Tribal Thriftiness #88 – Front Range Magic Team Challenge

The StarCityGames.com $5,000 Standard Open Series Comes to Nashville!
Tuesday, October 27th – Dave got out and played some Magic this weekend, fighting alongside his team in the second Front Range Magic Team Challenge. What did he play? How far did his teammates to carry him?

Friday Night Magic led into the Front Range Magic Team Challenge on Saturday, where my team was poised to fight for top honors going into the last round! That’s the teaser. Read on to find out what happened.

Friday Night

The story actually starts at about three in the morning Friday morning. My wife, being the thoughtful woman that she is, is going out of town for a business meeting for the weekend. In order to make it so that I don’t have to take any time off of work to take her to the airport, she schedules her flight for a little after 7am Friday morning. In theory, this is great – I start work at 8:30, and it’s about an hour from Denver back to Colorado Springs.

In reality, though, this is a bad idea. While her flight leaves at 7-something, she actually wants to be at the airport some time between 5:30 and 6, and when you factor in the drive up to Denver AND the amount of time for her to get ready in the morning, we are looking at a 3 o’clock wake up call.

And I don’t care what kind of life you lead – the only time you should be setting your alarm clock for 3 o’clock is if it’s for 3 o’clock in the afternoon.

I did manage to get back to the house around 7:30, which meant I could take a little nap before firing up the computer and starting work, but unlike my mother, I can’t take a fifteen-minute nap and awaken feeling refreshed. I actually contemplated sleeping through lunch, but stomach won out over brains on that particular day. So by the time I reach Friday Night Magic, my brain has already been up a full day and is approaching shutdown. And no measure of loud heavy-metal music was going to change that.

Yes, I tried.

Mostly Mono-Black Control

I’ve probably written enough times about why I wanted to build Mono-Black Control. After building and playing it at one FNM and testing it out online, I discovered that I really had no good answers to a lot of today’s major creatures. Black’s traditional inability to hit other Black things is really a major issue right now, when you’re looking at one deck that’s full of nothing BUT aggressive Black creatures and another that’s 9/10ths Black (or pro-Black) creatures.

(Jund ratios fictionalized to protect the innocent.)

The flip side of the problem is, when you start splashing another color into MBC, you cut down on the scope and width of your Tendrils of Corruptions and Mind Sludges. It’s a toss-up – do you suck it up and play the poor Doom Blade removal, and hope you can Sludge away their hand and survive from huge Tendrils? Or do you splash the color, get yourself some new removal options, and hope that a mid-sized Sludge/Tendrils will still get the job done?

I decided to experiment. I started by splashing Red because I thought Terminate and Lightning Bolt were good places to start – Terminate kills things regardless of color, and Lightning Bolt is not only a great way to deal with Great Sable Stag, but also is pretty decent to point at your opponent, which is something Tendrils can’t do. Four Bolt, four Terminate, and I built the manabase to include one Mountain, four Dragonskull Summits, and four Akoum Refuges … and then I wheeled it around Magic Workstation for a few hours to see what I thought.

While I liked what the deck did for me in terms of adding additional “absolute” removal, I often found that the impact to Tendrils and Mind Sludge was a little too heavy for my liking. And I was still invested in keeping it “Mostly” MBC, which meant that was where I started looking for other possibilities.

And then I read Richard Feldman “Rembrandt” article in the premium section here at StarCityGames.com, and he made a really good point that stuck with me: Celestial Purge, in this environment, is absolutely maindeck-worthy. It handles Bloodghast forever, kills Sprouting Thrinax without leaving you a messy cleanup job, and also helps with troublesome permanents like Ajani Vengeant or Chandra Nalaar or Pyromancer’s Ascension, all in a nice and tidy two-mana package. Pairing it up with Path to Exile gave me the additional removal that I wanted, and forcing me to test out Marsh Flats made me realize that fetchlands were so much better than the M10 dual lands when it came to splashing a color. Being able to fetch up Swamps once your splash condition was online made Tendrils and Mind Sludge still a viable inclusion.

