The Weekly Guild Build: The Death Of Hope

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This week, The Ferrett gets a deck where he builds it wrong. But is that his fault? Not only do you get an analysis of the deck, but an analysis of what makes a player lose… All in addition to the usual plugs, and a request for a feedback on an upcoming article series!

My friend Eric is an atheist, and I was with him when he got the news of his mother’s death. The death was mercifully quick, but the dying was not; she’d had cancer for eighteen months, and it had eaten away at her body until she’d had enough of chemotherapy and nausea and incapacitation. She had demanded to die clean, and so she went off the drugs and said her goodbyes; the cancer that had survived eighteen months of drugs was virulent and strong. She died within weeks.

I had nothing to say to Eric.

Funerals are hard enough when you believe in God, as I do, but they’re harder when you don’t. Take away the nebulous promises of a better life elsewhere, and subtract the crass “Well, she’s no longer suffering”s, and you’re left with an aching loss that can’t be comforted with mere words. Eric a quiet man anyway, so we generally tried to talk about other things — which we did, stammeringly.

But I remember when we talked about God.

I told him what I just told you, that it must be harder for him, and he laughed. “In a lot of ways, I wish I did believe in God,” he said. “It would give me someone to blame for all of this.”

He’s right, of course. Blame’s a powerful thing. It can get you through almost anything — random deaths, murders, betrayals, affairs, any kind of loss whatsoever. You don’t have to question the rationale behind your blame, and frequently it works better if you don’t. All that matters is that something out of your control was at fault, and you can replace that helpless, stupid feeling with a satisfying rage and fury at the thing that screwed you over.

Eric doesn’t have a God to be angry at, but he’s recovered from his mother’s death — well, as much as anyone can.

Me? It’s petty, but I just wish I could blame someone else for my losses at Magic.

Just an hour ago, I had someone completely under my thumb, getting the topdecks of the Gods. I was plinking away with a trio of flying x/1s in a close damage race, and the guy cast Sunhome Enforcer — which I Disemboweled upon arrival, since I’d been storing it for just that occasion. He tapped out to cast a desperation Skarrgan Skybreaker, and I ripped Brainspoil like it was going out of style. He was still at twelve and thought he had hope, but I was storing a Devouring Light, a Guardian and Vitu-Ghazi, and a Battering Wurm for whatever he managed to come up next.

I was destroying him through a combination of playskill (would I have had that Disembowel in hand if I hadn’t decided that I could afford to let the guy’s Galvanic Arc resolve?) and topdecks (helllllooooo, Brainspoil!). There was nothing he could do to win. Nothing.

That’s the feeling of the win.

Unfortunately, as of late I’ve been more of an enabler for that feeling than the owner of that feeling.

Over the last two weeks, I’ve been the guy scrambling for the topdeck of one land, God, just one land… And not getting it, and then finding out my opponent had the answer anyway. I’ve been buried under an avalanche of three-creature attacks to my empty board, knowing that I can stall for another round if I just rip this card…. And I rip it and my opponent blows it away.

My past week has been a series of games where my opponent’s at 24, I’m at 6, and I think I might be able to crawl back into the game… But I can’t.

It’d be really handy to blame all of that on my opponent.

That frickin’ sack!” I could cry, hurling my virtual cards into virtual air. (“You think that’s air you’re breathing now?”) “I could have won, my deck was good, but he just ripped everything he needed to beat me! This game is all luck!

I could rest easy at night with an attitude like that. Because then, none of this would have anything to do with me; it’d just be the universe, handing my opponent a stronger deck and then lifting his best cards to the top of his deck when he needed them. That lucky bastard.

Because when luck beats you, there was nothing you could have done.

But I’ve seen “luck” on the other side of the table. When I play a really sucky opponent, he’ll keep a bad hand, then make four mana-tapping mistakes, and fire off removal when he really didn’t need to, and block in such a way that he’s decimated when I fire off the Wildsize. And when I eventually smash through for the win, he’ll tell me how lucky I was.

But I wasn’t. I just outplayed him. Yeah, maybe he drew a string of lands, but that wouldn’t have hurt him as badly if he hadn’t screwed up on everything else. And now, when I’m getting pounded by an opponent who seems to have the answer for every move that I make, I don’t think “Man, he’s lucking out,” but rather “What did I do wrong?”

That’s not a comforting place to be in, especially when you don’t know what you did wrong. You think about the opening hand you got, and it wasn’t great but it seemed like a better gamble than risking a substandard six. You think about your opening plays, where you had maybe two choices to make and you don’t think you made the wrong one. You analyze the game, and you can’t see what you did wrong, but you suspect it’s there, hanging around you in a Radon-like fog that invisibly poisons you.

If a pro could look at my play, he’d probably see as many mistakes as I see when I look at the novice. I don’t deny the power of the God hand, but maybe I should have mulliganed that weak opening hand. Maybe I should have led with the Stinkweed Imp instead of the Selesnya Evangel. Would that have helped?

