What permission does to Constructed Magic
One interesting point that was raised in multiple emails is worthy of further discussion. Near the end of last week’s article I commented that "Hopefully […] the result will be a Standard environment where blue is playable, but below average and permission is at a low enough level that slow decks full of interesting but expensive cards can flourish."
What is "Permission"?
"Permission" is a slang term that refers to cards like Counterspell and its ilk. A dedicated blue deck full of counters often leaves the opponent feeling like he needs to ask his opponent's permission for every spell he casts.
"May I have a Withered Wretch?"
"May I play Rotlung Reanimator?"
So when you hear the term "Permission Deck," you'll know it refers to a deck with a ton of counters.
The question raised in a couple of emails was, "Why do you think lowering the power level of the available permission will slow things down? Aren’t blue decks the slow ones?! Don’t your efforts to make blue weaker actually guarantee that the good decks will be the faster ones, since the other colors are naturally faster than blue?”
Actually, no, I don’t think that’s how things work and here’s why.
Counterspell is an incredibly efficient way to deal with threats. For just two mana, it allows a blue mage to say “no” to the most powerful, most expensive cards in his or her opponents’ decks. One of the best ways for savvy opponents who know that they will be forced to play against decks with Counterspell to cope is to play with really cheap spells.
It’s really bad to have your 7-mana creature or your 8-mana sorcery countered – you wind up doing nothing with your entire turn while your opponent spent just two mana stopping your threat and gets to spend the rest of his mana doing something else. Thus he trades one of his cards for one of yours (a relatively even trade) but at the same time he trades just two of his mana for 7-8 of yours (a not-so-even trade) and he can use his other mana to pull ahead in the game.
Now contrast this with the situation where you play a 2-mana creature. It’s not that big a deal to get your 2-mana creature countered because it’s an even trade both in terms of cards and mana. In addition, if your deck is chock full of relatively inexpensive threats, you will often be able to play one of more of them before your opponent can even get two blue lands into play to threaten to play a Counterspell. And if you’ve already got a threat on the board then he can’t really afford to leave his mana untapped for counterspelling purposes because what he really needs to do is spend his mana dealing with whatever threats you’ve already gotten into play.
All of this is just a long-winded way of explaining why weenie swarm decks have always been the bane of permission decks. You can also see from this argument that decks full of expensive spells (be they big creature decks, non-blue control decks, etc.) have always been particularly vulnerable to blue.
In fact, this trio makes up one of the familiar dances that defines Magic – weenie decks lose to big creature decks, but big creature decks lose to permission decks, but permission decks lose to weenie decks. The details are always much more complicated than this, and in Magic’s version of rock-paper-scissors rock only beats scissors about 55-65% of the time, which leaves plenty of room for a more skilled scissors player to win despite this handicap. However, at a deep theoretical level it is definitely true that permission decks beat up on decks full of expensive spells while at the same time providing food for the weenie decks.
One interesting way to look at this situation is in terms of predators and prey. A predator requires food to survive. Without any blue decks to prey on, the super-speedy weenie decks should go hungry, and some of them will starve to death. Meanwhile, without any of its natural enemies around, the big creature decks can come out of the woodwork. Not only are there fewer predatory blue decks around, but look at all this tasty weenie food!
So that’s why I said what I said last week. Based on my understanding of the predator-prey relationships that are inherent in Magic, I think that the biggest impact of our efforts to reduce the power-level of permission spells is that expensive spells became a much more viable option. Certainly if you look at the results from Pro Tour – Venice (which used cards from Onslaught and Legions only), expensive spells (especially creatures) flourished much more than they ever have before at any point in the history of tournament play.
If you want to read more about permission decks and their impact on constructed Magic tournaments, feel free to check out my tournament report from the 1998 World Championships, included below. The report originally appeared on The Dojo, a now-defunct Magic website that was the predecessor to the modern Magic Internet scene, this site included. I went 6-1 during the Standard portion of that tournament with a mono-blue deck sporting 21 counters and my deck was published as one of the commemorative decks that year. During the 1999 World Championships I also played mono-blue control and that year I went 6-0.
Last Week’s Poll Results:
|What do your favorite blue cards do?|
|Cards that steal stuff||2118||17.6%|
Subject: World's rpt Pt. 1
Date: Tue, 18 Aug 1998 21:45:49 -0400 (EDT)
From: "Randolph E Buehler Jr."
To: Frank Kusumoto
I went into my first World Championships fairly optimistic. My two qualified teammates (Erik Lauer and Mike Turian) and I had spent a lot of time playtesting and had come up with a solid type II deck and a bizarre Rath deck that I thought could be the surprise deck of the day. Erik and I arrived on Monday so we'd have an extra day to decompress and do some practice drafts. I hadn't done a lot of drafting since Nationals, since I was busy preparing for two different constructed formats. However, I won two of the 4 practice drafts I entered, so I thought I was ready. The biggest thing I learned on Monday and Tuesday was that black seemed under drafted among Americans. It may only be the 4th best color in Te/Sh/Ex booster draft, but if no one wants it it's still very much worth drafting.
Wednesday morning I sat down with my first drafting pod and noticed that the guy on my right was blinking a lot and swaying in his chair. I introduced myself and found out that he was from Australia and had been forced to fly in just last night. With no time to beat jet lag and only 4 hours of sleep in the last two days I thought I might have a decent draft. Then they announced that they had to re-do the table pairings since they had left a few people out. Oh well.
My actual first table included Derek Rank (seated on my left, where I'd be feeding him 2/3rds of the time), Adam Katz (all the way across the table), and 5 people I didn't recognize. My first pick was pretty straight-forward: I took Rootwater Hunter and passed the Flowstone Giant. I wanted to go blue if possible anyway, and Tim is a fine first pick. The pack that gets passed to me includes a Reckless Spite, a Gravedigger, and a Lowland Giant. I prefer red/blue and blue/white, but Reckless Spite is a "bomb" so I decide to go black/blue. Since I know early on that I'm going to have double black and single blue spells in my deck, I figure I can probably avoid the mana problems that normally plague black/blue by just refusing to draft double blue spells. My next 3 picks solidify my strategy: 3rd pick Dauthi Horror, 4th pick Wind Drake, and 5th pick Dauthi Slayer. The Slayer also told me that black was under drafted on my right and made me optimistic about Exodus. Meanwhile I kept passing solid red cards to Derek (on my left) and expected that would distract him away from my colors in Stronghold.
Stronghold goes really well -- I open to a Stronghold Assassin and then get passed a Skeleton Scavengers. Meanwhile 2 Walls of Souls come my way along with a Mana Leak, a Spindrift, and a Lab Rats. Going into Exodus I felt I was 2 or 3 evasion creatures away from a spectacular deck. I'm not sure if the guys on my right switched into my colors or if the packs just weren't what I needed, but Exodus wasn't as good as I hoped (or as good as I expected after getting 5th pick Dauthi Slayer during Tempest). I opened to Wayward Soul, which I concluded was good enough to violate my no double-blue spells rule for (especially since the rest of the pack sucked). My 2nd pick was a Merfolk Looter, which I was very glad to get, but after that all I saw was a couple Carnophages and a Curiosity. Oh well, I still knew I had a very good deck that should go at least 3-1 and was certainly capable of 4-0. Here's how it ended up:
1 Spindrift Drake
1 Mana Leak
1 Skyshroud Condor
1 Merfolk Looter
1 Rootwater Hunter
1 Wind Drake
1 Wayward Soul
1 Hibernation Sliver
1 Pit Imp
1 Lab Rats
1 Dauthi Horror
1 Dauthi Slayer
2 Wall of Souls
1 Skeleton Scavengers
1 Stronghold Assassin
1 Death's Duet
1 Reckless Spite
Sideboard: Shadow Rift, Ensnaring Bridge (I was glad to take this and know that no one else had it, but I thought my deck was good enough that I didn't want to run this in the main deck. It's incredibly powerful, but also fairly situational and the only card I have that combos with it is the one Pit Imp. I decided to side it in if necessary, but not to slow down the beatdown value of my main deck), Sea Monster, Brush with Death, Nausea, Cat Burglar, Watchdog, Thumbscrews, Dauthi Warlord, Dark Ritual, Contempt, Crossbow Ambush x 2, Shield Mate, Predatory Hunger, Charging Paladin, Anoint, Onslaught x 2, Wall of Nets, CoP: Black, Rootbreaker Wurm.
