Years ago, people wrote tournament reports. The good ones covered the event, gave round by round results — including information on both how the match played out and on play and sideboarding strategies. They were once the best source of strategic advice. Times change — but I want to revive a lost art. I’ll also promise lots of decklists, and some under the radar deck ideas, since I spent most of the tournament out of Top 8 contention.
Traditionally, tournament reports start with travel anecdotes. I was going to skip that, but the reason I traveled almost a thousand miles instead of playing in the PTQ thirty miles away on the same day is relevant. Simply put, the usual Colorado HJ was headed for Kuala Lumpur, and the other local L3 wanted to play. Ingrid volunteered to Head Judge the event, and I tagged along. I have two brothers living in the Denver area, so this was an excuse for a visit.
We flew out early Friday, and stopped at the store where the tourney was to take place. I still needed a few cards, and wanted to see what they had. They had — not a lot. Everything I needed was sold out. I had brought four decks — or at least the primary components of four decks. I had Dredge, Intruder Alarm Elves, Death Cloud (minus several planeswalkers), and Contested Cliffs (minus a Stomping Ground and some random stuff.) The store did not have a Stomping Ground.
I was the “substitute judge” — meaning if Ingrid needed another judge, I would be putting on stripes. My preference, however, was to play. As it turned out, I almost didn’t. One judge couldn’t make it, but Mike King, the local judge who wanted to play, offered to judge instead. I did not argue very hard — and since Mike was not playing, he could loan me a Stomping Ground.
As I mentioned, I had trouble choosing a deck. I own two Tarmogoyfs, and don’t have the budget to buy a playset. That meant I could not play Next Level Blue / Countertop Goyf, Doran, or other good decks. I am also short of Garruk Wildspeakers, so Death Cloud was not really an option. (Okay — I could play Death Cloud, but with just two Garruks and one Liliana Vess, the deck is nothing special.)
I have played Contested Cliffs Rock decks in the past. Actually, I have played a ton of varieties of Rock decks in the past, splashing for everything from Gifts Ungiven to Armageddon. Rock is fun to play — and since I was going to be playing eight rounds, I wanted something enjoyable. Intruder Alarm Elves is a one-trick pony: you either get the combo or you don’t. (Okay — once in a while Elf beats actually works, but you can’t count on that.) Rock at least lets you play the game — and play many turns into each game.
Before Tom LaPille has a complete heart attack, a quick note. I was not playing to qualify, but to have fun. Playing to qualify requires a different mindset — one of paying for the Goyfs, playing tight, and giving your opponents no outs. It also requires bluffing the opponents into errors — and can often result in nasty judge calls. Even if I do not skate the line, imagine the situation if I call a judge on my opponent for something, and it gets appealed. Now my wife has to decide an appeal that can give me an advantage, or possibly a game win? Not a good situation.
That does not mean that I was going to let my opponents cheat, or ignore penalties. However, it did mean that when my opponent presents his deck, I will give it a desultory side shuffle (you are supposed to shuffle at Competitive REL), but I am not going to count it. I was also very careful to announce and explain anything that might be confusing, and so forth.
I should list what I played. It is similar to Jerret Rocha’s list from Louisville, but with some tweaks.
4 Contested Cliffs
4 Wooded Foothills
3 Bloodstained Mire
2 Overgrown Tomb
1 Godless Shrine
1 Temple Garden
1 Stomping Ground
1 Blood Crypt
1 Treetop Village
4 Pernicious Deed
4 Living Wish
3 Cabal Therapy
4 Sakura-Tribe Elder
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Ravenous Baloth
2 Eternal Witness
2 Flametongue Kavu
1 City of Brass
1 Giant Solifuge
1 Indrik Stomphowler
1 Eternal Witness
1 Viridian Zealot
1 Gaddock Teeg
1 Loxodon Hierarch
1 Kataki, War’s Wage
I replaced one Flametongue Kavu maindeck and the one in the sideboard with Shriekmaws. Shriekmaws couple nicely with Genesis, but FTKs kill Dark Confidant and artifact creatures, like Arcbound dudes and Ornithopters. Likewise, the Viridian Zealot in the sideboard works well with Genesis to provide a reusable enchantment kill that is not stopped by Dovescape (provided you can get Genesis into the graveyard.) The Treetop Village was not necessarily correct, but I love my German Legacy Villages, and wanted to play it. It won at least one game. Finally, Extirpate trumps Leyline in the Dredge matchup, because only Dread Return is really problematic.
Rocha played four Cabal Therapy, three Duress. I cut a Cabal Therapy for a Thoughtseize, because I have not playtested nearly enough. I was not sure how accurate I could be shooting blind Therapies at opposing decks.
