I would just like to point that my reference to Ancestral Visions which (I guess is a bit uncommon) was played by Asahara in his Clockspinning Dragonstorm deck that was released at or around the time of our Champs. The deck was innovative and absolutely insane-looking. I didn’t attempt to play the deck at Champs because I felt without enough preparation I wouldn’t succeed. That decklist is available, though I am sure Mihara had access to it and went with his more traditional build anyway.
That leaves us with the day of Standard that I played, and the deck that I played with at Worlds itself. Here is the deck:
This is Mike’s deck [Flores], and it was very good for me. I posted a non-stellar – in fact it was simply average – 3-3 record. I definitely punted one game, and truthfully it was probably more than that. After the one that got to me, I think I sort of tilted and lost focus for a few rounds. A couple of bad matchups later and I was sitting in the 2-3 bracket trying to scrape together .500.
Overall, the deck matchups up well against U/G aggro and Boros, has good game against Zoo. (Game 1 is close sometimes, but there are games where you can just blow them out. They need a great draw and you don’t. After board, they bring in land destruction and you bring in cheaper removal, and games 2 and 3 are close but favorable.) Against control decks, if you know what you’re doing you’re okay. You need a plan, and you need to implement it. Usually if you let them beat you, they will. If you let them persecute you, they will. If your hand of Red burn spells (Dragons and Demonfire) didn’t kill them, you probably messed up. Long game, you always have Firemane Angel to win with, if you give them the courtesy of losing to Firemane Angel. Essentially, you want to play an aggressive game where you make them answer your burn spells (again Hellkites and Demonfires and Helixes) while you build a hand of Blue cards to refill with. Once they are either dead or your Red cards are exhausted, you switch to your Blues and let them lose to your extra cards. Late game Firemane Angel recursion usually takes it home. The only flaw in this plan is an active Akroma. Optimally, you are gaining life from discarded Firemane Angels which means that Akroma wont be able to kill you so fast… it just makes their Remands really good, without the pressure from Akroma they wouldn’t nearly be enough.
Gaining life is good against non-beatdown decks; that’s why this deck shines, I think. Usually you want to discard Firemane Angels instead of Akroma and Hellkite. If you’re facing a beatdown deck and holding Resurrection you have a dilemma – otherwise, you just want to start gaining life. Beatdown might be able to do twenty damage to you, but if you’re still at five or seven life with an upkeep phase looming on the horizon where you’ll gain yet another two life, they probably aren’t winning. Control decks similarly have problems closing the deal – you do, after all have Wrath of God. This is where the second plan to beat Dragonstorm comes into play.
If you gain life, you are making it very hard for them to win. Mihara’s deck can storm for six and deal 32 damage to you. If you’re at 33 and holding a Wrath of God, they are probably not going to beat you. Considering the speed with which Mihara’s deck should be able to kill you, this might not be good enough… but it’s a plan. They can’t always storm for six as fast as they can cast Dragonstorm. If they under-storm and you have Helix into Wrath, you just bought yourself a ton of time to get out of the danger zone. Also, if you have Akroma in play (which you might, off an early Resurrection) one of their Hunted Dragons can’t get through and they’re on a clock. I’m not saying Dragonstorm is favorable, but it’s comfortable.
Tron is the matchup I didn’t want to face, and I think it grew in popularity, literally, as I stood on line to register for the event. They have an outrageous mana advantage and their counters are superb against you. Wildfire isn’t the best against you thanks to Flagstones and Boros Garrison, but it is still good for them if they can get you down to two mana while they maintain five or seven thanks to Signets and Tron lands. Then comes their threats and never-ending card drawing – their deck has a lot of velocity, Cantripping and digging through their deck for cards they need while they have very few dead cards against you. Your plan against them is to stick an early Akroma. Then they lose. They won’t ever get to Repeal it, and they can’t even chump. It’s just game over. Later in the game, sticking Akroma is still good, but their options increase with their mana supply, so this isn’t an optimal pairing. Originally our sideboard plan was going to be four Disenchant, four Annex, and three Stone Rain. This would allow us to out-mana opposing mirror matches that opted for an Annex / Wildfire strategy, as well as disrupt the opposing Tron. However, land destruction alone doesn’t cut it, and the fact that you’d need a good draw out of your sideboard along with a fast reanimation spell for it to work probably wasn’t good. We were throwing around Zur’s Weirding on the mailing list, but didn’t include it in early sideboard plans, though once we thought about it more it was hard to beat (theoretically). We decided that if two was good during the Team Constructed format that took place earlier in the year, three was surely better. Indeed, I was pleased with the Weirdings throughout the day; also, having an extra seven or eight sideboard slots certainly didn’t hurt.