First Round: Ricardo Buccolo (Argentina, Finish: 115th)
Richard had a white/blue beatdown deck that just didn't have as much beatdown as mine. In game 1 I played a turn two shadow creature, a turn 3 Rootwater Hunter, and a turn 4 Wall of Souls. I took one hit from a Charging Paladin and no other damage in the game. I eventually played a 2nd shadow creature and he had no answer.
In game 2 he played two Walls of Essence, but I wasn't really planning to attack on the ground anyway. I played out fliers and shadow creatures while he attacking me with some Grey Ogre equivalent. I had Reckless Spite waiting for him to play a 2nd creature I cared about, but instead he kept finding ways to deal with my evasion creatures and attacking with that Ogre. I actually ended up at 7 before I played something to block. He was blue/white so I wasn't really concerned about direct damage even if I Spited my way down to 2. I finally cast my last flier while he was down to one card in hand. That card turned out to be Reaping the Rewards. It meant the game lasted another 4-5 turns, but that's a fast downhill slide and those turns didn't help him.
Second Round: Rudolf Kucera (Czech Republic, Finish: 167th)
Rudolf also had a black/blue deck, but mine seemed somewhat faster. In game 1 I played first turn Carnophage and second turn Dauthi Horror. He eventually dealt with the Horror, but by then I had out one or two of my blue fliers. He was forced to play defense by my fast start and never mounted an offense before I killed him. In game 2 he went first and the race was much closer. I played a first turn Spindrift because my hand had land and not much else to do soon. My 4th turn Reckless Spite dropped me from 14 to 9, but left him with only a 1- power shadow on offense. Merfolk Looter helped me win by finding a Wind Drake and then the 2nd island necessary to cast Wayward Soul. I also drew the Sea Monster I had sideboarded in, but didn't need it to win.
Third Round: Victor van der Broek (Netherlands, Finish: 48th)
Victor was one of the two green guys at our table. He also splashed red to give himself some removal and some tricks. In game 1 he removed my first threat or two and started dropping Wood Elves. I played some ground blockers while he played some green fat. I was trying to stall until I got a Reckless Spite or the Assassin or maybe just a bunch of shadows and fliers, but then he dropped Invasion Plans. Ouch! Everything I had in play died and nothing of his did. It also meant I couldn't play any other creatures without having them die too. Invasion Plans is somewhat situational, but in the right deck it is a definite game-breaker. His was the right deck.
In game 2 I drew a Wall and he didn't draw Invasion Plans. I also drew a couple evasion creatures, but he didn't draw any removal. He just drew large green things, and more large green things. His only real way of dealing with shadows or fliers was to race, but my Wall of Souls made that impossible.
Game 3 was long and close. He dropped an Erratic Portal that made my life fairly difficult, but I drew both of my walls plus a Looter and the Tim. I got out my Assassin, but I couldn't use it unless he used his Portal first (which he never did since I wasn't giving him any ways to wreck me). The key to the game was when I put Curiosity on a flier and started drawing two cards per turn, which was really three cards thanks to the Looter. Curiosity is really good and I don't understand why I'm still able to pick them up 6 cards into an Exodus pack. Right before he died, Victor cast Verdant Force. He actually had two of them in his deck (which explains why he drafted green -- he opened the first one, but passed it and then when he saw that a 2nd Verdant Force hadn't been drafted 5 picks in he figured the first one might come back to him too, so he went green and it did), but it was too late. My curious fliers found more fliers and more land and he couldn't stop them.
3-0 felt very good, especially after my horrible start at U.S. Nationals. I knew 4-0 would feel even better and I also knew that I had the best deck at the table. Only Adam Katz stood in my way.
Fourth Round: Adam Katz (Finish: 77th)
I crushed him in game 1. Turn 1 Carnophage was followed by turn 2 Dauthi Slayer and turn 3 Merfolk Looter. I Loot before the attack phase, draw Curiosity, play it, attack, and draw Dauthi Horror. Carnophage was the only thing to damage me that game.
I'm drawing in game 2 and my hand looks amazing: Dauthi Horror, Dauthi Slayer, Reckless Spite, Torment, Pit Imp, one swamp and one island. I don't draw another land until turn 5. I don't draw a 2nd swamp until turn 10. As late as turn 7 or 8, I still could have wrecked him with a Reckless Spite, but my other 9 swamps insisted on hiding in the bottom half of my deck. Adam's red/white weenie deck didn't let me live any longer. On to game 3 ...
Adam kept a one-land draw in game 3 and announced after he failed to play a land on his second turn that he had gambled and lost. I had kept a 2 land hand (one swamp and one island) and had also failed to draw land so when I missed my turn 3 land drop it was clear that the game was still up in the air. We both discarded for a turn and then Adam drew his second land before I drew my 3rd. Out came a horde of red weenies. Meanwhile Adam's first turn Soul Warden gained him 3 life and 2 warnings for forgetting to gain life before I could kill it. I never did draw a 2nd swamp in this game and Adam had both a Shock and a Kindle in his hand to make sure he won the damage race. (I knew there had to be a reason he'd keep a one land draw!) I had about 20 draw phases over the course of games 2 and 3 of this match; there were 9 swamps in my deck for all of them, but I only drew 1.
I was rather frustrated about the way I lost that round, but I knew if you'd asked me at the beginning of the draft, I would have been satisfied with 3-1. Now if I could only go 2-1 at my next table, I'd be on pace to make the top 8. The table was pretty tough: Matt Linde, Dave Price, me, Scott Johns, Itaru Ishida, Mikko Snygg, Papp Gabor, and Mark Simpson. There can't have been many draft tables in PT history with over $100,000 in career earnings, can there? (Without Jon Finkel, that is...) I had Price feeding me from the right with Linde feeding him. Ishida was on my left, with Johns on his left.
My opening pack has a Fevered Convulsions in it. There's some other good black cards as well, but I'm not that worried about it if the person on my left in going black since all they can deprive me of is Stronghold black, which isn't that good anyway. I get my 2nd pack (after David Price has taken a card out of it) and there's another Fevered Convulsions! It looks like I was right that Americans don't want to draft black. I gladly scoop it up and now know that I'm going to be heavy black. For my 3rd pick, Price offers me the choice of Lightning Blast or Lowland Giant. Wow. I conclude that he isn't red or black (and I'm not at all surprised that he's drafting blue/white) so I take the Blast and set about drafting a heavy black/splash red deck. I even suspect that the Cinder Marsh which was in my opening pack will come back to me.
I take a Mogg Conscript over a Dauthi Mindripper, which may have been a mistake but I was concerned that all my spells were slow and expensive. With my 5th pick I am tempted to counter-draft a Light of Day so I won't have to face it, but I know I only have one creature in my deck so far so I take Pit Imp. Later in Tempest I pick up a Marsh Lurker, a Mindwhip Sliver, a Sarcomancy, and the Cinder Marsh does come back.
