Travels With Schlomo’s Pickup Truck

Mike discusses his strategies behind creating Turian Squirrel Opposition and taking it to Grand Prix: Milwaukee AND US Nationals! Along the way, he discusses death flights with Zev Gurwitz, sleeve tornados, the Togit sideboard, and how Mike Like Read.

"I’m flying high over the Atlantic Ocean with America’s hottest Magic Player – and we are all about to die."

Flying home from Pro Tour Nice was rough. From a Magic standpoint, the trip was miserable. I had gone 2-2 at my first table, losing in a match to Mike Pustilnik where I still don’t know what went wrong.

At some point across the Atlantic Ocean, Zev Gurwitz asked me if I was interested in chatting about Type 2. I accepted readily, as I wanted to find out where he thinks the format will go after Regionals.

The conversation quickly turns to Zevatog, because hey! – it was Zev Gurwitz I am talking with. It was one of the more interesting Magic conversations I have had in a long time. I was fascinated to hear what Zev thought about grabbing a few minutes of fame in a career that had just started to take off.

One thing became obvious when I talked to Zev – and that was that Psychatog would continue to dominate Type 2. Luckily, I had the deck to beat Psychatog.

We didn’t die. Whew.

Before this, Team CMU was gearing up to get some of its lesser-known players qualified at Regionals. I decided that I would help out by building a deck that I had played with in the past…

So I put together a reworked version of the Blue Black splash Green deck that Andrew Johnson had given me to play in States last year. It was awful. I couldn’t win on Magic Online – and if you can’t beat MTGO players, then it is time to move on with your deck selection.

Next I wanted to build an Opposition deck. Opposition has been a force since it was reintroduced into Type 2. I have always had a fondness for the Opposition after I built the Hermit-Opposition that Kurt Burgner came in 22nd with at the Type 2 Pro Tour: Chicago.

Blue Green Opposition was a fairly easy choice to start with for the deck. I threw it together. There was a nice sequence of e-mails from the CMU mailing list about the deck. Different people wanted to do different things with the deck. Nate wanted Arrogant Wurms and didn’t like Elves. Cuneo wanted more Leeches – any kind of Leech (Thought Leech, Land Leech, and so on), in the deck. Others wanted to add real Counterspells on top of the Circular Logics.

A number of people played the deck at Ohio Valley Regionals, but none of them did particularly well with the it.

I had played Squirrel Opposition in a Magic Online Premier event. After one of the rounds, Louis Boileau messaged me, asking for the deck list. I happily emailed it to him.

At Canadian Regionals one of Louis’ friends, Francis Cormier, wrote a report about a Squirrel Opposition deck that he played into the Top 8. They had taken the deck and added Red!

This was brilliant.

They removed the Basking Rootwallas, who were nothing special, and added Red for Fire/Ice and Flametongue Kavu. Right away, I knew that their version was better.

The deck was awesome. I made a couple of changes and then I tested it versus everything in the field. It did well against everything except Trenches and Red/Green with Violent Eruption. With Psychatog keeping Red/Green under control and Trenches not being very popular, I was ready for Grand Prix Milwaukee.

Nick Eisel, Jeremy Darling, Eugene Harvey, and I all took my car to Grand Prix Milwaukee. The car ride is about nine or so hours, but my air conditioning wasn’t working so it felt even longer than that.

Every so often we would open all of the windows to totally air out the car. During one of these airing-outs, Nick gets the idea in his head to throw up a large handful of sleeves. Imagine a sleeve tornado. He was thrilled with his discovery, and at random intervals he would create more sleeve tornados. Every time the windows are opened, Jeremy gets hit by a VCR tape sitting on the back ledge. Every time.

It was all quite funny. At one point in the trip Jeremy points to a random pickup truck and says, "Look, it’s Schlomo’s pickup truck!" I thought that this was hysterical and decide to name my Green Blue Red Squirrel Opposition deck "Schlomo’s Pickup Truck.”

