I’m heading to Grand Prix: LA this week — and I am busy building my test gauntlet. It may be a bit different than yours. I’m going as a judge, and my decks are being built for a very different format. Still — decks are decks, so I’ll try playing them. As Ted Knutson once said — “anyone can win on Magic Online.” Let’s see.
I’ll give you the first decklist, and then explain what is going on.
Note that I do not recommend playing this deck in any format whatsoever. Or, as the Mythbusters would say — do not try this at home. Ever!
Deck Number One
Is this deck crap? OBV. That’s the point.
You see, I’m doing a seminar on deck checks at a judge training conference before the GP. I built a dozen or so decks out of spare commons and draft leavings. I’m teaching how to do deck checks. One secret to teaching is that pure lecture does not really work all that well. It is a great method of imparting data, but you have to mix it up. You add questions, discussion, and lead the students on to their own discoveries.
One of the points I need to teach is that it is not a judge’s job to worry about whether a deck is built correctly or incorrectly. When deckchecking, the job is just to look at the deck and decklist for problems that might involve penalty guide penalties. You see, while crappy decks will earn game losses, it is up to the opponents to administer them, not judges.
Judges only care about the deck, decklist, sleeves and so forth.
I have no qualms about providing a few of these decklists. If any of the judges in the seminar do read this article, then they may gain a tiny advantage. Great. More power to them. Besides, the decklist above has no problems, other than being 41 cards. The deck, when I give it to the judges, will have some problems — but they are not apparent from the decklist.
For those of you who might be interested, here’s a challenge. Think of how many things — things that would get a judge interested – might be wrong with the above deck.
Take a moment to think. Instead of white space, I’ll add a bit of explanation of what format the deck is for etc. I call the format 40 card standard.
The purpose of the decks is for hands-on training in doing deck checks. As part of a deck check, the judges have to sort out the cards and check them against the decklists. Now, I could have created 60 card decks, but I am completely convinced that, if judges can sort 40 cards, they can sort 60 cards. It just takes longer, and I would rather spend my time teaching and leading discussions. Equally as important, I had to build these decks, sleeve them, and write out decklists. That all takes time.
Okay — so lets list some reasons the judge could get interested in the above deck.
The most common penalty is Deck/Decklist Mismatch. This penalty is assessed when the deck and decklist do not match. The player could be playing an entirely different deck. He could be missing a card. He could have grabbed Bant Panoramas instead of Esper Panoramas. He could have left sideboard cards in from last match. (There used to be a separate “failure to desideboard penalty” — that’s now part of deck/decklist mismatch.) He could have a card from a previous opponent in his deck. (Most of the time, this is an O-Ring or Pacifism equivalent.)
The next most common problems involve sleeves. Sleeves can be worn, torn, or folded. They can be dirty. They can be holographic (that’s a problem if they interfere with your opponents’ ability to identify the cards in play.) Sleeves can have different heights, widths, textures, or colors. If they have artwork that extends to the edge, you have to worry about whether all the cuts are the same.
As a judge, the three most common questions I get before any tournament are “Where’s the bathroom?” “When will we start?” and “Are these sleeves okay?” The answers to the first two questions change, but the answer to the sleeves question is always the same.
First, I give a caveat: “I can, but if this can change immediately if you bend or mark your sleeves the next time you shuffle — my check will not immunize you from later wear.” If the player shuffles while pressing with his fingernails, it does not matter whether his sleeves were “judge approved” before he added the fingernail marks, they will be marked after that. (As a brief aside, “marked” in this sense simply means that some of the sleeves have marks on them that make them stand out from the other cards. As to how big an impact that can have on the deck… well, that is a separate assessment.)
After the caveat, I look at the sleeves. Almost always, they are worn, but not impossible. I will tell the player: “These sleeves are worn. If I was your opponent, I not only would but should call a judge to check for marked cards, patterns, etc. The judge will do a quick deck check. That can result in anything from a “they are okay” through “replace them” to finding a pattern that can result in a DQ. The judge could find other problems, like 59 cards, failure to desideboard, etc. It’s your choice — a deck check every round, or buy new sleeves. If it were me, I’d buy the sleeves.”
