Wb Devotion Takes Down FNM

Since winning Theros Game Day I’ve had a bit of a rough streak, though I did make top 8 in a couple drafts and did also last week, other than that I haven’t had much luck, though I have been having a good time, as Theros standard so far has a good variety of decks. I saw this nearly mono White devotion deck on line and decided I just had to give it a try. I made a couple small changes to the list and ended up playing this:

As usual, I threw it together Friday evening and went into the tournament having not played it at all, other than two quick practice games against my 9 year old son piloting RDW. Regardless, though, I was excited to play it because it looks like such fun. As usual, though, I hadn’t really thought hard about sideboarding; in particular, I never know what to take out. But I winged it, and it turned out OK in the end.

Round 1: Mac, playing Monoblue Devotion
Mac has become a regular at my LGS and we’ve played several times lately. He kept a slightly sketchy hand in Game 1 and I had exactly the right kind of hand to punish it: Solider into Captain into Spear (off Mutavault) and I just ran him over. Game 2 he got an early Thassa and a Weird, then something else to activate Thassa, but on my turn 7 I had the mana to tap out to cast an Angel of Serenity, wiping his board. Unfortunately, he topdecked Jace, activated his -2, and found a Rapid Hybridization. He got his Devotion back up and while we were at a stalemate for a while, his overloaded Cyclonic Rift sealed it. Game 3 my opening hand had two Angels, a Captain, a Brave the Elements, and three land (including a Nykthos) in it. I got devotion going early, wiped him out with an Angel, and had the Brave ready to go when he tried to Rift the Angel.
1-0 matches, 2-1 games

Round 2: Karl, playing Naya
Karl’s deck is mostly RG devotion, but with White for Boros Charm. Game 1 I had a double-Soldier plus Spear and then Captain opening, and pretty much just ran him over. Game 2 I mulliganed down to 5 and he got some early ramp and a Purphoros, and he ramped into a pair of hydras, and I just could not keep pace with the trample on the Kalonian. Game 3 we had an epic board stall where we just played out everything on both sides, though I had three Soldiers and so gained much life. I finally drew a Brave when he was at 14 and I had 22 power on the board and everything but 1 of his creatures was green.
2-0 matches, 4-2 games

Round 3: Michael playing Jund
Michael is a regular who I’ve played many times, but not recently. Game 1 I had a turn 1 Soldier and got a Spear and a couple Banisher Priests to take out his blockers, and ran him over. Game 2 didn’t go much better with early double Captains and a Spear, then Nykthos to cast both a Banisher and a Reckoner on the same turn. It was too much.
3-0 matches, 6-2 games

Round 4: ID
We were both undefeated and could draw in, so we did. I spent the off time playing games against Monoblack, which is a really interesting matchup. I knew what I wanted in: +4 Thoughtseize, +2 Flare, +2 Charm, +2 Blood Baron, but I wasn’t sure what to take out. The Soldiers and the Gideons definitely come out, but after that it’s kind of iffy. Banisher Priest and Angel don’t seem good against all the black removal, but they do force the issue some of the time. We split the games we played, but I won fewer of them. Tricky matchup.
3-0-1 matches, 6-2 games

Quarterfinals: Jason, playing Monoblue
Jason has been a regular there longer than I have, but hasn’t been around much lately. Game 1 we both got very full boards, him with a Master and multiple Tidebinders and Thassa and such, me with a a couple Captains and many solider tokens and a Blood Baron and Elspeth. It was mostly a stalemate until I drew a Brave and swung in for what I thought was lethal, but I blew it because I forgot about his Mutavaults, and he responded to my Brave by Hybridizing my Blood Baron so I didn’t get the life gain, either. His swing back was almost lethal, but he also didn’t take my Mutavault into account, and it didn’t quite get there, so the game went to me. Game 2 I got an Angel on line after he had Weird and Thassa and then Master, and I had the Brave in hand for the Hybridization.
4-0-1 matches, 8-2 games

Semifinals: Nathan playing RDW
This was a really odd game. My opening seven was six lands and a Brave, so I shipped it back and kept a double-Gideon opening hand because I just did not want to go down to 5. I actually ended up casting Gideon and ticking him up to 7 right off the bat, and he threw a lot at him to make sure he died. I followed up with a Blood Baron, and he got me down to 1, but the Baron gained me the requisite life on a swing, and I took out his Burning-Tree with a Banisher Priest. He played a Fanatic to bring me back to 4, but having taken out the Emissary saved me, and the Baron got me back up to 5 again, and swinging with the second Gideon (then at 7) brought him down to 9 and he couldn’t swing productively into my pair of Captains and so Gideon carried it. Game 2 I got an early Fiendslayer, had a Spear, and got an extra counter on the Paladin with Ajani, and the life gain from multiple swings with him kept me alive. Nathan actually got to six land in the game and would have blown me out with an overloaded Mortars, but I had the Brave in hand to keep myself in the game, and Captains again did great work.
5-0-1 matches, 10-2 games

It was past 11:00 at night at this point and I had my 9 year old with me, so I was more than happy to take a split in the finals for $37 in store credit. Got the last couple cards I needed for the Kibler Golgari deck, which is probably what I’ll play next time out.

The Deck
It’s much better than I thought. I mean, I liked how it looked, but it actually plays even better than it looks. Spear in particular is fantastic. The really fast openers—Soldier, Captain, Spear—can be pretty devastating, but the deck has the raw power to take the long game as well, and does not require the fast opener to win.

Gideon just seems really mediocre, and I sided him out every time. You want a general-purpose four-drop with double white for devotion purposes, and he gives you that, but he’s just not really good enough vs. enough of the field to be happy with him. I’d probably keep him in vs. any kind of UWx control deck but in every other matchup a sideboard card seems better than Gideon. If the next set gives us a decent 2WW creature, or even better a good 1WWW one, I would probably play that over Gideon. Actually, I’d even consider Ajani’s Chosen here, except that not once did I actually make a token with Heliod, though I had him out several times. What the deck really needs is a flyer in that slot. Actually, Angel of Jubilation would actually be pretty good here—too bad it just rotated out. Same for Sublime Archangel, which would be insane in this deck. Linvala would be pretty good, too, or, wow, a reprint of Commander Eesha, Dawn Elemental, or Guardian Seraph. Maybe the next set will have something like that.

The monoblue matchup seems really good. Banisher Priest and Angel of Serenity are simply amazing against them since they have so little removal. I went +4 Thoughtseize, +2 Flare, +2 Charm, -4 Soldier, -2 Blood Baron, -2 Gideon against that and that seemed really good.

The RDW matchup is OK. I would seriously consider going up to 3 Fiendslayers in the sideboard to bring in against this, and they’re good against monoblack, too. For this one, +2 Fiendslayer, +2 Blood Baron, +2 Flare, +2 Charm, -4 Soldier, -2 Angel, -2 Gideon. Blood Baron isn’t great against them because it’s a little slow, but lifelink is so good, and it’s not like there are better choices around.

I was really glad I cut the fourth Nykthos and ran one Mutavault. That seemed exactly right, as a couple times I had both the Mutavault and one Nykthos, and having two Nykthos is awful.

The other important property the deck has is the property all rogue decks have: nobody had any idea what to sideboard against it.

It is, again, a fun deck, and like the other devotion decks in the format, has a lot of raw power. I think it’s better than the BUG deck I played last time out. Give it a whirl if you want to be a little off the beaten path, but still solid.

BUG Midrange into FNM Top 8

This report is not because I did really great or anything, but because the deck is kind of interesting. After winning Game Day, I’ve actually been on a pretty bad run, missing cuts on breakers or just having horrible nights. One of the days I missed on breakers I played the Bg Devotion deck, which I liked a lot and went 2-0 vs. Monoblack Devotion. Abrupt Decay and Putrefy are really good in that matchup.

Fall is pretty busy for me so I have almost no time to think about MTG until right up to the tournament and this Friday was no different. I decided I wanted to play something different and saw Chapin’s BUG Midrange deck listing and thought it looked like fun and I had all the cards, so I decided to give it a shot. I probably should have played it first, though.

I made a couple small changes from Chapin’s list and played this:

In the main deck I just changed some numbers: I went down to 3 Reapers to run a third Desecration Demon. I cut a Far // Away for a second Abrupt Decay. In the sideboard I changed a few cards: 2 Mistcutter Hydras in place of the the 2 Ætherlings, and 1 Ratchet Bomb in place of the fourth Scavenging Ooze. Those all made sense to me at the time.

Round 1: Festus, playing RDW
Festus is a regular who I’ve played a lot lately, and I’ve been on a bit of winning streak against him, four or five in a row, I think. I had no idea what he was playing, but he won the roll and lead off with a Rakdos Cackler. I had a Golgari Charm in my opener so I though this might go OK, and turn 2 he nicely laid down a pair of Firedrinkers, so I was able to 2-for-1 him with the Charm. I got a Caryatid out to block, put down an Ooze, then got down Jace and a Demon, and he scooped. Game 2 was just a game of he would play something and hit me, then I’d kill it afterwards. The key play was on turn 5 he had a Fanatic out and cast a second one, and I responded with Away and he went to put the first Fanatic in the graveyard, then stopped and tapped his Mountain to activate his tapped Mutavault and sac that instead of the first Fanatic. Dang, I was hoping he’d miss that. He swung with the one Fanatic and dropped me to 4. They both died on the next turn to double Golgari Charm, but without more life gain in the deck, this was a losing race for me, as we both had empty boards. I knew I was in trouble, and he drew out of it first and burned me out. Game 3 I had two Caryatids in my opener, but only two land and no source of green. I kept, which was a huge mistake—I didn’t draw the third land until like turn 5, and it was a shock, so I just died quickly. Should have mulliganed.
0-1-1, 1-2 games

Round 2: Ryan, playing UW Control
Ryan is another regular who I’ve played many times, though not so much recently. Game 1 I just punted, as I had turn 2 Caryatid and could have cast turn 3 Reaper, but I held back to leave Dissolve open, and for the life of me I can’t remember why. The whole game played out badly after that, and everything useful I generated died to Verdicts, me never with a Charm in hand. There were some funny plays in the match, at least. He had both Jace and Elspeth at one point and I had a Demon, which he tapped by sacrificing a Soldier token. He had tapped out to cast Elspeth, so I got to cast an enormous Prime Speaker, but of course they both died to Elspeth’s -3. Unfortunately most of the cards I drew were just lands. Sideboarding was a bit of a challenge, as I wasn’t completely sure what to bring in and what to take out. Game 2 Ryan had a bit of a punt to even things up. He had a Jace, Memory Adept of mine under a Sphere, and after getting out a pair of Prophets, generate a Jace, Architect, and cashed him in to find a Golgari Charm. Ryan then put a Sphere on the two Prophets, then tapped out to activate both his Mutavaults, and swung. I Charmed the Sphere on the two Prophets, blocked both the lands, and set him back to four lands. Seemed good. He did draw into a Verdict, though, and this went back and forth many times. I finally drew my second Memory Adept, though, and milled him out. We had very little time to finish G3 (both of us again made sideboard adjustments) and did not, which was a shame, as I had a Turn 1 Duress followed by multiple early Thoughseizes. I also had a turn 5 Memory Adept and we ended on turns with him on 6 cards in his library. Dang.
0-1-1 matches, 2-3-1 games

Round 3: Elliot, playing WBR Slivers
These games were just horrible beatings. His deck is capable of really fast draws, but he never got them here and I just had way too much time to set things up. I had Prophet going in one game and was flashing in Demons and Reapers, and in the other game I got the Prime Speaker with a Demon on the board hand refill again. He actually did get me down to 7 in the second game, but i was never really in serious danger.
1-1-1 matches, 4-3-1 games

Round 4: Rusty, playing Monowhite Devotion
This is not the Wb Devotion deck that’s been on TCG lately, but a mono-white deck with little guys and Heroic, but still with Heliod and the Spear and Nykthos. Game 1 I got a couple 2-for-1s with removal on enchanted creatures, and once again got Prime Speaker with a Demon on board. Game 2 he got turn 3 Spear and kind of ran me over. I had a Gaze in hand but never hit the sixth land to wipe his board. Game 3 I kept him off me enough early to make Gaze for 3 be a one-sided Wrath, got Demon and Prime Speaker and put it away.
2-1-1 matches, 5-4-1 games

I made the top 8 on breakers, just barely.