Shawn Houtsinger was good enough to offer the four of us a place to stay for the weekend. His place was good times all weekend long.

Luckily, I run into Liz Lempicki the morning of the Grand Prix. Besides the people in my car, she is the only person I had given my deck list to. This turns out to be very important because I didn’t remember the exact mana base of the deck. I had never built the deck with paper cards and went to Wisconsin not recording the exact land count.

Liz whips out her little notepad. I have mana!

Here is the decklist of Schlomo’s Pickup Truck:

7 Forest

5 Island

3 Karplusan Forest

2 Shivan Reef

4 Yavimaya Coast

4 Birds of Paradise

3 Llanowar Elves

4 Merfolk Looter

4 Wild Mongrel

4 Fire/Ice

4 Squirrel Nest

2 Call of the Herd

4 Circular Logic

3 Deep Analysis

3 Flametongue Kavu

4 Opposition


2 Bind

1 Compost

1 Flametongue Kavu

3 Gainsay

4 Jade Leech

1 Repulse

2 Static Orb

1 Upheaval

The tournament went very well on all accounts. I beat about a billion Psychatog decks over the course of the weekend. It was ridiculous how much Psychatog was played in the Grand Prix. I received a ton of feature matches over the weekend.

It was disappointing to get matched up versus Liz in the last round, as we were playing for the Top 8. She had more points than I did, so she will probably qualify in any case, but it would have been awesome if the only two people to play my deck both made the Top 8.

Not only was she playing for Top 8 in the last round, but she was also doing so on zero byes. This is unheard of – which is the reason should get rid of the bye system.

Zero Byes equals zero chance.

My quarterfinal match against Brian Kibler was pure sweetness. In 1997, I lost to Brian in the quarterfinals of Grand Prix: Toronto. My White/Green deck featuring Striped Bear and Mistmoon Griffin could not keep up with his mono Blue deck that combined Serrated Biskelion and Vodalian Illusionist. I would have had a better chance versus Brian had I not told him the secrets of my deck when we went to out to eat a round earlier.

I had always regretted giving out the secret to my Green/White Maro deck to Kibler before we played; it hurt even more, since after he beat me he went on to beat my teammate Erik Lauer in the finals.

Kibler was playing Psychatog. Kibler was pumping himself up before the match listening to music when Dave Price asked me about the matchup. I looked at Dave and said, "I am sitting in the top eight because I have played Psychatog all day. It’s not even going to be a match."

Another comment happened after Dave and Brian got done talking about the book Brian was reading: Ender’s Game. They had been speaking seriously about the book for a few minutes when I turn, look at Dave and say,

"I like read."


I crush Kibler in two straight before I lose to Eric Taylor in the semi-finals after three good games. It would have been nice for Team CMU to continue its tradition of winning Grand Prixes, but fourth place will have to do. It was great to see a Taylor/Chapin finals. With Aaron Forsythe covering the match, it was a little Pat Chapin and the Dinosaurs reunion.

Grand Prix: Milwaukee was both a blessing and a curse. It was great to actually play my deck in a real tournament and see all of the hard work I had put into it pay off. On the other hand, since the deck had done so well I knew it would become a big part of the metagame and people would be ready for it.

I prepared for Nationals with these two ideas hanging over my head: I knew people would soon discover that Red/Green with Violent Eruption would beat my deck pretty handily before sideboarding. This was unpreventable; the only thing I could work on discovering was if Red/Green would be viable in the Nationals metagame.

The second thing that was important would be to figure out a way for my deck to beat Trenches. I wasn’t sure if Trenches was going to grow in popularity or not, but the Squirrel Opposition needed a good plan to beat it regardless.

Andy Johnson, Eugene Harvey, Nick Eisel, and I worked hard figuring out what to do for US Nationals. While Andy was working on making a good Red/Green deck, Eugene and I continued to work on Squirrel Prison.