I'm a little nervous about Stronghold since I know I passed some good black early, but black and red should both have dried up by Itaru's 5th pick or so so he shouldn't be drafting both of my colors. He is. I first pick a Seething Anger for lack of anything better and take a 2nd pick Dungeon Shade (over a Volrath's Stronghold -- again I was wary of not having good creatures and the Shade is really good when you're planning to play double digit swamps like I was). That was it for good cards. The rest of Stronghold delivers only the bottom of the barrel -- Morgue Thrulls and Serpent Warriors a'plenty, but not much else.
At least I should get some solid Exodus cards since Price bashed me over the head with 2nd pick Fevered and 3rd pick Lightning Blast, fairly begging me to play black/red. Well it turns out that Price wanted to draft white/blue, but the white dried up too quickly for his tastes. After passing up a 2nd pick Blast, he chose to switch into red by drafting third pick Kindle. I guess I should have noticed that I only drafted one other red card in Tempest (not counting the Cinder Marsh), but how am I supposed to know that the packs had much red to begin with?! Now if this had been Rochester draft I would have known exactly what Price was up to ...
Anyway, I first pick a Sonic Burst. Dave passes me a Dauthi Jackal and a couple Sabertooth Wyverns, but that's all I get. (Dave also passes me multiple Kor Chants that could have been his if he'd stuck to white.) I end up with a deck that I think is good, but perhaps not great. Since I spent so many of my early picks on broken cards and direct damage, I ended up with a pretty mediocre creature set and not that many creatures in general. I don't think I made any major mistakes drafting this deck, but it didn't live up to the promise of the first few picks. I decided to play 18 land since I felt I needed to reliably cast Sabertooth Wyverns and have enough mana to wreck my opponent when I drew one of my Convulsions. I didn't really have a quality 23rd spell anyway:
2 Sabertooth Wyvern
1 Mogg Conscript
1 Lightning Blast
1 Sonic Burst
1 Seething Anger
1 Pit Imp
1 Lab Rats
2 Fevered Convulsions
2 Morgue Thrull
1 Serpent Warrior
1 Dauthi Jackal
1 Mindwhip Sliver
1 Death's Duet
1 Marsh Lurker
1 Dungeon Shade
1 Cinder Marsh
Sideboard: Stun, Cat Burglar, Spellshock, Nausea, Mind Peel, Torment (would have been a better main deck card than Death's Duet due to my low creature count), Shattering Pulse, Raging Goblin, Mogg Infestation, Amok, Price of Progress, Mogg Squad, Recycle, CoP: Shadow, Skyshroud Falcon, Hibernation Sliver, Nomads en-Kor, Endangered Armodon, Mulch, Rabid Wolverines, Reclaim, Keeper of the Beasts
Fifth Round: Mark Simpson (New Zealand, Finish: 121st)
Mark drafted a blue/white weenie deck designed to play out 1- power shadows on turns 1 and 2 (I saw at least 2 Foot Soldiers and a Thalakos Sentry) and then slow down the opponent's assault with Shackles and Rootwater Hunter long enough for the shadows (sometimes with Conviction on them) to go all the way. In game 1 I had no creatures in my opening draw, but on turn 3 I Coerced him and sent his Rootwater Hunter to the graveyard where I could Reanimate it. It took out both his Foot Soldiers before he drew the third land he needed to Shackles it. I figure 2 Foot Soldiers and a Shackles is pretty good for a 1 mana spell and go on to win the game.
In game 2 I draw Fevered Convulsions, but he casts Light of Day. Light of Day reduces me to trying to win with 2 Wyverns, one Mogg Conscript, some direct damage, and whatever I Reanimate. Fevered Convulsions is good enough that I might be able to pull it off, but next turn he summons a Cloudchaser Eagle. Scoop! I asked a number of people afterwards if they thought I was wrong not to counterdraft the Light of Day with my 5th Tempest pick. Unanimously, they agreed that you take a card you'll play because your odds of not only facing whoever drafted the Light of Day, but also cutting him to it are fairly small.
Game 3 started similarly. He played fast shadow weenies, but I played a Fevered Convulsions. It didn't look like I could outrace his shadows, so I decided to spend my time killing them all with the Convulsions. This plan might have worked if he hadn't drawn his Cloudchaser Eagle again. So I had to start racing him, but he played a Peace of Mind which immediately rendered the race unwinnable. I'm not convinced his deck was better than mine, but it was when he drew light of Day and Cloudchaser Eagle.
Sixth Round: Itaru Ishida (Japan, Finish: 137th)
If I thought I got boned by Price during the draft, Itaru must have thought even worse things about me! I passed him Gravedigger, 2 red Giants, and 2 Dauthi Mindrippers by the time his 5th Tempest pick rolled around, but I turned out to be drafting black/red. (Rochester Draft is SO much better than booster draft!) He got only the scraps for the rest of Tempest and for Exodus. His deck seemed OK, but, like me, he was forced to play some sub-par creatures. I won the die roll in game 1 and when I coerced him on turn 3 he only had 1 land in his hand plus a bunch of 3 casting cost spells. I took the land and he didn't draw another one for 4 turns. Game 2 was bloody. We both kept summoning creatures and attacking. The turn before he was about to kill me I cast Seething Anger with buyback, then Seething Anger without buyback (locking down my Cinder Marsh) to allow me to come over for 9 damage and kill him.
Seventh Round: David Price (Finish: 25th)
I was hoping not to have to face Price in the last round (it was 50/50 whether I would face him or Papp Gabor). Everyone knows David is a great player, but he has also spent a lot of time working on his Limited game over the last few months. As evidenced by his 6-0 showing at U.S. Nationals, it might now be the strongest part of his game.
In our first game I played turn 1 Carnophage and then Coerced him on turn 3. Turns out he was already mana screwed and the two lands in play were the only ones he'd drawn. I took his Rootwater Hunter (which is what he drafted over that Fevered Convulsions) and hoped he wouldn't draw land. He didn't. I played a few more random creatures and he wasn't able to stabilize once he finally did draw land.
Game 2 was pure race. He played a first turn Spindrift and I figured that would stunt his mana development enough that I should win. He played turn 2 Manta Riders and turn 3 Mogg Raider. Meanwhile I played out a Sarcomancy and a Serpent Warrior. The Spindrift kept serving (along with a flying Manta Rider), but I kept playing creatures too. The crucial turns of the game went like this: I sacced a swamp to my Marsh Lurker to hit him for an unblockable 3 damage and bring him down to 8 and on that same turn cast a Sabertooth Wyvern which could block his fliers. He didn't attack, leaving me at 7, and summoned some random Hill Giant (I think it was a Lancers en-Kor). I attacked with an unblockable Marsh Lurker to drop him to five and I also played a Dauthi Jackal so I'd be able to kill him on the next turn if he didn't have something up his sleeve. I had back a Mindwhip Sliver, a Sarcomancy token, and the Sabertooth Wyvern available to block. He thought about the upkeep on his Spindrift Drake for quite a while during his upkeep. After drawing his card he cast Mind Games without buyback on my Sabertooth Wyvern and then cast a 2nd Mind Games, also without buyback on my Mindwhip Sliver. He attacked me with everything and the best I could do was chump block with my Sarcomancy token and take 6 down to 1. I died during my upkeep to the Sarcomancy.
Game 3 wasn't nearly as interesting. I drew only one land and a mediocre assortment of spells, so I mulliganed down to 6 cards. Those 6 included nothing I could cast before turn 4, but it was a decent mix of land and spells so I kept it. My draw phases didn't help. On turn 4 I Lightning Blasted his Merfolk Looter as my first spell and then on turn 5 summoned a Cat Burglar. It wasn't a pretty draw and I didn't live long.
