So Rob Dougherty was giving me a hard time.
Hey Chad, remember how you were going to try hard to qualify for the Pro Tour last season? Remember how you were going to share all of your preparation with the readers at StarCityGames.com and go over each of your PTQ experiences with them? Remember how you even built a good rogue deck near the start of the season? Remember how you missed every single PTQ and Grand Prix?
Rob was right. All my grand plans had come to nothing. Part of it was launching a new business. Part of it was taking care of my wife and daughter while launching a new business. (For example, it didn’t seem like a good idea to suggest going to a Grand Prix the weekend after Trish, Jade and I were finally able to move back to Boston. I also just flat-out skipped one PTQ because Trish looked a bit worn out.) Part of it was stupid friends planning their stupid weddings on the same stupid weekend as the last couple of stupid PTQs. (Me bitter? Naw.) But whatever the reasons, I managed to miss an entire PTQ season.
So anyway, Rob and I are working and he suggests a new strategy might be in order. “Play in a &#%$ PTQ!” It just so happens that he said this a week or so before the first PTQ of the season, which is being held about fifteen minutes from my apartment.
Of course, it’s CoK Block Sealed deck with Rochester Draft finals…which is a bit awkward, since for me this would be pretty much a prerelease.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like I haven’t looked at CoK at all. In fact, my “trusted guy” status with Wizards of the Coast led to me getting an advance copy of the master spoiler list so I could write an article about it for Undefeated Magazine. But that article was about what Standard might look like, so I had pretty much ignored the Limited aspects. And then another one of those stupid weddings (this time in Montreal and lasting the entire weekend) had kept me from going to the Champions prerelease.
Rob mentions that Your Move Games is having a midnight draft that Thursday – the moment it becomes legal to sell Champions. Fortunately, I’m still in my early twenties and don’t have a baby girl, so it’s easy for me to do without a night’s sleep, right? Right. So I do two drafts – for whatever reason we did 3-on-3 and 4-on-4 team drafts rather than “normal” booster or even Rochester drafts, but I don’t really care about the format, because all I want to do is get some idea of what the cards actually do.
I think I win maybe two matches all night.
I manage not to have an accident as I drive at home listening to radio programs that sane adults listen to at the start of their day rather than at the end. I don’t try going to sleep since I know if I do I’ll never be able to wake up. Fortunately, my job for the day involves stuffing envelopes with Rob for a mass mailing to retailers rather than game design or something that requires me to be fully awake. We get the envelopes stuffed by around 5:30 and then bust out a pair of sealed decks, build them, and play like six or seven duels. I put up a fight in one of them. Frown.
Still, the losing and the lack of winning doesn’t really bother me. The goal was to get a feel for the format, get a bit used to the cards, see how tempo plays out, etc. I usually lose a lot when I’m exploring a format, because I deliberately push the envelope on things to see where they break down. Later on, when the matches count, I hopefully have a much better idea of what I can get away with.
Then I go home and realize that it’s my “night”, meaning I have to wake up when Jade needs her bottle or just needs her bum patted because she’s teething. We alternate back and forth which of us actually gets out of bed. Trish apparently takes pity on me and takes care of at least one wake-up call that I managed to sleep through.
So my basic state at the tournament site is that I think I have a good feel for the flow of the set – at least good relative to the field this early in a Limited season. I’m not where I’d like to be, but I don’t feel like I’m wasting my $30 entry fee. Of course, I do think it’s going to be very funny Rochestering a set when I certainly don’t have an idea of pick orders and will have to read cards in every pack. I teach Space Station Assault to someone who hadn’t played it before (what’s the point of making games if you’re not going to demo them at tournaments?) and wait for them to announce seatings.
They do, and then we register decks. Here’s what I ended up getting back:
Tenza, Godo’s Maul
Cage of Hands
Kami of Ancient Law
2 Callous Deceiver
Counsel of the Soratami
Eye of Nowhere
2 Kami of Twisted Reflection
Peer Through Depths
Kami of the Waning Moon
Godo, Bandit Warlord
Kami of the Fire’s Roar
Tide of War
Zo-Zu the Punisher
2 Commune with Nature
Kami of the Hunt
Take a moment if you like and see if you would have built what I did:
This is the theme to Chad’s new article,
The theme to Chad’s article.
