You Lika The Juice? — Last Minute Panic

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In today’s You Lika The Juice, Bennie shares his updated Project X deck — now dubbed Project Z. He also brings us a strong cardpool and deck from a Future Sight Release league, and asks us to bring our builds to the forums. And to cap it all off, he tells the tale of his latest phone conversation with… Mark Rosewater!

So Friday I was on the phone jawing with Mark Rosewater.

“Let me ask you something,” he said. “What do you think of Planar Chaos and Future Sight?”

As I explained my analysis of what worked and what didn’t work in those two sets, I could hear Mark busily scribbling down notes. Ah, living the life of Magic celebrity, yakking daily with the guys who make the game, mugging for the paparazzi, negotiating my guest host spot on Rich Hagon podcast, and hugging Paris goodbye during her I’m Going To Jail party after the MTV Movie Awards. Can you believe the nerve of Sarah Silverman’s joke about painting the jail bars? How rude!

Say, is that Leelee Sobieski I see over there in a dress that barely restrains her ample bosom… playing Magic with Chris Romeo? She appears to be kicking his ass with Boros Deck Wins of all things, and he with no Sulfur Elementals in sight. How embarrassing!

Okay, okay… I exaggerate. Most of this is the deluded fantasy of a Magic fan boy who’s rapidly approaching his 40th birthday at the end of this month.

Most, but not all.

Some of you may know that I’m a contributing editor for Scrye magazine, and on a rare occasion in that capacity I get to totally geek out fan boy-style and speak with somebody from Wizards regarding some upcoming Magic info. A few weeks back I get an email from my editor letting me know that Wizards’ PR firm was looking to getting me in touch with someone at Wizards to get information for our Summer Preview issue. The next day I get an email from Lara at the PR firm:

“Bennie, I do having something to share with you. Are you free to do a phone interview with Randy Buehler next week?”

Ah, crap. My heart sinks a bit. Randy Buehler, major bigwig at Wizards, former pro player, future Hall of Famer… and someone who I’ve taken issue with a time or two in past columns.

I reply to Lara:

“Sure, or we can do the interview via email, whatever works for Randy.”

I cross my fingers that we can do an email interview. I fret a little bit. I imagine that I’m so far off Randy’s radar that things I’ve written here as a fan of the game wouldn’t impact our ability to conduct business professionally.

But what if he’s someone with a bad temper that holds a grudge? If so, an email interview would be ideal, since we could just stick with questions and answers.

Time passes, and I don’t hear back from Lara. I fret a little bit more. Finally, I hear back from my editor – she’s going to be doing the interview with Randy, since he wants to talk about other things that Wizards is doing outside of Magic.


Wait, there’s more…

Instead of Randy, I get to talk with Mark Rosewater.


This was the second phone interview I’ve done with Mark, and he’s a hoot. He talks fast, and you can tell that his mind is going a mile a minute. I can totally see him being a writer for Roseanne, pitching ideas and hashing out story arcs with the other writers on the team.

Anyway, my fingers fly across the keyboard as I try desperately to keep up with what he’s saying. I have a pretty darn good typing speed, but 60-70 words a minute barely keeps on top of the wealth of Summer Magic info pouring out from him.

So what did he say? Pick up issue #111 and find out. Hehe!

At the conclusion of the interview, Mark turned the tables on me.

“Let me ask you something,” he said. “What do you think of Planar Chaos and Future Sight?”

This is every Magic fan boy’s dream, right? Someone who makes Magic – the embodiment of R&D, Maro himself – asks your opinion about the most recent Magic sets.

I totally blow it.

It was completely unexpected and my brain just freezes. I babble on and on about this and that; I mention how cool a card I think Bridge from Below is. I comment on how a long-time player like me really enjoys all the nods to nostalgia sewn in the entire block. I can’t even remember what else I said other than general enthusiasm for the sets, but I get that aural equivalent of eyes glazing over and realize that I probably did not give Mark the kind of feedback he was hoping for.

We cordially wrap up the conversation, hang up… and my head bangs my desk in frustration.

