Yawgmoth’s Whimsy #18: Lessons from GP Vegas

Okay, he didn’t win… But he did play pretty much the same deck as Pustulnik’s winning”Rock” build, and gives you some solid advice on how to play it.

I’m back from Grand Prix: Vegas. I didn’t make day two, because too much work and too little playtesting meant I made some stupid mistakes.

I played a G/B deck that ended up pretty similar to Malka’s Rock rebuild, since I wanted to recreate my G/B Survival deck. Once again, I was going to play with Wall of Roots, Birds, Plaguelord, maybe some Deranged Hermits, Living Death/Recurring Nightmare, etc. To get the mana right, I needed either Yavimaya Elder, Granger, or Land Grant – and Elder combos best with Living Death and Recurring Nightmare. As for Malka’s innovations: Phyrexian Furnace is very good maindeck, as are the obvious Pernicious Deed and Spiritmonger. I have some questions about some parts of Malka’s deck, which I’ll discuss below. (Note: Mike Pustilnik used Malka’s deck to win the GP and Mike Flores used it to win the PTQ, so take my advice with a grain of salt.)

My one-paragraph GP/PTQ report: I can lose to Sligh, but it takes amazing draws on their part and really bad ones on mine. Mulligan to double Treetop for me, double Wasteland for him is one example. Ditto Stompy. I lost to decks I crush, * and pounded decks that I had trouble against in playtesting. Of course, that might be because after the Sligh and Stompy decks, I was in the losing-to-totally-lost bracket… But whatever. Counting the GP trial, the GP and the Sunday PTQ, I went 8-6-2. A lot of that is because I am really rusty – I made a few mistakes that cost me one match and left me feeling stupid in others.

Bonus 1 paragraph report – Ingrid’s weekend: She played a land-tight three-color deck, and we knew that land destruction was the deck’s worst enemy. So she ended up playing Ponza twice (!) and Donate with Ruination again and again – and even an LD version of Secret Force. She generally drew with the Donate decks, but lost to Ponza. On the plus side, she won the Vegas Women’s Open and dominated nearly every match. Only the first match was even close, going to game 3 and ending with her at one life. She’ll write a full report as soon as she gets a chance.

What I learned:

1) My rant on Donate was probably excessive (but I had a lot of fun writing it.) I never faced Donate all weekend, and the format is actually pretty healthy and quite varied. On the other hand, it certainly has an impact on the metagame – no one runs Choke maindeck just for laughs.

2) The middle ranks of a big tournament – the ranks of those people playing for fun, without a real strong chance of making the final 8 – are a blast. I started writing about that before Vegas – I’ll finish that article soon.

3) The G/B mirror match is totally stupid. Day one, round 3 or so, I faced a mirror match. Game 1 lasted the entire fifty minutes and ended in a draw. Massive Spiritmongers stared at each other, with Feeders and Weavers sitting around making sure no one could tap stuff with Deed and sneak a fatal attack through. I spiked up birds several times and beat – but he Deeded each time. I never found Recurring Nightmare. He drew his, but he couldn’t do anything but swap Spike Feeders and gain life. He ended the game at 62 life – and I had plenty of Weavers and Walls to keep him from killing me. I guess the secret to the mirror is to get a fast draw against a bad one, or to have some special sideboard tech.

4) Spiritmonger is good, but not amazing. (I had opponents topdeck – literally – a Swords to Plowshares the turn after I played the Monger five times during the GP, and watched the beast get plowed many more times during the weekend.) The Deranged Hermit probably belongs – he has more symmetry with Plaguelord and Recurring Nightmare and doesn’t worry as much about Plow, but he fears Perish more.

5) If you play G/B in the next few weeks, expect the mirror and lots of G/B hate.

6) It is critical to get an Elder into play if possible. Once he resolves – and if he is not immediately Plowed – your mana problems are over. If he doesn’t, the mana can be tight. That is a weakness opponents can exploit, and something to be concerned about. I lost a match because I kept a hand with no green land, two Wall of Roots and two Elders – and my opponent played a turn 2 Meddling Mage naming Wall of Roots. (Followed by turn 3 mage naming Deed, and a Turn 4 Mage naming Monger – plus a Crusade to seal the deal. I was toast, but I probably should have mulliganed that hand. My bad.**)

7) I talked to my opponents about the mirror match and mirror match tech. I think I have some, but I will probably play the deck next weekend, so no freebies. And even if I gave it out, take another look at my record. Playtest all my ideas thoroughly – they may not be all that solid.

8) The Tranquil Domain in the sideboard is more useful than it may appear.

Here’s the deck as I would play it today.

