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BFZ Draft #2 – Processing For Fun and Profit

After a week off I have another draft under my belt.

This time, I wanted to try something a little more interesting than the landfall deck I drafted before. My first pack had a five mana Blue card that drew cards, but sadly I went with Stasis Snare because while I love drawing cards, it looked pretty slow. No seemingly good White came along, but Black was open, and I got some late Blue cards as well. Pack two went as expected, with Black and Blue coming, but of course White was also flowing since it was well cut upstream in pack one, and I passed a 7th pick Stasis Snare to some lucky jerk.\

In pack three I opened Gruesome Slaughter, which I misjudged to be awesome when it’s VERY hard to use correctly, especially in a deck that wants to trade early to extend the game.

This is what I ended up with:

1 Sludge Crawler
2 Tide Drifter
1 Coralhelm Guide
2 Dominator Drone
1 Cryptic Cruiser
1 Cloud Manta
2 Mind Raker
1 Murk Strider
1 Oracle of Dust
1 Ulamog’s Reclaimer
1 Ulamog’s Despoiler
2 Spell Shrivel
2 Complete Disregard
1 Horribly Awry
1 Gruesome Slaughter
1 Dampening Pulse
1 Rising Miasma
1 Transgress the Mind
9 Island
8 Swamp

Relevant sideboard cards: Swarm Surge, Bone Splinters, 2 Mire’s Malice, Skitterskin, Retreat to Coralhelm, Eldrazi Devastator, and Molten Nursery.

My first match was against Orzhov, and he came out of the gates slowly in both games, but I flooded badly in the first game and almost made a miraculous stabilization in game two.

He had a bunch of dudes, including a 4/5 flier and a Pilgrim’s Eye that were the real threat. I had sided in Retreat to Coralhelm since the matchup seemed very slow, and it was in play alongside Oracle of Dust, Cryptic Cruiser, and Ulamog’s Reclaimer. I had six mana in play and could activate my Cruiser once. My opponent’s all-in would kill me, but I had a Complete Disregard to stay alive at one, then on my next turn I could play Gruesome Slaughter and play the land I had sandbagged to wipe the enemy’s board off the map.

But, he killed my Oracle. Oh well. It WAS going to be cool.

0-1

Match two was against a sweet five-color deck with all kinds of cards I had to read, but my deck was well set up to take advantage of it and ground him out with Mind Raker and other discard. Still, I thought his deck was MUCH cooler than mine.

1-1

My third match was against an aggressive landfall deck. In game one he curved out one, two, three, but was met with a Rising Miasma, and while it was tense for a bit, Transgressing his five-mana Threaten effect left him a few damage shy. Game two went similarly.

2-1

My final match was against another Orzhov deck, but he got a text very early on, and seemed distressed about it the entire game. My draw was great, I countered his third turn play, bounced a guy the next turn, then played a dude AND countered a spell, then for good measure, countered one more spell to seal the game. He said he needed to go take care of something, and conceded.

In the end, I did not like this deck. It contained a few situational cards, and had issues dealing with a large threat already on the table. It had a few moving parts, which I liked, but most of the interesting stuff was very mana-intensive, like the Cryptic Cruiser. Deciding when to use cards for processing was fun, but most of the effects felt weaker than the effects that placed the cards in exile in the first place. Maybe that’s by design since my dudes were reasonably costed in the first place, but often you have to alter your play to make sure something gets exiled so you can extract the bonus later, and you can get punished for it. Additionally, my deck felt very two-faced. It had aggressive cards like Dominator Drone, but also had five mana 2/5s.

Hopefully next week I’ll feel up to drafting again, but Fallout 4 is fast approaching, and I’ve taken the entire week off from work to revel in its glory, so we’ll see.

I’d also like to do more detailed breakdowns of my drafts, but these days people want streaming video, and frankly, I don’t know enough about the format yet to be able to talk at-will about a draft in progress. Perhaps that will change though with time.

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My Blind BFZ Draft

I don’t play Magic much anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I’m involved in Magic, I just don’t play much. In fact, aside from a random single round this summer where I borrowed a deck, I haven’t actually played since Fate Reforged came out.

But Battle for Zendikar looked promising for me, a dinosaur of a Limited specialist, and so I gave it a crack.

In a 19-player event (I’m in a 6-man pod), I drafted this without any knowledge of the set:

Creature (15)
1x Dragonmaster Outcast
1x Giant Mantis
1x Grove Rumbler
2x Makindi Sliderunner
2x Snapping Gnarlid
1x Tajuru Stalwart
2x Territorial Baloth
3x Valakut Predator
1x Void Attendant
1x Wave-Wing Elemental
Land (17)
1x Blighted Woodland
2x Evolving Wilds
6x Forest
1x Island
1x Looming Spires
5x Mountain
1x Plains
Instant (6)
1x Infuse with the Elements
1x Natural Connection
1x Smite the Monstrous
1x Stonefury
1x Swell of Growth
1x Unnatural Aggression
Sorcery (2)
1x Call the Scions
1x Earthen Arms
Sideboard (10)
1x Boiling Earth
1x Dispel
2x Hedron Blade
1x Plummet
2x Scythe Leopard
2x Shadow Glider
1x Unnatural Aggression
There are a few useless cards in the board too. I ended up 3-0-1 with this deck, after deciding four hours was enough Magic.

