A quick disclaimer – I realize, in the grand scheme of things, that there are a lot worse things that can happen to you than a run of extraordinary bad luck playing Magic. Ultimately, this is just a game, and while it’s a game we love and a game we invest a lot of time and money and mental energy on, it’s still just a game.
That said, this is a column about Magic, and bad-beat stories are a time-honored tradition. At first I thought I was banking some karma on Saturday for a Top 8 run on Sunday, but as the unlucky breaks kept rolling on Sunday I realized perhaps the point of my weekend was to write a modern-day Magical Greek-style tragedy. Perhaps the point is to share with my readers that, no matter how bad your day or days go, things could be worse so don’t lose your faith in the game.
On the way home Sunday evening, I decided to summarize my weekend thusly: if there were a Magic Bible, my weekend would be the Book of Job. Mishra and Urza decide to visit upon me supernaturally bad luck to try and break me of my love for the game. I played decks across multiple formats, and like beloved children these fine and healthy 40s and 60s and 100s are met by random and tragic violence.
A lesser man might have sold his collection to the fine folks at Star City on the spot and walked away forever…
Let’s go back to the beginning. Not just to last Saturday, but way backâ€”back to when Mirage came out.
I’d tried Sealed deck a few times before, starting with Ice Age, but Mirage was the first time where I’d been able to read up a little bit about the format and figure out a game plan. When I laid out my cards I realized I had some pretty good cards across all the colors, and since I had really good mana-fixing, I decided to go ahead with five-color, splashing red/blue for a flier because I was lacking in that department. That flier was Frenetic Efreet, and it would go on to become quite popular on the Constructed scene; that day, it did its work frustrating people in my 40 stack. I ended up winning the tournament, with the final game decided by that Frenetic Efreet, after having luckily phased away from two pieces of removal, suited up with an Armor of Thorns and cruised over for a few attacks for lethal.
Though the tournament was just a small, local one I still found it thrilling to win, and so I started traveling to Limited PTQs and events… and just failing miserably. I never opened a sealed pool as sick as the one from the Mirage event. Sometimes it would be absolutely wretched, sometimes it would be okay but I’d get smashed by LotsaBombs.dec and knocked out of contention. Sometimes I’d just get miserably color or mana screwed and bang my head on the table in frustration.
Eventually I started asking myselfâ€”why? Why are you subjecting yourself to this? And especiallyâ€”why are you getting up at the crack of dawn, traveling far distances, and then subjecting yourself to the random hell of Sealed deck?
At this point, I’d built up a deep and passionate loathing for the format. I enjoyed Drafting just fineâ€”in that format, you at least had some semblance of control in what your card pool looked like. I stopped traveling to Limited events, except the occasional prerelease tournament, and eventually they came to Richmond and I started working the events, which was much more enjoyable (to me) than playing in them.
So, flash forward to a few months ago, and I notice that StarCityGames.com has a “double-PTQ” weekend scheduled in November. I check the format, and am disappointed to see its Sealed deck. Now, I’ve got some good friends who loved Limited and Sealed deck, and we often discuss what they consider my irrational hatred of the format. Zendikar is a cool set… and so I decide what the heckâ€”it’s been years since I turned my back on Sealed deck, maybe I should give it another chance? Isn’t this long-standing grudge a little juvenile for a man of my age?
Friday night before bed I try and mentally purge all the distaste for Sealed from my heart and mind, to flush the poison out, get a fresh start. I wake up and feel pretty goodâ€”yes, even a bit excited, and drive to the Richmond Convention Center. I’m smiling, I’ve got a positive attitude, and I’m really looking forward to this.
So, deck registrationâ€”the oldest clichÃ© in Sealed deck is staring me right in the face: the insane card pool you’ve got to register and pass to someone else. The Red and Black is deep and is literally a checklist of every common and uncommon you could possibly want, lots of removal, and quality creatures topped off with Malakir Bloodwitch. While there’s no reason not to just play Red/Black, just for the heck of it the White is strong too, and the Green and Blue are both decent.
Utterly ridiculous. I write “congratulations” on the registration sheet, and sadly pass it three seats to my left. I shake it off though, and eagerly check out my actual deck.
