Yawgmoth’s Whimsy #200 – Five Ways to Lose at States

Are YOU ready for States?
For a variety of reasons, I will be judging this coming weekend, not playing. I’ll babble a bit about what I would have played, then list five sure-fire ways to lose at States (in addition to playing my decks.) Everybody should them already — but I’m sure I will watch at least a ten percent of the field lose to one or more of these on Saturday. [Editor’s Note: Congratulations on article 200, Pete! Here’s to article #300!]

For a variety of reasons, I will be judging this coming weekend, not playing. I’ll babble a bit about what I would have played, then list five sure-fire ways to lose at States (in addition to playing my decks.) Everybody should them already – but I’m sure I will watch at least a ten percent of the field lose to one or more of these on Saturday.

States Preparation

I’ve known that I will be head judging my States, so I have not been doing any serious testing. What’s worse, I am one of those randoms that always plays the same deck / archetype. You know, like the guy that always plays LD or UW Control, regardless of whether the deck is any good.

Me, I play Rock variants.

I first started building G/B around the cash cards – Tarmogoyf and Thoughtseize, plus Shriekmaw, of course. It was fun, but Damnation is not Pernicious Deed. I was also having mana issues (and the need to run Birds of Paradise does count as a mana issue.) I was originally running more Green for card drawing (like Ohran Viper), but between Damnation, Wrath, and removal, the only Green creature that didn’t die quickly was Troll Ascetic. Sure, Troll plus Loxodon Warhammer is fun, but it wasn’t really all that good.

I also was having trouble against decks with Haakon recursion and so forth. I wanted Withered Wretches. (Important note: my testing was limited and may have been inbred. Take all this with the proverbial grain of salt. In my test meta, Haakon and Mystical Teachings decks were very common.)

After a while, I morphed the deck to heavier and heavier Black. Withered Wretch went maindeck, because he was just fine against recursion, or even any of the dinky little Goblins that infest so many games. He also eats Teachings, and beats for two.

For a brief while, I was playing something like this.

4 Shriekmaw
4 Hypnotic Specter
2 Shimian Specter
3 Withered Wretch
3 Nihilith

4 Thoughtseize
4 Damnation
2 Grim Harvest
2 Tendrils of Corruption
2 Profane Command

4 Coldsteel Heart
Snow Covered Swamps
Scrying Sheets

The Specters were okay, but I would have killed for some way of giving them haste. The deck also lacks card drawing – a problem that I tried to offset with the Scrying Sheets. The Grim Harvest recursion does provide a bit of card advantage as well, and you could even squeeze in the Haakon engine, if you find a way to discard him.

Note the lack of Tarmogoyfs – that was partly because I can’t get the damn things*. More importantly, I wanted to make the deck strong against opposing Shriekmaws. Being Mono-Black also provides the side benefit of not being wrecked by Detritivore.

I have tried all kinds of strange and funky things in these decks – even to the extent of playing Living End. (Withered Wretch can turn it from “truly sucky” to just “pretty much sucks.”)

I also tried adding Blue, initially for Shadowmage Infiltrator. After a while, I added some bounce (since bounce plus a Specter is good times.) Adding Blue then means adding card drawing, and that eventually means you end up with Coalition Relic/Teachings control. Plenty of other people have written enough about that.

Let’s move on to some solid advice on how to lose at States.

#1: Play Dredge.

It is a fine deck.

It only has one real problem.

No, not hate. Not that many people will be packing hate this weekend, and certainly not maindeck.

No, not because it is narrow and linear. It is a very consistent narrow and linear deck. That’s a good thing – it’s also know as being focused.

No, the main problem is that it is no longer legal. We had a set rotation. Ravnica block is gone.

Checking decklists will take longer this time, because we will be checking for illegal cards – and finding some. Someone will still have a Signet, or a Remand, or Putrefy, or Last Gasp. Or Elves of Deep Shadow. (Didn’t someone just mention them in an article on the new Standard? I can’t find it now, and the who does not matter. The point is that someone did. Brain farts happen.)

I expect at least one player to show up with a deck one block out of date. Far more common will be the player with a single bad card – and I would not be completely surprised to see someone playing G/B Elves with a playset of Elves of Deep Shadow – The Dark version. I would not even be that surprised if opponents don’t catch on for a round or so.