Mikko Snygg won that table, beating Scott Johns in the 2-0 vs. 2-0 match. Meanwhile, I wound up 4-3 and in 78th place after Day 1. I felt like I drafted decks that could have gone 6-1 and maybe should have gone 5-2, but there I sat at a very average 4-3. I guess I averted disaster in my weakest format, but I wasn't happy about my performance. Now it was time for 2 days of constructed play where I would feel much more comfortable.
Erik Lauer and I spent a week looking for some new, magical Type II deck that could beat everything we expected to face at Worlds, but rapidly decided we weren't going to find one. We tested Necro for a while, but concluded there wasn't efficient enough disruption to make it work. We also spent some time fiddling with the California Green deck that emerged at U.S. Nationals. Neither of us liked the Vineyards since they help your opponent in too many matchups so they came out immediately and we put land destruction into the main deck. Then we had to make the mana curve cheaper and made our first real discovery of playtesting: River Boas are AMAZING in the current type II scene. They provide some beatdown against Bloom and control decks, they're annoying to Sligh decks, and River Boa plus Wastelands wrecks Cuneo blue. Unfortunately, we never could tweak the deck such that it would beat both white weenie and Bloom. It also wasn't spectacular against Sligh, so we eventually abandoned it. (The last and best version, by the way, splashed red for Granger Guildmage's ability plus Spined Sliver to go with Muscle Sliver and Survival of the Fittest. Lhurgoyf is a surprisingly good answer to Cataclysm if you can Disenchant Empyrial Armor ...)
Anyway, our basic conclusion was that there are something on the order of 10 viable archetypes in type II right now and no one of them beats everything. That means you have to play the metagame. You have to figure out which archetypes are going to get played a lot and choose a deck that loses to the other decks -- the ones that aren't getting played. We expected little to no Suicide Black, so we decided that was a deck we were willing to lose to. The decks we expected in abundance were Cuneo Blue, White Weenie, Pros-Bloom, and Sligh. Second tier decks, in our estimation, included Tradewind, Burn Green, Living Death, and Oath. With Pros-Bloom, Cuneo Blue, and Oath decks making up much more of the environment than they did at Nationals, Oath no longer looked as attractive as it did for me at U.S. Nationals. Oath of Druids is insanely powerful in a creature-heavy environment, but the Worlds meta-game looked to have significantly fewer creatures in it.
The fact that Cuneo Blue variants finished 1st and 2nd in the European Championships had a large influence on our thinking and also a lot of other people's thinking as well. Sturla Bingen's choice to use 4 Force Spikes demanded attention. Why did this work? We tested Force Spike and found it to be very impressive. Blue Disk decks do great once they survive the opening and here was a card that allowed you to survive the opening. Sure they suck in the mid-game, but countering a first turn Jackal Pup or a second turn Shadow when you went first completely changes the way the game plays out. I tried to figure out why Force Spike suddenly became such a power card and I think I understand. The biggest thing is that everyone builds better decks than they did a year or two ago. Beatdown decks are tuned to play a 1-mana creature on turn 1 and a 2 mana creature on turn 2. It isn't just Sligh that uses the "Sligh manacurve." That means you almost always get to use your Force Spike when you draw it early. Besides, if your opponent tries to play around it, they come out so much slower that you'll be alive to play your Disk and start Whispering. The other crucial thing that makes Force Spike better is Forbid. Instead of being dead when you draw it in the mid-game, Force Spike is still half a counterspell.
So we tested and tuned mono-blue Disk decks. We tried splashing black for Corpse Dance and changing the Golems into Bottle Gnomes. With Intuitions to set up Dancing Gnomes (and Dancing Rainbows), this deck was really good against beatdown. However, the mana inconsistency and the more specialized spells made it weaker against everything else so we went back to mono-blue. Erik pointed out one day that Steel Golem isn't actually that good against most of the decks we were expected. Sure you need it to beat Sligh, but you lose most game 1's to Sligh anyway, so why not just devote more sideboard space to mono-red and put in spells where the Golems are that will be better against the rest of the field. Erik's other innovation is more of an infatuation. No one else loves land like Erik Lauer loves land. He quickly decided that the way to win Blue versus Blue match-ups was never to miss a land drop and to have 4 uncounterable 3/3's in your deck. Our manabase of 18 islands, 4 Quicksands, and 4 Stalking Stones emerged pretty early in testing and worked really well. 26 land means your first impulse usually gets you a business spell (like a Disk) instead of just a land and 8 of your land act like spells much of the time.
After more and more testing the mono-blue deck seemed to have the best winning percentage against the field we expected. It was not good against Sligh, but it won at least 60% against every other deck we expected, including other Cuneo Blue variants. We set the sideboard up so that it would have a reasonable chance against Sligh in a best 3 out of 5 situation in case one of us made the top 8 and just accepted that game 1 was almost hopeless and the match was a tough one to win. That seemed worth it in order to have a deck that beat everything else. Here's what Erik and I ended up playing:
4 Force Spike
3 Mana Leak
1 Memory Lapse
4 Nevinyrral's Disk
1 Rainbow Efreet
4 Whispers of the Muse
4 Stalking Stones
4 Wastelands (Wow were these good)
4 Sea Sprite
1 Grindstone (Should have been a Steal Artifact)
Yep, that's 26 land, 21 counters, 8 card drawers, 4 disks, and a Rainbow.
Once we got to Seattle we heard more people than we expected talking about running Oath of Druids decks and almost no one talking about white weenie. Cuneo Blue did sound like the most expected deck and the dominant force in the meta-game. After a day or so of everyone saying they expected 20% mono-blue, more and more people started talking about playing Sligh. Chris Pikula even called "The Audible." He had been planning to play Forbidian and has tested nothing except Forbidian for a month, but we he heard how much blue there was (which Forbidian loses to if the Cuneo deck is played correctly) and how many Chokes and Boils would be in sideboards (which are better against Forbidian than Cuneo) he decided to switch to Sligh. We weren't thrilled at the resurgence of Sligh, but also weren't going to change decks at the last minute. I decided to add an 8th anti- Sligh sideboard card to my sideboard and go up to the full complement of Sea Sprites and Hydroblasts. (Previously I'd had only 3 Hydroblasts -- the Sea Sprites were better!) Now there was nothing left but the games themselves. Having gone 4-3 in draft, I needed at least 5-2 to have a realistic chance at top 8 and it would take 6-1 to put me back on pace for top 8. But this was much more familiar territory for me -- I love constructed.
Eighth Round: Robin McCandless (Great Britain, Finish: 111th)
Robin played a first turn island and a second turn island and I knew I was up against another Blue Disk deck. Rather than being dismayed at the symmetrical match-up, I was happy because I knew it wasn't really symmetrical. He played an early Legacy's Allure but I just let him. I'll just Disk before that matters. He stopped playing land long before I did and played a Steel Golem rather than discard. After it hit me once or twice, I went for the Whisper during his discard phase. We fought a permission war, which he won, but I untapped and played a Disk. After I blew up the Disk he tried to play another Steel Golem. We fought another permission war which I won mostly because I had more land than him. With him tapped out I untapped and dropped my main deck Rainbow Efreet. He did not look happy and conceded shortly thereafter.
I brought in 4 Wastelands and my Grindstone for game 2. The Wastelands were amazing. I Wasted a Quicksand just to keep him below 6 mana and then I Wasted the Stalking Stones he drew too. He groaned audibly. He had 4 land in play to my 8 when I activated a Stalking Stones. After it hit him a few times he was forced to tap out to attempt to cast a Disk. Yeah, right. I activated another Stone and quickly dispatched him. This match-up is weird, but once you understand it it's fairly straight-forward. Both of you have more permission than you can ever hope to use so I set up my sideboard in such a way that I would never have to fight a permission war over anything. I sideboarded out permission for land! Uncounterable land is what wins this match-up and if you do have to fight, whoever can cast more of their counters will win. Land is amazing.