Quarterfinals: Jeremy, playing Monoblack Devotion
I had played Jeremy on Game Day and the week after and was 2-0 against him, so he owed me. Game 1 was a very close back and forth affair he won off a desperate pay 2 life from Erebos to draw a card and pull Ultimate Price when I had a Demon on board with him at 6. He then drew a Gray Merchant to follow up, activating Erebos as well and hitting me down to 2. Grr. I hadn’t thought very hard about what to sideboard for this matchup and I’m not sure I did it right. However, Game 2 was pretty much smooth sailing, including an active Prophet for a couple turns (ate a Doom Blade) and a Far // Away that bounced a live Erebos and killed a 7/7 Demon. Game 3 didn’t go my way, though, as his turn 3 Specter hit a Thoughtseize on his first swing and I was just kid of behind the whole game, including him again top decking a removal spell when I had tapped out for Prime Speaker with a Reaper on the table. Ah, well.
2-2-1 matches, 6-6-1 games

I think that’s pretty much the textbook definition of a mediocre night. My son Simon made it to the finals (again, he’s been on a amazing roll lately), and while I was waiting for him, I played a bunch of games against an aggro Rw Devotion deck to get a better feel for how the deck plays in other matchups, a majority of which I lost. But the outcome is not really why I wrote this. Fundamentally, the deck is not completely straightforward to play; there are a lot of decisions, especially sideboarding, that I hadn’t thought about enough beforehand. This is what you get for building a rogue deck just before you leave for the event. I think with more practice with the deck and a tweaked sideboard, this could actually be a pretty decent deck.

So, let’s talk about it.

Comments on the Deck
First, it’s really interesting. It attacks from multiple different angles and is difficult to sideboard against, not just because it is rouge, but because of the diversity of threats. Main deck Golgari Charm seems like a great metagame call right now.

Basically, against heavily aggro decks, you have to draw early Caryatids or you just lose. The 0/3 hexproof mana wall is really great in those matchups. Early removal is really important, too. The sideboard seems OK against aggro, but is short a removal spell or two. Another Cure would be good, except Cure is so bad against everything else.

On the other hand, against mono-black, you also want another removal spell, and Cure would not be it. I wanted a Putrefy there. This was the only matchup that I brought in Whip and it didn’t seem that good, particularly with Erebos around. I’d have been much better off with a removal spell than with the Whip.

Ratchet Bomb in the sideboard felt like a mistake. I did bring it in a couple times and it never really seemed good. Primeval Bounty is also interesting, and while I brought it in against UW Control and against mono-black, I never got to cast it. Not sure how good that really is.

If I were to play this again, I’d definitely cut the Whip and the Ratchet Bomb, probably for a third Cure and a Putrefy, or maybe even for two Putrefys. I’d also consider cutting the Primeval Bounty for more hand kill, e.g. another Duress, or maybe even Vraska.

So, if you want to play something really interesting that’s off the beaten path, give this a whirl. I think with a few sideboard changes and better pre-tourney thought about what to sideboard when, and a little actual playtesting beforehand, this is decent, and a heck of a lot of fun to play.

Theros Game Day Champion Report. Bonus: 9yo Son Made Top 8, Too

I haven’t played Standard since before Theros was released and didn’t really start paying attention to it until after the Pro Tour; however, since the Pro Tour I did some more serious thinking about it and even did a little breakdown of the States metagame in my last post.

I had sort of intended to play Sin City (that’s my name for WBR) midrange, but I just couldn’t get over how bad the manabase looks. I’ll probably still play it some time before the next set is released, but I just didn’t feel like it was the right choice for my first time out in Standard with this set. I also haven’t played a control deck in ages, so I thought it was time to dust one off. It’s not very original, but here was the build I put together:

27 players for Game Day, so 5 rounds cutting to top 8. As you might be able to tell from my sideboard, I was actually expecting a fair amount of control, and was certainly expecting someone to be on monoblue devotion. That’s not quite how it worked out, though. The other important thing to note is that I brought my 9-year-old son Stuart with me, and he also made the top 8. His deck list will come later.

Round 1: Otto, playing Monoblack Devotion
I have to admit that I don’t really remember game 1 very well. I know I won it, but I really don’t remember exactly how it went. Game 2 I punted a little bit. He had a turn 3 Lifebane Zombie (which of course missed). When he swung with it, I killed it with Hero’s Downfall, which left me open to his turn 4 Desecration Demon. Unfortunately it took me a couple turns to answer the Demon—meaning he hit me for 12 with it—and by then he had drawn into a Mutavault, and when he got the second Mutavault down, even though I had an AEthering, I was done. Game 3 was a close one. He had an early Liliana of the Dark Realms and I had to use a Needle on it before it got crazy, which let him go to town with Underworld Connections. He successfully got a Merchant out to drain me for 7 down to 10, and got in one whack with the Merchant before I dealt with it. I got an AEtherling, he got Erebos. He got a Descration Demon to make Erebos live, but I was able to Verdict off the Demon and get in two swings with the shapeshifter, which was lethal, before he could get Erebos going again. Very good since I was at 3. Whew.
1-0 matches, 2-1 games

Round 2: Tim, playing Naya Aggro
Game 1 was another punt for me, as I did not kill a Fleecemane Lion when I had the chance, and it got monstrous and went pretty much all the way before I could find an Elspeth or an AEtherling. Game 2 I flooded like crazy and only played four spells the entire game.
1-1 matches, 2-3 games

Round 3: Daniel, playing Sin City Midrange
Daniel and I had a long history of alternating wins with each other, but he had actually taken the last two or three in a row from me, so I was hoping luck would be on my side in this one. Turns out it was. Game 1 I hit all my first four land drops and he had missed one of his, and I cast Jace into an empty board and used his -2, hitting something meaningful, and Daniel simply scooped after his next draw phase wasn’t land. Apparently he had a lot of dead cards against me—my guess is multiple Anger of the Gods—and didn’t think he’d be able to make up the land disparity. Game 2 we both mostly drew, played land, and passed (though I got in a couple hits with my Mutavault), and then I stuck a Blood Baron and was able to Dissolve his answers, and that was it.
2-1 matches, 4-3 games

Round 4: Jeremy, playing Monoblack Devotion
Game 1 we spent the first several turns just blowing up each other’s stuff, but I eventually stuck an AEtherling and it went all the way. Game 2 I got a turn 5 Blood Baron, but he had a Devour Flesh for it, so that was a no-op. At one point he had an Underworld Connections out, and I Thoughtseized him to find another Connections and something else, and I took whatever else it was, so he ended up with two Connections on the board. He drew a lot of cards this way, but paid a lot of life for it, and fortunately drew mostly land. I was also a bit flooded, but I finally drew a Detention Sphere to take out both Connections. He was down to 4 when he finally drew a Merchant with a Whip on the table, which brought him back up to 8. That was good for him, as I drew my second Baron, but it turns out Baron was just too good, and I got in two hits with Baron before he could get anything going.
3-1 matches, 6-3 games

Round 5: ID
There were four players on 10 points and five players on 9, so we knew the #9, who was rounded down, had to play, and the #7 and #8 players were paired and they had to play, so we were safe to ID in. I ended up as the overall #7 seed, because the #9 seed won and all the top 4 (with 10 points) ID’d.
3-1-1 matches, 6-3 games

Quarterfinals: Michael, playing Boros Aggro
Game 1 was pretty dumb. He got in a couple hits with 1/1s and I got Jace and Verdict and had board control, but he drew a Magma Jet and every single one of his Boros Charms (yes, all 4) to burn me out. Game 2 he got in some early damage and I cleaned up with a Verdict and then we both flooded out, but his first action once the flood ended was a 1/1 and mine was a Revelation for 8, which was pretty much the end of the game. Game 3 he got me down to 8 before I fired off a Revelation for 6. After that, I used Jace’s -2 and hit two Elspeth and an Ox. Hmm, two Elspeth, that’s a pretty good little Fact or Fiction, Jace. Elspeth locked it up for me after that.
4-1-1 matches, 8-5 games

Semifinals: Aaron, playing Boros Aggro
It’s not unusual at the store to split in the top 4, but this was my fifth Game Day top 8 without earning a playmat, and I really wanted one, so I rejected the split, and got the déjà vu pairing. Game 1 I kept a two-lander because I had two Doom Blades and one of the land was a Temple of Silence so I’d get an extra card to look for land. I sent an AEtherling to the bottom and was rewarded with an Island, Doom Bladed his first two plays, stuck Jace, hit him with Thoughtseize and hit a Boros Charm and saw his other two cards were Chained to the Rocks, so I was under no pressure (plus, he had no Mountains; his red was two Temples). I Revelationed from 12 up to 17, stuck AEtherling and he went all the way. Game 2 I again kept a two-lander because I had an Ox, a Doom Blade and a Divination. I cast the Ox on turn 2 and drew a land and got more land off the Divination. I again stuck a turn 4 Jace to keep the beats off me, then followed up with a Blood Baron. I though he’d go all the way but he died to Celestial Flare. Really? Against a deck with like five creatures? Well, can’t argue with the result. Anyway, he ate the Ox with a Banisher Priest, but the Priest doesn’t do much against Jace, and when he put two more creatures on the board I had the Verdict, then a Revelation to go from 14 to 19, then took over with Elspeth. I even got her to ultimate for the win.
5-1-1 matches, 10-5 games

Final: ID
My finals opponent, who was actually the person I ID’d with in round 5, wanted to go home so he wanted to split. I said I’d split if I got the playmat. He offered to roll for it, but gave me the edge on the roll, 8 or higher on a D20. I decided that was good enough and rolled a 19 so I got the playmat. Yay!
5-1-2 matches, 10-5 games

Also, the top 2 split was $51 in store credit, which was excellent. I got a fourth Thoughtseize, a fourth Soldier of the Pantheon, some Mistcutter Hydras, and a bunch of Temples—plus, of course, the glorious Theros Game Day Champion playmat featuring Elspeth:

wpid-PastedGraphic-2013-10-21-13-451.png

Thoughts on the Deck
The deck is obviously very good; I don’t think it’s a mistake that there were 5 Esper Control decks in the top 16 at GP Louisville. This probably isn’t the optimal build but I don’t think it’s a bad one. I’m sure one of the potentially controversial choices in the full suite of Doom Blades. Doom Blade is actually amazing in most matchups, but obviously completely dead against monoblack. If I knew there would be quite that much monoblack I’d consider going down to 2 or 3 and adding a couple of either Far // Away or Ultimate Price—something that actually kills a Desecration Demon.

Also, a few words about Elspeth are in order. I have said publicly (on Reddit) that I didn’t think Elspeth was really all that good because of her high mana cost. (And this is coming from a huge fan of the original Elspeth.) Oh, how very, very wrong I was. Yes, AEtherling ends the game more quickly, but Elspeth offers such terrific protection in the interim, without recurring mana investments. My dear Sun’s Champion, I apologize. You are indeed awesome.

Stuart Makes Top 8

Now, as I said before, my 9-year-old son Stuart also came with me, at his insistence. His first ever Magic tournament was actually Gatecrash Game Day, which he top 8’d with Red Deck Wins. He’s not really ready for anything complicated, but he’s usually reasonably capable with something straightforward. It doesn’t get much more straightforward than this:

I didn’t record his opponents’ names or anything, and I don’t actually remember all of his matches, but I can give the flavor of them.

