Kibler Golgari Cashes FNM

So, last time out I played the (almost) mono White devotion deck, which was great fun, and I split in the finals. I used the winnings there to pick up the last few cards I needed for Kibler’s Golgari deck, which is what I played. I’ve seen two versions of his list, one revised fairly recently. I didn’t have the 4 Polukranos I needed for that version, so I kind of split the difference between the two versions and came up with this list:

I’m never really sure whether to call this an aggro deck or a midrange deck. Is it on the aggro side of midrange, or the midrange side of aggro? Not sure, and I’m even more sure it doesn’t matter very much.

Note the GP Dallas-Fort Worth is this weekend, and what surprised me was how many of the regulars were there among the people I expected to be headed up to Dallas. So, 5 rounds of Swiss cutting to top 8.

Round 1: John, playing Sin City (that’s WBR) Midrange
Or maybe this is control; again, it’s a bit of a gray area. I kind of like this deck in principle, but the one time I’ve played it this season it was a disaster, and the one time I played against it earlier this season, I won handily because my opponent had mana issues. John, who I’ve played several times in the past and know to be a good player, did not have mana issues. Neither of these games was particularly interesting. He had the answer in hand for everything I put on the table game 1, and game 2 I kept an opener with 2 Abrupt Decays, which I probably should have sided out anyway, and drew a third, and just did not have enough action to get anywhere. Not an auspicious start.
0-1 matches, 0-2 games

Round 2: Jeremy, playing Monoblack Devotion
I’ve played Jeremy several times this season and knew what was coming. Game 1 I drew 9 land and 4 spells and just didn’t make much out of it. I boarded in the Betrayls, the Charms, the Ultimate Prices, and the Downfall—tons of removal. He Thoughtseized me 3 times early and took removal each time, but I slipped a couple creatures out onto the table and drew the removal I needed to keep his serious threats off and won. Game 3 he had removal for my early creatures and I got a Bow, gaining six life off that and then I got a Lotleth Troll that I could rengerate through his removal and just kept putting counters on it, getting it up to a 6/5 that he never killed, and a second Troll and a Reaper joined the party. You know you’re in trouble when you’re chumping with Desecration Demons.
1-1 matches, 2-3 games

Round 3: Mason, playing Gruul
It was a hydra-heavy mostly green ramp/devotion deck. Game 1 we traded a few things back and forth but I drew a couple Thoughtseizes and most of my removal and that got me there. Game 2 he got a turn 4 Kalonian Hydra and me with no removal spell, and when he got a turn 5 followup Kalonian Hydra, that was it for me. Game 3 I got a turn 2 Dreg Mangler off a Mystic, and when I swung with it the third time he didn’t block and I flashed a Boon Satyr onto it to bring him down to 7. My lead at that point was just a little too big for him to overcome.
2-1 matches, 5-4 games

Round 3: Marcus, playing Monoblack Devotion
Wow, not too much of this in the meta, is there? I don’t really remember Game 1 very well—I think it was Troll into Dreg Mangler into a lot of removal from him and some Demons that I could’t quite keep pace with. Game 2 I had two early Trolls that he kept blocking with Pack Rat tokens, which kept most of them small. I got a Reaper and kept the pressure on, and he did finally get an Erebos and then got devotion with an Underworld Connections. I scry’d when something went to the ‘yard and kept a Boon Satyr on top with him at 2. Next turn I swung out, he blocked the two Trolls with two 3/3 Rats (only 3/3 because he activated a Mutavault, but he had to tap that to do it) and I flashed the Boon Satyr to trample over for the win. Game 3 involved me opening with a really fast hand (I think turn 2 and 3 Manglers) and then drawing just enough removal to keep the path clear, despite him drawing two Gray Merchants (each for only 2).
3-1 matches, 7-5 games

Round 4: ID
3-1-1 was good enough for top 8, so we drew in. We played for fun anyway, him on RDW, and the RDW matchup isn’t great. They’re just faster, and while it’s winnable (Bow is amazing here), I usually felt behind.
3-1-1 matches, 7-5 games

