Tribal Thriftiness #36 – Grand Prix: Denver

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Thursday, August 14th – Thanks to your input, Dave went off to GP: Denver with deck in hand and a smile on his face. Was he able to repeat his above-average performance from Regionals? Or did he participate in the Sealed Deck Side Event and win a Wii? The answer is… somewhere in the middle.

First off, let me say that there is probably not much budget content in this week’s installment, but we will be back to exploring budget decks next week.

Next: Thanks to everyone who made suggestions and offered advice in the forums last week. Surely it’s a challenge to pick out a deck and attempt to “be ready” in a matter of a couple of days! And thanks to Pete here at Star City Games for hooking me up with the necessary parts that I was missing. I ended up having a great time at Grand Prix: Denver… but let’s start this story at the beginning…

If you remember from last week’s article, I had narrowed down my choices to Kithkin, Merfolk, and The Red Deck. It was quickly (and rightly!) pointed out that Merfolk might take longer than a couple of days to even just learn to play, and that mastering it was probably out of the question. Left with Kithkin or Red, and knowing that I probably would be forced to leave out either the Figures or the Mirrorweaves if I took Kithkin, I decided on The Red Deck.

(In all honesty, it was because of the Demigods. I was itching to play them again!)

I started with Hiroshi Yoshida’s decklist from Kobe. I moved the Festercreeps into the maindeck, expecting that they would serve me well against Faeries and Kithkin, as well as Merfolk with all their little X/1 creatures. The Shushers moved to the sideboard to make room, seeing as how few decks actually ran more than a handful of counterspells – and with the advent of Consign to Dream in the sideboard of Faeries, more and more Faeries players are happy to let your creatures resolve, knowing that they can drop them on top of your deck during the attack step. The Shushers eventually ended up being removed completely. Yoshida’s singleton Ashling the Pilgrim never worked out for me in the limited testing I was able to run, and I wanted a fifth “big finisher” to pull me through the midgame. Ashling became, for me, Chandra Nalaar, who can act as creature removal, a steady source of damage, and a big finisher… or all three. Here’s the final decklist I took with me to Denver.

When all’s said and done, not grossly different. The sideboard bears some discussion, possibly. Since I didn’t have the Reflecting Pools, I didn’t feel that eight sources of Black mana was enough to support the double-Black casting cost of Soul Snuffers. As such, I felt that I needed the full complement of Firespouts in the sideboard. Even without the ability to produce Green mana and use it against Faeries, it would still serve me very well against Merfolk, Elves, and Kithkin. Two, and possibly all three, of those decks can side in Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender as an answer to not only Firespout, but also all my burn, so the Moonglove Extract is there specifically for the Forge-Tender. The Wild Ricochets are for the mirror match, where diverting and duplicating a Flame Javelin can win you the match. The Inside Outs were specifically for Doran, where continuously being forced to use two burn spells to remove the big Treefolk was a pain in the toughness. And the Redcaps were just to have more reusable removal at my disposal.

… only my deck actually had Duergar Assailants in there. And Spinerock Knolls. I had made arrangements to pick up the missing pieces the morning of GP: Denver at the site!

The drive up to the tournament site was uneventful, and performed at a time that would get me to the site in plenty of time to register, unlike the Eventide Pre-Release. I registered and quickly found the Star City Games booth, and introduced myself to Ben Bleiweiss, who was in town doing a little shopping. Ben had brought the Figures and other assorted goodies, and I picked them up. I also got to meet Riki Hayashi, who was judging in the event and was chatting with Ben. It’s always exciting to meet other writers with more… gravitas than myself. I mean, I’m just a writer who plays in an occasional big tournament. Riki Hayashi judges at NATIONALS! He’s practically a celebrity. He’ll be forever known as the guy who helped millions of Internet-reading Magic players get around the Demigod Trap…

… oh crud. I’m running Demigods. Well, no hard feelings.

Riki provided my favorite quote of the morning: “You’re much taller when you’re not a head shot!”

It reminded me much of meeting Rizzo. Actually meeting Rizzo, too, and not the “six-foot-four teddy bear” nonsensical story he told in his article. You have this mental picture of people from their writing, I guess – and it is very infrequent when your mental image lines up with reality. I meant to find Riki over the course of the tournament and chat more, but failed.