Here’s the deck as I played it at the Front Range Magic Team Challenge:

Rare Cost Summary:
Malakir Bloodwitch ($5.99 x 4 = $23.96)
Ob Nixilis, the Fallen ($14.99 x 1 = $14.99)
Sorin Markov ($14.99 x 2 = $29.98)
Marsh Flats ($15.99 x 4 = $63.96)
Sadistic Sacrament ($1.99 x 3 = $5.97)

Ways to Cut Costs: I tested this deck out online with three Sanctum and four Expanse and had absolutely no mana issues. In fact, I played it that way at FNM before finding Marsh Flats to borrow for the Team Challenge. So you can absolutely remove them from the manabase with very little impact. Probably the same with the singleton Ob Nixilis as well – just replace him with the fourth Gatekeeper. I won’t feel bad if you replace the Sorins with another game-ending threat, like Nightmare ($1.75).

The Bloodwitches, however, are absolutely stellar in this format, and I highly recommend you pick them up if you enjoy playing Black.

The sideboard: If you can resolve a Sadistic Sacrament or two against any of the control decks, you can start ridding them of the win conditions that you can’t quickly answer, like Luminarch Ascension or Sphinx of Jwar Isle. It’s also less painful to have Swerved back at your face than Mind Sludge. Oblivion Ring is sort of a catch-all answer for Planeswalkers or out-of-left-field permanents. Infest is good against Soldiers, Vampires to some extent, and any token-generating deck. Solemn Offering was mostly a last-minute addition to handle Behemoth Sledge – and I was afraid of being able to ensure two White for Kor Sanctifiers, so that seemed like the best solution. And the Purges and the Deathmarks just round out some flexibility for the removal suite.

Back to Friday

I went 3-1-1 and then lost in the Top 8 of Friday Night Magic. It was a pretty good showing, and I beat Vampires twice and ran over a Four-Color Control deck that had mana issues before finally losing to a wacky Jund Ramp build featuring Lotus Cobra. I drew with my round 5 opponent, beat him when we played for fun, and then lost to him in the Top 8. Karmic retribution, I reckon. I felt good enough about the deck that I was still planning on playing it at Saturday’s Front Range Magic Team Challenge.

I headed home and put on an episode of CSI. I was waiting for my wife to give me a call after all her meetings and dinner wrapped up. One episode turned into two, and before I knew it, it was one in the morning. She called, we chatted, and I stayed up to see how the episode finished. (I mean, you gotta find out who the killer is, right?) What I should say is, I tried to stay up and see who the killer was. Sprawled out on the couch, fireplace blazing, cat wrapped around your feet – those are the perfect recipe for one “sleeping on the couch.”

The Team Challenge

My alarm went off at 6:30. While yes, it is better than 3, it’s only marginally better, and I had planned a little in advance for the 3am start by going to bed at 10 the night before. They say sleep is wasted on the youth. Or something like that.

I picked up the inconsolable-at-the-loss-of-Doran-in-Standard Randy Tempelaar, and we headed south into town to pick up PTQ Top-8’er and (I believe) future PTQ winner Ben Rich for the drive up. Our team is rounded out by Frank Bowker, a great player with his own Top 8 experience and a real knack for deckbuilding. The ride up is a pretty standard (pardon the pun) drive to a tournament in Denver – lots of discussion about theory and making minor changes to decks. Randy has a real knack for creating sideboards – I don’t think I’ve played in a Constructed tournament this year that didn’t have a sideboard built by him.

And now it’s time for a quick description of the Team Challenge, because I think this is a great format that more tournament organizers should try out. The tournament is, essentially, a two-tier format. On the one hand, there is a cash tournament where each player plays as a single person. At the end of the Swiss rounds, cash prizes are handed out to the top of the pile. Pretty easy to understand. However, there’s a second layer. For a small additional fee, four players can register as a team. After the Swiss single rounds are over, the top two teams then throw down in a draft for additional cash prizes.

It’s easy to understand, but it’s so hard to grasp WHY this is such a cool event. The event is unsanctioned, which means that no one is dropping out to preserve their ratings. And it’s crucial, especially for people on teams – even if you’re, say, 2-4 heading in to the last round, you still need to play (and potentially WIN) your matchup to try and propel your team into that Top 2. The team dynamic also means that you are not just rooting for yourself, but you are pulling for three other people to do well – and you get almost as excited when they win as you do for your own victories. It also means that no one is intentionally drawing the last two rounds of the event, which means that you can watch the 6-0’s rock each other, trying to snag that top cash prize.