Round 1 he lost. My round 1 was a grinder and I’m not sure what exactly he lost to–some other aggro deck, I think. I have a vague memory of him looking over and him having punted it. He’s nine, that’ll happen.

Round 2 he won vs. Boros Aggro. His opponent started the game with his sideboard still in his main deck (I noticed this when he played a main deck Glare of Heresy), which he somehow thought was OK with the new sideboarding rules. Uhh, no. Game 2 Stuart won, I think on the back of Unflinching Courage.

I don’t remember the order of his round 3/4 matches, nor do I remember the exact deck matchup for one of them, but I do recall that Stuart’s opponent Josh stumbled a bit on land and got punished for it. The other round was against Bob playing Azorious Control. Stuart won it 2-1, one of them on a Rootborn Defenses effectively countering a Verdict, and the third game on a slightly slow draw from his opponent and Stuart just immediately refilling the board after a Verdict.

Round 5 I watched the entire thing, since I got to draw that round. Stuart was 3-1 but could not draw because his opponent was at #8, but tied on points with the #9 who played. So while Stuart would have been happy to draw, his opponent couldn’t. His opponent was also running Boros aggro. Game 1 his opponent kept a 1-lander, Stuart had all gas and curved out for the easy win. Game 2 did not go as well. Stu got turn 1 Experiment One, his opponent got turn 2 Ash Zealot, Stuart got turn 2… something 3/3, I don’t remember if it was a Fleecemane or a Call. Turn 3 for his opponent was a Chained to the Rocks for Stuart’s 3/3 and another swing with the Zealot. Stuart had nothing on turn 3, holding just land and an Advent. Opponent’s turn 4 was Purphoros. Stuart played land and passed. Opponent played a Chandra’s Phoenix, making Purphoros live and burning Stuart for 2, then swing with the team. Here Stuart punted, not playing the Advent during combat, and that left him at 2, which meant the Phoenix would get him next turn regardless. (Had he blocked with the Advent token, he’d have been at 4 and the god would no longer have been live, but he would be dead to a burn spell or another creature anyway, so it’s not like he punted a game he was likely to have won.) Game 3 Stuart had turn 1 Soldier, who ate a burn spell. Turn 2 Stuart had a Fleecemane, opponent passed. Stuart came back with Ajani, put a counter on the lion, and swung for 4. Opponent came back with Boros Reckoner. Stuart then had the play of the day: he put Unflinching Courage on the Lion, then gave it flying and double strike with Ajani for the 20-point life swing, leaving his opponent at 4. Opponent played some other red creature, Stuart played Brave the Elements for the win. Sweet win into the top 8!

In the quarterfinals, Stuart played against Junk Midrange and lost; I was busy with my own quarterfinal and I didn’t really see much of what happened, though I know Stuart made a sideboarding mistake and took out the Selesnya Charms, which are important for fighting the Desecration Demons. Still, 4-2 is not a bad outing for a 9-year-old!

Thoughts on the Deck
Selesnya Aggro put a lot of decks into the top 8 at States and had a lot of 18+ point decks at the PT but had no overall wins at States and didn’t make the top 8 at the PT. It’s a good deck with the opportunity to punish decks for slow draws, but I have no idea how it beats Monoblue Devotion, which seems like a key weakness. Fortunately, Stuart didn’t play against that. As Craig Wescoe showed at PT Dragon’s Maze, a deck like this can be a tough out for control decks; Rootborn Defenses has something to say there. Fleecemane Lion is just really good; the deck should play 4 and cut a Call of the Conclave, but we only had 3 Fleecemanes. Boon Satyr is good but I think 3 is the right number there.

The real weakness of the deck is the lack of reach or evasion; when we playtested against each other me sticking an Elspeth was simply game over. A swarm of chump blockers is just too much most of the time. Perhaps a third Ajani would be good for that reason. (I should note I lost pretty much all the games where I didn’t get Elspeth.)

Finally, Last Breath is in there for Master of Waves; that perhaps should be Mistcutter Hydra.

2013 Fall States Metagame Report

So, Theros has been released, and there’s been a Pro Tour, and TCGPlayer hosted States. Maybe your’e getting ready for Game Day or for an upcoming FNM and you’re wondering about the metagame. Well, I can’t forecast what the metagame will but, but I can relay some information about what the metagame was for States.

States is kind of an interesting set of tournaments, being more competitive than your average FNM but certainly not at the level of a GP, and maybe not quite at the level of a PTQ, but not a casual format. By looking at what did well at States, perhaps there’s something to be learned. The great thing about States is that TCGPlayer posts all the decklists, tagged by archetype, so it’s easy to look at the whole thing and figure out what happened. These States were also held at an interesting time, being mostly Saturday events after the first day of Pro Tour Theros was in the books. Some of these were held on Sunday, so for those, everything but the top 8 was in the books.

So, I took a look at the top 8 decks from all 351 decks from the 44 states that have reported in. (Note that that should be 352 decks. For some reason, Illinois only reported 7. What’s up with that?). Now, these data aren’t perfect, because sometimes decks get mislabeled or put into a category that they don’t really quite belong in, but the sample size is large enough that hopefully it’s still informative.

So, I did a little counting and aggregating across decklists, and generated this look at the top ten archetypes, plus those that didn’t get up to 4% of the metagame:

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Wow, look at all that Monoblue Devotion! That’s a deck that wasn’t really on the radar prior to the PT, and it did very well at States. Given that the deck was brand new, the pilots could not have had a great deal of practice with the deck, so that’s an impressive showing, as 15% is a pretty sizable chunk of the metagame.

The next two most popular decks both came in around 10% and represent completely different strategies, straight-up creature-based aggro and generally close to creatureless control. A similar contrast applies to the next two decks, another hard-core aggro strategy and another creature-light control deck.

After that it’s pretty much all red or black based midrange until we hit the “other” category, which is a mishmash of different things, though I would say that category is about a third midrange and a third aggro, with a smattering of control and other offbeat decks (including a Maze’s End deck!).

So, the top 8 metagame is pretty diverse. Unlike the DGM metagame, it is no longer dominated by green; the rotation of Thragtusk and Farseek probably has something to do with that. If you classify the Monoblue Devotion deck as a midrange deck, then the meta is still pretty heavily weighted toward midrange decks. Given that this has been the metagame for a while now, I’m staring to wonder if this is a conscious plan by WotC R&D, as midrange battles tend to be more interactive creature fights, which R&D thinks is more enticing to new players (and probably better on camera).

Now, the numbers above come from the entire top 8. But who wins in the top 8? It turns out that the graph is quite substantially different:

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Wow! How about the domination by Monoblue Devotion, which doubled its share, taking home the trophy in almost a third of the states? Esper Control also had a nice gain in its share. RDW, Azorious Control, BWR Midrange, and Gruul Midrange were fairly stable from top 8 to champion. Three decks have completely vanished: Selesnya Aggro, Junk Midrange, and Orzhov Midrange. Two new decks have appeared: Boros Aggro and Golgari Midrange, both of which had between 2 and 3% of the top 8 metagame, thus missing the top ten in the earlier graph.

The two biggest stories are probably to be the domination by Monoblue Devotion and the complete disappearance of Selesnya Aggro. I’m not going to say much about the deck that constituted 3 of the top 4 at the PT, as plenty has already been said there. It’s undoubtedly a very strong deck and will probably occupy a central space in the metagame for some time and I think this will be the “deck to beat” going forward. I expect to either see multiple copies in the next several SCG top 8s, unless someone finds a good solution soon.Hopefully we don’t approach Caw-Blade levels of hegemony, but I’m predicting something like the dominance Shards-era Jund had. I hope I’m wrong.

The other big story is the GW Aggo disappearance. Selesnya Aggro had a lot of decks with 18 or more points at the PT, but none of its pilots made the top 8. On the surface it seems to me to be such an obvious deck, as there are so many GW creatures that come out with more power than mana cost (e.g., Fleecemane Lion, Call of the Conclave, Loxodon Smiter, Advent of the Wurm, Boon Satyr) that the deck can create tremendous pressure—with Voice of Resurgence along for the ride, the creature base is crazy good. On the other hand, it has little evasion and no reach to speak of—the threats are powerful, but just aren’t very diverse. I think it’s a good deck, but just not good enough to quite get there at the highest levels. I wonder if the wave of Monoblue Devotion decks will wash this out of the meta (pun intended), or if there’s some way this deck can adapt. I’m pretty sure Skylasher in the sideboard is not a good enough answer, but Mistcutter Hydra might help. Maybe.

So, be ready for lots of Master of Waves and Thassa, then Esper/UW control, then RDW and a bevy of midrange decks of varying stripes. The card pool doesn’t change for quite a while, so it will be interesting to see how the meta adapts.

Valiant Pachyderms take down LGS Standard

I’ve been traveling like a madman this summer and didn’t really have time to put something else together for a Sunday Standard at my FLGS so I just played Brave the Elephants again with a couple small changes to the sideboard, expecting to not see Bant Hexproof there and bringing at least something to deal with Sphinx’s Revelation. Here’s the list:

Four rounds, cut to top 4. Sunday tends to be much tougher at my LGS than FNM. It’s a smaller crowd but a more capable one; essentially, the top half of the FNM field plus a couple other high-quality players generally show—so a good test for the deck.

Round 1: Bob, playing Jund
Bob’s a regular who I’ve played several times and is always a tough opponent, though a really nice guy. I won the roll and kept a two-lander with three Voices, a Spectral Flight, and I don’t remember what else in it. I didn’t draw the third land for several turns, but when Jund is trading spot removal for Voices, well, that’s the two-land hand you want to be stuck with. At one point he had me with two elemental tokens on the battlefield and with two lands I cast two Militants, letting me swing for 8, which was pretty sweet. I did eventually draw a third land and finished him off with a Smiter. Usual Jund sb plan: -4 Militant, +1 Sigarda, +2 ORing, +1 Scavenging Ooze. Game 2 I had an early Thalia, which was pretty good but he had an Ooze and a Lifebane Zombie which took a Sigarda, then on turn 5 (after a Farseek in there somewhere) he dropped Curse of Death’s Hold which killed Thalia and made it very tough for me to race with him, even with Geist, and Olivia sealed it. For game 3 I took out the Ooze and put in a Ray of Revelation, which was the key play, because he again dropped an early Curse, but I actually had the Ray. Turns out this was really good because he had a second Curse in hand, but it was pretty dead with a Ray in the ‘yard. We traded a bunch of creatures back and forth, and I suicided a Geist into a trade to bring him to 2, both our boards and hands empty. I cast a Smiter and a Voice. He came back with Huntmaster, and I drew BTE FTW.
1-0 matches, 2-1 games

Round 2: Brandon, playing Kibler RG
So, what I found out at the SCG Open is that my deck is not favored against the more weenie rush Burning Tree/Firefist Striker version of RG aggro, but this was my first match against the Kibler deck and I think this is actually a better matchup because Smiter still outclasses everything on the ground, and with no Firefists it can actually block. Thundermaw is a card, of course, but Selesnya Charm is a perfectly good answer to that. Anyway, I didn’t know what it was right away as he started out with a Stomping Ground, and I incorrectly had him on Jund. I actually had turn 3 Geist with turn 4 Spectral Flight and followed that with turn 5 Smiter plus Voice, and just barely won the race because of a Rampager on a Flinthoof Boar from him. He had me on Bant Hexproof based on this, but of course that’s not what I was doing so I wonder if he boarded properly. As for me, I boarded out the Thalias, the Spectral Flights, and Sigarda for the Oozes, the Rays (figuring he would board in Burning Earth), and the Unflinching Courages. I came out with Voice and Smiter and he ramped into turn 4 Thundermaw, which hit me once and then ate a Charm. The second Smiter meant my team outclassed his mana dorks and lone Strangleroot Geist, and when I effectively countered his miracled Bonfire with a BTE he scooped.
2-0 matches, 4-1 games

Round 3: John, playing Golgari Control
John is one of the store’s stronger players. I won the roll and kept a hand with three land but no source of blue because it had a Thalia and a Sublime, but also a Geist and a Spectral Flight. I had won the roll, but on my turn 3 i had Thalia on the table and just played a land and passed because I still hadn’t drawn a blue source. His turn he cast a Lifebane Zombie, saw the Plains in my hand and took the Sublime over the Geist. Much to my surprise, I then topdecked a Breeding Pool and put down the Geist, then of course followed with Spectral, and that carried me all the way. Now, John has been playing Junk Renanimator forever and I didn’t really see enough in the firs game to realize he wasn’t still on that, so I probably boarded not optimally for this, bringing in two ORings and two Oozes. Ooze probably wasn’t right in this matchup, but i never saw one so it didn’t matter. I don’t really remember the second game all that well, other than it involved Geist and Smiter and me putting on ORing on a Desecration Demon and using BTE as essentially a Falter to win the game.
3-0 matches, 6-1 games

Round 4: Daniel, playing Esper Control
Since we were the only two undefeateds, we ID’d.
3-0-1 matches, 6-1 games

Now, it is not uncommon at my LGS that the top 4 just splits the prize pool and doesn’t play it out, particularly on Sunday as dinnertime approaches. However, the rule is that if anyone wants to play it out, we all play. One person did, who turned out to be my opponent.

