Category Archives: standard

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Tales From Nationals Qualifiers: Bant Caw Blade (Top 8)

This past week, myself and 4 other friends made the 3 hour drive from Edmonton to Calgary for one of the 4 8-slot nationals qualifiers. In the weeks beforehand, I was testing every variation of Caw Blade possible, and I knew I wanted to play the best deck for this event. However, I was quite wary of the fact that I would be paired up against the mirror several times, and wanted to have an edge in that matchup.

On the Wednesday beforehand, I played a variant of Gerry Thompson’s Darkblade, which I liked. However, I lost in the finals to blue/white because I didn’t have a good plan for sideboarding, that is, I had lots of cards to put in, but so few to take out. This is an example of how not to give yourself the best shot at winning. I really liked the black splash for Inquisition of Kozilek and Creeping Tar Pit, but it still felt like the edge I had wasn’t enough to make the matchup decisively in my favour.

Sometime about midweek, my good friend (and recent PTQ winner) Brian told me of a Bant Caw blade deck that splashed green for Lotus Cobra and Explore. Apparently normal cawblade was one of your best matchups, because a turn 2 Cobra is so much better than a turn 2 stoneforge.

I kept the idea in the back of my mind, knowing that I really didn’t want to audible at the last minute, as I had been practicing with Darkblade and felt more or less comfortable with it, once I had wrinkled out the sideboard plan against blue-white.

On Thursday, I netdecked Gerry’s list for straight blue-white and went to another tournament, which I 3-0ed. The competition was not exactly fierce, and so I took my results their with a grain of salt. I liked hwo the deck played, but I still was unsure.

The one thing I knew I had going for me was that whatever I had been practicing, it had been some form of Caw-Blade. I knew how the mechanics of the deck worked, and despite the differences in colours, I knew I was a competent pilot who could do well with it. However, I did have to make a decision.

Friday night was a draft at Wizard’s, my local store. We had about ~20 people in the smalls store, but the draft fired with 8. The rest of us were testing for the day after. Since I was spending the night with some friends before we drove down the night before, I had brought my 2 binders of standard rares and of tournament-quality commons/uncommons. These binders effectively let me build any deck I need to on the fly. I tested the various cawblade mirrors and got to understand them more, and then Brian asked me if I had done anything with the bant deck. I told him I hadn’t, and that I was probably going to play Darkblade. He said I should sleeve it up and give it a few games just to try, and so I built the deck.

I was pretty amazed.

We started out testing against RUG. I was on the play. I cast a turn 2 Lotus Cobra. He cast a turn 2 Lotus Cobra. I cast Explore into a fetchland and a normal land, cast Preordain, cast Stoneforge Mystic, fetched and cast Mortarpod and killed his cobra. The game was won shortly thereafter.

Now obviously this was an example of a nut draw, but that in and of itself speaks volumes. The one thing that normal caw blade doesn’t have is a ‘nut draw’. Rather, you have a very consistent deck that does powerful things, but not absurdly powerful things. The Cobra package changes that. At the heart, you’ve still got the same old cawblade shell, but you’ve added more speed and explosiveness to the deck.

So I was really happy with that game. Obviously I realized that I wouldn’t always draw like that, but that fact that it could happen was what attracted me to the deck. We played some more matches and drew up the sideboard and this is what we came up with.
Snakes on a Blade


Sideboard

Besides the green splash, there are a few things which make this deck stand out from your typical cawblade deck.

Frost Titan is a card which was in the original version of the list that Brian had found, and after trying it out I was happy to leave it in. Being able to tap down opposing titans, Creeping Tar Pits, or even Gideon Juras proved to be invaluable, and the demi-shroud certainly helped as well. Some lists run Sphinx of Jwar Isle, but I’d much rather have a guy which can do combat with titans, and tap stuff down than full-fledged shroud. As well, who doesn’t love a Titan wielding a sword?

Instead of a second Sword in the mainboard, we run a Bonehoard. Because we run 7 more creatures than normal (4 Cobras and 3 Titans), Bonehoard is more effective. It also helps a great deal in the mirror if I need to take down a Gideon Jura in the late game, or if I just really want another sizeable blocker against aggro decks.

The deck’s mana base is a little awkward, if only because we have so many green sources and not a ton to use them for, but it works out reasonably well. Because of the mana acceleration provided by Lotus Cobra and Explore, this deck is less weak to Tectonic Edge than say Darkblade.

The sideboard is pretty straightforward, but one thing I like is the pair of Tectonic Edges. Note that we don’t ever board out lands for these; rather you treat them as spells so that our mana is still consistent. They’re obviously good against Valakut but also can be very helpful against control decks like Darkblade, espeilly if their game plan involves manlands.

So, after switch to the Bant version of cawblade, I was ready to go crush the tournament the next day.

Other than myself, the group that we brought down had a Valakut player, a blue-white caw blade player, a RUG player (who top 8ed) and a mono white eldrazi player. As soon as I heard about one person playing mono white, I tried to convince him to play Caw Blade but to no avail. Oh well, you can’t win ‘em all.

Round 1: vs Michael (Tezzeret Caw Blade)
In game 1, I never saw any extraneous artifacts so I assumed he was on plain old Darkblade. I get an early Stoneforge Mystic but he Inquisition of Kozileks away my Sword of Feast and Famine. However, I soon cast a Frost Titan and tap down his Tectonic Edge so that he can’t take me off double white for Gideon Jura. He then punts by casting a Squadron Hawk, which resolves, and then attempting to Go For the Throat my titan with no mana up. I cheerfully indicate that it’s countered and he succumbs to the combine power of Titan and my follow-up Gideon.

Sideboarding: Caw Blade
In this matchup, I board out Mortarpod, a Mana Leak, a Frost Titan and a Day of Judgment. Aside from Mana Leak, these cards don’t do nearly as much as some of the cards I have post-board, and in this style of deck I’d rather play more spells than leave leak mana open in this matchup.

I board in the second sword, because they’re most likely bringing in Divine Offerings or something like that, as well as Voltion Reins for either their sword or their planeswalkers, as well as Into the Roil and Condemn. Spot removal is very useful in this matchup if you can get them to spend their early turns on equipping someone with a Sword, and then you can prohibit them from untapping and get ahead.

On the draw, you can board out 1-2 more leaks for Tec-edges if you feel they’re warranted. In this match I brought 1 in.

In game 2, Michael leads off with a Stoneforge Mystic for Sword of Body and Mind. Because I can’t see him boarding in body and mind against me, I just assume he’s playing a 1/1 split and has Sword of Feast and Famine in his hand. I play a turn 2 Lotus Cobra, hoping to explode on turn 3, but to my surprise he plays a Contagion Clasp[. I didn’t know he was Caw-Tezz at that moment, so I concluded that he might have seem green mana game 1, and inferred that I would have Cobras and then have boarded in Clasps. Of course, he was not next-leveling me, and jut never drew them in game 1. He establishes a board of Squadron Hawks and starts pecking me to death, and when I finally land a Gideon he simply kills it with birds and a Celestial Colonnade. I can only survive being hit with sworded birds for so long and I fold without dealing him any damage.

In game 3, I keep a hand with double Lotus Cobra. My opponent, conveniently enough has double Go For the Throat to dispatch them. He tries to Memoricide me, and while I tank as to whether or not I should counter it he announces Frost Titan. Seeing as I have a titan in hand I snap counter. If any of you are playing with Memoricide, know that you don’t name a card until the spell has resolved, so as not to give away any extra information to your opponent. I stick the titan soon after and he resolves a Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas and starts using the +1 ability. He whiffs for several turns in a row while I add a gideon to my team, and tap down his Creeping Tar Pit. When Michael lands a Tumble Magnet and makes it a 5/5 with Tezzeret, I happily force the magnet to attack Gideon and ride my titan to victory.

1 – 0

Round 2: vs Chris (Black-Red Vampires)

Chris is one of the better players in Alberta, so I knew this game wasn’t going to be easy. In game 1, I have double Stoneforge Mystic, which fetch Mortarpod and Sword. The first mystic gets hit by a Lightning Bolt, while the second one sticks. I flash in the Sword and equip it to the germ token and bash in, untapping and forcing a discard. Searching for an answer, Chris activates Viscera Seer, saccing itself to scry. He scrys first, and then attempts to nug me for 2 with Kalastria Highborn. I call a judge and the judge tells him that he can’t do that. This is because you activate the seer’s ability by paying the cost (sacrificing a creature) and putting the ability onto the stack. Highborn triggers and its ability is put on to the stack above the scry ability, and must resolve first. Because it’s a may ability and Chris scryed first, it’s assumed that he didn’t pay for the highborn and by the time he’s already scryed, it’s too late as the ability has already resolved. With an active Sword, it wouldn’t have made much of a difference anyway and and I quickly take the game.

Sideboarding: Vampires

Against vampires, I board out Cobras, 2 leaks and a jace. They have so much removal that Cobra will die almost instantly, and it trades poorly in combat with things like Bloodghast and Viscera Seer. Leaks sometimes don’t do enough, but since I had seen Captivating Vampire in game 1, I reasoned that keeping one in would be better than the 4th Jace.

I boarded in the 2 Kor Firewalkers, the Sylvok Lifestaff, both Ousts, the Condemn, the Day of Judgment and the Into the Roil.

In game 2, I mulligan and keep a slow hand. Chris punishes me with a bunch of vampires, and I can’t stabilize. My notes show him going to 18 and then to 21, and me getting slaughtered, so it wasn’t very close.

Game 3 was where I determined I was running good enough to top 8. I’m on the play and I mulligan down to 5, and all those 5 cards are land. Begrudgingly, I keep 5 land, reasoning that I could hit an absolutely unplayable 4 and at least this way I can play most everything I draw. Chris starts off fast with a Viscera Seer, Kalastria Highborn and a Captivating Vampire. Luckily, I hit a Day of Judgment and reset the board. I then draw into a Jace, the Mind Sculptor, which brainstorms into a Kor Firewalker and Mortarpod. I suit up the firewalker, content to sit back and brainstorm for a few turns, and when Chris attacks me with a 2/2 vampire (I forget which one), I promptly block with my 2/3. To my chagrin, Chris casts a Crush. to force the trade. Eventually I hit a Squadron Hawk and Gideon, which gives me enough card advantage and firepower to win the game. If I could get there off of 5 land, there was nothing that could stop me on my way to nationals.

2 – 0

Round 3: vs Chris (different guy; Valakut)

In game one, Chris misses his 5th land drop with no Overgrown Battlement nor Lotus Cobra. This lets me get a Sword of Feast and Famine online pretty quickly, and force him to start discarding. He manages to eventually resolve an Avenger of Zendikar, but I force the attack with Gideon Jura, and since he doesn’t have a land immediately, I strat killing off plants with Squadron Hawks. I Assassinate the Avenger with gideon on the following turn and he has no gas to stop me.

Sideboarding: Valakut
Against Valakut, we want to be boarding out Squadron Hawks, because not only do they have Inferno Titan and perhaps Slagstorm, but they have enough pressure that you can’t just sit back on massive card advantage from Jace and Hawks and hope they run out of steam. We also want to board out the Bonehoard, as it really doesn’t do anything, along with a Frost Titan and a Gideon Jura. It might be correct to board out the second Gideon and keep in all the Frost Titans, but being able to soak up a hit from Avenger and friends is relevant enough that I don’t mind the 2/1 split postboard. The reason we board out some top-heavy cards is that the only way they really have to interact with our finishers is through their own finishers. If we focus more on ensuring that they don’t stick one of their bigger threats (or if they do, that they are delayed), we really only need 1 or 2 threats to finish the game. Finally, we board out Mortarpod if we don’t see Lotus Cobra, but if we do we leave it in.

From the board we want to add in all the copies of Flashfreeze, both Tectonic Edges, both Ousts, and the second Sword. The first two are pretty obvious, but Oust is really good against either their cobras or battlements, as it not only slows their mana production, but it gives them a semi-dead draw in the later turns. A turn 4 Overgrown Battlement is a lot worse than one on turn 2. The sword is good because they might bring in something along the lines of Natures Claim, and because we’re boarding out 2 equipment and we don’t want extra Stoneforge Mystics to not give us advantage.

