In a recent article, Teddy Cardgame said, “everybody wins [in the Tournament Practice room on Magic Online]. I now understand Flores’s addiction to testing here.” Everyone wins? Let me check my Webters — yup, I’m included in “everyone.” Ted says I will win — me, with my decks! Hey — he’s a Premium writer —could he be wrong? Let’s find out.
Now, Ted’s serious about Magic. It’s his job. He plays to win. He does some serious playtesting, and works with pros. I’m casual about Magic. I play to relax after a long day arguing with attorneys. I’m a sloppy player, and don’t really test, and I change decks more often than I change underwear.
What I mean to say is that I change decks every couple games, several times per day.
I don’t spend a ton of time tuning any one deck. I build it, play it a bit, and move on.
My online collection has grown to several thousand cards — and now includes at least one of all the painlands except Shivan Reef. I have two Overgrown Tombs, and four Birds of Paradise, and one Wrath of God. Six Razia’s Purifications! (Okay, I traded two away, but I had six.)
Seems worth testing out.
Okay, I’ll take four random deck ideas. No netdecks (since I don’t have the cards for anything. Really. Ever tried playing Heartbeat Combo with one Heartbeat and three Early Harvests?) Nothing stolen from other writers (well — nothing I will admit is stolen.) Then I’ll take them to the tournament practice room and play five matches. If Ted is right, I should win three out of five.
A caveat on this article. I could have titled it “Taking Your Trash to the Tourney Room.” If Craig takes the time to put these decks into decklist boxes — the ones that break the deck down by everything up to and including shoe size — then ignore the “This deck is recommended for the Standard format by…” I don’t recommend these for anything — they are just the best I could do with the cards I have.
I’ll start with something that I have been playing around with for a while. In some of my early Eighth Edition leagues, I opened a pair of Wildfires and a Magnivore. A precon and a rare draft or so later, I had my four ofs and began building around them. I still don’t have the lands for UR Wildfire, but I have built Wildfire decks in every other mix of colors. This is one of the better ones. It would be better if I had more than two Savage Twisters, etc., but…
One thing before we start:
Cue the old Dragnet theme: Start voiceover:
“The events you are about to witness are true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.”
No names. Would you like to be known as the guy that lost to these piles? At least one premium writer might lose that status if I let his name slip.
Ooh — foreshadowing….
Okay — time for the event. Into the tourney room I stride, walking tall and proud. Well, figuratively. I actually slide a digital arrow around, tap my little rodent and drink some soda while waiting for the room to load, but you get the idea.
Match The First:
I advertise a game, get a response and I’m all set. Time to play.
Surprisingly, I’m nervous. This is worse than a tourney — if I don’t win, I have no article.
No fricken way.
I glance over at Ingrid, to see whether she has logged on to her computer, created a new account and built a deck just to hose mine – all in the last two minutes. Nope. My first opponent really has cast the one card that hoses Land Destruction decks, and done it as the first spell in the first match. Of course, I have no idea why he cast it turn 2 on an empty graveyard, but I cast Rampant Growth to cover my confusion.
(Okay, I had a pretty good guess what he was playing, and why, but where’s the drama in saying so?)
He dredges, plays it again on turn 3, and then bounces the Forest to play a Dimir Aqueduct. I Stone Rain the Aqueduct on my turn. I smash some more land, Grow and Reach my mana base, then swing with a Magnivore. He makes a Stinkweed Imp, but I have a Savage Twister. Finally, he manages to get out an 8/8 Grave Troll with mana to regenerate the turn before I Wildfire, but I have Rage Pits and just keep trampling over.
Game 2 he mulligans, and I blast out of the gate with a turn 4 Silklash Spider. Yes, I know, but since his only real method of removing my creatures is a two toughness flier, they seemed good, so I sided them in. I play Arashi on turn 5, then kill his Stinky and he scoops.
1-0. Yay me!
Match the Second:
I lose the die roll again, and he plays a turn 1 (foil) Stomping Ground, (foil) Kird Ape. Turn 2 sees a 3/3 bloodthirst dude, and turn 3 sees the Kird Ape get all fashionable in a Moldervine Cloak. Not that I’m doing nothing: I replied with a Rampant Growth on turn 2 and Growth, Hammer the 3/3 on turn three. Turn 4 he has another guy, but I Wildfire away his whole board. Plus side: I have two lands. Downside: I have less life. I start killing his lands as they appear, and my Magnivore starts killing him. He’s dead in two, but yanks a Mountain and a monkey throws itself in front of my ‘Vore. Then he rips a Plains and Helixes me to death.