I had several other cards I wanted to include in the sideboard. The last couple cuts were Thrull Surgeon, Withered Wretch, and Bane of the Living. Thrull Surgeon is a reusable (with Genesis) Coercion — for the low, low cost of 4BBG. Withered Wretch has long been a favorite wish target against Dredge and graveyard combo, but I just could not find room. Bane of the Living is a massive board sweeper — but it also costs a ton to use and reuse.
Some people might wonder why I had no Chameleon Colossuses in the deck. They are Beasts, and they are very cost effective. I just don’t own any, and the store had none for sale.
Round 1 versus John Peskitt (Zoo)
I lost the die roll here. I kept a nice anti-combo / control hand, with Cabal Therapy and Duress. He opened with fetchland into Stomping Grounds and Kird Ape. My Cabal Therapy named Goyf. He revealed a fetch, Overgrown Tomb, Dark Confidant, Vindicate, and Steam Vents. Confidant hit the table, and although I did eventually kill it, it was too late. He drew well, I did not. Game 1 came down to me dropping a Ravenous Baloth, with Cliffs on the board, against two Kird Apes and a Hound. The next turn I could start stabilizing. His hand was empty, but he ripped a Vindicate, killing the Baloth before combat.
I sided out the Duresses and Thoughtseize for the Stomphowler, Kataki, Gaddock Teeg, and Witness. These are not particularly useful, but Duress cannot chump.
Game 2 I pulled a decent hand, albeit slow. It had some land, Cabal Therapy, Birds, Putrefy and a Baloth. I opened with Birds, then Therapy firing blind and naming Goyf. His hand was double Vindicate, Lightning Helix, lands, Kird Ape, and Grim Lavamancer. I traded the Birds for the Vindicates. He drew Dark Confidant and Goyf over the next two turns, but Treetop Village slowed me a turn, so I could not Putrefy until turn 4. At that point I had to kill Goyf instead of Bob, because Goyf would kill me too quickly — but that just meant I died to card advantage. I did manage to drag the games out eight and twelve turns, respectively, but never drew a Deed to pull myself out.
Matches: 0-1, Games 0-2
Round 2 versus John Marking (Tempting Wurm)
I was on the play, but mulliganed a bad hand into a hand with Birds, Deed, and double Putrefy. I dropped Birds, and he killed it with Funeral Charm. I did nothing much, while his turn 2 was Duress, Cabal Therapy. I remained stuck on two lands while he dropped Bob, then Erhnam Djinn, then Tempting Wurm. I offed the Wurm and Djinn with Shriekmaws, but we both drew lots of blanks. I died with nine land in play, while Bob nearly killed him. I certainly didn’t draw anything to help matters along.
My sideboarding was random, since I had no idea what was going on. Shriekmaw came in, and one FTK moved to the sideboard where I could find it with a Wish.
Game 2 I double mulliganed. That is a great strategy against a discard deck, but my hands had one Contested Cliffs and no other mana. The second hand was five lands and a Cabal Therapy. His hand, by comparison, had Thoughtseize, Cabal Therapy and a turn 3 Hyppie that proceeded to randomly hit the good cards before I could cast them. (e.g. turn 4 my had was two land and a Monger which would have hit the next turn — he got the Monger.) It wasn’t pretty.
Here’s his list.
This was a very frustrating match to lose. Much of the match we were both playing with empty hand; or at least apparently empty hands. A couple times he wasted discard spells when all I was holding was a land or two. Both games went a dozen or more turns, the first over two dozen. I could not draw any significant threats, and the few that did hit the table died to removal.
Matches: 0-2, Games 0-4
For anyone thinking about taking my advice on deck choices or design, remember this. On the other hand, since Ingrid was there for the duration, I was not about to drop.
The store was in a small strip mall. The mall also had a small, storefront Mexican restaurant with less than a dozen tables. Most of the players descended on it. I volunteered to get lunch for the judges. They got a list together, I went and stood in line. And stood in line, and stood in line for over half an hour. Eventually, I got back, and had to eat while playing. Fortunately, I was at the very bottom table, so we had some room to spread out.
The food was good. However, maybe sending the 150 or so players to a Mexican restaurant for a lunch featuring lots of beans was not the best idea, considering they were going to be packed into the store for the next many hours.
Round 3 versus Scott ??? Chase Rare Control
A quick apology: I cannot read my notes, so I have no idea who I was playing. That means I don’t have his decklist. (Okay — technically I probably do have his decklists, somewhere in the pile of 140, but I have not identified it. It looked pretty typical of the genre, however.) I’m also not too sure that my memory is correct.
