Two-Headed Giant: Hits and Misses in Ravnica Block Team Trios, Part 1 – Misses

Mike’s team, the abovementioned Two-Headed Giant, posted a creditable 9-5 at the recent Pro Tour Charleston, earning them 26th place… when the money slots descended to 25th. In today’s Flores Friday, he examines the “misses,” or mistakes, that he and his testing crew fell foul of during their preparation for the event. The line between success and failure is thin – Mike’s frank appraisal of their format evaluations is one from which we all can learn.

Last thing first: In the inaugural Constructed Team Trios Pro Tour, my team did a ton of preparation and ended up in a tie for the money… but ended up a disappointing 26th place (Wizards paid to 25th, so one out of the money). 26th place is basically worse than last place, because you spend the better part of two days winning, even pull out the last couple of rounds to secure your spot… and there you are, winning precisely the same amount of money as the last place team who opened up 0-3.

The biggest reason we had an ultimately disappointing finish was just plain bad luck, but that isn’t to say that there weren’t at least a couple of things we could have done better. Because I am the kind of person who is dragged down into the muck of his failures and fixates on them until his spirit refuses to consider such shortcomings for even a single incremental instant or risk madness, I have been trying to figure out where exactly we could have made better choices and possibly enjoyed a superior result.

All our specific archetype decisions for last week’s Pro Tour were essentially shaped by one deck choice out of the three, the so-called “greedy deck,” designed by Patrick Chapin (but tuned by all of us, primarily myself, Paul, and Jon Finkel):

Skittles: Candy or Crack?

As you know from last week’s article, I liked a different Loxodon Hierarch deck, but Jon just adored Patrick’s. Every time I showed up for a playtest session, Jon would rub his mitts together like a fly that has just landed on a wedge of summer watermelon and ask, “Where is my Chapin deck?” or, “Who is ready to take his beatings?”

I joked throughout the tournament that if there were a card that you might want to play, it was in Paul’s deck. Angel of Despair? Check. Savage Twister? Check. Not only was the Chapin deck our Simic Sky Swallower deck, it was our Rolling Spoil deck, our dual land hog, and at one point early in testing, it was even our Compulsive Research deck. This deck stole essential mana sources from even our two-color decks (check the fact that it has twice the Azorius Chanceries as the U/R/W), and ravaged our threat bases… Did I mention Jonny loved it?

I did not mean to be disingenuous with the G/W versus G/R playtest matchup posted last week. If anything, in hindsight, I think our team might have done better if we had just played G/W in place of the Chapin deck… But we probably would not have played it intact, or positioned to gain any sort of edge against the field. Had we played G/W, I might have assigned myself the pilot and also insisted on playing at Seat B. Our theory going into the Pro Tour was that there would be one of three possibilities for Seat B:

1) The opponents would position their G/R beatdown deck at B under the theory that best player plus fastest deck would give them their biggest edge on resources,
2) The opponents would position their best player on beatdown destroyer at Seat B in an effort to prey upon teams adhering to the previous school (which is what we did),
3) Or it wouldn’t matter.

It’s a bit of a wash to just assume that “it wouldn’t matter,” and in any case, we lost nothing if that were the case (we just wouldn’t gain anything if it were truly random), so we tried to position ourselves in such a way as to maximize our chances in cases 1) and 2); the deck that we chose to run at Seat B (which I will get to, below, as it includes some misses of its own) was a superb beatdown destroyer (we in fact named it Beatdown Destroyer) and a good “beatdown destroyer” destroyer, if that makes any sense… However, our straight G/W deck was not only a decent beatdown destroyer (see last week’s matchup series) but our absolute best “beatdown destroyer” destroyer. One of the key errors we made in positioning was that we did not think that teams capable of beating us would be likely to play their true control decks (read: dedicated Sky Swallower decks) at Seat B because:

1) We assumed those decks to be actually the easiest to play, and running them at B would be a waste of their most talented players, and
2) They were also the slowest, the top teams with the most talented players would get the least amount of assistance value by putting their best players on their decks least likely to finish first, at least successfully so.