In game 2, Chris misses his 5th and drop before drawing and casting a Cultivate. He then resolves a Primeval Titan, which is a lot less effective when his lands at the time were 5 forests and a mountain. He grabbed double Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, and I happily locked down his Primeval with a Frost Titan. Not to be outdone in the haymaker department, Chris threw down an Avenger and dropped a land. I Ousted the avenger and then Stoneforged for a Sword, and attached it to Frosty. Unable to deal with my 8/8 titan, he quickly packed it in.

3 – 0

Round 4: vs Andrew (UW Cawblade)

Andrew leads off with a turn 2 Stoneforge Mystic for Sword, while I have a turn 2 Lotus Cobra. He quickly Mortarpods away my snake and I have to play my own Stoneforge for sword. I resolve my first hawk and get in good with my sword after chumping his, and although he has an Elspeth Tirel and triple Gideon Jura, my collonades and titans manage to take it down.

I sideboarded in much the same way as in round 1.

Game 2 was an interesting affair, with me having turn 2 Lotus Cobra, although it got Ousted twice. Andrew then cast a Gideon Jura and double Tectonic Edge me. I played a Gideon of my own but then he bricked on land and I was able to stabilize of my lands and lotus cobras to eventually kill him. I’m sorry if my notes were a little sparse but the matches were more intense than the brief notes I’ve marked down. However, this game does showcase one awesome thing about this deck. The cobra plan is so different than the stoneforge/squadron hawk plan that you have opponents who bring in things like Oust which while fine against the cobra plan, isn’t nearly as good against stoneforge, hawks, or various planeswalkers. The only card that’s really good against the cobra plan while not being totally divergent from their normal plan is Mortarpod. However, if your opponent fetches Mortarpod to deal with cobra, it means they’re not gettinf a sword to put pressure on you, and when you drop your own stoneforge you get to be the aggressor.

4 – 0

Round 5: vs Michel (UW Venser Control)

I’m excited, because a win here means I can double-draw into top 8. I start off with a strong opener: Lotus Cobra into Stoneforge Mystic, which gets Mana Leaked. Unfortunately I don’t hit my 4th land drop until several turns and Preordains have elapsed, while Michel is more than content to accumulate card advantage through a Jace Beleren while sitting behind a Wall of Omens. Once I get a Squadron Hawk online and equipped, Michel has a Tumble Magnet to stop me form getting it in. He finally resolves a Venser, the Soujourner, and continues to Flicker out his magnet, ensuring I can’t get in an attack. When he finally ultimates venser and starts casting a bunch of spells, while his Celestial Colonnades get in for damage, I know it’s game over.

Sideboarding: Non-Caw based control
So for this matchup I board out pretty much all my creature removal, as the only creatures I saw were Wall of Omens and manlands. So I bring out Mortarpod, Day of Judgment, as well as Bonehoard and one Stoneforge Mystic in favour of Voltion Reins, the Into the Roil, and 2 Tectonic Edge.

In game 2 Michel keeps a land-light hand and has no outs to me swining with unsworded hawks. Not much of a match.

In game 3 we have a slow control match, where I manage to stick a Jace, the Mind Sculptor and start fatesealing. When Jace gets to 13 loyalty, I put a Preordain on the bottom and Michel rips the [card]Jace Beleren to stay alive. He eventually gets a Venser the Soujourner and goes ultimate. This game was about as “draw-go” as you can get, and in the end the deck with 7 Jaces won the Jace war, and by extension the game.

4 – 1

Round 6: vs Mat (Aggro Valakut)

We both have relatively slow starts, and Mat misses his 4th land drop. I try and get ahead with a jace but it quickly dies to a burn spell. Mat hits his 4th land drop, but he only has one forest, and I cast a Frost Titan to lock him out of his only green source and the game.

For sideboarding, I boarded the same way as round 3, except I took out Explores and 2 leaks for Kor Firewalkers, Condemn and the Sylvok Lifestaff. These cards are much better agains the aggro plan while shaving off some of the slower, less effective cards.

On the draw in game 2, I mullligan to 5 and get hit by Lotus Cobra into double Hero of Oxid Ridge. Again, not much of a match.

In game 3, I mulligan to 6 and keep possibly the ideal 6 card hand. I keep Seachrome Coast, Razorverge Thicket, double Oust[card], [card]Kor Firewalker and Stoneforge Mystic. I throw down an early firewalker, and hit my land and Oust his [/card]Lotus Cobra[/card] and fetch Sword of Feast and Famine. I put the sword on the Firewalker, and start swinging in for huge value. He eventually draws a Tumble Magnet to stall, but I eventually just wear down the counters and get through for my souped-up firewalker.

5 – 1

Round 7: vs Adrian (Valakut)

I’m in 6th, paired against the 5th place guy and we intentionally draw. I’m reasonably confident I’m in for top 8.

5 – 1 – 1

When everything is said and done, Jason Ness (the TO) informs everyone that one person at 5-1-1 did not make top 8. He reads them off in descending order and slowrolls us on the 8th seed, by thanking the judges and players and doing announcements just before he makes the announcement. Thankfully, he calls my name and I’m headed for nationals this summer in Toronto.

Because this was a large nationals qualifier, we didn’t play out the top 8. My good friend Attila also made top 8 with RUG, so we were happy that we’d have 4 people from our store headed to nationals this summer.

The deck played very well, and my only loss was to a great player with a great deck. I’m certainly looking forward to trying the Venser deck out once I can get some Vensers of my own. I felt noticeably ahead at almost all times in the mirror, and Frost Titan did more than his fair share of work. If I could change anything, I would probably cut a green source, most likely a Verdant Catacombs for another white source, perhaps a Stirring Wildwood or just another basic plains. Other than that, the deck performed extremely well and I highly recommend it to anyone playing in their local nationals qualifiers in the coming weeks.

I’d love to give a shout out to my testing group from Wizard’s Comics: Attila, for grinding MWS matches with me for hours on end in the preceding weeks; Brian, for convincing me to try the deck and helping me with the sideboard; Stephen, for driving all of us down to Calgary despite the horrid road conditions, and everyone else for helping me along the way – you guys are awesome.

If you have any questions about Bant cawblade, or anything else, feel free to post in the comments below, or email me at zak-AT-power9pro.com or via twitter at www.twitter.com/zturchan.

Cheers,

Zak

Mythic Rare Review – Top 10 Worst Mythic Rares

Ban Jace!   This was the cry from magic players across the Twitterverse after the amazing showing JTMS had at the Grand Prix in Dallas.  If you haven’t heard by now, 32 copies of Jace the Mind Sculptor were in the top 8 (yup that’s four copies per deck).  The top 8 included various Caw-Blade and RUG builds all sporting the mightiest of Planeswalkers.  Personally, I don’t feel that it is necessary to ban Jace at this time.  The last time a card was banned in the middle of it’s Standard heyday was the super powerful Skullclamp.  Many people have been comparing ‘Ol Blue Eyes with the clamp but I feel that this comparison doesn’t hold water.  At the time when Skullclamp was running rampant everydeck was running four copies no matter what color.  “But Justin, every top deck at the Grand Prix was running Jace.”  That’s true, but this is only the most recent tournament.  Is Jace an incredibly powerful card?  Yup.  Are Mythic Rares supposed to be really powerful? Yup.  Did Wizard’s not realize how powerful JTMS would be? Yup.  Is Jace more format defining/powerful/broken than Skullclamp?  Not really.  I want to leave the discussion to those who are more qualified, but I feel that this topic will ignite debate until Jace is a small speck in Standard’s rear-view mirror.  All of the debate started to make me think about Mythic Rares.

Wizard’s went to the four tier rarity system in the Alara block and since then 158 cards have been printed at or reclassified as Mythic Rare.  With the release of Duel Decks and the From the Vault series (not FtV Dragons) many cards were pushed up to Mythic status; that’s right, Aether Vial is considered a Mythic.  For the purpose of this article however, I will not include the special promo releases.  I know that the term “worst” is very subjective.  I am basing my assessment on tournament impact, casual experience, and limited applications.  I am also influenced by the flavor and complexity of the card.  If you disagree just let me know in the comments below.

Honorable Mention

The “fixed” version of Lord of the Pit never had any impact on Standard and his drawback was difficult to mitigate in Limited where loosing a creature every turn is devastating.  I feel that the biggest problem with the Demon was that his casting cost did not allow him to fit into Jund, the most dominant Type 2 deck at the time.

#10 –

Obsidian Fireheart has a very unique ability.  His ability is quite expensive for the return you get.  Blaze counters do not stack so your value drops mid-to-late game.  7 mana is a large investment to have a small amount of return over time.  The triple red in his casting cost almost ensures that the Fireheart will have to be played in mono-red which seeks to maximize resource development and generate advantage through sheer power.  Obsidian Fireheart causes the mon-red deck to loose tempo because of the awkward activation cost.  At 1RRR I would rather cast Cyclops Gladiator.  At the time Obsidian Fireheart was released it was just too slow to compete in Standard.  Fireheart does have the coolest reminder text ever.

#9 –

A 6 mana, life-gain, artifact (life gain for all intents and purposes).  I have seen this card get used in EDH hand in hand with Necropotence.  EV can make you near unkillable under the right circumstances.  The problem with the vessel is that it just prolongs the game without impacting the board.  It is a safety net.  EV is a good card, but it does not deserve the mantle of Mythic Rare.  For one thing, you can never gain more life than you had when the vessel came into play making it very awkward for Standard play.  I think EV will be seen casually in Commander but not very often.

#8 –

When I first saw this card I thought it screamed Commander.  It is obvious from the casting cost that this 8 mana spell will never see serious play.  For 8 mana I want win now.  What the Praetor’s are Counseling is to wait until late in the game to get back some powerful spells.  The problem is that while you are spending your turn getting stuff from the yard, you are not actually doing anything to change the board.  The secondary ability of not having a maximum hand size for the rest of the game will not matter very much because it will probably be towards the end of the game when it is necessary to cast the Counsel.  Maybe in a G/R EDH deck with Lands Edge and Life from the Loam….  

#7 –

Good Stats and one very risky ability.  This Demon wants to be able to combo with something.  I have seen a casual Hellcarver list and it looked pretty fun.  My biggest problem with the Demon is to potential to totally wiff and take yourself out of the game.  “Free” spells are powerful but consistent library manipulation is necessary in order to make it work.  If only there was something in Standard that let you have a Brainstorm effect every turn…. All kidding aside, Hellcarver would still have a rough time even if he was paired with JTMS.  The 3BBB casting cost is prohibitive in an environment without vivid lands and Reflecting Pool.  I want my Mythic Rares to advance my end game without the potential to end my fun.  OH! How about Praetor’s Counsel to counter-act the sacrificing?  We might have something there.

#6

Some of you might remember that I am not a fan of “level up”.  Very few creatures are worth the trouble.  At first glance the Master seems pretty sweet since his level cost is only 1, but you need to get him to level 6 in order for his fist ability to take effect and he needs to hit 12 before he turns into a beast.  That is a fifteen mana investment. 9/9, lifelink, indestructible is nothing to sneeze at but  the master is still too slow for Standard.  What would I rather have for 15 mana?  Emrakul, the Aeons Torn seems good.  I know that it is not a fair comparison but the point still remains.  You need to be able to maximize you resources throughout a game of Magic and the Master is far too slow to have the impact you want outside of kitchen table play.

#5 –

Yeah, he swings for nine.  He can gain some life if you need to be on defence.  You will probably need to be on defence if you are relying on this Sphinx to end the game for you. 4WUUB is not a very friendly casting cost.  The biggest problem with the Sovereign is his big brother Sphinx of the Steel Wind.  5WUB is a tad bit easier but look at the abilities that impact the game.  Steel Wind is offence and defence.  Steel Wind also shrugs off the two colors that hate on artifacts the most.  Sovereign just doesn’t compare to the other Mythic Sphinxes (Sphinxi? Sphinx?) available. 

