You Lika the Juice? – Piloting a Ferrari at the PTQ

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Wednesday, March 5th – When last we left our hero – me – he was torn between varieties of mid-range G/B/x decks to play at the Richmond PTQ last Saturday. There was the strong allure of his homebrew Doran deck featuring the quick-kill potential of Tireless Tribe. There were also more stock versions floating around that presumably had more testing behind them and were more reliably “correct” in their build. Should he instead play one of those decks?

When last we left our hero — me – he was torn between varieties of mid-range G/B/x decks to play at the Richmond PTQ last Saturday. There was the strong allure of his homebrew Doran deck featuring the quick-kill potential of Tireless Tribe. There were also more stock versions floating around that presumably had more testing behind them and were more reliably “correct” in their build. Should he instead play one of those decks?

I was also very attracted to the idea of running a G/B Death Cloud deck, especially once I checked and found I did indeed own three Death Clouds and all the other cards I’d need for the deck. On the one hand, the few times I have played a Death Cloud deck I never actually got to resolve the damn signature spell. On the other hand, there was something intriguing about the idea of blowing up the world with Death Cloud while you had a Planeswalker in play – especially Liliana Vess!

Yes, I am like a crow, dazzled by shiny cool things. Caw!

To further muddy up the waters, Adrian Sullivan presented his Miser’s Rock deck last week, a really powerful build that catapulted him to Top 8 at the recent Chicago PTQ. The deck looked really good, so now I had four mid-range G/B/x decks warring for my final choice.

Gah! What’s a mid-range, Green-lovin’ mage to do?!

I caught up with Adrian Thursday on AIM and told him my dilemma. “Play my deck and qualify,” he told me. I asked him if there was anything he’d change about the deck since he wrote about it, and he only proposed one card change but had no idea how to work it in; the deck list he used for Chicago was thoroughly tested and every card had earned its place. Offering up a fresh perspective, I went about offering suggestions on how I would work in the card and Adrian presented thorough arguments about why the card I suggested cutting was vital. Through the course of our nearly 60 minute chat, I came to realize there was no way any deck I had made — or likely any other deck I could select — could be as thoroughly tested and well-built as this one. I could literally feel the work of smart and dedicated mages behind the decklist. Frankly, it was rather awe-inspiring, and I felt silly even contemplating my Tireless Doran deck.

I was sold, and it’s the first time I can remember that I actually decided to play a finely tuned deck crafted by someone else with no “Bennie modifications.” For instance, I was really attracted to the idea of Destructive Flow in the current metagame; it occurred to me that Flow was like a Gaddock Teeg in that it prevented most decks from playing their more expensive spells, especially if you got it into play on turn 2 or 3. It was a Gaddock Teeg that couldn’t be hit with Smother, Fire/Ice, or Putrefy. To further facilitate a turn 2 Flow, I had kicked around the idea of adding 2 Elves of Deep Shadow and running 4 Destructive Flows. Adrian shot that down. “Our testing shows that 3 is the correct number.” After playing the deck, I can see that he is correct.

So here’s the deck I played, the maindeck exactly as Adrian wrote about, and here is the sideboard I ran:

If you have Premium and are curious about how to play the deck, definitely read Adrian Sullivan excellent tournament report on it from last week!

Friday evening before the tournament, I was reading over the expected decks in the metagame, and one in particular worried me – Death Cloud. I know an early Flow is pretty brutal on that deck, but they run enough basics to not be positively wrecked by Flow, and they also run hand destruction that can discard the Flow before you get a chance to play it. The nice thing about running three copies of Destructive Flow is that you draw it often enough to make a difference, but you don’t draw too many redundant copies. The bad thing about running three copies of Destructive Flow is if someone Thoughtseizes your Flow, you may not draw another copy until it’s far too late to matter. You’ve got no real way to manage Planeswalkers, and no real way to deal with Death Cloud blowing you out of the water if you don’t get an early Flow. I was strongly considering Dodecapod in the sideboard as a Wish target; since you can usually smell when a Death Cloud is on the horizon, you can preemptively Wish for Dodecapod and make your opponent reconsider the option of blowing up everyone’s world except for the 5/5 beating stick in play on your opponent’s side. In the end I decided to just stick with this deck list and resist the temptation of “Bennie modifications.”