I’m not sure how G/W would have gone, because Paul always maintained it wasn’t worth playing without Faith’s Fetters main (which became a fairly essential element of Beatdown Destroyer), but I think this would have been a better than fair compromise on one of our best decks:

4 Giant Solifuge
3 Glare of Subdual
1 Gleancrawler
4 Loxodon Hierarch
4 Selesnya Guildmage
1 Tolsimir Wolfblood
4 Watchwolf

4 Birds of Paradise
3 Chord of Calling
4 Civic Wayfinder
3 Indrik Stomphowler

2 Seed Spark

7 Forest
4 Plains
4 Selesnya Sanctuary
4 Temple Garden
4 Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree

I’m not sure about the sideboard because we ended up playing three copies of Hour of Reckoning in our Seat A (my deck), and that card was originally present in the G/W board. Definitely we would have played at least two copies of Blazing Archon for the mirror, or any other decks incapable of directly removing a creature (viz. U/G/W control), so possibly we would have run Swamp somewhere and gone Dowsing Shaman and Seal of Doom for the long long game.

As for the main, I just swapped Giant Solifuge in the former Faith’s Fetters slot, under the theory that everybody loses either to Giant Solifuge or Loxodon Hierarch, and anyway, Solifuge is pretty broken alongside Glare… You can even run by Carven Caryatid.

As such, even if we played G/W, we would probably have played it at Seat B, meaning that any amount of matchup correction that Paul would have gotten would have not mattered one whit; his unending string of beatdown/burn opponents met him at Seat C, and despite G/W being an awesome “beatdown destroyer” destroyer, its matchup against an actual control deck (viz. Simic Sky Swallower dedicated) was dicey at best. Err… Who’s the beatdown? Who is the Beatdown?

We actually thought that the Chapin deck was pretty good against beatdown. It tested as a slight favorite over G/R, which was our litmus test deck, and far better against R/W, one of the most common beatdown decks to show up at Pro Tour Charleston. We did not test much B/R… it was completely incapable of beating our G/R test decks, so we assumed that other teams would just reject it (they didn’t).

In actuality, Paul just had poor luck on the weekend. He declared many more mulligans than any other member of the team, and ran double-double mulligans in more than one Feature Match. In at least two key matches where I started off 0-1 but pulled out the win, Paul started off 1-0 against R/W or some other beatdown deck but was unable to find a key color (usually White) in either of the next two games.

Misses on Deck C:

We didn’t run Carven Caryatid anywhere.

Carven Caryatid was actually a semi-rough cast in the deck despite it being base-Green, so Jon decided for us to not play it even in the sideboard.

The deck was also ill-suited for the mirror match. We didn’t play either Wit’s End or Nightmare Void, and Paul lost to those cards in two different pseudo-mirrors.

Misses Continued, Seat B

I actually thought that Steve’s deck was expertly constructed. Like the URzaTron deck that I helped build for Osyp Lebedowicz and Josh Ravitz at Pro Tour Honolulu, Steve’s U/R/W Beatdown Destroyer was built for maximum efficiency. Instead, I filled it with only two kinds of cards:

1) The ones that were awesome against beatdown (Lightning Helix)
2) The ones that were awesome against other beatdown destroyers (Train of Thought).

Our great failing was that we didn’t really think that Steve was going to play against a lot of Simic Sky Swallower decks because, again, the best teams were not getting the most value in our estimation by putting their counterspells and 6/6 flying tramplers on Seat B. Don’t get me wrong, the deck was fine against Sky Swallower control. We had a deck that was fairly similar to the one Gadiel played to Top 4 but better against control, and our Beatdown Destroyer was even against that deck. We tuned instead for other beatdown destroyers, and to just grind actual beatdown into the floor, so we ended up having the wrong answers.

I think that ultimately Steve’s deck’s lack of performance was my fault. Rather than underestimating our opponents, I simply gave what I perceived to be the “Day 2 decks” too much credit. Our main was very directly anti-creature, but I wanted this deck (and mine) to play heavily against the finesse decks that I thought would make Day 2. Therefore I assumed that some teams would have dedicated Train of Thought decks like we had: In a long game attrition fight, Train of Thought trumps everything because another controllish deck can’t usually counter it. I decided to go one better and deposited a card in the sideboard that would be able to play dedicated anti-Train of Thought: Swift Silence. I thought Swift Silence could double up as an anti-Simic Sky Swallower card as well… After all, it was a seven mana against five mana (plus a card!) fight.