Chad called me up and asked if I would make some white space.
We’re almost halfway finished,
How do you like it so far?
How do you like the theme to Chad’s article?
This is the theme to Chad’s new article,
The deckbuilding theme to Chad’s new article.
This is the music that you hear as you build your sealed deck.
We’re almost to the part of where I start to whistle.
Then we’ll read the rest of Chad’s new article.
*Now you have to whistle until you’re officially done building your deck or until your co-workers and classmates give you dirty looks while waiting for you to stop that annoying whistling.*
[Sorry about that folks, I don’t know what came over me. – Knut]
Cage of Hands
Kami of Ancient Law
Godo, Bandit Warlord
Kami of the Fire’s Roar
I think the biggest challenge with building this deck comes from the mana requirements. You need heavy White to support your early game and heavy Black to support Hideous Laughter and Swallowing Plague and two two-drops. (More on the insane two-drop later.) That leaves the question of what to do with Red, which in turn comes down to whether Hanabi Blast is good enough to make you push your mana to the limit. Glacial Ray and Godo are too powerful not to run as a splash, but they could probably run on just two Mountains and the Graveyard. So what replaces them? Distress, Lantern Kami and Kami of the Waning Moon are playable but not exciting, and it seemed to me that it was worth it to push in the extra removal. Then, once I’m up to five Red sources, Ronin Houndmaster is miles better than any of the three cards mentioned here.
Plus, when you cast Ronin Houndmaster, you get to put on your Monty Burns voice and say, “Smithers… release the hounds.” (I think, by the way, that Ronin Houndmaster should be called Smithers from now on.)
While on the subject of mana, I think that eighteen lands is right for this deck and suspect that it’s often going to be right for the format unless you’re base Green and have some non-land mana sources. Champions has good early spells, but also plenty of big spells that you really don’t want to wait for. Splicing requires mana for two spells in one turn, and (as we will talk about a bit later) you will usually be in three colors which often requires eighteen lands to get enough in each color. This deck is probably more mana-hungry than most, since I have more than average splice (as well as some expensive Arcane spells) and the ability to summon creatures from graveyards at instant speed.
The last point on mana: dual lands that don’t untap when you use them for colored mana are a necessary evil rather than an auto-include. A lot of players are used to playing with pain-lands, or fetch-lands or duals that come into play tapped but then function normally, and these are wonderful. But lands that make you wait a turn to use them again are significantly worse. I wouldn’t run them in a two-color deck unless the mana was unusually bad.
The other big question of the deck is which equipment to run. It’s obviously tempting to have Godo fetch his Maul. If you do, you can attack next turn with a 6/6 trampler who will then untap and swing a second time. That’s pretty insane. However, is it really that much better than a 5/3 first-striker? No-dachi seemed better in general, and one of the big lessons in Magic is to focus on winning more games rather than winning even bigger in the games you’ve already got in hand. Godo was going to be good enough on his own; no need to be cute.
“No need to be cute” is also why I didn’t really consider running both. Sure, it’s a shame to play Godo and not trigger his ability, and yes it would be lovely to send him in as an 8/6 trampling first-striker, but is that worth running a Scimitar that costs three? Maybe, but I didn’t think so.
In conclusion, this looks like an ideal sealed deck. It’s got an aggressive curve with enough evasion and removal to stand a decent chance of pushing an opponent right off the table. It has excellent removal and it helps that the removal comes in different forms – offhand I can’t think of a single creature this deck can’t kill. Finally, we’ve got Godo and enough Samurai to make him a proper bomb.
Oh, and we have Nezumi Graverobber. Let the rant begin.
Let’s think about this guy for a moment. Imagine a world in which he couldn’t flip. He’d be a 2/1 for 1B with a special ability that shuts down Soulshift and any other use of the graveyard. That would be solid.
Now imagine that if he empties a graveyard he becomes a 4/2. Nice bonus, eh? Oh, but wait… when that happens he also wins the game almost single-handedly by letting you cast uncounterable creatures out of either graveyard at instant speed.