Semifinals: Festus, playing Jund
Festus is a capable player that I’ve faced many times. He got on my nerves a little this time with a big speech about how he really wanted to play me because it was such a good matchup for him. OK, whatever. My opening hand had three Geists and a Spectral in it, but no source of white. Well, the deck runs 15 lands that produce white in it so I had about a 60% chance of hitting one in my first two draws, and I did. (Side note: the math is even better if you count the Pilgrims as a source of white.) I followed with a Voice to protect the Geist in case of Liliana, but he never got one of those anyway, and I just ran him over. Standard Jund sideboard was applied (see round 1). Game 2 was a little more interactive. I had turn 2 Voice with turn 3 Smiter followed by a mana dork. He had a Nighthawk on turn 3 and an an Ooze plus a Pillar for the Voice on 4, then followed with an Olivia. Since there were no creatures in any graveyards, the Ooze just ended up chumping a Smiter. I had a second Smiter down when he dropped Olivia and I swung in with both Elephants, which he didn’t block. I ORing’d Olivia and he left the Nighthawk back to block, played land, and passed. I again came in with the two Smiters, and he blocked with Nighthawk. I had two BTEs in my hand, but I let him trade with the Smiter because I also had a Sigarda and a Geist in hand. He Slipped the other Smiter after damage, and I put down Sigarda. Sigarda plus two BTE is pretty much game against Jund because they have no way to interact with her except a big Bonfire, and BTE is a perfect answer there. Festus actually picked up Sigarda and read her, then shook his head, which I just loved. Sigarda is still a card, folks! I followed Sigarda with a Geist and he came back with Thragtusk. I used one BTE as a Falter to bring my team through the beast, leaving him at 2 with a ‘Tusk on the board and me with two hexproof creatures and a BTE in hand. He failed to draw a Barter in Blood and that was game. He complained that he never drew a Bonfire, and I pointed out I had two BTEs in hand for most of the game so it really wouldn’t have mattered if he had.
4-0-1 matches, 8-1 games

Still undefeated against Jund. Yes, the sample size is small, but still, that seems favorable.

Brandon from round 2 was the other finalist, and I agreed to the split so he could go with his friends to get dinner. In preparation for rotation, I used my spoils to get a fourth Jace, Architect of Thought, a third Obzedat, Ghost Council and one of the cool foil promo Izzet Charms, just because.

Comments on the Deck
Well, first, I still love it, but I think that’s probably obvious. Overall, though, I think the shift in the meta from when I played at the SCG a couple weeks ago is favorable.

UW control variants are still the matchup I least want to see, as Verdict/Revelation is a tough road for this deck. However, those decks are pretty bad against Burning Earth, so I think they might be falling out of favor. The Golgari control deck is a much better matchup. Yes, Mutilate and Lifebane Zombie aren’t great cards to face, but Voice and Thalia are not bad there, and it’s just easier to keep the pressure on when they can’t do the major card draw/lifegain double whammy.

Kibler’s recent article about how to beat his deck shows that this deck is actually a pretty reasonable approach. Smiter, Hexproof creatures, and Selesnya Charm are all very good in this matchup and Unflinching Courage out of the sideboard is also very strong. While the Bant manabase is bad vs. Burning Earth, Ray of Revelation in the sideboard seems like a great cheap answer. I’d need to play more of this matchup to be certain, but I don’t think it’s awful. The real value of this deck is its effect on the rest of the meta: if we get less UWx control and Aristocrats as a result of it, that’s only good news for our valiant pachyderms.

Another deck Kibler recommends to beat his list is Bant Hexproof. If Hexproof (or Bant Auras if you prefer) becomes more popular, then I think Brave the Elephants is really well-positioned. I’ve played the Hexproof deck and other aggro decks are not really what you want to play against; your target is midrange. Bant Hexproof is not much faster than this deck, and Ray is a killer in the sideboard. If you expect Hexproof, run 3 Rays rather than 2. That’s what I ran at the SCG Open in Minneapolis and that matchup just seemed like it would be really hard to loose. Note that the main deck Thalia is actually really good against Hexproof, too—they have almost no removal and Thalia seriously slows down the rate at which they can buff their creatures. Without those buffs, the Elephants and Sublimes really outclass them. (Yes, some Hexproof variants run Smiter, but that seems to be on the decline.)

I guess the other deck that seems like a really horrible matchup is the Elfball deck that’s running around, or whatever that ramp/Garruk/Craterhoof deck is called. I think the only way to win that is to race, and I don’t think that’s the most favorable race. Hopefully that won’t get any bigger in the meta than it is now.

Braving the Elephants at SCG Minneapolis

Despite living in Texas, I grew up in Minnesota and my parents still live there. Every summer I take my kids up to visit their grandparents for about a week. It just so happened that this year, our visit coincided with the Star City Open in Minneapolis. I was just going to play Jund (having not actually played it before), but at the last minute my son decided he wanted to come with me and the he wanted to play Jund. So I needed a deck. I didn’t think I would have much fun playing a control deck for nine or ten rounds, so went looking for something else. I decided in a world full of Jund that I wanted to play Geist of Saint Traft and built a Bant aggro list around that, and it was OK, but then I saw Craig Wescoe’s Brave the Elephants article on TCGPlayer and I built that, played a few games against my son playing Jund and a Boros aggro deck, and I was hooked. Silly, fun, and actually pretty decent.

I made a few small changes based on card availability and testing, and here’s what I actually sleeved up:

550 people at the event meant 10 rounds of Swiss. That’s a lot of Magic! I’ve never played at an SCG Open so I didn’t have a good idea of what kind of competition to expect; I figured something in between a GP and FNM, maybe something like a PTQ. I think that was about right.

Round 1: Charles, playing RWU Control
Charles was a friendly guy who and a very competent pilot. Game 1 was all about Sphinx’s Revelation and my inability to kill him before he could cast a few of them. I got him down to 8 and he cast one for 4, then I got him down to 4 and he cast one for 6, then I got him down to 6 and he cast one for 7. I simply could not beat that much life gain and that many cards. Game 2 I sided in the two lands, the Rootborns, and the Oozes for the Charms and Spectrals. I got an early Moorland Haunt which did a lot of work, but again, I could not get there fast enough, and he drew too many cards and gained too much life off Revelations. This deck can be a little soft to control, and of note, I didn’t see a Thalia until very late in game 2. Not the best start.
0-1 matches, 0-2 games

Round 2: Eric, playing Grixis Delver
Eric was also a friendly guy, but a card got loose while he was shuffling and I saw it was a checklist card, so I put him on Jund. Wrong! He won the roll and led off with turn 1 Delver of Secrets, which blind-flipped on turn 2 with a Dissipate. So, bonus points for playing something off the wall, and double-bonus for getting it to work. Unfortunately, after that he didn’t have much action and he eventually stopped hitting me with the Delver and blocked with it. With him at six life and both of us with empty boards, he put down a Duskmantle Seer. I cast a Loxodon Smiter and passed. On the Seer trigger, he revealed a Searing Spear to put him at 4, and I took 2 from a Spectral Flight. He swung with the Seer to put me down to 8 and then clogged the ground tapping out for two Snapcasters, clearly forgetting about the Spectral. So dumbo grew wings and flew over for 6. Game 2 I got turn 4 Sigarda, which is extremely difficult for Grixis to handle, and that was that. Eric dropped since he was out of top 8 contention.
1-1 matches, 2-2 games

Round 3: Nick playing Naya
Nick was another friendly guy and this was pretty much a good old-fashioned slugfest. Game 1 I don’t remember all that well: there was bashing, some burning, some Braving, and I came out on top. I boarded in the Oozes, the Courages, and the extra Sigarda, taking out the Spectral Flights and I don’t remember what else. Game 2 he ran over my turn 2 Thalia with some Rampager bloodrush, putting me at 15. We got to a state where he had a Smiter and an Ooze (but no open green mana), and I had a Smiter with Unflinching Courage on it. I swung, and he chose to double-block. That was OK with me, so I went back to 21 and we both had empty boards. He missed his fifth land drop and played a Boros Reckoner. I did not miss my fifth, however, and played Sigarda. Not a good race position for him, and when I followed with an Ooze that immediately became a 5/5, putting me at 24, he knew I would never block his Reckoner, and he never had the answer to Sigarda. Nick dropped, now being out of the top 8.
2-1 matches, 4-2 games

Round 4: Tyler, playing GR Aggro
I had played a few games against another aggro deck with my son and I knew the key to this kind of matchup was Smiter. Unfortunately, my opening hand had only 1 land, and my 6-card hand had two land and a Smiter in it, so I kept. Little did I know that I wasn’t going to draw land again for like five turns, which is about how long you get to live against GR Aggro. I did actually manage to draw out the game a little bit with a couple Braves, but just could not hang on. Game 2 I kept what I thought was an OK hand, but never drew into a Smiter or a Courage and ultimately died to the double Reckoner plus Hellrider board he developed. I was a little annoyed at how this match played out, this eliminating me from the top 8. So far feast or famine, no three-game matches.
2-2 matches, 4-4 games

Round 5: Joe, playing Esper Control
Joe was a nice guy and a very sharp player; this was the best match of the day for me. Game 1 he really got the better of me, with Supreme Verdict when he needed it and Revelation when he needed that and a Detention Sphere for my Voice; the closest I got him to dead was 9, which wasn’t very good. Game 2 was also pretty lopsided, as he mulled down to 5 and I started with turn 2 Smiter followed by Voice, which got there. Game 3 he did mull to 6, but I didn’t have a super-fast start, either, and tried to not play out too much stuff at once, fearing Verdict. He never did Verdict but had a lot of spot removal (again a Sphere for a Voice), and I had him on his back foot enough that he only got in one Revelation for 3, from 7 life up to 10, but my swing back brought him to 3. I had Alchemist’s Refuge in play so when he didn’t Verdict, but had a Augur of Bolas in play, I used it to cast a Voice at the end of his turn. He Doom Bladed the Smiter that was in play so I had only a pair of 2-power creatures on the board, but I had a Brave to give them both pro-Blue and swing for lethal. Being now a longshot for top 64, Joe dropped.
3-2 matches, 6-5 games