#4 –

Junk Mythic Rare?  Every time I saw someone open this card they looked sad.  “Awww I wanted Emrakul.”  A 4UUU enchantment that does not impact the board right away.  What do you really want to have rebound in blue?  Card drawing?  Maybe.  Bounce?  Seems better.  It doesn’t work on Jace.  I would almost rather play anything than this card.  Red gets the most mileage out of rebound but the tripple U in the casting cost makes that a pipe dream.  $1.99 on SCG.

#3 –

This guy could easily be in the #1 slot.  His ability was largely irrelevant when he was released.  In sealed he was a picked up only as a big flying body.  There was never a home for him in Standard when Jund was running wild.  He could not deal with the best cards in his own block: Bloodbraid Elf.  The Defiler was more of a Mythic fail.  His art is really cool (glass half full).

#2 –

 I am always reminded of when I was trying to get Final Fantasy one to start up in the old Nintendo.  You had to keep hitting the Reset button over and over again until it worked.  This seems like a good safety net, right?  You get to start all over.  You don’t loose!   So what’s the problem?  Think about it for a second…. I know you need to ready the card again….  Yup.  Your opponent is still at the same game-state that killed you in the first place.  Yup.  Sword equipped Hawks, Titans, Valakut and whatever else are still sitting across the table and you have nothing in play.  That turn one Inquisition of Kozilek aint looking so good now.

Drum Roll

#1 Worst Mythic Rare

What’s that?  His expansion symbol is gold and not orange?  That’s right.  Protean Hydra got bumped off of the Mythic squad.  In M10 Wizard’s felt that this hydra had strong Mythic potential.  Then they realized that it was just a very complex creature that required players to do extra math and need to remember to manipulate counters.  This was a Mythic in the same set as Baneslayer Angel!  I like the idea but Protean Hydra fell flat.

I know that there are some other Mythics that can make a good case for being on this list (Mirror-Sigil Sergeant comes to mind), but these are all cards that have disappointed me in the past.  I know that Wizard’s can’t make all of the Mythics at the same power level as Jace and the Titans but these really fell short of the mark.  Some poor Mythics just never found a good home.  Remember Novablast Wurm?  What about Comet Storm?  Let me know what you think should have made the list.

The spoiler for New Phyrexia just popped up as I was finishing this article.  Which mythics from the newest set have the best chance to  make it on this list?    

Jace, the Mind Sculptor.full

Jace the Mind Sculptor: Ban-Worthy?

Shortly after the culmination of GP Dallas-Fort Worth, a plethora of magic players expressed their concern about the perceived dominance of Jace decks in standard.  For those of you who were not aware, the top 8 of this most recent GP boasted a top 8 which contained 32 copies of both Jace, the Mind Scluptor and Preordain.

The presence of 32 copies of a card in the same top 8 is something that happens very rarely.  In fact, there have only been 2 large events where such a thing has happened before.  The first was GP Kuala Lampur 2010, where the top 8 was comprised of 6 Jund decks, 1 Boros deck, and 1 Mono-Red deck, which eventually won.  Each of these decks was packing a full set of Lightning Bolts, one of the most efficient removal spells ever printed.  The second time was in a Magic Online Championbship Series tournament (which are in essence the most competitive tournaments on MODO) which had 32 copies of Bloodbraid Elf in the top 8, as Jund was almost certainly the best deck in Shards of Alara block constructed.

Let’s examine these two previous incidents.  In the first instance, I don’t think anyone was ever calling for the banning of Lightning Bolt, and we certainly didn’t have #banbolt as a twitter hashtag like #banjace has become.  In the case of 32 Bloodbraid elves, Alara block constructed wasn’t exactly a popular format, and as such didn’t get the attention that a large standard event would.  While there were most certainly people calling for the banning of Bloodbraid Elf in standard, there was always at least one non-bloodbraid based deck in every top 8.

So what makes this instance of 32 Jaces different?  Why has this one event created a huge cry for the banning of the blue planeswalker?  We all know that Jace is extremely powerful, but all of a sudden people are saying that it should be banned in standard.

So let’s run through the case that the #banjace team has put forward.

1. Lack of viable competitive archetypes

The top 8 of Dallas contained an even split of RUG decks and UW Caw-BLade decks.  Previous to this top 8, the best decks in the format were generally assumed to include those 2, in addition to Valakut and Boros.  However, many people are now discounting non-jace based decks for competitive play, and might stop attending standard tournaments if they either don’t have Jaces.  The pro-ban argument likens Jace’s dominance to Affinity back in the original Mirrodin Block, where affinity had a stranglehold on the standard environment.

2. Price

It’s no secret that Jace is the most expensive card standard has seen in recent memory (I can’t speak for the early days of type 2, as I wasn’t there).  He was initially sold at $25, and then worked his way up to the $90-$100 interval that he now rests at.  Some blame this price on mythic rares, some blame it on a conspiracy by Star City Games, while others have their own theories.  Regardless, many people believe that it’s not in the best interest of the game to have to pay $400 for a set of cards to be competitive, especially when they will rotates in the fall.

Taken together, these arguments form a syllogism with the following premises and conclusions.

1. Jace is prohibitively expensive.

2. Jace is necessary to win at competitive standard.

Therefore:

3. People who can’t afford Jace can’t win at competitive standard.

Finally, the supposed solution to this problem is to ban Jace from standard play.

The magic community is pretty firmly divided on this issue, and I’m going to outline my views on why Jace should not be banned.  There are some problems with what the #banjace side is arguing and I’ll address their points one by one.

1. Jace is prohibitively expensive.

I agree.  That’s right – as someone who owns 4 Jaces, I’m disappointed that a Jace costs $100.  I acquired my jaces at varying price points: opening 1, buying one at $35, trading for one at $50 value, and buying one for $85 worth of store credit.  Now I have $400 worth of Jaces, and I don’t think they should be worth that much.  This is a problem, and I wholeheartedly agree that something needs to be done.

I propose a promotional reprint of Jace 2.0.  Similar to the situation in legacy with Candelabra of Tawnos, there are many players who can’t afford to play the decks they want because they are priced out of them.  While I have several hundred dollars worth of Jaces, I would be terrifically happy if they reprinted him and he tanked to $20-$30.  Why?  I’m a magic player at heart, and the more people that cna play magic and play the decks they want, the happier I am because it means the game will survive longer.  I’ve seen new players leave my local game store because they hate getting beaten by a card they can’t afford.  This game should be first and foremost about the players, and you have to cater to them.  The problem with this is getting the right number of jaces out to the right people.  We can’t do an FNM promo, because that only rewards players who have them already, and a judge foil is even more limited.  I think something like a duel decks would be perfect, but produced in numbers to satisfy demand so that stores don’t artificially jack up the prices a la From the Vault.

The reason that the idea of a standard format is so good is that new players can break into competitive magic relatively easily, without having to put down a huge investment.  Once a player is sufficiently immersed in the game, then they begin to invest in older formats like legacy once their tournament winnings keep them more or less self-sufficient.  Thus, it’s in the best interest of the game to reprint Jace, and slightly upset a few players but make it possible for those who understandably don’t want to invest $400 in a set of cards which will rotate in October.

Some of you are probably saying, “But a mass reprint will make people who did pay the $400 angry!”  While this can be true, I don’t think anyone who wants this game to grow can say that having to pay $400 for playset of Jaces is a good thing.  If we consider the option of either reprinting or banning Jace based on price, we realize that we’re going to piss someone off.  If you ban jace, not only has a great deal of value been lost, but now people can’t even play with the cards they worked hard to obtain.  Rather, a reprint would allow more people to play with one of the most powerful cards in magic’s history.

In short, people need to be able to take a hit to the value of their collections for the game to grow.  The same argument could be made about the reserve list, but that’s a topic for another day.

2. Jace is necessary to win at competitive standard

Yes, there were 32 Jaces in the GPDFW top 8.  However, one event is a very small sample size and we cannot draw this conclusion from one top 8.  Yes, Jace decks are dominant, but that doesn’t mean they’re unbeatable.  Remember when Jund was super dominant?  How did the magic community begin to beat it?  We learned to attack the mana base, and I top 8ed provincials with a Gerry Thompson list that was designed to utterly destroy jund by exploiting that weakness.

Similarly, jace decks are weaker to creatures with haste and/or shroud, because they usually only pack a few board wipes and their creatures aren’t very beefy.  A card like Vengevine does very well against Jace because he comes out of nowhere and is very resilient.  With the prevalence of UW Cawblade in lieu of the UWb variant, creature based strategies are more powerful, because you blank your opponent’s Spell Pierces.

Recently, over twitter, director of Magic R&D Aaron Forsythe has been discussing with LSV and others about what would happen if a card like Lightning Greavesor Fires of Yavimaya were to be reprinted.  Of course myself and certain others realized that reprinting Greaves would be very dangerous, as giving Titans haste and shroud is ridiculous – especially when you have Stoneforge Mystic in the format.  Something like fires is more reasonable, because not only does it not work well in a Jace deck, it lets you push through for (hopefully) enough damage to kill Jace.  Unfortunately, neither of those cards are legal in standard, but we do have an effective haste-granter who shines against jace decks.

That’s right, a turn 2 Renegade Doppelganger can be used not only with Vengevine, but a great deal of other creatures to put large amounts of pressure on the opponent.  The synergy it has with Hero of Bladehold is phenomenal, and with a turn 1 Birds of Paradise, you can be attacking for 7 as early as turn 3.  Even with just a Vengevine, having a Doppelganger is an aggressive play that can help pressure a caw-blade opening.

As well, Doppelganger invites Fauna Shama, giving you a tutor as soon as you drop Ms. Survival-on-a-stick, which helps mitigate the shaman’s vulnerability to removal.

I don’t take credit for this deck idea; rather, it was my good friend Attila who brewed up these synergies into a deck that has been performing very well against various cawblade variants.  This deck is very fast while also being able to play a long game with lots of pressure.

Standard Bant Aggro by Attila Fur

Sideboard

While this deck is still undergoing development, it gives you an idea of how one can do well at a tournament when they build their deck with the cawblade matchup in mind.

Consider how many hours have been put into the development of Jace decks.  A deck like caw blade has been played and developed so much that not only are most lists close to optimal, but the actual gameplay has been developed extensively.  In addition to the sheer number of hours that have been put into developing Jace-based decks, these hours have come from the best of the best.  Many pro players test Jace decks because they are both powerful and mesh well with their playstyle.  This high-quality testing results in Jace decks that are extremely powerful when played by the best.

However, compare that amount and quality of testing with the amount of testing put into beating Jace decks.  Because all of the pros have advocated using Jace (mostly by playing it themselves) many people are going to simply do that – play Jace.  Hell, even I would play a Jace deck if I were going to a standard tournament.  However, that’s chiefly because I am a control player, and I like that style of deck, which is where jace fits in perfectly.  Were I an aggro player at heart, I might sleeve up something like the bant deck above, or maybe Boros, or even mono red.  Because I have jaces, I haven’t spent a great deal of time trying to beat jace decks – I won’t sugar-coat it.  However, if I didn’t have them, I’d be brewing and testing against jace decks a lot more than I test right now, simply because new decks have to prove themselves against the field, which at the moment contains several jace decks.

I think it’s very possible to have a favourable matchup against jace decks, but it means that players are going to have to accept that pros will not do their work for them and they will have to build their own decks and test them out.  This is not a simple task, as many deck ideas flounder after their initial draft.  However, tight play and a solid game plan against Jace can be enough to take it down.  One thing I’ve been wanting to try is a red/green aggro deck with both Koth of the Hammer and Vengevine to ensure that you’re attacking for 4+ damage on turn 4.  However, I haven’t started sketching out a list yet, but it’s ideas like this that that need to be thought of and collaborated upon by the magic community.

3. Jace needs to be banned

Banning a card is a very serious thing, and is not something that should be done lightly.  Tom Lapille of Wizards R&D has said that they will not emergency ban Jace – something that has only been done once before, with the absurdly broken Memory Jar.  Rather, any announcements will be made on June 20th as scheduled.  Lapille has addressed many of the arguments for not banning Jace, such as the faith that people have when they buy modern boosters that they will be able to play what they open.