It’s actually pretty goodâ€”I can play Red and Black, and while it’s not insane like the deck I registered, it’s got a lot of good things going for it. Plenty of removal, a bomb in Ob Nixilis, aggressive creatures (a Lacerator, 2 Plated Geopedes, 2 Bladetusk Boar) and a red/black ally chain that includes the Diabolist to possibly suck away the last few points of life after my opponent stabilizes. I even have some great consolation raresâ€”Scalding Tarn, Day of Judgment, and Luminarch Ascension (the White was really weak, and I thought the Red/Black was strong enough not to splash for the white bombs).
I could win this thing, I thought.
Round 1 I’m shuffling up and the guy who sits across from me… is the guy I passed the deck to after deck registration. Are you effin’ kidding me?!
“Oh man, you’ve got that ridiculous deck,” I moan.
He shrugs. “It’s alright.” Playing it down. Yeah, right.
When I present my deck he pile shuffles it, counting the cards. “I may need to know how many cards you’re playing,” he explains. I laugh; I know he doesn’t have Hedron Crab, and I know his deck won’t go to time. If I can’t kill him quick then I’m losing.
The games aren’t even close. He comes out the bat swinging, he is indeed playing Red/Black, blows away my creatures, and plays the Bloodwitch both games. The two-game slaughter takes maybe 20 minutes. Perhaps sensing the superior deck, my deck sputters and doesn’t really muster any of what I know it can do.
I glance briefly skyward. Really? I really had to play round 1 against one of the most ridiculous card pools I’ve had the pleasure of registering? A card pool so sick it really didn’t matter that I knew every card he had in his deck ahead of time? Out of nearly 200 people playing, I get that guy?
I shake my head to clear it. The next game has to be better.
And it isâ€”Round 2 my deck performs as it should, getting the quick Geopede beats early on, finishing the match with by playing turn 4 Sell-Sword, turn 5 Tuk-Tuk Grunts, turn 6 Grunts, and turn 7 Diabolist.
Round 3 my opponent leads with Adventuring Gear. Then he plays Goblin Bushwhacker and Explorer’s Scope. Turn 3 he equips the Bushwhacker, plays a land, attacks and hits a land with the Scope, of course. He plays another Scope. Turn 4 he equips, plays another land, attacks and hits with both Scopes; I throw a chump blocker in the way. This goes on for turn after turn, I draw no removal, and he keeps hitting landfall triggers until I run out of chump blockers and he kills me. The second game is nearly identical, only he has two copies of Adventuring Gear and just one Scope equipped to the Bushwhacker, but the constant hitting landfall triggers and my swift death remains the same.
I’m a bit stunned at this foul bad luck (or, from the other side of the table, ridiculously over-the-top good luck). Seriously? I hardly ever hit the Scope’s trigger the few times I’ve tried it, and I’m playing Adventuring Gear myself but have considered cutting it because of its inconsistency.
Okay. Deep breath. There’s another PTQ right here tomorrow. Perhaps I’m accumulating some karmic points that will come to me ten-fold tomorrow, right?
I drop out and sniff around the side events. The first Standard Win-A-Box has just filled up before I get there, with a friend jumping in with Eldrazi Green. I’ve also got an Eldrazi Green deck, built just like Kali Anderson with a few tweaksâ€”I cut down to two Ant Queens and added a fourth Garruk, and I made room for Fogs in the sideboard as per Kali’s suggestion (she was sweet enough to answer my email asking for some tips on playing the deck). I want to give the deck a try because… well, it’s Mono-Green! So I enter Win-A-Box #2, and when it fires up I go sit with my first round opponent.
Turns out my opponent is the fellow who I crushed badly in Round 2 of the PTQ. I joke with him about his opportunity for revenge. He pulls out two deck boxes, undecided. “This is the deck I usually play,” he says. “Then this is a deck I thought up the other night when I couldn’t sleep, but I haven’t had a chance to play it.” He thinks a minute or two, then picks the new deck.
On turn 2 he plays Howling Mine and I get extremely nervous. Maybe it’s just an awful deck? No such luckâ€”he’s playing a Turbo Mill deck, with Days of Judgment and various White “Fog” to keep me from winning before he decks me with Archive Traps (which tend to love Nissa Revane and searching up lands from Paths to Exile) and other milling cards. He annihilates me game 1, game 2 I manage to run him out of answers and finish things with an Ant Queen. Game 3 runs much more like game 1.