From playing various decks versus Andy’s Red/Green incarnations, I decided – and eventually Andy agreed with me – that while Red/Green was certainly a decent call in the field, Red/Green needed a field that was assured to be heavy with Squirrel Opposition before it could become very successful.

Derek Rollins was intent on playing Trenches in US Nationals. This worked out perfectly for me, as I had someone who was eager to test Trenches, which allowed me to figure out my plan versus that deck.

I went back and read and reread the Sideboard Coverage of my match versus Eric Taylor. I kept looking at how he sideboarded versus me so I could decide how to beat his plan. I figured most people would follow a similar strategy, so being able to win versus Eric strategy was very important.

First game is a fifty-fifty matchup. I toyed around with adding a fourth Deep Analysis into the deck for a Fire/Ice, but in the end it didn’t make enough of a difference to justify the change. So the place to crack the matchup would be with the sideboard. Going on the theory that all the Trenches decks would bring in Flametongue Kavus, Lighting Angels, and Aura Blasts, I decided to take out all of my enchantments and most of the Fire/Ices in favor of Gainsays, Jade Leeches, and Call of the Herds.

Opposition never seemed to be particularly good in the matchup in any case, so removing it was an easy decision. Squirrel Nests had to go as well, because if you only have four enchantments in your deck compared to their Aura Blasts, pretty much every time I would cast a Nest it would get Blasted. Taylor removed his Wraths after sideboard, so going with a fatty control plan seemed like the best option.

It worked wonderfully. If the Trenches player didn’t know what was coming, they would get stomped after sideboarding.

During the testing for Nationals another opportunity arose which I couldn’t pass up – Grimmoire.com was looking for a new editor so I applied.

I got the job! I have been editing www.Grimmoire.com for three weeks and I love it. I’m glad to have such an opportunity to contribute to the Magic Community.

After I did an interview with Carl Hatton that you can read at http://www.grimmoire.com/index.php/article/articleview/254/1/15, Nick Eisel and I planned to head off to the airport on Wednesday. Andy Johnson had asked to borrow my car so that he can get down to the airport on Thursday – so we plan on taking Nick’s car.

Now understand: Nick has a Mazda Miata convertible, which is a two-seater and has nearly zero trunk room. We spend ten minutes figuring out how to fit our luggage into his car. Once it was all said and done, I had one suitcase on my lap and we had to pull down his hood to wedge the other one between the front seat and the place where the hood was stored.

From this hysterical position, Nick tried to navigate out of our driveway. Normally this is difficult enough for anyone who lives in my house… But I didn’t expect that we would fall off the driveway!

One of Nick’s tires went off of the driveway, putting us into the grass. We tried everything to get the car unstuck – and finally after I was pushing the car and Nick was gunning the car did the car finally come unstuck.

On top of this, US Airways has a new policy that you have to be checked in at least thirty minutes in advance. We were only twenty five minutes early 🙁

Nick and I take advantage of our misfortune by playing about ten games of Squirrel Opposition versus Psychatog while we were waiting for our later flight. Nick was playing Kai’s version of Psychatog, since he planned to play the deck at Nationals.

Kai had made a post on Brainburst about his Psychatog deck a few days before, which was very well done – not only that, but it let me see exactly how many players would configure their Psychatog decks before and after sideboarding.

A lot of the people who were going to play Psychatog probably were going to do stupid things like add Recoil or Gainsay to their main deck, cutting Repulse. That would be great if they cut Repulse, since it is one of the best cards versus Squirrel Opposition.

Nick and I played; the games that Nick won, he was able to control my Merfolk Looter. Recoil and Gainsay don’t control Merfolk Looter – and in this matchup, Looter was king!

I have read a couple of reports that talk about how well Nick played over the course of the weekend, and I am not surprised in the least. He knew the Psychatog deck inside and out, even though he had just started playing it less than a week before the tournament. Nick Eisel could easily be the next big Pittsburgh Magic player.

You read it here first.

