This past Sunday I donned my handyman hat and did my manly duty fixing the rear-view mirror that fell off our minivan. I was kinda surprised to realize, in my 40 years upon this earth — 24 of them owning a vehicle — I’d actually never before had my rear-view mirror pop off before. It happened at night while driving home, and let me tell you it’s really strange to drive and not be able to easily see what’s behind you. What’s more, it’s really dark! The headlights behind you reflecting off the mirror actually provide some decent illumination.
If you haven’t had the pleasure of repairing your own rear-view mirror, let me tell you it’s kinda weird – it’s like a high-school science experiment. After you’ve cleaned away the old adhesive from the glass and dried it, it’s time to prep the area with The Activator. The instructions on the package say to take out the little vial, and squeeze it, cracking the glass vial in the plastic sheaf so that applicator soaks up the solution. You remove the paper sleeve, and the applicator is like a Q-tip that’s all soaked with the blue liquid, so you dab the area. Let it sit for two minutes – the solution, which looks and smells alcohol base, appears to dry away, so I’m not sure what exactly it was activating unless perhaps it was doing something to the molecular composition of the glass.
Now you’re instructed to “break open” the adhesive tube and squeeze out a drop onto the metal tab that holds the review mirror… there’s a plastic tab at the end of the tube that is scored, so I break it off and try to squeeze out a drop, but nothing comes out. I squeeze and squeeze and squeeze… nothing. Minutes ticking, I’m worried the molecular mutation of my glass might revert back to normal, so I pull out the pocketknife from my glove box, saw desperately through the tip of the tube… and a big glob spurts out onto the carpet. With my luck, that’s all of it, but I do manage to squeeze out a dab onto the metal tab and press it to the molecularly prepped glass for a minute.
‘Lo and behold, it sticks. About 30 minutes later I mount the mirror; when it doesn’t fall back off I puff out my chest and proudly deem done yet another challenge, overcome with testosterone, wits and ingenuity!
I had a similar sense of pride and accomplishment walking into Virginia State Champs this past Saturday with a deck in which I had total confidence. I rarely have that feeling anymore because playtest time is so hard to come by, but this time around I had a great idea, some great playtest partners, and the time to tighten it up. If you regularly check in with You Lika The Juice you know I was working on a Saffi/Blink deck with Galepowder Mage technology. Up until last Wednesday, I was happy with how the deck was coming together, and yet it felt just a tad underpowered and “fair.” That’s when David Williams said the magic words:
“Why don’t you splash Shriekmaw?”
I immediately laughed – ppshaw! This is the post-Ravnica manabase era, after all… you can’t play a four-color deck without going nuts with Coalition Relic and Prismatic Lens! I certainly couldn’t see cutting 7-8 creatures from a Blink deck to run artifact mana fixing…
Still, the idea was intriguing because Shriekmaw is a very powerful card all on its own, but if you can reuse it — and my deck can certainly reuse creatures with comes into play abilities like nobody’s business — it just becomes insane. Plus, my deck was struggling against fast creature beatdown decks.
So I slept on the idea and did some brainstorming to figure out how best to fix the mana, consulted Jay on some ideas and after playtesting a bunch ended up taking this deck to States:
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Wall of Roots
- 3 Harmonic Sliver
- 4 Saffi Eriksdotter
- 4 Stonecloaker
- 4 Galepowder Mage
- 2 Masked Admirers
- 4 Mulldrifter
- 4 Shriekmaw
As janky as the manabase looks on paper, it worked like a charm and is the element of the deck I’m most proud of. I’m not a manabase guru, and I don’t have a bunch of magic formulas I regularly use to calculate the correct count. I basically go with instinct, and that doesn’t always work perfectly, but this time it did. There were only two games the entire day were my janky mana came back to haunt me, and they were in the same match against Green/Red, so the bad times didn’t last long.
First, let me be the first to advocate how wonderful the Shimmering Grottos were. I don’t think they’re good for every multicolor deck, but with 31 mana sources in mine, having to pay one extra for the right color didn’t hurt much at all. Second, the Vivid Meadows were just fine too… between Birds and Wall of Roots, there was usually a good time to play a comes-into-play-tapped land without hurting your board development. Turn 2 Birds was fine since the critical mana flashpoint for this deck is four mana by turn 3 (so between the Birds and Walls you have a pretty good chance of that happening). Four mana on turn 3 gives you either Shriekmaw plus Blink/Saffi to kill two opposing creatures (and leave you with a decent clock), or Galepowder Mage. Turn 3 Galepowder Mage, turn 4 hardcast Mulldrifter and then attack with Galepowder Mage, removing the Mulldrifter until the end of the turn (when it pops back and draws you two more cards) is filthy. Both of these openers are just backbreaking. Turn 2 Saffi into turn 3 evoked Mulldrifter is ridiculous too.
