Let’s face it. I don’t exactly have the pedigree of most of the writers on this site. I’m not a Pro-Tour winner, or a Worlds finalist – heck, I’m not even a State Champion. All of my Pro Tour experience has been in doing coverage. I’ve seen Day Two of a Grand Prix, but only by doing side events. I’ve seen a PTQ Top 8, but only because I was rooting on a friend. Suffice to say, I’m not exactly a threatening matchup in a tournament. Local deckbuilding mastermind Frank Bowker summed it up thusly: I have good playskills, but my need to play wacky decks gets in the way of my success.
Yeah, I don’t see that changing any time soon.
My inner Johnny is way too dominant. I will actively avoid the “popular” deck. It’s not because I can’t learn how to play them (I mean, come on, Jund ain’t that hard), it’s not because I don’t WANT to be competitive – but I want to have fun while I’m playing. I’m too old to be expecting to make a career out of this – it’s a hobby. So I definitely want to “do fun things” while I’m playing.
Dragonstorm, to me, is the perfect deck for this. It’s a combo deck at heart, but the end result of this combo is that you make giant flying Dragons. How awesome is that? It has good tools to fight the other, “faster” combo decks, it’s fast enough and reliable enough to go off before you’re threatened by aggro, and the Storm mechanism makes countering the big spell somewhat of a moot point. Plus, it’s seen good success historically, and it appeals to my Johnny side.
I covered the history and the building of the deck last week. Here’s the deck as I played it Saturday:
Rare Cost Summary:
Scalding Tarn ($11.99 x 4 = $47.96)
Steam Vents ($11.99 x 4 = $47.96)
Bogardan Hellkite ($4.99 x 4 = $19.96)
Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund ($2.99 x 1 = $2.99)
Dragonstorm ($1.99 x 4 = $7.96)
Lotus Bloom ($4.99 x 4 = $19.96)
Blood Moon ($3.99 x 4 = $15.96)
Some quick thoughts on the deck. Remand hadn’t been panning out for me often enough; oftentimes it just got me one more turn, which wasn’t necessarily enough. I knew that, against most of the decks in the format, Blood Moon would actually give me WAY more turns, and discussion immediately prior to the tournament helped me decide to go ahead and move them maindeck over the Remands. I didn’t necessarily want all four maindeck, so the fourth Remand became the miser’s Firespout, as a game-one out against maindeck Gaddock Teegs. I didn’t expect a lot of it, but you just never know. In the forums, stealthbadger suggested changing one Island into a Breeding Pool to get maximum value out of Firespout, and I thought that sounded like a pretty good idea. The sideboard choices: Remand comes in against most of the combo decks; Echoing Truth is for Marit Lage and random permanent-based hate; Firespout is an answer to Gaddock Teeg and Meddling Mage, and comes in against Elves; Shattering Spree for Affinity, and anything that might side in troublesome artifacts like… Chalice? Trinisphere? I don’t know. I gave up on siding anything for the Dredge matchup specifically – I didn’t feel like dedicating four (or more!) sideboard slots to a matchup that (a) would likely show up in very small numbers, and (2) wouldn’t be beneficial in any other situations. I vowed instead to just avoid Dredge all day.
I went to bed Friday night feeling very confident. I had been running raw draws with the deck for weeks, trying to get a feel for how reliably the deck could get to nine mana – and when. The deck can reliably hit nine mana on turn 4. Every once in a while you can get lucky and go off on turn three, and sometimes (as with all combo decks) the pieces don’t fall together and you have to push it out later in the game, but doing practice draws with the deck will give you a better idea of what hands will “get there” and what hands should be mulligans. My cat had not been impressed with my playskill. She tried to get me to run Wild Nacatls and Loam Lions. And to rub her belly.
The alarm went off at 4:30. My wife had planned an early-morning flight out to Seattle, and the plan was to drop her off at the airport, and then head to the tournament site. Of course, this put me at the tournament site about a quarter to 8. I had been planning to just catch a catnap, but I got a text from regular “SMS of the Week” participant Rick Ashby, who had headed up to Denver early as well. I guess his sleep schedule supports him getting up at stupid o’clock – but I wasn’t going to complain, as it meant I had someone to sit in Denny’s with, drinking coffee and testing Dragontorm versus Dredge. I don’t know if I was getting lucky, or if this is legitimate results, but I found I was about 50/50 versus Dredge. That’s not horrible.
We’ve got 132 people, so in about eight rounds, we should know who the Top 8 will be!