We eventually get into Florida, where David Leiser was good enough to pick Nick and I up, and we head off to the player site. When we get there, we discover that Harry Ryttenberg had been searching for us for a while – but since our flight had been delayed he hadn’t found us. After we gather up [author name="Paul Sottosanti"]Paul Sottosanti[/author], who flew down to try and make it through the grinders, we head off to our place for the weekend.

Harry has arranged for all of the Jersey and Pittsburgh guys to stay in a gigantic house for the duration of the trip. The house was awesome. It had like eight bedrooms, a full-size indoor swimming pool, and pretty much anything else you could have asked for.

Not only was the house itself awesome, the people staying there were probably about the best group of people one could ask to stay with.

Main Deck:

1 Nick Eisel

1 Eugene Harvey

1 Andy Johnson

1 Paul Sottosanti

1 Mike Turian


5 Pittsburgh Guys

1 Jill Costigan

1 Gerard Fabiano

1 Mark Fedak

1 Paul Jordan

1 Craig Krempels

1 Dan Ksepka

1 Osyp Lebedowicz

1 Matt Rubin

1 Harry Ryttenberg

1 Jon Sonne

1 Patrick Sullivan


10 New Jersey Guys and 1 Jill


1 Anand Khare

It was quite the full house. Over the course of the weekend we had plenty of good times. A lot of the guys have written reports at www.Togit.com, so if you want to read more about the good times that were had check out Togit’s site.

Anand was the only person in the house to make it through the Nationals Grinder. He played a very close copy to my Milwaukee deck. Paul Jordan came close, losing in the last round of the grinder to barely miss qualifying.

The big debate of the night was the Call of the Herds in the sideboard. While I opted out early and didn’t really partake in the discussion the talk lasted most of the night.

When I arrived at the tournament, it appeared that Squirrel Opposition would be everywhere. I scrounged up three Aura Grafts and gave one to Harvey and one to Johnson. Here is the deck list that I ran.

Schlomo’s Pickup Truck:

7 Forest

5 Island

3 Karplusan Forest

2 Shivan Reef

4 Yavimaya Coast

4 Birds of Paradise

3 Llanowar Elves

4 Merfolk Looter

4 Wild Mongrel

4 Fire/Ice

4 Squirrel Nest

2 Call of the Herd

4 Circular Logic

3 Deep Analysis

3 Flametongue Kavu

4 Opposition


1 Call of the Herd

1 Aura Graft

1 Flametongue Kavu

4 Gainsay

3 Jade Leech

2 Static Orb

1 Upheaval

2 Unnatural Selection

The main deck remained exactly the same from the Grand Prix. It worked well there and I couldn’t find a way to make it better. I think Arrogant Wurm is a waste of space, since Call of the Herd is more consistent and a better card in general.

The sideboard was definitely more refined for Nationals than it was at the Grand Prix; Unnatural Selection is devastating in the mirror match. I think the only card that didn’t belong was the one Upheaval; it should have been a Simoon instead.

A lot of people in the Togit house played this deck with small variations. It did very well overall. No one went 6-0 with it, but both Eugene and Osyp went 5-1 and a number of people including myself went 4-2.

I lost to Roger Sorino playing Red/Green and Steve O’Mahoney Schwartz in the mirror match. I beat Jose Pabon playing Psychatog, Rory Draxler playing 4-color Braids, Josh Lavery playing Squirrel Overrun and Justin Baker playing Red Green.

It was unfortunate that I got matched up against two Red/Green decks. Roger took a forced mulligan after drawing a card going first before he cast triple Flametongue Kavu to send me into the 2-2 bracket. Against Justin, however, game three saw me playing out Unnatural Selection and killing both of his Elephants, since my Elephant was a Legend first.

The four-color Braids match was the closest I experienced at Nationals. I was sitting at two life for ten turns every turn, hoping that he wouldn’t draw Fire/Ice. Also, against Rory I cast Aura Graft to move my own Squirrel Nest from one Yavimaya Coast to another in response to a Vindicate. That was pretty funny, but it won me the match.

