Who Needs the Clamp? A Mid-Atlantic Regionals Report

After many weeks of playtesting, I couldn’t find a rogue deck that pleased me. My G/R Urzatron Tooth and Nail deck promised to be the most fun. But an important part of fun for me is earning a winning record and coming as close to qualifying for Nationals as possible… so Tooth was a bad choice. I eventually settled on Paskins Red, and this is my tale.

After many weeks of playtesting, I couldn’t find a rogue deck that pleased me. My G/R Urzatron Tooth and Nail deck promised to be the most fun. But an important part of fun for me is earning a winning record and coming as close to qualifying for Nationals as possible. Three things scared me about Tooth.

Inconsistency. Tons of mana and nothing to do with it. Getting stuck looking for that third Urzatron component of the second Green mana source. It’s annoying.

The Goblin matchup. Winning this matchup seemed to always come down to firing off an early Pyroclasm, and even then Goblin Sledder could ruin that out.

Anti-Tooth tech. As the deck steadily caught on, all sorts of anti-Tooth tech started to appear. Zvi advocated Dwarven Blastminer. Control decks started putting Duplicant, Altar’s Light, and/or even Bribery in the sideboard. Affinity started sideboarding Mana Leak (surprisingly good versus the mana-saturated Tooth, because all Affinity needs to do is slow you down for a turn or two). And Red decks began putting Molten Rain and Stone Rain in the board. Plus, I had a bad feeling that I’d get unlucky and get paired up against some Ponza or Beast Land Destruction deck.

My favorite color in Magic is Blue. But Blue is horrible right now, and I didn’t want to play a control deck for ten or eleven rounds. While that’s the style of deck I prefer, it always gives me a headache and I was looking forward to a deck that allowed me to finish rounds early.

I’ll admit that I was tempted to run Hirata Tatsuya’s R/U/B Affinity deck. I love the reliability that comes with playing twenty lands and the Seething Song/Furnace Dragon sideboard tech for the mirror. Of course, I didn’t want to cope with the mirror match, which too often is like a coin flip – all day long. And I also worried (unnecessarily, I now realize) about running into decks armed to the teeth against Affinity. Plus, I just hadn’t put in enough hours playtesting Affinity to squeeze out those close games (like the mirror) and get the most out of the deck’s complex interactions.

That basically left me with Red. Goblin Bidding seemed like a fine choice. But if I was going to go against my nature and play an aggro deck, I wanted it to at least have a bit of a rogue orientation. I immediately latched onto [author name="Dan Paskins"]Dan Paskins[/author]‘ mono-Red aggro deck. After some tweaking, here’s what I came up with:


20 Mountain

3 Blinkmoth Nexus

3 Echoing Ruin

4 Goblin Sledder

4 Skirk Prospector

4 Goblin Piledriver

4 Sparksmith

3 Gempalm Incinerator

4 Goblin Sharpshooter

4 Goblin Warchief

3 Clickslither (MVP)

4 Siege-Gang Commander


4 Electrostatic Bolt

4 Molten Rain

3 Stone Rain

2 Detonate

1 Gempalm Incinerator

As far as I was concerned, the vast majority of Regionals decks would fall into three possible archetypes: 1) Ravager Affinity, 2) Goblin Bidding, and 3) Tooth and Nail. Goblins has excellent matchups against all three of them.

Where the hell is Skullclamp?

That’s the plan. Against Affinity, their Clamps are better than yours, since their men are free and you have to actually cast your guys the hard way. Goblin Bidding is a matchup dependent on explosiveness and tempo, neither of which Skullclamp helps contribute to. And against Tooth and Nail you need to go all-out aggro before ridiculous bombs start hitting you, so the mana-intensive artifact that requires the sacrifice of assets on the board (a.k.a. the Clamp) is once again less than subpar.

What about real control decks, like Mono-White, Slide, and U/W? Isn’t Clamp the bane of their existence? Well, basically it is. My answer comes in three parts.

First, who plays control these days? Regionals is historically an aggro heavy field and in the age of the Clamp it seemed almost certain that there would be even fewer control decks than usual.

Second, good control decks will have Damping Matrix, which turns my Clamps into dead draws. So, by not playing the Clamp, I’m making their maindeck Matrices much less exciting.

Finally, it’s not as if Goblins is lacking entirely in anti-control cards. Blinkmoth Nexus lets me push the final points of damage through after a board sweeper hits. And Clickslither is a great follow-up after Wrath of God.

