Last weekend was the last PTQ for Austin here in Michigan, and I spent two weeks prior to it switching back and forth between different deck choices. After the PTQ in Chicago, I was pretty sure I wanted to cast Makeshift Mannequins on Anathemancers, but eventually I settled on Five Color Control. It was the best deck, and it had all the tools I needed to win a PTQ. But, unfortunately, it just didn’t have what I wanted in my last PTQ deck for this format.
Jon Swearingen won a PTQ in Columbus two weeks ago with a five color cascade control deck, and I decided to give that deck a shot (albeit with a lot of alterations). I had spent a few days with a very good Jund deck (maindeck Stag as well as a trio of Puncture Blast), but I was really liking the idea of cascading into Kitchen Finks off of Captured Sunlight. You can find his original list here, although that version was clearly not optimal (which both he and the other Columbus players have stated). I was prepared to just register that deck for Saturday, but I wasn’t certain yet.
On Friday afternoon, while sitting in the middle of a twelve-hour shift, I texted Gavin Verhey and told him to convince me to play Reveillark without actually calling me and talking to me about it. A handful of text messages later and we were discussing my possible maindeck and sideboard options. It looked like I would be back in the pilot seat of Reveillark once again, and I felt more or less okay with that. I couldn’t lose to white or red-based aggressive decks, I had a strong game against Five Color, and I was favored against Time Sieve and even the Barnslayer deck (thanks to Sower of Temptation). In short, I actually felt pretty good about the choice. And I stuck with it.
Here is the list I registered:
From Gavin’s maindeck he posted in his article last week (found here), I removed two Jaces and a Ponder for the Vendilion Cliques. I wanted Vendilion Clique for its insane strengths against Five Color as well as the clock it provides. In general, I think it’s a lot better than Jace, so I definitely was fine with my choice in that regard.
I played one Baneslayer in the sideboard, though by the time I got to the tournament I think I was merely playing it “for value,” which is hardly what I want my sideboard cards to really be doing (note that I was being sarcastic about the Angel — I don’t know why I played it). Everything else is fairly self-explanatory, although the Harm’s Ways are mostly there to have a card for Merfolk without taking away from my Red match-up (because it really should be four copies of Forge-Tender normally).
And so, with an optimistic outlook, I sat down for my first match. On to the report!
Round 1: Chris with Merfolk
Chris is a friend of mine from Grand Rapids, though I admittedly had no idea what he was playing. He led off with an Island into a Silvergill Adept, so I immediately felt better about my Meddling Mage/3x Sower keep. I played Meddling Mage on turn two naming Path to Exile and spent the next few turns stealing his creatures (namely a Wake Thrasher). A Sygg from him make things complicated, but a Cryptic Command tapdown or two later and I had taken the first game.
If it wasn’t apparent, I had no idea how to sideboard for this match-up. I don’t think he had Sowers, but I thought he might so I took out some Reveillarks. In retrospect, taking them out was fine anyway since all of the removal they have exiles my creatures anyway, so the only way to get value from Reveillark is if my creatures died exclusively from combat. In any case, I moved on to game two…where things fell apart.
Things started out fine, as I was keeping up fairly well, but Sygg once again gave me trouble and a Sleep put my creatures in an awkward position. I played a Finks to block and gain me some life, but it only managed to keep my alive for one more turn. I drew a Harm’s Way on my last turn, and turned all my guys sideways. He blocked a Kitchen Finks and I fell to one. Then I passed my turn. That’s right — I had the Harm’s Way to kill him, but just didn’t play it. Instead I played in on his next turn and drew the game.
In game three he got a nuts draw and rolled me pretty fast. We didn’t have time for a third game, so the match was a draw. I could believe that I had punted so badly, and I was certainly feeling really awful. Still, I hadn’t lost, so I just needed to think clearer and focus.
This just isn’t your day, Chris.
0-0-1 in matches, 1-1-1 in games
Round 2: Jason with RB (Goblin-based)
In the second round I played against what I would consider a good match-up: a red deck! He had Ram-Gangs, Siege-Gang Commanders, and the other usual suspects. I got down to five game one, but was able to stabilize after Sowering his Siege-Gang and beating face with Kitchen Finks and Sowers. And, because he had received a game loss for his deck registration error, the match was over.