Maindeck errors won’t be the big problem. The sideboard is the area where I really expect to get screw-ups. Almost no one practices sideboarded games often enough. Many people never play sideboard games. People design their sideboards to help stop problematic matchups and just add traditional answers. I expect at least one control deck to sideboard Circle of Protection: Red. That’s gone folks – not in Tenth. I would not even be surprised to see a Faith’s Fetters or Defense Grid.

I also expect at least one land destruction deck to pack Stone Rain.

Remember, Ravnica block rotated. So did 190 cards that disappeared in the Ninth – Tenth Edition change. If you have any doubt about what you’re playing, double check. It beats getting a game loss and playing a few extra basic lands for the rest of the tournament.

Just to pad the word count, here’s a list of the cards that were in Ninth Edition but rotated out when Tenth Edition arrived.

Aladdin’s Ring, Anaba Shaman, Anaconda, Anarchist, Ancient Silverback, Annex, Archivist, Aven Flock, Azure Drake, Balduvian Barbarians, Baleful Stare, Battle of Wits, Beast of Burden, Biorhythm, Blackmail, Blessed Orator, Blinding Angel, Blinking Spirit, Blood Moon, Bog Imp, Boiling Seas, Booby Trap, Chastise, Circle of Protection: Black, Circle of Protection: Red, Coercion, Confiscate, Coral Eel, Cowardice, Crossbow Infantry, Dancing Scimitar, Daring Apprentice, Dark Banishing, Death Pits of Rath, Deathgazer, Defense Grid, Disrupting Scepter, Dream Prowler, Eager Cadet, Early Harvest, Elvish Bard, Elvish Warrior, Emperor Crocodile, Enfeeblement, Enrage, Execute, Exhaustion, Fellwar Stone, Final Punishment, Fishliver Oil, Flame Wave, Flashfires, Fleeting Image, Flight, Flowstone Crusher, Flowstone Shambler, Foot Soldiers, Force of Nature, Form of the Dragon, Foul Imp, Giant Cockroach, Giant Octopus, Gift of Estates, Glory Seeker, Gluttonous Zombie, Goblin Balloon Brigade, Goblin Brigand, Goblin Chariot, Goblin Mountaineer, Goblin Raider, Greater Good, Groundskeeper, Hell’s Caretaker, Hollow Dogs, Horned Turtle, Horror of Horrors, Imaginary Pet, Index, Infantry Veteran, Inspirit, Island, Ivory Mask, Jade Statue, Jester’s Cap, Kami of Old Stone, Karplusan Yeti, King Cheetah, Kird Ape, Leonin Skyhunter, Levitation, Ley Druid, Llanowar Behemoth, Magnivore, Mana Clash, Mana Leak, Marble Titan, Maro, Master Decoy, Master Healer, Mending Hands, Mindslicer, Mogg Sentry, Natural Affinity, Needle Storm, Norwood Ranger, Ogre Taskmaster, Oracle’s Attendants, Order of the Sacred Bell, Panic Attack, Peace of Mind, Pegasus Charger, Persecute, Phyrexian Arena, Phyrexian Gargantua, Phyrexian Hulk, Polymorph, Raise Dead, Rathi Dragon, Razortooth Rats, Reclaim, Reflexes, Reverse Damage, Rewind, River Bear, Rogue Kavu, Rootbreaker Wurm, Rukh Egg, Sacred Ground, Sacred Nectar, Sage Aven, Sanctum Guardian, Sandstone Warrior, Savannah Lions, Scaled Wurm, Sea’s Claim, Seasoned Marshal, Seething Song, Serpent Warrior, Serra’s Blessing, Shard Phoenix, Shatter, Silklash Spider, Slate of Ancestry, Slay, Sleight of Hand, Stone Rain, Storage Matrix, Storm Crow, Stream of Life, Summer Bloom, Swarm of Rats, Tanglebloom, Teferi’s Puzzle Box, Temporal Adept, Thought Courier, Thran Golem, Thundermare, Tidal Kraken, Time Ebb, Trade Routes, Trained Armodon, Treasure Trove, Tree Monkey, Ur-Golem’s Eye, Urza’s Mine, Urza’s Power Plant, Urza’s Tower, Utopia Tree, Vengeance, Verduran Enchantress, Veteran Cavalier, Viashino Sandstalker, Vizzerdrix, Volcanic Hammer, Vulshok Morningstar, Wanderguard Sentry, Weathered Wayfarer, Web, Weird Harvest, Whip Sergeant, Wildfire, Will-o’-the-Wisp, Wind Drake, Withering Gaze, Wood Elves, Worship, Yawgmoth Demon, Zealous Inquisitor, Zodiac Monkey, Zombify, and Zur’s Weirding.

