I want to let you in on a little secret. You will read this and say one of two things: either “well, obviously” or probably “how does a guy like this get a job writing about Magic?” This revelation is:
I’m not the kind of person who playtests.
I’m sure that sentence will get comments in the forums, but it’s true. I suspect that there are a gross number of “adult” Magic players that have little-to-no time to playtest for Magic, what with the demands of family life, of holding down a steady job, and even other (gasp!) recreational hobbies. I’m pretty sure I can count the number of tournaments I’ve playtested for on one hand. Let’s see. Regionals when Invasion had just come out and Fires was just breaking onto the scene; States (or Regionals?) when NetherHaups hit the world a week before the tournament; wait, were those the same tournament? Anyway, you get my drift. I rarely have time to go to consecutive Friday Night Magics, and I have yet to see any correlation between playtesting and success, so usually I let it slide.
For States this year, however, I found myself with some spare time. My wife had done some traveling in the middle of October, and I attended a playtesting session and got a little familiar with some of the “top decks,” and then she was off again to Seattle for work this past week, which gave me an opportunity to get familiar with the deck I had chosen, playtest out a few of the more important matchups, and make some sideboard decisions BEFORE the actual tournament. “Free tournaments for a year” is a worthy enough prize for my time, after all.
Here’s the deck I selected:
Vengeant Kithkin, played by Dave Meeson, Colorado States 2008
4 Figure of Destiny
4 Goldmeadow Stalwart
4 Wizened Cenn
4 Knight of Meadowgrain
4 Cloudgoat Ranger
4 Spectral Procession
4 Flame Javelin
3 Ajani Vengeant
4 Rugged Prairie
4 Forge[/author]“]Battlefield [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]
4 Reflecting Pool
3 Rustic Clachan
3 Windbrisk Heights
4 Stillmoon Cavalier
4 Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender
3 Wheel of Sun and Moon
Rare Cost Summary:
Figure of Destiny (4 x $17.50 = $70.00)
Ajani Vengeant (3 x $6.00 = $18.00)
Rugged Prairie (4 x $6.00 = $24.00)
Forge[/author]“]Battlefield [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] (4 x $5.00 = $20.00)
Reflecting Pool (4 x $25.00 = $100.00)
Rustic Clachan (4 x $2.50 = $10.00)
Windbrisk Heights (3 x $3.50 = $11.50)
Stillmoon Cavalier (4 x $10.00 = $40.00)
Reveillark (4 x $6.00 = $24.00)
Wheel of Sun and Moon (3 x $3.00 = $9.00)
Sideboard choices: Stillmoon Cavalier is against Kithkin, Faeries, or when I want a generally-lower curve. Reveillark swaps with Cloudgoat Ranger against decks with mass removal. Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender is for Red Deck, and anything that deals a ton of damage with Red spells. Wheel of Sun and Moon is to prevent Reveillark and Kelpie shenanigans.
Ways to make this deck a little cheaper: The Figure, sadly, is key to the deck. I luckily had already invested in a playset for Block Constructed qualifiers, so I would have them either way, but you could potentially move the Forge-Tenders main deck to keep up the mana curve. Ajani Vengeant is six bucks and should be readily available from anyone who went to a Prerelease or Launch Party. The Reflecting Pools, for all they are worth, could easily be Vivid Meadows or even just Plains, although you may want to adjust the number of Mountains you run to make sure you are giving yourself a shot to cast Flame Javelin the cheap way.
The reasons I selected this deck: I really hate Faeries. Everything I’ve read online has said that Kithkin has a good matchup with Faeries, until they side in Stillmoon Cavalier, which can really ruin a Mono-White Kithkin player’s day. The Red splash has been running around in various builds now as a way to deal with Stillmoon Cavalier, and also as a way to give the deck a little bit of finishing punch to gain an edge over the control decks (like Cruel Control) that stabilize at a low life total and run you out of threats. I grew up playing aggro in tournaments, and while I thought this was a good choice for the existing metagame (Faeries and Five-Color Control), I also hoped that I would have fun attacking with little dudes again.
Playtesting showed that this was accurate, more or less. I think I actually forced a couple of people to at least make sideboard changes, if not change deck choices as a whole. I actually got to BEAT a Faeries deck. Man, I can’t tell you how good that felt. I really hate that deck. People kept telling me I’d never get Ajani’s ultimate ability to go off; I did it twice in playtesting, although I think I may have slow-rolled the kill once to prove I could do it. The only problem deck I saw in playtesting was this white-black lifegaining deck that used as many of the white-black hybrid cards from Eventide as it could, but I felt reasonably sure that it was a fringe deck and I probably wouldn’t see it in the actual tournament.
I also want to say, very quickly, that the discussion about this deck that I read in the Star City Forums was also instrumental in helping me with the final build.