But there’s an even bigger strategy at work here. By ignoring the Clamp, this build of Goblins provides virtual card advantage in many matchups. Anyone with maindeck artifact removal, especially sorcery-speed stuff that can’t catch an attacking Nexus, will get stuck with dead cards in hand against Goblins.

I anticipated a field overall geared toward hating Affinity, since it is the best deck in the format. So turning Oxidize, Shatter, Echoing Ruin, and Viridian Shaman into bad cards sounded like a pretty good idea. And given that over half the field would be Goblin Bidding or Affinity, having the full complement of Sparksmiths and a pain-free mana base, seemed like a really good idea.

Round One: Charles Grams with U/W Control

I win the role and play first, opening up with Goblin Sledder. Charles drops Flooded Strand, and my hopes of qualifying for nationals sink. Most of the changes to the deck I’ve made make the matchups versus White-based control more difficult than with Paskins Red or Goblin Bidding.

The Sledder gets in for a point and I play a real threat, Goblin Piledriver. Charles sacks a Flooded Strand for an Island at the end of my turn, fetching whatever he needs so that on turn 2 he has Plains and Island.

I take my third turn and stare at the Warchief in my hand. I play it and say a silent prayer. Charles says,”Okay.” Yes, yes, yes. No Mana Leak. That’s what I like to see. The Red men get in there for eight, dropping Charles to eleven, but he cycles Renewed Faith at the end of his turn, going up to thirteen. He puts out a third land and says go.

I make my fourth land drop and the Goblins start coming out of the woodwork. I start of with an Incinerator, which gets Vexed. Vex, WTF? Fine by me. Pay three mana to counter my two-mana Goblin and I get to draw a card – no problem. That’s tempo and card advantage for me. I use my remaining two Red mana to summon two 1/1 dorks, who jump into the fray and fuel a lethal Piledriver.

-4 Goblin Sharpshooter

-3 Echoing Ruin

+4 Molten Rain

+3 Stone Rain

This is basically the standard anti-White Control sideboard plan. The plan is simple, drop a few little Goblins, and blow up White mana sources to keep Wrath of God and Pulse of the Fields offline.

This second game is a little more interesting. Charles casts Circle of Protection: Red on his second turn. Fortunately, I pump out a steady stream of: Skirk Prospector, Goblin Piledriver, Molten Rain (Coastal Tower), Goblin Piledriver, Stone Rain, Molten Rain, Goblin Warchief, Goblin Sledder, Goblin Sledder (Vexed), Goblin Sharpshooter. Everything goes according to plan, and Charles struggles to keep a second White mana source, because I keep blowing them up. Drawing two Nexuses to get around the COP also helps. Charles is unnerved that I’m winning despite the COP, and he makes some play mistakes, forgetting to activate the COP in response to my land destruction spells.

Matches 1-0, Games 2-0

Number of times I draw Siege-Gang Commander: 0

Round Two: Derrik S. Creamer with R/U/B Ravager Affinity

Ah, the dreaded matchup versus the most broken deck in the format. But that’s okay, because this is a deck I’m actually prepared to fight, unlike the last round. Game one I the turn 2 Sparksmith, but I struggle to follow it up with pressure. In the meantime, Derrick casts Thoughtcast twice and gets two Skullclamps into play. Soon I’m facing down two Myr Enforcers, protected by a Welding Jar, and he’s drawing four cards a turn thanks to Clamped up Ornithopters.

Even though I manage to handle the Enforcers (thanks to Sparky and Echoing Ruin), I’m getting crushed in terms of tempo and card advantage, since every time I take down an Enforcer it’s wearing a Skullclamp. I get a Warchief in Play, along with a Piledriver. If Derrick gets careless with his attacks and doesn’t leave a blocker back, I might get lucky. Siege-Gang Commanders and Clickslithers could allow me to suddenly steal the game.

I never draw them.

Derrick soon kills my Sparksmith with a Pyrite Spellbomb or Shrapnel Blast (can’t remember which one), and then he wins effortlessly, picking two cards out of his full hand. Sure enough, they are Disciple of the Vault and Arcbound Ravager. I reach eagerly for my hateful sideboard and we shuffle up for the next one.