Prior to the Shriekmaw addition, I got beat mercilessly over and over by Jay’s Mono-White Kithkin beatdown deck. After adding the Shriekmaw he couldn’t win. Shriekmaw just couldn’t seem to get enough of this small little fellows. “Mmmm, tasty Hobbits!” I’d cry, as I’d evoke another Shriekmaw and Blink it. Griffin, who was piloting the Kithkin deck, told me that’s what I should name the deck. So that’s what I put on the deck registration sheet.
The Masked Admirers slots have been many things – Clones, Body Doubles, and Changeling Titans. I wasn’t happy with the earlier choices, and while I wasn’t 100% sold on the Admirers, I was never sad to see them, which is a pretty good sign.
I did have a Viridian Shaman in the sideboard along with a Mirri, Cat Warrior (Feldman tech!), but the morning of the tournament Chris McDaniel, a.k.a. Star Wars Kid asked, “you are running Deadwood Treefolk, aren’t you?”
I laughed – everyone knows my fondness for ye olde Deadwood.
“What? He goes with everything in your deck!!”
Blink! Not the spell – my eyes. Cripes. I had initially tried out a few Deadwood Treefolk, since I’ve been crowing about Deadwood plus Saffi for a long time now, but it was just far too expensive… but that was back before the addition of Wall of Roots. Playtesting with the Walls, I rarely had a problem getting six or more mana in play, so they could certainly fit.
“You couldn’t have made that observation to me last night while we were testing, could you?” I reply bitterly. I debate replacing the Admirers with Deadwoods, but I the Admirers had performed well in testing; the Deadwoods would be theoretically great but untested… Gah! What to do?
I end up cutting the Shaman and Mirri and toss two Deadwoods in the sideboard, after running out the Convention Center and a few blocks to my car to get the cards since the dealer had no Deadwood Treefolk singles.
Lots of people are running Riftsweepers to battle against Greater Gargadons and Aeon Chronicler, and they are particularly good in my deck – not only can I just run him out on turn 2 to get the beats going, but I have lots of ways to reuse his rift-sweeping ability later on… what’s particularly nice is using him in conjunction with Galepowder Mage to sweep away any problem creature into the depths of their deck.
So, how did the tournament go?
Before it started, I decided just for fun to pose four Over/Under questions to my opponent and see how their guesses panned out. Here was the question: Out a possible total of 32, how copies of this particular card will there be among the Top 8 decks today? I set the Over/Under at 15, and here were the cards in question:
Round 1 versus Chris with Long Walk (infinite Walk the Aeons)
This is not just any Chris; this is a local friend whom I’ve known in Magic circles for nearly 10 years, someone whom I’ve loaned cards to for his deck (knowing full well just how good my cards do in other decks when squaring off against me), someone who soundly beat me the last time we squared off in the Swiss, a Pro Tour gravy-trainer and luck-sack extraordinaire, Star Wars Kid! I shake my fist at the guys running DCI Reporter at my cursed luck – out of 166 people, I get paired up with one of only 2-3 regular Pro players in the room.
Jeez, Bennie – complain much? With this sort of luck, you’re damn straight I do. Still, I know what his deck does – accelerate with Rites of Flourishing, Fertile Ground, and Garruk Wildspeaker to cast Walk the Aeons, eventually with buyback, shuffling cards back into the deck with Gaea’s Blessing (and I think he’s got a Crucible of Worlds in there, which is rather filthy in his deck). I actually have the tools to beat his deck with maindeck Harmonic Sliver to slow him down, and maindeck Stonecloaker to prevent Gaea’s Blessing recursion. My deck even gives me a blazing start, turn 1 Treetop Village; turn 2 land, Wall of Roots and Birds of Paradise with Mulldrifter and Blink in my hand. Sadly, I draw a million cards but never find Harmonic Sliver before he’s perfectly set up. Game 2 goes much the same, though he doesn’t go infinite Walk on me… instead he gets me in the Pickles lock. As a consolation prize, I figure losing to SWK will give pretty good odds of him giving me good tie-breakers, since ideally we both keep winning as we go along.
These are his Over/Under picks:
Cryptic Command: Under
Elvish Champion: Under
I ask him to pose for a picture, and give me a “Sorry I beat you with my janktastic Walk the Aeons deck Bennie” look.
Round 2 versus Phil with ?
I ask Phil for his Over/Under picks:
Cryptic Command: Over
Elvish Champion: Under
Then a guy comes up and tells me I’m in his seat. D’oh! I move over to the next seat.