The deck can also have more exotic issues. Some players still have snow-covered lands: snow lands have rotated out of Standard. Players also have cards with artistic modifications, comments, and pretty much anything else (like staples… seriously) on their cards. I have seen players playing proxies, artist proofs, world champion deck cards (gold bordered), etc.
And that’s before you worry about deliberate marking, deck stacking, or other methods of deliberately cheating.
Here’s another decklist. This one might actually be playable. The above wasn’t — because I don’t own four Tortoise Formation online, and I am not about to buy them. Here’s another deck.
Deck Number Two
First of all, I need to add enough cards to get the deck to 60 cards. 40 cards is fine for a deck check seminar, but I am not going to play only in freeform games. Let’s make some basic additions, starting with moving the sideboard into the main deck.
I really, really wanted to add four Wild Nacatl, but I can’t really justify adding too many really good cards. At some point I would be adding 20 cards to turn crap into gold, not actually playing the deck. Besides, I wanted to have some vague chance to win with the deck.
I added two uncommons because I have played too much Pauper recently.
I decided against adding commons from the base set, or Lorwyn block, because I wanted the deck to be legal in most widely-played formats. Other than Pauper, large deck formats (Prismatic, 100 card singleton) and vanguard, it is legal in everything.
I took the deck into the casual play room on Magic Online. My goal was not to advertise for games, but to just jump into the first game or match request on the list. (Okay, not the first — that was labeled “bugged, do not join” by the adepts. If someone asks for a game, then quits at just the right time, the game ends up listed but unstartable. It also just sits there until Wizards wipes it off the queue.)
Game One — Standard — Single Game
I click to join, choose my deck, and wait to start.
After two minutes, I cancel out. I suspect that the player has fallen asleep, or is in a trade. Or stoned. Whatever.
Game Two — Extended — Match
DÃ©jÃ vu. No game for me.
Game Three — Extended — Match
DÃ©jÃ vu all over again. I decide to grab the offer halfway down the list of those “waiting for players” after this.
Game Four — Classic — Single Game
This could be good or bad — depends on the opponent. If this is real classic player playing a real classic deck, I should lose quickly. On the other hand, this is the casual play room, so I may be facing a newer player with a Classic deck not quite ready for prime time.
I win the die roll. I draw my opening seven. Something looks a bit strange — then I realize that I have all foil Forests and Plains — but basic Mountains. I work in spreadsheet view in the deck builder, and just scrolled to the basic land types and added the right number. Now, I have traded all my non-foil basics off to a storage account, but I do have non-foil Jace vs. Chandra Mountains, and they were apparently on top of the stack. For other land types, the foils were the first lands added. I do have some old frame basics, too (MED, Mirage, Tempest), but whatever. Point is my deck looks like a strange mix of bling and draft leavings.
I’m easily amused.
I have a bad seven, but a decent six. My opponent keeps.
I open with a Forest, Nacatl. That’s way better than the actual deck could do, but this is Classic. Lump it.
My opponent opens with a Swamp. I’m hoping for Duress over Thoughtseize, because I’m holding nothing but lands and silly creatures. I try to imagine his reaction when he sees my handful of draft playables.
My opponent does nothing, and passes.
Hehehe. Mountain, bash you, Druid, go. Of course, “go” means go to end step, where I expect to wait for my opponent to Vampiric Tutor. Tutor means his next turn will probably involve Dark Ritual into Necropotence, or some equally bad thing.
Nothing happens on end step. Nothing much happens on his turn, either. He plays another Swamp and ends his turn. A white-bordered Swamp, at that. What is even better, the other Swamp was black bordered. He probably has a very shallow card pool. Some people go all white bordered lands, to try to fake you out and make you think the matchup will be easy. This guy might be faking — but if so, it is one of those subtle I know you’d know so I’ll mix it up further type of things. Yeah, sure. After all, Underground Sea, Brainstorm into fetchland is massively better than any advantage you could get from running white-bordered basics, so I suspect I’m not playing a tournament-quality Classic deck here.
He does off my Nacatl with Last Gasp, so it’s still about even.
I cast Gift of the Gargantuan, keeping a land and Mosstodon here. On his turn, my opponent makes Swamp, and passes. I play a land and the Mosstodon. I’m baiting Damnation, since I have more powerful stuff (okay, land, Rakeclaw, burn) in hand.