-4 Skirk Prospector

-3 Gempalm Incinerator

+4 Electrostatic Bolt

+2 Detonate

+1 Echoing Ruin

Supposedly, Goblin Bidding is the favorite in games two and three after sideboarding in all sorts of hate versus Affinity. I’ve got even more hate than the typical Bidding deck has at its disposal. There’s no worrying about stupid stuff like City of Brass either, so games two and three should favor me significantly. Should…

Derrick tosses back his opening hand and stays with six cards. I have a slightly mana heavy hand with four Mountains, Sparksmith, and a couple of other Goblins. It could be better, but it’s certainly playable so I keep. By the time Derrick hits his fourth turn I’m facing down two Myr Enforcers.

They kill me.

It’s that simple.

I lose game two with eight lands in play and never having drawn a single copy of: Electrostatic Bolt, Echoing Ruin, Clickslither, Siege-Gang Commander, or Detonate. Yes, that’s over 25% of my deck. And yes, you’d better believe I was frustrated.

Matches 1-1, Games 2-2

Number of times I draw Siege-Gang Commander: 0

Round Three: Charles (Chuck) G. Wade III piloting Goblin Bidding

I win the roll and play first, dropping a 1/1 guy, and following up with Sparksmith. Chuck has the dream opening, from my point of view: Mountain, Skullclamp, for turn 1 and City of Brass, nothing the following turn. Chuck tries to clamp up a Piledriver or two but my Sparksmith keeps his Clamp effect from resolving. While Sparky dominates the board, I find a Sharpshooter. Then I unload a bunch of men and deliver the kill with a giant Clickslither.

-3 Echoing Ruin

-2 Skirk Prospector

+4 Electrostatic Bolt

+1 Gempalm Incinerator

I don’t’ know how any Goblin Bidding deck can deal handle the full complement of Bolts, Smiths, Incinerators, and Shooters, as well as three Clickslithers.

I soak up some incidental points of damage during the first two turns. Then I play Goblin Warchief. And the turn after that I do something totally unfair: double Goblin Sharpshooter. I guess I’m making up for my horrendous draws during round two.

It doesn’t even matter when Chuck casts Siege-Gang Commander. The Sharpshooters mow down everything. It feels like I’m cheating. With no blockers to worry about, Goblin Piledriver and friends wrap things up very quickly.

Matches 2-1, Games 4-2

Number of times I draw Siege-Gang Commander: 0

Round Four: Jim Pepe with Goblin Bidding

My notes for game one are sketchy. I remember Jim actually casting Patriarch’s Bidding, since his graveyard was more impressive than mine. Basically, things are pretty tight as we trade hits in the early game. I’m at eight life and he’s at nine. Then out comes…


-3 Echoing Ruin

-2 Skirk Prospector

+4 Electrostatic Bolt

+1 Gempalm Incinerator

Game two, Jim gets out two Skullclamps and Oversold Cemetery even goes active. The problem is that both of these cards are time and mana intensive. I watched Jim sideboard in only two or three cards against me. I keep his Smiths and Shooters off the board with ease. Making matters worse for him, I draw triple Shooter and follow up with Clickslither.

Matches 3-1, Games 6-2

Number of times I draw Siege-Gang Commander: 0

Round Five: Ian Margolis playing R/B/G Vial Affinity

Ian is a local player I know. He’s a nice kid, but he’s a little out of his league with the complexity of Affinity. In game one I get out a quick Prospector and Sparksmith. That’s nothing to complain about, but it looks pretty bad versus the two Myr Enforcers Ian plays out on turn 3.

What is it about Affinity today? Why am I always coping with double-Enforcer. Not again! I’m so sick of losing to Affinity! How much maindeck hate do I have to run? Do the Electrostatic Bolts need to be maindeck? Hoping for a miracle, I draw…

Echoing Ruin.


Suddenly I’m back in the game and Ian is looking crestfallen. For good measure, I follow up with another Skirk Prospector.

Ian doesn’t do much his next turn and I drop a second Sparksmith. It’s looking pretty good for me. Then Ian casts two Disciples of the Vault. Bad things can happen when those Clerics are in play. I untap and I’m still stuck on three lands, drooling at the Siege-Gang Commander in hand. Damn it, I’m finally going to cast you this turn.

For the moment, the Commander has to wait. Right now I need to do something about the Disciples before Arcbound Ravager combos me out. Ian’s got a Pyrite Spellbomb with the mana to activate it, while I still have two Prospectors and two Sparksmiths. I sense a chance to outwit Ian with rules knowledge.

