The Road To States: Ground Zero

“My plan going into the weekend was to write an article for Star City talking about bringing a rogue-ish, untested Control Green deck to the States, losing a few matches and then presenting an analysis of what worked about the deck, and what didn’t. Well, ten rounds later, my deck showed me there was nothing…

“My plan going into the weekend was to write an article for Star City talking about bringing a rogue-ish, untested Control Green deck to the States, losing a few matches and then presenting an analysis of what worked about the deck, and what didn’t. Well, ten rounds later, my deck showed me there was nothing wrong with it, beat Peter Lieher in the finals, and handed me the Virginia State Championship trophy.”
– Yours truly, 11/16/1999

I began preparing for the 2000 States Championships by reading my two-part tournament report for Star City from a year ago; November 17, 1999 and November 24, 1999. I take heart from the fact that last year I really didn’t have much preparation going into States then, either. I didn’t have a clue what I was going to play until a week before the tournament!

I feel very ill prepared now, just a month away.

I also feel a bit of pressure, too. As the reigning State Champ, there are expectations. Winning States brought me some recognition and respect as a player. People are going to naturally expect me to do well in the tradition of previous Virginia State Champs; last year, 1998 State Champ John Slaughter made it to the Top 8 at States. Can I do as well? Or can I – dare I say it? – put in a repeat performance? I doubt that will happen; winning big tournaments seems to be a rarified blend of performance, matchups and a little good karma. But with States being held in my hometown of Richmond this year, I really want to at least make Top 8.

Last year going in, I was at least very familiar with the cards I would be playing. The deck’s muscle was almost all Urza’s block, with Gaea’s Cradle, Crop Rotation, Masticore, Plow Under, Deranged Hermit and Yavimaya Elder providing proven quality cards. I mixed in some Mercadian Masques tech in the form of Groundskeeper, Dawnstriders, and Saber Ants, and the deck performed beyond all expectations.

This year is completely different. I am not at all comfortable with the card pool from the previous block; I didn’t play in any Mercadian Masques block Constructed Qualifiers. For one thing, I didn’t have the time to travel since there were no PTQs in the area, and for another, I just didn’t like any of the top decks. They all seemed shallow, lacking depth and utility. If I’d had more time to playtest I might have been able to develop a deck I’d like, but life didn’t turn out that way.

So here we are. Trusty Urza’s block cards are gone, and now we have a new set on our hands. And what a set! There’s some great building blocks here to put together decks from, and with Mercadian Masques block cards not being so blatantly more powerful, I’m leaning towards new decks featuring Invasion cards rather than simply updating MBC decks.

A quick disclaimer for those of you skimming for deck listings: This article does not contain any decks! I haven’t even begun putting cards together for that purpose yet; with a baby on the way, my disposable income is greatly reduced, so my one box of Invasion hasn’t yielded all of the rares and uncommons I need to build a bunch of decks yet. My goal right now is brainstorming, trying to figure out which direction I’m leaning towards that’s actually viable, and then start trading for the cards I need. I’d like to share my thoughts on the upcoming Type 2, with snippets of ideas that might coalesce into something powerful. If I spark any ideas of your own, feel free to drop me a line, maybe we can help each other out.

Anyway, onward towards the stormy side of my brain…

NOMADIC ELF is a Perfect Complement to New Guildmages.
I really like this guy, and I think as time goes on, he’s going to grow in popularity. Not only is he a solid grizzly bear, but his mana-washing ability doesn’t require tapping, so he can swing and still be used to diversify your mana. While you don’t want to rely on this Elf to help you cast Absorb with green mana, he seems perfect to both cast any color guildmage, and to activate any of their abilities. The guildmages cost one mana to cast, and one mana to activate their ability; Nomadic Elf easily gives you one mana of any color. This is a match made in heaven!

The New DUAL LANDS are Amazing for Making a Solid Three-Color Deck.
Say I want to make a Green/Red/White deck, and I use eight each of the Green/Red and the Green/White dual lands, throw in two Mountains, two Plains and four Ports. I’ve got sixteen sources of green mana, ten sources of red mana, and ten sources of white mana. That means I will have almost zero problems finding green mana, and little problem providing mana for my”splash” colors. Amazing!

PERISH Is Going to be a Big Problem for Green.
Green is still a powerhouse color, and in this multicolored environment, it’s the best color to base a multicolored deck around. Unfortunately, it’s easier than ever to splash black now, and the immensely splashable Perish is sure to rise its ugly head. I expect the best multicolor deck to raise it’s head in this format will be base green AND will have some way of dealing with Perish. Counterspells come to mind.

PARALLAX WAVE Absolutely Neuters Kicker Creatures:
I haven’t gotten any Kavu Titans; I got none in my box, and people are holding onto them like gold. In theory, these creatures are amazing. Two-drop 2/2 grizzlies in the early game, but extremely undercosted 5-drop 5/5 tramplers later on. The fact that they seem this good on first blush, and are rare on top of it, has made them hot commodities. But driving down the road the other day, I had a sobering thought: Parallax Wave is still a very good card, it’s still going to be played in the new Type 2, and it absolutely castrates kicker critters. Kicker can only get played when the creature is cast, not when it comes into play; I guess this was Wizards way of making sure they couldn’t be overly abused in recursive decks that don’t bounce. But the Wave is an amazing defense against these critters. Say you pay five mana to kick in Kavu Titan, and you’ve got a 5/5 beating stick breathing down my neck. I drop a Wave, remove the Titan from the game, and when the Wave goes away, you’ve got a little 2/2 grizzly over there. Not a terrible creature, but certainly not a huge threat. When it comes to 5/5 critters, I think I’m going to spend my energies acquiring the green Leech instead.

There’s Got to be a Way to Abuse HANNAH:
And I’m not talking harsh language here, folks. I keep having visions of Sterling Groves in my head; not only do the Groves help you find enchantments, they can help keep the enchantments around once you get the ones you need. The trick is to find the bomb enchantments in this format… not too hard with Parallax Wave and Tide around, along with Teferi’s Moat, Story Circle, and Cowardice. While the rotation of Urza block knocked the list of abusable artifacts back to, oh… one (namely, Tangle Wire), there’s still plenty of great enchantments running around. Another thing to keep in mind is that Hannah can get back artifacts, too, and while I don’t see too many good candidates, I did have two Chromatic Spheres in a sealed deck along with Hannah. The Spheres are cantrips, and I recurred them for a nice little card-drawing engine. Might not be a bad addition to a deck looking to abuse poor Hannah.

Using NETHER SHADOW as the Kill Card in a U/W Control Deck:
With Fact or Fiction, Foil, and Reviving Vapors, there’s plenty of ways for U/W to get a Netherous beastie in the graveyard without casting him for recurring beats. The problem is how to prevent a second one from hitting the graveyard and ruining all your fun. And if you’re not using the Shadow as the kill card in U/W control (I’m talking U/W with like twelve Wraths), then what are you using? Millstones? That kill method would surely drive ME insane.

Well, that’s all that’s going through my mind right now… or at least all that’s fit to print. If you’ve got any stormy brain additions you’d like to throw my way, feel free! I’ll add them to the discourse for the next column as we take a few steps closer to States.

Bennie Smith