Round 6: Brandon playing Jund
Finally! I had expected lots of Jund in the field and hadn’t seen any, so it was about time. Game 1 had a little back and forth, but I pulled ahead with a Voice and a Geist on the board, then cast a Sublime and Geist got in there big. He killed the angel and dropped me to 11, but he never answered the Geist, so on to game 2. The Jund sideboard I settled on was -4 Militant, +2 Oblivion Ring, +1 Scavenging Ooze, +1 Sigarda. He obviously kept a 2-lander and didn’t draw land, but it was also a double-Farseek hand so he still made a game of it. I had an ORing in my opening hand so his turn-5 Olivia went away immediately. I came back with an Ooze and made it a 4/4, but he died to Dreadbore. I got out a Smiter and a Sublime (still had a Pilgrim in play) and he came back with Thragtusk. I sent in both and he blocked with Thragtusk, but I had a Charm to make that unprofitable, dropping him to 11. He came back with Olivia #2 (still on 5 land), and of course had a beast token. My draw was Spectral Flight, which I put on the Pilgrim and swung with the team. He only blocked the Smiter and went down to 4. He untapped, Putrefied the Sublime, leaving only two mana open. I Braved the Elephant to give him pro Black and he didn’t have the Doom Blade or Abrupt Decay in response (he only had one card in hand), and that was the match. Yay, the Jund Menace beaten by a brave elephant! Brandon then dropped.
4-2 matches, 7-5 games

Round 7: Solomon playing GR Aggro
Solomon was another friendly guy, but this is just a bad matchup for me. Game 1 I saw no Smiters and he just ran me over. Game 2 I got an Unflinching Courage on a Sublime and hit for 8, bringing him to 6 and me up to 20. However, he drew Hellrider and knocked me back down to 4, but didn’t have enough burn to kill me or take down the Sublime, so that was it. Game 3 I actually got an Ooze at one point and even got an Unflinching Courage on it to bring us both to 15, but he had a Firefist Striker so the Ooze was never going to block, and while I did draw another Courage, all I had to put it on was a Pilgrim, and that just wasn’t enough. Now, I was technically still alive for the money at X-3, but even that was an outside shot. I however, did not drop.
4-3 matches, 8-6 games

Round 8: Tom, playing Bant Hexproof
I had seen a lot of this around and wasn’t at all surprised to finally face it. While I had never played against it with this deck, I had played Bant Hexproof for a while and I felt like this matchup favored me because this deck can race, and of course three Rays in the sideboard are really good. Game 1 was exactly the “race” situation, as I was the one with the early Geist. Selesnya Charm kept the Geist alive for a couple swings. We got to a board state where I had Geist and something else on the board, and he cast Fiendslayer Paladin and had a Rancor on it at 7 life. I swung with the team, cast Brave to give them all pro-White, and we were off to game 2. I sided in all three Rays and an ORing for the Militants. My opening hand for Game 2 was Giest, Pilgrim, Thalia, Ray, Forest, Voice, and two lands, so that meant turn 2 Geist from me. His turn 2 was an Invisible Stalker, and his turn 3 was a Rancor. I followed up with a swing for six, a Ray for the Rancor and then Thalia. He came back with another Stalker. I swung with the team, and he Fog’d. I played Voice and passed. He put an Ethereal Armor on one Stalker and swung. I swung back, and he Fog’d again. I passed, having drawn land the last couple turns. He played another Ethereal Armor on the second Stalker and swung. I flashed back Ray to kill the armor and went down to 11. I drew a Selesnya Charm, swung with the team. This time he did not have Fog and tried to block, but the Charm made my team lethal. Tom dropped.
5-3 matches, 10-6 games

Round 9: Mitchell, playing Junk Reanimator
Despite the preponderance of Scavenging Oozes, reanimator decks are still around. Mitchell was a great fun guy, and this was fun to play. Well, more fun for me. I won the roll, went turn 2 Voice, turn 3 Geist, turn 4 Sublime and the Exalted Geist started eating chump blockers and even his Thragtusk was not enough to save him. He was really impressed with the deck, and asked me if I had designed it myself. I laughed and told him where it came from. He said it was the coolest rouge deck he’d seen. Anyway, I sided in the Oozes and the ORings, and I’m not sure what I took out, but it certainly wasn’t the Militants. Game 2 I came out with a turn 2 Thalia, which he eventually spent 4 mana to Putrefy. His next play was a Resto on an empty board, but I kept the Geist he blocked alive with a Charm, bringing him down to 8. He attacked with Resto and came back with Thragtusk, and I came back with a Voice and a Spectral flight and bashed him down to 5. He swung with Resto and Thragtusk, and I chumped Thragtusk with Voice and went down to 10. Post-combat he Resto’d Thragtusk to go up to 10. I looked at the board, swung out with the team for 11, and cast Brave twice, once for white and once for green, and that was it. He was a little shocked, saying he had another Thragtusk and some reanimator stuff coming and thought he had finally stabilized. Brave the Elements is pretty good indeed… Mitchell dropped.
6-3 matches, 12-6 games

Round 10: Logan, playing Chronic Flooding Human Reanimator
Wow, another reanimator! Logan was affable and I didn’t know what he was playing for a few turns until he finally cast a Chronic Flooding. What was strange about this game is that I never drew a source of blue and the Geist in my opening hand was never played. However, I had Dryad and Voice and Smiter and a couple Charms to destroy blockers and I managed to finish him off before he got anything serious going in the graveyard; his Chronic Flooding didn’t come out until turn 4 or 5. I sided in the Oozes and ORings again, taking out the Flights and one other card, though I’m not sure which that was. I had a good draw but with no blue in it, but my first draw was a Hallowed Fountain so I managed a turn 2 Geist, which was followed by a turn 3 Thalia. Thalia was key because he got an early Flooding and milled both an Unburial Rites and an Angel of Glory’s Rise. So I had to kill him before he got up to five land. I swung with everything except the Pilgrim, and he flashed in a Staticaster and shot Thalia. I charmed her in response, which meant I got in for extra damage, bringing him to 2. He untapped, and shot Thalia again, and I responded with Brave the Elements, tapping my last land and the Pilgrim. He couldn’t cast the Unburial Rites, and couldn’t cast a flying blocker to keep himself alive next turn, so BTE FTW!
7-3 matches, 14-6 games

Overall a good game win percentage—nice not to drop a game in the last three rounds—and 7-3 isn’t bad, either. However, 7-3 was only good enough to top 64 and cash with good tiebreakers, and my tiebreakers were not good. Most of my opponents dropped after losing to me, and I know my round 4 loss stayed in and only finished 5-5. 21 points ran from place 32 to place 80; I finished 79th. So that was a little disappointing.

On the other hand, it’s a rogue deck that I had never played in a tournament and I took it out to something big, so that wasn’t really a bad performance. This should get me up over 750 points for the season, meaning two GP byes if I can make it to a GP in the near future.

Some thoughts on the deck:

  • It’s reasonably fun to play. It’s a little more complex than just turning guys sideways, but not overly complex by any stretch.
  • Brave the Elements was excellent. It took almost all of my opponents by surprise the first time they saw it. It’s a counterspell against removal, yes, but it also makes your team lethal against blockers when your opponent is on low life.
  • I boarded in Scavenging Ooze almost every match—against everything except Hexproof. It has the downside that it’s not protected with BTE, but it’s graveyard disruption against reanimator and control, and life gain vs. aggro. I’m not sure what to take out main deck, though, since what I took out for them varied widely.
  • Sigarda is a card most people seem to have forgotten about. Still a card, still very good.
  • It’s a little sketchy against control. I changed the sideboard to add Rootborn Defenses to counter Supreme Verdict, but it turns out that what it really needs is some kind of answer to Sphinx’s Revelation, and has none. You just have to kill them before they can cast a big one, and that can be tricky.
  • It’s also a little sketchy against GR Aggro. Against other aggro decks the Smiters and the Charms do a lot of work, but GR is just too fast with Hellriders and Rampagers. Firefist Striker is also a big problem. A card like Smite would help with the others, but not with the Striker. Not sure what the right answer would be.
  • It’s better against Reanimator than I thought, because it can come out fast. Or maybe I’m just lucky.
  • I somehow managed to dodge any Aristocrats variant. That doesn’t seem like a very good matchup, but I could be wrong.

Vegas, Baby, Vegas… My GP Experience

I know it’s been a while, but I’ve been busy with work since I got back from the trip and only now had time to write about my experience. And GP Vegas was certainly an experience. WARNING: This is long. Skip to the pictures if you’re not interested in the details.

The Backstory

I’ve only ever been to a handful of GPs before, never traveled more than a few-hour drive, and never stayed more than a night. But this was Modern Masters and, more importantly, an excuse to go to Vegas. I happen to love Vegas, so the MM GP served as a perfect excuse. My best GP was the previous weekend here in Houston, and I mean “best” in the sense that I had the best overall weekend, not that I did well. Why was it the best? Because my 12-year-old son Simon made Day 2 of the GP.

I had done one Modern Masters draft at my LGS two weeks before (went 3-1 with Faeries and earned two prize packs), but that was all the MM I had actually played. I had opened a few virtual sealed pools on line, and it was clear from doing that that Sealed is a very different beast than Draft with Modern Masters. With draft, it’s all about synergy and archetypes. In Sealed, not a lot of the sealed pools had enough of any one archetype to go with it, or at least not with it alone. Also, because of access to six rares or mythics, I guessed it would a little bit more of a bomb-centric format. So, I went in hoping to open good bombs with decent mana fixing, because a lot of decks seemed three-colored.

Now, one of the things I love to do in Vegas is head over to Exotics Racing and drive supercars. Because of EDC-related events, they were closed the Monday after the GP, so I had to book for Tuesday. That meant I couldn’t head out to Vegas until Friday.

I also stayed on the Strip. I went to Vegas for a conference about a year and a half ago, and it was off the strip. Still had a good time, and got to the strip a couple times, but seriously, I never plan to go to Vegas again and stay off-strip. That meant some transportation hassle in terms of cost for getting to the site, but I decided I would just have to suck that up.

Friday’s GP Preview

So, I didn’t get in to Vegas after 2:00 in the afternoon on Friday. That meant I missed the horrific lines early on Friday, and that I had no shot at a playmat, but that was OK. By the time I had checked into my hotel and gotten a cab (through ugly traffic) it was around 4:00 in the afternoon when I got to the site.

The site itself was slightly surreal. If you haven’t seen pictures of the Vegas site, I highly recommend you look at the WotC GP coverage or Rich Hagon’s great column about the event. The place was enormous, basically split into four sections, each one of them a “normal” GP of its own. Absolutely wild.

So, because of huge turnout, there were actually lotteries for many of the side events. I was really hoping to play in the “GP Preview” Sealed event to get in one shot of really playing sealed beforehand. I went up to registration to check, and I had not been lucky and gotten on the list. So I left the site for a while to get something to eat, then came back and figured I would play in the usual GP “foiled again” event. I was loitering near the signup stage when they announced that they had gone through the lottery list and the entire alternate list for the GP Preview, so they were taking open signups. I was standing immediately next to the judge who was to organize the line for it, so I was first in line. Yes! First win of GP Vegas!

Little did I know what was coming next.

So this event was supposed to fire at 4:00 and didn’t end up starting until around 6:00. There was a fair amount of grousing about that, but I was just thrilled to be there in the first place, so no complaints at all from me. They handed out packs, and then did an odd thing: they told us it would be Regular REL so we’d be keeping the pool we opened. Having that happen isn’t odd, but it seems to make more sense to tell the players that after opening the pools. Whatever.

The first rare I opened was Vedalken Shackles—an excellent start. Then it was Death Cloud, also not bad. Then Cryptic Command, then Kira, Great-Glass-Spinner, then Auriok Salvagers, then finally Meloku the Clouded Mirror. Holy crazy pool!

Here was the complete pool—try not to drool on your keyboard or tablet, it’s that ridiculous.

I debated for a while trying to go mono-blue, but I wanted to play Cloudgoat Ranger and Flickerwisp, and Bound in Silence, Meadowboon, and Otherworldly Journey all seemed just a little too good to cut. The black was also very good, but I thought three colors would be pushing it if I actually wanted to be casting Cryptic Command even a little on time, which I really did. Here’s what I finally built with it:

Note that almost everything in the deck flies—pretty good for Limited, I’ve heard.