Quarterfinals: Kevin, playing Monoblue Devotion
Game 1 I kept a hand I probably should not have kept, as it was a 1-lander but with two Mystics. Unfortunately, it took me a few turns to draw a black source (and I had one of the Mystics tapped down on turn 2 by a Tidebinder). When I finally drew a black source, it was of course a Guildgate. Great. Too far behind, I got blown out here. I sided in a whole bunch of cards: The Mistcutters, the Doom Blade, the Charms, the Prices, the Downfall, and the Gifts—11 cards in all. Game 2 went much better. I had a fast draw, he kept a one-lander, and I rolled him, doing the last bit of damage by making Polukranos monstrous to kill his last blocker and swing for lethal. Game 3 was much more interesting. He got a turn 3 Specter that I never killed because there was always a more important target, like a Master of Waves. He hit me many times with that Specter. However, on turn 4 I did get out a Mistcutter for 4 (had a Mystic) and had a 4/4 Ooze as well. The first swing by the Hydra took out a Mutavault, and next turn I put a Gift of Orzhova on the Hydra and got the life total going back north, up from 5 to 10 and hitting him down to 3. He had exactly one out: he had to hit me with his Specter (and he also swung with his 2/3 Cloudfin) and then flip either a Doom Blade or an Ultimate Price to kill the Hydra—not good odds. The flip was… a Swamp.
4-1-1 matches, 9-6 games

While my game win rate wasn’t all that great, the matches ended up OK, and not a bad night at all.

One of the guys in the top 4 really wanted to leave since he was driving up to Dallas for the GP and we all took pity on him and agreed to the split. I picked up a couple more Polukranos, two Curse of the Swine (for Reid Duke’s Bant deck), a Nightveil Specter (#4), and a Xenagos.

The Deck
Overall the deck is clearly solid. It’s not especially fun to play, though it’s not un-fun. It’s pretty straightforward, though the creatures are nicely resilient and/or have value in the graveyard, which does lead to some interesting interactions. Still less fun than either of the two decks I’ve played the last two weeks (BUG Midrange and Wb Devotion).

It plays well vs. both Monoblack and Monoblue, especially after boarding. Against most creature-based decks, it felt a little too heavy on creatures of its own and a little light on removal, so I’d consider moving some creatures out for more main deck removal. The sideboard, however, was great. Golgari Charm is terrific vs. many decks.

Comments on specific cards:

  • Varolz underperformed; I would run only 2 or maybe even 1 next time out.
  • I was very happy splitting 2 and 2 for Witchstalker / Boon Satyr. Boon Satyr is good but hexproof is also really good.
  • Bow of Nylea I didn’t draw very often, but was thrilled with when I did. Very strong card in this deck, might play 2.
  • Kibler cut the Reapers entirely for other cards. Reaper was actually very good, but I could easily see going down to 2. Mostly he’s very strong vs. Monoblack, and you don’t cast him until turn 6 when you can make him hexproof. But he’s a house after that, and he’s even better when you actually remember your scry triggers, which I actually did this time.

Not sure if I will play this one again before Born of the Gods comes out. There are a couple new ones I want to play first, and there are a couple other decks ahead of this in line for being played again, but I might come back to it.

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:

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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.

Apple’s October 22nd Event

It’s pundit/forecaster time again!

I did this for the September 10th event and had a mixed record. Both my locks hit, and I was 1 for 2 on my “likely” predictions, got none of the things I was hoping for, and correctly called 4 of the 5 in the “Not So Much” category. Not too bad. My miss in the “Not So Much” category was a partial miss, as there wasn’t anything at that event on the iMacs, but there was a refresh in late September, and I predicted November.

As a brief reminder, here’s the current state of the MacRumors Buyer’s Guide, and there’s still quite a bit of red here:

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So, what am I predicting/hoping for? Well, something like this:

Locks
• iPad 5. This is pretty much a done deal; full case designs have been floating around the Net for a while now. I predict an A7X processor, same screen resolution, slightly smaller and lighter form factor (less bezel), and probably a somewhat improved camera, but not of the same class as the 5S. I’m guessing TouchID as well. Availability pretty soon after the event.

• iPad mini. It’s a lock that something will happen here. The less-certain question: Retina or not? I’m going to go way out on a limb here and suggest that Apple will bifurcate this product line, maintaing a lower-cost mini without a Retina display; almost immediate availability on this. Then, a “mini Pro” (not with that name) that has a Retina display and costs more. Apple hasn’t done this with iPads but has for MacBook Pros for some time, and so I think there’s precedent for it. The Retina mini will come out a bit later—maybe two weeks after the regular mini—but in time for the holiday shopping season.

• Mac Pro. This was my miss from last time, but I Apple is now running out of “fall” for a release timeframe, so I think this has to be the event for it. Availability will not be immediate, though, but again, in time for the holiday season (though that matters less for this one). Mind-blowing performance with similarly mind-blowing price, which will also be revealed. As noted, work owes me a new machine so I will be on this thing like white on rice.

• OS X Mavericks. Will ship coincident with the Mac Pro, mid-to-late November, because the Pro will require it.