Ken Krouner once said that any time a bad player beats a good player, it’s all luck. I’m not sure if I agree with him, not being as good a player as Ken is, but I do know that it’s true at least two games out of three.

It’d be a lot easier if I could just blame God. Or a losing streak. Or my opponents. But I can’t.

Damn me. Damn me all to hell.

This Week’s Deck

Okay, what’s good in this deck? Let’s take a look at the rares and power cards that we absolutely have to build a deck around….

…and once again, there’s nada. Tesya, Orzhov Scion is an interesting little card, but it’s not something you can build a deck around. And Dimir Doppleganger is sweet, but it isn’t possessed of such power that I will go into Blue/Black just for it. So let’s look at the colors once again (and good Lord, this will get tedious when Dissension comes out):

Unlike last week, where we had strong instants but no good creatures, this week we have a little of both. The thing that I have come to adore about White is its arsenal of flying machines, and… This hasn’t got any except for Shrieking Grotesque.

Still, it does have the power of Veteran Armorer (also known as “Veteran of Dammit-I’m-One-Point-Away-From-Killing -That-Thing”), the frequently-underrated Sandsower, and the overrated Droning Bureaucrats. Don’t get me wrong, I love the paper shufflers, but it seems that all too often I’m given the choice between tying up mana to save my own butt or casting creatures to smash face. It’s lovely if you’re on offense, of course, or when you’re facing the frequently weenie-tastic Gruul tribe, it’s not the bag of chips when it comes to defense.

And then there’s Lionheart Maverick. People are playing this. A lot. I’m beating them, which isn’t usually a good sign, but they are playing it. Whenever they pump him, I pump the fist, since I know if they had anything else to spend five mana on they’d be using it.

I loves me some Battering Wurm. I don’t think it’s good on defense, but then again I don’t think I’ve ever blocked with one; I just attack, attack, attack. It’s especially nice with, um, Wildsize, but what isn’t?

Aside from that, though, this week is weak Green. Only six cards? Not much to do about that, really.

I am not impressed by Red alone in this format. Oh, I like Red with White, where it has some neat creatures, and I like Red with Green very much, and I like Red with Blue a little. But when it comes to Red with just plain Red, it’s like a peanut butter sandwich without jelly. You wind up with a bunch of weenies, not quite enough burn to deal with the opposing fat from the other Green-based tribes, and crap like Torpid Moloch.

In this case, the Red has no burn. I don’t like it. Next.

The Black’s good, though. I prefer Last Gasp to Brainspoil, of course, but if I wanted a format where I could choose the cards I’d get I’d be playing Constructed.

I’m still not sold on Restless Bones, though. Many people whom I respect inform me that this is a great card, almost an auto-include given how many people are playing Black, but… I don’t see it. I’ve played with it, and usually it’s great for breaking stalemates that never seem to arrive for me in this format. I’d sideboard it in in a heartbeat, mind you, but maindeck it? I don’t know. Then again, the Player of the Year did it without hesitation, so perhaps I’m wrong.

If Red sucks because it’s weenie-tastic, Blue frequently sucks because it’s creature-lacking. Don’t get me wrong, I loves me some Blue, but I don’t feel comfortable playing with eleven creatures… And this pool doesn’t provide a lot of depth. There are five creatures total here, one of which does nothing (Crystal Seer), another of which is highly conditional (Drake Familiar), the third of which cannot be effectively splashes (Tidewater Minion), and the fourth works best with a Red that we have already ascertained is as weak as Stephen Hawking on roofies.

We are, as they say, Signet-tastic. Whatever colors we want, we pretty much have a Signet for it. A shame we didn’t get actual, you know, cards. I mean, I like Signets, but when I have five of them, all I think is, “Wow, there were three potentially good commons I missed out on.”

Sunforger, however, is nice in any deck.

I got called on for not using Congregation at Dawn in last week’s deck, but I still felt uncomfortable running it in a deck where my targets would be small, easily-dispatched weenies and it was the splash color with no bouncelands or Signets to help me out. I feel a bit better about it here.

Yore-Tiller Nephilim? I’ll pass here. Not only does he force me to play Red, I don’t like going four colors in this format.

Aw, man. I wanted a Sunhome Enforcer, or a Skyknight Legionnaire, and I got Flame-Kin Zealot and Thundersong Trumpeter. Both solid cards, I know, but both of them augment a Boros attack, not create one.

I didn’t know how good she was, but having played with her I can tell you that she’s not that great in Sealed. You will rarely get to use her “remove from game ability” without great cost to yourself, white tokens being fairly rare in the format, and I never really found a time when her “Black gets you White” ability recompensated me for the loss of my Stinkweed Imp. I’d rate her as a good filler card, but nothing you should auto-include. Obviously, if you can generate white tokens, her value goes up considerably.

I am also starting to move towards a maindecked Castigate, if I have nothing else to play. It does help against slower decks.