I tap both Sparksmith’s, targeting the Disciples. Ian responds by Spellbombing a Sparksmith, which I sack to a Prospector in response. Before the Smith abilities resolve, I sacrifice the two Prospectors for another two Red mana. The Disciples both die and I lose just two points of life, going from thirteen to eleven. Then I use the three Red mana I’m floating and my three lands to cast a Siege-Gang Commander and Goblin Sledder.

Ian can’t draw the miracle he needs to stay in the game, so I untap and win quickly.

-4 Skirk Prospector

-3 Gempalm Incinerator

+4 Electrostatic Bolt

+2 Detonate

+1 Echoing Ruin

Same plan as in round two. I hope that I’ll see some sideboard cards this time.

Game two is much harder. I throw back a risky one-land hand out of principle, but my next six cards leave me with basically the same hand, only one less spell. At least Ian also goes down to six, reluctantly keeping. He starts off with Aether Vial, a card that is bound to make every one of my decisions a”what if” and mess with my combat math.

I miss my second land drop. The next turn I find my second land, but the turn after I’m stalled again. Yeah, Ian also has land problems, though his Aether Vial set on two helps him deploy three Arcbound Ravagers. Fortunately, I force him to sack precious lands and permanents to keep the Ravagers alive, as they suck up several Electrostatic Bolts and finally an Echoing Ruin.

Eventually, we’re in a ridiculous position. I’m at three life with Siege-Gang Commander and tokens in play, but without the mana available to throw Goblins at the lone Disciple, thanks to prolonged mana problems. Ian, at eight life, has only three cards in play (after aggressive sacking to the Ravagers): Pyrite Spellbomb, Disciple of the Vault, and Vault of Whispers.

Ian untaps and draws, praying for the one Red mana source that will let him sack the Spellbomb and deal exactly three damage to me…

He doesn’t draw it.

Matches 4-1, Games 8-2

I finally drew Siege-Gang Commander and played it!

Round Six: Aaron E. LeKartz with Goblin Bidding

I can’t find my notes for this match, but I can tell you two important things. First, I crushed another Goblin Bidding deck. Second, my opponent’s entire deck consisted of foil cards. I know, who cares, right? But that’s not the interesting part. Every Goblin had the text box whited out with violent quotes from the Bible penned in. [His deck was later confiscated and photographed by the judging staff as one of the coolest (but illegal) decks they had seen. – Knut]

Matches 5-1, Games 10-2

Round Seven: David B. Martin playing R/G Beast LD

His deck is way slower than mine; that’s the good news. The bad news is that I have to cope with Vine Trellis, Ravenous Baloth, Arc-Slogger, and Starstorm – quite a gauntlet to have to run. And Echoing Ruin is a dead draw. My opening hand is horrible (double Nexus and no Red sources), so I try my luck with six new cards. The next hand has two lands, and it’s pretty good, provided that I draw some more mana for the Siege-Gang I’m holding.

The only thing Martin does on the first five turns is cast Starstorm twice, and that’s all it takes to slow my offense to a halt. I stall on three lands, and watch in frustration as I topdeck more huge threats. It’s a farce. At one point I’m holding triple Siege-Gang Commander and two Clickslither, but I can’t cast any of them. By the time I find my fourth and firth mana sources I’m facing several Beasts and Contested Cliffs.

The only good thing is that Martin finishes me off in an interesting way. I’m at eight life. He shows me a Fireball and says he can cast it and finish me off with Arc-Slogger. I ask him to show me. When he removed the top twenty cards of his library I discover to my surprise that he’s running land destruction in his deck

-4 Goblin Sharpshooter

-3 Echoing Ruin

+4 Molten Rain

+3 Stone Rain

+1 Gempalm Incinerator

This is not a matchup I planned for or tested, but this seemed like a good plan. Sharpshooter doesn’t have any juicy targets except Birds of Paradise and Echoing Ruin doesn’t have any targets at all. The land destruction should help me destabilize the already precarious Beast mana base. And the Incinerator can help the hordes of Red men push past fat blockers, like Vine Trellis.

Game two goes much better for me. Thanks to an early Sledder or Prospector I mana to Incinerate Martin’s turn 1 Birds of Paradise. I play a few men and blow up a few of his lands.