Likely
• New Apple TV. Probably an A6 inside and maybe mild bump to memory and GPU, otherwise not too much different in terms of specs. I expect a facelift for the OS to look more like iOS 7. My guess is still no generic third-party app support, but if so, I’d order it immediately. If there’s no third-party support, then immediate availability. If there is, then I’d say mid-to-late November.

• MacBook Pros. I wasn’t high on these for the September event and I’m still not sure, but the rumor mill has been churning, and people seem to think this is more likely now. I’m going to guess Haswell processors, faster PCIE Express, general performance bump, but nothing too radical.

• iPod Classic. I’m guessing this will officially be dropped, though it won’t actually be announced that this is happening.

Still Not So Much
• Mac mini. I will quote myself from my September 10th prediction: “Apple has been letting the update cycle on these go longer than most of their other product lines. I’d guess late Spring or early Summer for this.” I’ll stand by that again.

• New displays. My guess is that 4K displays are coming from Apple, but not yet. I’m going to guess summer or fall of next year.

• MacBook Air. Nothing here as well. Again, probably next summer.

• iWatch. I doubt it. I think Apple execs are probably enjoying the crap out of the horrible reviews for the Galaxy Gear and are in no hurry to stop other vendors from putting out misguided guesses for a while.

• Bigger iPad. There are rumors about of a larger iPad. I’m going to guess that this might be coming next year, but again, not yet.

Apple’s September 10th event

Time to play pundit! Here’s what I’m thinking/hoping is coming.

First, though, a brief bit of relevant context. if you head on over to the MacRumors Buyer’s Guide, right about now, you’ll see an awful lot of red dots, like this:

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Yikes! I don’t remember a time in the last few years that Apple has had so many products that are, or are at least perceived to be, nearing the end of their life cycle. So what’s going down September 10th? Here’s my forecast:

Locks
• The new iPhone 5S and 5C appear to be pretty much guaranteed at this point, and the rumor mill has the street date for delivery of these new phones as September 20th. As I’m on the every-other-year plan and this is my off year, I’m not directly concerned about this—but I know a lot of people are. I will be very interested to see what the price points are for the 5S and 5C, though.

• iOS 7. Maybe not a for sure deal right on the 10th, but they will at least announce a firm date, and I’d be really surprised if that date was not either the 20th or a bit before then.

Likely
• A firm date for the new Mac Pro, maybe even immediate availability on the 10th. This thing looks amazing—probably carrying an amazing price tag, too—but I’ll bite the bullet and do it, since work owes me a new machine anyway. I think this is highly likely because I don’t see Apple dumping money into those very cool movie theater ads without a payoff soon.

• iTunes Radio. This has been in the rumor mill for quite a while, and my guess is we’ll finally get it, though I wouldn’t be surprised if the actual launch date was held off until the iOS7 launch—though that won’t be long, anyway. This will come with a rev to iTunes to support it, but probably a small rev.

I’m Hoping For…
• There have been some recent rumors that a new iPad (that’d be the iPad 5 if you’re scoring at home, or even if you’re alone) will also be announced. I’m skeptical, as I think this seems more likely to hit closer to Christmas, but if Apple does it, I’ll order one the same day. (I have a 3, which I love, but I’d love it to be thinner and with the Lightning connector. Again, I’m on the every-other-one cycle here.)

• A new Apple TV with 3rd-party developer support. That is, apps on the Apple TV. I don’t see this as very likely (great analysis over at Stratechery), but I’d love to get it. Again, this is something I’d order immediately if it were to come to pass.

Not So Much
• I wouldn’t be terribly surprised to see a refresh on the MacBook Pro line, as that’s been a while, but waiting until later in the fall wouldn’t come as a huge surprise as well. I have a non-Retina MBPro that feels perfectly snappy now, so this one doesn’t feel urgent.

• The non-Touch version of the iPod line hasn’t been refreshed in a while, either, but again, I don’t see this happening quite yet. This would go well with a later fall iPad event in preparation for the Christmas season.

• iMacs. The last rev of the iMac line was pretty significant, and I’m thinking Apple will let that one run a bit longer. The usual cycle is about a year on that, and the last hit was November, and I certainly don’t see it coming sooner than that. Furthermore, if I were to bet, I’d bet on it being later—after the new year.

• Mac mini. Apple has been letting the update cycle on these go longer than most of their other product lines. I’d guess late Spring or early Summer for this.

• Max OS X Mavericks. Again, I think not yet. This will be an iOS event.

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:

wpid-IMG_0489-2013-07-5-02-27.jpg

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.