In retrospect I’d probably take out the Cenn’s Enlistment and instead play the Saltfield Recluse. In this deck, though, it probably doesn’t matter that much.

I don’t remember all the details of all the rounds, but I can fill in highlights:

Round 1 my opponent had a Sword of Light and Shadow, which he got on turn 3 of game 1. Unfortunately, it doesn’t give protection from Blue, or from Shackles. 2-0 to me.

Round 2 my opponent played a cool Black/Red goblins deck. He did win game 2 with a Mad Auntie followed by a Facevaulter followed by multiple Empty the Warrens. 2-1 to me.

Round 3 had a very close game 3. We wiped each other out in the first two games—bad draw for each of us, I think I blew him out with Cryptic one game, the other game the only action I had was a Shackles but he had a Maelstrom Pulse for it. Game 3 was a drawn-out affair that was very close. Late in the game I had a small army of fliers and it looked like I had it in the bag, but he did have a Doubling Season out. Turns out Doubling Season is pretty interesting when you get Skeletal Vampire. Yikes! I had Meloku on the board, so it was a bit dicey. However, the big vampire’s regeneration doesn’t save him from an Erratic Mutation (revealed a Faerie Mechanist), and I was able to make enough Illusions with Meloku to carry it. 2-1 to me.

Round 4 we had a very back and forth match. He won game 1 in about a half an hour because I had Shackles, and then thanks to a Take Possession he had Shackles for a long time until I got it back with Flickerwisp, but by then it was too late and he had me. I took a slightly less close, but still grindy, game 2 and we were almost at time while we were shuffling up for game 3. We went to time and he was on turn 5 of turns and we had a little conversation about how awful draws are in an event that pays out strictly on wins, so a draw was as good as a loss for both of us, which seemed dumb. So he scooped. 2-1 to me, kind of.

Round 5 was another close match—you’d think I wouldn’t have had so many of these with this deck, but in game 1 I drew a bunch of small fliers and not much else, and his giants ran me over. Game 2 went better. I played a Mothdust on turn 1, passed turn 2, played land and passed my turn 3 but with Pestermite in hand. So on his turn 3 upkeep, I cast Petermite, tapping one of his land. He had no 2-drop, so it was a time walk, sweet. Turn 4 for me was Machinist, which netted me another Machinist, which I cast on my turn 5, and that netted me a Shackles. Now, he had something big, 4 or 5 power by this point, and he did get a lick in, and I only had a couple Islands, so I wasn’t quite a lock to win this race, especially since on his turn 6 he cast Feudkiller’s Verdict, which put him like 1 or 2 life ahead of me so he got the Warrior token. Grr. The good news for me is that I drew my third Island so I could bounce the token (and draw) with Cryptic, and that got me there. Game 3 we both got out pretty good sets of creatures but I had Kira, which made his tricks and removal all terrible and his ground fat couldn’t quite keep up with my air force, and I sealed it with a Cryptic on his upkeep to tap all his creatures and swung in for the win my next turn. 2-1 to me.

So, how about that for a start to the weekend? Half a box of Modern Masters for that, which was great. Now, I did find my Round 4 opponent after the prizes were handed out, and I was his only “loss,” so I gave him 3 packs. That way we both ended up with 9, which seemed equitable, and was still more than the 6 would have gotten if I had ended up at 4-1.

They were closing the hall at this point and I was completely exhausted, so I walked up to Fremont Street (about a mile from the site) and took a cab back to my hotel on the Strip, grabbed a sandwich, and crashed for the early morning the next morning.

Saturday’s Main Event

Until you’ve seen the TOs try to seat 4500 players and get all the product out, you haven’t seen anything. One of the best parts was the judge staff maneuvering the zillions of cards. I took this photo, which I titled “Guardians of the Product” and tweeted it:

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Yep, those are all cases of Modern Masters, and that was just a small portion of what was handed out. Wow.

So, around 10:00 we all got seated and eventually all got our product. I opened what I thought was a really strong White/Green pool but I certainly don’t have complaints about the pool I received:

It was clear to me immediately that I had to play Black, and the Green was just too synergistic not to play it. Here’s what I ended up building:

So, that build was my first mistake of the day. What I should have done, and what I sided in most of the day, was cut the Deepcavern Imps and the Incremental Growth for the Giant Dustwasp, the Phthisis, and the Tromp the Domains. Even still, that’s a good enough deck that I think I had a reasonable shot at Day 2.

Round 1 was against Will, a very nice Canadian who was one of the buddies of my Round 4 opponent from Friday. I lost one of the games to a Rift Elemental that sucked multiple counters off a Pardic Dragon. We got to game 3 and we didn’t have a lot of time. In Game 3 I got a bit behind and had to reset the world with a medium-sized Death Cloud, leaving us both in topdeck mode but with him ahead on life and me ahead on land. My first draw step was Masked Admirers, which was amazing, and off that I drew… Tombstalker. OK, so I won this one with a bit of luck on my side. Will was cool about it, though, and we wished each other luck the rest of the day.
1-0 matches, 2-1 games

Round 2 was against Kevin from Silicon Valley. Kevin was an amazingly nice guy, and we had some professional overlap, so we had a good chat while we were shuffling. He had also read my previous blog post about Simon making day 2 of the GP, which was cool. I have to admit my memory of the first two games was a little sketchy, other than that we split them, with him having a lot of fliers. We had a lot of complex board states at various points and Kevin tanked a bit at various points, and they called time only a turn or so into game 3. He was stuck on two land and I had cast Kodama’s Reach on my turn 3, so on my turn 4, which was also turn 4 of extra turns, I cast Death Cloud for 2, leaving him landless. He could not kill me next turn, and again, a draw this early did nobody any good, so given that if we had had time to finish the game, I probably would have won with him on zero land and all (his draw for the last turn of extra turns was not land), so he conceded on the last turn of extra turns. Incredibly gracious.
2-0 matches, 4-2 games

Round 3 was against a young man from Mexico whose full name I couldn’t pronounce. He was playing mostly Black/White rebels but with a few other tricks in there. Game 1 he took with a pair of Rathi Trappers locking me down. Game 2 he kept a slow hand and I curved out on Thallids, and when I Clouded for three and only had to give up Saprolings, he scooped. Game 3 was one of those long, drawn-out board stalls that was greatly aided by his early Stinkweed Imp and then made awful by his late Yosei, the Morning Star. He again had two Rathi Trappers to my one, and while I was making all kinds of Saprolings, they weren’t big enough to get me into a productive attack. He finally got there, and i have to say that I felt like this was my worst-played game of the day. I’m sure that a better player would have figured out a way to win that game, but I just couldn’t find it.
2-1 matches, 5-4 games

Round 4 was against Peter from eastern Pennsylvania. Allentown, maybe? Sorry I forgot. Game 1 he kept a slow hand and I ran him over, including the amazing Death Cloud for three, killing 10 points of flying power on his side of the board and 3 Saprolings on mine. Game 2 was a grinder that he won on the back of those fliers. Game 3 we both got seriously flooded, but I drew action first in the form of Verdeloth, which is pretty good when you have 11 land on the table.
3-1 matches, 7-5 games

Round 5 was against Simon, who is a Vegas local. He was playing Black/White rebels with a strong artifact theme. Game 1 I had three creatures on the board on my turn 5, including a Stinkweed Imp, when I cast Incremental Growth. He never handled the huge deathtouch flier. Game 2 he won pretty easily with Divinity of Pride. Game 3 I managed to draw tons of removal to kill off his Arcbound Ravager multiple times and locked up the win with Tombstalker.
4-1 matches, 9-6 games

OK, at X-1 with four rounds to go, and starting to get hungry and a little tired, all I wanted from here was to either go 3-0 to make day 2 or to just go 0-2 and be done. The worst would be going 2-1 and then losing to just miss day 2—anything but that. Well, I didn’t get that.

Round 6 was against Kaase from L.A. who was also on Black/White rebels. I kept a sketchy hand of three lands and three big (5cc or higher) spells, with a three-drop in there. I did not draw cheap or even medium-sized spells and paid the price. I believe I cast only two spells this game. Game 2 was just the worst game ever. I mulled to six and kept a 3-land, 3-spell hand including two spells I could actually cast, a Rathi Trapper and a Stinkweed Imp. And I drew land. And more land. In total, I drew 11 land and 6 spells in the game, and the sixth spell was a Kodama’s Reach, so I died with 13 lands in play and 6 spells either on the board or in the graveyard. So, chalk up one bad mulligan decision, and one bad moment of variance.
4-2 matches, 9-7 games

Round 7 was against Jon from Iowa on RWU artifacts. If there’s ever been a match of Magic that I feel like I should have won but yet still didn’t, this was it. Game 1 I got a little behind and he had me down to 10 and I had just given up my last creature on board, leaving him with two creatures, two cards in hand, and four land, and me with five land and a Bonesplitter on the board, and four cards in hand, one of which was Tombstalker. I cast Death Cloud for two, wiping his board and his hand. Next turn I cast Tombstalker and equipped it. Later he told me he had exactly two cards in his deck that could deal with that: a Bound in Silence and a Shrapnel Blast, and of course for the blast he had to have an artifact. You know what he topdecked, of course? That’s right, a land and then a Bound in Silence. Grr. Game 2 I won pretty easily since his deck was soft to fat creatures, and I got Imperiousaur and Verdeloth, plus a Phthisis that went off killing his guy and doing 5 to him, and just ran him over. Game 3 I kept a hand with 2 Swamps, 1 Forest, 2 Sporesower Thallids and two other cards I don’t remember. And, as you might expect, I never saw a second Forest until it was way, way too late. I think I had six swamps and the forest on the table before I drew another forest. I showed him what was in my hand and he remarked, “yep, if could have cast those two big Thallds on turn 4 or 5 you would have had me—I can’t deal with those, especially not with what I had.”
4-3 matches, 10-9 games

I was mentally exhausted and getting hungry by this point, so I walked up to Fremont St. (about a mile from the site) and caught the bus back to my hotel, had some dinner, and crashed. Not making day 2 at least meant I didn’t have to get up early on Sunday.

That’s a pretty inauspicious record given the card pool. The important things to take away:

• It’s a game of inches, as the football commentators like to say. What I mean by this is that the margins at an even like a GP are very small. Small mistakes here or there cost games, and those games add up to matches, and that means no day 2 if you don’t have any byes. It’s not as if I didn’t know that going in to the event, but it’s tough when you’ve never played with most of the cards before. (I wasn’t playing for the entire run of Modern Masters.) More practice beforehand would have helped, and I almost certainly should have mulliganed game 1 of round 6.

• Build the deck correctly from the start. Still not sure what I was thinking when I made some of those choices. Pretty much only time I ever play Sealed is for pre-releases and I think that might have been a factor. Not sure there.

• It was great to be part of a record-breaking 4500-person event, but I never need to do that again. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t run badly—quite the contrary, I thought the TOs and the judges did a very good job. But the whole thing was just too big and unweildy. I never got near any of the artists, as they were mobbed all the times that I had any time (Friday evening and on Sunday).

Despite all that, it was great and I’m really glad I did it. My seven opponents in the main event (and, frankly, my five opponents from the preview event) were all terrific guys and really fun to play with, even when the matches themselves weren’t all that great (though most of them were pretty competitive and fun). MM Sealed is a really fun format where almost every card can be good with the right other cards in the deck. The atmosphere was crazy and too crowded but there was also a great energy and it was a good time.

Sunday Side Events

When I conked out on Saturday night, I didn’t set an alarm, and it felt really good to sleep in a bit. I seriously considered not even going up to the site, but Arthur Halavais tweeted that he might be running a draft using “Tales of Home,” a set he had designed, so I thought I’d head on up. I rode the Vegas monorail for the first time, all the way from the MGM to the now-defunct Sahara, walked to the Stratosphere and took a cab ride from there—much cheaper.