I ask him what the other deck was he usually plays. “Jund,” he replies.
Meanwhile, my friend playing Eldrazi Green in the first Win-A-Box beats a couple Jund decks on the way to winning a box.
Okay, so how about Elder Dragon Highlander? EDH won’t let me down!
We get a four-man EDH fired up, and I’m deciding on my general. Typically in these EDH side events, somebody comes with some nutty combo deck that tends to go off quickly and it’s not at all laid back like the EDH games we play at the game shop. I’ve got Rofellos and Sharuum which are definitely high-powered… but chatting with the other three guys, they seem much more laid back, so I decide to go with Doran, which is chock full of amazing synergy with Doran, but definitely isn’t high-powered.
My opponents are Verdeloth, Jhoira, and… Arcum Dagsson. Uh-oh.
As we shuffle up, the guy playing Arcum mentions he does have a turn 1 kill in the deck, but he never gets it. That obviously sets off some warning bells, and yet when the Jhoira player plays a Mindslaver and activates it, he targets… me. I’ve got Doran and Tireless Tribe in play, so his plan is to discard my hand and leave me not much. Doran’s equipped with Slagwurm Armor, so he attacks Arcum with Doran and Tireless Tribe, pitching my hand except for one card and taking Arcum to 2 points of life.
Then he casts the one card leftâ€”Route, to kill everyone’s creatures (and of course I had the most creatures out). His plan is to kill Arcum during his turn (cast Jhoira and equip with Lightning Greaves), but Arcum gets to go before he does. Arcum’s got Mycosynth Lattice already in play, so of course he plays March of the Machines and nobody has a counterspell for it. We all lose our lands and can no longer use any we draw.
What’s crazy here is that I had a Harmonize in hand, so during my Mindslaver turn he could have cast Harmonize to have enough cards to kill the Arcum player and still cast Route. If I’d been left alone I would have killed Arcum; even though I could not recall what the evil combo was with Mycosynth Lattice, I knew it was brutal and he needed to be taken out quickly.
Jhoira and Verdeloth have zero non-land sources of mana and so they’re completely locked out of the game. Fun. Arcum’s got a ton of artifact mana so he’s fine. I happen to have Coalition Relic and Wall of Roots in play, so I have a little bit of mana to find one of my several outs (Mortify, Putrefy, etc.) but after five or so grueling turns he finally drops Forge[/author]“]Darksteel [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] and flashes a Nev’s Disk and it’s all over.
One of the least satisfying and most boring EDH games I’ve ever played.
Bad beats, unlucky breaks, and sheer stupidness across three different formats in one day. No mas, I’m done. I tell myself that, yes, I am accumulating a heckuva good karmic pool that’s going to propel me to a Top 8 pin tomorrow and possibly a ticket to San Diego!
On the plus side, my buddy Jay is on a tear with his more mediocre sealed deck, pulling out all possible tricks to keep him at X-1. The final match of the Swiss, he’s exhausted and when his opponent offers the draw he takes it, even though there’s a small chance he won’t make Top 8 depending on how the guys who’re playing the final round finish up. Jay tells me he doesn’t think his deck has another win in it, and when he plays his opponent just for kicks the guy beats him in two games. Drawing was the right play.
The round’s over, the numbers are crunched. His opponent makes it into Top 8. Jay is at 9th place.
Jay had to park a crazy distance away from the event due to the Richmond Marathon going on that morning and closing off the major road that runs by the Convention Center, so I offer Jay a ride to his car with a stop-off for a beer on the way. We go to Third Street Diner, a great “dive” that’s near VCU that both of us used to frequent in our younger years (though my era was before his time). Things are a little different at the Diner these daysâ€”the waitresses are dressed very provocatively with a lot of skin showing, and while that’s nice and all, the atmosphere seemed more seedy than hip. Our waitress was ridiculously curvy and since it was a slow night she was very attentive, so that was a pleasant way to wrap up an otherwise profoundly disappointing day. I gave her a good tip and got a hug. In the words of wise Borat, “Eeets niiice!”
Onward to Day 2!