Ninth Round: Romario Britto (Brazil, Finish: 82nd)
My next opponent was playing a 5-color Sligh deck that he used to win the Brazilian national championship. I had read a tourney report from Brazilian Nationals, but didn't really remember the details of what his off-color spells were. Mostly what I knew was that they slowed his attack down. In game 1 I burned a Whisper on his 2nd turn because I only had one more land in my hand. I'm not sure if this was a mistake or not, but it did end up costing me the game. I blew up a disk and countered everything he cast for a while, but I kept drawing land and never drew another Whisper. Eventually I ran out of permission and he killed me on about turn 25, something that almost never happens in this match-up. I'm not too upset since I'm supposed to lose game 1 to Sligh anyway, but it was annoying to lose it in that fashion.
My Sea Sprites came to play in the sideboarded games. Between them and the Hydroblasts, he never mounted much of an offense. He did sideboard in Sleight of Mind (presumably to Sleight my Chills) so he wasn't helpless when Sprites hit the table, but I didn't really mind that he made his deck more reactive and less aggressive. He also sideboarded in lots of Abeyances. After winning game 2 I decided to bring in a few Wastelands and they helped slow him down even more in game 3. Not only did he have slow, reactive cards clogging up his hand, but I drew both my Wastelands so he couldn't even cast them!
Tenth Round: David Bachmann (Finish: 44th)
Dave and I hadn't played since I kept him out of the top 8 in the last round of the Swiss in Chicago. He played a first turn Swamp and said done. That either meant he was playing Suicide Black and should have mulliganed or else he was playing Pros-Bloom. (I guess it could have been Living Death too, but that deck rarely plays first turn swamp.) On turn 2 he played Gemstone Mine and I knew he was running Pros-Bloom. That told me how the rest of the game would play out. Since he didn't get down a quick Squandered, I would cast nothing except Whisper and Impulse until I could activate a Stalking Stones. Dave drew a lot of land, so there was still a danger that he would out-mana me, but he never tried to draw out permission with spare combo parts or Infernal Contract. This also meant his hand was full and there was no danger of him Meditating during his own discard phase if I tapped out to do something. He waited until a Stalking Stone had beaten him down to 2. He started with Cadaverous Bloom. I don't really care about Bloom this late in the game -- I'll win if I just counter Squandered and card drawers -- but he only had 4 mana left so I cast Mana Leak. He thought for a while and chose to pay. Then I Lapsed it, leaving myself with the ability to counter 3 more times that turn. He was done.
In came 4 Wastelands and one Hydroblast for 4 Disks and a Rainbow. Wasteland is a wrecking ball after sideboarding against Bloom. Their sideboard is almost entirely off-color spells (Abeyance, Pyroblast, Final Fortune) and their game-plan is to sit and wait and play land while they build up 3-4 threats to play out in one turn. I Wasted Dave's first Gemstone. He played another. I Impulsed for another Wasteland. He Vampiric Tutored and the City of Brass went straight from the top of his deck into play. By this point I had active Stalking Stones and he was forced to go for it with access to only one off-color mana. It wasn't close. I love constructed.
Eleventh Round: Steve O'Mahoney Schwartz (Finish: 22nd)
Steve was running Deadguy Red. I won the die roll, but didn't have a Force Spike so his first turn Jackal Pup put on some serious pressure. I countered a turn 2 Mogg Fanatic, but his Cursed Scroll got out. I was forced to tap out for a turn 4 Disk, but didn't live long enough to untap it. Like I said, this match-up can be ugly in game 1.
After sideboarding I let him play a turn 1 Pup, saving my Hydroblast because I had a turn 2 Sea Sprite. On his second turn he played a Cursed Scroll. Damn, that was his only window of opportunity. It shouldn't be a big deal though since the Sprite is still sure to stall for several turns and I should be able to play a Disk without tapping out and while high on life. If I can only find one. Whisper, Whisper, Impulse, Impulse. I looked at 35 cards before that Cursed Scroll killed me and never found any of my 4 Disks.
Twelfth Round: Mikko Punakallio (Finland, Finish: 68th)
Mikko played Draw-Go. I felt fairly confident once I determined what he was playing, but he had a fairly beat-down draw. He played an early Allure and I decided that since I had drawn 3 Stalking Stones, I should just let him take one and then I would block and Quicksand. However, he never attacked and instead forced out a Steel Golem. I had to trade my Stalk plus a Quicksand for his Golem and then he started attacking me with my Stalking Stones. I drew lots of land and not many counters so he was able to Whisper for a few turns and I never really recovered. I double Quicksanded that Stalk and we smashed two into each other before another Allure sealed my fate. Legacy's Allure isn't normally good in this match-up, but his draw was such that it hurt me and I lost game 1.
After sideboarding in my 4 Wastelands, games 2 and 3 were really easy. I don't remember any interesting details. We basically sat there with me wasting his Stalks until I activated one of my own. Then I countered his Disks for a few turns until he was dead. When one side has Wastelands and the other doesn't, this match-up is kind of dumb.
Thirteenth Round: Sven Sparre Geertsen (Finish: 43rd)
Sven was playing Sligh. I won the die roll and drew a Force Spike in my opening hand so I actually got to win game 1. He burned me down to 2, but I had plenty of permission for his last attempts to kill me and I drew multiple Stalking Stones so I could kill him fairly quickly once I got control.
In game 2 my opening draw was a Whisper, an Impulse, a Forbid, a Dismiss, and 3 land. So no Hydro, no Sprite, and no 1 or 2 mana counters. I figured I could Whisper for a Sprite if I didn't draw one so I kept it. He ran me over in 4 turns. First turn Pup, second turn Orc forced me to Impulse for a Disk (there was no Sprite) and I had to play it on turn 4 and pray. I didn't live to untap it.
I played a turn 2 Sea Sprite in game 3 and I think Sven did a total of 2 points of creature damage during the entire match. However, I didn't draw Stalks for a long time so the game lasted forever. I Whispered into what I thought was total control, but he accumulated an almost perfect hand. If it had included a 3rd Fireblast, I would have run out of mana and been unable to counter it. With only 15 cards left in my library, I finally started drawing Stalking Stones. Sven had accumulated a few Wastelands and tried to deck me, but the Sea Sprites went beatdown and I finally finished him off.
Fourteenth Round: Kim Eikefet (Norway, Finish: 72nd)
Kim was also playing Sligh -- my 4th Sligh deck of the day. I thought I had lost game 1 early when I ran out of counterspells and had to play a Rainbow to block her Orc, but she had nothing in hand but 2 land. The Rainbow blocked and phased for a while. She drew a Fireblast, but I had a Memory Lapse. On the next turn, I was at 2 life and had only a Force Spike in hand to counter the Fireblast and she had 4 land in play, but she didn't want to sac two land and get the Blast countered so I got away with it and stayed alive. I eventually blew up a Disk and still had to rainbow to block and phase. After several agonizing turns of drawing land I finally got a Whispers and Whispered up some counterspells. I had to mutual the Rainbow with an Orc to avoid tapping out and getting Fireblast to death, but soon got some Stalking Stones to attack with. I felt the game was completely in hand, but Kim accumulated 5 spells capable of immediately killing me over the course of 5 draw phases and I could only counter 4 of them. What a random game. I didn't lose during the part of the game where I should have lost, but she got incredibly lucky at the end and won anyway.