Arthur wasn’t sure the draft would actually fire, though, so to kill time I signed up for the Sunday Super Series Standard event. That was kind of a mistake, since 175 other people did the same. It was all Swiss with only the top 4 advancing to the Super Series, so basically it was a 175-person single-elimination event. I played a White-Black-Red midrange deck that I’ve played a bit recently, including a 4-2 finish at one of the GP Houston side events. Here’s the list:

It’s called “Sin City” for the color mix (that’s what I call that wedge), which seemed appropriate for the location. It’s actually a really fun deck to play, is surprisingly well-positioned for the metagame, and my son Simon piloted it to a win at our most recent FNM.

I didn’t do quite as well. I won round 1 2-1 against an Immortal Servitude deck that is almost the same list as Junk Aristocrats. I lost round 2 to Junk Tokens because he had the god draw in game 3 with Intangible Virtue on turns 2 and 3 and he followed my Mortars with a Lingering Souls plus the flashback. I was out, but I decided to stay in to see if Arthur’s draft would fire. Now, the worst matchup for this deck is probably Jund unless they’ve gone to Sire of Insanity, as most lists have. Unfortunately, my third-round opponent hadn’t, and won on the back of Rakdos’s Return for 4 in the first game and for 3 in the second. (He had also read my blog post about Simon making day 2 of the GP, though, so that was cool.)

This was the point at which I decided that I was Magic’d out for the weekend, and Arthur didn’t think his draft would end up firing anyway, so I took off. Here was the rest of my Sunday:

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That’s pizza from DOCG at the Cosmopolitan. Delicious. That was followed by:

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Yep, the fountains at the Bellagio. (If you haven’t seen the remake of Ocean’s Eleven, go see it.) Inside the Bellagio, there was this:

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That would be the theater for Cirque du Soleil’s “O” show, as seen from the front row (where I was sitting) which was excellent. (Yes, you do get a little bit wet if you sit in the front row.)

Other Side Events

Monday is the “day off” in Vegas, no shows. However, the town was still hopping even at 10:00 at night:

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That was after a lovely steak at Biscayne. I spend the next several hours playing blackjack at the Cosmopolitan, where i went through a half-dozen martinis, tipped my dealers and cocktail waitresses well, and walked out with exactly the same amount of money in my pocket that I walked in with. Can’t complain about that.

Tuesday was supercars:

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That’s the Aston Martin Vanquish S, and it was absolutely a dream to drive. It’s actually on the slow side for a real supercar, but the car just feels terrific to drive and is plenty fast. It also has the sweetest sounding engine ever. The other ride:

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That’s the Nissan GT-R, aka “Godzilla.” It was also fantastic but to be honest, even though the GT-R is faster, I actually like the Aston better. The GT-R really wanted to be in charge of where it was going, and I’m sure it was right, but I ended up fighting the computer a little and of course, the computer always won. The Aston just did what I wanted, even if what I wanted was to make a “mistake” and not take the corner perfectly. Still, a great way to spend the day.

Remember, kids, going to a GP doesn’t just have to be about Magic.

12-year-old Makes GP Day 2!

I’ve been playing MTG off and on (mostly off) since 1997; you can read more of my story on that here. I am not a particularly high-level player, mostly an FNMer. I don’t play PTQs, but if there’s a GP within driving distance, I’ll go. (Exception: I am flying to Las Vegas for the Modern Masters GP.) Since there was a GP in my own back yard, of course I was happy to sign up. This, however, is not really my story.

This is Simon’s story. He’s 12 years old and has been coming with me to FNMs and other events at my local store since New Phyrexia; his first FNM deck was Tempered Steel, which is of course now one of his all-time favorite decks. He only played Standard for a while, but eventually started to come to drafts as well. Almost all his Sealed experience comes from pre-releases; Innistrad was his first one of those. We also play sealed at home whenever we buy a box or win packs.

Simon’s favorite thing to do outside Magic is play lacrosse. He was the defensive captain for his team this year, and on the same Sunday as the GP was the first day of summer lacrosse camp for him. I figured this wasn’t really going to be a problem, after all, what 12-year-old makes day 2 of a Limited GP? (Twitter later told me that this has actually happened before; a kid in Seattle Day 2’d a GP there that was INN/DKA.)

I had Friday afternoon off so we went up early for side events. PV had tweeted that he really liked the GP Houston playmats, so I took a picture of Simon with his playmat and tweeted it to PV. Here’s Simon:

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The hat will re-appear in the story later.

We played in the Friday Grand Melee, which was very silly but was also much fun. Simon also played a Standard grinder but lost in the second round in game 3 to Jund. The other event of note on Friday was a bunch of pros did a Modern Masters draft. Simon went over and watched some of it and also spoke to several of them. He talked more to Reid Duke than anyone else, Reid was very friendly and Simon was very pleased he got to meet some pros and see them play.

He brought some cards with him on Saturday that he hoped to get signed by his favorite pros. For the player meeting and deck registration, we were seated near Sam Black, and Simon just loves Sam’s “Walking Dead” Legacy deck, and Sam was nice enough to sign a playset of Bloodghasts for Simon.

So, we got our pools and built. I won’t bother with my pool because this isn’t about me. It turns out of you’re going to make day 2 of a GP, it helps to have a good pool to start with. Here is the deck Simon ended up registering:

I won’t go into great detail on the individual matches, partly because he doesn’t remember all the details and partly because I want to stay more on the big picture.

Simon won round 1 fairly easily with Snare Squad as his MVP.

He lost round 2 to turn 2 Pack Rat both games. He was understandably kind of miffed about that. However, I think it was after this round that we spotted Brian Kibler, Simon’s favorite pro, and Simon got Brian to sign a Knight of the Reliquary, so Simon was pleased about that.

In round 3, Simon lost the third game to Angel of Serenity. But not to hard-cast Angel. Simon had used Mind Rot in the first few turns, and his opponent discarded the Angel. His opponent had ramped with a Cluestone and got back Angel with Obzedat’s Aid, blanking Simon’s entire team.

Simon was a little down after this, clearly expecting to lose the next round and drop, so we had a little pep talk. I reminded him that his deck was really good, and that if he played without mistakes and let the deck do the work, he could come back and still do OK. I also told him that yes, it’s a big event, but it’s still just a Magic tournament and to just play like he does at our local store and not think about that. He seemed to perk up a little after that and went to battle in round 4.

He won round 4 2-0, said he curved out and just ran his opponent over.

I should note this was Simon’s first Limited tournament that required decklists. In round 5, Simon got deck checked and got a game loss for a mis-registration. However, his opponent for the round did not show up (which I think will be referred to as “pulling a Ben Stark”—sorry, Ben—for the next while), so I think this went on the books as a 2-1 win. If you’re going to get a game loss for deck registration, that was the time to do it.

Round 6 Simon said his opponent was playing 4 colors and got color screwed game 1, and game 2 the Baron came for a visit.

Round 7 Simon carried a game 2 he thought he might lose because his opponent had an Advent of the Wurm token with Knightly Valor on it, and nothing in Simon’s deck can tangle with that and live. However, he kept his cool, realized that trample damage doesn’t go through if the attacking creature is actually dead, and Smited the beast.

At 12 years old and X-2, Simon started showing up on other people radar. The judge staff was clearly watching out for him. He got LSV to sign an Elvish Visionary (and, in honor of Mr. Vargas’s penchant for puns, we will forever refer to this card as “LSVisionary”), he got Tom Martell to sign a Boros Reckoner, and he talked with Brian Kibler again. Both LSV and Tom Martell looked over his deck (nobody liked the Mind Rot in it, otherwise all the feedback was thumbs-up), and Simon got great encouragement from all of them.

This is also where the hat comes in. Simon said to me that he was definitely keeping his hat on for the rest of the day, because the only two rounds he lost were the rounds where he didn’t wear his hat. This, apparently, is how lucky hats are born.

Round 8 was the aggro mirror, which Simon carried in game 1 thanks to Snare Squad’s interference in blocking, and game 2 was another visit from the Baron.

One more match! After a 1-2 start, Simon was one match away from making day 2 of his first GP! He was really excited about it, and very hopeful without being cocky.

Round 9 was really the highlight of the day. I was playing in a Standard side event at the time, and I missed the beginning of the match. I came over and saw Simon had superior board position, and it played out in his favor from there. Game 2 he kept a slightly sketchy hand with no white source in it. However, he did have a Mind Rot. Normally, not too impressive—but his opponent mulliganed to 5 (on the play, of course), which makes Mind Rot pretty much a bomb.

I pulled myself away from the match at this point to stop and talk to one of the judges, Arther Halavais, who I’ve been Twitter buddies with for a while but who I didn’t actually meet in person until Friday afternoon. Arthur had a free moment and I asked him if he knew who the youngest player ever to day 2 a Limited GP was. We both remembered there was a kid in Singapore who day 2’d a GP in the Bloodbraid Jund standard era who was probably younger than 12, but I didn’t know about Limited. Nor did Arthur, but he promised to check for me.

Here’s the part of the day that was the highlight. Arthur then told me that he and the other judges had kind of been keeping an eye on Simon for a while, and that, yes, his deck was good, but he was also playing really well—keeping calm when he got behind, making clean plays with very few mistakes. Most importantly, Arthur said he was also impressed by Simon’s demeanor, very polite and respectful. Now, maybe Arthur was just trying to make my day, but the day before Father’s Day, that’s about the best thing anyone can say to you—those of you who are parents understand.

We looked over, and Simon’s match was done. As expected, he had carried it. Simon said that one of his opponent’s friends was watching, and when Simon Mind Rotted his opponent, the friend rolled his eyes and turned away, signaling that is was pretty much over.

Holy cow! My 12 year old son had just made day 2 of a GP after starting 1-2! A 6-0 run is pretty amazing at a GP for anyone, much less a 12-year-old. As you might imagine, Simon was SUPER excited, and I was just as excited for him. I’ve never made day 2 at a GP, so it was quite an event for both of us. Simon told me the part of his deck that was his hardest set of decisions were mulligan decisions, mostly on colors. Obviously, he did that part of it well.

Day 2 was a very novel experience for Simon. He had never done a draft at competitive REL, much less professional. He doesn’t have a lot of experience drafting and had never done a timed draft before. However, this is where the Web coverage of the Pro Tour is a great thing—Simon had watched a couple of these drafts, so he knew how it worked. He also got a little drafting advice from the pros and Arthur, all of whom were enthusiastic in cheering for Simon after he made the second day. Simon was definitely nervous going in to the draft, but also excited for the opportunity. We spectators were not allowed to be too close to the draft, so I couldn’t get a very good picture of him in action, but I got this blurry one from a distance:

wpid-IMG_0479-2013-06-16-22-50.jpg

Unfortunately for Simon, no hat during the draft. He could have just turned it around, but chose to take it off instead. Anyway, here is the deck he registered:

He also had a Golgari Charm in the sideboard. I got to look over his deck after the draft, and my thoughts on it were that it was OK, maybe a little slow, but good overall card quality, though the mana might be a problem because he was so three-colored. However, he was very three-colored yesterday and it went fine, so maybe that would hold up.

Simon usually is OK with me watching him play, but today he preferred I didn’t, so I wandered off and tried to watch feature matches or guys from my local store, of which there were a at least three others who made day 2.

Round 1 went long. Simon won game 1 on the back of Necropolis Regent, lost a grindy game 2, then lost a grindy game 3 where he never drew a source of green mana and also never hit his third black for Regent.

Round 2 went very quickly. Simon didn’t draw any white in game 2, and didn’t draw any black in game 3. The match was over quickly, and we got a snack so Simon could unwind a little. We talked about plans for the day, and we determined that Simon had to win out to make top 64, so if he lost his next round he would drop so he could still make it to lacrosse camp in time.