Or maybe it is. How lucky.
1-0-1 in matches, 3-1-1 in games
Round 3: Josh with Conley Woods Special (with Cruels)
Josh is another Grand Rapids player, though I don’t know him very well. In game one we exchanged blows for a while, and when we’re both down to single-digits (both of us at four), he plays a Bloodbraid Elf which cascades into an Anathemancer to hit me for one (yaus!). The significance of this is that I could block all but one of his three-power creatures that turn, and that extra one damage was just enough to kill me. Awkward.
This game was pretty simple, as it basically boiled down to me playing a Baneslayer Angel after stabilizing from his early game and just riding it to victory. He only saw one removal spell, and I had the Negate. It wasn’t close.
In game three, we went back and forth with Putrid Leeches and Bloodbraid Elves versus Meddling Mages and Finks. Eventually, with me at seven and him at three, he made a last swing for lethal. I cracked a Gargoyle Castle and blocked one of his Shriekmaws, which he apparently didn’t know were artifact creatures. His math messed up, I was able to swing back for the win while he showed me only blanks in his hand anyway.
Things are looking up, Chris!
2-0-1 in matches, 5-2-1 in games
Round 4: Brian Six with GFabs Grixis
I’d never met Brian up until this match, but I had heard of numerous times before. I knew he was an accomplished Columbus-area player, and so I was prepared for a good match. Unfortunately, I didn’t get one, as in the first game his only lands were Reflecting Pools. Rough.
I didn’t know how to sideboard against this deck, but I felt like I made decent choices overall.
In game two I kept a hand with Island and Gargoyle Castle as well as two Mulldrifters and a Negate. He apparently kept something similar, as he only had two lands as well. He had a Sygg, however, and got me to fifteen with it alone. I finally found the third land and played a Vendilion Clique, which I targeted him with. As he pointed out after our match, it made little sense to target him, though I really just wanted information. I should have targeted myself to find a fourth land, although getting a fourth land wasn’t a concern with the cards I had in my hand anyway. He finally found a third land, and Blightning’d me. He missed the Sygg trigger (which his facial expression told me he wasn’t pleased about), but before long it really didn’t matter. I was too far ahead, and he conceded.
Still in this!
3-0-1 in matches, 7-2-1 in games
Round 5: Joe with RG Aggro Elves
This deck actually showed up in a decent number, since I had heard about people getting smashed by it all day, and this guy (nice guy, really) told me that he hadn’t played any of the people I inquired about. His deck had Elvish Archdruids, Wren’s Run Vanquishers, Talara’s Battalions, Bloodbraid Elves, Chameleon Colossi, Lightning Bolts, Overruns, and more. It was actually fairly spicy, and it applied an insane amount of pressure on me. In the first game, though, I drew a lot of Sowers and it wasn’t long before we were on to game two.
Game two was rough. He came out of the gates incredibly fast, and I didn’t even dent his life total before I was taking lethal. The Sowers that I did see where either Bolted or Ignited (Ignite Disorder), so it wasn’t all that close.
Game three was much better for me, as I kept up with him most of the game. He got me to eight with Bloodbraid Elves, but I Sowered one of them long enough to keep myself from dying. Gargoyle Castle was an MVP in this game, as it let my topdecked lands not seem nearly as bad. At one life I drew a Baneslayer Angel, and he could no longer attack. He drew an Overrun, which I had the Cryptic Command for. A turn later, it was over.
Am I really going to make it after punting round 1?
4-0-1 in matches, 9-3-1 in games
Round 6: Mike Kailing with Five Color Blood
Mike is a teammate, so this pairing was pretty awkward. Both of us could still make Top 8 even if we lost this match, so it wasn’t as awkward as it could have been.
Game two seemed to go on forever. I drew a lot of Kitchen Finks in this game, and reset the board with Hallowed Burial when it got too cluttered. I had an early Vendilion Clique to see his hand, and eventually I cracked a Gargoyle Castle which gave him a great target for Bituminous Blast. The Blast hit a Bloodbraid Elf into a Clique of his own, which killed mine and shipped a Reveillark (I think, my notes are unclear) to the bottom of my library. This play almost turned the game around for him, but I drew another Castle and got there. To be fair, had my graveyard had anything better than a Kitchen Finks, his Puppeteer Clique would have been a game-breaker. Instead, I was able to merely Purge it and swing for the win.