Okay, yes, the eightieth card is a joke. It doesn’t rotate, just taps. I was just wondering if people were paying attention.

#2 Party All Night!

In most cases, States is played in a big city. Take advantage of that. Play FNM – then hit the bars. Just make sure you get to the tournament site within an hour or so of the start – after all, none of these tournaments start on time anyway.

Yeah, right.

Magic is a very complex game. Players make hundreds of decisions per match. The tournament runs many hours – typically ten to thirteen in Madison, assuming eight rounds plus the Top 8.

That’s work. By the end of the day, players are tired, and tired people make mistakes. I have been involved in a few Top 8s and watched a lot more, and players are simply not as good after a playing for a long time. Partying all night means players start making fatigue-driven mistakes earlier in the day – but it all evens out. Those players drop earlier, so they get to sleep during the Top 8.

#3: Don’t worry about the time.

This one goes along with partying all night: don’t sweat the starting time – just arrive whenever you can. These things never start on time anyway.

Actually, Legion events do start on time, or start pretty damn close to on time (and I’ll talk about that, too). The website lists the times for start of registration (9am), close of registration (10am) and start of round 1 (10:15.) When we list those times, we really mean it. If you show up at 10:30, round one will be underway and the best you can hope for is to get a round 1 match loss.

If you are serious about winning, leave early enough to arrive even if you get a flat, breakfast takes longer than expected, or you get lost. Then register as soon as you arrive.

Last year, when we posted pairings, two players came running up to complain that they were not listed. We soon discovered that they were so busy scouting / playtesting before the start that they had forgotten to register.


We don’t ask for decklists when players register – we collect decklists at the start of round 1. All we require when players register is a slip with name and DCI number (and money, of course.) It takes a minute to fill out the slip – but we still get a ton of registration slips handed in at or just before 10am. Why wait? The scorekeeper will start entering players a bit after 9am. There is no point in having him (or her) sit around for 45 minutes doing nothing, then have to enter like a fiend to get the tournament to start on time.

Here are three simple steps for getting the tournament to start faster:

1) Write legibly.
2) Include your DCI number.
3) Hand your slip in early.

We expect 150 or so people at WI states. Each person has to be entered into the tournament software. That will take the scorekeeper 10 seconds a name, if everything goes well. If the scorekeeper has to decipher scribblescribbleblotsmear, it takes longer. [I think he made Top 32 at PT: Prague… – Craig, amused] Looking up a DCI number takes even longer – especially if we have to figure out which fricken Jim Brown is playing today. At the last PTQ, we started 15 minutes late because the scorekeepers had to waste almost half an hour looking up / puzzling out DCI numbers.

Just write your DCI number down and keep it in your wallet. Better yet, memorize it or program it into your cell phone. Have it tattooed – just somewhere where you can see it, not someplace that requires assistance, and certainly not any place that risks an arrest for indecent exposure. No one wants to see that.

Next: please, people, write legibly – and if you write “look it up” in the DCI # slot, I will kick you.

Another good way to lose a game is to be tardy. I have never understood this one, but we always have a few players who go out for smoke breaks, lunch, whatever, come back late, then seem surprised when they have a game or match loss. Remember, the round starts for everyone – and everyone benefits if we don’t dawdle.

Another note – the game allows a total of three minutes to shuffle up and present your deck at the start of the round. I like to have my judges to call people on it when they are still talking – and not presenting – 3:05 into the round. The slow presenters are almost always people playing fast decks.

#4: Don’t Worry about your Decklist

Just dash something off. It’s like horseshoes, hand grenades, and nuclear warfare: all you have to be is close enough.