Just a quick aside. When I’m playing at FNM, I just keep score on a spindown counter, like probably most people do. But when I’m playing at a PTQ or big event, and I think I might write about what happened, I keep score on paper with this weird shorthand annotation. I thought it might be interesting to keep it in the article. Also note that it doesn’t necessarily make it any easier to remember what happened in any given round.
R1: versus Ben playing WB Lifegain
So not only am I paired up in round 1 with what I preconceive as a bad matchup, I’m paired up against the exact Colorado Springs person who put that into my head in the first place! Game 1 I start out a little slow with only a Wizened Cenn; he has the Nip Gwyllion / Edge of the Divinity pairing to build himself a 4/4 lifelinker and pull himself ahead. I dispatch it, but can’t deal with the Figure of Destiny or the Voracious Hatchling that joins the battle. Ben ends the game at 37 life. Just a small mountain to climb. Gah.
In game 2, he starts with a Nightsky Mimic, which he drops an Edge on and flies over for 7 right at the start. I have a pair of Figures that I am ramping up, and immediately after that attack, I draw and play Ajani Vengeant, keeping the Mimic from returning to the battle for a little bit. The two Figures knock him low enough that a Flame Javelin can finish him off.
Game three, it almost seems like we are playing the same decks. I have an early Figure and Meadowgrain; he has Spectral Procession and (eventually) a Meadowgrain of his own. What REALLY makes it look like we’re playing the same deck is that we both have four Plains and a Windbrisk Heights in play. Ben has no problem playing a second Spectral Procession and triggering the Heights to Unmake my guy. I, however, can’t get either the Ajani or one of the two Flame Javelins in my hand to matter in the matchup. Five Spectral Procession tokens are joined by a Stillmoon Cavalier, and that is enough to put me into the 0-1 bracket.
R2: versus Chad playing Merfolk
Chad laments, as we shuffle up, that he hopes that I’m not playing a deck that makes him regret his deck decision. Evidently he made the fabled “game-day change” and switched into Merfolk at the last minute. It seems like it works out okay for him in game 1, as an early Sygg, River Guide forces me to start working around his protection. I finally take care of him with Ajani, but by that time, Chad has amassed about six Merfolk, and even the three lifegain from Ajani’s Helix isn’t enough to save me from the final attack.
The problem with game 1 was that I mulliganed and stuck with a slower hand. The initial hand had six one or two-drops, but only one land. I resolve to “be the beatdown” in the sideboarded games. Game two is a heck of a curve; Stalwart into Figure into Wizened Cenn, and I have him at 10 on turn three. He steals a blocker with Sower of Temptation and hides another one under Oblivion Ring, but I have removal for the Sower and enough burn to finish the job. Game three is another great curve; Stalwart into Double Cenn, and after losing a couple of guys to O-Rings, I find burn and a Cloudgoat Ranger to seal the deal.
R3: versus Jon playing Elves
I played Jon at Regionals last year. He was playing Elves then. He’s playing Elves today. He mentioned that he enjoyed seeing our match reported online. He should enjoy this then:
I do no damage to Jon in game 1. He, however, has no problem smacking me around with an army of Elves, and I succumb in short order.
That’s the report from the first game of our Regionals match. Eerily, it is pretty much what I would write for the first game of our States match. CREEEEEEPY. As you can see, it’s not ALL him, as I do get to make a Planeswalker to take care of a Wren’s Run Vanquisher, and a Knight of Meadowgrain goes down in combat, but it’s never a game.
Game 2 Jon gets stuck on land and I dispatch him with the Kithkin guys that were never meant to attack; game three, I get stuck on three land (one of which can’t make red), which means I again am stuck with Javelins in hand.
This means that Jon got his revenge from States, when all he needed to crush me was to draw Chameleon Colossuses, and just couldn’t. I found it interesting that he really didn’t draw them in this match either — maybe I have Protection From Colossi. In any event, Jon, now we’re even. The next time I guess will be to decide it all!
R4: versus Matt playing WUB Aggro
At this point, I’m out of the running. There will only be one 6-2 who makes Top 8, and being in the X-2 bracket by turn three means that my tiebreakers are going to be wretched. I’m OK with that. There’s no drafts, it doesn’t appear, and at this point in the day we’re still planning on going for Mongolian BBQ after the tournament, so why not keep playing?
Matt is, I think, from Denver, and he has a legitimate fear of Colorado Springs players ever since one killed him at instant speed with Dragonstorm with lethal damage on the stack. In short, the Springs owns poor Matt. Game 1, I start out with a Figure and ramp him up to level 3 while I wait to see what Matt is playing. A Spectral Procession joins the fun, and I keep the road clear for the Cenn-pumped Figure to bring it home.
I have a very slow hand in game 2 and lose after dealing with his initial Figure. I wonder what an ‘et’ is? Game three is the other way, as I curve Stalwart into Cenn before we lock up the ground. Eventually I have to rely on a full-sized Figure to take to the air and take him down.
Heh. “Full-sized Figure.” I crack myself up.