I bring in the Blood Moons and creatures for the Stone Rains, one Wildfire, and silliness like the Sowing Salts. He mulls, but gets a quick start. I take some beats, drop a turn 3 Blood Moon, then Savage Twister away his board. I run him down. Game 3 I do the same thing, but he rips three straight Chars to kill me a turn before North Tree would kill him.
1-1 Well —what did you expect? Close, though.
Match the Third:
This game starts like we both have good decks. He plays Overgrown Tomb, tapped. I play Stomping Ground, tapped. He plays Temple Garden, tapped. I play Mountain and grow rampantly. He plays another dual land; I Stone Rain it. He plays Phyrexian Arena, and I Creep that. He drops a Loxodon Hierarch, and I drop Arashi. He Transmutes for Wrath and I kill a White source. He plays another, Wraths, then I Wildfire. Later, I have to Creep a Faith’s Fetters off a Magnivore, but Magnivore plus Rage Pits is enough to knock him to one, and since he has another Arena in play…
In come Blood Moons, and I get one early. Game, set, match. (Actually, there was a lot more game, involving Mortifies off one land and a pair of Signets, and so forth, but it was never in doubt.)
2-1 Blood Moon is so good in this format.
Match the Fourth:
This one is strange. My opponent opens with some duals, in every color available, and Remands my first Stone Rain. I am manascrewed, but manage to hit him in the head a couple times with Volcanic Hammers, and then drop a 3/3 Magnivore. He Transmutes a House Guard for Faiths Fetters, but nails the Magnivore with Devouring Light instead, then drops Zur’s Weirding. Unfortunately, I have Arashi, Wildfire and Recollect in hand, and four lands on the table. He has ten life — and I have sixteen. He has a Faiths Fetters in hand, but he has to keep me off lands — and when he pays two life to bin the first land, I Recollect the Kodama’s Reach and cast it. Pretty soon he has just two life, while I have Wildfire and Arashi. I hold Arashi — and he realizes that if I draw burn, he doesn’t have enough life to deny my draw, while if he plays the Fetters on a land or something, I will play Arashi and kill him in two turns. He scoops.
In come Blood Moons, again, and North Trees. Out go the Savage Twisters. I debate bringing in the Naturalizes for Zur’s Weirding, but since it seems to favor me more than him, I skip it. As it plays out, I nail a Dimir Aqueduct on turn 3 with Sowing Salts, nabbing another in his hand, and he never recovers. North Tree and Magnivore finish him before he can draw an out.
Match the Fifth:
I’m up against Owling Mine. He does not win the die roll, but tries to Boomerang and Eye my lands. I have opened with Rampant Growth and Reach, so I have lots of lands already in play. He plays Howling Mine: I draw my card and Creep it. I’m now way ahead on cards, so when he plays Ebony Owl Netsuke, I take four then play Stone Rain, Hammer and Growth, all on my turn.
He spends some time thinking. An ice-cold rain is lashing the house, and the thunder is booming. I’m inside playing with fire spells. What could be better?
Next turn I Creep the Owl and swing with Magnivore. Game.
I side in the Splinters, North Trees and Naturalizes for the Savage Twisters, Pyroclasms and a Recollect. I think I may have put a pair of Tin Street Hooligans in there as well — they are good against most of his deck. Anyway, I get off to a great start, he is reeling, I’m about to Splinter the Ebony Owl Netsuke and…
Big flash of lightning.
Big crash of thunder.
All becomes still and dark.
The “still” includes the hard drive, and the “dark” covers the screen and all the lights in the house.
There are lots of joys to living on a farm. Power failures are not one of them. Snuggling up in front of a fire with your wife is — which is what we did for the rest of the evening. No more MTGO that night, even once the power comes back on; we learned years ago that a close lightning strike can fry motherboards, even through a good surge suppressor.
I would have won the match anyway.