As a judge, the two penalties that annoy me the most are tardiness and decklist errors. They are both 100 % avoidable, are evidence of total brain farts by players and are among the most common penalties we assess.

A decklist error generally means a game loss. If you register no lands at all, you are going to start round 2 a game down. If you can’t count to sixty cards, or skip some sideboard cards, then your opponent wins game 1 without even playing a land.

Now that’s planning for success.

Don’t wait until five minutes before decklists are collected to start filling out the form. That does not work. Not only does that massively increase the likelihood of errors, but it also means your handwriting will probably suck. We don’t penalize for bad handwriting, but if you are hoping a judge might cut you some slack in a deck check, or whatever, making us struggle to read your decklist is not going to make us any happier.

Do judges cut players any slack during deck checks? Sure. Here are a couple of examples:

1) A player lists “2 Urbrorg” (sic) in the land column. If this is a Standard tournament, we judges can assume you don’t mean the original Urborg or Urborg Volcano, because neither of those cards is Standard legal. Urborg Syphon-Mage, however, is legal in standard, but if “2 Urbrorg” is in the “lands” column, the judge can probably assume it isn’t the creature. That’s cutting the player some slack.

2) A U/W Control deck lists “1 Teferi” on the decklist. That’s trickier – it could legitimately be either Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir or Teferi’s Moat. There’s even the potential for abuse here: I might prefer Teferi’s Moat over Teferi against Mono-Green beats. Of course, the judges will check that the player does not have both, and is switching, but assuming it is just an oversight, this one could get either a warning or a game loss.

3) A player lists “3 Llanowar” in the lands column in a G/B deck. Is that Llanowar Wastes or Llanowar Reborn? It could be either, and it is almost certainly a game loss for invalid decklist. It would take some exceptional circumstances to find enough slack to turn that into a caution or warning, but stranger things have happened.

But if you really want to make sure that a decklist error means that you don’t win States, try lying about it to the judges. “Some judge told me it was okay” is a favorite. Lie enough, strongly enough, and you will not only have the rest of the day free, but you will win a free DCI investigation. The DCI may even make sure you don’t have to play any tournaments for months.

#5: Don’t waste time figuring out what your deck does.

At GP: Columbus, Steve Sadin threw away a game by screwing up the combo when an opponent just said “okay” when he cast Flash / Protean Hulk. In playtesting, everyone had simply scooped to Flash.

If players build their own decks, they often know what their decks do (or at least, what they are supposed to do.) If you netdeck, however, at least make sure you understand what your deck does. Judges are not very lenient when it comes to players playing slowly because they don’t understand their own decks.

Of course, some people who build their own decks can have some fundamental misunderstandings. Here’s one comment I will have a hard time forgetting:

“I get turn 5 kills all the time. Damnation turn 4, to clear the board. Turn 5, Wheel of Fate unsuspends, and I use Howltooth Hollow to pop out Phage while draw new cards is on the stack. Suspend gives Phage Haste, so I use Shriekmaw to Terror anything in the way and swing for the win.”

His friend did interrupt, but with just to object that that did not happen “all the time.”

Those kids were amazing. I could never cram that many screw ups into one deck, or phrase it quite so concisely. It’s like one of those “Spot the Mistakes in this Picture” puzzles for three year olds.

I didn’t have to tell them that none of that works – other listeners did. The result: you won’t get to play against that particular deck this weekend. Sorry: No free winz for U. Can’t Haz.


“one million words” on MTGO

* No Tarmogoyfs: I have drafted FS a fair amount. I have never busted a Tarmogoyf. When we have been playing for choice of rares, I have twice seen Goyfs opened and I finished second and third. I have bought boxes from both StarCityGames.com and my local stores, because it is important to support the stores that let you play. Ingrid and I have received 3-4 more boxes in judge compensation. We have done mini-masters, played Sealed and just busted the packs** – and opened zero Tarmogoyfs. All that I have left are the dozen or so draft sets I have left, and I will probably bust them soon. No one is drafting the old block anymore. It looks like I may end up having to shell out the $150 for a play set. Or do without.

** Yes, busted the packs. I know just busting packs is, to some people, what sticking an iPhone in a blender is to others. Here’s my Halloween treat for them.

See this draft set?