However, one thing that Lapille neglects to mention is that, as a company, WotC has an enormous stake in Jace.  Let me elaborate.  The planeswalkers are a new card type, and have been integral in the re-branding of magic over the past few years.  Specifically, they have used Jace as the poster boy for magic.  He was the subject of the first planeswalker novel, and is the first person anyone thinks of when they hear the word ‘planeswalker’.  Because of this notoriety, banning a card with the word ‘Jace’ on it is much different than banning ‘Gideon’ or ‘Chandra’, because you’re banning the face of magic.

Banning cards sets a dangerous precedent, especially if Jace is simply one of the best cards in the format, and not the be-all end-all.  Again, comparing Jace to the affinity menace from the original mirrodin block – our standard seems varied and diverse.  Will every “best deck” have its linchpin card banned?  I’m a member of the camp that thinks that valakut would dominate a jaceless standard, and that it would be even less fun than some people say current standard is.  I for one enjoy the jace-mirror much more so than the valakut mirror.  The reason being that Valakut is a deck which attempts to ignore whatever your opponent is oding in favour of just killing them.  In, say, the caw-blade mirror, the matchup is very interactive and skill intensive, with players needing to evaluate threats and decide which answers they should use and when; when to tap out and when to leave mana up; when to play around certain spells and when to go for it.  I find the matchup very enjoyable, but that’s just me.

After everything’s said and done, I agree that the current situation of standard is not ideal.  However, I think there are numerous things that can be done to address this without resorting to banning Jace.  On the part of wizards they can either reprint Jace in some form (but not in a regular expansion), or they can print  more answers to planeswalkers that aren’t too narrow.  Something like Oblivion Ring is an excellent example of a card that is well designed and can answer planeswalkers but can do so much more.  While Hex Parasite from the New Phyrexia is promising, I hope to see some more answers as well.  On the part of the players, new decks need to be built and tested, and players must not simply say: I don’t have jaces, I’m not going to bother testing.  If you brew a deck and don’t test it and go into a tournament and get smashed, is it really the fault of jace?  Or is it your fault for not testing against that deck, not sideboarding correctly, or not knowing what’s important in the matchup?

A lot of the players I see who get smashed by players with jaces are players who don’t practice outside of tournaments, and players who do said smashing are usually those who spend a great deal of time researching the meta and practicing outside of tournaments.  I’ve seen players with Jaces lose games to worse decks because they aren’t as experienced with the card, the deck, or even the game in general.  All in all, I don’t think we’ve reached the circumstances where a jace ban is warranted quite yet.

As always, feel free to post in the comments below, or message me on twitter (twitter.com/zturchan) or via email (zak-AT-power9pro.com).

Cheers,

Zak

Scars of Mirrodin – Impact on Standard (Type 2)

Scars of Mirrodin.  Looming large over the horizon, Wizards’ newest expansion is set to hit the stores on October 1st.  With the release of Scars of Mirrodin new strategies will emerge and once powerful decks will disappear to the realm of Extended.  With all of the available spoilers it is time to speculate on what changes will occur to the Standard (type 2) meta-game.  This shift will be important with the 2010′s State and Provincial Championships on October 9th.  We will see if we can figure out which cards will make the biggest impact in the post Shards of Alara/M10 tournament world.  It is a time of new beginnings and a time to revisit places in our past.  Thinking about our past, I would like to take one moment to say goodbye to all of our Shards of Alara friends:

So long, Jund!

Time to hang up our Putrid Leechs and Sprouting Thrinaxs.  No deck was more dominant in the Shards meta-game than this B/G/R build.  High powered threats and spectacular removal made Jund the most feared and prepared against deck since the Faeries of Lorwyn.  The biggest loss?

Bloodbraid Elf

Forget Maelstrom Pulse and Broodmate Dragon, this Elf provided amazing card advantage to steal games all by herself. Without Bloodbraid, Jund would not have been remotely viable. This Elf Berserker found a home in every deck that could support her colors. Easily the best uncommon in the set. Now for a few more farewells:

It’s been fun, but now we need to move on. See you in Extended!

Out of the dozens of cards that have been spoiled already, I have picked up on a few that seem like they will make an impact on the Standard Meta currently dominated by U/W Control, FauNaya, Valakut-Ramp and Mythic Conscription.

U/W Control
Come rotation on October first U/W Control will loose a few pieces, most notably Elspeth Knight-Errant. It will be interesting to see if Elspeth Tirel will be able to replace her old incarnation. The new Planeswalker costs one more and cannot generate counters and token together. I think that the five mana casting cost will not prevent the switch initially but might come to really matter since the meta game is so fast right now. On the flip side, Elspeth’s new ultimate is very powerful. The next option in Planeswalkers is the powerful Venser the Sojourner. Also comining at a casting cost of five, the U/W walker has some interesting abilities. Being able to exile your Baneslayer Angel and following that up with Day of Judgment is a strong play in control. The other loss is the token generating Martial Coup. This loss should not impact the archetype to significantly since most build will only include it as a one-of. Path to Exile is another big loss to U/W, the role will need to be filled by the more situational Condemn.

FauNaya
This archetype is on the way out in my opinion. Scars of Mirrodin does not offer anything to this deck that is on par with Knight of the Reliquary or Noble Hierarch. The deck also looses Oblivion Ring, Qasali Pridemage, Realm Razer and the superstar Bloodbraid Elf. I am sure that the Vengevine/ Fauna Shaman engine will still be around but I think the deck will look vastly different.

Valakut-Ramp (Titan-Ramp)
The plan is simple; ramp into Primeval Titan and use him to set up a kill with Valakut the Molten Pinnacle. This is the big dog in the yard, Valakut-Ramp only looses Rampant Growth in the rotation. However, nothing in the new Standard will fits the curve of this card. Cultivate might work. I like Strata Scythe as an alternate win condition if you need to play around Spreading Seas. I also think that Genesis Wave fits nicely in the deck. Valakut-Ramp will be the archetype to beat early in the season until new strategies are discovered.

Mythic Conscription (Eldrazi Conscription, Mythic)
The biggest loss for this deck is Sovereigns of Lost Alara. The Exalted Spirit let you search up your Eldrazi Conscription in order to put the game away. Without the ability to tutor for the key enchantment, Mythic should no longer be a threat in Standard.

What’s Next?
Scars of Mirrodin offers us a vast selection of powerful spells that are sure to have an immediate impact on the new Standard. Take a look at some of the things you should be hoping to pick up at your Pre-release event this weekend:

Scars of Mirrodin will offer us plenty of new options and old favorites will soon go by the wayside. I am really looking forward to playing Phylactery Lich with Darksteel Axe. I recommend going to a Pre-release this weekend since there will not be much time to prepare for States coming up in October. The 2010′s State and Provincial Championships will be the first big events to play with the new Standard. Study your spoilers and see what you can do to deal with U/W control and Valakut-Ramp. Goodbye Bloodbraid Elf, and thanks for all the fish.

The Championship Chronicles – Part 1 (Standard)

Throughout the past 3 months, I (and several other Edmonton players) have been racking up points in an effort to qualify for the Wizards Comics Championship Series. Wizards Comics is my local came store of choice where I play and occasion judge and/or TO, and they also have a store in the neighbouring town of Sherwood Park. At the beginning of June, the staff announced the championship series which would gather the 8 best players from each store, and have them compete, for free, in a multitude of different formats.

The point structure worked as follows.

For each tournament at a given store that one attended, they would receive 1 point.
For each 3rd place won, a player received an additional point.
For each 2nd place won, a player received 3 extra points.
For each win of a tournament, a player received 5 more points.

Note that players couldn’t amalgamate points from both stores, so players would generally stick to whichever store was closest. Here are the final standings for my store.

56 Attila

53 Zak

46 Jim 

45 Brian Bo

36 Blaine

28 Blake 

26 Adam 

21 Aaron

Aaron didn’t show up, and Marcel, the 9th place seed was at GP Portland (where he won a PTQ for Paris), so Stephen, a player who’s returned to the game with a vengeance, took the last seed for our store.

For this day, we weren’t told much, except to bring a Standard deck, as well as sleeves for a draft. I sleeved up a variation on Gerry Thompson’s BantVine list, a blue-white-green take on the dredgevine concept where one uses Hedron Crab to mill themselves of their Vengevines, and uses cheap creatures to reanimate them. Gerry T’s list originally played 2 Lotus Cobra and 1 Meddling Mage mainboard, but I replaced them with 3 Renegade Doppelgangers. This change allowed me to, in effect, give my Fauna Shamans and Knight of the Reliquarys haste, weakening the effectiveness of my opponent’s removal spells. They’re also fine when a bunch of Vengevines come back.
Here’s the list I ended up playing.

Dredge-uh-Vine (Bant version)

And the sideboard:

I chose this deck for 2 reasons. First, I expected a lot of blue-white, and Dredgevine typically has a solid matchup against them. Between scouting people at FNM and lending out Jaces, Colonnades and Elspeths to at least 3 different people, I had a good idea of the field. With this in mind I debated for a while on whether to play this version or one with Extractor Demon. However, the allure of Ranger of Eos and huge Knight of the Reliquarys swayed me to the bant list.

The second reason I played this deck was because it was an archetype I knew relatively well. I’ve played Dredgevine in almost all of its incarnations since its debut, and even though this was a newer take on it, I was familiar enough with the archetype to know what I was doing.

After I filled out my decklist, they announced that the first round pairings would be cross-store based on standings. For example, the number 1 seed from my location would play the number one seed from Sherwood Park, etc.

Round 1

I sat down across from Andrew, a solid player who’s also a great guy to play with. I had a hunch he’d be playing Grixis control, as that seems to have been his deck of choice at the last few tournaments I’ve played in with him.

I win the die roll and elect to go first, hoping for an explosive start of either a Hedron Crab or a mana accelerant. I get the latter, and start off with a turn 1 Noble Hierarch. He plays a Dragonskull Summit, tapped, and I reply by playing a Hedron Crab and starting to mill myself. He quickly casts Lightning Bolt on my crab, but then I augment my forces with a Fauna Shaman. She starts doing her thing, pitching a Vengevine and getting another, while I drop a Knight of the Reliquary.

After playing his 5th enters-the-battlefield-tapped land in a row, Andrew casts Jace, the Mind Sculptor and bounces my knight. I’m more than happy to replay it, and kill the planeswalker with my Fauna Shaman. He made the same play next turn, and I replied in an identical fashion, also dropping 2 small creatures to rebut a Vengevine and start hacking away at his life total. I continued to attack him while he played a removal spell to kill my 7/7 knight (one of the lands that made him so big was my only Sejiri Steppe), and he eventually slammed down a Grave Titan. I immediately used my Path to Exile to dispatch it and continued to attack with my Vengevines, forcing him to chump with a token. By the time he resolved a Cruel Ultimatum, he was at a low enough life total that my vengevines overwhelmed him.

Game 2 was a short affair with him getting stuck on 2 lands and me playing a pair of Noble Hierarchs and a Vengevine, which eventually went the distance, swinging in for 6 a turn.

1 – 0

Round 2

In round 2 many of us had to play against players from our own stores. I sat across from Brian, one of the best players in the area and a very good friend. I knew he was one of the many players battling with blue-white control, so I thought I should have an alright time with it.

I made a mistake in my first game where I kept lands, Fauna Shaman, Renegade Doppelganger and Vengevine. As soon as the word “keep” left my lips, I knew it was a mistake, especially on the draw. The problem with this hand is that if he counters or removes my Shaman, I just straight-up lose. If it does resolve and I manage to untag with it, my game will probably go well, but that’s a fatal assumption to make against blue white. I didn’t have a blue-producing land (that’s what I get for changing the spell configuration and not the manabase) so I slammed down the shaman which predictably got Mana Leaked. After that it was pretty much Brian goldfishing as he resolved a Jace, the Mind Sculptor and ticked it to 13 loyalty, with me unable to mount any sort of offense. When I managed to get a couple guys on the board, he used Gideon Jura to make sure I couldn’t attack Jace, and he milled me out.