The third round, unfortunately, didn’t go much better. Simon won game 1 very quickly as his opponent got stuck on three lands. Game 2 Simon again had color issues. Game 3 Simon lost when his opponent overloaded a Dynacharge for exactly lethal damage.

So, that was the end. Simon collected three packs for his troubles and we went home, and he geared up for lacrosse camp. Nothing like getting to batter someone with a titanium pole to vent any frustration.

Overall, the experience was absolutely fantastic. Simon was so excited to make day 2, and I was so proud of him.

One of the things that really made it great was how friendly and encouraging everyone was. Simon got to meet a bunch of pro players who were all very friendly and really gave him a lot of inspiration. Special shout outs to Tom Martell, Brian Kibler, and LSV for really taking the time out to look over Simon’s deck and give him advice to get him ready for day 2 and for all the encouragement. (Simon got a great high five from LSV after making it.) Also, thanks very much to Arthur Halavais for keeping an eye out for Simon and keeping him company after the last round while I was still in my side event.

I think it’s the best story you won’t see on the GP coverage site—but I may be more than a little biased. Happy Father’s day to me!

What’s In a Name? or Why Doesn’t White-Red-Black (Really) Have One?

Shards of Alara was released in fall of 2008. Almost four years later, “Jund,” “Esper” and the other shard names are still firmly entrenched in the Magic lexicon, and my guess is that they’re not going away anytime soon. In contrast, when I started playing (a second time, after a ten-year absence) in fall of 2009—that is, right about four years after the original Ravnica block—almost nobody ever used the Ravnica guild names. The exception was Boros, as there was a Standard deck around that time that was known as “Boros Bushwhacker.” And, frankly, I had no idea where the name “Boros” came from for quite some time, because none of the other guild names were in regular use. UW control decks were definitely a thing at the time and literally nobody, either verbally on in print, called these things “Azorius.”

So, the question is, why? That is, why did the guild names (mostly) die over four years whereas the shard names are still going strong over roughly the same time period? Why do some names work and some names fail?

As it turns out, this isn’t exactly a science, but there are some ideas out there about this, for instance, there’s lots of advice in the world of marketing about the criteria to use when evaluating brand names that kind of apply here. Names for color combinations aren’t exactly brands, but some of the principles overlap. I think the key ideas are these:

Distinctiveness. A set of labels that all sound very similar isn’t going to be a very good set because people will confuse them. They must be distinct, both visually and by sound.

Brevity. Why do we make acronyms and abbreviations, and why do they stick? Because they take less effort to say and type. Almost any successful new name has to be shorter than the name its trying to replace. “Golgari,” for instance, is twice as many syllables as “black-green” so it seems unlikely that it will ever really replace just using the names of the two colors involved.

Likability. This one is admittedly more cloudy, but a good linguist could probably quantify this reasonably well. This is sort of a “how good does the word feel in your mouth?” kind of criterion. Since in MTG these are generally made-up words this isn’t (usually) a question about what kind of imagery is invoked or what other associations the name will create.

Easy Spelling and Pronunciation. I’ll just quote directly from the cited piece: “Will most people be able to spell the name after hearing it spoken? Will they be able to pronounce it after seeing it written? A name shouldn’t turn into a spelling test or make people feel ignorant.”

So, let’s look at some of the names that have been generated for MTG color combinations. I’ll start with the Alara shards:

  • Jund. Distinct, brief, feels good, easy to spell/pronounce. I give it an “A.”
  • Bant. Right up with Jund. A
  • Naya. Not quite as brief, spelling might be an issue if you hear it but don’t see it written out. B+
  • Esper. Easier to spell based on sound than Naya, not quite as brief as others (two syllables), but still strong. A-
  • Grixis. Probably the worst shard name, not very likable, easy to misspell if you just hear it first. B-

Overall, this is a very strong set of names. These caught on with the player base and really stuck, and that’s because they’re really good.

Now, the guild names:

  • Azorius. Distinctive but way too long, spelling issues (“azorious”). D+
  • Izzet. Short, but completely indistinct from regular English “is it.” B-
  • Golgari. Distinct, but way long and clunky to say. D
  • Rakdos. Not bad, pretty short, but not as distinct from Boros as it needs to be. B+
  • Selesnya. Again, way too long and a little bit clunky. D+
  • Boros. The best of the guild names: shortish, distinct, hard to mess up, likable. There’s a reason this was the only one left four years later. A-
  • Dimir. Fails on spelling/pronunciation, but at least it’s short. C-
  • Orzhov. Another minor spelling problem, though at least it’s short to say. C
  • Gruul. Who hearing this for the fist time didn’t spell it “grool” in their head? Seriously sounds like WotC was trying to evoke “drool” with this name, which I guess kind of matches up with the guild’s style, but still. D+
  • Simic. Probably the third best guild name, though still occasional spelling/pronunciation issues (I’ve heard people say “SIGH-meeck” until being corrected.) B

We have a few pretty decent ones (even the best one still doesn’t get the full A because its two syllables), but lots of not very good ones. Unless we have “Revisiting Ravnica Again” block in the next couple years, I expect these guild names to recede again, though it may take a little longer this time since this is the second time the community has gotten to see these.

So, let’s talk about the wedges. There are three naming schemes I’ve heard for these: the Apocalypse names (Necra, Raka, etc.), the names of the Planar Chaos dragons (Numot, Teneb, etc.), and the common names MTG players actually use. I’ll consider each of these in turn.

The Apocalypse names had the first shot at this and basically failed. I have literally never heard a Magic player use these names in describing a deck, but every once in a while someone on the Internet will reference them, usually when showing off how long they’ve been playing or what an MTG encyclopedia they are or to correct someone else when they say the wedges don’t have names. These are based on a some cycles of creatures in the set, and they aren’t really names, but prefixes. They are Ana, Ceta, Dega, Necra, and Raka. (Bonus point to readers who can actually name what wedges go with which names without looking it up. The fact that I have to look it up every time does not bode well for the names.) The names are short and easy to spell and pronounce, but completely fail on distinctiveness, both from each other (not so much in print, but say them out loud) and from other common words or MTG terms. (For example, “Necra” a couple years after “Necro” was the shorthand name for both a card and a deck that are mono-colored? Not a win there.) Also, these names weren’t pushed very hard by WotC; there aren’t multiple cycles of lands and artifacts and coherent themes for these things, so they don’t really have identities under these names.

The Planar Chaos dragons (Intet, Numot, Oros, Teneb, and Vorosh) are moderately well-named as a set, though overall they could be a little shorter and more distinct. Also, “Oros” is a complete disaster because of the Boros guild name (and the guild name was there first). Once again, these names weren’t pushed very hard by WotC so they don’t really have identities with these labels. Plus, of course, these are names for creatures, not actually names of wedges themselves.

What’s most interesting to see about the wedges is what people in the community actually call them. Effectively, three of the wedges have names, one of them kind of does, and one of them simply doesn’t. The color combinations black-blue-green and red-blue-green just go by “BUG” and “RUG.” Not very distinct, but very short to both say and type. Black-white-green is generally called “Junk” both verbally and in print, and I believe comes from a pretty old extended deck. For instance, the currently trendy black-white-green reanimator decks are usually called “Junk Rites” decks. Notice that brevity is the clear win here, as all of these are single-syllable names, just like the best shard names.

Red-white-blue is sometimes called “U.S.A.” or “American” after the U.S. flag, but those aren’t much shorter than just saying “red-white-blue” and in print people usually just type UWR or RWU or whatever. And, of course, using U.S. flag references as a name is just wrong anyway, since lots of other countries have flags that are red, white, and blue—looking at you, U.K., France, Australia, etc.

Poor white-black-red (that’s the order the colors are on a printed card of this wedge) really doesn’t have a name in common usage. It’s a shame because that’s my favorite wedge. Personally I refer to it as “Sin City” because black and white plus red was basically the color scheme for the comic/movie, but this doesn’t work because nobody gets it. That’s the problem with names, they only work if most people actually know and use them. So while technically this wedge could be called “Oros” or “Dega,” if you use one of those, most people won’t get what you’re talking about. That more or less defeats the point of a name in the first place, so this wedge effectively has no name, no matter how pedantic people want to be about it. (If a name exists but nobody uses it, does it still have meaning? I’d argue no.)

So, WotC, we have a clear need here. We need a block that is wedge-themed like Alara was shard-themed, it needs to have good names for the wedges, and those names have to be reinforced by multiple cycles of lands, creatures, artifacts, etc. just like the shards in Alara were. I know you’ll get right on that.

Modern Masters Reactions

I don’t actually play much Modern, but like many other MTG addicts, I’ve been following along as pieces have been revealed and planned a trip to Vegas with the MM Grand Prix as my flimsy excuse to go. Now that the whole set is out and I’ve gotten to play it I thought I’d share some of my reactions:

• The limited environment is fantastic. Kudos to Erik Lauer and everyone else involved for another absolute home run. (I say “another” because the esteemed Mr. Lauer was also lead developer of Innistrad, which was also a tremendous limited environment.) The boxes have 24 packs with the obvious intent to draft, and wow, it’s fun to draft and to play. I wasn’t actually playing for most of the Modern run and it was terrific to see all these archetypes that I’d heard about but never actually played. The strategies seem well-balanced and fun things abound. I don’t think it’s possible for me to say quite enough here about how good this was to draft. I’m not sure it will go quite as well as a sealed environment, but we’ll have to see. But there was all kinds of cool stuff going on all over the place at my FLGS’s MM draft event, such as:

– A mono-red Storm player won by suspending four Rift Bolts on turn four, then on turn 5 following those with two Grapeshots. GG.
– I lost a game to turn 3 Vedalken Shackles followed by Kira, Great Glass-Spinner. However, I won the match in game 3 by countering a key Peppersmoke with a (foil) Spellstutter Sprite. (Note: I had never played Faeries before. Wild mirror.)
– A rebels deck winning where something like 18 of the damage in the game was dealt by 4 copies of Blightspeaker.
– A match won by one player playing Lotus Bloom on turn 1 both games, then getting one of the Kamigawa dragons on turn 3—two different dragons in the two different games.

• I will say that I am flummoxed by a couple omissions from the set. Note that this is not because I desperately wanted these cards or that I’m upset that they weren’t included, but I just found certain omissions very surprising. These were the two: Thoughtseize and Remand. I seem to recall that both of these cards have been labelled “too good to be reprinted in Standard” so I was surprised they wouldn’t be reprinted here, because they don’t seem like they’d adversely affect the limited environment to have those around (assuming Thoughtseize would come in at Rare). I guess I was a little surprised, though less so, that Cranial Plating and Mutavault were also not printed (though I’d think Plating would be an uncommon in this environment). Great to see Lightning Helix and Elspeth, Knight-Errant, though.

• The set’s “limited” print run is a bit of a problem. I understand that WotC is trying to walk a very fine line here, trying to bring more people into Modern while stabilizing the prices on the money cards but not collapsing them. I acknowledge that’s a difficult task. However, so far it looks like it might have gone a little too far on the side of the collectors, which, frankly, seems like the wrong direction to go. Maybe it’s because I’m not that much of a collector, but I’d rather see cards in play than cards being hoarded for dollar value. Boxes being sold for $300 and local stores running $50-60 drafts is just ridiculous. Why put in the effort to make this a fantastic draft set if it’s going to be prohibitively expensive to draft it? If the goal is to support draft, then it’s got to be at least kind of affordable to draft. If the set is primarily for collectors, why worry so much about the limited environment? Seems like a very mixed message. Again, I realize this is a difficult line to walk and WotC has a tough job to do here, but it does appear they fell over one side of the line, and unfortunately I think it’s the wrong side. Maybe it’s just that I want more drafts!

So, the TLDR version: home run in terms of draft fun, too bad it’s so co$t-prohibitive to make one happen.