4 Bayou

3 Treetop Village

2 Llanowar Wastes

2 Dustbowl

8 Forest

4 Swamp

2 Spiritmonger

2 Deranged Hermit

1 Phyrexian Plaguelord

4 Wall of Roots

4 Birds of Paradise

4 Yavimaya Elders

4 Spike Feeder

2 Spike Weaver

4 Duress

4 Pernicious Deed

2 Phyrexian Furnace

2 Vampiric Tutor

1 Living Death

1 Recurring Nightmare

The first change is converting one Swamp, and maybe one Treetop Village, to Llanowar Wastes. I frequently couldn’t get to two green mana quickly enough to save the game. I think the painlands solve the problem, but I’ll need to test some to make sure. Again, double-check my recommendations – the Treetops win matches against control, so losing one hurts some matchups.

I could also end up taking out a Weaver or Wall of Roots for a third ‘Monger, or possibly a second Plaguelord, but I am suspecting that people will be maindecking more ways to deal with ‘Mongers next weekend. ‘Mongers are better when people don’t have answers.

The sideboard is still something I am mulling over – I’m not sure I have enough data to make reasonable recommendations here. Start with Malka’s sideboard – it is pretty good, although I really liked the Bone Shredder I had added. Beyond that, consider what hate you will have to deal with (Meekstone? Aura of Silence? Light of Day? Ensnaring Bridge? More effective hate I don’t want to remind people of?) and how you can win the mirror. That’s all I will say for now.

This deck beats Sligh and Stompy pretty reliably. Wall of Roots slows the beats enough to get out a Weaver or Spiritmonger, and then everything stalls until the Deed wipes out their forces and you win.

Games against the control decks packing Call of the Herd are trickier. Phyrexian Furnace is important, and if you can get the Gaea’s Blessing, that’s a plus. You can often get the win by stalling, pulling counters with Duress and the like, then either getting through a ‘Monger or Living Death. Choke out of the sideboard is good, but one of the strongest plays against control has been playing Elders early (and often) to fuel Dustbowl. That tactic is almost good enough for me to worry about Teferi’s Response in the sideboard for my Walamies build, or in Oath decks.

Against Oath decks, take out all the mana critters, play carefully, and get a fast Phyrexian Furnace into play. I played against at least one Oath deck each day, and I don’t think I lost a game. Sideboard Edicts help, but stopping the Oath and beating with Treetop Villages is even better.

Playing U/W/x decks comes down to two things – having Duress nail each Swords to Plowshares before it gets the Monger and not having a Meddling Mage naming Pernicious Deed stay in play. If you can do that, you win. Your creatures are better than theirs.

The matchup against Three-Deuce seems to come down to drawing Wall of Roots – not Bird of Paradise – early. The wall stops the beats long enough to clear the board with Deed, then you begin beating down with spike dudes and Treetop Villages. Having two spike dudes attacking has proved much better than a ‘Monger. The Monger just goes farming, but the opponents generally try to hold the Swords back and block the spikes. I have had very good luck moving spikes back and forth to save creatures – and moving spike tokens onto a Treetop Village catches people by surprise way more than it should.

Stasis is a big pain. You want an explosive start – so just keep playing threats and attacking. Drop a Deed if you can, then hold mana open to Deed away Stasis during the opponent’s end step. Wall of Roots is pretty good – being lucky is better. Unfortunately, part of the key to this matchup is knowing when to give up on game 1 to make sure you have enough time for games 2 and 3.

Reanimator is a strange matchup. If they get a turn 2 Avatar of Woe, you have probably lost. If you get a fast Furnace, you probably win. If neither of these happens, the game gets interesting. Good players draw Phyrexian Furnace – everyone else has to Vampiric Tutor for one.

Winter Orb decks – Orb Stompy, Frozen Fish, etc. – are a pretty simple problem. Stall with Spike Feeder, Spike Weaver and the like, get mana from Walls and Birds, then use Pernicious Deed to untap and cast Monger. It’s a great theory, but I blew it in practice. My opponent was playing Stompy, had several River Boas out, and was beating me down. I Duressed, nailed the second Orb – emptying his hand – and cast Deed. I couldn’t blow it that turn. The next turn I blew the Deed during his attack step, but he had drawn another Orb. I could have – and maybe should have – blown the Deed during his end step, but I gambled and lost. Something to think about when playing against the Orb.

One final note on Phyrexian Negator: This guy is either great or completely worthless. I had good luck playing one in my Survival build, but only because I could chuck him when necessary, and because he comboed very well with Krovikan Horror. I faced two decks with Negator this weekend, and both folded to a simple expedient: Wall of Roots with a single Spike counter. Think about it.

That’s enough for now.

Hey, if you haven’t tried Extended, come on in. The format is fine.


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* – In both examples, we played a few games for fun after the match was over. I smashed them every game. Sideboarded or not – they won the first two games, I won the next half dozen. Unfortunately, only the first two count on the match slip.

** – I also have a horrible poker face – unless I’m concentrating really hard, my draws and problems are transparent. Definitely a bad habit, and probably why my opponent knew exactly what to call with the Mage. That’s why I’m a casual player at heart – I have a lot of fun, but I’m way too obvious to beat the best. If you want more from this game than a couple of T8 pins and a bunch of stories, emulate the fun part, but keep your face impassive until the match is over.