You Lika The Juice? – PTQ Panic Time

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Wednesday, August 27th – I’ve been kicking around Necroskitter quite a bit lately, and I have to admit he’s much more impressive with a Doran in the house. Bulkowski’s got some seriously good quality creatures here with Fulminator Mage, Colossus, and Cloudthresher… Firespouts, Soul Snuffers, and Incremental Blight gives some serious creature-sweeper power.

First things first – if you were a fan of my (and Adrian Sullivan) Warp World decklist from some weeks back, make sure you check out Dave Meeson column from last week and smile. Good times, good times! But… where were your Nucklavees, son!? I have to say, if I get a chance to play Standard before the rotation, I’m definitely giving Warp World (with Nucklavee) a run.

Next, I’d like to touch on the Pro Tour schedule announcement for next year. For one thing, having it come relatively early in the year is a positive sign coming from a run of “last minute announcements” that tended to get everyone is a tizzy. Of course, I’m not a Pro so I’m not having to book flights and such so maybe this is actually “late” for those guys, but from my perspective down here in the scrum it seems refreshingly early and detailed. As a guy who is constantly railing against the Pro-centric biases of Wizards, I chalk this move up as a victory for us “little guys.” Having each Pro Tour feature a Constructed format is definitely a plus for the casual- to serious-players who are looking for ideas and netdecks to try out at their local Friday Night Magics, PTQs, Regionals, etc. While I love booster draft as much as the next guy, the nuances of pro-level Limited can get rather arcane and downright out-there. Yet every Magic player on the planet enjoys the base joy of building decks from their collection and slinging spells. Once you crack a prized card from a booster or starter pack, you want to play with the darn thing, right? Having the Pros weigh in on Constructed four times a year is going to be a big boost I think to the lower level tournament scene.

Of course, now the Pros have to prepare theoretically twice as hard for each Pro Tour… but seriously now – how many Pros don’t draft every new format a zillion times anyway? They’ll just have an extra Constructed format to add to the curriculum, more or less. And as a Consolation Prize for the extra work? How about some of the best locales on the planet? I can’t imagine many Pros who aren’t excited about going to Honolulu, Rome, and Kyoto*, and I’ve always heard that Austin was a great city so I think that’s a great addition.

Last, I’d also like to touch on the Shards of Alara prerelease card

Ajani Vengeant – 2RW
Planeswalker – Ajani (Mythic Rare)
+1: Target permanent doesn’t untap during its controller’s next untap step.
-2: Ajani Vengeant deals 3 damage to target creature or player and you gain 3 life.
-7: Destroy all lands target player controls.
Loyalty 3

So Ajani is back, and a little redder this time around, eh? The card itself is pretty interesting… man, he’s light in the pants on the loyalty count, ain’t he? Still, the ramp ability is very nice – you can Rishadan Port a land for a while, or more likely lock down a problematic creature for a while until you can dig up a way to deal with it; pretty nice for a deck that might also be running Wrath of God! The Lightning Helix effect is a nice option too. I can’t imagine Ajani will get up to the big splashy effect very often, but boy is that a serious threat to have hanging over you!

The abilities aren’t what interest me on this card so much; it’s the line that says “Planeswalker – Ajani.” The Planeswalkers rules dictate that if you have two of the same type Planeswalkers in play they both get put into the graveyard, so Ajani Goldmane and Ajani Vengeant nuke each other on the board. That’s certainly going to be some interesting Standard metagame tension for the next year. Now, we know of another planeswalker in Shards, but it’s not one we’ve seen before: Sarkhan Vol is a Planeswalker — Sarkhan. So the question is, are there going to be any more Lorwyn Planeswalker updates like Ajani in Alara? My guess is no; my wild-assed assumption is that we’ll see another spin on an “original” Planeswalker pop up in the Fall 2009 expansion, and then another in the Fall 2010 expansion, etc.