When Adrian wrote up his “classic” tournament report, he tried to emulate tournament reports of old, so in homage to Jamie Wakefield pre-tournament advice I had a nice spaghetti dinner from Vito’s the night before the PTQ. Jamie had given some rationale about slugging through a Magic tournament being like a long-distance run, and eating pasta the night before gives your body a boost to help with endurance. I tried to Google up exactly what he said but was unsuccessful finding it, or maybe I’m misremembering. At any rate, it was delicious.

Mid-way through the tournament, the TO pulled me aside and told me it would be okay to get the decklists from the tournament if I wanted them for my column. So now I get to channel Peter Jahn and provide you with the decklists from my opponents round by round – something I always thought was pretty damn cool! If you like decklists, I got ‘em.

The turnout was rather small, with just under 90 people mustering out for the seven rounds of Swiss. Still, I recognized quite a few high-quality players in the room, including Pro Player Shaheen Soorani, and recent Star City $5K Top 8er and Virginia State Champ Kenny Mayer. Let’s get cracking!

Round 1 versus Ben with Cephalid Breakfast
Ben’s been kicking around local Magic tournaments for a while, and he’s always been a friendly face and a pleasant opponent. I was sad to hear he was quitting Magic a year or so back. When I smile and ask him whatever happened to him quitting Magic, he laughs and says that Time Spiral sucked him back in. Magic is like the Mafia, you can intend to quit but it keeps sucking you back in. I start out with a decent hand, including two fetchlands as my only lands, a Terminate, a Wish, and a Flow on the draw. Ben has to mulligan, and then plays a Strand into a dual land and then a Gemstone Mine. I nearly pop with excitement over the possibility of Destructive Flow chewing through his manabase, but I’m stuck at the two fetchlands, having not popped either one in the hopes of increasing the odds of drawing one of the remaining lands. Ben drops a City of Brass and then casts Living Wish for Cephalid Illusionist, and casts it with a mana from Simian Spirit Guide. I still don’t draw a land, so I keep my lands waiting. On his turn he Steelshaper’s Gift for Shuko, plays it, and pays the equip cost to end the game. I finally crack my dual lands and cast Terminate on the Illusionist – whew! The Illusionist flips some cards into the graveyard, revealing a Narcomoeba who jumps into play, so Ben equips the Shuko and I’ve got a 2/1 flier staring me down.

The next turn I finally draw another land, fetch up the third color I need and drop a Destructive Flow. Ben slumps, realizing how the enchantment is going to eat through his lands. While the lands slowly get eaten away, my life total does the same from the tiger-claw equipped flying jellyfish. Ben then draws Living Wish, plays a City and a Mox to go get Wispmare and, during his upkeep as the Flow demands its payment, Evokes Wispmare to get rid of the troubling enchantment. Eventually I draw a Deed, getting rid of the Narcomoeba, Shuko, and Mox, and then I draw Living Wish and, after some contemplation decide to go for Magus of the Moon to shut down any lands he draws, but then I draw Eternal Witness and just cast it to get back Destructive Flow. Ben scoops to move on to the next game.

Ben starts out casting Steelshaper’s Gift for Shuko. I cast Duress, seeing the Shuko, a Living Wish, a Call, a Wispmare, and two Illusionists. Ouch — nice hand! I go ahead and bin the Shuko. He Wishes for Starlit Sanctum, and I play Sakura-Tribe Elder and sac it so that on my next turn I can cast Flow with a Black mana open for my secret sauce play. He evokes out his Wispmare, then drops his Illusionist, plays another Shuko, goes to equip it — and I hit the Illusionist with Darkblast! I dredge back the Darkblast, which makes his combo difficult to pull off. I drop a 6/7 Tarmogoyf and he plays one of his own, but Darkblast lets me win that fight. Eventually ‘goyf just gets there. My notes say I cast Extirpate in response to him casting Eladamri’s Call at some point — maybe targeting his dead Illusionist? — but I can’t recall exactly.