I start the day registering a pretty strong card pool — with a Day of Judgment and playable White — but it’s not nearly as disgusting as the one I registered on Saturday. I get passed a pretty good poolâ€”the Red is very strong with Geopede, two Boars, Torchslinger, Burst, Punishing Fire, Seismic Shudder with Elemental Appeal and Obsidian Fireheart. The black has some decent removal, but the creatures are all bad. I look over at the green, and it’s pretty decent, with a Harrow and Khalni Heart Expedition to go with my Geopede, Adventuring Gear, and Baloth Woodcrasher’s landfall. Besides, I’d like to accelerate into lots of mana to activate Fireheart and possibly kick with Appeal. Armed with red/green and what I’m convinced is a boatload of good karma I set off to win this thing!
The first two games in round one are pretty good, with the momentum shifting back and forth and each of us eventually taking a victory (with his victory on the back of me overextending into his Day of Judgment). The last game is a blowoutâ€”he’s got that fast 2/3 flier that hits early, then a Geopede and landfall triggers, with a Hookmaster to tap down my blocker for the win. He literally drew like a constructed deck while I flailed about with the typical clumsy Sealed draw.
Tighten it up, Smith, I tell myself. Good karma, good karma, good karma, just ready to wash over you…
Round 2 my opponent comes out fast backed with good removal, and when I try and stabilize the board he drops a World Queller and I’m done for. I’m now one game away from a complete wash-out. Focus, good karma, I tell myself. I look at my opening hand, one land. I mulligan into six cards, no land. I mulligan and this time have Burst Lightning, three lands and Boar. Keep. On his turn he plays a Trusty Machete, and then on turn 2 drops Cliff Threader. I’ve drawn a Fireheart but not a fourth land. Do I go ahead and Lightning the 2/1 mountainwalker now? I’m down three cards already… so I’m guessing that the right play is to pass the turn and then hope to time walk him when he goes to equip the Threader and killing it in response. Hopefully he won’t have anything else to play, and maybe I’ll draw a land and play Fireheart.
Feels like the smart playâ€”trying to make the best of a bad situation, right?
So he goes to equip the Cliff Threader, I hit it with Burst Lightning… and he plays Shieldmate’s Blessing to prevent the damage. Then Cliff Threader smashes me for four points of damage for the next five attack phases.
Just like that, my “give Sealed Deck another chance” weekend is over. The bitterness and hatred for the format washes back in, filling up the nooks and crannies of my Magic-playing soul. As I check the drop box, I calmly note to myself that I may have very well played my last Sealed deck ever this weekend. On Monday I tweet: “Dear Sealed Deck Format: gave you another chance, you’re still an asshole.”
After dropping, I jump into another Standard Win-a-Box, this time playing my hybrid Elf/Trap deck very close to what I posted last week. Round one I’m paired against Jund, who methodically kills off my acceleration elves and then buries me in 2-for-1s while his Putrid Leech gets up close and personal. Round two he mulligans, but hits me with a Blightning and a Mind Rot so he’s doing pretty good. Expecting the discard, I carefully craft my plays so that after the assault (and thanks to two Elvish Visionaries) I’ve got a Summoning Trap in hand and five lands in play. I rip a Forest off the top, and play Trap during my main phase, finding a Sphinx. Since Jund has only gotten me to 17 life, he scoops. For the last game I’ve got to mulligan, but have an okay hand. He comes out fast with Bloodbraids and Leeches but I’m drawing removal and chumpers to keep my life total high. I’m doing pretty good, going through three Elvish Visionaries digging, and once I hit six lands all I need is to draw that one Summoning Trap… 17…14… c’mon… 8… c’mon!!
Even at 8 life I would have been in pretty good shape if I’d just hit the Trap (assuming of course that I found the Sphinx). Sigh.
Dejected at the heinous run of terrible luck, with nary a whiff of good karma to show for it, I turn one last time to my favorite format, EDH. This time I resolve to play something powerfulâ€”my Rofellos deck, or perhaps the Sharuum equipment deck. While I won’t necessarily go for the throat, I do want to have something powerful enough to go after whatever jerk off thinks it’s cute to bring his combo deck to the EDH side events.