I resolved to keep a better hand in game 2, and I was happy to play a first-turn Hedron Crab. Brian retaliated with an Oust, and I cast a Noble Hierarch. On his turn 2 he has a Meddling Mage, naming the Hedron Crab that I was about to draw. The game state didn’t evolve beyond there, as I drew 2 un-castable Hedron Crabs in a row, and Brian made matters worse by casting a Relic of Progenitus. The game was over quickly from there.

1 – 1

Round 3

I was now back to facing a player from the other store, this time Travis playing a variation on Jund with Magma Phoenix and Inferno Titan. I had watch Brian beat him in the first round, so I knew that I should be able to out-aggro him.

I won the roll and game blazing out of the gates with a turn 1 Hedron Crab and consecutive fetchlands. My turn 2 Fauna Shaman got Terminated, but I backed it up with a Knight of the Reliquary, which also died, this time to a Maelstrom Pulse. Travis made an early attack with his Raging Ravine that signalled to me that he didn’t have much gas left, and on the next turn I was able to Ranger of Eos some more creatures to reanimate a pair of Vengevines. Although he tried to mount a defines with Putrid Leech and Sarkhan the Mad, I kept swinging in for lethal until he just died.

In game 2 I get off a first turn Noble Hierarch, and reply to his Putrid Leech with a Knight of the Reliquary and a Fauna Shaman on consecutive turns. I tutor up my Meddling Mage and name Maelstrom Pulse. He manages to Jund Charm most of my board, and then Pulse my knight. However, I manage to cast another Vengevine which is able to go the distance as he doesn’t hit enough mana to play his more expensive threats.

2 – 1

Round 4

For the final round of standard, I’m facing Sean, the number 1 seed from the rival store. He’s playing Soul Sisters, a deck which I have never had the chance to play against. The one thing I knew going into the matchup was that the only way I can win is to keep milling him, as the Vengevine route will not be able to break through. I get the first turn Hedron Crab, and enjoy the look of surprise on Sean’s face when I announce “mill you”. I quickly get a Knight of the Reliquary online and have to fetch up my Sejiri Steppe to protect my crab from a Path to Exile. The milling continues as he taps out for a Ranger of Eos, fetching a pair of Serra Ascendants. I punt the game here because I have a Path to Exile in my hand. I looked through his graveyard and see that he has only 1 copy of Brave the Elements after milling 3/4 of his deck. For some reason, I think that I might have to path one of my own dudes to mill 3, but don’t realize that I straight-up die to him if he does have the Brave and his ascendants go unchecked. Sean untags, attacks, I path, he braves, I lose. Simple enough.

While sideboarding I overhear my friends Blaine and Jim talking. Blaine has one win, and Jim has 2 draws (his deck went to time a lot), and they’ve agreed to draw. I realize that not only can I boost Jim’s tiebreakers by losing this match (he played Sean earlier), but I can reduce Andrew’s in the same vein, as he is also in contention for elimination. I decide that I’ll concede even if I win, but we play it out. The match goes pretty quickly, with me not getting a Hedron Crab until much too late, and I pretty much die.

2 – 2

After the final standings are posted, Jim beats out Andrew by 5 percent, so I’m happy I lost the final game and that my friends are advancing. Those who were eliminated receive consolation prizes of intro packs and theme decks, and we’re off to the next format.

Matt (The TO) arranges everyone around a set of tables and numbers us off. We’re wondering what he’s doing, as we can’t really have a 14 man draft. He then announces: “Players with an odd number look to your right, players with an even number look to your left. This will be your partner for Two-Headed Giant Draft.”

I’m paired with Buddy, a local player who I’ve played with in the past, and I’m ready to try a brand-new format.

Expect Part 2 within the next day or two.

Cheers,

Zak

PTQ Report – Charlestown, MA 6/5/10 – Top 8 w/ UW Control

After I finished 2nd at the TCGPlayer.com 5k at the beginning of May, I must’ve thought I was “the man” to break a promise I made to myself that this standard season I would figure out one deck I wanted to play and stick with it. I ran UW Control at the PTQ the next day and went something like 2-3 drop, losing to a bunch of Jund decks after mostly steamrolling Jund the day before. Annoyed, and wanting to jump on the bandwagon of the Big Deck of the Week, I ran Mythic Conscription the next weekend and gave up abotu 130 points on my total rating just in time for me to lose some byes for Grand Prix DC.

At said Grand Prix, I got back to what I wanted to be doing and sleeved up UW and my list was only a few cards off of the winning list. I started out 2-0 and lost my next three, bowing me out of competition. Remembering the aforementioned promise that I made to myself at the end of Extended Season, I stuck to my guns, changed my sideboard a bit and tossed Sphinx of Jwar Isle back in the Main Deck, gearing up to take on all sorts of creature decks (presumably Jund). What transpired was me starting 5-0, losing to the sole control deck I would play all day, beating another creature deck in Round 7 and drawing into the top 8 as the #3 seed. Not Bad.

I mentioned earlier that I wanted to gear my deck towards creatures. Naya, Jund, Mythic and to some degree Next Level Bant were all predominantly creature decks even if NLB had a distinct control aspect to it with hard-to-kill Planeswalkers. Still, I wanted to be ready for creatures, so I wanted at least three Path to Exile and at least three Day of Judgment as the foundation of creature kill. I am in the camp of loving Baneslayer Angel. I know that she is a lightning rod for removal and that people will hold removal in order to kill her, but I’m no pro. Sometimes I need my cards to do some of the work for me and this bitch is a workhorse. She is like Kerri Walsh to Linvala’s Misty May.

Anyway, Let me just show you this list. It’s not super different than what I or anyone else has been running, but if you’re going to browse this TR you might as well have the frame of reference.

Here’s the sideboard I ran:

I stuck the into the roil in there because I love it against control decks, it can be such a blowout. Whether it bouncing a baneslayer blocker, or bouncing your own Oblivion Ring with the trigger on the stack, or bouncing your own Oblivion Ring to legend rule their planeswalker, to bouncing a conscripted creature, I like what the card does. I ran it in the MD in Washington DC because I wanted it as the fourth path/fourth Oblivion ring combo card. Here I kept it in the board but I might just cut it alltogether next time out.

I put in 4 Celestial Purge because Firewalkers just don’t do enough against Jund right now, and while sometimes when playing Jund and facing them down they can be very annoying, but when Sarkhan the Mad flies over them all, it can be pretty useless. 4 Celestial Purge was aweseome for me in 4 rounds against Jund and 1 round against Mono Red. I think it was the smartest call I made all weekend and one of the reasons I top 8′d this PTQ.

Round 1 vs. Joe Canadas playing JUND

I figured this kid had a really loose keep in game 1 because he wasn’t really playing anything the first few turns. I slapped down an Elspeth on turn 4 and then started activating my Collonade and swinging for 7 on Turn 6. A few turns of that ended the game pretty quick.

I was pretty sure this kid was new, but when he announced “sideboarding eight!” in between our match while I was shuffling it was clearly confirmed. I told him not to announce that anymore and then kind of took it too easy on him. I cast Path to Exile on one of his creatures and he passed the turn and I reminded him he can search for a land, allowing him to get a second red mana on the board and almost letting him back into a game I had heavily under control. I still ended up winning but I learned an important lesson in playing down to the level of my competition and it was a mistake to not just give him the tip at the end of the game. Giving beginner players a way to beat you is not the way to grind into the pro tour.

Round 2 vs. Joe Pease – RG Land Destruction

This guy just completely blew me out in game 1 by hitting bloodbraid elf on this turn 4 and 5 and hitting resounding wave every time, bouncing my land and keeping me out of the game. I never got to cast a decent spell though on the final turn if I ripped a land I could’ve cast Day of Judgment and possibly gotten back into the game.

I saw him cascade past several Rolling Terrain so I boarded in my negates and my cancel.

Game 2 on the play he really couldn’t do much. He might’ve gotten some lands killed or spreading seased but I was able to stick Elspeth and Baneslayer and he didn’t have much for that.

Game 3 was the crazy one. He kept me off double white forever and my hand was 3 Baneslayer Angel and 2 Day of Judgment. Finally I was able to start dropping baneslayers and he mind controlled the first, and then the second one. I ripped oblivion ring to take one of them back rather than killing everything with Day of Judgment because time was about to be called. I used elspeth to start bashing in with a 7/7 baneslayer and he let the damage go through. I then pathed his (my) baneslayer and swung in for 12 with baneslayer and colonnade + elspeth ftw on turn 2 of extra time.

Round 3 vs. Luke Bardsley playing JUND

It was Jund with Vengevine and Cunning Sparkmage in the maindeck. I started with 2 wall of omens and he dropped a sparkmage. I went to oblivion ring it and he suicided his sparkmage in response making me lose one of my walls, which sucked. He wasn’t doing much when he’s leading with sparkmages though. He ended up cascading into Putrid Leech in consecutive turns with runner-runner Bloodbraid Elf which I Held off with ELspeth and then cast Day of Judgment to blow him out and get there with a baneslayer angel.

Game 2 he mulled to 4 and cast a turn 4 sarkhan the mad with his lotus cobra that I had no kill spell for. He stabilized quite a bit, mainly because I allowed him to keep his second red source on the table far too long when I had tectonic edge up. This allowed him to cast at least 2 extra spells he wouldn’t have been able to cast. He got me down to 6 but elspeth protecting me enough to cast a mind spring for 5 made it impossible for him to finish me off.

Round 4 vs. Devon O’Donnell playing Mono Red.

I’m buddy’s with Devon through my little bro and I knew he was running mono red, which I was happy about given my sideboard. He started game 1 with double goblin guide which I ripped 5 lands off of, so I could to discard a bunch of stuff I know wouldn’t matter. I had double spreading seas to keep him off early ball lightning and bought myself some time to drop a baneslayer. This is where I think I made a mistake. He had two Kiln Fiend out but clearly had no spells b/c he had been attacking in for 1 each with them. I had a baneslayer out with another in hand. I was at decently low life and while he was at 6 mana, two spreading seas meant he could not go double ball lightning or ball lightning + Hells Thunder. I decided to attack with my Baneslayer angel and drop the second. He dropped smoldering spires, Ball LIghtning and tried to play a Hell’s thunder until I reminded him that he didn’t have the correct mana to, and extended the hand. but I should’ve held up the baneslayer b/c I knew smoldering spires could be coming down and ruining my day.

Im game 2 Devon mulled to 5 and my opener was Wall of omens, celestial purge x2 and 4 land. I let him back into the game somehow by tapping out on turn 3 and he dropped a turn 3 hell’s thunder and again I was tapped out when he ripped the land to bring hells Thunder back. As a result he bolted and then burst lightning w/ kicker’d me and got me to 5, meaning he had an out with unstable footing, but alas it was not to be and he was dead to my double baneslayer beyond that. But still, I should’ve just played slow and allowed myself to pick off his threats with my purges and not ended the game with one still in my hand.

Round 5 vs. Justin Desai playing Lotus Cobra Jund

So Justin Desai is one of my closest friends and we’ve been CCG Partners for almost a full decade now. We’re considered one of the best Decipher SWCCG tandems of all time and are two time world champions in that game. We’ve only faced each other in sanctioned magic games a few times and never in a ptq.

Justin and I both stall out on lands early and are just playing draw go. Eventually he hits a couple of Leeches and Bloodbraid elfs and I get a really huge swing off of a Day of Judgment with Elspeth out. After that Elspeth and Colonnade go the rest of the way.

Game 2 I keep a hand with some spreading seas and 2x Celestial Purge. He plays lotus cobra on turn 2 and ramps into a turn 3 bloodbraid where he hits another cobra. I’m tapped out on account of the spreading seas so I can’t purge his bloodbraid, so I take 5. His next turn he drops a Terramorphic Expanse and casts a Sarkhan the Mad but doesn’t activate it, opting to swing for 7 into my empty board. I respond by Purging his Sarkhan, effectively timewalking him. After that I stabilize with Elspeth and Baneslayer angel and he can’t get much going after the mistake.