Games 2-0, Record 1-0

Round 2 versus Justin with U/G Tron
Turn 1 I cast Duress, and see Cryptic Command, Simic Signet, Flooded Strand, Tolaria West, an Uzra’s Power Plant and two Urza’s Tower. Hello, Urzatron! I take the Signet, he plays a Strand and fetches a Breeding Pool. I play a Tribe-Elder the next turn, and then play a third-turn Flow that pretty much eats his mana alive. A Tarmogoyf seals the deal. The next game I have to double mulligan two hands with a swamp as my only land and a fistful of Green spells each time. The five cards I keep include a Duress and two lands, so after Justin leads with a Strand I play Duress and take a peek. He’s got three Urza’s Mines (I joke about how “greedy” that hand is — “Mine! Mine! Mine!”), a Tower, two Moment’s Peace… and Meloku – yikes! I take one Peace, and then stall at two lands for a bit without much to do before he finally drops Meloku and starts swinging with a few tokens for company. I draw a third land and hit Meloku with a Putrefy, he makes a few more tokens I know I can handle with the Deed in my hand if I can get it to stick. I get the Deed to hit and get rid of the tokens, then play a Witness. He plays Sower of Temptation to steal it and attacks me a few times, then I rip a Tarmogoyf off the top that’s a 6/7 monster. I attack, he blocks with my Witness, swings back and drops Triskelion which stops my attacks. Is Sower going to go the distance? I’m at a precarious low life total, especially with a Trisk on the board. I then rip a Krosan Grip to deal with the Trisk at no pain, attack once, attack and get blocked by the Sower and then swing for the win. It was a tough battle, and off just five cards on the play!

Games 4-0, Record 2-0

Sometimes you’re the broom, eh?

Round 3 versus Mason with U/G Tron
Mason sits down and says he’s not happy to play me since he knows what I’m playing. A turn 1 “Zwang” from me (I love my German Duresses) reveals another Tron opponent! He’s kept a questionable hand but it’s chock full of powerful cards – Gifts, Condescend, Remand, Cryptic Command, Signet, Chrome Mox, Tolaria West. I’ve got no Flow but my mana is fine and I got a Top and a sacland, so there’s a decent chance I can cough one up if I stunt his mana – I take the Signet. He plays Tolaria and passes. I draw another Duress and play it – he’s drawn another Signet, so I go ahead and snag it too. He draws and plays a Tower, and goes ahead and plays the Chrome Mox while I’ve not yet found a Flow. So much for that plan. He counters some things and gradually takes control as Tron does.

Game 2 I get a turn 2 Sakura-Tribe Elder, sac it, and when I play my land on turn 3 I’ve got four lands so when I play Flow he can only Condescend for one, which I’m happy to pay. He struggles to break out with Mox, Signet, but a Deed clears them away and he scoops soon afterwards to move to game 3. I didn’t take any notes here other than “Stomphowler” so I’m not sure how it went other than I know I didn’t get an early Flow, I was shy on mana, and the game was a nail biter. I was too busy concentrating on winning to take notes, and no Duress resolved. I believe a Tarmogoyf took three-point bites out of his life total from 14 to 11 to 8, and then I presume a 6/7 Goyf takes him from two to dead at the end. We had a pretty good crowd of people watching us there at the end, I wish I could remember how it went exactly.

Games 6-1, Record 3-0

Wow, it has been a long time since I went 3-0 at an event outside of Friday Night Magic or a draft! I marveled at how powerful the deck was; I could literally feel just how much work Adrian and his friends had put into the deck. It ran smooth, the mana was perfect. I generally drew just what I needed when I needed it. It felt wonderful, like I was used to driving a Geo Metro and suddenly found myself piloting a Ferrari. I talked with Ben Bleiweiss about it and he wondered if this was the end of an era. He asked, if I qualified with the deck, would I turn into a Spike and just play the best decks by the best deck designers instead of my pet creations?

“If I qualify, I just might!” I laughed… but we all know better. It would be hard for me to resist my deckbuilding urges, but I certainly would be more open to playing these sort of decks if I’m given the opportunity again, especially one that fits my playstyle.

Round 4 versus Chris with Affinity
I see another familiar face across the table from me – Chris, who gave me my second loss at the Roanoke PTQ with a heartbreaking Stifle on my Loxodon Hierarch lifegain trigger. If he’s playing Affinity again it’s going to be tight, but I do have a decent number of tools at my disposal to fight. I start off with Zwang, and see Vault, Citadel, Nexus, Frog, Ornithopter, Shrapnel Blast… and Somber Hoverguard?! As I exclaim surprise (and bin the Blast) he laughs and calls it his secret tech for the tournament. On turn 3 I’ve got a tough choice – he’s got a Citadel, Nexus, Frogmite, and two Ornithopters in play. I’ve got Flow and Deed in my hand. I’m worried about him casting the Hoverguard since I don’t have much action as of yet; do I drop and pop Deed to just kill off the ‘thopters? Or do I drop the Flow and hope it can start chewing through his lands fast enough? I want to keep the Deed to get more than just two cards, so I decide on the Flow, he sacs off his Nexus, then drops a Springleaf Drum, giving him the Blue mana to drop the Hoverguard. I drop Deed and another land and pop it, getting rid of the ‘thopters and the drum, and the Flow takes care of the last land. So Chris starts smacking me down with Frogmite and Hoverguard, his only permanents. I draw a Top and start furiously digging for answers. I find a Tarmogoyf and play it; at 6/7 he stops the Frogmite and then runs over the Frogmite while Chris’s Hoverguard keeps sweeping in. I Top, find an Elder, play and sac it, Top some more, searching desperately for a Terminate or Putrefy or Profane Command or Baloth or Living Wish for Flametongue Kavu. I have so many outs but nothing comes, and Chris’s lone permanent does me in. Soooo frustrating!