Every set has its bombs. And one of the things I like about Champions is that most decks can answer bombs pretty well. Blue and White even have common enchantments that can take out a Dragon without killing it. Neither of those enchantments will do more than prevent the Graverobber from entering combat. Befoul can’t touch him either.
Oh, one more thing. This bomb is uncommon.
It’s obviously early, but I think the Graverobber is this set’s big mistake, and I suspect that we’ll see a lot of PTQ tournament reports that talk about this particular card winning games and how there just wasn’t anything to be done. It’s not a Skullclamp-level mistake because it won’t stretch into Constructed (the Graverobber will show up in Constructed but won’t be so busted), but I honestly can’t understand why this card isn’t rare.
The only other card that I should probably explain at this point is Devoted Retainer. 1/1s for one typically have no place in sealed decks unless they have a special ability – and “awkward to block” isn’t good enough. They become outclassed too quickly by other cards so that even if you play them on turn 1 they often aren’t worth the card. Topdeck them later and you can only frown. That’s why I consider Lantern Kami only borderline playable – something you bring in against Blue to block their X/1 flyers but not worth maindecking. But Devoted Retainer is solid because he blocks and trades with a lot of good commons that cost two or even three mana. He’s not there to beat down; he’s there to trade with a more expensive beater and help me get to the mid game where my spells can take over.
On to the Swiss Rounds:
Round 1: Yakov Shapiro
Yakov is stunned when I win the roll and admit I don’t really know if I want to play or draw. Normally I like to draw in Sealed, but the early game of Champions can go very fast. Yakov offers to let me ask Anthony (seated at the next table), but I say it’s too late and choose to draw. After that, I ask Anthony if I’m an idiot and he says yes.
I mulligan to six and Yakov starts out fast with Bushi Tenderfoot and No-dachi. The Tenderfoot is a funny card – as a 1/1 for one it’s basically bad but psychologically it’s pretty powerful. You never want to block it unless you’re sure you can trump any trick, and you also don’t want to swing into it. And, of course, it’s fine with No-dachi on it.
I get out Devoted Retainer and Smithers, plus my own No-dachi. I’m sitting on Hideous Laughter and Swallowing Plague with only one Swamp, plus Glacial Ray and Otherworldly Journey, so I’m content to hold the board with my bigger first-striker. At some point he uses a trick, so I save Smithers with Journey and Splice the Ray to kill his Snake. A turn or two later I clear his board by splicing Ray onto Plague and kill him.
Game two I mulligan to five cards, but get two lands and both of my Nezumi. No-Dachi and Kitsune Blademaster come out when I hit three mana. His first trick trades with the Blademaster, but then he can’t push through No-Dachi on my flipped Graverobber/Desecrator.
Once I hit five mana the game was essentially over. I get back my Blademaster and play cautiously, as I’m at pretty high life and I’ve also got nice removal in hand. At one point during his EOT I sacrificed Scuttling Death to shrink one of his healers, animated it and sacrificed it again to finish it off. He finally tries to “go for it” by putting Lure on one of his better guys, but his only hope is to kill off my Graverobber, since if he alpha strikes, he can’t kill me and will die next turn. Alas, this hope also depends on me missing the potential of my board, and the combination of first-striking Blademaster and -1/-1 from Scuttling Death takes his guy down before it even gets to deal damage.
Round 2: Ryan Durney
Game one I lead with Nezumi Cutthroat (a.k.a. Fear Bear, which rhymes when spoken with a Boston accent – Feh Beh) and splice Glacial Ray to take out two of his guys, leading to a rout. Game two I keep a hand with no Plains and again lead with Feh Beh, only this time there’s no follow up. Ryan reminds me of what happens when one player plays one bear and the other player plays many. Game three shows the main problem with Ryan’s deck – he doesn’t have enough ways to punch through until his bombs show up. We have a bit of a stalemate (with me smacking him for evasion damage in the meantime) that Godo breaks up.