The day before is sort of "exciting." You show up to a foreign city needing to get about seven cards, and you can’t ask too many people without raising suspicion. All the dealers were sold out of Bogardan Hellkite before I managed to navigate the line (an insane, insane line to get registered and into the evening’s player dinner). I didn’t think much of this, assuming it was indeed the standard fare. New cards are always in the most demand, and cards like Bogardan Hellkite which are in most of the control decks (Tron, Solar Fire, Angel) and Dragonstorm – of course it would be in demand. You go back to your hotel sleeve up, register your deck, chat, borrow cards. You try to sleep but wake up at 4:30am only to find out that everyone else is awake already. You lie there, trying to go back to sleep… it doesn’t work. Soon the chatting starts and yeah, you’re awake.
Showers, breakfast(s) (may or may not have double breakfasted on Wednesday) and you walk to the site, waiting. Everything takes forever, anxious to play.
11am rolls around, and round 1 pairings are up.
Round 1: Jirapongtrakul, Boonch [THA.]
I think he was a team member. He was playing Blue/Green aggro and took a while with his mulligan decisions. The first game he didn’t mulligan, and I thought I was winning after a profitable Wrath, but I had no gas and flooded out. His late game morph turned out to be Willbender, and suddenly my Demonfire wasn’t so great. No Blue cards were seen on my side in this game. And after everything, I lost to his second Stonewood Invocation. Games 2 and 3 (he took the mulligan, finally, in game 3) were not much of a contest, as my deck came to play. Nothing to see here really, I won a good matchup and was feeling good. The first round is always nerve-wracking, this was no different.
Round 2: Lee, Sang-Ryeol [KOR.]
He was familiar looking, as was his name. He played a Tron deck but it was not traditional. Blue/White splashing Fetters (it seemed, in game 1). He showed me no creatures, save a Draining Whelk. I won this game with a Demonfire for five after my Firemane Angels had me up to 41 life. He cast a pair of Wildfires this game, neither of which were very good for him (as in, I was happy he did it.) He feared me getting into the 8-10 mana range, which is a respectable fear, but still, Wildfire hurt him more than me this game. Game 2 I boarded still as if he were a standard Tron deck. Game 2 is going along and I drop Zur’s Weirding. It resolves and I’m happy, as I already have an Angel in the graveyard and I can’t recall, but I think my hand was fine too. Unfortunately, his hand was much better, and it contained Millstone and Circle of Protection: Red, as well as Rewind. This essentially locked me out of the game since he could control my draws and I hadn’t damaged him enough to actually kill him. He was free to make me discard the good cards. So I basically killed myself this game. Game 3 we battled for a while and he dropped Muse Vessel, which I gave him a couple cards (Sacred Foundry and Repeal). Then I Disenchanted it and he Repealed something of mine instead of his Muse Vessel (very good for me). I got my own Muse Vessel but he dealt with it (Fetters? I don’t remember how…) When I played Zur’s Weirding he Remanded it, I had four mana left and played it again. He revealed three Lands and Fetters, I already had two Angels and the game was over.
Round 3: Shuuhei Nakamura.
Shuuhei was playing Katsuhiro’s U/W/b Tron deck with Teferis and Urza’s Factory. Basically the greediest deck ever: game 1 is going badly for me after he mulliganed and drew tons of extra cards. Of course, no matter how bad it looks I can always play for the long game Demonfire, and I am doing so. He has me Spell Burst locked with roughly forty mana, he has a few assembly tokens and a Teferi that he eventually lets me block with a Firemane Angel. Eventually the score is 14-8 my favor and I have just Demonfire in my hand. He has about three cards, one of which is definitely Spell Burst. On my upkeep I do nothing, drawing Flagstones of Trokair, I happily and foolishly play it, searching for a tapped dual land and my lone Plains. I point a Demonfire at him and he casts Commandeer. I lose. Game 2 I have a good mana draw with a pair of Signets and a lot of Blue action. His draw is also very good and I of course run out of action after the initial burst. I stick a Hellkite and he plays Circle: Red. At this point my hand is Wrath and Weirding while his hand is five unknown cards. I have an Angel in the yard and decide that I’ll lose to a really good hand either way, but if his hand is bad maybe I can win with the Weirding. Well, indeed it was the former and his Double Spell Burst, two other counter plus random card hand defeats my essentially blank hand as his Circle of Protection: Red meant I could never really kill him before he locked me up. After the match I asked if I had indeed messed up in game 1, and he politely informed me that I would have won if I had just gotten back Angels for two turns. This certainly didn’t help things.