Game 2 I lead with a Birds of Paradise turn 1 and a Flow turn 2. I mop up his Arcbound Worker with Grip and it’s on to game 3. My draw is a bit risky, with just a Bird and Overgrown Tomb as my only mana sources, but I’ve got a Top, Grip, and Deed as well and he mulligans to six. I decide to risk it, and on his second turn he empties his hand with me staring down a Ravager, Enforcer, and Ornithopter. Pretty much your nightmare scenario, especially when I draw no lands in my first two draws and Top reveals none in the next three. The pain is over quick. Damn!

Games 7-3, Record 3-1

Round 5 versus Toby with TEPS
My hand is relatively low on action but I’ve got mana, two saclands and a Top so I keep. He plays a Sulfur Vent and I feel pretty good about my chances if I can dig up a Flow quick enough. I use Top during my upkeep and look at the top one, two, three, four – d’oh! I say “oops!” and put the card back, but I did see it (it was a Forest). Toby looks embarrassed for me, but says we should call a judge and I agree. I feel dumb, I’ve used Sensei’s Top plenty over the years, but I was so caught up in planning out my next two turns that I just kept looking. The judge comes over and, determining it was an honest mistake he issues me a warning and shuffles my deck outside of the three cards I looked at with the Top. When I draw my card and then play a sac land to shuffle, Toby said if he’d known that was what I was planning on doing he wouldn’t have worried about a judge. I told him that was okay, calling a judge was the right thing to do.

Toby leads with a Sulfur Vent and I’m convinced he’s playing Enduring Ideal. My inexperience playing against the combo decks in the format reveals itself when he plays a Geothermal Crevice and no warning lights flash that this is instead TEPS. I’ve got a Living Wish in my hand and am contemplating getting a Magus of the Moon, but with Fire/Ice or Burning Wish for Pyroclasm — or just flat out powering out a Form of the Dragon — I’m not sure how effective the Magus would be. I decide to wait until I can Wish and play the Magus, and hope I draw into my Flow instead with some Top action. I drop a Tarmogoyf, and then Zwang him, seeing a Peer through Depths and a Mind’s Desire – oh crap! I bin the Desire and connect once with the Tarmogoyf, find no Flow and he goes off the next turn.

Game 2 goes according to plan – I get a turn 3 Flow that starts chewing through his lands, he tries to get some artifact mana out to help and I Deed them away. Game 3 looks good again, I’ve got a turn 3 Flow but he goes off with a Lotus Bloom and one land, dumping out his handful of mana spells and drawing off an Egg into the Tendrils he needed to make me lose 18 life. I was at 17 from popping a sacland and having to pay 2 life to play an untapped Overgrown Tomb. Agh, so frustrating!

I go and lament my fall from grace to Ben, and he tells me it’s probably just because I picked up the deck two days before the tournament and didn’t get to practice with it, and he’s totally right. Adrian’s deck is incredibly powerful, and I’m sure I made some mistakes that might have prevented a few games from getting to the point where I lost. It makes me want to find another PTQ to go to…

Our talk turns to the big announcement on Extended – there was nothing Banned, instead set rotation was changed so that only one block rotates out of Extended each fall, it’s just Extended has a wider selection of blocks. So Invasion block leaves us this fall but Onslaught block stays. I’ve got mixed feelings on that. On the one hand, I do like Onslaught’s tribal themes and look forward to using them to explore upcoming stuff from Shadowmoor block. On the other hand, my arse still raw from last round’s loss, I’m frickin’ sick of Storm combo decks. I know they’re going to still be around with Dragonstorm and even Empty the Warrens, but those decks don’t just feel as wrong as Mind’s Desire. Ben points out that Mind’s Desire will probably be gone, since it takes a big hit from the loss of Invasion block mana, but I just laugh at him, thinking about Richard Dreyfuss and Bill Murray in What About Bob? Where Leo throws Bob outside and slams the door shut. His family loudly protests since they love Bob and want him to stay.