He tries to stabilize with Pyroclasm or Starstorm, but Goblin Sledder saves my Warchief. I think he handles the first Siege-Gang Commander with global Red removal, but I the follow up, Clickslither and then another Commander the turn after, keeps him from every shifting into board control mode and I win pretty easily.

Game three I have to ditch another one-land hand. I am on the draw, and my creatures are inexpensive enough to have some early action, but when you’re facing land destruction there’s no real debate. Don’t keep a one-lander. My next six are better, but still far from ideal. One Mountain and two Blinkmoth Nexus are inviting color screw. Fortunately, I topdeck another Mountain on my next draw and I’m in business. I get in some weenie beats, and gradually chip away at Martin’s life total. But when enough mana for Clickslither or Siege-Gang, I miss the narrow window of opportunity and Martin starts blowing up my Red mana sources.

It’s a long haul. Basically, my Nexuses put him on a four-turn clock, since he’s at eight life. Rather than play out dorky 1/1 Goblins, I use four mana every turn to attack with a 2/2 Nexus. I’m careful to attack with one Nexus at a time, so that Martin can’t two-for-one me with Starstorm. With Martin at five life, a Starstorm wipes out a Nexus.

I topdeck my third and final Nexus, so the flying beats continue. But this is a mixed blessing. My best path to victory is in the air, but without enough Red mana sources in play my spells become useless.

I take Martin down to three with Nexus beats. Then another Starstorm blows up a Nexus. Spectators have gathered around us. Martin is in a totally commanding position, with practically a full grip of cards, and five lands in play, but I’m about to pull off the win, even though my deck is barely functioning at all.

I’m doing the impossible.

With Martin at three, I untap and draw a second Mountain. That leaves me with two Mountains, and one Nexus in play. I have Goblin Warchief and Stone Rain in hand. By now Martin has a Molder Slug in play, which is smashing my face on the ground. I have three play choices.

I can swing the Nexus, putting Martin on a two-turn clock.

I can Stone Rain one of his only two Green mana sources, which makes it impossible for him to cast Ravenous Baloth (the card that will ruin any chance I have of winning), Molder Slug, and anything else he might have with GG in the mana cost.

I can swing with Goblin Warchief for two points, forcing him to hold back the Molder Slug for blocking detail next turn, and opening up the chance for me to rip a Goblin Piledriver off the top.

I choose to cast Stone Rain, because I let my concerns about the most-feared card dominate my decision-making process. In retrospect, casting the Chief would have forced Martin into an uncomfortable position, when he faces difficult decisions, which is always good to do, since it increases the probability of your opponent making the wrong choice, and Warchief would have maximized my ability to rip a win off the top of my deck.

The turn after my Stone Rain, Martin blows up one of my Mountains, and I never get the chance to cast the Warchief again. My deck starts coughing up expensive creatures. And the combination of his land destruction and creature removal deals with my final Nexus.

When I succumb to Molder Slug beats, Siege-Gang Commander and Clickslither are sitting useless in hand. And I have either one or zero lands in play. It’s a tough way to end a fine run at Regionals, but it happens.

Starving, anxious to breathe some fresh air, looking forward to a party, and not willing to attempt a 4-0 run to finish high enough to win product, I check the drop box on the tournament slip.

Matches 5-2, Games 11-4


The party that night is great. I drink the perfect amount and get that happy buzz, but when I wake up the next morning I’m not hungover at all. It’s the perfect end to an exhilarating day. Who can complain about a rooftop party on a beautiful night with a beer in hand?

As for thoughts and reflections on Mid-Atlantic Regionals… This was the best deck choice I’ve ever made for a major tournament. If I did it all over again, I wouldn’t change a single card. Had my luck turned out a little differently (round two versus Affinity) and had I kept my playing just a little tighter (round seven versus Beast LD), maybe I’d have my ticket to Nationals right now.


But that’s a story you’ve all heard before. Rather than dwell on it, let the deck speak for itself. If you’re an aggro fan, give Goblins a try. You won’t be disappointed. And if Elf and Nail becomes popular, Goblins will get even better, since it is that deck’s Achilles Heal. Remind me again, how does Elf and Nail beat turn 2 Sparksmith followed by hasty men?

And though Skullclamp may be the defining card of the format, for seven rounds and one day of Magic, I never once missing having my own Skullclamp. Maybe the Clamp is overrated.

Take it easy,

[email protected]