Round 4: Olle Rade.
Hall of Fame, how lucky, Olle seemed nice enough. I never really talked to him – he played before my time. He was in town staying at a friend’s house, vacationing. How convenient that there was also a Pro Tour to play in. Olle was playing Dragonstorm without Dragonstorm, as it turns out, though this isn’t what I was expecting. Game 1 my solid draw is nowhere near good enough, as he Ignites Memories for six getting me from 23 to 3, following with Howling Mines and a second Ignite a few turns later to finish me off. Game 2 his draw is very good, and I get a fast Akroma. However, it isn’t nearly fast enough as a flurry of Clockspinnings, Lotus Blooms, Ancestral Visions, and Howling Mine-fueled-dark Rituals end in a blistering pair of Grapeshots that take me from twenty to zero with three points of damage to spare. This, I found very unfortunate.
Round 5: Chris Flaaten.
Chris was playing the awful Norwegian Black/White Martyr deck. I am not sure if it is actually awful, but it seems to be a smattering of cards they thought were good, or would be good, and not much more. For a beatdown deck its spells are expensive and torn in opposite directions. I guess a few of them did well in the tournament, or maybe not. Unfortunately game 1 he killed me with a Paladin En-Vec, as once again I failed to draw Blue cards or Firemane Angels until it was far too late. Without gaining life a creature deck like Chris’s can just ration their creatures past your Wraths and slowly whittle you away. I didn’t have enough action that game. I knew he was boarding in Arenas and he already showed me Faith’s Fetters and Temporal Isolations, so I boarded in four Disenchants, but it was for naught as he drew not one or two but three Phyrexian Arenas. For a few turns I had a chance to kill him: he had a Firemane Angel of mine Temporal Isolationed and was hovering around ten life with the three Arenas in play. I had Condemn for my Angel and a Lightning Helix, but that was after researching and running out of mana, of course – on the next turn, he decided “better safe than sorry” (his words, out loud) and Fettersed the Angel as well. From there, he drew into a White Martyr and his lone Adarkar Valkyrie, which he sideboarded in (I don’t know why). He gained about thirty life as I sat there waiting to lose. It wasn’t very fun.
Round 6: Leong, Felix.
I recognized his name from Magic Online, where he owns both FelixLeong and FelixLeong2. He was playing Zoo. Apparently, he had tested non-stop online and did quite well. Sam Stein was sitting near us and commented that he was playing Felix’s deck. Felix smiled non-stop and was quite happy to be playing Magic it seemed. I was jealous.
Game 1 was very close. My hand didn’t allow me to cast Lightning Helix on turn 2, so I opted to cast it on turn 3 rather than taking an extra three damage. He followed with an extra guy and my Wrath swept. He had about three cards and I Researched, but didn’t see any more life gain. He burned me to about two before I found an Angel. Once I got to about five life I re-bought the Angel into play, and a post-combat Demonfire for nine sealed it. Game 2 wasn’t close as he kept what was probably (can’t know for sure) Temple Garden, Savannah Lion, Savannah Lion, Watchwolf, Cryoclasm, Cryoclasm, Lightning Helix. I don’t know if this is a good hand to keep, if he draws land-land he probably beats me, as it was he didn’t draw a land for quite a few turns and my Akroma outmatched his Savannah Lions.
Last year I went 4-2 but I was playing for 5-1 in the last round of the day (as in, I was 4-1.) This year I had to battle for 3-3. 3-3 isn’t where you want to be – you have your work cut out for you. You can’t stumble, you need to have a good Extended deck and you need to get lucky. Basically no room for error with two days to go, all of this had me feeling pretty down. I was hoping for 4-2 or better but I must admit, the field was just so absurdly random. I mean, look at what I played against. Six different decks! Sure, some of them played the same cards or had similar strategies but there is just no way to predict your course in a field like this. Six rounds, too, is a small sample size.
The last thing I want to share with you for this is a small sideboarding guide, as I didn’t really go into depth about it.