Match the Fifth, take two:
I actually win a die roll. He opens with a Stomping Ground, Kird Ape, but I have Volcanic Hammer. He has another monkey turn 2, but I kill his Forest. Turn three he swings, and then plays a bloodthirsty guy off Karplusan Forest. I cast Reach, and then Hammer the other guy. He drops two dudes, and I Wildfire away his board. A little later he has Cloak, but even a Kird Ape with Cloak is no match for an 8/8 Magnivore. This time he does not have three straight Chars.
Game 2 he mulligans to five, and has trouble with the Ryusei that appeared on turn 4 — and again on turn 6, thanks to Recollect.
5-1. Guess Knutson was right. Must be why he’s Premium.
Deck number two: Dickensian Villains.
The basic concept for this deck is Rats in Cloaks, which seemed cool while stuck in traffic on the way to work. I know cloaks and plumed hats were actually a bit earlier than Dickens, but I figured no one would get “Reformation Villains” (okay, other than Craig) [Reformation or Restoration? The latter period was far more ostentatious – Craig, history geek], and “Richelieu’s Sidekicks” seems even worse. In any case, the idea is fast evasion creatures, Moldervine Cloak and some random stuff to make it interesting.
- 3 Sakura-Tribe Elder
- 2 Okiba-Gang Shinobi
- 1 Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 2 Nekrataal
- 3 Nezumi Cutthroat
- 3 Dark Confidant
- 3 Dimir House Guard
- 2 Dryad Sophisticate
- 3 Silhana Ledgewalker
With the exception of the targets for the House Guard’s Transmute effects, this is very much an “I only own that many” deck. That’s life, and the point of the test. The deck did evolve a bit during play — this is a “final” list, although I wasn’t sure about Nekrataal over Eradicate in the side.
Match the First:
He wins the die roll and plays a Boros Guildmage off a Plains and Sacred Foundry. I make a Birds and a Ledgewalker. He drops another couple of Plains, a Selesnya Guildmage, and fries the Birds with a Helix. I drop a Sophisticate and, after he taps to make a Saproling, try to trade with Dryad for a Guildmage, but end up trading for his Seeds of Strength instead. I make a Nekrataal to off his Guildmage and put a Cloak on my Ledgewalker. He has been drawing nothing but lands and Farseeks, and scoops.
It just goes to show that, when mana is an issue, two color draft decks take three color draft decks every time.
I side out the Cranial Extraction and so forth for another Nekrataal and Arashis (tougher to burn out.) I may have brought in a Rend Flesh or Last Gasp, both were in the sideboard for brief periods, but I don’t remember. He apparently sides in lands — in any case, he hits his first six drops. I get a Ledgewalker and Dryad Sophisticate out, and get a Jitte on the Ledgewalker. His dudes — a Watchwolf and a Guildmage – die to Putrefy and Jitte counters in turn, and he scoops.
1-0, against a truly “uncommon” Zoo build.
Match the Second:
I lose the roll again, and mulligan. He has a first turn Steam Vents, untapped, and casts Sleight of Hand. I make a Birds, and he hits my Forest with Eye of Nowhere. I replay the Forest and make a Dark Confidant. He Pyros. I make a Swamp, and he Stone Rains the Forest. I do not draw another land, and scoop on turn 9 in response to Tidings. His Keiga would have killed me shortly anyway.
Game 2 we both mulligan, and I get some pressure going. He doesn’t draw much and can’t kill my Confidant. I end up outdrawing him, until the turn he taps out for Tidings. I cast Cranial the next turn, and he scoops.
Game 3 my notes say “Boomerang, Eye, Stone Rain * 3.” However, I eventually stabilize and get to four lands. He has seven lands and has just cast Tidings and Sleight, but has nothing going. I have a Birds, Putrefy, Bob, a Cloak, and Cranial Extraction. I cast Cranial and name Wildfire. Wildfire would wreck me, but leave him three mana to operate, plus whatever land he has in hand. I figure that, even if he has Magnivore, I would have one turn to Putrefy it. I look at his hand: Magnivore, Mana Leak, Pyroclasm, lands. As it turns out, he topdecks another Magnivore, casts it, Pyroclasms my Birds and swings for the win. It didn’t really matter: because I had been operating off painlands for a while already, even one Magnivore would be lethal.
Pretty clear I need some sideboard help against this deck.