Game 2 was long and involved multiple Sea Sprites and went pretty much the way I want sideboarded games to go. In game 2 Kim kept a 1 land hand and didn't draw her 2nd land until about turn 7.
So I went 6-1 in Type II. I played 4 Sligh decks, 1 pros-Bloom, and 2 mono-blue Disk decks. It was nice to know what my opponent was up to all the time, unlike in booster draft, and it was nice to know what my game plan was against each of them. Sligh is supposed to be the bad match-up, but I managed to go 3-1 against it. Two other people played the same deck as me. Erik Lauer went 5-1-1 with it and Gary Wise (who acquired the deck in exchange for a percentage of his winnings) went 6-1. 17-3-1 (including 5-2 against mono-red) is some good, I think. If I had it to do over again I'd play exactly the same deck, but I think I would pull the Grindstone for a Steal Artifact. The supposedly symmetrical match-up was so slanted in our favor anyway that we didn't need a Grindstone and Steal Artifact would also have been useful against Sligh as a 5th Cursed Scroll answer. My 10-4 overall record left me in 13th place and I only needed a 5-2 record in Rath constructed to make the top 8. I was really excited about our Rath cycle deck and thought it should do at least that.
So I go into Rath needing 5-2 and possibly only 4-2-1 to make the Top 8. I felt really good about my Rath deck. It crushes Living Death/Recurring Nightmare decks, which is what we expected to be the dominant archetype in the field, and it's really good against all the flavors of beatdown we built and tested. Humility/Prayer is somewhat annoying, since you cannot win with Humility on the table and I heard a number of people starting to talk about playing Humility in the days leading up to Friday, but I just moved a Cloudchaser Eagle into the main deck and felt like I had tested that match-up enough to win it. Here's the deck I played:
4 Recurring Nightmare
3 Corpse Dance
3 Survival of the Fittest
3 Scroll Rack
1 Mogg Fanatic
4 Wall of Blossoms
1 Hermit Druid
2 Spike Feeder
1 Stronghold Assassin
2 Spike Weaver
1 Spike Breeder
1 Cloudchaser Eagle
2 Mindless Automaton
3 Oath of Ghouls
2 Thrull Surgeon
2 Spike Weaver
3 Canopy Spider
1 Stronghold Assassin
2 Stronghold Taskmaster
1 Cloudchaser Eagle
We started out with a green/black Recurring Nightmare deck fairly similar to everyone else's and then Erik thought it would be neat if we worked an infinite combo into the deck so you'd have a way to win against other Living Death decks. I thought it would be really advantageous to play a trick deck in a fresh environment where no one would know what to expect and probably didn't even know there was an infinite combo deck at all so we brainstormed about this deck during a 3 hour car ride to Columbus (where Erik qualified for Chicago). The basic infinite loops are mostly Erik's. The fine tuning and design of the deck are mostly mine. Mike Turian also helped tune the deck so it is very much a team deck. Once we came up with the basic Earthcraft/Overgrowth/Recurring Nightmare loop, we still had to figure out what to do with the rest of the deck. That loop is really powerful -- it let's you Recur for free (since you can tap whatever creature you Recurred into to play to untap your Overgrowthed swamp, which you can tap to re-cast Recurring Nightmare). If you have a Wall of Blossoms in play or in your graveyard, this loop will let you draw your entire deck. Once you draw your entire deck all you need is one Spike Breeder and one Mogg Fanatic and you can kill your opponent (by first making a bunch of spikes and generating lots of mana, and then using them to slowly Recur the Fanatic into play 20 times and kill your opponent).
That loop doesn't occupy the entire 60 cards. So we thought at first that the rest of the deck would just be a "normal" Living Death deck, but then we realized that it was possible to build back-up plans into the deck. What if you didn't draw Recurring Nightmare? We quickly realized that Corpse Dance would also allow for infinite combos. It isn't as mana efficient and so it requires either 2 Overgrowths or a Spike Breeder at the beginning of the loop, but it has the upside that it is an instant and you can therefore win during your opponent's discard phase, or even during your own discard phase after your opponent taps out to Whisper (or whatever). Now I started getting excited about this deck. I asked Erik if it was possible to win without an Overgrowth and he came up with Workhorse. If you have two Workhorses, Earthcraft, and Recurring Nightmare you can generate infinite colorless mana by tapping a Workhorse to untap a swamp, taking 3 counters off of it, and then saccing it to Recur an untapped 4/4 Workhorse into play. That loop spends one black plus 2 colorless and generates one black plus 3 colorless mana. Eventually you have enough mana built up that you can Recur Walls to draw cards, find a Spike Breeder, and use the Spike Breeder to turn all the colorless mana into 1/1 creatures, which you can use to untap swamps or forests (effectively color washing your mana).
There are a number of other infinite combos built into the deck as well. If you don't have a Wall of Blossoms, you can play it like a Mesacraft deck and just make a bazillion spike guys (remember to pile a bunch of counters on 2 or 3 of them in case your opponent Cataclysms) and then say done. With Corpse Dance you can do this during your opponent's discard phase. You also have Corpse Dance/Spike Feeder built into the deck along with Corpse Dance/Stronghold Assassin and Corpse Dance/Mindless Automaton. Finally, Spike Weaver allows the deck to stall forever against beatdown decks. All in all the deck has a tremendous amount of play to it. It's fun and games vary a lot. The one thing we could not find a back-up for in Earthcraft. You must have an Earthcraft in order to do anything infinitely. I think of the Scroll Rack as the back-up Earthcraft. With Survival to reshuffle, it usually doesn't take that long to find one. Plus, sometimes you can just attack your opponent for damage with your creatures. Spike Weaver isn't very beatdown, but against a control deck he often provides enough pressure to make them react and tap some mana on their turn. In addition, Workhorse and especially Mindless Automaton are fairly beatdown.
Anyway, that's the deck. It's worth building and testing against because I think it's kind of a neat/fun deck and I also think it will be an important deck in the meta-game for the upcoming Rath constructed qualifiers for PT-Rome.
On to my Friday performance.
Fifteenth Round: Peter Gysemans (Belgium, Finish: 107th)
My first opponent played turn two Survival, so I thought he was a Living Death deck, but he turned out to be Survivaling for Slivers. He played a couple Muscles so I found a Spike Weaver and just started Weaving every turn. He was capable of casting Sliver Queen, but I don't know what his answer to Weaver was. My draw was fairly mediocre, but the Weaver stalled for about 10 turns until I accumulated everything I wanted and won all in one turn. He was SOME surprised and the people at adjacent tables were all looking over to find out what in the hell they were hearing. I drew my entire library, then made infinite mana and infinite 1/1 spikes and then killed him by Recurring a Mogg Fanatic. The looks on people's faces were priceless, but they also told me that there was no way my 2nd round opponent would be unaware of what I was up to.
He sideboarded in Disenchants and Cloudchaser Eagles. Once again my Weaver kept me alive as long as I wanted, but every time I tried to go off he'd have yet another Disenchant. Eventually I Corpse Danced a Workhorse into play and just attacked him to finish him off!
After the first round our deck seemed to be all anyone was talking about. Mike Turian had played Matt Place and Place was explaining to everyone what our plan was. I had hoped it would stay somewhat secret for a few rounds, but everyone wanted to know what Team CMU was playing anyway, so I think we would have been talked about even if it wasn't some neat trick deck. I guess that's flattering, but it didn't exactly work to our advantage. All 3 copies of our deck won in the first round.