Round 6 vs. Bryan Lynch playing UWR Planeswalkers

At this point there were like 4 or 5 X-0′s so I was hoping to avoid Lynch who was pretty much the only UWR at the top of the standings. Of course I have awful luck and did not avoid him. Knowing my deck was more geared for creature decks, I didn’t have a lot of high hopes.

Nor should I have as this match was a massacre. Game 1 he kept me off double white mana all game with Spreading Seas and Ajani Vengeant. Game 2 I boarded out my wall of omens, kept a 2 lander with some spreading seas and some early plays. Lynch comes down with calcite snapper and four turns later I’m dead without having drawn another land.

Round 7 vs. Kyle Machado Playing R/G Weekend Warriors

I again kept a 2 lander against Kyle, never drew a third and got beatdown pretty hard by what seemed to be just a straight RG beatdown deck. I decided to board in 3 of my celestial purge but not all four because of Vengevine and other green based cards I figured I would see. Game 2 was a battle as he hit Goblin ruinblaster after goblin ruinblaster. Luckily I was on the play and slapped an elspeth down first so I was making tokens like it was going out of style. I also had a few wall of omens down. Eventually I drew out of my mana lock, got some baneslayers down and climbed out of range.

Boarding for game 3 I realized that as long as I stuck a baneslayer he really had no answer for it, save Threaten. I kept a pretty slow hand but one with day of judgment and baneslayer angel and 3 basic lands. My first couple of draws were also basic lands so I was able to lay basics on the first 5 turns and stay away from an onslaught of ruinblasters. Luckily for me he stalled on mana for a couple turns and wasn’t able to do much damage while I got to baneslayer mana. This is big time becasue he played the new threaten that makes the guy he steals power +2 and was able to swing be down to 4 life before I was able to get my baneslayer back, swing in and drop another one, keeping myself out of range, but had he not stumbled I would not have been sitting in third and able to draw into the top 8.

Round 8 vs. James P Syed playing Naya

We intentionally drew. I was in third, justin in fourth, so me and justin both make our first IRL PTQ top 8s.

TOP 8 Quarterfinal with Cameron Preston playing Jund.

To make a long story short, I got blightninged 7 times in 2 games and lost 0-2. It was pretty lame considering I had been 6-0 against Jund on the day going into this game. There was a chance I could’ve pulled game 1 out when I had some baneslayers on the way, but I did some math wrong and went to 3 when I thought I’d be at 4 and he had his blightning #3 of the game for me.

In game 2 it was just a total beatdown as he blightninged me all 4 times and never got to play anything that could’ve gotten me back into the game.

So all in all a pretty big bummer. Especially now since this next level bant deck is doing so well that UW control might not be an option anymore. I have another PTQ this weekend in Rhode Island but I’m unsure what I’m going to run.

Justin has been doing really well with Lotus Cobra Jund online and obviously had some success at the PTQ above. He used a similar if not the same list in the online ptq sunday and started 5-1 before losing his next two. I would say you could look for his decklist at the following link, but for some reason his decklist is ommitted, which sucks b/c it’s his first top 8. But you can check out the rest of the top 8 decklists here: http://www.wizards.com/magic/magazine/events.aspx?x=mtg/daily/eventcoverage/amsterdam10ptq/0605boston

Until next time,

Mike Gemme
Mike@power9pro.com
bobbysapphire on MTGO

Sleeving Up U/W for Grand Prix D.C.

After my top 2 finish at the Boston 5k a few weeks ago, I was looking good going into the GP with at least one bye and if I played well in any of the PTQs on the following two weekends I could be looking at 2 byes. That didn’t happen.

The day after the 5k I was pretty beat, sleeved up mostly the same 75 from the day before and went 2-2 drop at a PTQ. The following weekend was another PTQ in connecticut and I decided to switch to mythic. Mythic was a bit more complicated than I estimated and while it was capable of those blowout, turn 3 Eldrazi Conscription wins- playing a deck that just turns sideways was not what I was used to in standard and I coughed up a couple wins by simply not attacking in with my lotus cobra, forgoing one exalted trigger and losing with my opponent at 1.

Those kind of things drive me crazy and I am in no mood to play the Conscription deck again after going 0-2 in a PTQ and 2-2 drop in a WPN qualifier (losing to grixis 3 times, which is just a brutal matchup post board when you have to face down 4 lightning bolt, 4 terminate and the rest of the b/r goods and jace, the mind sculptor).

To be quite honest I’m a little torn what to do right now. Jund is certainly back on the rise and a couple of my teammates here in Mass really like it (and I’ve always considered them blue mages). It’s certainly very good as the results don’t lie, and going into the 5k weekend earlier in the month, Jund kind of punched me in the teeth a little, as I thought it was a very favorable matchup for UW Tapout; but really, nothing is favorable enough vs. cascade.

For the first time maybe ever, we’re bringing all 7 members of our squad to the same tournament, so decks are pretty sparse. We can put together two Junds or a Jund and a Naya, but I likely won’t be sleeving up anything green. There is plenty of time to play Jund for me at the online PTQs next month.

So unless I want to sleeve up some devastating summons, and I don’t think I do without having a card to kill baneslayer; I don’t really want to rely on mark of mutiny and a swing FTW to beat any deck with baneslayer angel in it, I’m going to be playing UW TAPOUT.

I’ve made some tweaks, and made some pretty brutal decisions (and I still have a couple more to make I fear), but I’ll talk about the deck a bit and what changes I’ve made and why.

I really liked UW control the weekend that I played it. I always felt like there was something I could do, or that I could draw (plus ways to draw it) that would bail me out of whatever situation I found myself in. I don’t feel like that has really changed. I like cantripping on turn 2 as much as I can. I love oblivion ring and mind spring, and while people can tell me all day that Baneslayer Angel sucks, she doesn’t and she’s a baller, and I love her.

I think that UW is fine vs. most matchups, I don’t think Dauntless Escort is very hard to play around in mythic with the right answers. I think UW can still beat Jund just fine if you gear it to the aggro matchup (and I don’t think wrath effects are nearly as bad as many people think they are vs. the deck). Furthermore, creature decks are all the rage right now with jund, naya and conscription running rampant at regionals and on MTGO.

The biggest issue I’ve stuggled with is how to deal with the creatures. I know a lot of people say to just run Sphinx of Jwar Isle and not baneslayer b/c it just gives opponent’s dead cards, but most jund players are already cutting terminates and just running maelstrom pulse x4. I think that a deck that maindecks a bunch of terminates is rough, don’t get me wrong; but the meta seems to be going the other way. People are now expecting UW tapout to not run baneslayers and the UWR Planeswalker deck doesn’t (Even though they should run them out of the board), and this could be the weekend to re-capitalize on running a full squad of Baneslayers.

So I’ve decided to neglect Sphinx of Jwar Isle despite how “good” (read: unkillable) it is against Jund. If you don’t hit several sphinx of Jwar Isle it’s really hard to actaully beat in against Jund with your 5/5. Which is why I like Baneslayer, even if they have a couple answers to it, you can turn it sideways and not fear that you’re going to die on the swing back.

I’ve upped the Planeswalker count to be a little strong against the aggro decks and put them on difficult decisions. Gideon works best with baneslayer on the table to kill one of their attackers. Elspeth is just a difficult planeswalker to kill. This also presents far more Pulse targets, making my baneslayers a bit better.

I cut an oblivion ring, conceding that creature decks are far more popular than the control decks right now, and a lot better. Instead of just upping a Path to exile however, I decided to toss in an Into the Roil. I like into the roil for a number of reasons. It’s as good as removal vs. Mythic and it’s just a lot better than path against the control matchups. Being able to bounce my own obring to legend rule a planeswalker and reload my removal seems really strong. It’s one more maindecked blue answer to a polymorphed Iona naming white and in plenty of situations itll draw me a card.

I’ve cut a mind spring, because games where I draw 2 in my opening hand were driving me a little nuts and while I know it’s practically a win condition, the cantripping in the rest of the deck will hopefully get me there.

I really loved the 2 negates maindeck when I played it and I don’t want to cut them, they’re only really bad against Conscription and Naya, but they’re great in the mirror and against jund, so I like them in the front 60.

I’ve decided to cut a Day of judgment to add in a martial coup which is a little worse against jund and mythic and to be honest, the one maindeck change I’m likely to make is to go back to three DOJ, one martial coup, I just don’t like making myself worse in the control mirrors, especially since right now I haven’t been able to fit one of the Eldrazi gods into my sideboard.

Speaking of Sideboard:

The only matchup I really don’t like is the Vengevine Naya matchup. I’m not really sure what I want to be doing vs. that post board but I’m going to get some testing in tonight and friday before the GP.

This is geared pretty heavily towards the control matchups, in which I like more negates, another into the roil, the sanctifiers and the Luminarchs. A few weeks ago I thought luminarchs were trash but looking at lists, people are cutting an oblivion ring or two from their 75 and enchantment destruction is almost non-existant. Some people are adopting into the roil, which could be an issue, but with 4 negates I should be able to back it up. I like keeping the sanctifiers for the mirror to deal with luminarchs and obrings still. I think that the firewalkers and the purges will be enough for the jund matchup, combined with leaving DOJ in and bringing in the Mind Control.

Maybe some more testing this weekend will tell me I’m wrong, but I’m hoping the white planeswalkers and arsenal of celestial purge in the board will help swing the Jund matchup a little bit, it’s possible that it’s not enough.

I’m pretty excited about the GP, GP Trials and even a fallback ptq on sunday, and I’m happy to be sleeving up this deck on the real battlefield. I’ll likely switch to Jund talk next week as ONline PTQs start back up and I’ve already traded for my Sarkhan the Mads and Consuming Vapors.

Til next time,

Mike Gemme
Mike@Power9Pro.com
Bobbysapphire on MTGO

Taking 2nd Place at the Boston $5K

Last week I discussed my preparation for the big TCGPlayer.com 5k / PTQ weekend in Boston, MA. All week I was pretty certain that I would be sleeving up UW tapout for Saturday but was contemplating some Mythic for Sunday. I also talked about my helping friend and former pro tour-er Blaine Hatab get Kiln Fiend into a winning deck. Well, Blaine and my testing (or lack thereof) worked out as he finished 9th and I came in second losing in the finals to JUND when I couldn’t rip one of 14 outs to take home my first Magic Trophy.

First I’ll start with the list I brought to the tournament Saturday and some discussion of it.

you can see me discuss the list here.

My big insistance in the deck was to run 4 Oblivion rings. I really like the Obring vs. just about every deck out there right now. Even against mono red or R/x, being able to oblivion ring a Kiln fiend is invaluable. I wouldn’t leave all four in postboard vs. red decks, and I’d only cut them all if I didn’t see kiln fiend in games 1 and 2. But Planeswalkers are everywhere right now, and so aren’t baneslayers; Obring is just a good catch all, I even Obring’d a 1/1 Goblin Token vs. polymorph once last weekend.

I also liked 2 path and considered 3 just because of how good mythic is, and how an unchecked baneslayer angel can simply rule the mirror.

Probably the strangest thing about my list is the inclusion of 4 total fetchlands, 2 white and 2 blue. This is for a number of reasons. 1 they make both Jace and Sphinx of Jwar Isle better. Sometimes the sphinx just isnt enough late game and that’s when you have most of your card advantage. Numerous times on the weekend I would end up with a sphinx and some fetches and they would give me the chance to see more cards. Same goes with Jace, I once Jace: brainstormed 3 times in a row and got all lands each time, luckily the third time yielded a fetch so I could mix things up and ended up taking the game down despite not havnig a single threat for a few turns.

My Board was as follows:

Nothing really crazy in here except the 2 Jace Beleren. Those are in there for the control match to vindicate their jace and net me some cards when I can slap em down and get it done. I also ended up bringing them in vs. UR polymorph b/c in game 1 my opponent seemed really reliant on Jace to find his stuff.

This tournament really started off on the wrong foot for me. Out of 228 players I got paired up aganist my best friend Steve Baroni in round 1 and he was playing Open the Vaults / Time Sieve, the one deck that UW has almost no chance of beating.