Match the Third:
My opening hand has one land — the Restless Tomb. My six has one Forest and the Rot Farm. Better — and fine when I draw a Birds turn 2. He has opened with some basics and a Top, then an Elder. I make a House Guard and swing with it. I suspect Heartbeat, so before blockers I Ninja out my Okiba-Gang Shinobi to wreck his hand, then transmute the House Guard for a Cranial Extraction. He plays spin the Top and lays some lands and an Elder. I try a main phase Cranial, which gets Mana Leaked. However, I have seven mana by now, so I can Putrefy his Elder and the Shinobi gets through again. He hard casts a Drift of Phantasms, but I topdeck Nekrataal and he enters his scoop phase.
Once again we both take trips to Paris, but I get a fast start with Birds and Ledgewalker, and once again it transforms into Okiba-Gang Shinobi and bites chunks out of his hand. He makes an Elder, which chumps for a turn, but then casts Bottled Cloister to hide the one card he has left. I wait for the “hand goes away” trigger to resolve, and then Putrefy the Cloister. Next turn my Dark Confidant reveals a Naturalize, which was just icing on the cake. I had been playing for several turns with another Naturalize in hand and Green mana up.
In this match, unlike the last, I was playing decently. I know Heartbeat, and I had made a number of strategic moves that made sure neither of these games were ever in doubt — even if I hadn’t lucked into Shinobi.
Match the Fourth:
One reason I’m a bad player — I take stupid risks. This time I keep a hand with one forest, a Birds, two Cutthroats, Dark Confidant, Okiba-Gang and Ink-Eyes. My opponent wins the die roll and plays a first turn shiny Steam Vents. Uh-oh. I make my Birds, then a Dark Confidant and he Pyros. UR Magnivore Wildfire again. He has all the cards he needs (including foil 7E Wildfire) and his deck does what it does.
I sideboard as above, and split the last two games. Game two I get a fast start and run him down quickly. Game three I mulligan twice, stall on two lands, then one land, then lose. Not too exciting, and not worth a play by play. What is really surprising is how badly I am suffering against land destruction.
I also note the large number of mulligans — a ton, and all because I have no lands, or just the one Rot Farm.
Something isn’t right. I tweak the sideboard a bit (some Cry of Contritions to bring in against Wildfire, etc.) and decide to do some playtesting. Hadn’t done any of that — I just invented the decklist on the drive to work, typed it into this article during lunch break, put the deck together — clickety click — and went straight into the above matches. I mean, why bother testing — everyone wins on MTGO. However, “playtesting” means I don’t count the results, and I advertise the fact that I’m playing a rogue deck.
I play another match against a WB control deck. Wraths, Cranial, Debtor’s Knell, Eradicate, Ghost Council, Yosei, etc. I lose game 1 when he has three Wraths, two Mortifies and two Fetters in his first seventeen cards, then win game 2 with a Cloaked Ledgewalker. Game three I have Extracted his Wraths, emptied his hand Shinobi-style and I win in two attacks — unless he topdecks Mortify, and I take at least eight damage from my Dark Confidant, and he can gain at least three life. He does, I do, and he can — although I think I made a misplay in not killing my own Confidant a turn earlier. Actually, I know I made a few misplays, so I’m glad I’m not scoring this.
My opponent asks for a rematch with him playing another deck. I’m cool with that. This time he has a strange WBG control deck with a Conclave toolbox thing going. This match wasn’t interesting, since MTGO bombed during game 2 and didn’t come back quickly, so I went to bed. However, on turn 5 of one game I swung with my fear rat, Ninjaed out Ink Eyes and reanimated my only option: his Wood Elves. Then I went to fetch an Overgrown Tomb — and could not find one.
I click on the deck editor and pull up the decklist. 60 cards. No Overgrown Tombs. 19 lands. Four Nekrataals (I thought I was seeing that guy a lot.) I must have clicked on “add four to deck” instead of “add one” for Nekrataals — then didn’t notice I had never added the Tombs. No wonder I’m mulliganing and mana screwed so much. I fix the deck — and add another Sakura-Tribe Elder (and a land?) for good measure. I took out some embarrassing stuff, and have adjusted the above decklist to cover my tracks.
I went 2-2 with a seriously misbuilt deck. Now it’s fixed, and I have actually tested some. Time for the final match, but I think I’ll replace Arashis with North Trees. I haven’t seen a Meloku in a long time, and I can Eradicate Keiga (well, in theory.)