Game 1 I get a decent start and rip up his hand a bit with discard. He begins operating off Top, Chrome Mox and two artifact lands, but I rip Living Wish and fetch Kataki. This slowed him down enough to let me kill him.
I sideboard out a Cliffs for the City of Brass (color screw, not pain, is the problem), and bring in almost all the 5cc creatures. Counterbalance those, if you can. I also brought in Solifuge, because it laughs at Shackles and Threads of Disloyalty.
Game 2 is weird. He gets Counterbalance down, but I actually die to Bob wielding a Jitte. He didn’t counter anything significant — I just didn’t play anything significant. Then Goyf came down. Once again, I would have won if at any time I had drawn a Deed.
Game 3 I had a bit of discard and a fast Birds. He got down Countertop and Top, but had too little mana. I, on the other hand, dropped a couple Spiritmongers in a row, with regeneration mana left over.
Matches: 1-2, Games 2-5
Not really a comeback, but at least I won.
Round 4 versus Robert Schiemeyer, Affinity
For the first time all day, I was on the play. My turn 1 Birds was followed by a turn 2 Duress, which showed Shrapnel Blast, Nexus, Seat of the Synod, Frogmite, Thoughtcast. I took Thoughtcast. Turn 3 I ripped Living Wish, and cast Kataki. He had two land, an Ornithopter and the Froggie, so when he untapped, he traded his board for a chance to kill the Kataki with Shrapnel Blast. He never recovered.
I sided out the Duresses (Affinity typically has nothing in hand) for the Stomphowler, Genesis, and Witness — stuff that can chump. He dropped some stuff, and knocked me to 7, but I killed the critical things — including an Enforcer via FTK. I was the beatdown, while he had to chump my Baloths. Eventually, he played Pithing Needle naming Ravenous Baloth, because that was far more relevant than Deed.
I noticed this summary makes the game sound fairly straightforward. Not exactly true — in at least four situation in game 2 I had to make the right play in order to survive, but I have played Rock verses Affinity a lot. I made the right plays.
No Tarmogoyfs: maybe he didn’t have them either.
Matches: 2-2, Games 4-5
It was already feeling late at this point. The tournament started about 10:30 — half an hour after the scheduled time, mainly because the crowd was far bigger than expected. Judges were still scrambling for chairs throughout round 1, and tables were a bit scattered, since we were playing in a comic book store, and ended up wrapped around the display cases and book racks. On the plus side, the judges were getting rounds turned around really quickly — averaging about a hour despite having to fight the crowds to get to pairings, then back into our seats.
Round 5 versus Tyler Kozal, Red Deck Wins
This was the first time I faced a deck running Countryside Crusher, and I was curious to see it in action. I was less happy to see the turn 1 Kird Ape, but at least my turn 1 Cabal Therapy — fired blind but naming Goyf – hit twice. The rest of his hand was 2 Bolts and the Crusher. Flashing back the Therapy took the Bolts.
I don’t have a lot of notes on this, but I do remember having a choice of taking a Crusher or Lavamancer out of his hand, and taking the Lavamancer. This let him cast the Crusher — and I waited until it had milled some land before offing it with Putrefy. At that point, lands would have been more useful to him than another spell. He had been forced to cast Devastating Dreams shortly beforehand, and had nothing much left in play.
The games were close. My life total stood at one at the end of game 1, while in game 2 I doubled that. I do remember one possible misplay — I was close to dead, with a small number of chump blockers. He played out both Lavamancers and another Ape — meaning that I was unquestionable dead if he swung the next turn. However, I had been holding a Deed, and wiped his board.
Matches: 3-2, Games 6-4
A winning record is at least a step up. I’m out of contention, but I might still win packs. In theory, I might even take home the very last Amateur prize to be awarded in the Denver area.
Round 6 versus Ryan McLellan, Opposition
I don’t think this is a good matchup. I did manage to kill three Spectral Forces, and had him dead on the board (to Treetop Village) the next turn, when he ripped and dropped Static Orb. Unfortunately, I had used my Putrefies to kill the Forces, and Orb was there until and unless I dropped Deed. However, he proceeded to rip Scryb Ranger and Jitte, and killed me before I could get any opposition going.
I sided in the Genesis, Stomphowler and Shriekmaw — and even Kataki – for some of the more random and expensive stuff — and possibly some Duresses. I don’t remember for sure. I do remember leaving the Zealot in the sideboard as a Wish target.