Against creatures you can generally outclass them with any of your spells. You want to board into the most efficient deck that you can, so that your late game actually comes to fruition. You have six cards to bring in, generally. Trickily enough, all of your maindeck cards are “good” against creatures. This means you want to reduce the number of bad opening hands you get. Also, Demonfire is your weakest card against creatures. Often creating nothing but a bad trade (mana for mana+1 or +2 sometimes, depending on their guy, this is not optimal.) So, immediately you are removing four Demonfires. Now, I think that the next thing you want to do is shave the eight-mana creatures in your deck. You still want to draw Resurrection so that you can combo them on turn 4, given the chance, but I think taking out one Akroma and one Dragon, or two Akromas is the right way to go. Bogardan Hellkite is basically a 5/5 Wrath of God. I often try to get it killed in combat, taking out their remaining guy and a card from their hand is roughly four cards and after that they usually simply don’t have the gas left in the tank to beat you. I think that Akroma is obviously a good card, but against a fast creature deck she doesn’t do enough. Yes, all those abilities are still not enough.
Against control your strategy is different. As I was saying above, Firemane Angel and Demonfire are the game plan. Everything else is a test spell. Once you get to enough mana you start casting stuff. They deal with it. You refill, then they generally are too far behind. Make them use their mana poorly, Bogardan Hellkite has Flash, Resurrection is cheap, test, test, test. They have to deal with it or die. In these matchups all of your eight-mana creatures get value even once they’re dead. Either six from Haste (Akroma) or five to the face from the Hellkite, one-for-one and 25% of their life is nothing to scoff at. It adds up, especially when you have to count up for Demonfire, or should I say when they have to count up for Demonfire. Game 2 and three you can play for Zur’s Weirding fairly effectively. Once it’s in play they need an answer in hand, should they have any in their deck to begin with, and if they don’t have one they aren’t drawing one. That’s a lot of value from a four-mana card. This is also a key in our sideboard strategy. You see, our sideboard is structured to board in a lot of cards against control. Only four of which are easily “fit in.” I’ve written a lot on the topic of strategy dilution in the past and it is tricky. If you don’t know that you’re doing it, if you’re unprepared for it, it will hurt you dramatically. However, the power of Zur’s Weirding allows you to basically completely shift focus and not have to worry about that in this case. Against most control decks you will take out Wrath of God and Lightning Helix. Against Teferi, Condemn is worthless, so you won’t bring it in, and of course you’ll leave in Wrath of God, if you want it.
So that’s eight out. Usually, you’ll want to bring in around thirteen cards, and the last five cards you take out are two Resurrections, two Hellkites and one Akroma. This leaves you a small reanimation package to mise with, but it smooth your opening hands and prevent you from getting draws that are too slow, as well as giving you plenty of reactive and anti-control cards to fight the mid-game with. Not to mention your big guns in the form of Zur’s Weirding. Repeal is good against most control decks, and was recommended to me to board it in, but I don’t think its good enough to bring in. you need to keep in some quantity of threats in case a Weirding doesn’t show up early enough. In game 3 I found myself boarding in the other Akroma, in favor of a dragon, because of opposing Circle Reds. While I could Disenchant, I’d much rather just have a White creature if I could, since Disenchant is so valuable in all the matchups. I never drew enough Disenchants, I literally always wanted to draw another one. If I had it to do over again, I might have played some Hide / Seeks just to proxy extra Disenchants, that’s how good they are in these matchups. I’d also probably have run one Godless Shrine to play the other end of the card, too.
Then against the combo decks… it’s tough. They are vast and varied. Against Olle I boarded out two Hellkites and all my Wraths and I boarded in Disenchants and Repeals. I didn’t want to get nuked by Ignite Memories again, then he goes and kills me with Grapeshot… but I still think my sideboarding was correct for that matchup. Against regular Dragonstorm I think you want to board out Wrath for Disenchant, but you also probably want to have Condemn to protect against Hunted Dragon, since after the twenty damage from Hellkites you are planning to still be alive and they’ll need to hit you with Hunted Dragon as well. The only problem with all of this is that they have lots of time against you so they can probably Gigadrowse you. If you manage to get to 33 they probably won’t beat you, though, assuming they are Mihara card for card. A proactive strategy involving Zur’s Weirding might work, but you have to remember to counter all their Telling Times otherwise they can just get the missing parts. Of course, if they have a Dragonstorm in hand they might beat you anyway, but I think it’s not really a great matchup. I was willing to accept that going into Worlds and it didn’t really make up a large chunk of the metagame, which was good for me.
My next article will cover the draft portion of the event.
Thanks for reading,