any of you folk out there.

How exactly do you “define” a metagame where more than 50% of the players at Regionals will likely play against nine different decks in nine rounds? With no specific archetype comprising more than 12-15% of the metagame and every other archetype clocking in at 10% or less, it’s impossible to prepare via normal matchup testing. Defining testing swathes via what dual lands the decks play like Flores and Sadin have done is a sensible hedge, but the problem is that Ghost Husk plays very differently than Hand in Hand or Ghost Dad. Wafo-Tapa is dramatically different from how ‘Vore Wildfire plays. Stomping Grounds are generally the same, but any tester worth their salt will tell you playing against Heezy Street is different from playing against Zoo, and nobody really seems to know how the Gruul Hit and Run fares against anything. Oh, and don’t even get me started on U/G, which may be the greatest personal preference decklist of all time. Ravitz has a Ledgewalker deck that seems hot, a lot of players are running the fatties and countermagic Critical Mass Up-Up-Update, and then you have my version of the deck, which features anywhere from 4 to 8 burn spells along with a host of creatures with the words “Pain In The Ass” tattooed on their foreheads, and a history of violent crime.

I’m going to start by assuming you know the basics. Heartbeat Combo, Ghost Husk, and Vore are widely regarded as the decks to beat, and anyone planning to play those decks tomorrow should feel comfortable that they are battling with a powerful, well-tested archetype that has been put through the fire many times in order to end up with the current build. Heartbeat will likely be the most populous of the group, but they should all be around 1 in 10 or so on Saturday. Hand in Hand, Zoo, Heezy Street, and Izzetron are all in the next tier of decks that will see play, and once again, each one is at least solid or better in terms of the old metagame. I’m not certain which ones fare the best against the newer decks (we’ll get to those in a second), but if one of those is your favorite deck, ram it up against a couple of the decks I’m going to mention here in a second and tweak it so you don’t get bashed by anything unexpected coming out of Dissension.

Of the older decks that are lurking on the edge of the metagame, I think Ghazi-Chord and Flores’s Red/White deck remain two of the strongest around. They also have the benefit of not having been played as much during the entirety of the Team Standard season, so it’s possible that your opponents will not be as familiar with how to beat these decks as they are with the rest of the older archetypes. Flores’s article on the archetype can be found here, while Ghazi-Chord and about a billion other decklists are available in Sadin’s article from yesterday. The Red/White deck exerts pressure on the opponent every turn of the game and has metagame foil Paladin en-Vec going for it. Ghazi-Chord gives you one of the few silver bullet strategies available today, plays Loxodon Hierarch, (which is still amazing), Yosei (also strong like bull), and can be outfitted with Paladins as well, should you feel there is a need. Just don’t try and get too tricky with your bullets in this deck and you will end up playing a deck that is aggressive, resilient, and often downright obnoxious to play against.

In the Newd
Regarding the new archetypes, the place to start is in Rogier Maaten article from yesterday. If I were a brave and patient man, I would have began my Regionals testing with Wrath of God and likely never moved from that spot, hopefully ending up with a decklist that looked very similar to what The Nicest Guy on the Pro Tour posted for U/W. Of course, we all know that I am neither of those things, which is why I’ve tried desperately to avoid playing a control deck at Regionals for years, and may have finally succeeded in doing so for 2006. Regardless, you need to know that U/W Control exists, good players love it, and it will see play in reasonable numbers at whatever Regional you happen to attend.

For my next trick, I will pull a good Rakdos deck from my ass, and display it directly in front of your face. Please do not mind the smell.

It appears to be stuck. Now ladies and gentlemen, I assure that this is not because a good Rakdos decklist does not exist… it does. It’s merely a technical difficulty that our maintenance department says will be cleared up soon, like on the day after Regionals. To make up for the fact that I can’t place a decklist directly under your nose, I will at least give you a general idea about what this deck is/can do. First of all, it’s not hellbent. Instead, it’s designed to use all the best Rakdos cards (and Rakdos Guildmage is absolutely one of the best) and “trish” the hell out of you. If you play against this deck, you’ll be discarding cards, watching your creatures die left and right, and generally hanging on for dear life as you look to draw one of the answer spells in your deck or race them on damage before they kill you. Most of the existing decklists I have seen on the web for this archetype are complete and utter piles, which means they look exactly like the good decklists for this archetype, except they play much worse. Tricky, eh?

If you are desperate for further details about Good Rakdos before the big day and you know Benjamin Peebles-Mundy contact info, he’s the guy who gave me the original version of the good list and he’s been known to help out bums in need (see also: Ervin Tormos). Give him a gentle poke (or perhaps a soft caress) and hope he’s not too surly to help a brotha out. Regardless of where you end up, I just can’t see myself playing a version of the deck where one of the main strategies is casting a Jagged Poppet and then praying my opponent doesn’t Char me right out of the game, and I don’t recommend you do so either.

The last major topic I wanted to discuss today is the rise of Blue/Green. If you place any stock in sales data (this link won’t be useful if you are reading this via the archives), everyone and their dog is at least considering playing a U/G/x deck. Whether this will hold true for the big day remains to be seen, but I would expect to see a sizeable uptick in the Breeding Pool count on Saturday and your deck will need to be prepared for them or you will get smashed. The threat variety has never been better, starting at Vinelasher Kudzu and Coiling Oracle in the two-slot all the way up to Simic Sky Swallower in the seven, plus a bevy of efficient fatties all the way up the curve. The deck probably comes in two major varieties – Critical Mass and Graft. (For the record, I felt the need to name my build something vaguely entertaining, but I have no illusions that it will stick. Most people will simply call decks containing 8 or more graft creatures Graft decks.)

