The Weekly Shift Sift: Who’s The Boss?

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StarCityGames.com!Normally, I would leap at the chance to play Time Spiral Sealed with a friend, especially if it cost me no money whatsoever. But this was no normal game of cards — this was a game with my boss, Pete Hoefling, owner and CEO of StarCityGames.com. And the winner would decide the fate of all mankind.

“Hey, Ferrett,” Pete said. “I know you came down here to play Limited – wanna do some Sealed at my house later tonight? It’s free!”

Normally, I would leap at the chance to play Sealed with a friend, especially if it cost me no money whatsoever. But this was no normal game of cards – this was a game with my boss, Pete Hoefling, owner and CEO of StarCityGames.com. And the winner would decide the fate of all mankind.

Okay, not really. But oddly, I’d never played directly against my boss. We’d drafted once or twice but always wound up on the same team (and I’m really sorry about that, Pete), so the idea of dueling with the man who signs my paychecks was a little odd.

What if you won? I thought. I remembered all of those “ha ha” stories from the 1950s, where dumb businessmen foolishly beat their boss in a friendly game of golf and then rued that decision for the rest of their careers. Perhaps going all-out to trounce the man who owns the very company I work for wasn’t the wise move.

Maybe I should play the all-Squire deck.

But even though I know for a fact that vindictive, petty bosses exist, Pete is not one of them. I’ve waxed rhapsodic about the joys of working for Pete before, and I know from experience that it takes a lot to upset him. If he can work daily with not just one opinionated butthead, but two of them – or did you think that Ben Bleiweiss, the General Manager of StarCityGames, just has strong opinions on cards? – then a simple game of cards wouldn’t put him out.

Still. This would determine our Magic dominance. Whoever lost would have to roll over and show his belly to the winner to submit to his more potent Magic wiles.

This was for the full monty. Mano a Managerio. Three games out of five.

And so the battle begins.

(SIDE NOTE: “How good,” you may ask, “Is the man who runs StarCityGames at playing Magic?” And it’s a valid question as a Tournament Organizer, Pete usually doesn’t have the time to play in events, and the handful of ones he can play in, he’s usually not allowed to. Thus, he’s pretty much restricted to playing in the Extended season – which he loves – and Limited tournaments. I know I’ve called him when he was in the Top 4 of one tourney or another.

(So the answer is, “At least as good as I am.” Which may or may not say a lot about his play skill.)

Solid Playables: Amrou Scout, 2 Castle Raptors, Knight of the Holy Nimbus, Pentarch Ward, Sacred Mesa, Tivadar of Thorn, Weathered Bodyguards

And now we see the first problem with Time Spiral: the concept of “solid playables” is a little strange in a set where the majority of cards are playable. Time Spiral has almost no instantly-dismissible cards, giving the Limited writer the choice between a) listing almost every card in his pool or b) listing the playables as “solidly playable in this format,” meaning that there are other playables that aren’t quite as solid.

What to do, what to do?

Castle Raptor is, obviously, crazy in the air, able to absorb almost any attack and strike back at a reasonable cost. Knight of the Holy Nimbus is crazy good – not backbreaking, but a good dependable creature you never feel bad about running.

Weathered Bodyguards? I was a little leery of it at first, but after playing it a couple of times I’m happy to say that it’s pretty good. It’s not entirely reliable – the plan of “Ah ha! I don’t block a thing, and it all goes to my Bodyguard!” can be met with “Ah ha! Wipe Away!” – but it does allow you to not worry about at least one creature per turn. You can choose to not block that three-pointer, knowing the Bodyguard will absorb the damage – and if they waste a removal spell on him? Well, you’ve just taken three damage. No biggie.

The Bodyguard gets insane when combined with Pentarch Ward, a card which gets a lot of inexplicable hatred in our forums. “It’s three mana,” people whine. “And just one color. And it’s not an instant.” But given how much of White’s strength in this set revolves around redirecting damage, the Pentarch Ward is decent for draft and solid for the slower-and-much-more-random Sealed play. It’s not going to be your go-to guy for every situation, but I just don’t get why people are squinching their faces and going, “Ugh. Why are you running that?”

I do, however, understand the hate for Detainment Spell. I thought it was better than it was after watching it shut down a few Thallids, for which it’s still not a bad solution, but it’s not even close to a Temporal Isolation. There are a couple of bad boys who this helps to neutralize, but from now on I’m leaving this in the sideboard until I know for sure that I need it.