Sixteenth Round: Jon Finkel (Finish: 3rd)
This is what it's all about. Everyone considered Finkel a mortal lock for the top 8 (though he was doing his best Jeff Donais impression, having lost 3 of his last 4 matches), but I could still catch and pass him for Player of the Year if I also made top 8 and won two matches more than him there. Jon was running a Living Death/Recurring Nightmare deck which was distinguished by its blue cards. He had 3 Tradewind Riders in his main deck and he also had main deck Lobotomies (I'm guessing 2). Without blue, Recur decks are an almost auto-win for the CMU trick deck. Even with blue, I felt fairly confident that his disruption would be too slow.
He played a turn 2 Hermit Druid in game 1 and started filling up his graveyard. I Survivaled for a Hermit Druid so I could start filling up my hand because I had a Scroll Rack in play. Any permutation of Scroll Rack/Hermit Druid/Survival does a pretty good job of helping this deck find it's combo parts. I had to be careful when I Scroll Racked so that I would always be able to hide good cards on top of my library in case he Lobotomied me, but Death decks don't put a lot of pressure on so it wasn't that hard. Eventually he cast Living Death to bring some huge pile of creatures into play. I Survivaled a Workhorse away so I'd have more mana next turn and so I'd reshuffle my deck. I think I got some Walls back too. Once I Scroll Racked I found not one but two Earthcrafts and had no trouble untapping and launching into my combo.
Game 2 wasn't as easy. He played a turn 3 Coffin Queen and was careful to always leave it untapped along with 3 mana. That made it really hard for me to kill it since I couldn't Corpse Dance a Fanatic (because he'd just take the Fanatic). This is when I realized we had a better sideboard against Death decks than I realized -- Stronghold Taskmaster kills their Coffin Queens and their Thrull Surgeons! This insight didn't help me in this game though since they were still in the 'board. Finkel recurred a Verdant Force into play and then dropped a Portcullis. I can't win when Portcullis is in play, but I expected it from him so I had one Verdigris in my deck. Shortly thereafter I drew into the entire combo, but I had to find a Verdigris before I could go for it. I rack and reshuffle but didn't find it. There was about a 2-turn window of opportunity (during which I was chumping Verdant Force with my Walls), but after one turn Finkel Lobotomied me and made it really difficult. After that came Anarchist/Lobotomy recursion and my game was over.
He got another quick Coffin Queen in game 3, but no other pressure. I just sat there planning my strategy (which is really complicated when there's an untapped, active Coffin Queen in play). Judge Mike Donais made our lives much easier by converting the remaining 14 minutes of the match into 14 turns because I had a lot of thinking to do. Finkel Living Deathed on turn 6 or 7 and that made my life even easier. He got a big bunch of creatures including multiple Tradewinds into play, but he no longer had a Coffin Queen to break up my recursion since he was tapped out, so I untapped and won the game. I'm not sure he made a mistake because if he just sits there I'm eventually going to be able to work around the Queen and win the game anyway, but if he waits for a Lobotomy it might work out better for him.
That brings my record against Finkel in major tournaments to 2- 0.
12-4 (6th overall)
Seventeenth Round: Brian Selden (Finish: 1st)
I got rounded up this round and played my match on table #2. I was feeling really good since not only was I on table 2, but the trick deck was 6-0 so far today. Brian Selden gave me a rather Rude Awakening. I knew the card Awakening existed and I thought it might be how people would build their Tradewind Rider decks, but I never actually got around to tuning such a deck and playing against it. The Green/Blue Tradewind decks we built to test against seemed hopelessly flawed compared to their Type II counterparts and Awakening never seemed to work in type II, so why should it be so much better in Rath, right? Brian played it on turn 4 and I realized my anti-control plan was flawed. Corpse Dance is my big threat card against permission -- I pick a fight during their discard phase, get them to tap some mana, and then untap and force something important through. Testing had convinced me that I had enough threats in my deck (including the ability to find them with Scroll Rack/Survival) that this plan was fairly effective. But I didn't test against Awakening. With Awakening in play it doesn't do me any good to pick a fight during their discard phase because their land all untaps at the beginning of my turn.
Brian played Awakening on turn 4 and had a Capsize in his hand when he did it. I was forced to try to kill him with creatures, but he Capsize locked me before I could do it. In game 2 Brian once again played Awakening on turn 4 and once again had a Capsize in hand when he did it. This time I was sort of ready for him as I had an active Stronghold Assassin in play ready to fizzle his Capsize if he ever directed it at my creatures (I was once again trying to win with creature damage). However, he drew a 2nd Capsize and Capsized my Assassin without buyback so he'd be able to Capsize all my creatures. I'm not sure how that match-up plays out if he doesn't have turn 4 Awakening and 2 Capsizes (Tradewinds were not a problem as long as I had an active Assassin), but I lost the game the way our draws actually were.
12-5 (10th overall)
That sucked. I would have been in a position to start thinking about draws if I had won that match and Brian was now almost assuredly in the top 8. In other news, Gary also lost so the trick deck was now 7-2 on the day.
Eighteenth Round: Tomi Walamies (Finland, Finish: 11th)
Tomi won the die roll and went 1st turn Jackal Pup. I played a land. He played a Mogg Flunkies and attacked for 2. I played a land and a Scroll Rack. On his 3rd turn he attacked for 5, played a second Flunkies and a Raging Goblin. I used my Scroll Rack on my third turn, didn't come up with a Wall of Blossoms, and said done. He showed me a Sonic Burst and informed me that I was dead. Some quick math informed me that that was indeed 13 points of damage on his 4th turn ...
In came 2 Spike Weavers and 3 Canopy Spiders. I played a land, he played a land and no 1-mana creature. I played a land and a Canopy Spider. He played turn 2 Fireslinger. On turn 3 I played my second Canopy Spider. He never got through for creature damage before I killed him.
He got to go first in game 3 and played a Mogg Conscript. On his second turn he dropped a Flunky and attacked me for 2. I played a Canopy Spider. He played a Goblin Raider and a Raging Goblin and then attacked me with just the Conscript and the Flunky. I decided my best play was to block the Conscript, thus forcing him to sac a Goblin (probably the Rager) and do only 3 damage to me this turn. That left me at 15 with no non-land permanents when my 3rd turn started. I could either play a Scroll Rack and use it or play an Earthcraft and do nothing else. Since I had a 4th land and a Spike Weaver in my hand, I elected to play the Earthcraft, close my eyes, and assume I would still be alive when I opened my eyes for my 4th turn. It worked. He played some random creature, attacked for 6 knocking me to 9 and said done. I dropped Spike Weaver, tapping it to untap a land so I could weave on his turn, and said done. He attacked, I weaved, and he was done. Now I had another interesting choice. If he was holding either a Shock or a Kindle, he would kill me Weaver during my discard phase and probably be able to kill me on his next turn. I could play my Scroll Rack, use it and hope for a 2-mana creature and a land or I could play an Automaton and be guaranteed to be able to chump-block if he could indeed kill my Weaver. I went for the Scroll Rack plan and drew 2 Corpse Dances, a Recurring Nightmare, a Weaver, and neither a land or a 2-mana creature. I held my breath and said done. He untapped! No burn for the Weaver! He attacked, I weaved, he Fanaticed my 1/1 Weaver, and I knew I had the game won. I untapped, played another Weaver, and for the rest of the game I had Corpse Dance mana available whenever there was a chance my Weaver might die. I eventually drew a 2nd Workhorse and went for the Recurring Workhorses to generate infinite mana route to victory. I used that mana to Corpse Dance and sac my Automaton to draw cards until I got to a Breeder.
13-5 (8th overall)
With a 3-1 record on the day and only needing to go 2-1 (or possibly 1-1-1) to make the top 8, everyone had me picked to make it. That Awakening experience was still nagging at the back of my mind, but I too felt confident.