Totally, totally blew it.

Here was my chance to talk about color balance, Green Teferi, maybe even toss out a card idea or two.



If there is a next time, I swear I’ll be better prepared. What would you say if Mark Rosewater randomly popped you that question?

Speaking of preparation… I feel totally unprepared for Regionals. How about you?

Mark Young advised yesterday that if you had not decided on a deck to play yet, then you probably shouldn’t play at Regionals. Picking up a deck at the 11th hour and running it is never a good idea if you want good results. He’s giving good, common sense advice there… but seriously, how many of you have actually locked in on a deck? And if you have, you’re probably still tweaking and tinkering with it. Running around at the last minute seems to be business as usual for me.

(The fact that I’ve never qualified for Nationals I’m sure has no correlation, move along…)

The current top tier decks have zero appeal for me. Even though I always have a love for rogue decks, I’m not averse to running a Tier 1 deck if I enjoy it. In past Regionals I’ve run Fires of Yavimaya, Skullclamp Affinity, and Tooth and Nail. But I look at the current Tier 1 decks and want to vomit.

Dragonstorm, the ultimate boring, consistent combo deck… barf. Dralnu—counter, counter, counter, Teferi, Skeletal Vampire… barf barf. Gruul, I’m just not an aggro kind of guy, unless it’s a cool aggro like Fires that I can add some spice to. Blah.

I keep coming back to Project X, the deck that everyone either seems to love or hate. Most Magic pundits seem to be on the hate side of the equation, saying that the deck is horrible, fragile, and easily hosed. Even my buddy Jay seems to be of the opinion that you simply lose to a Seal of Fire sitting on the board ready to throw sand in your combo gears. There are a couple with differing opinions.

Fragile? I look at Project X and I see a ton of possibilities. Lots and lots of options in those colors, tons of tutor affects so you can go silver bullet in addition to infinite life. Not many decks in the format can beat you if you gain infinite life.

Flexibility, and a combo that just flat out prevents you from losing.


I came up with an idea Friday that seems to have helped shore up some of the perceived frailty of the Project X deck, basically adding another “combo” to the deck. Here’s what I’m working with right now:

The big change here is the addition of Worship and Paladin en-Vec, with a de-emphasis on the infinite life combo. The splash damage from Dredge has certainly made comboing out of the graveyard a bit more difficult… and yet gaining infinite life is definitely “unfair,” a quality that we want to keep if at all possible. Paladin/Worship will flat out defeat some decks, including Gruul if they don’t happen to run maindeck enchantment kill since they are unlikely to be able to burn away all your creatures. The enchantment also supplements the combo by keeping you alive long enough to put the pieces together.

To better fight Gruul and other aggro decks, I reluctantly replaced each Wall of Roots with the scrappier Watchwolf. Not only can the doggies brawl in the red zone with the best of ‘em, but they beatdown against control decks much better than the Wall. Jotun Grunts has a huge body too… and I have a sneaky suspicion that we’re likely to see more than a few Tarmogoyfs running around Saturday, and the Grunts seems like an excellent way to keep the little Lhurgoyf under control (in addition to being generally awesome against Dredge too).

Grunts and the Loaming Shaman also give you inevitability if you’ve gained infinite life but are having difficulty finishing your opponent off through damage and have to go the decking route. I doubt that will happen though, since Teneb the Harvester backed by Saffi and Loxodon Hierarch is an absolute beating.

Orzhova, The Church of Deals may look a little weird here; most G/W/x decks will run Vitu-Ghazi, the City Tree if they add some colorless non-basics to the land mix. However, I found that control decks, particularly Dralnu, don’t have any problem handling some little 1/1s. Similarly, Svogthos has some difficulty punching through a Skeletal Vampire and his little bat friends. With the new emphasis on having an aggressive element, a control deck will tend to stabilize at a low enough life that Orzhova can finish them off over the course of 4-5 turns.

That’s the theory anyway. Testing so far seems positive.

I love Svogthos and Vitu-Ghazi much more, but I think Orzhova is the better call. I’m not 100% committed to that yet though. What do you think?