And who do you have to **** to get a ****ing Blind Hunter these days? I haven’t seen one in weeks. I know they’re blind, but can’t one friggin’ fly into my pack one of these days?

Nice cards. Not nice enough to pull me into Red, since the Scab-Clan is an early-game card, which means that I’d be going into Red for, well, pretty much just Burning-Tree Bloodscale. And as nice as it is to futz with people’s blocking ability, it’s not that good.

Mmm, Rotwurm.

Look! Wee Dragonauts! I used to like you, little guys, until I realized that you weren’t good on offense, and on defense any combat trick will kill you left unanswered. You’re tricky, but maybe a little too tricky for your own good.

Psychic Drain. Is it any good? I wish I knew. It seems pretty nifty, but I’ve never had it played against me, and I’ve never played it, so I can’t tell. Aside from that, you must play Lurking Informant.

The choices here pretty much come down to Black/White something — either Blue or Green. I went with Green, because I like having fat in the end game. Blue would get me some nice tricky instants like Repeal and Doppleganger, and an Ethereal Usher to help my Sunforger, and….

Wait, why didn’t I go with Blue? I dunno. Here’s what I did go with:

1 Battering Wurm
1 Brainspoil
1 Congregation at Dawn
1 Daggerclaw Imp
1 Devouring Light
1 Dimir Aqueduct
1 Disembowel
1 Droning Bureaucrats
3 Forest
1 Ghost Warden
1 Golgari Rotwurm
1 Golgari Signet
1 Guardian of Vitu-Ghazi
1 Lurking Informant
1 Mourning Thrull
1 Netherborn Phalanx
1 Orzhov Euthanist
6 Plains
1 Sandsower
1 Selesnya Signet
1 Shrieking Grotesque
1 Stinkweed Imp
1 Sunforger
6 Swamp
1 Teysa, Orzhov Scion
1 Veteran Armorer
1 Wildsize
1 Woebringer Demon

With this build, I went an absolutely amazing 3-5. A lot of it was due to the complete bollocks mana issues I’ve been having; in no less than three matches, all I drew were Plains in terms of land for twelve turns straight. (And I started with all White cards, but eventually the rest of my deck began providing me with cards that, you know, needed other mana. What was this, Onslaught Block?)

Still, the deck didn’t ever feel like it was completely out of contention. It wasn’t a terrible build; it just wasn’t as good as this probably would have been:

1 Brainspoil
1 Daggerclaw Imp
1 Devouring Light
1 Dimir Aqueduct
1 Disembowel
1 Droning Bureaucrats
1 Ghost Warden
1 Lurking Informant
1 Mourning Thrull
1 Netherborn Phalanx
1 Orzhov Euthanist
6 Plains
1 Sandsower
1 Orzhov Signet
1 Shrieking Grotesque
1 Stinkweed Imp
1 Sunforger
5 Swamp
1 Teysa, Orzhov Scion
1 Veteran Armorer
1 Woebringer Demon
1 Repeal
1 Lurking Informant
1 Dimir Signet
1 Dimir Doppleganger
1 Telling Time
4 Islands
1 Torch Drake

That would have given me a lot more end-game gas. Maybe. I don’t know. Perhaps this was my fatal error, and maybe I should learn from it.

But of course I don’t because obviously the problem is that my opponents are useless lucksacks who didn’t deserve to win. Right?

A Request For Help
Craig has asked me to do a Daily series for StarCityGames in early May, but I need some sort of clever theme to carry me through the week. What would you like to see me write about every day for five days straight? Let me know.

The Weekly Plug Bug
As usual, I am still writing my Web comic Home On The Strange, which deals with the travails of middle-aged nerds trying to get by in life. This week’s series introduces a new character to the line-up, who in future weeks will change the nature of the strip dramatically. (Dun DUN dun….) But today, Monday, features a strip that should be familiar to anyone who’s ever had to hold down an office job.

Well, anyone who’s reading this strip, anyway.

Grand Prix: Manila
I don’t have the time this week to get into a detailed analysis, but if you’re paying attention, the three undefeated decks at Grand Prix: Manila are up. Of them, one of them is a five-color mash-up filled with single-landers, piloted by eventually Top 8’er Dominic Ortega; the other two follow the established pattern of “three colors, and three colors only.”

More next week, but the general rule for a soul-crushing Sealed deck still seems to be, “Stick to three colors, and use bouncelands.”

Signing off,
The Ferrett
[email protected]StarCityGames.com
The Here Edits This Here Site Here Guy

P.S. – I just played the Blue version. My “second-turn Mourning Thrull, third-turn Sunforger” was met with his “third-turn Starfletcher, fourth-turn Trophy Hunter+mana to kill the Thrull.” My fifth-turn Dimir Doppleganger was met with a Keening Banshee. My sixth-turn Orzhov Euthanist? Douse in Gloom. And four lands on the draw, not a single other land by turn 6. How’s a brother supposed to win? Sheesh.