Round 2 versus Matt with Blue/Black/Red Control
During this round, Matt presents a textbook case of “My Momma Didn’t Raise Me With Any Manners.” He doesn’t offer a greeting when he sits down, he doesn’t wish you luck or introduce himself or give any friendly pre-game banter, he doesn’t make eye contact or speak any more than the bare minimum required during a game, he just sits there acting bored and at the end of the match he leaves without a word. What a miserable soul. This was the kind of person I had hopes would leave the real-life tournament scene in favor of playing exclusively on Magic Online, since you don’t need to actually interact on a human level over the Internet. Sadly though, here he was across from me, making losing to him infinitely more annoying than losing is all by itself.
The first game was pretty tight, with both of us going back and forth, drawing cards, me taking board presence, he fighting to clear the board. I got him to seven before he killed me with a gigantic Aeon Chronicler. Game 2 I had to mulligan and had a really slow start, and by the time I had any game going he’d cast Foresee several times and had no trouble keeping control of the game. I got him down to ten before he dropped a Bogardan Hellkite, nuking my team and killing me in two quick hits. This game had me wondering whether I should try Mournwhelk in the board?
Not the opening I had hoped for, and playing against Matt in particular had left me in a pretty sour mood. Needless to say, I didn’t bother asking him my Over/Under question so I just kept the answers from the infinitely friendlier Phil.
Odds were extremely long for me to be able to try and squeeze in to the Top 8 at 6-2, but there were prize packs being given out to the Top 16. My deck was damn good, and I wanted to play it.
Round 3 versus Ricky with U/B Faerie Control
Ricky was one of those lucky fellows whose girlfriend comes to Magic tournaments with him. Man, where do I find one of those? What awesome post-coital conversations you must have!
“What are you thinking about?”
“Do you think I should try Mournwhelk in my sideboard.”
“Oooo, that’s a sexy idea!”
Game 1 my deck does its thing, drawing me a ton of cards and eventually starting the beatdown with a Stonecloaker. Ricky’s got me thinking he’s playing a regular Teachings Control deck until he flashes out Wydwen, and then uses Familiar’s Ruse to counter a spell. He draws answers but I’m just flush with cards from Mulldrifter shenanigans, and I overwhelm him. Game 2 he stalls on land drops but has an early Oona’s Prowler to deliver the beatdown, getting me down to 8 life before I can stabilize with Mulldrifter shenanigans, giving me plenty of cards to block and pitch in order to kill the Prowler. I eventually go aggressive and kill him.
I ask him for his Over/Under.
Cryptic Command: Over
Elvish Champion: Under
Apparently nobody thinks Elves! is going to be dominating the top tables.
I ask Ricky to pose with the land he was hoping to draw.
Round 4 versus Merfolk
I didn’t catch this fellow’s name, and he seemed kinda bummed (I’m guessing he must have just gotten his second loss). Still, his Momma taught him manners and he was still pleasant enough. When he played a turn 2 Sygg, River Guide I felt pretty confident; I didn’t expect Merfolk would be fast enough to prevent Shriekmaw from doing a mean impression of a fat man at Captain D’s. He’s got Unsummons, Condemns and Oblivion Rings to keep things interesting, but Mulldrifter shenanigans again draws pure diesel in both games. Hmm, Fish and O-rings, eh?
I asked the man for his Over/Under picks:
Cryptic Command: Under
Elvish Champion: Under
I was going to take his picture, but he seemed even more bummed out and it struck me that, here at the bottom of the standings, when you win you’ve pretty much knocked the person out of contention for any prizes, it seemed that saying “hey, can I take your picture?” is just adding insult to injury.
Round 5 versus Daniel with Mono-White Control
Daniel is another one of those lucky fellows with a lady friend who comes to Magic tournaments too, and she initially sits across from me before they realize he’s the one playing at this table. Daniel is chipper and talkative, and seems to be having fun playing even if he’s not at the top tables. In short, a very pleasant opponent, which was helpful when he played a turn 1 Martyr of Sands (for which he apologized). He’s got Condemns, Deserts, Wraths and Sunscour to make creature decks like mine sad (as well as the aforementioned Martyrs) but I ration out my creatures, lean on Saffi to keep the pressure on post-Wrath, and swing often with Treetop Village to win game 1. Game 2 he’s a bit shy on mana, and sacrificing Martyr he reveals Adarkar Valkyrie (quite nasty in conjunction with Martyr). Thankfully Shriekmaw shows up by the time Valkyrie hits the board, and while Angels are no Tasty Hobbits they’ll do in a pinch!
After the game we chitchat some, and I completely forget to ask for his Over/Under picks. Sorry man!