Turn 4 my opponent plays a fourth swamp, then taps them all. And he plays…
Highway Robber. White bordered.
I love casual.
Game Five — Extended — Single Game
He is playing a many colored deck, with many copies of the Alara tri-lands, Fertile Ground, and Rampant Growth. We both play lands and mana producers, and he gets the first action with Woolly Thoctar. I have an O Ring. He has another land. I have a Rakeclaw. He has more lands. I have another Rakeclaw.
He has more land, and I have the win via concession.
Game Six — Extended — Single Game
I get a reasonably fast start, but not fast enough. He drops an Essence Warden, then an Auriok Champion. I had him down to five. Then I didn’t. He dropped another Auriok Champion, then Martyr of Sands. He also dropped a Fecundity, and a Well of Lost Souls. I managed to get rid of the Well with an Oblivion Ring, but his two pro-red guys held off my beaters. After a while he played Proclamation of Rebirth. His board was two Essence Warden, two Martyr of Sands, three Auriok Champion — and his reveals had included two Final Judgments, another Proclamation, and three Ajani Goldmanes. After Ajani pumped everything twice, the Aurioks killed me.
A really interesting deck. It’s pilot — and maybe it’s creator, who knows – was KLH.
Game Seven — Classic — Single Game
Once again, I join a Classic match wondering what I might face. It is the casual room, but some idiots bring overpowered decks. This opponent isn’t one of them.
He opens with a turn 2 Odious Trow. I have a Druid. Turn 3 he Wisps his Trow, beats for 2 and drops another. I Gifts of the Gargantuan into Nacatl and Plains. He taps out on turn 4 to play Scion of the Wild, and cast Carapace (aura – +0/+2, sac ~this~ to regenerate) on it. Since he has no mana left to regenerate his Trow, I Magma Spray one at end of turn, and the other on my upkeep. From there, I dropped a Mosstodon, and he dropped Hungry Spriggan. Spirggans don’t chump block very well, not when you have tramplers.
Game Eight — Standard — Match
I join. I spend the next three minutes “waiting for host.” The game never starts. I click cancel and go looking for something else.
Game Nine — Standard — Single Game
I gamble a bit, and keep a no-Forest hand. I rip one turn 1, so it is all good. My opponent drops a Crumbling Necropolis, then some Mutavaults. I nail one with a Magma Spray, and drop… nothing. I cast Gifts of the Gargantuan and see four lands. The next turn I do it again, and see four creatures. I drop my Rakeclaw, and he O-Rings it. Hey — that’s my trick!
I rip Bull Ceredon, but he nails it with a Shriekmaw. I drop another Rakeclaw — but he has another O-Ring, and swings with the remaining Vault and the Shriekmaw. I kill the Shriekmaw with Branching Bolt and drop a Mosstodon. He swings with a Vault, then drops a Murderous Recap. I swing into the Redcap, and trade (with a bit over for trampling.) Now I have an O-Ring, so I Ring his Ring and get back a Rakeclaw. It was almost enough, but he had another Shriekmaw.
This is so like sticking your tongue to a metal pole. You just know that this game is going to be bizarre, and that you can’t win. He is going to have some bizarre combo deck that takes forever to go off — but he’ll have forever because he has a bazillion life.
It is going to go badly. Still, it’s at the top of the list. I join.
I win the die roll. I choose my life total (50) and hand size (10). He chooses 75 life and 10 cards. His deck also has 105 cards in it.
75 life! Hey — but you said…. Aw, screw it.
I have ten cards and no lands. With nine cards, my only land is a Panorama. The eight is playable.
I play some beaters. He drops a 0/5 Thallid.
Oh, goody. Thallids.
I tap out for Mosstodon, and he Mana Tithes it. Then he drops the Thallid that sacrifices a Saproling to draw a card. I mark that for death, but he drops Shielding Plax on it – before I untap. The Magma Spray in my hand laughs at me.
Is this random enough for you?
He soon drops Porphyry Nodes and reinforces his one Saproling. I burn out my Druid (my burn sure isn’t going to be doing anything else) after combat, so the Nodes kills his guy. I get in a few more beats before he drops Gaea’s Anthem, then Life and Limb (all Forests are 1/1s — meaning the Nodes kills my Forests. His are 2/2s.)