Round 1 versus Mike playing Next Level Blue: Mike is another Springs player, so I guess that’s enough impetus for Tournament Organizer Extraordinaire Scott Marshall to line us up for a “feature match.” It’s a nice way to start out a tournament – with plenty of elbow room. Mike gets an early Tarmogoyf, and I take the opportunity to support my slow-ish draw by locking him out of his mana with a Blood Moon. Sure, a 3/4 Tarmogoyf is a clock of sorts, and I give Mike an entire turn with his mana when he Repeals my Blood Moon at the end of my turn. He takes his opportunity to play a Jitte – and I take the opportunity to Gigadrowse him out of his blue mana at the end of his turn. Now that I have access to my Dreadship Reef again, I’m able to Dragonstorm on my turn, but only for two. I fetch out a Hellkite, point it at the Tarmogoyf, and then fetch out Karrthus and attack for 12 – and I realize that, thanks to his painlands and fetchlands, had I just pointed the Hellkite completely at his face, he’d be dead. I mull this “mistake” over in my mind (and then attack for the rest the next turn)… and now, in the light of reality, I think it was actually the right play. I Drowsed him out of his blue mana to prevent him from countering my necessary acceleration spell, but I didn’t Drowse him COMPLETELY out – if I had left the Tarmogoyf on the table and he had a Path to Exile to take out Karrthus, he’d be able to start getting counters on the Jitte and it would turn into a race – not exactly what you’d like to see as a result of a Dragonstorm. Taking the Goyf off the board meant that he’d have to find another way to get that Jitte moving, and I’d be putting him closer to death each turn (AND still had the Blood Moon to drop back onto the field if need be). Game two is a little lackluster as Mike mulligans down to 5, and never gets above two Islands by turn four, when my Lotus Bloom comes into play and I Dragonstorm him with four Hellkites. 1-0
Round 2 versus Brandon playing Zoo: In game one, Brandon comes out swinging, pointing a Lightning Bolt at my face and starting his aggression with a Qasali Pridemage and a Loam Lion. Unfortunately, that’s not going to be fast enough to kill me before I can build up to a Dragonstorm, and I’m at 10 when I find enough Dragons to kill him. Game two, Brandon’s roll is actually slower than game one, but so is mine – luckily I have a Blood Moon to return his Loam Lion back to a 1/1, and he doesn’t have an answer (or another threat) by the time I’m able to find and cast Dragonstorm. 2-0
Round 3 versus Tanner playing Depths: This is the first time where I am almost overwhelmed by my The Fear. Tanner drops a turn one Sunken Ruins, then turn two Dark Depths plus Chrome Mox (imprinting) plus Vampire Hexmage. Well, crap. I buy myself one additional turn with a Gigadrowse but can’t build up the momentum to go off myself. Game two, Tanner has sided in Thoughtseizes, and they start pulling apart my hand, and a Dark Confidant threatens to pull him ahead. I wait an extra turn to Drowse out his blue mana, and go off unhindered. My first game three of the tournament sees an early Thoughtseize again, but I drop a Blood Moon after Thoughtseize eats my first Dragonstorm, and I run Peer Through Depths into a second Dragonstorm and kill him. Tanner had the Dark Depths in his hand. 3-0
Just for the record, this was the round after lunch, thereby breaking my post-lunch jinx. For some reason, I always lose the round after lunch – all the blood leaves my brain and heads to my stomach. This is my day.
Round 4 versus Matt playing Scapeshift: Matt has a bit of a stigma attached to him – he can’t beat Colorado Springs players. (It started in a Grand Prix trial, I think.) Or, and not to give away the ending or anything, he USED to have that stigma. Game one, I keep a two land hand that never draws another land, and die somewhere around turn fifteen to a Scapeshift fetching out 18 points of Valakut damage. In game two, I know he has Negates and Cryptic Commands, and I bait them out as best I can with Blood Moons and ramp spells until I can make an enormous mid-combat trade between my hardcast Hellkite and his Wood Elves and Coiling Oracle. The Hellkite goes the distance. Game three, I just can’t find Dragonstorm no matter which direction I dig, and Scapeshift kills me again somewhere around turn twenty-five. Scapeshift: Not your grandma’s fastest combo deck, huh? 3-1
Round 5 versus Adam playing Martyr-Proc: My first thought is that Adam is playing some sort of Bant deck, since he starts with Bant-flavored dual lands, so I burn a ramp spell to drop a turn-two Blood Moon. The problem is, I don’t have any speedy combo to benefit from the slowdown, and Adam’s game is revealed when he casts a Ranger of Eos. He puts me on Hive Mind (which is probably a legitimate guess at this point) but, for some reason, fetches out a Martyr of Sands and a Kami of False Hope, despite the fact that neither would help against Hive Mind. (The fact that they blow me out of the water is moot.) He gets them on the board the turn before I Dragonstorm, and he sacs them both and reveals the Wrath in hand that will clear my Dragon army. I have one Hellkite left in my hand; by the time I cast it, he’s got another Martyr, and reveals another Wrath. With all my win conditions in the yard, we move on to game two. Game two I keep this hand: 2x Lotus Bloom, Seething Song, Dragonstorm, Remand, Dreadship Reef, Blood Moon. I have nine mana. I have Dragonstorm. Assuming I can make it to turn four, I can win. If I draw another land, I should be able to protect my combo with the Remand. I suspend the Blooms, play the Reef, say go. Draw – no land. Draw – no land. Adam drops a Rule of Law on turn three. Boggle. He says he’s happy that he added sideboard cards for Elves, and got lucky that they also worked against me. Two Ethersworn Canonist after that, and I still haven’t drawn another land. 3-2
What the heck happened? I lost a combo-versus-combo matchup to a slower combo due to horrible draws, and then I got paired up against what might literally be the one deck with a ridiculous game plan and ridiculous sideboard against me. Re-paired into it, even! Hey tournament – this is my day! Get the freakin’ memo.