One more win to lock up Top 8! And I have two rounds to get it!
5-0-1 in matches, 11-3-1 in games
Round 7: Kurt Fruth with GFabs Grixis
Kurt is a good player that I’d seen but never met, and he was a great opponent. In game one I had an early Vendilion Clique to quickly get me into the game, and despite his best efforts he couldn’t beat the 3/1 along with my Kitchen Finks. I had both Cruel and Fallout named during this game, and according to the audience afterward it turns out his grip was filled with both. Or so I’m told, anyway.
I lost the notes for this match, but my life pad says that he ended the game at twenty and I was taking sick beatings from Sygg and his turn-three Vendilion Clique. Obviously not a close game at all.
My first play was once again a Vendilion Clique, which showed a ton of lands in his hand (he Bolted the Clique in response). He had a Sygg in play, and we went back and forth for a bit. I played some Kitchen Finks, before long he had to block with Sygg. At that point, his only out was a Cruel Ultimatum, which I had the Cryptic Command for. He showed me his hand after the game, which included a Thoughtseize. Talking it through, he could have played to his out of Cruel and blocked a turn earlier. Had he done so, he could have either drawn out my Cryptic or made me discard it, so that when he drew the Cruel he could have been in a winning position. I still had a board as well as I strong hand, so it might not have mattered (I was still at seventeen), but I think I got pretty lucky here.
On to Top 8!
6-0-1 in matches, 13-4-1 in games
Round 8: ID into Top 8
At this point, I was pretty floored. I had punted hard in the first round, and had actually pulled off the “I’ll just win out” plan. I played tight all day (since the Harm’s Way blunder, obviously), so I guess it wasn’t too hard to imagine.
Quarterfinals: Brian Six with GFabs Grixis
I was once again across from Brian Six, and I was glad. I had felt really bad about our match earlier, as it wasn’t even close to being a real match. I wanted to play Brian in some even games where we could both play our best, and I got it. In game one, he landed Sygg and Vendilion Clique fast and just destroyed me. I played some Kitchen Finks to keep Sygg back, but with him drawing two cards a turn on top of Blightnings and Bolts on my turn (for more cards) it was hardly close.
In game two I led off with Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender, which was joined by a Kitchen Finks on turn three. I later cracked a Gargoyle Castle to add another three-power guy to my team, and the game was over shortly afterward.
Meddling Mage led off game three for me, and I named Sygg with it. He once again had Vendilion Cliques and Blightnings, but I had Paths and Negates. He used Anathemancers to drop me to eleven, and my swingback (after his unearth) but him to one. I fully expected a Cruel Ultimatum at that point or at least some sort of stabilization, but instead he extended his hand and wished me luck.
7-0-1 in matches, 15-5-1 in games
Semifinals: Kevin Haesler with Five Color Control
Kevin is a good friend of mine, and so it was fantastic playing him in the Top 8. Even better, this was his very first PTQ, so mad, mad props to him for doing so well.
In game one, I made it pretty clear to the audience that I wanted to lose (apparently). I Vendilion Cliqued him on turn six, and he revealed Time Warp (his list was so sick — he told me Time Warp was just insane for him all day), lands, and a Cruel Ultimatum. I shipped the Warp ( I think, although maybe Kevin could shed some light on that as my notes don’t specify and my memory of that game has been forced out of my head), and he played an Ajani Vengeant, killed the Clique, and passed. My hand included two Cryptics and a Sower, so naturally I played the Sower so that I could kill the Ajani. Yep. I totally walked into a Cruel Ultimatum for NO reason whatsoever. Looking back, I can’t even fathom what I was thinking. Needless to say, that was pretty much it. Nice punt.
I’m fairly certain this is how I sideboarded, though the enormous crowd probably remembers better than I do. Anyway…
In game two, Kevin managed to mulligan a lot and still wind up with the nuts. Still, I was able to use Meddling Mages to keep him off his keys spells. I Cliqued him to see Burial, Time Warp, Identity Crisis, and Cryptic Command. I sent Cryptic to the bottom, and the next turn I played a Reveillark to overextend. This would prevent him from playing Crisis on his next turn since I had lethal on the board, and instead he’d need to Burial. He did, and I brought back two Mulldrifters. I spent my next turn playing more creatures since I had not found a counterspell, and let Crisis resolve. He got a Baneslayer into play and gained ten off of it, but I Pathed it and got in there.
