Life is just full of surprises sometimes. For example, when some utter random builds a rogue budget (for Classic) deck with next to no knowledge of the metagame and still manages to finish in the Top 8 of a 112-person event. Just for further grins and giggles, let’s say said utter random has never even played the format casually before.
Well, I’ll be your utter random today. So how did I do it? I don’t really have a clue. First, let’s look at the deck in question.
I didn’t know the metagame at all. I didn’t know the format at all. What was my plan? Basically that turn 1 Slith Firewalker backed by turn 2 land destruction would keep all sorts of decks playing honest, and that is, for the most part, what it did. I went in knowing I had virtually no game versus combo, and the only guesses I even had for what might be played was some kind of Charbelcher or Tendrils based combos. Charbelcher would demand artifact hate, which I had both maindeck and sideboard, and there wasn’t much I could do about Tendrils in mono-Red anyhow. Admittedly, I considered a Blood Crypt enabled Black splash for either Duress or Rise / Fall, for disruptive purposes, and it probably would have served me better than Cryoclasm did.
My main problem was half-expecting Affinity. I figured that Kataki and Shattering Spree would have mostly hated it out of the environment, but the truth is that Disciple-Vial-and-Clamp-enabled Affinity is just really, really strong and can still outlive massive hate. In retrospect, I know that right off I’d swap out the Seething Songs for Shrapnel Blasts – both Moxen and Seething Songs are dead draws late, whereas Shrapnel Blast would have gotten me a few extra wins guaranteed and possibly some others. One less Arc-Slogger and one more Solifuge is another “duh” moment. In a format with Swords to Plowshares, cheaper and untargetable beats out four extra toughness, especially in a deck capable of burning out most blockers with ease. I know the Cryoclasms should have been a fourth Shattering Spree and three other actual good cards, probably Shatters for instant speed artifact hate. None of the four versions of Affinity I saw run Welding Jar anymore, so Shatter is just fine, but I’m siding with Overload since the only time it costs more than one mana against Affinity is if I’m aiming it at an Enforcer or a Frogmite, and Spree can handle Enforcer and Froggie dies to just about any burn. Lastly, given my game plan, not using Flamebreak instead of Pyroclasm was just a bad oversight, and I had The Fear that someone would be running some kind of aggro too fast for me to handle. Playing showed that I have enough burn as is to mostly ignore aggro.
The MVP of the deck was definitely Fireblast. Many, many games would have quickly gone outside of my reach without Fireblast to rein them back in. Molten Rain and Pillage both seem very strong in this format; Pillage as a way to totally ensure artifact destruction or serve as land destruction, and Molten simply because practically any target will yield the two extra damage on top of putting tempo in your direction. Most every deck I played against ran tricky, delicate manabases, and as land destruction based decks are usually pretty bad, no one bothers sideboarding against them.
Let’s go on to the match coverage – as a note, Talen specifically asked me the night before the event if I was going to do a report and I told him I didn’t expect to place well enough to have anything worth saying, so I’m constructing these from replays and the sideboarding from memory. Talen apparently thinks I am a better player than I think I am, and I have to give the man credit when he’s right.
Round 1 versus Winston Smith (W/B aggro)
Game 1, I lose the die roll and my opponent plays first after a mulligan to six. He lays a Godless Shrine tapped and passes, I answer with Mountain, Chrome Mox imprinting Shock, and lay a Slith Firewalker who swings and connects, leaving my hand with Arc-Slogger, Giant Solifuge, and Molten Rain. He lays a land and uses Gerrard’s Verdict. I keep the Molten Rain, since I’m already mana light and fearing another discard. I rip a land like a good player and proceed to Molten his Shrine and make my Firewalker 3/3. He answers with a Bob, and I swing with Firewalker, who goes unblocked. He swings and rituals out a Hippie, and I swing my Firewalker at him, only to have it sent farming by Swords to Plowshares. He swings unopposed and drops me to eighteen, himself at six. I draw a Seething Song and he uses a fetchland at end of turn, dropping to five. This is when I first noticed Song should really be Shrapnel Blast. I frown and pass. Bob reveals Gerrard’s Verdict, dropping my opponent to three before he swings me to fourteen. I draw Magma Jet and throw it at his dome and he Funeral Charms his Bob at one life. I ship a land to the bottom and put Firewalker on top, but it too is sent farming. He takes me to eleven, but I topdeck Shock and end it.
I side in Cryoclasms over Pillages, and drop Sloggers and Seethings for three Pyroclasm and three Lava Spike. I throw this game away first turn by double moxing to get an immediate Molten Rain and then fail to draw enough pressure to keep that tempo bonus relevant. He proceeds to beat me about the head and neck with Bob, a Hippie, and a Jotun Grunt as I draw land after land until I die.