Round 6 versus Jason playing Jund Scapeshift: I refocus. I resolve to win out. With the number of players so close to 128 (the cutoff for 8 rounds), there’s bound to be some flex at the top. I’m going to give it my best shot and still take it all down. Jason is unlucky enough to be the first obstacle and I skip right past the “turn-four Dragonstorm” and opt for the lesser-known yet just-as-lethal “turn three Dragonstorm.” The problem is, I have no idea what he’s playing. I put him on Jund of some sorts, and to be honest I would have still thought he was Jund if he hadn’t revealed the Scapeshift at the end of the second game – but the more important part there was that he had sided in Thoughtseize and Extirpate and made getting rid of my Dragonstorms the first order of business. An Eternal Witness and a Bloodbraid Elf provide the first bursts of damage, and then he casts Scapeshift to clue me on his deck and finish me off. Now knowing what he’s in on, I side in the Remands to stop his discard and Scapeshift if necessary, but it never comes up, as I use a Lotus Bloom on turn four to storm him out. 4-2
Round 7 versus Brian playing Red-Green Scapeshift: I put Brian on Zoo initially, but he has a lot of basic lands, which is unusual. He goes on offense with a Lightning Bolt and a pair of Bloodbraid Elves, so – ok, NOT Zoo. The Bloodbraids drop me to 6 by the time I find the Dragonstorm and bring the game to fire-filled end. In game two, Brian doesn’t have a lot of pressure, and starts relying on a Treetop Village to get damage in. A Tarmogoyf joins the party on his side, but I finally find a Dragonstorm and storm into all four Hellkites. 5-2
I’m in 13th place going into the last round. We know that at least one, MAYBE two 6-2s will make the Top 8.
Round 8 versus Mark playing The Burninator: I was instructed to not refer to this deck as “mono-red burn,” as I normally would, but “The Burninator,” and this one is for the marbles. I’ve never seen the kind of stream of burn that Mark unleashed on me in game one. Spark Elementals, Rift Bolts, Lightning Bolts, Mogg Fanatics – yes, I am burninated. Mark mulls into oblivion in game two, to four cards, and provides some token offense before I Dragonstorm for three. Mark is at 20 still, and feels confident! Until I fetch Hellkite-Hellkite-Karrthus and attack to put him in the red. I think he was just expecting Hellkites and thought he might survive. In game three, I Remand a turn-three Hellspark Elemental to buy myself some time, but I’m still at 8 when I rip the Dragonstorm to match my resolving Lotus Bloom and go on to win. 6-2
At this point, I’ve done all I can. They make an announcement that, if you think you are in the Top 8, you should order your deck for quick deck check resolution prior to the Top 8. Pushing for the power of positive thinking, I dutifully order my deck, ready to play the Elves deck that’s 7-0-1 or something like that. They announce the first seven of the Top 8… and then comes the name of numbers eight and nine. The margin in the first tiebreaker was something like 0.4%…
… Unfortunately, that ninth-place name is mine.
I am very happy with my performance, and with the performance of the deck. It’s a good, solid combo deck without a lot of hate. And honestly – what better method is there of killing your opponent than with giant Dragons? Would I consider changing the deck? Doubtful. I’m very happy with the maindeck. The sideboard choices might need some tweaking – for instance, would Damping Matrix serve the same purpose that Shattering Spree does? (Does mean things to Affinity, shuts down troublesome artifacts like Thopter Foundry, and just happens to help against Martyr of Sands / Kami of False Hope.) I have another PTQ towards the end of March, and it seems very likely that I will be playing this same deck then – and looking to make a break through that glass ceiling and into my first PTQ Top 8.
Regarding making this deck even cheaper: I do believe that you can opt to run basic lands in the place of the Steam Vents. Often I did find myself fetching out a basic land rather than a Steam Vents. You only ever need one red source, and that CAN be a Lotus Bloom if need be – there’s less demand on specific colors than Desire had. I think you’ll still need the Scalding Tarns, so if pressed to choose one over the other, I recommend the fetchlands and basics.
Here’s hoping you’ll try out Dragonstorm if you have a PTQ in the near future!
Until next week…
dave dot massive at gmail and davemassive at facebook and twitter