Nineteenth Round: Chris Pikula (Finish: 6th)
This round basically had the top 8 on the line. The winner could draw twice (assuming their opponents were willing) and clinch top 8. Chris said he was tired and wanted to draw this round so his brain could wake up, but I didn't think it was worth it since 1-1-1 wasn't guaranteed to get in. Pikula ran the same Living Death deck that Finkel (and Steve O. and others) were playing. The only scary part was the main deck Lobotomies and possibly the Tradewinds. My deck decided to abandon me.
In game 1 I only had 1 land so I mulliganed. My 6 card hand had a decent mix of spells and land, but was otherwise mediocre. Chris Lobotomied me, Druided up a full graveyard, and Living Deathed, all by turn 6. My game 2 draw also had only 1 land. I mulliganed into a 4 land, 2 spell draw and proceeded to draw mostly land off the top. To make things fair, Chris once again had a god draw for his deck. His turn 2 Hermit Druid sent all three Tradewinds to the graveyard by turn 5 and Chris cast 2 Lobotomies and a Living Death by turn 7. Whatever!
In it's first feature match of the day, my deck just looked dumb. Chris rolled over me and proceeded to draw and draw his way into the top 8.
Twentieth Round: Ben Rubin (Finish: 2nd)
Now I was put into a must-win situation. Ben Rubin and I had played in the last round of the Swiss in L.A. with the top 8 also on the line. He's a hell of a player and he also seems to have my number. He was playing a Tradewind-Awakening deck. His draws weren't quite as good as Selden's, but my deck still seemed afraid to show what it could do during a feature match. In game 1, he tapped out to Whisper so I was able to Survival an Assassin into my graveyard and Corpse Dance with buyback to kill his Tradewind. After that I had Corpse Dance/Mindless Automaton ready so I could draw just as many cards as he did. Meanwhile I had the entire combo ready to drop if only I could draw an Earthcraft. I'm sure he had some permission, but I had both a Corpse Dance and a Recur so I thought I could play around permission if only I drew an Earthcraft. I never drew one. I was casting Automatons and Jalum Tomeing my ass off and Corpse Dancing them to draw more cards, but never found an Earthcraft. Eventually, he drew into an Awakening, which made it really hard for me to play around his permission and also meant I couldn't really keep up with his card drawing (since he used his mana 3 times per turn to Whisper and since he finally countered my Corpse Dance). Once he had me in a Forbid/Whispers lock, I conceded.
Game 2 was ugly. I mulliganed once again. I did get an early Oath of Ghouls into play when he tapped out for a Legacy's Allure. I found Oath of Ghouls to be an excellent anti-control card in playtesting. With an Oath in play, it often becomes easier just to keep attacking with creatures and forget about the combo. Of course, in playtesting I actually drew creatures. In this game my Oath just sat there while I stared at a hand full of nothing. By the time I actually drew a creature to cast, he was able to buyback his Forbid by discarding two Tradewind Riders and setting himself up to use the Oath himself! Ouch. Eventually, he Capsize locked me and ended my top 8 dreams once again.
Twenty-first Round: Steve O'Mahoney-Schwartz (Finish: 22nd)
Now I had nothing to play for except a couple thousand bucks. I spent my shuffle time pounding on my cards, trying to wake them up. I hadn't had a good draw in something like 6 hours and hadn't even drawn an Earthcraft when it was relevant since 3 rounds ago. My game 1 draw was another mulligan. My 6-card hand was a mediocre keeper hand that just got worse as Steve Tradewind locked me with his Living Death deck. My game 2 draw was another mulligan! But then something happened. My 6-card hand had Earthcraft, Overgrowth, Recurring Nightmare, and 3 land! My first draw phase handed me a Scroll Rack. Woo-hoo! Back in business. Steve dropped a turn 3 Coffin Queen so I was slow playing it. If he ever tapped out I could Recur a Fanatic into play and even if he didn't I could survival for a Taskmaster, it was just going to take me a few turns to set these things up. During my 4th discard phase he Survivaled a Verdant Force into the graveyard. Then on his 5th turn he used Coffin Queen to bring it into play. My only permanents at this point were 4 land, a Wall of Blossoms, and a Scroll Rack. He said done and I proceeded to win the game on my next turn. He had no idea I could do it that fast! (Overgrowth a swamp, tap it to cast Earthcraft, tap the wall to untap the Overgrowthed swamp, play a land, tap 4 to cast Mindless Automaton, tap Automaton to untap Overgrowthed swamp, sac. Automaton to draw a card (there has to be a creature in the graveyard in order to use Recurring Nightmare!), cast Recurring Nightmare, swap the Wall and Automaton to draw cards for a while, pause to cast Wall of Blossoms instead of Recurring Nightmare so I have 1 mana floating, find the Breeder, cast the Breeder, etc.)
Game 3 was close. It was also neat because a fairly large crowd was watching. It sounded like they had all heard about this deck, but wanted to see it in action. I Thrull Surgeoned Steve to find out that his hand was amazing -- Lobotomy, Recurring Nightmare, and Living Death. My hand was also good and I had the Automaton going so I thought I could win soon. Steve had 5 land in play and an Anarchist in his graveyard. I took the Lobotomy so he would have to spend an entire turn recurring the Anarchist. He drew a land which made my choice look dumb since now he could Recur twice, draw a card (off Wall of Blossoms) and recurse the Anarchist. However, it worked out anyway since I drew a Corpse Dance. I already had a Recurring Nightmare so I knew I could let him Lobotomy me and it would be impossible for him to wreck me. He did and he took the Corpse Dances. It's easier for me to "go off" with Recur., but Steve was justifiably worried about me simply Dancing big creatures into play and attacking him (or drawing cards with Automaton). I Recur my Thrull Surgeon again and take his Recurring Nightmare. Next turn Steve Living Deaths two Tradewinds and four other creatures into play. Just when the Tradewinds go active, I top-deck a Scroll Rack and find two Earthcrafts when I use it. I had already Survivaled two Workhorses into the graveyard earlier in the game, so I was able to go for the Recurring Workhorses route to infinite mana (and didn't have to worry about getting an Overgrowthed swamp Tradewinded). Steve correctly Tradewinded my Earthcraft, I replayed it, he Tradewinded it again, and I was out of mana. I say done. If he top- decks Lobotomy, I'm screwed, but if he doesn't I'm going to win next turn because I'll have more mana available to fight his Tradewinds (since I don't have to play or use a Scroll Rack this time around). He says done and he makes me go through the entire combo, hoping I'll screw it up, but I wasn't about to say done with $2000 on the line and a million colorless mana floating in my pool. I bounced a spike token 500,000 times and finished on an up note.
14-7 (12th overall)
I thought the trick deck was a lock for 5-2, but I only went 4-3 with it. I think I misjudged the meta-game somewhat. I tested a lot against beatdown, but it turned out that most of the field was playing controllish decks based around very powerful engines (Recurring Nightmare, Awakening, Earthcraft). Perhaps if I had tested more against Awakening I would have managed to go 0-1-1 against it instead of 0-2. The three people playing CMU's trick deck wound up 4-3, 5-2, and 4-3. That's 13-8 despite starting 6-0. Maybe we didn't give enough consideration to the fact that the surprise value would be completely gone after two rounds. No one ever tapped out to Whisper when we could win the game. I ended up 1 point out of the top 8 (my tiebreakers would have gotten me in ahead of Comer if I'd gone 14-6-1). Oh, well, 12th place and $4200 isn't exactly bad ... and there's always next year.
I finished the year with 70 pro tour points and something like $37,000 in winnings. Not bad for a rookie year, I guess. ;-) Next year I won't be distracted by school and Finkel will be ... we'll see what happens!Randy may be reached at email@example.com.