Four rounds and I still haven’t played Five-Color Control or Faeries, which are supposed to make up the biggest part of this metagame. I remember thinking it was weird at the time, but I also supposed that those players must be at higher tables than myself. Or somewhere in the ‘X-X-1′ bracket.
R5: versus Robert playing Cruel Control
Well, evidently there’s at least one Cruel Control player here at the 2-2 tables. Robert has evidently ignored Patrick Chapin advice to remove Kitchen Finks from this deck, much to my chagrin. He also must be running more than the four mass removal spells advocated by Mr. Chapin, because he definitely clears the board more than once before finding Broodmate Dragon to act as his win condition. I manage to deal with the tokens and come back, sneaking in damage where I can, but the Finks have helped him stay alive long enough to find Cruel Control, which gets him back his Dragon. I’m unable to deal with the Dragon the second time around.
Game 2 was more of the same, only I mounted less of an offense. I missed a couple of land drops in the early turns and by the time I can get multiple threats going, Robert’s drawn into enough creature control to keep up. I again deal with Broodmate Dragon the first time around, and we get to a point where we’re both pretty much living off the top of the deck. My draw yields … a dude. His draw … Cruel Ultimatum. Yeah, that seems fair. Time is called, though, and I can’t pressure through enough damage to make it a draw.
Yeah. Kitchen Finks: still okay in the metagame. I hadn’t gotten to feel how irritating they were up until Just This Moment. Luckily for me, I’ll have more of those moments as the tournament goes on.
R6: versus Nick playing RBU
Nick never really gets things going in game 1, especially as I curve out with Stalwart and Cenn and finish him off with Ajani. In game 2, he takes care of my Stalwart, but I have a Reinforced Meadowgrain that serves to go all the way. This was a fairly short match and I think Nick had mana issues.
R7: versus Phil playing Realm Razer
Game 1, I have turn 1 Stalwart, turn 2 Meadowgrain. Not a bad start, huh? Phil has turn 1 mana-producer, turn 2 Bloom Tender, and by turn 3 has, no exaggeration, like FORTY guys on the board. Ajani Vengeant clears him a path (hey, you’re supposed to be on MY side) and, despite my life total saying ’20,’ as soon as Realm Razer shows up, it’s a non-game.
Game 2, Phil has to use a lot of painlands to start his mana production, and that sets me a long way towards victory. Spectral Procession tokens and Ajani help, although I have no idea what ‘pl’ could mean there at the end. Oh! It means ‘painland’. I wonder how many he tapped to go from 16 to 8?
Game 3 is anticlimactic. Phil gets a Chameleon Colossus early thanks to his mana dudes and sends it in; I make a ridiculous mistake and try and double-block it, and of course he just pumps it up to run over my tiny little men. Smart block, newbie. I have a Cavalier (sided in to keep my curve low) but Phil adds Realm Razer and I’ve got no red mana to deal with it. I scoop it up; the chances of me getting RRR before Colossus runs me over is somewhere between slim and none.
R8: versus Charles playing Backlash
Final round. At this point, I’m starting to feel almost anti-social, and my bed is looking quite attractive despite it having a laptop in place of where the missus should be. Charles and I appear to be playing the same deck for the early stages, but I have a Figure to start with the early pressure, and the Figure gets him to 10 before being dealt with. By this time, Charles has played out a Painter’s Servant, turning everything blue, but hasn’t gotten any source of red mana yet, for which I am thankful. Charles starts pulling back into the game with Kitchen Finks (shakes fist) but a pair of Meadowgrains and Ajani show up to help push through the final damage.
In game 2, we both start out with Forge-Tenders, and I have a Stalwart to start attacking. Again Charles locks up the ground with Finks, and while I eventually find a Figure and get him to full-size in order to start attacking, I can’t survive the three (!) Chaotic Backlashes aimed at my head for 12 damage each.
Game 3 goes to time, and Charles can only get me down to 1 on his final extra turn.
Final Thoughts on the Deck
For being a two-color deck with 25 lands, I sure had a lot of mana problems throughout the entire day. I had a lot of games where I would get stuck on three land, or where I wouldn’t be able to find even ONE Red mana source. I also rarely used the Windbrisk Heights unless I had Spectral Procession — the deck is very much like the original Sligh deck was, where you’d make one or two threats and force them through in combat, and make your opponent answer them before playing out more. It is especially important to not overextend in today’s Standard. So I think I’d maybe try Vivid Meadows in the slot occupied by the Heights now, just to give the deck access to more red mana.
I’d also almost be willing to consider something anti-lifegain in the sideboard — Everlasting Torment or something. Man that lifegain is annoying to this deck. Finks, lifelink, even the 5 life from Cruel Ultimatum — all of those make it just that much harder to win the game. Everlasting Torment works double-duty against Finks, as you can attack into them with impunity, knowing that they won’t even be coming back to block again.
We get to see what comes out of States, what wacky decks (if any) generated buzz, and start looking for the next big thing. States always marked a new day in Standard; will this year be the same? How about you? How did you do at States?
Until next week!