In the end, these were the wrong sideboard cards. Had we played 4 Dream Leash and 4 Copy Enchantment in the sideboard over 4 Swift Silence, 1 Demonfire, and 3 Mimeofacture, Steve would have almost certainly won two more matches. Both his matches against Gadiel and Jelger went to three games, and both matches were winnable even though Steve’s back was against the wall. In his match against Jelger, Steve lost to the last – and freshly topdecked – Simic Sky Swallower with Mimeofacture in his hand, and he got out-countered and lost to Gadiel with Swift Silence in his hand. In case you missed it, alongside either Faith’s Fetters or Dream Leash, Copy Enchantment can contain or even steal Simic Sky Swallower (allegedly untargetable).

The most unusual card in our version of U/R/W is Muse Vessel in the main. I went through a period late in testing where I was fighting against “stock B/W” with our controllish decks, and B/W kept squirming wins out against U/R/W on the basis of having more “stuff.” Train of Thought and Electrolyze kept U/R/W up on cards, but many times, those cards were just lands and B/W would win with whatever. Once I added Muse Vessel, which was slow but fast enough against B/W (the deck was still heavily favored against G/R and so on), the deck stopped losing to the matchup. Muse Vessel kept B/W from having more “stuff” because over the course of the middle turns, B/W would inevitably have to discard spells, and sometimes, Beatdown Destroyer would have a chance to actually spend the pilfered cards, whether land or spells. Unfortunately, Steve hated the Muse Vessels more and more as the tournament progressed, and wished that he had the fourth Demonfire in the main in place of at least one.

Misses on Deck B:

Puff the Magic Dragon. PS - [card name=

The most important miss we had was our assumption on positioning. Steve won most of his matches, but he had to pull some number of rabbits out of his hat to do so. We spontaneously figured out a Plan A of “aiming every burn spell at the opponent’s head” only after the Round 7 loss to Gadiel, where Steve continually over-drew and discarded relevant Electrolyzes and sided out efficient Lightning Helixes (a shame, given that game 1 was won on the back of a Demonfire).

We didn’t run Remand. Jonny didn’t think Remand did enough in the deck, so we didn’t play it… It’s not that Remand is such a great spell in the abstract (thought it obviously is), as much as we didn’t have very good ways of defending Odds / Ends, and when Odds / Ends is basically the only way you can beat Simic Sky Swallower, having no way to defend it against a deck that very likely plays Voidslime is just not good policy. I don’t know what I would have cut… Perhaps the last Muse Vessel and some copies of Train of Thought? I quite liked Train of Thought in this deck, as they could be burnt for lands in the early game, and they replaced burn spells that had been aimed at the opponent, and most importantly their primary function of winning attrition wars against non-true control decks going long.

Other than these two things (and a sideboard geared towards the six or so Simic Sky Swallower control decks Steve had to beat), I think that our Seat B deck was awesome. It wasn’t as good as next week’s Seat A deck, but I think it was more-or-less the most efficient U/R/W deck I saw at the Pro Tour main deck, and you probably know I greatly value efficient use of cards in deck design.

The goal of these “misses” is not to vilify our decks or any team members’ performances, especially given that we ultimately had nothing to be ashamed of at 9-5. I actually think that we had a strong configuration, even if we put too many chips in the hands of Chapin’s deck… In fact, had Steve played a different sideboard, I think we would have had a legitimate shot at playing on Day 3. Despite our disappointing, penniless, virtual-last-place finish, Two-Headed Giant was a mere 4 points out of a tie for fourth place; the Promised Land was definitely within reach for the bulk of the tournament. That means that a couple of small changes with the same level of play could have made a significant difference in how we did.

Early next week, I will be able to outline some of the things we did right in our tournament preparation and deck choices. Thanks for reading.