Steve started with a mull to 4 or 5 and dropped game 1, then proceeded to take game 2 easily. As we began to shuffle up for game 3 Steve wanted to reboard some cards and when he reached for his deckbox it was gone. Someone had taken his box with his postboarded deck and he was missing some important hard to find commons and unless he replaced them would’ve had to scoop from the tournament. As we played game 3 Blaine tried to track some cards down, after coming up with nothing Steve decided to scoop to me and drop from the tournament to do some free drafting.

Then I proceded to drop my second game to the UW mirror after I couldn’t handle my opponent’s baneslayer angels in either of the second or third game.

I was not feeling great at this point, clearly I should’ve been 0-2 drop but with one win I *simply* had to win out…

I ended up beating, in no particular order, UW Tapout x2, Mythic, Jund, Naya SHallies, and White weenie to finish up 7-1 and able to draw with eventual champ Josh Herr into the top 8.

I was pretty nervous for the top 8 simply because I had played so horribly in the 8th round. I faced a good local player I knew and had beaten the last two times we faced (Dustin Taylor – 1859). I played really poorly against Dustin who was in it to win it. He gave me a real run for my money in game 1 after he mulled to 3 and I had a fairly slow start. In game 2 he rolled me on the play and in game 3 I ripped running baneslayer angels to give him no hope of top eighting. Most of my good fortune on Satudray was due to my supreme rips and not having to mull once.

In the top 8 meeting we were discussing splits and Gerard Fabiano was undecided on a split himself. I proposed we each take 500 and put the final 200 in the pot and play a winner-take-all top 8 event. Everyone eventually agreed to this and we were off.

Quarter Finals vs. Jund

I was pretty confident about Jund going into this event and was glad to see it in the first round of the top 8. Now that I had $500 in my pocket the pressure was off and I was able to just do work. If you watch my opponent’s interview he said he felt like he got outjunded this match and mabye that’s true because there weren’t any difficult decisions to be made during these games. It was all about surviving blightnings and casting as many spreading seas as I could to get to my Baneslayer Angels and Sphinx of Jwar Isle.

Semifinals vs. UW Tapout.

This is the only match other than mythic that I 2-0′d all day. In game 1 I stuck a Baneslayer Angel on 5 and then he played one on his turn 5. I laid down a jace the mind sculptor and bounced his angel then swang. At this point the lock was on as he could either try and take out my jace or keep dropping his Baneslayer. He dropped the baneslayer again and I didn’t have to play another card the rest of the match because of Negate in my hand and no reason to tap.

In game 2 it was more of the same, I answered his baneslayers but he couldn’t answer my 5/5 fliers. On the game winning turn I had a Sphinx and a Slayer vs. his Slayer. With plenty of Mana I cast mind spring for 4 leaving 3 mana open in hopes of ripping a path or an oblivion ring, the fourth card I drew was an Obring and that was that.

Finals vs. Jund

He takes down game 1 after casting Blightning once from his hand and another off of a cascade. In game 2 I have 7 mana on the turn after he drops Malakir Bloodwitch to a pretty full board facing down my baneslayer angel. I drop a Wall of Omens drawing Mind Control taking his bloodwitch and he scoops us into game 3.

Game 3 was a little nuts as he has the triple Putrid Leech Start after my Spreading Seas suck on the draw. Between all his Putride Leech activations and a swing from my Baneslayer Angel we’re both sitting under 10 life. I have a Colonnade on the board but my only other lands are plains and tectonic edges. I can draw any one of 3 islands, 2 blue fetches, 4 Glacial Fortresses or 3 Wrath of Gods to even this game up. I draw a blank and he’s able to burn me with Siege Gang Comander and have more than enough to swing in for the win and the trophy (though he and I split the final $200).

All in all I was pretty happy with UW tapout. I sleeved it up again on Sunday but it did not perform as well, I had to mulligan a lot and my draws weren’t very optimal and I was out by the sixth round. If I had to sleeve it up again I would definitely include a Gideon Jura in my Maindeck and likely a second martial coup. Martial Coup is really important in the mirror and my opponents having multiples took me down plenty of times over the two day weekend. I think I would cut down to 2 mind spring and try to throw in a Divination. Some potential cuts are 1x Baneslayer Angel, 1x Day of Judgment or an Oblivion Ring. I really like the maindeck negates so I wouldn’t personally cut those but I can see why people would not want them in the big 60.

This weekend I’ve got another PTQ in Hartford Connectictu, I’ll be wearing my bright orange Power9pro tshirt but I’ll likely be sleeving up Mythic Bant. I haven’t decided about which version I’m going to run, I’m leaning towards the Eldrazi Conscription version but with at least 1 Rafiq of the Many to give it more of a threat level if I can’t find my Sovereigns of Lost ALara during a game.

Thanks for reading

Mike Gemme
mike@power9pro.com
bobbysapphire on MTGO.

Kicking Off the Standard Season

Here we go again.

It’s another season here on the PTQC and the grinding begins this weekend at the TCGPlayer 5k in Boston followed by a Sunday Funday PTQ.

Right now, public enemy #1 is UW Tapout; a deck that you can barely damage in the early game and is nigh untouchable in the mid-late game due to the hand sculpting card advantage given to the deck by cantrippers Wall of Omens and Spreading Seas, as well as Divination and Mind Spring, and of course Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Those, along with three-time all-star Oblivion Ring, and hall of famer Wrath of God there just isn’t a whole lot you can do to this deck before they resolve Baneslayer Angel or Sphinx of Jwar Isle.

Since I took this gig, I’ve been pushing Jund hard. Play the best deck I always say, and that deck is Jund. Well, unfortunately, it’s not anymore and I’ve been contemplating dumping my Maelstrom Pulses online for a cool 66 tickets though I’m not abandoning the bandwagon just yet. I am however, probably going to sleeve up UW Tapout this weekend at the 5k, so if you’re at the event and you see a better looking guy than you sitting across the table in a bright orange power9pro tshirt, mulligan appropriately.

That isn’t to say that I haven’t been trying like hell to brew up something spicy for one of these two events, because I have. I wish I had a better head start on things but life sometimes gets in the way and I was left with just a couple weeks to prepare for “The New Standard” as you see it called around the internets.

When Prophetic Prism was spoiled, old-school Open the Vaults / Time Sieve popped into my head because of its ability to replace elsewhere flask. I got the team involved because my brother had top 8′d an Australian PTQ with the deck last year and got to seeing if we could make it work in Standard where UW is what everyone is trying to do. We put a list together, tried some different things, and like I suspected it ran shop against UW Tapout. I was struggling against Jund a bit, but I wasn’t really comfortable with what hands I should’ve been keeping and what hands I should’ve been shipping. I passed it across the table to my buddy Steve and he immediately was feeling the deck. One of his big hangups has been that he really didn’t like any deck and he wanted to hit the 5k with something spicy and off the radar. And while Open the Vaults with Filligree Angel is certainly a deck right now, it’s possible to lose despite climbing to absurd amounts of life. The Tezzerator concoction simply never passes the turn back because of Time Sieve.

Mike Siever is not very spicy, and this is pretty much just a drummed up old list with some prophetic prisms and a couple extra glassdust hulk, but it gets the job done. We found that the Hulk is pretty much the key to beating jund. They have so much disruption that it’s not exactly feasable to get the Time Sieve loop going, but if you can beat in for a couple turns with the Hulk while ramping and possibly rocking out an Open the Vaults, you simply catch the Jund Player unawares and tapped out and eventually at 0 life. Depending on how Steve does with this bear I might run it on Sunday.

Another buddy of mine fell in love with a new ROE card: Kiln Fiend. We pretty much spent an entire 24 hours discussing and testing decks with this guy trying to make him work. Sometimes he was just broken. If Jund tapped out for a sprouting thrinax on turn 3, he could straight up end the game with Distortion Strike[card], [card]Lightning Bolt, Burst Lightning; attack take 15, you’re pretty damn dead. Distortion strike makes him very good but in games you don’t draw the card, or in games that your opponent has like, a lightning bolt, things get ugly quick. We sleeved up just about every 1cc spell for red and blue (what’s up Burst of Speed ) and it was just too flimsy against Jund. There’s a possibility that this guy could be really good in Boros because you have a lot of other creatres to use who are strong and Emerge Unscathed takes the place of Distortion Strike, but outside of lightning bolt, burn spells are so underwhelming in standard that Boros doesn’t seem very well placed.

I’ve given MBC some serious thought this week but haven’t had any time to test it, once ROE comes out online I’ll probably sleeve this up virtually at some point and see how it does b/c I have most every card for it and somehow Abyssal Persecutor is like $10 less than it is IRL

I really like Contaminated Ground, this deck is trying to nickel and dime the opponent, and maybe bash in with an abyssal once or twice. Contaminated Ground goes a long way and works as a removal spell for a turn 1 Celestial Colonnade. I love Ob Nixlis and Sorin Markov and this deck is just filled with good stuff. I think if you’re running Mind Sludge (which you should) then just don’t bother with tactonic edge, but this is definitely an archtype that could embrace the edge with a different approach.

My other option this weekend? Mythic Bant. The deck is pretty narrow, but it can sure as shit steamroll people. I haven’t played any games with it, which is against my motto for this season, but it is tournament one with a new set and I have to start somewhere. It does look like a pretty fun deck. If you haven’t seen the version with Sovereigns of Lost Alara and Edlrazi Conscription, I suggest you check it out because that looks like even more of a blast; “does my Sovereigns of Lost Alara Trigger Resolve? +10/+10 trample, Annihilate 2, thanks for playing” sounds like a fun mantra to repeat on the weekend. I think if anything I’d go with the Thronling version because it owns Jund, but I have to come up with a couple Rafiq of the Many if so because nobody ever seems to have that card.

I’ll let y’all know how things go next week, thanks for letting me air out my thoughts on the format and as always feel free to slam me or give me some better ideas.

Mike Gemme
Mike@power9pro.com
Bobbysapphire on MTGO

Tilting Hard, and Dealing with it.

Tilt n (tlt): a state of mental confusion or frustration in which a player adopts a less than optimal strategy, usually resulting in the player becoming over-aggressive.

I hate it when poker terms bleed out into real life situations. I cringe anytime someone (including myself) says that they were “all-in” on something that isn’t a no-limit pot. I have to actively restrain myself from whipping out my pimp-hand when someone says something is “the nut,” but there’s just no better way to describe being tilted other than to say you’re on tilt, and having to admit that I’m on tilt when I am only makes me tilt harder.

I haven’t picked up a magic card in nearly two weeks because I’m on tilt. Hard.

That statement isn’t entirely true, because some friends and I team drafted at a hip bar in Boston a couple of weeks ago; I wasn’t happy about it, but I thought having some fun with magic might help my issue.

This all started after I had been killing it on Magic Online last month. After my online PTQ top 8 things had been steady, I was winning a bit but drafting a bit and not winning so everything kind of offset. Then I won a limited premiere event and my account was actually pretty respectable. I already had JUND built online so I really didn’t need to invest in anything, I could just pay entry fees to try and build the account to what I envisioned as a most ludcrious state by “going infinite” in daily events.

It had also been my goal since I got into MTGO to participate in a Magic Online Championship Series Event, something you have to qualify for by winning events online and earning points. In march after just a few days I had 11 out of the needed 15 points to participate; three weeks later I was holding steady at 11, the season over and my account nearly zeroed out of packs and tix.

This alone is enough to piss someone right off, but this is just the end to justify the means. The path that I took is what drove me into a downward spiral of Anger, Fear and Aggression: The Dark Path.

Anger. Don’t think you’re better than the game:

Magic is a quick game, often times over within 8 turns for each player. With so many fast decks out there the game can end even earlier. A lot of times when we lose there was something we could’ve done to win, but sometimes you just lose. If, after a loss, you open your mind to the idea that losses are inevitable you can avoid tilting.

But if you’re really angry about a loss, instead of jumping in another 8-man queue, go watch your games and see if there was any other play you could’ve made.