I’m also kicking around the idea of adding a couple copies of Horizon Canopy to the maindeck, and the sideboard is still in flux. Any suggestions for the maindeck or sideboard? Let’s light up the forums, people! Thrash out the kinks in Bennie’s deck so I can play at Nationals this year!

Obviously, Regionals has me stressed out as I struggle to the last minute to find a deck I’m happy with. To blow off some steam, I jumped into MTGO Future Sight league. I generally despise Sealed deck, but league play is tolerable because if you have a bad pull you can log off and come back to continue later on. When I cracked my packs I was pleasantly surprised to see this nice card pool staring back at me:

Release League Cardpool
Bennie Smith
Test deck on 06-10-2007
Magic Card Back

It didn’t take long for the fat 5/5 dinosaur to slap me up side the head; I knew I’d be playing Green. The Red Wrath of God made a strong case to pairing Red with the Green… and being able to run Empty the Warrens and Grapeshot gave Grinning Ignus something to smile about… not to mention helping power out an early Havenwood Wurm.

Our own Eli Kaplan was online (who was kind enough to loan me some product to play since I was having some issues with the online store from my home computer), and since he’s much more adept than I at Limited, I sent him the card pool to get his opinion. He also liked Green and Red, but he tweaked my build a bit and suggested splashing Black for two removal spells, one of which you can cycle away if you need to. Here’s what we came up with:

Here were his thoughts on the deck:

A few things: I took out Grapeshot, which with so few guys is going to be a shock at best most of the time, and added a more versatile, potentially far more powerful card, Wrap in Vigor. It counters a lot of removal spells and lets you do stupid things with Nacatl War-Pride, or just throws opponents’ combat math off horridly. (It’s particularly awesome when you’re blocking. You’re almost always set up for a super alpha strike.)

I was going to cut the Empty, but realized you had the Ignus, so it seems like it’s a reasonable little combo, so I cut the Buzzardiers instead. They’re a little awkward on the tempo and constantly want Red mana to do their job.

I also really like the mana in this build. Edge, Scryb Ranger, and Yavimaya Dryad are good times. And with 8 Forests and the Grove, it’s pretty easy to get the Dryad out there on turn 3.

I also added two solid Black cards, Ichor Slick and Death Rattle. Death Rattle is surprisingly cheap late game and very powerful. And if you can’t use it, you can always cycle Ichor Slick in the early game if you’ve got nothing else to do on turn 2. Not that it should be all that much a problem; we’ve got a ton of early game plays.

It’s a great deck and a great pool. As long as you play it well, I’m certain you can go 5-0.

As long as you play it well… why did that phrase feel like a big, ol’ albatross suddenly swinging from my neck?

I had to agree though, the deck felt chock full of powerful cards and I was eager to go 5-0 and score me a cool Heartwood Storyteller avatar!

My first opponent was more than happy to toss a bucket of cold water on my hopes and dreams. Speckham, you are a cruel, cruel human being. I thought my deck was good? Here are some of the notable cards played against me in two games:

Serrated Arrows. Rift Bolt. Ghostfire. Grapeshot. Flowstone Embrace. Fatal Attraction. Riftwing Cloudskate.

Not bad removal…

Pact of the Titan. Whip-Spine Drake. Vesuvan Shapeshifter. Viscerid Deepwalker (always on turn 1, don’t’cha know). Magus of the Freaking Future late game when we’re both at 3 life and have a stalemate on the board.

Not bad creatures…

Prismatic Lens, Terramorphic Expanse, Tolaria West.

Not bad mana fixing…

Oh, and 2 Foresee to tie it all together.

Jeez Louise, what an absolute beating. My deck is good, sure, but that was ridiculous!

I signed off to cool down. Later I jumped back in, picked up another game, and my opponent had an average card pool. I managed to win that one.

Does 4-1 win anything?

Anyway, for those of you who’re going, good luck at Regionals! I’ll be at the Mid-Atlantic Regionals, so if you happen to be at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia this Saturday, stop by and say hello!