One other wild-assed guess I’d like to bounce off you regarding Shards before I get to the meat of this week’s column: I had an idea while reading an overview of the Alara world scenario:

Alara consists of five shards (“Five Worlds Share One Fate”). The story of Shards of Alara is that there was this plane, called Alara, that was a very good, rich source of mana, and someone or something shattered the world, so that it split into five different shards. And when that happened each of five shards was completely cut off from two colors of mana.

Doesn’t this seem like an interesting time to bring back Enchant Worlds? Or more correctly, “World Enchantments” as they’re called now. These interesting little card types cropped up in Legends and we last saw them in Visions. The “flavor” of these enchantments was that one Planeswalker was changing the “world” that the duel was occurring on, and if another player played a different Enchant World, then the previous Enchant World was destroyed since you were moving the playing field to a different world. Since Alara consists of different “shards,” each with its own flavor, seems like a perfect time to bring back this long forgotten card type, don’t you think?

To add further fuel for speculation, the June 28, 2007 Magic Arcana (World Enchantments ) dealt with this old card type. Wouldn’t this have been about the time they were fleshing out Shards of Alara?

Three Days to the PTQ — Tick Tock! Tick Tock!
So it’s three days before the big tournament, and I still haven’t decided on a deck – what else is new? I’ve spent the last few weeks combing through decklists trying to find one that “feels good.” While I’ve been keeping an eye on the offerings from the deck labs of Chapin, Sullivan, Flores, and Feldman, I’ve also been trolling through the Top 8 lists from the PTQs over on Magicthegathering.com. While we focus a lot on the winning decks from the PTQs, getting Top 8 at a PTQ isn’t exactly easy, so I like to keep an eye on all of those decks. Pouring through these lists are rather excruciating for someone who isn’t interested in playing Cryptic Command, and it’s hard to keep your eyes focused when you see list after list of Faeries and Quick n’ Toast. Still, there were some decks that caught my eye and I wanted to share them with you:

This maindeck is about as baseline a Doran build as you can get, and of all the various flavors of Doran, the Scarblade Elite version I find the most appealing. Schaff went hard-core Eventide with his sideboard, utilizing the new Wrath of God Hallowed Burial, along with Soul Snuffers for mass weenie removal, and even red-hot weenie Stillmoon Cavalier getting some love. I probably wouldn’t run this sideboard, but I have to say the maindeck is my “safe” pick for the PTQ.

I’ve playtested Doran decks more than anything else in Block, and one thing that bothers me is the lack of card drawing in the deck. Elementals feature the card-drawing Mulldrifter, elemental tutoring, and a manabase that can also run Doran, so it’s awfully tempting, especially with Reveillark being more than willing to get back Doran from the grumper.

I’m not sure what to call this deck… or what to make of it. It seems to be set up to gain maximum use of Deathbringer Liege, but it only runs three copies. You can churn out tokens with Bitterblossom and Spectral Procession, but there’s no “Wrath.” You’ve got Profane Command but only 11 actual creatures, and none of them are particularly beefy. What really caught my eye was the Batwing Brumes in the sideboard, a card that I’ve been considering lately in my Reflecting Pool builds since I usually can generate both Black and White mana. A Fog that can deal damage seems like a very interesting answer to Mirrorweave “alpha-strike,” though I think it would be more effective in a deck like Doran that can combine the damage with an effective counterattack.

This deck just had me laughing envisioning how many blown-minds Nugent left in his wake on his march to Top 8. If he’d won the blue envelope he’d have no doubt been crowned a genius by the Magic pundits. I love how he took the Quick ‘N’ Toast core and then added a healthy dose of surprises – Hallowed Burial, Overbeing of Myth, Glen Elendra Archmage… friggin’ FOUR Knollspine Invocations in the sideboard? As a player of Aggro Zur, I respect me some KI, let me tell you. And check out the Springjack Pasture amongst the lands – did you realize it turns on all five colors for Reflecting Pool?

People may dismiss this deck as perhaps incoherent… perhaps “off message”… me, I like surprises. Well done, Mr. Nugent.

