Two Heads That Beat As One

The Limited Two-Headed Giant Champs are just around the corner, and what better way to examine this new and exciting format than by reading John F. Rizzo, the current destroyer of metagames the world over. Even though Ichorid is unavailable, good ol’ JFR has broken the format once again… don’t miss out on his wit and wisdom!

Honey, I Sleeved Up The Kids

The egg and I are playing in 2HG Champs. It may or may not have something to do with the fact that the highest finishing team with a player under the age of twelve wins a box of Guildpact. Must grab that Halfling box! Then again, it may also sound like de rigueur tons of fun for everyone.

Speaking of two heads, did you happen to the see the Oprah story of the child born with a parasitic head? If you didn’t, try to imagine a newborn baby with a fully-formed and mostly functioning head growing out of the top of his dome. Break your freakin’ heart.

Surprisingly little exists online in the form of 2HG Sealed stratagem; although I’m sure I checked every available resource at the super fast speed of 40kb/sec. On the other hand, there was an interesting article on Londes that offered an idea in which the reader was advised to consider two distinct styles: aggro and control. Ideally, the author states, one deck is the aggressor, while the other goes the control route.

This strategy seems viable, and I find it hard to punch theoretical holes in something I have yet to actually explore. Talkin’ ‘bout big time a priori, baby! Obviously, your deck choices will depend largely on your card pool, but with a starter and four boosters available, the “aggro and control” package sounds doable.

Since it’s unlikely that your card pool will (realistically) allow a build of two hyper-aggressive decks, one might suggest that aggro and control may be perfectly suited as the best of both worlds, or at least beating your opponents’ heads in. Or just pick on one, which, since one head is usually weaker than the other, bête noire need not apply.

I’m all about the bon mot, even if you absolutely can’t pick on just one.

Parasitic heads notwithstanding, you gotta dance with who brung ya’; fait accompli sucka duck! To that end, I grabbed a 2HG kit and went to work.

Wow, this is hard.
No, harder.
Very, very hard.

It took an hour to build the decks, and only one game to realize that target player probably needed an additional hour. Two different builds later, I was back to square one: worn and weary, but experienced in the ways of a woman, though not lately, but I’ll always have Sheila Paris.

It’s difficult enough to build one Sealed deck, with even the pros second guessing themselves, but when you add a couple boosters and are asked to build two decks, good luck pal: hasta la vista, Baby Doc and Bautista.

I’d list the card pool, but if ten people went through the trouble of thinking how they would build this these decks, there would likely be ten different pairs, most with equal merit, or at least defensible positions, which we would hear about in the forums.

Best format ever already?

Despite not even flipping card one, pièce de résistance seems apropos.

One head drops the turn 1 guy, preparing for the turn 2 bloodthirst, while the other sits back with counters and removal to keep the path clear. The other team may eschew the aggro/control package and instead drop more men than that trap door at Porky’s. If that’s the case, then how does team aggro/control keep up with team smash your teeth and gums? They probably don’t…

Unless the control guy has massive board clearing, such as Savage Twister. Oh, that’s a Gruul spell and would more easily fit into the aggro deck. It wouldn’t compliment a R/G beat machine very well (or would it?), but who doesn’t play ‘Twister?

How about Brightflame? Gee, RRWW seems tailor made for a Boros deck, which, now correct me if I’m wrong, is not a control deck by any stretch of the imagination. Then again, with a little help, it could fit into an Orzhov control deck. Sorta.

Hex, Hour of Reckoning, and Plague Boiler, all rares by the way (Romeo shudders), are some of the best ways in which a control deck could, well, take control. But (Hex excluded) they’ll probably hurt three or four heads, whereas you only want to punch two up in the grill. Nice if you can manage it.

This leaves single removal spells (or “point kill” as the current cause célèbre, which means “an issue arousing widespread controversy or heated debate” but I’m a fan of pretense, even in improper context), and the inevitable question: do we share them equally, or throw most of the kill into the “control” deck?

If each deck gets its fair share of removal, doesn’t this slow down the ability to actually, well, win? If both heads are busy clearing the field, who the hell is casting the creatures?

If the control deck takes the lion’s share of kill and depends on the aggro deck to drop the threats, is one set of beaters (and a few stall guys from the control deck) enough to do forty damage?

It doesn’t seem so.

Still, I have to expect that most “threatening” creatures aren’t going to survive long enough to collect social security. Large game enders will meet Faith’s Fetters; anything that regenerates will get smacked with Last Gasp, Putrefy or Pillory of the Sleepless; and whatever survives until the mid-game will stare down whatever survived on the other side of the table.

We need shadow creatures, even if they’d just die a lot. I would think that flying, trample, and unblockability would be in high demand… so they can be duly removed from the field of battle.

With a starter and four boosters, every team will have a fistful of removal, so does this mean that actual playskill is going to be the most important factor in deciding the outcome of most games? Er, could be.

In head-to-head play, a player can pretty much count on winning or losing a game or two due to mana or creature screw (i.e. purely out-tempo’d), but when you have another head to even up the odds, how often will the guy who doesn’t cast anything until turn 5 end up losing for that exact reason?

… losing a game or two due to… screw.

Worst alliteration ever.

If we accept that virtually zero games will end on turn 5, we’re left with one conclusion: the best teams will win. Bombs may drop, but, unlike in “lucky” Limited matches, the caster of said Bombay card(s) will have to drop the hammer on two heads. If both heads are good players, the odds that the first-pick broken card will win the game decreases exponentially.

Strong like Bull...

Thus, I suggest that the best strategy for 2HG Champs is such:

Open Glimpse the Unthinkable, a.k.a. the two mana crème de la crème.