Round 6 versus David with White/Red Control
When David leads with Ancient Amphitheater, I nearly grin thinking he might be going with Giants – how cool would that be? I’ve hit Faeries and Merfolk so far. He doesn’t reveal a Giant so it comes into play tapped, and I’m a bit disappointed… until I realize that a Giant deck would likely not have a turn 1 play anyway, so why reveal a Giant card for no reason? Turn 2 he plays a Coldsteel Heart – aha! Mana acceleration is critical for a Giant deck. He points burn at my early mana bird and Saffi, but I get a Wall of Roots out and eventually blink a Mulldrifter to refill my hand. On his turn he taps five mana — I just know it’s going to be Thundercloud Shaman — but instead it’s Chandra Nalaar. Uh-oh! I manage to sneak some damage in with Treetop Village and save creatures with judicious use of Blink and Stonecloaker as reactive rather than proactive measures, and finally win the game. While sideboarding, David says the words every rogue deckbuilder is thrilled to hear.
“I have no idea what you’re doing or what to bring in against you.”
It takes a while in game 2, since I’m a bit stalled on mana and he’s loaded with burn, but I manage to force him to spend all his burn on my creatures instead of my dome. Eventually I get to six mana and drop the bomb – Deadwood Treefolk! With a six toughness, that’s some serious fire-resistance. And as Star Wars Kid pointed out, that guy goes with every single card in the deck. Backed with Saffi and Blink I have a never-ending stream of creatures that overwhelm the creature removal and win game 2.
David’s Over/Under picks:
Cryptic Command: Over
Elvish Champion: Under
Round 7 versus Justin with Green/Red Troll Burn
Up until now I’d only mulliganed in two games, and never had to double mulligan, and never felt that my manabase punished me at all. Still, playing six comes-into-play-tapped lands and 4 Grottos has some risk to it, and here’s where the risk became ugly reality. Justin has early beatdown backed with burn to kill off my Walls, and cleans up with Garruk while I struggle trying to find Blue or Black mana. During sideboarding I make a fatal error, boarding out my one shot at handling a devastating board card from his side — Manabarbs! I’m staring down his two Troll Ascetics with Saffi and Masked Admirers, with a Wrath of God in my hand and he slaps down Manabarbs. I glance longingly at my deck box and think of the four Harmonic Slivers sitting in there that I wish I had access to now. I Wrath away the Trolls but he’s got two Treetop Villages and burn, so while he’s taking damage, he’s dishing it out faster. I have no shot at all.
Justin’s Over/Under picks:
Cryptic Command: Under
Elvish Champion: Under
Justin figures I’ve way overshot my Over/Under line, and thinks the Top 8 will be much more diverse. Turns out Justin’s the winner of my Line; once the Top 8 is announced, I get Matt to check their deck database for counts on these cards in the top decks. Here’s the tally:
Cryptic Command: 9
Elvish Champion: 0
The Elven menace didn’t crack the Top 8, or at least they didn’t on the back of a forestwalking ability. I was surprised at the Tarmogoyf numbers – not even a full playset! Tarmogoyf is a ridiculous creature, but obviously you can handle it if you need to, and the Shriekmaw count likely explains a lot. Cryptic Command was a card I was expecting to be insane and I’m willing to bet its results here are going to be typical across the country.
On a side note, I bumped into a fellow who was pleased as punch. He built a burn deck with no rares on principle as a counterpunch to some of the ridiculous prices we’ve seen on the chase rares from Lorwyn (and Future Sight’s Tarmogoyf). He broke down and added a single rare to the maindeck — Pendelhaven — because it really worked well in his deck. I can’t recall exactly what his record ended up being, but I’m pretty sure he said he went 4-0 before getting his first loss. Here’s a picture of his deck laid out:
Yes, those are Mudbutton Torchrunners. They’re bad… but clearly really good in this sort of deck!
Props to David Williams (the other David Williams), who playtested with us, gave me the idea to add a fourth color for Shriekmaw to my deck, and made Top 8 with an insane Sliver deck. Sliver Legion FTW! Next time get some sleep the night before, my man.
Post-script: Playing Ben Bleiweiss
Most of us think of Ben Bleiweiss as a columnist who is quite savvy about the business of buying and selling Magic products. It’s easy to forget that Ben’s a former pro player, so when he sits down across from you playing someone else’s Blue/White Double Strike/Unstable Mutation deck, it’s easy to feel confident in your odds, especially when playing a deck as sick and gross against creatures as mine. We chit-chat some, he gets early beats in, I take control and slaughter a bunch of his creatures, and yet he hangs on long enough to get a 1/1 flying double-strike creature on the board and clear before dropping two Unstable Mutations on it and killing me out of nowhere. He was playing the deck cold, and hasn’t played much competitive Magic in years and years… and yet he’s still got the Eye of the Tiger. There’s a certain spark in Pro Tour players that has them at a higher level than most of the rest of us when flopping the Magic cards, and it was fun to witness Ben’s spark in action.
Hope you all had fun at your State Champs! See you next week.
starcitygeezer AT gmail DOT com