Necro Doran, by Jason Bulkowski
Grand Prix: Denver Trials, 1st Place

2 Fire-Lit Thicket
2 Gilt-Leaf Palace
1 Graven Cairns
4 Murmuring Bosk
4 Reflecting Pool
2 Twilight Mire
3 Vivid Grove
4 Vivid Marsh
2 Wooded Bastion
4 Chameleon Colossus
3 Cloudthresher
4 Doran, the Siege Tower
4 Fulminator Mage
4 Necroskitter
2 Soul Snuffers
4 Firespout
1 Incremental Blight
2 Liliana Vess
4 Oblivion Ring
1 Profane Command
3 Thoughtseize

1 Cloudthresher
4 Kitchen Finks
2 Nameless Inversion
1 Primal Command
2 Puppeteer Clique
1 Thoughtseize
4 Wispmare

Back to the Doran builds… I’ve been kicking around Necroskitter quite a bit lately, and I have to admit he’s much more impressive with a Doran in the house. Bulkowski’s got some seriously good quality creatures here with Fulminator Mage, Colossus, and CloudthresherFirespouts, Soul Snuffers, and Incremental Blight gives some serious creature-sweeper power. The non-creature spells look a little willy-nilly but they’re all decent to great spells. I like it.

So… what the heck am I going to play this Saturday? Leading up to this past weekend, I was leaning heavily on the following concept:

1. Attack your opponent’s hand early with Thoughtseize and Raven’s Crime (making sure you can enable the Retrace to “break off” the Crime).

2. With your opponent’s ability to respond hopefully weakened, start dropping large, hard-to-deal-with creatures like Doran, Chameleon Colossus, and other big ‘uns.

3. Sprinkle in heaping helpings of creature removal.

For Retrace shenanigans, I started with a full boat of Tilling Treefolk, along with River Kelpies and Spitting Images, and it was all fun and all… but in this format chock full of individually powerful cards, while you spend your time and mana setting up your killer synergies, your opponent is just killing you. The first darling I killed from the list was my beloved River Kelpie, since there were much better cards floating around for five mana, like Archon of Justice. I was dropping River Kelpie, and my opponent was dropping Demigod of Revenge and smashing my face in.

Hmm, Demigod of Revenge… wasn’t there a Pro out there during some event coverage who mentioned “splashing” Demigod of Revenge into his Quick n’ Toast deck? [That’ll be Quentin Martin at UK Nationals — Craig.] I was running a Reflecting Pool manabase, and Demigod certainly fit the bill as large, hard-to-deal-with creature! Could I splash Demigod of Revenge into my Doran build?

Suddenly things started clicking. While my Raven’s Crime/Retrace shenanigans, occasionally impressive, wasn’t consistent or powerful enough to ultimately make the cut, I did like what Demigod added to the deck. Here’s what I have so far:

The Snakeforms have been everything from Oblivion Rings to Crib Swaps, but once I added Necroskitter (and Soul Snuffer) to the mix, Snakeform becomes more attractive, and you gotta love the cantrip in a deck that has no other card draw. What’s fun is that there’s no problem getting the five Black mana you need for Demigod with this manabase, outside of the occasional comes-into-play tapped hiccups, but you basically just hang on to your Changelings to make sure your tribal lands come into play untapped when you need them.

The heavy Black option means I can even consider cards like Unmake, Stillmoon Cavalier, and, heck, even Ashenmoor Gouger (a card I considered until settling on Necroskitter). I’d like to squeeze some Profane Commands in here, but ultimately wanted those Cloudthreshers in the maindeck.

What do you think – any suggestions for the maindeck or sideboard, or any other non-Cryptic Command decks that have done well for you? I’m always open to ideas… even (and especially) at crunch time!

Wish me luck, and good luck to you if you’re playing this weekend too!

Take care.


starcitygeezer AT gmail DOT com

* Speaking of Kyoto… Scott Larabee said that it was once the capital of Japan before Tokyo… and isn’t it interesting that Kyoto and Tokyo use the same letters? Is this just a fluke coincidence in the English translation?