I hooked up with the Colorado Springs crowd and pulled out the deck to start making the changes. We had about twenty people or so up to play in the tournament, and had managed to take over an entire row down in the “lower” tables. Conversation was varied, and included: whether a local player was actually going to wear a dress during the tournament or not (I didn’t keep up with this), how Recumbent Bliss was amazing in the sideboard of Doran decks (it’s still just Pacifism), whether or not there were any famous people present (we saw LSV and Paul Cheon, but they’re practically locals), and what record would take you into Day 2. We partook of the small chatter that always occurs while players await the seating for the Player’s Meeting. It helps to calm the nerves a bit.

(About the Pros: We surmised that most of the “Pros” that we would recognize would be off eating breakfast, enjoying their byes, maybe taking a light nap to try to acclimate to the higher altitude. In truth, very few Pros made the trip. I called my friend Mike out in NJ after the tournament to chit-chat, and it came up in conversation. He said that many “name” players had shown up at his PTQ in the middle of nowhere in Pennsylvania. Wonder why they didn’t make the trip?)

They finally sit us down and give us the spiel. 620 players means nine rounds to go. Let’s get it on.

Round 1: versus Adam playing Elves

Adam is a young guy who moved to Denver to train as a runner. The thin air and altitude certainly make it ideal for that. He is playing Elves, but a Green and White version rather than the traditional Green/Black mix. Our first game is mostly about my removal; I burn away a litany of little Elves and find a Demigod to fly over and seal the deal. In game 2, Adam makes an early Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender – hey, wait! He’s Elves, he’s not allowed to use Kithkin. The Forge-Tender keeps plinking away at me, little by little, as I try and coax Adam into sacrificing his Tender to protect some of his other assets, but he wisely just lets them die and keeps poking away with the Tender. I finally run out of burn and this lets him get enough guys on the board to trigger his Windbrisk Heights and put an Oversoul of Dusk into play. Let’s move on. Game 3 I get to see yet another wrinkle in Adam’s deck: Garruk Wildspeaker. I regret having kept a somewhat-speculative hand, and never get up to five lands to cast the two Demigods in my hand. To be fair, it’s not until the third Garruk that I am swept under by a sea of Beast tokens.

0-1, 1-2

0-1 is the harshest start you can have at a GP. Even worse than a PTQ or a big tournament like Regionals, at a GP you will undoubtedly be facing a good portion of people who will come into the tournament 3-0 without even playing their first match. Ideally, if you’re going to lose at all, you’d prefer it came in the later rounds when your opponents have a chance of helping you with tiebreakers later in the day.

Round 2: versus Connor playing Elementals

Trying to prevent dropping out of the tournament before lunch, I resolve to try and stay away from hands I should mulligan, and better anticipate my opponent’s sideboarding strategy. I start out with a Figure of Destiny, and rather than overcommit the board, pump him up to Level 2 for the first attack and Level 3 for the next. Connor finds a Kitchen Finks to mount a defense, but Chandra decides to join the party and takes a couple of pokes at his life total, trying to get up to hyperblast range. Connor recruits a Cloudthresher to deal with both my Figure of Destiny L3 and Chandra, but I eventually take it down with a pair of burn spells, leaving the board fairly clear. Connor blinks first and makes another Kitchen Finks, which hits me once, but my Demigod of Revenge brings along a friend (dunno why he was in the graveyard, but he was) and brings Connor down into burn range. In game 2, I just point burn at his head directly as I race up to five mana and again summon Chandra to do my blasting. A couple of quick jabs and Chandra’s completely powered up… which is good, as I have a Tarfire to put Connor directly at ten.

1-1, 3-2

Round 3: versus Shane playing Red Deck

I had met Shane at Regionals as we waited for pairings to be posted; he recognized me as a Star City writer. We are playing similar decks, but not exactly the same – Shane is playing Ashenmoor Gougers and Ram-Gangs, where I am running just the Ram-Gangs; Shane is running Balefire Liege to maximize his burn where I am playing Demigod as, essentially, a finisher burn spell. In the first game, I put out an early start with a pair of Figures and a Ram-Gang, but eventually get myself a hand full of burn while Shane deals with my creatures. He makes a pair of Ashenmoor Gougers, but is getting low on life, and I have a grip full of burn that I’d much rather point directly at him. A third Figure of Destiny squeaks in exactly one point of damage to pull him within range of my Flame Javelins. In game 2, I find out the brutal impact of Balefire Liege, as one takes a pair of Flame Javelins and reduces me from 17 to crispy-fried in very short order. The third game is again filled with creatures and burn, and I get in the first shot with a Ram-Gang, which is soon joined by a Demigod. Shane makes my Demigod a 2/1 thanks to Puncture Blast, but I find a Murderous Redcap and mount the creature advantage thanks to his 2-for-1. I knock Shane to 1 with my next attack, and then attempt to blast him out with Flame Javelin… and that’s when Shane reveals his hot sideboard tech: Wild Ricochet! Unfortunately, Shane has to burn away my non-Redcap creatures, and that leaves me able to still squeak past to do the last point of damage next turn.