Dr. Leo Marvin: You think he’s gone? He’s not gone. That’s the whole point! He’s never gone!
[Leo opens the door; there’s Bob still standing there]
Bob Wiley: Is this some radical new therapy?
Dr. Leo Marvin: YOU SEE?

Storm Combo is like Bob. You can make take away some tools it uses, but it’ll find other ones (see Dragonstorm and Gassy Knoll); you’ll open the door and it’ll still be there smiling at you. On balance, I think my life would be better if I never got to see Mind’s Desire or Tendrils on the opposite side of the board from me again. Small silver lining though, at least I’ll get to use the two Bloodstained Mires I had to buy for another year.

Round 6 versus Russell with Death Cloud
Russell wins the die roll and I look at my hand. My hand includes a Bird and an Overgrown Tomb as my only mana sources, a Sakura-Tribe Elder, a Living Wish, and a Terminate. I’m on the draw so I decide to keep. Yes, across the country I hear all of you screaming at me NOOOO!!! I do indeed get punished as Russell leads with Thoughtseize and ganks my Bird. This is literally the first time I’ve played against Thoughtseize through two PTQs, and it was shocking. Suddenly my hand didn’t look to well, and I stalled at one land for a couple turns before I found a Top that searched up another land, and then I wished for the Vesuva and copied my opponent’s Golgari Rot Farm. That’s when he blew up the world with Death Cloud, leaving him with two Rot Farms and me with just a Swamp in hand. He topdecks a Garruk and I’m dead soon afterwards.

Game 2 is a long, drawn-out and hard fought match that I didn’t make any notes on because I really had to think hard to pull it out. We both battle it out with Baloths and Tarmogoyfs but I manage to get Goyf advantage and win in the end. Game 3 is a heartbreaker. I believe he mulligans and then I Duress him for his Top, he plays another one but doesn’t seem to cough up much action. I’ve got a Tarmogoyf and a Deed in play, he drops a Deed and blows it for three, tapping his Top to draw a card. I then hit his Top in the graveyard with Extirpate to get rid of them (he’s got FOUR in his deck!) and am rewarded by drawing my own. I cough up a Baloth and a Tarmogoyf (which he Smother), start taking chunks out of his life total. He’s got three turns when he drops Liliana Vess and tutors for a card, putting it on top of his deck.

Can you smell that? That’s the stench of Cloudy Death on the horizon. I’ve been short on mana the whole game, and he’s got two Rot Farms out there. I’ve got the Wish but I don’t have the mana to Wish for Magus of the Moon and play it the same time. I know he’s going to blow up the world. I go ahead and Wish and dig desperately through my sideboard, hoping and praying my subconscious had slipped a Dodecapod in there. Wish for Dodecapod and the game was mine. Instead there’s nothing. I get Vesuva and play it tapped, but he blows away all my lands and my hand and leaves me with nothing. I don’t draw anything for a few turns, he gets a Garruk churning out 3/3s and finishes me soon afterward. Now I’m not even in the running for packs, so I drop, profoundly disappointed in myself after such a heartwarming start.

After playing the deck, I would definitely make a few “Bennie modifications” to the sideboard (though the maindeck is perfect). I’d like to squeeze an Offalsnout in there but I’m not sure how, and I’m pretty sure I’d remove Spiritmonger (sorry ol’ buddy) for Dodecapod. Adrian strongly disagrees with this on the grounds that Spiritmonger has won him many, many games (including helping him win his PTQ this last weekend), and that Dodecapod is way too narrow. I’m going to figure out some way to get the ‘pod in there though…

I manage to jump in the last side draft of the day to cleanse my palette, and open a Dauntless Dourbark in my first pack. Hmm, heavy Green Treefolk it is! My opponent passes me a Shriekmaw (I guess he had a nice rare in there), so I end up with a really interesting G/B Treefolk/Elves/Changeling deck that I may talk about briefly next week, and make it to the finals where we split the 8 packs 4/4. I opened Chameleon Colossus in my Morningtide pack in the draft, and in one of my prize packs there’s another Colossus staring back at me, so I nearly pay for the PTQ and draft right there in value. That definitely helps make up for my disappointing PTQ finish.

See you all next week!


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