Game 3 I play first, keeping a hand with three Mountains, a Mox, Pillage, Magma Jet, and Solifuge. Winston Rituals out a first turn Hippie, who ends up drinking Magma Jet juices. I see a Pyroclasm and a Pillage, putting them on top in that order, since I just drew a land this turn. Winston comes back with Verdict, and I pitch a Mox and a Mountain. I make my land drop and aim a Pillage at his Swamp, leaving a Godless Shrine, which I proceed to Pillage on my next turn. I rip a land and drop Solifuge against an empty board, pretty much a death knell for Winston. He does a false recovery by dropping a Tomb of Urami and then Ritualing out an Engineered Plague on the next turn. He Rituals out a Hippie, but Pyroclasm handles it admirably, followed by a Molten Rain on the Tomb, dropping him to eight. We do nothing of relevance for several turns before I send in a Firewalker, only to have it eat Darkblast. Winston drops a Bloodstained Mire and uses it to fetch an untapped Godless Shrine to put out a Jotun Grunt. I throw a Shock at his dome at the end of turn, bringing him to three and then mainphase a Cryoclasm for the victory, still holding an Incinerate.
Matches 1-0, games 2-1
Round 2 versus Mullibok (Mono-Green aggro)
I win the roll and keep a hand of three Mountain, Shock, Jet, Molten, and Fireblast. Mull starts with a Basking Rootwalla, which I Shock at end of turn. Elvish Warrior comes down and I throw an end of turn Magma Jet at Mull’s eyeball, shipping a Fireblast to the bottom in favor of an Incinerate, intending to use it later. I untap and blow up a Forest, taking a swing from his Elf. I drop to eighteen and he plays a Shinen of Life’s Roar. I draw a land and Incinerate the Elf on his next attack. I draw another land and drop Slogger. He responds by cycling a Krosan Tusker for another Forest. He puts out a Horned Helm and equips it, and I swing in with my Slogger (which goes unblocked) and then play a freshly ripped second Slogger. He cycles another Tusker and declines to swing in. With him at fourteen, I double-slog the blockers out of the way, swing in for eight, throw a ripped Shock at him to bring him to four, and Fireblast for the win. Sometimes Red just wins.
Game 2 I keep a hand with two copies each of Mountain, Incinerate, Molten Rain, and a lone Barbarian Ring, and draw a third Incinerate on my first turn. He plays out an Elvish Warrior after a first turn Tranquil Thicket. I draw a Firewalker, make my land drop, and pass. He swings in and I Incinerate the elf, only to see him drop a Trained Armodon. I, of course, draw land and then blow up his Thicket for two damage. His retort is playing out a land and Diligent Farmhand, which I Incinerate before dropping and swinging with a Firewalker. He plays a Shinen of Life’s Roar and swings, taking me to fourteen to his seventeen. I swing in and he blocks with the Shinen, attempting a Predator’s Strike, but I throw Incinerate at it, drop a land post-combat, and blow up a Forest. He plays a Morph (Nantuko Vigilante) and I swing into it, killing my Firewalker, but putting a sixth card in my graveyard. I cast Pyroclasm for Threshold and then toss my Barbarian Ring at the Armodon to finish it off. This did a great job of hiding the fact that I was only holding a Chrome Mox to defend my ten life. My opponent plays another Morph, but I draw a land, allowing me to play the Slogger I drew the turn before. He swings in and I let it through, worried about Predator’s Strike, following up with Brawn. Of course, I draw a second useless Mox. I Slog the second Morph, also a Vigilante, and swing in unopposed, bringing Mull to thirteen. He swings with Brawn and I go to five. He drops a Werebear with Threshold and I double Slog it, Slogging it a third time in response to Predator’s Strike. I draw another Slogger, leaving three cards left in library, and swing him to nine. He make a Llanowar Elf, and Brawn gets chump blocking duty before I drop a third Slogger in case he gets any funny ideas about his Elf. He draws nothing of use, and concedes.
Matches 2-0, games 4-1
Round 3 versus Bye
Nothing to see here folks, move along.
Round 4 versus Brainbug (Affinity, apparently without Vial.)
Game 1 I start out strong with a Firewalker, only to watch Brain drop a Darksteel Citadel, Terrarion, and a pair of Ornithopters. Keen. I shock and Jet the ‘Thopters, swinging in only to watch him drop Ravager on his next turn. He lets a 3/3 Firewalker through and I Incinerate his Ravager, which he lets die. He plays out a Disciple and Shrapnel Blasts my Firewalker, prompting me to Jet his Disciple. He proceeds to “go off” with Clamp, Frogmite, and double Enforcers, beating me into the pavement.
I side out all my Songs and Sloggers and my Magma Jets for all my Sprees and Lava Spikes and three Pyroclasm, which would be my boarding for all my future matches, since they were all against Affinity variants. Heh on that.