Game 2 he opened with three Coiling Oracles in the first couple turns, and managed to fire off a Beacon of Creation. He also resolved Opposition. The critical play — or at least the one I will remember longest – happened early on. I played a turn 4 Genesis via Birds, and he countered it. However — and this sort of bone-headed stuff is why I don’t qualify — he countered it with a Remand. I didn’t think: I heard “counter,” and I binned the Genesis. Neither of us noticed until a half dozen turns had gone by. I got a warning for game play error, he for not noticing my error. It ended up not mattering, although I did have Shriekmaw reversion going for a while, because he soon ripped Static Orb, then dropped a Spectral Force. I was locked out and dead, even though he made some mistakes in tapping my stuff.
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Wirewood Symbiote
- 4 Wood Elves
- 4 Coiling Oracle
- 3 Scryb Ranger
- 3 Spectral Force
Matches: 3-3, Games 6-6
I’m not sure which was worse — making the mistake, or the fact that the judge (who knew me) didn’t bother investigating whether I had done it on purpose. He know me, and has watched me make stupid mistakes like that in causal play all the time.
Great reputation, eh?
Round 7 versus Jeremy Grey, TEPS
It seemed like most of my day involved me, playing an old favorite deck, playing against other players playing old, favorite decks. This time my early Duress or Thoughtseize reveals Mind’s Desire, Tendrils, Rite of Flame, Xantid Swarm and Chromatic Star. I take Desire, then manage to clean out the rest of his hand. I have a Baloth ready to beat and a Monger in hand, then I draw…
Apparently I was more upset about screwing up in the last match than I thought. I call a judge for failure to desideboard and we are off to game 2.
The Shriekmaws and FTKs leave, to be replaced buy anything that can disrupt or beat.
Game 2 I also begin with a Birds, and wreck his hand a bit, then Living Wish for Gaddock Teeg and drop it turn three. After that I proceed to draw five lands, a Deed and three Birds of Paradise. Gaddock beats him to 8 life, but I have no threats and no more discard. Eventually he assembles a good hand, and plays Lotus, Rites of Flame, Cabal Ritual, Burning Wish for Grapeshot, kill Gaddock, Desire. His first four reveals are garbage, but number five is another Desire, and he wins.
I made at least one misplay here — he had a Wild Cantor in play, and I did not Deed it away. The turn he went off, he had exactly enough mana because he could use the Cantor.
Lesson: make enough mistakes and you lose.
Sometimes the lessons are profound, sometimes not.
Matches: 3-4, Games 6-8
If anyone ever wondered why I am not Premium…
Round 8 versus Mark Gerken, Breach Hulk
I find out later my opponent started the day 4-0. It went downhill from there — and I am, technically, paired up.
Game 1 is strange. He plays Ponder a couple times, and drops Sakura-Tribe Elders. I drop a Baloth. The next turn, he concedes to my Duress. I have no idea what he is playing. I saw 2-3 Ponders, several Sakura Tribe Elders and lands.
Game 2 I have a lot of discard. His opening hand has Seething Song, two Through the Breach, Summoner’s Pact, and lands. I take Song, while a flashed-back Therapy takes the Breaches. I then start beating with a Baloth, and he chumps with Elders. Finally, he hard casts Protean Hulk and starts beating. Since all I have in play is a Baloth, I am losing the race. Finally, at the end of his turn, I Putrefy the Hulk — figuring I have both Deed and another Putrefy in hand, and have to kill the Baloth next turn in any case. He then proceeds to go off: fetch Body Double, Reveillark, Carrion Feeder. Body Double came into play as a copy of the Hulk, and he fed it, and the Reveillark to the Feeder. This Hulk fetched another Double and some Mogg Fanatics. After that, sacking the Reveillark to the Feeder means that he can keep recurring a Body Double and a Fanatic, then sacking the Fanatic until I’m dead.
Should I have know about this deck? Yes. Had I done my homework? No.
For game 3 I removed some creature kill for the Extirpates. I mulliganed once, to get a hand with some discard and an Extripate. An early discard card (Duress? Thoughtseize?) saw Mogg Fanatic, Cunning Wish, 2 * Seething Song, Summoner’s Pact, and lands. I took the Wish, and later the Pact. I dropped a quick Spiritmonger, and waited three turns while he blocked with Fanatics. Once all three were in the bin, I Extirpated them EoT. It was fairly academic after that.
Matches: 4-4, Games 8-9
I ended up finishing 47th out of 146. 4th is good. 7th is okay. Put them together and it is pretty damn bad — but I actually enjoyed the day. Hopefully some of you enjoyed this view into the tournament experience from someone who did not make Top 8.
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