While I wait for the queue to fill, I play a little 1-on-1 EDH against a friend. He’s playing Kagemaro versus my Baron Sengirâ€”yep, it’s a battle to see who’s the most evile! He proves evilest by casting turn 2 Demonic Tutor and then playing what he tutored the next turnâ€”Sword of Light and Shadow. Oh, most unfair and foul! Lucky for me he’s shy on creatures, so I get some early Vampire beats down before he finally gets a creature down and equipped. I’ve a Repentant Vampire in play and once I hit threshold he can’t play a black creature without me killing it, and since he’s got a Maze of Ith in play along with a Vesuva copying the Maze, we’ve got a dÃ©tente working. I draw Mind Twist and nuke his hand, and the Baron cackles with glee. I’ve got Blood Tribute in hand, and finally draw a Demonic Tutor of my own to go get Wound Reflection and play it. Unfortunately, my opponent end of turn Vampiric Tutors for a Mind Sludge and nukes my hand. Curses!
The EDH queue fills and it’s off to play a four-man: it’s my Rofellos against Rith, Kagemaro, and Sharuum. The guy playing Kagemaro is signed up for a Standard Win-a-Box, but he wants to give EDH a try so we let him run as long as he can. Unfortunately for me, having a Mono-Black Kagemaro deck makes things very rough for Rofellos and my heavy creature focus, and between him and the Rith deck being extremely concerned about my big mana production, Rofellos dies six times. Lucky for us, Kagemaro’s Standard queue is called and he has to leave after having a huge handful of cards (thanks to Reliquary Tower), a Mirari in play and Cabal Coffers, pretty much dominating the board. After that Sharuum looks like the next most threatening, and Rith goes after him hard (while occasionally slapping at me too); I try to keep my head down while they slug it out, and Rith finally takes down Sharuum the turn before he’s about to fetch up Voltaic Key with Tezzeret, playing Disk, untapping it and blowing up the world.
Now it’s me and Rith; she’s told me this is her Warp World deck but she never gets to actually play Warp World when she plays the deck. Since I have a lot of permanents in my deck — and tons of permanents in play — I decide to lay off a bit and give her a chance to play that most awesome of spell just to see what happens. My mistake was thinking that the Warp World was just a random Warp World thrown into her Rith/token deck, as opposed to it being Warp World in a Warp World engine deck. My alarm bells started going off when she started going nuts with Cloudstone Curio, so I destroyed that with the Tornado I’d kept out a few turns as an emergency problem-solver. Then she played Warp World, and I actually had 1 more permanent out than she did — I think it was like 31 to her 30 permanents (most of my permanents were Forest). After the dust is settled, she’s got an Anarchist in play and gets back her Warp World for another go. This time she’s got like 26 permanents to my 18 permanents, but I’ve got a bunch of mana floating (she has Mana Flare in play) so in response I activate Tower of Fortunes and copy it with Rings of Brighthearth to draw 8 cards.
The Warp resolves and she’s got Anarchist again… but this time I have some responses! I managed to Warp into Vedalken Orrery, and one of the eight cards I’d drawn was Primal Command, so I get rid of her graveyard and go fetch up a creature (Myojin of Life’s Web). Whew!
She’s still got a ton of mana, so she uses Duplicant and that white creature from Time Spiral block that you play but then return two creatures back to your hand (leaving behind some soldier tokens) to replay Duplicant and remove a bunch of my creatures to leave the path clear for her weenie swarm to kill me on her next turn. At the end of her main phase I play Myojin as an instant from the Orrery, and then use the special ability to throw a ton of big beatings into play, including a Darksteel Colossus, Tornado Elemental and a Mossbridge Troll. I play Rancor on the Troll, play a huge creature drawn fresh from my hand (there’s a Howling Mine in play) tap it and a few other smaller dudes to make the Troll huge and swing with everybody for the win.
I feel incredibly fortunate to escape from the Warp engine after being foolish enough to sit back and wait for it! Okay, so maybe a little bit of that good karma I’d been banking all weekend finally leaked out to me.