For lunch, I ran over to the All Star Café with Jon Sonne. Sonne has continued to impress me with his analysis of the game. I don’t know many people who can break down a game situation like Jon can. It is no wonder that his team, Slay Pillage Massacre, continues to do well at the team competitions.

The draft day of Nationals was fairly uneventful. My first draft deck was a solid Red Green deck with two Arcane Teachings. I also ran a Woodland Druid and a Dwarven Scorcher – not exactly winners, but they filled out my mana curve as the deck was kind of top heavy. I beat Dan Clegg, Jason Schickli, and Kyle Bigos to take the table.

Woodland Druid seems to take decks to the 3-0 level. Nick Eisel piloted a Woodland Druid deck to 3-0 at Grand Prix Tampa and then I do the same at Nationals. I think that this occurrence should be known as the "Textman Effect.” Go figure.

Pro level events have a weird phenomenon that always occurs: Multiples of the same rare occur in the draft. They stamp all of the packs beforehand, and I think someone at Wizards finds it funny to load up the drafts with repeat rares. In my second draft pod, there were three Devastating Dreams and two Multilates.

Holy Wrath of God!

My deck is a very good Red/White deck with a number of tricks and filled with solid cards. I needed to win my first two matches so that I could draw into the top eight.

I end up losing to Tim Roderick playing a Green/Red splash Blue deck as his Liberated Dwarf wrecked me the first game in combination with a Centaur Chieftain. I would have given my left arm for a fifth mana before I died on turn fifteen.

I finish up by beating Matt Sperling and Alex Melnikow. I had just met Alex the previous weekend when I went up to Rochester, NY to visit Ken Krouner. Right after I had arrived in Rochester, his play impressed me and I let him know. Turns out that a 19th place finish in Nationals was right around the corner for him.

So after I go 5-1 in the draft portion of Nationals for like the tenth year in a row, Tony Tsai, Ken Krouner and I anxiously await the Top 8 announcement. We finish twelfth, ninth, and tenth respectively. Ken finished up with a strong 6-0 draft performance, marred only because two other Nationals cheaters probably colluded him out of Top 8.

What a shame that such a great tournament has to be disgraced with collusion. It is very unfortunate that every year for the past three there has been a sizeable cheating scandal. Hopefully, this black streak will end next year.

After much celebrating for Eugene Harvey and Matt Rubin making the Top 8, the big day finally arrives. When I wake up, I start calling every person on Paul Jordan cell phone to find out how Eugene was doing. After I wake up Dave Price and then Tony Tsai, I finally get in touch with Antonio De Rosa. The Harvey/Rubin match took forever. Even calling up on the phone for updates was boring.

I get to the site in time to see the beginning of the Ranks/Harvey match. This match was an awesome battle. Even with the slow pace of the games, the match was one for the ages. It was so back and forth. The most thrilling game was game four. Harvey double-mulliganned into a four land Opposition hand while Ranks was stuck on one mana for four turns, watching each player struggle with their deck was awesome.

Ranks played Psychatog as well I have seen anybody play it in a long time. Even though he is relatively unknown, I think the Nationals team will be in good shape, based on his play in the semi-finals.

Harvey ran right through Franz, making him the US National Champion!

Winner! Winner! Winner!

Winner! Winner! Winner!

It is awesome that Team CMU has had a representative on the US team for the past three years. What a privilege.

After the tournament, I talk to Scott Johns and find out that he might be retiring from Pro Tour-level Magic. If that is the case, he will be missed. Besides being a great competitor and teammate, Scott’s work with Brainburst shows how dedicated he is to the Magic community. He has more Top 8s than almost anyone else in the game and came back strong after a year’s retirement. As he is a new father, I want to wish his family all the best.

Let me know what you think. Thanks for reading,

Mike Turian

Team CMU

[email protected]