My opponent starts with a mulligan, and I play out a turn 2 Firewalker. He answers with Seat of the Synod and Frogmite, which both end up as Spree victims before I swing in. He Glimmervoids out a Disciple, and I Molten it and swing through unhindered, putting him to twelve. He drops another Glim, a Sphere, and a Disciple. I respond with Pyroclasm, Mox pitching another Pyroclasm, and swinging with two Firewalkers, dropping him to seven with an Incinerate left in my hand. He plays a Frogmite and Thoughtcast before conceding.
He gets a scary turn 1 Skullclamp, but when he considers Clamping an Arcbound Worker, I have the Shock ready. I untap and Spree his Clamp and Seat of the Synod. He plays a Nexus, which immediately bathes in Molten Rain. Another Nexus meets the same fate, but he gets to keep an Ornithopter. After he plays a second, I Pyroclasm away his guys and Spike him down to thirteen. He drops a Vault of Whispers and a Disciple – I ignore the Disciple and Molten Rain the land, to take him to eleven. I throw a Shock and a Lava Spike at him on the next turn, he does nothing important, and I Shock him down to six at end of turn. I untap and proceed to use Barbarian Ring and Fireblast to throw him out of the game.
Damn, but Red is cheap.
Matches 4-0, games 8-2
Round 5 versus tq_chn (Vial Affinity)
Things start off fast – I throw the turn 1 Firewalker down, and he answers with a land and Vial. I pop the land with a Rain, swing and take him to fifteen. He plays a Clamp and I drop a Solifuge, which is blocked by a Vialed Disciple, but tq drops to a very unsafe nine life. He Vials out a worker, Thoughtcasts, and drops a Frogmite, so I Seething Song out a Slogger and use my spare mana to make sure his Frogmite won’t be blocking my Firewalker. He untaps and does a bunch of stuff, none of which will save him from dying on my upkeep to massive Sloggering, and concedes.
Game 2, I get a quick start that looks promising, only to end up losing horribly to a triple Clamp draw within the top sixteen cards. Blah.
Game 3 is retarded in the other direction. He tries laying many a various dude, but they all die horribly, I eat half his lands, he never gets a creature to stick, and after a Shattering Spree for 75% of his board, I throw mad burn at his skull and melt him with the brokenness that is Fireblast/Incinerate/Lava Spike; ten damage for three mana.
Matches 5-0, games 10-3
At this point, I narrowly avoid having a heart attack after finding out I’m in first place.
Round 6 versus Aylon (Unknown Control deck)
Unknown primarily because, not being a damned fool, I ID.
Matches 5-0-1, games 10-3-3
Round 7 versus ArdeMetropolis (Vial Affinity)
Game 1 I have to mull to five to see a land, and after a brief attempt at pretending to resist, I quickly succumb to the affinity tech once he draws into a Skullclamp. Of special note is that of all the games I played against Affinity, all managed a Clamp in the first ten cards.
Game 2, I keep a hand with two Spree. Yes, I win this.
Game 3, he empties his hand by turn 2, including an Enforcer. No, there’s not much my deck can do about that, sadly. The famous Affinity God Draw requires more hate than my deck packed to handle.
Matches 5-1-1, games 11-5-3
Quarterfinals versus Ashar (Vial Affinity)
Games 1 and 2: He God draws, I land flood. Sorry. I’d like to make it more interesting than that, but the only real moment of note is that I still managed to lose game 2 after reducing him to zero permanents twice, partially because I once again drew Moxens and Seething Songs when the Songs would have won me the game by being Shrapnel Blasts – which Ashar plays because he is better than I am.
All in all, I think there’s a viable deck here somewhere; I wasn’t blown out often and when I was, it had more to do with my draws than the deck itself. As I said, I misbuilt it a bit, but I think with some tweaking, this stands a chance, although I’m curious how it would do in a more combo and control oriented field. I’m satisfied with my performance, given that all of my opponents except Mullibok ended in the top twenty, so I know it was more than just good matchups that got me where I ended up.
Is the format healthy? I don’t know. There was a lot of Affinity in attendance, budget or otherwise, but a Scepter-Chant deck won the whole thing anyhow, so it’s hard to say. There’s definitely some established top decks to beat in the format. Is my deck one of them? Dangerlinto, who was in a large part responsible for the event, claims that there’s definitely something to be said for mono-Red in the environment. My build, even with the changes I proposed, may not be the best build, but it’s probably a good place to start.
Lastly, I’d like to thank the generous staff at Wizards of the Coast for deciding to increase the prize support for the event after seeing how big the turnout was. I strongly believe it was the right thing to do and would like to make sure that at least one person will also talk about when they do things right. I’m still not forgiving you for the Time Spiral Blue, though. *Flawed Paradigm smirks*
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