Game three was, well, intense. I had managed to more or less avoid punting game two, and game three was much the same. At one point this game he got a Baneslayer into play and attacked me with it, and on my next turn I didn’t attack him back. I mean, really? It was then that I knew I had to just take a second to focus. I think the reason I was playing so loose in game one was because I knew Kevin and wasn’t putting all my attention into the match, but now that it was game three I had to just ignore everything else and focus on winning the game.
Kevin hit me with Identity Crisis again, but I still was able to draw enough Mulldrifters to stay in the game. I had landed a Jace on turn three, and it remained in play for at least twelve turns. Kevin always attacked me with Baneslayer, and not Jace. I still couldn’t find a Path, but I found a Cryptic Command to bounce his Angel and swing him to a low life. I Cliqued him in his draw step to get rid of it, but he flashed me a Cryptic, the Angel, and a Cruel. I had a Mage in play chanting Cruel, but I was only at three. All he had to do was bounce my Mage and Cruel me out, so I had to choose Cruel. He replayed the Angel and passed. He still couldn’t attack me since it would put him in range of my creatures, but I couldn’t swing either. I finally drew the Path, and tapped my Plains to play it. He had three Cryptic Commands and two Broken Ambitions in his graveyard, so it seemed like a fine play. He smiled and said “Broken Ambitions for nine?” to which I replied “I’ll gladly pay nine, sir.”
8-0-1 in matches, 17-6-1 in games
Finals: Russ Slack with Merfolk
I knew long before my semifinal match was over that Russ was waiting in the finals with Merfolk. I also knew going into this match that I had a very low chance to win, considering how bad this match-up is. Still, I was ready to give it my all.
Game one wasn’t close. I kept this hand: Path to Exile, Plains, Glacial Fortress, Reveillark x2, Mulldrifter, and Kitchen Finks. The hand is fine, but in reality since the Reveillarks make it effectively a mull to five, I should have mulled and started with six cards instead of just five. Of course, I drew well enough to double-Path his Sygg, only to lose to an 11/11 Wake Thrasher.
This was wrong. I didn’t really think of it then, but I should have kept Mages in and ran the “name all your lords” plan, but instead I kept in the very-Sowerable Reveillarks. Awkward. Of course, it hardly mattered, as we both mulled to five, me having lands and spells and him having Mutavault. He drew a second Mutavault eventually, but he conceded before I go to do much.
Game three was a slaughter. My hand was fine — I had Path, Ponder, two lands, Mulldrifter, Sower, etc. I Pondered for the third land, but even with Mulldrifter I was unable to find the fourth land. When I finally did, he had ready for it. I wished him luck on the Pro Tour and conceded.
The deck was amazing for me, with Gargoyle Castle and Vendilion Clique as my MVPs. If I were to play the deck next weekend in Cincinnati, I would want more hate for Merfolk and less Baneslayer Angels. Like, zero. I used it to win a game versus Elves where it was the only card for the job, but otherwise I could have used anything. I already beat the red decks and whatnot, and I don’t feel as though it’s even close to as good versus control decks as Reveillark is. There is a lot of debate about Reveillark versus Barnslayer as deck choices, but I must say I’d much prefer to cast Finks and Sowers than Glen Elendra Archmages and Baneslayers. Archmage just gets Needled or burned out with Fallouts, and so I think I’d prefer to play Negates instead and not worry about babysitting a Baneslayer Angel.
In closing, congrats to Mike Kailing and Kevin Haesler for their Top 8 alongside me, and also a big congrats to Russ Slack. You deserve it, man, and the very best of luck on the Pro Tour. I’d also like to thank Gavin Verhey, as he well knows, for helping me not only make a deck choice but also for making the absolutely right one. The only match-up in that Top 8 that worried me was the one I had to play against (naturally), and walking away from the tournament I feel better than ever. I did RIW proud, and I played hard (aside from I round one and games one and two against Kevin). There’s a fire inside me now, and it burns brighter than ever. I want to qualify even more now, and I know that I’m very close. I’ll get there.
Until next time…
Shinjutsei on MTGO and everywhere else