Sacred Mesa? It’s good. But not that good, since you have to have a lot of mana available to use it properly. Think of it as a late-game nearly-bomb to be used after you’ve cast all of your good creatures, not a turn 5 play. The sacrificing a Pegasus is a stone-cold pain.

It’s a solid White, especially when you have the two fliers. It could use a better Rebel chain or, God forbid, a Temporal Isolation, but we can’t have everything.

Solid Playables: Might of Old Krosa, Nantuko Shaman, Penumbra Spider, Thallid Germinator, Thelon of Havenwood

Kind of a weak green, but what it has is good. As I said last week, Penumbra Spider is crazy good against a lot of strategies, and one of the best four-drops that Green has to offer.

The Thallid Germinator is a very nice three-drop; he takes a while to get going, but barring some split second-style spell, he’s guaranteed to pump up a creature or two in a standoff. Obviously, he gets better with more Thallids, but sadly this deck did not come through with a strong Thallid theme…. Except for Thelon of Havenwood, which is a reasonably-priced 2/2 who can make any Thallid swell into Darksteel Colossus sizes, given time.

If possible, never ever cast Nantuko Shaman. This is Time Spiral Green, and Time Spiral Green is short on card advantage. Snagging the extra card is de rigeur.

Solid Playables: Ancient Grudge, Blazing Blade Askari, Fiery Temper, Grapeshot, Orcish Cannonade

Red has a lot of almost-solid playables: I’d cheerfully run Goblin Skycutter or Keldon Halberdier if I was already in Red, but both are a little too fragile (and the Halberdier a little too expensive) to have them steer me into Red by themselves. Likewise, Ironclaw Buzzardiers doesn’t have much of an ability, but it’s a perfectly playable 23rd card if you’re looking to fill a late slot.

Aside from that, we have the unexceptional, nicely-costed creatures and burn. Grapeshot is way better than it looks, since if you combine it with Suspend cards then it starts doing two or three damage at a (Grape)shot. That’s not game-breaking, but it definitely can take out more than I thought it would.

Still, this color’s a little low on critters this time around. I think I’ll pass.

Solid Playables: Assassinate, Gorgon Recluse, Sudden Death

Some people would place Skulking Knight in the
“Solidly playable” category, but I’ve never had any luck with him – actually, nix that. I’ve never had any problem handling him. Every time he hit the board, I found something to target him with, and it was game over. Now, it’s possible that I tend towards a style of deck that targets things and that this is better than I’m giving it credit for… But until then, it’s not quite solidly playable.

Gorgon Recluse would be a lot better if I had some madness effects to abuse her with, but even as a 2/4 for five mana she’s not terrible. And Sudden Death is, obviously, the eel’s ankle.

I don’t know about Fallen Ideal. It seems great in a Thallid deck, and the flying is certainly nice. But is it worth a card?

Don’t expect me to answer! I told you I don’t know.

Solid Playables: Cancel, Looter il-kor, Riftwing Cloudskate, Spiketail Drakeling, Telekinetic Sliver

I’m not usually a big fan of Counterspells in Limited, but Blue seems especially tricky in this set – in a way I haven’t seen since Invasion. Thus, I’m giving Cancel the premature benefit of the doubt.

Looter il-Kor, on the other hand, is absolutely frickin’ insane, and if you don’t know that you should. He comes down early and begins filtering through your hand, drawing you cards to help you get at what you want. This set is notoriously hostile to x/1s, but if he hits twice you’ve gotten more than your mana’s worth.

I’m not sure about Spell Burst, since I’ve never played it (which should be a clue that I didn’t go with Blue this time around). I am pretty sure that Dream Stalker isn’t worth it unless you have something that can reuse a comes-into-play effect, or you absolutely need an early wall to stop an aggressive deck.

The Rest
Solid Playables: Weatherseed Totem, Urza’s Factory

The Totems are good on the whole (barring that Godawful Chronatotem), and the Weatherseed one is particularly nice – it’s expensive to activate, but it can definitely hit your opponent hard in the late game. And it comes back, if it dies at the right time.

Urza’s Factory, I’m not sure about, but again – I’m gonna give it the benefit of that darned doubt. The mana-smoothing isn’t quite as omnipresent as it was in Ravnica, meaning that devoting a land slot to a land that can’t produce mana might be chancy in some decks. Then there’s the cost – you practically have to hope the game goes to turn 10 (assuming you miss a land drop or two along the way, of course) before you can start reliably cranking out tokens with it. That said, in any sort of ground stall it’s going to give you an advantage, and it’s turning up in a fair number of control decks in Standard, so I’m gonna say “Sure, try it.”