For those who are interested, here’s how my Rofellos EDH deck looks currently:
1 Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary
1 Dark Depths
1 Expedition Map
1 Vines of Vastwood
1 Gaea’s Touch
1 Magus of the Library
1 Sakura-Tribe Elder
1 Sylvan Library
1 Eternal Witness
1 Kodama’s Reach
1 Loxodon Warhammer
1 Rings of Brighthearth
1 Staff of Domination
1 Thousand-Year Elixir
1 Umbral Mantle
1 Yavimaya Elder
1 Chameleon Colossus
1 Masked Admirers
1 Oracle of Mul Daya
1 Skyshroud Claim
1 Solemn Simulacrum
1 Sword of the Paruns
1 Tower of Fortunes
1 Vedalken Orrery
1 Willow Satyr
1 Forethought Amulet
1 Memory Jar
1 Minion Reflector
1 Primal Command
1 Seedborn Muse
1 Seedguide Ash
1 Silklash Spider
1 Timber Protector
1 Weatherseed Treefolk
1 Child of Gaea
1 Deadwood Treefolk
1 Eternity Vessel
1 Gaea’s Liege
1 Lurking Predators
1 Planar Portal
1 Rampaging Baloths
1 Urza’s Blueprints
1 Akroma’s Memorial
1 Allosaurus Rider
1 Krosan Tusker
1 Mossbridge Troll
1 Panglacial Wurm
1 Spearbreaker Behemoth
1 Tooth and Nail
1 Tornado Elemental
1 Myojin of Life’s Web
1 Patron of the Orochi
1 Woodfall Primus
1 Verdant Force
1 Vitalizing Wind
1 Darksteel Colossus
1 Chord of Calling
1 Mikokoro, Center of the Sea
1 Reliquary Tower
1 Sapseep Forest
The newer stuff:
Vines of Vastwoodâ€”Rofellos dies a lot. And I hate it when someone bounces Marit Lage. This should help when I draw it.
Magus of the Libraryâ€”needs moar card draw.
Oracle of Mul Dayaâ€”of course, right?
Willow Satyrâ€”I’d kinda forgotten about this stellar green gem!
Primal Commandâ€”no longer riding in my Standard boxes, I threw one immediately in here!
Duplicantâ€”a removal spell you can use in Mono-Green.
Allosaurus Riderâ€”whenever I play this deck I’ve always got lots and lots and lots and LOTS of land.
Darksteel Colossusâ€”my copy had been MIA until recently, definitely has a home in this style of deck.
This Sunday is the Jay Coffman Memorial Tournament; it’s Standard, and I’m not sure what to play. Summoning Trap into Sphinx of the Steel Wind remains a very potent weapon in the current metagame, especially with Eldrazi Green elbowing into the upper Tier. The Elf/Trap hybrid didn’t seem the right way to go, but I had an interesting thought recently while I was contemplating Pyromancer’s Ascension without using Time Warp (since I don’t own a Time Warp but I have four Pyromancer’s Ascension). Check this out:
I’ve seen Naya Charm do some nice work in setting up Pyro Ascension, so I set up a Naya-based Ramp deck with early removal and ramping into Summoning Trap. I decided to try Bogardan Hellkite instead of Iona because with the Bolts and Charms I might be able to just go burn to the face with the Ascension. What do you think?
I was also chewing over Eldrazi Green and the problem it has with not having any creature removal outside of two Masters of the Wild Hunt that are rarely drawn. I can see the draw in splashing another color for removal, but then you start having way too many comes-into-play-tapped lands and the deck slows down and I think that takes away much of its power. Thinking about Lightning Bolts and Eldrazi Monument… and I thoughtâ€”what about Goblins? Between the fast beats and burn, Eldrazi Monument should actually be game over the turn you play it, so you won’t need an engine to sacrifice to the Monument nearly as much as the green deck. You do have Siege-Gang Commander for token though if need be. What about something like this?
I’m probably going to try one of these two decks for FNM tonight to see how it rolls, and then make the decision for Sunday. If neither feels right, I might just punt to something new and fresh that (hopefully) pops up for Worlds, or maybe play this spicy meatball below from one of the Deck of the Day features on Magicthegathering.comâ€”Rites of Replication FTW!
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 4 Great Sable Stag
- 4 Master of the Wild Hunt
- 3 Nissa's Chosen
- 3 Sphinx of Lost Truths
Hmm… dare I put some Eldrazi Monuments in here? Hmmmmm…
starcitygeezer AT gmail DOT com