Forget everything mentioned above and consider:

The games will last a very long time; this is hardly a debatable topic. If they last long enough, we enter “how many cards left in your library?” mode. If you don’t open Glimpse (and you probably won’t), try Vedalken Entrancer, Lurking Informant, Psychic Drain, or even Junktroller, for as many games that will end with target head at zero life, I’d bet a disproportionate number will end during a player’s draw step.

After thinking about this format for not a very long time, I can’t find a strategy as viable as milling. Each opponent will have creatures, and plenty of ways to kill yours, so please let me know if there is a more broken card in this format than Glimpse.

Combat phase? That’s so some other block.

I even expect some players to hesitate when they come to the “target player” clause on Compulsive Research and Consult the Necrosages: where once upon a time, drawing a mid-game hand filler was cause for woohoo!, in this day and age the festivus will have an added layer of serendipity: alternate win condition.

Just don’t put Psychic Drain and Invoke the Firemind in the same deck – you will be banned from life. Also, keep in mind that dredge, while fine in a Constructed deck, smells like teen spirit in this format. This is one time where I will agree with the esteemed Jamie Cee: Golgari Grave-Troll is “utter crap.” Er, if you plan on dredging him, that is.

Hopefully, Berto plays the hyper-aggro deck, while I sit back, quiet, unassuming yet oh so dashing, and kill or neuter everything that moves, while waiting for the back-to-back death blows:

Psychic Drain and Glimpse the Unthinkable.

Then we can get those tabula rasa lids and sexy alternate-art Nivs.

Cheese: it’s what’s for dinner.

Okay, it’s 2:58 A.M. Saturday morning, and I’m sitting in my truck at the Irving station off exit 75 of I-95. Naturally, this is the place to rethink the “open the mill package” idea. It’s always good to have a backup plan, especially when the frontup plan consists of circumstances that are completely out of my control.

Speaking of time on my hands, I loaded up a 2HG kit on Apprentice, and found the following decks:

Not too shabby. Lots of early beats, more than enough fat, and gee, the best of Selesnya. This is a deck I’d be anxious to register. The other head:

Well, no Glimpse or Drain, but this feels close, and golly, Circu seems good in Limited, in particular combined with Entrancer and Informant. Again, I’d be fairly happy to throw this in the breach.

The above decks took about forty-five minutes to build, and I’m somewhat confidant that they were more or less built correctly, with an emphasis on or less. Sure, there are some questions, such as casting Putrefy off a single Green source, and Miasma… although who doesn’t play Putrefy and how can it be bad to play cards that penalize your opponent’s aggression, especially when the secondary head is clogging up the board?

Alas, who knows?

After much consideration, I’ve decided that the best strategy is to simply build two good decks and outplay everyone. The “two good decks” is probably easier than the “outplay everyone” approach, but hey, this is Maine, where two of the state’s best players get to stay home for a year, not to mention that I am a deckbuilder nonpareil and extremely good at Magic.

Evidence of the ol’ glazzballs:

Post-Saturday-Casual Draft, pack one, pick one:

Lurking Informant.

Pack one, pick two:

Lurking Informant.

This was my deck, and what a wondrous way to put my theory into action:

2 Lurking Informant
2 Vedalken Entrancer
2 Induce Paranoia
Belltower Sphinx
2 Peel from Reality
2 Tidewater Minion
Compulsive Research
Consult the Necrosages
Dimir Infiltrator
Drift of Phantasms
Frazzle, a.k.a. Kill Non Blue
Clutch of the Undercity
Mourning Thrull
Shrieking Grotesque
Szadek, Lord of Secrets
17 land, but no bouncies

I went 1-2-1 because this strategy is no longer viable in anything and I’m awfully bad at Magic and my theory is bunk. Mikey M. was feeding me in packs one and three, and commented that he’d be glad to give me every Lurking Informant he saw, since that guy’s not very good.

Informant can win some games all by himself, but he can’t win every game, nor even most games, no matter how much I want him to and regardless of how much faith I put in him to rape my opponent’s deck. Because opponents, being the heartless lucksacks that they are, are usually not content to cast zero creatures and merely wait to die during their draw phase. To those guys, I offer the finger and call them bastards.

Back to Mike, that bastard who has beat me two weeks in a row with Friggorid. He grabbed himself Stinky, Shambling Shell, Necroplasm, Debtor’s Knell, and Hex

We were outside waiting for round 1 to start, showing each other our decks, talking about how the world really needs a new boy band and generally oozing machismo, when I saw his Hex. I commented that I had yet to see that go off in a game in which I was involved.

…in the first round, his Hex hit four of my guys in two straight games, but it was not enough for him to overcome that very bad Informant guy that he promises to forever pass. That guy’s good.

Still, maybe guys that turn sideways for damage are something to be considered for more than pure novelty and folly. I drafted the deck I wanted – I would have appreciated a Glimpse, pls, thx – but now have more questions than answers, such as:

Why is milling so bad all of a sudden?
Or is it just me?
Am I back to square one re: 2HG strategy?
Am I really that bad at Magic?

For those of you playing in the 2HG Champs, good luck. To those of you who will stay home and read my archives all day, better luck. Regardless of how you waste your Saturday, remember one thing: the as-yet-untitled Rizzo team plan to open insane cards, grab the title (or at least the Halfling box) and make you look up raison d’être, which will give you a reason for living.

Since I’m Johnny High On Life Boy and have yet to reestablish terra firma, it’s all good, or at least possible. For proof, see Oprah. She’s worth billions, and I have no idea why. By the way, the parasitic head was removed in an unprecedented surgical procedure, and the surviving child is doing fine.

As such, I am nevertheless prepared to declare that 2HG Sealed is the best format ever.

But that, impressionable children, is why they play the games.

John Friggin’ Rizzo