I manage a few beats, here and there, and get him down to 25. I consider that a semi-win, since he advertised for a 50 life total start, but I can’t get him further. He eventually drops an Essence Warden and enchants it with Verdant Embrace.
He finally kills me about turn 37.
Game Twelve — Standard — Single Game
He won the roll. I mulliganed, twice. He dropped a Kithkin Stalwart on turns 1 and 2, plus a Burrenton Forge Tender. The Forge Tender saves his Cloudgoat Ranger from my Branching Bolt, and I can’t recover in time. I’m dead on turn 6.
Game Thirteen — Extended — Single Game
This time he mulliganed to five, and my turn 1 and 2 Nacatls forced a concession.
Game Fourteen — Extended — Single Game
This was weird. My opponent mulliganed, while I got the turn 1 Nacatl start. He dropped three straight Saltcrested Steppes, plus a Prismatic Lens. Later he dropped a Coalition Relic and Planar Portal. By this time he should have been dead, but I was land screwed. I had a 2/2 Nacatl and two Druids, but nothing else. Then, the turn after I dropped the second Druid — also the turn after I had beaten him down to one life, he cast Brightflame — doing five to each of my guys and bouncing him back to 16 life.
Eventually — really eventually, like turn 12 — I drew a fifth land and dropped my Mosstodon. He had been chumping my Rip-Clan 2/2 with Springjack Pasture tokens — and he had a bunch because he had also found a Doubling Season, then another and then a Copy Enchantment. I beat him down to eleven life, then watched while he fiddled around. His turns took a while. He had five Doubling Seasons in play, and made 32 goats. Since he had another Pasture, I was worried that he would eat goats for life, but he just cast another Coalition Relic and passed the turn.
He started his upkeep. He put the Coalition Relics remove counters triggers on the stack, then tapped the Relics to add counters. Lots of counters. He had a pazillion mana. He Planar Portaled for a card, then played Jace (with 40+ counters), Idyllic Tutor and a sixth Doubling Season. He made 64 goats, and another 64 goats. He played Ajani Goldmane, and gave all his goats +1/+1 counters. I burned a goat in response (Magma Spray), but all the rest became 64/65s.
He tapped out without attacking or eating the goats. He was still at 7 life. I needed to topdeck another Soul’s Fire or the Naya Charm. I did not. Alternatively, I needed him to not block. If he just didn’t bock the Rip-Clan, the Soul’s Fire would be lethal. I sent the crew: he blocked. I Soul’s Fired him to two and passed.
He entered his upkeep. I hit F6 and went for coffee. He did stuff. When I got back, he had cast Angelic Chorus and Oona, and activated it for 38. He made 17 tokens, each putting 64 Chorus triggers on the stack.
He sent me a private message, saying “it seems to be lagging…”
No @#%&. That’s 1,100 or so triggers. The game locked, then crashed. Not MTGO overall — just our game. I can’t say I was sad to see it go. He had eaten the goats, and his life total was stratospheric.
I’m calling it a draw.
Game Fifteen — Alara Block Constructed — Match
This should have been my closest to even matchup, but it wasn’t. I played a Nacatl, and a Druid. He Magma Sprayed my Nacatl before I could play a third land. I had some minor beaters, and he had Blightning, O-Rings, Fleshbag Marauder, Goblin Assault, and Cruel Ultimatum. I was a bit mana screwed, but it did not matter. He had a deck that was probably tournament quality (at least before the Elspeth / Sigil of Distinction decks appeared), and he demolished me. In two games, he cast Blightning five times and Cruel Ultimatum four times.
This match pretty much put an end to this idea. It just wasn’t fun anymore. I had wanted to play ten real games, but I did not want this type of a matchup again. I logged off MTGO and did some work.
Yes, I know people say you can play anything in the casual room, etc., etc. I’m not trying to start that argument: it’s not one anyone can win. I’m just pointing out that, after playing a tournament level control deck in the casual play room, my reaction was “screw this, I have better things to do with my life.” With MTGO struggling to attract enough players, that’s probably not the image we want to project.
Whatever. I should probably be happy to have a passable record with the crap deck, but last impressions count. I had better quit now.
“one million words” on MTGO