Match the Final:
I advertise for a game. No “suboptimal deck, doing the best I can” crap — I just put up a game request and wait. I get a taker, who opens with Island, Top. Cool — almost certainly Heartbeat. I open with an Overgrown Tomb and a Birds. He lays a Forest and a Sakura Tribe Elder. I drop a Swamp and Transmute a House Guard for the Cranial. He Spins the top, sacrifices the Elder and makes another. Fantastic — he isn’t even bluffing Leak or Remand, so I drop a land and cast Cranial for the Early Harvest. He plays Top games and makes a Heartbeat. I topdeck Okiba-Gang Shinobi, swing with the Birds and wreck his hand. Then I drop a fear rat and pass. He concedes the match.
WTF. That’s not how this should end.
Next match my opponent double mulligans. I play Birds, Ledgewalker, Cloak — and he concedes the match.
On the plus side, the next match is fought all the way through to the end. On the down side, my opponent is playing some form of UR combo and cannot find the parts in the top 42 cards (draws plus three Peer Through Depths) in game 1. Game 2 I put two Cloaks on Bob — while holding Naturalize and Cranial in hand. On the last turn of the game, he taps out to cast Eye of the Storm. I don’t bother killing it, I just kill him.
Okay — I really want this to end with a whole match against a tier one deck. I try once more.
This time I keep a hand with four lands, including a Wastes, two Elders and a Jitte. I play an Elder. He plays a Selesnya Guildmage. I make another Elder, then a Ledgewalker. He makes some a Wood Elves, and plays a City Tree. I drop the Jitte, equip, swing, and then use the Jitte counters to kill the Guildmage. He makes another Wood Elves, and then plays a Jitte of his own. I make my fifth straight land drop, then play a Dryad. He taps out for Yosei.
I sac both Elders, trying to improve my draws, and it works. I draw the House Guard and have the mana to Transmute for Eradicate. Eradicate removes the Yosei in play and the one in his hand. Unfortunately his hand also includes Glare of Subdual, a Loxodon Hierarch and Kodama of the North Tree. He plays the Glare, and I end up trying to race the Hierarch and North Tree with a Ledgewalker — and I don’t win that race.
I side in the North Trees, Last Gasp, Eradicate, and three Naturalizes for the Cranial, the Shinobi (to slow and probably tapped), and a mix of little, targetable guys. My opening hand has a Birds, two Cloaks, a Dryad, North Tree, and Putrefy. I make a Birds. He opens with a Llanowar Elf. I rip a Swamp, and Cloak the Dryad turn 3. He had missed his third land drop, and when he misses it again he scoops.
Game 3 he opens with a pair of Temple Gardens, all tapped. I open with a Birds, then an Elder. He drops a Wood Elves, and I blow the Elder. Next turn I play Bob and a fear rat. He drops another Wood Elf, so I gave Bob a Cloak and swing. He drops Nikka-Onna to kill the Cloak, but I had drawn a Nekrataal, so I kill the Nikka. Next turn he makes a Hierarch, so I transmute a House Guard (a gift from Bob) to fetch another Nekrataal to off the elephant. In response, he taps it and the rest of his mana to cast Chord of Calling, getting a Guildmage. I revealed another land with Bob, and draw a second House Guard. This time he has no way of sacrificing the target in response, so I fetch Eradicate and get rid of his Guildmages. I also discover that he is holding a Seed Spark — useful info. By now my fear rat and a Nekrataal have reduced him to five, and I have a couple Naturalizes in hand. Then I reveal Kodama of the North Tree, taking me down to ten life and into the range where Overrun tricks could cost me the game. As punishment for the bad reveal, I run Bob headfirst into a token — but the rat knocks my opponent to one. He draws, then concedes.
Okay — that’s was a real match, and that was definitely a Tier One deck. It was, I learned by reading StarCityGames the next morning, a Flores’ special; card for card the deck he called the best deck in the format in his most recent article. Cool — I wonder if it was Flores playing it. (Probably not.) And, no matter how you count, I have a winning record with the deck, whether the playtest games are included or not.
Knutson’s right so far.
I said I would take four of my decks and play five matches with each. I’ve only done two so far, but StarCityGames has a target length for articles and I am way over that. I’ll stop here. I can do the rest in another article, or just skip it. If you have a preference, sound off in the forums.
pete (dot) jahn (at) Verizon (dot) net