2-1, 5-3

Round 4: versus Charles playing Merfolk

The name looks familiar. I assume it’s a Springs player that I can’t put the face to. As I approach the table, I can see he’s not a Springs player… where do I know him from?

He says, “You’re Mike and Ray’s friend.”
Me: “Whuuuh?”
Him: “Ray. Ray Merz.” (Ray is a L2 – L3? – judge in the New York area who I am, indeed, friends with.)
Me: “Oh, Ray. Yeah, I know Ray.”
Him: “You were at the Morningtide Pre-Release.”
Me: “Yes … yes I was.”
Him: “I was a judge there!”

And now I realize where I know him from. *laugh* Chas is playing what I would call “Four-Color Merfolk” which gets all greedy for things like Chameleon Colossus. I have an early Festercreep in game one that threatens most of his one-toughness guys, but I burn them out of the way and get in there with the ‘Creep. I add a Ram-Gang and start bashing, burning out blockers as I go. I get up to five mana, play Chandra and then Demigod, and ride them to victory without taking a point of damage. In game 2, I take shots from a pair of Reejereys, but eventually make three Demigods. Chas has a Colossus to tap down the team after the second Demigod, but he draws a land and can’t tap down all three of them.

3-1, 7-3

I sent my friend Mike (the TO in New York, and the Mike referenced above) a text message that says something like, “Dave 1, NY Judges 0!” Woo! I BEAT JUDGES! …

Round 5: versus Morgan playing Faeries

… until I sit down across from Morgan Chang, who is another NY judge who evidently made the trip just to have the chance to mock me for being excited about beating a judge. Well, I’m on a roll against judges, so let’s go! I make an early Figure of Destiny and pump him up to Level 2, and start the offense early. Morgan has a Bitterblossom to change taking 2 or 3 points every turn into just 1 a turn, and that’s hard to get around when you’re lacking removal like I seem to be at this moment. Morgan makes a Mistbind Clique in the middle of combat (which is a cool trick that I’ve never seen), makes an advantageous block, and rides the Clique all the way as I draw no removal. Game 2, I again get an early offense, this time with a Ram-Gang and a Redcap, and Morgan helps me out with a Bitterblossom on his side of the table, but it turns around quickly as Morgan counters a Demigod, and then brings it back on his side of the table with Puppeteer Clique. Ow. I can deal with the Clique once but not twice, and it teams up with the Bitterblossom tokens to finish me off.

3-2, 7-5

I will not gloat. I will not gloat. I need a chalkboard or something to write my penance on.

Round 6: versus Eric playing Doran

I’m now officially in the “win out pipe dream” category.

Eric is playing Doran, and I have no idea how to play against this deck. I have a Figure of Destiny that gets Inverted and a Festercreep that just… hangs around, and no removal to deal with the 3/5 Leaf-Crowned Elder that starts plopping Treefolk into play. A Chameleon Colossus comes into play through the Elder and then becomes a 1/1 thanks to a Puncture Blast, but that’s literally the best I can muster. Eric adds a Wilt-Leaf Cavalier to the team and ends it quite quickly. I mulligan to five in the second game (past a hand with both Inside Outs but only one land), but still mount some small offense – a Ram-Gang into a winning Lash Out, but Eric finds the one (ONE!) Primal Command in his deck, gains seven life, and chains into a Doran. I match him with a Demigod, but it’s not until my first attack that I realize that I actually lose that race thanks to Doran’s ability. Which I do.

3-3, 7-7

I break even. And with no chance of making Day 2 at this point, I drop out to play in a Standard side event for a box, because I brought a version of Bennie Smith Warp World deck! But I’m afraid that will have to wait for next week, because … I love that deck. Let me whet your appetite with this: I cast Warp World four times in one game. In the same turn!

My final thoughts on the deck itself: It’s really a solid deck – more solid than my results probably say. It translates easily to Standard as well, and is a time-tested archetype. And I had a great time playing the deck, levelling up Figures (who desperately need a nickname if it doesn’t have one already), attacking with multiple Demigods, and burning opponents in the face. Thanks again to all the people in the forums who suggested I run this deck, to Pete for shipping the Figures out to Denver, and to all my opponents. I had a great GP and I’m glad I had the chance to go.

Until next week, keep Warping those Worlds.