Fear. Don’t make stupid decisions because you are afraid to lose, these will only make you madder:

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I have bad decisions tattooed on my arm; no joke. A lot of these were life decisions, but damned if I wasn’t sitting in that chair thinking about how it applies to my card career too. When you know you’re playing against vampires and you keep a hand with NO removal even though it’s a “good matchup” and you lose, it’s easy for someone to say “you can’t be mad, you decided to keep a bad hand.” SCREW that. You just did a stupid thing, and it’s infuriating. Most of my losses to vampires and allies are because I kept a hand without removal despite knowing my matchup and knowing I boarded in extra creature kill. And when I do this it only serves to piss me off, even if my mana was tight.

Aggression. Don’t reload:

I used to play a bunch of poker and when I was running bad I knew to just do something else. I have plenty of hobbies I can do something else with my time. I find it a lot harder to walk away from Magic because it’s such a proving ground for me. It’s the first card game I’ve played that I haven’t been able to excel at. So when I start losing it’s harder for me to not jump in an 8-man queue with 6 people in it or a Daily event that’s firing in 10 minutes.

I’ll harken back to the definition of Tilt I posted above and how it mentions aggressiveness. I most identify this with being too aggressive with your actual iterations of playing. If you’re angry and you are losing, just stop reloading beacuse even if you win a game or two, is it really going to pull you out of tilt, or is it going to make you reload again? It’s like false positive reinforcement, yeah that didn’t go so bad but when you find yourself still in your swoon you’re going to be up ranting and raving on facebook chat to your friends about how bullshit you are at yourself for keeping 6 lands and a bloodbraid elf.

That ranting and raving thing is a true story, only it happened on Gmail chat. I went through about 80 tickets in three days trying to qualify for the MOCS, and when I clicked open the Magic Online store to bust into my paypal account I had to draw the line and unplug my laptop. I like to pride myself on being a pretty cool customer, almost completely unflappable, but we all have weaknesses and as much of a gracious loser I think I am, I HATE losing; it bends me out of shape.

So I’m Magic Free for two weeks, even though I am a bit regretful that I cannot attend any Rise of Eldrazi pre-releases. I really enjoyed posting my pools from the Worldwake prereleases and writing about them for power9pro but I have an engagement with another card game that I must attend, and to be honest I don’t think I’m ready to strap back into a magic seat yet. I’m still pretty frustrated with myself for allowing my account to go nuclear instead of playing some xbox or reading, but I need to open myself up to the fact that playing for the sake of playing isn’t going to make me a better magic player. I’m going to sit back down when I really want to give it a stab… or on Sunday when the first standard PTQ online fires.

Mike Gemme

mike@power9pro.com

Bobbysapphire on MTGO

What Ways are there to Win at Magic?

The goal of the game of Magic is obviously to win, right? But there are many ways to accomplish this goal. First and foremost is to make the opponent lose the game, because if you are the last one standing, you win. If there is only one player remaining, that player wins the game. This is important because most games end by causing your opponent to lose the game by reducing their life total to zero. The rules of the game tell us that unless an effect in play would prevent you from losing, if your life total is zero (or less) when state-based effects are checked, that is right before any player would receive priority, you are eliminated from the game.  Of course, this isn’t the only way a player can be eliminated from the game. The rules also tell us that if a player would be required to draw but cannot do so due to having zero cards in their library, they are eliminated. So what can we learn from this?

In both instances the game looks for the status of a vital resource in the game. When one of these resources, your life or your library, are exhausted you are out. Life total is your vitality and you must protect it from dipping under one. You can use and abuse it up till that point, and with the right application of effects, possibly beyond that point, but once the state in the rules is achieved, you lack the vitality to respond to the game. You can see it as being dead, being knocked unconscious, or whatever you like, but you are no longer a factor in the game. The case for being milled out seems a little more clear on this point. If you cannot draw any further spells to respond to the opponent’s actions and advance your own agenda, you are no longer a reasonable factor in the game, and the game removes you.

So, when you can’t respond anymore, and cannot advance your own agenda, you lose. This makes sense, but of course there are many ways of creating this situation for your opponent making it so that they’ve lost the game before the game actually kicks them out and declares you the winner. Let’s look at some strategies that do this as an overview of a type of ‘alternate’ win conditions that often crop up.

You can’t play the cards if you don’t get a turn. This may be the most obvious lockout, but if you are chaining together as many extra turns as you like, your opponent is dead in the water, unable to manipulate the gamestate beyond what few instant speed cards or abilities he has and what mana he has open. He simply waits for you to achieve one of the game ending states.

You can’t play the cards if you don’t have any mana. This is the goal of land disruption and destruction decks. If you need BRG to cast Sprouting Thrinax, and all you have is URG, thanks to Spreading Seas on your only source of B, you are locked out of that card. If you have none of the mana to cast the cards in your deck, either because they are the wrong colors thanks to your opponent or they keep getting sent to the graveyard or removed from game, you just sit with a full hand as your opponent kills you. You lose.

You can’t play the cards that leave your hand before you can play them. If you took your favorite deck and pulled out all the cards other than a handful of cheap instants, could you win a game by playing those cards one at a time? Most likely not, and that is why instant speed discard is a rare and powerful thing. With enough powerful discard, you can keep someone in topdeck mode. If you have instant speed discard, you can force them to play the card immediately after drawing it or lose it. Last I checked, unless you have great things on board already, you are not likely to win a game where nothing can ever come out of your hand.

You can’t play the cards if you can’t untap or are kept from casting. There has been and continues to be a plague that creeps through our beloved game on occasion. The ‘Lock’ type decks aim to ensure that you either never get to untap permanents, keeping you from having mana or other tap abilities to use, or they ensure that you are constantly under constraints that prevent you from casting. Of course, as we can see from above, if you can no longer interact with the gamestate, you’ve loss the game and are simply waiting for the game to declare your opponent the winner.

Due to the defacto state of win that the above deck archetypes can create, it is important to always look for ways to achieve one of these states when evaluating new cards and working to innovate a new strategy when deck building, Each strategy has a different weak point to exploit and a critical period in which to exploit it. Land destruction, for instance, must come online reliably on your turn three, because after that, too much is done buy three and four casting cost spells and too many lands are in play to stop most opponents plans. Discard should also come online as soon as possible, but is much more tolerant to creating a late game lock if there is instant speed discard in the format. In all of these cases, if your opponent can no longer effect the game, they’ve already loss and all you have to do is pluck away at their life or library until the game kicks them out.

Now, one quick note. There is another way of winning the game, and that’s with a rules modifying clause that creates a new winning condition other than being the last man standing. Mayael’s Aria, Helix Pinnacle, and Rise of the Eldrazi’s Near Death Experience are all ways of creating a change to the rules to declare yourself a winner. However, there is no inherent removal of your opponent in this strategy, so you opponent can actively attempt to keep you from succeeding up until the final moment. This separates these strategies from those above.

So, next time you are looking for a strategy outside of just attacking with many big guys, you can consider some of these winning game states and see if you can lock your opponent out of the game. Also, if you sit down across from one of these strategies, understand that they are trying to stop you from interacting with the game, and while annoying that is one of the most powerful ways to win as it is implied right in the rules: make your opponent irrelevant.

The New Rise of Eldrazi Mechanics

So, everybody wants to be a Figure of Destiny.

I just spent a week down in my favorite city in the world (New Orleans) and on my shaky flights home I took notes on an article I’ve been meaning to write since I landed this gig at p9p. However, when I got home and punched “Daily MTG” into google for the first time in eight days and found the Rise of Eldrazi visual spoiler and some crazy new mechanics, I knew that I’d once again have to shelve that other article and talk about power levelling.

So far we’ve got three Light Warriors who can level up at will (well, sorcery speed will):

Guul Draz Assasin Lighthouse ChronologistKnight of Cliffhaven

It’s pretty tough to analyze these guys after only seeing three of them, but their rarity speaks to me a bit. One mythic, one rare and one common; there will likely be a fair number of these guys in the set, maybe 2-3 per color.

I think the major thing to consider about this mechanic is how exactly to play it (even before we consider how good this mechanic really is or isn’t). For example, take a look at Guul Draz Assasin. When are we playing this guy? Play him on one, level him up maybe on 2, then on 3 you level him up again and make their 2 drop -2/-2. That’s obviously one streamlined option, but does this guy get worse if you can’t play him on turn 1? Maybe not. Turn 3 you can play him and pump him once, then on turn 4 you can pump him again and still have the option to make a guy -2/-2 which can make combat really tricky that turn if they can’t kill him. The main question we need to ask ourselves at this point is how does our board look? Is a casting cost of 2BBB worth it to have a 2/2 that can run shop on the board?

What this mechanic really is, is “slow-kicker.” The fact that the rare ones seem color-intensive could make things really problematic, but the common Knight of Cliffhaven (anybody else thinking of Cliff Claven?) levels for three colorless mana, making him a much better limited card even if his level up cost is pretty expensive. We’ve seen 2/2′s for 2cc go a long way in limited over the years, and we’ve seen 2/3 flyers do pretty well too. But a 2/3 flyer for 5 mana? Eh. If your curve falters it’s fine, and if you’re really struggling to stop a flyer he is obviously very handy, but really I think most times this guy is going to be a good limited staple (since we’re drafting triple ROE) for white but no real practical constructed application.

This mechanic gives us a new template which is cool if not fugly, and I think the power level of the rares will be the deciding factor on whether or not these guys can hang in constructed standard, because I’m sure some will be usable in block.

Dennis Rodman plays magic?!

Rebound is the only new mechanic with the potential to do really unfair things. This is what we have so far:

Prey's VengeanceVirulent Swipe

Right now we only have things that are pumps, which is fine because so far they’re both forms of removal that are really good when you play it on your opponent’s turn and rebound it on your turn.

I don’t think I really have to go too in depth into this, as it’s pretty obvious that if you can block, play Preys Vengeance to go +2/+2 to kill a creature and keep your guy alive, rebound into your guy being +2/+2 again and attack in bigger than anyone on the board you’re going to be looking pretty good. Same with Virulent Swipe, you can play it on defense to force a trade and then swing in the next turn with someone else and make them trade with you again or take some damage. It seems like a good way to make use of a guy who has become outclassed by the other creatures on the board.

It’ll be interesting to see what else they do with this mechanic. The two cards we have are uncommon so I wonder if there will be just one uncommon Rebound card in each color that’s some form of pump. It’s easy to assume that the white card will give us lifelink and the blue card will give us flying, but maybe R/D will be a little more inventive than that.

But it would be really cool if they gave us real board changing cards with rebound. Like a blue card that bounces a creature, a black that kills, a red that burns etc. It is a really cool, strong mechanic that doesn’t seem TOO powerful.

I’ve already said something on totem armor in the power9pro spoiler article two weeks ago, but this new card is exactly what I was looking for to think that this mechanic has potential:

Hyena Umbra

First strike is one of the most powerful of the most used keywords on creatures. It can absolutely rule combat, so casting Hyena Umbra to give a guy +1/+1 and first strike and “Regenerate for free” makes this a nifty little power package at a very, very low cost. Kindled Fury was one of my absolute favorite cards in M10 draft and won me many a pack on MTGO, this card reminds me of that. And, since it’s white I like it as a card that can make Knight of the Reliquary even better. I’m interested to see what the other colors with this mechanic have to offer, especially at such low costs.

The only other new mechanic is Annihilator and I think it’s pretty obvious that it’s one of the most powerful Mechanics magic has ever printed. Obviously it’s main hindrance is that none of the cards it’s printed on cost less than 8, nor do they have haste, so you’re not going to be Annihilating anything without great effort.

There’s also a little something going on with Defender, but that’s not exactly new or exciting, just that they’re getting really into defender for this set, which (with apologies) doesn’t excite me whatsoever. Though this card was spoiled today by WOTC:

Guard Duty

That’s it for me, I’m always excited about new cards even if I’m not excited about their constructed applications. I’m hoping we get a lot more out of rebound and some interesting Level Uppers in all the colors, until then I’ll be cascading.

Mike Gemme
BobbySapphire on MTGO
mike@power9pro.com

PS: here’s a link to the WOTC Visiual Spoiler, check it often.