Round 3: Justin Straws
Justin began game one a bit slow, having to use Sensei’s Divining Top to find land. (I know a lot of people seem to like the Top and I haven’t played it yet, but it looks awful to me.) At some point, it’s pretty clear that he’s in trouble and he asks me how many cards are in my hand. I answer, as I always do, “I have X cards, but they’re all really good.” (I don’t say X, of course, but I don’t remember whether I had two or three cards in hand. I do remember they were all removal spells.) He replies that he has two dead cards in his hand because he doesn’t know how to register land. (Turns out he splashed Honden of Infinite Rage and two Yamabushi’s Flame, but only listed Plains and Swamps for his main deck.) Frown. I share the story of my being near the top of the standings of an Extended Grand Prix with three rounds left to go, only to learn that I registered Underground River rather than Underground Sea.
Game two is a bit back-and-forth with me having a bit more pressure, but his Wicked Akuba making it tight. Then we both play legends – his is Eight-and-a-Half-Tails, mine is Godo. Fortunately I have a Samurai or two out, so I’m able to make him give up most of his team, and he isn’t able to finish me with the Akuba.
Round 4: Alex O’Connell
Game one I’m putting on big pressure and Alex is behind on the board and drawing too much land. Things are so good that when he drops Meloku the Clouded Mirror I still think I’m going to just push through, but that’s just because I’ve only played against Meloku once and didn’t fully realize how stupidly broken he is. (At least he’s a rare.)
Alex certainly should have won, but he made one strategic blunder and one miscount. The blunder was taking out my best guy with Mystic Restraints rather than just making more spirits. My next turn I played Godo, and all of my non-Restrained creatures in play were Samurai. Then he thought he had enough damage to force me to block a Bushido knight with Godo when in fact, I could block a smaller guy instead. That plus the removal in my hand meant I could kill him on the return strike.
Game two I kept a very dangerous hand with only Swamps for mana and two White spells. I took a lot of mulligans during the tournament, and this should have been another one, but I guess I got greedy. I drew more White spells and one more Swamp and he rolled me. Game one had taken so long that even with the game-two rout, we still only had three minutes left in the round when we finished shuffling. Alex suggested we just draw rather than trying to play out game three since those games are often decided by something stupid. I declined, since three minutes can be a lot, I’d be playing first, and my deck’s early game was offensive while his was defensive. I couldn’t really lose but might win.
Game three I came out with turn 2 Cutthroat, turn 3 Smithers and turn 4 Mothrider Samurai. On turn 5 I knocked him down to four life when time was called and tapped six mana to Swallowing Plague him for four. Turn 5 kill, not too bad. Hmmm…creatures only? Okay, would you believe I tapped six mana after combat to play No-Dachi, equip someone who already attacked and burn for one? Either way I had two evasion creatures out that he couldn’t deal with, and he scooped after drawing his card on the first extra turn.
Round 5: Josh Smith
Josh and I go way back and joked about old school Magic players while we waited for the round to start. It’s good playing friends when you know the loser still has a good shot at top 8. Game one Josh stalls at two lands for a turn, but then draws a Forest and casts Kodama’s Reach so he gets past me on lands again. Sadly for him, I’ve got out evasion beats and No-Dachi; his Green men are better-suited to holding the non-evasion fort and he doesn’t find enough answers.
Game two I start off with the Nezumi pair and Scuttling Death. When Josh taps out to play Kokusho, I have enough mana to Plague it for five, leaving Josh in the unenviable position of having to find an answer to his own Dragon.
At this point there’s only one other 5-0, so we ID. At that point I can lose into the top 8, but I don’t have to worry about it because my 5-1 opponent in round six has strong enough tiebreaks to draw in. I finish the Swiss in third place at 5-0-2.
I know some people absolutely hate intentional draws and consider it unmanly and unsporting to take them. Personally, I think that’s silly. If your goal is to win a tournament, you should act accordingly – within the rules, of course. Rochester drafting takes a lot of concentration, and you’re likely to do a much better job if you take some time to relax, eat dinner, and calm your thoughts than if you spend two hours playing Magic. Rochester draft also depends heavily on cooperation and you don’t want someone “on tilt” because you tried (and failed) to knock him out of the Swiss to find himself sitting next to you.
We’re at the end of part one. Next week I’ll talk about the Rochester draft and give some advice on Rochester drafting in general. You’ll also find out if Rob’s new strategy was fully successful, or whether this is the first of many PTQ reports from me.
Hugs ’til next time,