Frank and Randy are both playing Jund. Ben is playing Doranless Doran – the Knight of the Reliquary landfall deck that I don’t think has a witty name. I’m playing Mostly Mono-Black Control. Here’s a quick tournament report of how we did.

Round 1 versus Mono-White Soldiers: I play a Bloodwitch on turn 5 in both games. He makes it close in game 1 by threatening a lethal strike with Brave the Elements, but I know he has it in hand thanks to Duress and I kill off his Veteran Swordsmith while he’s tapped out, returning his tokens to mere 1/1s. 1-0, team 3-1

Round 2 versus Vampires!: I mulligan to four in game 1. Needless to say, he wins that one. On the plus side, he has no idea how to sideboard for me, so I keep control of the board and win game 2, but he can now side out his Doom Blades for removal that actually kills my guys for game 3. 1-1, team 5-3

Round 3 versus Mill: I finish off my opponent rather quickly despite her hitting my graveyard with Haunting Echoes – the Bloodwitch already in play goes the distance. She manages to hit me with an Archive Trap and two Mind Funerals in game two, but can’t find another mill spell and I kill her with six cards left in my library. 2-1, team 8-4

Round 4 versus Jund splash Blue: In what will probably sound like an odd statement, I can’t find enough removal in either game. I did manage to stabilize the board in one of the games – he had no cards in hand, but I was at 2 – but he had a Sedraxis Specter in his graveyard to Unearth for the win. 2-2, team 11-5

Round 5 versus Jund: I get hit by Blightning three times in game 1. That’s hard for anyone to recover from. I take game 2, but can’t deal with multiple Great Sable Stags in game three. 2-3, team 13-7

Round 6 versus Planeswalker Control: I take game 1, as he never finds a way to deal with Malakir Bloodwitch, but lose game 2 because I waste a Gatekeeper early (trying to push damage through) and can’t deal with a second Sphinx of Jwar Isle. I learn my lesson and nab them with Sadistic Sacrament in game 3, but he keeps Bloodwitch off the table with multiple Day of Judgments, and a Baneslayer mops up. 2-4, team 15-9

At this point, we are in third place in the team standings – but the team in second place is only one point ahead of us. All we need to do is be one win/loss ahead of them, and we can leapfrog over them and into the draft portion.

Round 7 versus Planeswalker Control: Todd Brewick and his team have nothing left to play for, so he offers the concession. We still play it out, and while I kill him fairly quickly in game 1, games 2 and 3 become long, drawn-out, all-the-land-on-the-table scenarios. I get a couple of creatures out, he wipes the board. He tries to make a Baneslayer or a blocker, I have the removal. I Mind Sludged him TWICE in game 2, and he found a Jace and just kept coming back. In game 3, it’s all-or-nothing for me as he has an Ajani Vengeant well past his ultimate ability, and I’ve already had a kicked Sadistic Sacrament Swerved back at me. I go for Mind Sludge – he has the Swerve, and then to add insult to injury, activates Ajani’s ability on his turn, leaving me with an empty hand and an empty board. I took a picture. It looked like he had finished his match and was explaining his board to me. (The empty hand really makes the picture.) 3-4, team 18-10

That’s right, the team went 3-1 in that last round, and we discovered the second-place team went 2-2! We were stoked. Frank and Ben were both 6-1, putting them into 2nd and 4th respectively, notching them a nice chunk of change for their efforts. We started to mentally prepare to draft for more cash…

… until we found out that the team in FOURTH place after round six had gone 4-0 and had leapfrogged BOTH of us into second place.

My team was great, though, and I had a great time rooting for them, suffering their defeats alongside them, and was very proud of the two high finishes. Frank is re-establishing himself as a top-flight player in this state, and I think Ben is going to keep pushing until he wins something to be proud of.

And next time? I’m going to carry my own weight, rather than be the albatross around their neck.

Until next week…


dave dot massive at gmail and davemassive at twitter and facebook