The Critical Mass decks are likely a little bit slower in board development, but they can be that way because they are stocked to the gills with countermagic. One of the weaknesses of this archetype is that many of the versions running around out there cannot deal with a resolved permanent, which made me uncomfortable (Worlds-Era builds always had Putrefy around to do some of the dirty work). That’s the reason why I ended up adding Red to the Four by Four list, both to take care of troublesome creatures, and to help finish games where your men can do 16 damage, but not 20. Whichever way you decide to go with this deck is probably right – it’s designed to be customizable. You like counterspells? Run with it. A big fan of Trygon Predator (I love the man, but I can’t find the space), cut something. I told Jim I wish I had 65 slots instead of a mere 60, because then I’d finally have a decklist where all the numbers looked right and I could play all the cards I wanted to.

This is the final list of the deck, and will likely be the one I play on Saturday in College Park, Maryland.

As a nod to Jon Becker, the decklist is 61 cards. Fire up the grill, I can feel the flames already on their way in the forums. The major changes from last week are the addition of four bouncelands, and the exchange of 4 Electrolyze for 2 Demonfire and 2 Meloku. I really like Electrolyze and there are numerous good metagame reasons to keep them in the deck, but in the end I wanted a couple more men and a burn spell that could do naughty things if games came down to top deck wars. Demonfire is it. In the Meloku versus Kodama battle, the answer is clearly both, and if you would rather have the flier then flip the numbers – I don’t care.

The decklist is at 38 cards/23 lands right now, with 4 bouncelands, 4 Llanowar, and 3 Wood Elves. Would I like to fit in a Birds of Paradise or two? Probably. Do I think it’s important enough to cut one of the other spells? Not really. Whatever gains you get from the higher statistical explosive start are lost to the Pyroclasm/Electrolyze/2-for-1 dilemma and my fury at drawing zero-power creatures in the late game. The biggest thing I miss about Electrolyze is the ability to draw one card deeper into the deck while dealing with a threat, but the four spells added in its place are so much more powerful that I don’t notice the loss of momentum as often as I feared I would. Those of you even thinking about bitching about hitting the colors in the manabase should hush yo mouths right now – it’s rock solid.

As for the sideboard, the Twisters are in there because there are more good weenie decks out there than I originally expected (they could also be Pyroclasms if you wanted to cut down on your versatility in favor of an earlier casting window), and because of the tournament this deck will see play in. Regionals is a sea of randomness in the early rounds, and having “Wrath of God” come from a mostly Green/Blue deck is an element I decided was worth the sideboard space. Naturalize is down to a three-of to make space for four Pithing Needles and five total counterspells to bring out of the board. Needle might just be the best sideboard card possible this weekend and it is (once again) very solid in a field of randomness.

If you decide to run this decklist on Saturday, keep me posted as to your progress. I think it presents a variety of challenges that most decks are not fully prepared to meet, but I also feel that the fine-tuning here isn’t quite done yet, so I’ll be very interested to see how other players do with it.

The last decklist I am posting here is strictly for fun. I do not expect it to be “good”, but I have played it and I do think it’s quite fun. I showed it to Flores on a lark and he said that Pat Chapin was posting his own Snakes build today and that it would be quite competitive. Regardless, here’s a decklist for those of you out to enjoy yourselves and make a buttload of snakes in the process.

I originally had Sakura-Tribe Scouts in place of the Birds, but I liked the Birds more because they made it easier to cast turn 2 Oracles or turn 2 Summons followed by Oracles or Patagia Vipers. BDM actually saw a Snakes deck with Mark of Eviction maindeck, which does positively absurd things with Coiling Oracle or Patagia Viper, so if that interests you, you might give it a try.

That does it for the deck recap and analysis for Regionals. Regardless of my initial tone at the beginning of the article, I stand by what I said. In a format where most players will likely play against 7-9 different archetypes over the course of the day, the best option is to play a deck that you know and can play well. Expect to see half old decks with the old cards and half old decks with new cards and new decks with new cards. In the meantime, have fun, play well, and hope that you get at least a little lucky in the pairings you get.

I’ll be back after Regionals with some Magic theory articles and a recap of all the data on which decks fared best in the new format. I expect Heartbeat to come out on top, but after that it’s anyone’s guess.

Where have the Regionals grinders gone?
Geordie Tait and I were discussing the lead-up to Regionals and we found ourselves wondering where all the Regionals grinders had gone. You know the type of player I am talking about – these are players who love to play Standard and frequently contribute interesting and innovative decks in the lead-up to both States and Regionals. Or at least they used to be. I know I used to be one of these guys (and still am, I guess) and so was my playtest partner Jim Ferraiolo, but they seem to be a dying species these days. One thing I learned over the years was that the best tech for Regionals and States almost never came from the pros – it came from guys like you and me, who busted their butts for the chance at a Nationals slot and the opportunity to shape the new metagame. Is it the short window that has cut down on information from these folks, or something else entirely? I’m interested in hearing opinions and ideas about this, because it would be nice to reverse the trend before States rolls around this fall.

Really signing off this time,
Teddy Card Game
[email protected]

When they speak of cousin Ricky it brings tears to their eyes, see.