So what’d I eventually run with?

1 Amrou Scout
2 Castle Raptors
1 Detainment Spell
2 Flickering Spirit
1 Jedit’s Dragoons
1 Knight of the Holy Nimbus
1 Pentarch Ward
1 Sacred Mesa
1 Tivadar of Thorn
1 Weathered Bodyguards
1 Zealot il-vec

1 Might of Old Krosa
1 Nantuko Shaman
2 Penumbra Spider
1 Spinneret Sliver
1 Thallid Germinator
1 Thelon of Havenwood

2 Assassinate

Lands and Stuff:
1 Weatherseed Totem
7 Forest
7 Plains
3 Swamp

Two potential errors in building the deck were leaving out the Urza’s Factory and the inclusion of Detainment Spell. The Factory was a straight-up mana decision: I had a lot of double-Green spells (Spider, Thelon, Suspended Nantuko Shaman) to cast before turn 4, and given that Green was a secondary color I was afraid of mana-screwing myself. It’s arguable that I should have included it.

“But why Black?” you ask. “You could leave out the Black and go straight two-color!” And if I did that, I not only would be lacking any way to remove a creature that hit the table – a feature of all my worst Sealed decks – but what would I add? A pair of Watcher Slivers for a two-card Sliver subtheme that might hurt me more than it helps? Glass Asp? Chameleon Blur? Fact is, I’d used up all the good cards in both colors, and I needed to go elsewhere, and Black offered straight-up creature kill.

Detainment Spell, on the other hand, is a card that I liked more than I should have on initial playing, and has bumped down. This is the deck that killed my faith in Detainment Spell, moving it back to the sideboard.

The Face-Off

So I sat down at my boss’s kitchen table, spread out my cards, and discovered that Pete had a mystical power. The cards called to him.

It makes sense, I suppose. Pete sells a zillion cards every day. He opens hundreds of packs with each set release just to get the singles he needs. You walk around his office, and cards are just piled randomly in the corners, killer rares just waiting to be blandly filed away somewhere.

So of course Pete cracked open insane packs. The cards feel a gratitude to him, a sort of Jungian unconsciousness where like calls to like. I thought my deck was reasonably strong, but Pete’s? Pete’s was a monster.

He had Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir, and two Looter il-Kors, and multiple Counterspells, and at least one Wipe Away, and a Riftwing Cloudskate… The more I discuss his deck, the more it sounds like a Christmas list a kid would make before the PTQ.

“Dear Santa: Please stuff my stockings with Errant Ephemerons and Crookclaw Transmuters…”

He also had Red that was not quite as strong, but still pretty nifty.

The ironic thing was that even though his deck was chock-a-block with crazy fliers, he could not get through. I had walls and fliers galore, and whatever was left over the Bodyguard mopped up. He beat me down to nine in the first game and then we slogged into a total standoff, and I was in good shape because Pete was down to ten cards. I could deck him, so I hunkered down into defense because I had no way of getting through to him.

(I should add that this is when I thought, “You know, maybe I should have played Urza’s Factory.”)

I knew from the way he was playing that he had no Disintegrate. He was spending far too much time analyzing the very complicated board, trying to figure out how to attack in and not finding a way that wouldn’t cost him too much. (And after all, I’d just lost to the “Disintegrate you” play last week, so I knew what that icy calm of “I’ve got it covered” looked like.)

Then Pete straightened, and I knew that he’d found something. He drew cards and kept them all in hand.

Finally, two turns before he died, he tapped a lot of mana. “Conflagrate for three?” he asked. I checked the cards in his hand: six. I had no defense. I offered the hand.

The rest of the games were pure killings. He went second and killed me once more, in an easy game where he won on pure tempo because he bounced everything I drew. I lucked out with a good draw and smashed him the next game in an uncharacteristically-beatdowny game for this deck, but then he returned to form in the final game with yet another Conflagrate for the win.

Who’s the man? That would be Pete. I just edit this here site here.

The Weekly Plug Bug
If you’re still on the fence regarding what to wear this Halloween, Home on the Strange has some ideas about easy costumes for nerds. Go check it out.

Signing off,
The Ferrett