Some highlights from the draft:

P1p1, I read every card, and almost certainly incorrectly picked a Shadow Glider. I wasn’t sure about how relevant the themes of BFZ were, and although I don’t recall what I passed on, I ended up picking it because Wind Drake is good in every format, right?

Most of pack one I continued to be unsure of the relevance of the keyword abilities in BFZ. I picked up an early Gnarlid as it reminded me of Oren-Reif Survivalist, and that card was alright!

P2p2 I opened a pack with Prairie Stream, and after asking how much it was, I took it not knowing what to pick again since I felt White was open, but I got a few late Red and Green cards. Hey, drafts aren’t free!

I passed two copies of Drana’s Emissary in pack two, tabled one, and lamented my life choices. I don’t need to know BFZ to know that’s a good card.

P3p3 I opened Dragonmaster Outcast and took it after deciding I wanted to be Gruul. The one time I saw him was on a mulligan scry, and shipped it immediately. Still, I decided that the table was decidedly not into Gruul, and tabled a Grove Rumbler from the pack. Mise!

In retrospect, I was probably the only person drafting Gruul Landfall since I got NINE landfall dudes (11 if you count the not-great Scythe Loepard).

After trading in the Stream for a cool $6, I headed into my rounds, where I don’t really have specific plays to talk about in sequence, so I’ll just talk in general about the deck.

The deck was aggressive compared to most I saw. Other decks tried to eek value from Awaken cards, or generate a large dude and win with it, and still others tried to tempo me out with bounce effects attached to dudes. Of those, it was only tempo plays that were scary. You see, a landfall deck is on a very specific clock. You need to make land drops up to four or five just to, you know, play Magic, and all your guys are a mite too small to compete most of the time, so in order to get in there you need to play land after land. Once you’re out of lands, the offense stalls HARD. I had a few ways to keep up the pressure with Evolving Wilds or Blighted Woodland, but I knew I needed to attack every turn.  The one game I lost, my weak start was punctuated by a Clutch of Currents, and it was over right away.

No one seemed to have real removal outside Touch of the Void, which was a pleasant surprise. It meant that boards will build and race, or stall and let swing cards carry the day. I’ve never really liked two and three drop into double removal on the play, and BFZ doesn’t appear to have much of that.

At one point my opponent, with UR open, blocked and was dead if I used my Blighted Woodland and didn’t cast anything else on my turn. I had sized him up as competent, and I exclaimed “C’mon, man! Don’t put me to the test!” Luckily, when I said “Well I’m going for it,” he scooped up his cards and said he plain forgot about it. Mise again!

I watched a number of games on either side of me, and a draft video or two after getting home. I am reasonably sure this style deck is not great against the Orzhov midrange decks that gain a fair bit of life, mostly because you eventually will stop playing lands and they will be at like 15 life and not five.

I had an inkling that this format would be an enticing reason to come back to the game, even if only once a week to draft, and I was not disappointed. BFZ, after one draft, reminds me of a less aggressive triple Innistrad draft. There are multiple archetypes to draft beyond mere color combinations, there is a one mana blue sorcery I’m in love with, and synergy is rewarded.

Sadly, I won’t be drafting live next week since Halloween is approaching and I’m carving pumpkins next Monday, but this set seems good enough to maybe update MTGO and burn some tix, and yes, that is actually a HUGE compliment!

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Theros Draft #1

Welp.

I don’t want to start this new series off with such a stinker, but when I take the time to record a video and do commentary, I’m going to post it. Besides, there is often more to learn from a draft I tanked rather than one I won.

In retrospect, I should have just slammed Spear of Heliod. It’s at least an A-, maybe even an A since every single White deck would want to play it, and is good virtually every time you draw it regardless of whether you are behind, ahead, or board stalled. My first pack would have gone poorly, but I certainly would have succeeded in playing a deck featuring at least one of the two colors I designated during the draft to be essential. I didn’t even end up playing the Sea God’s Revenge in the end.

Some early commenters on YouTube mentioned a particular pick I’d like to focus on. It was early in pack two, and I had up to that point the Sea God’s Revenge, a good Black base, and a bunch of marginal Green cards. My choice was between Blood-Toll Harpy and Voyaging Satyr. In the video, I failed to even take notice of the Satyr, so I’ll explain here why I chose the Harpy.

I wasn’t sure what two or even three color combination I was going to be, but I knew I was playing Black. Every card I actually wanted to play outside SGR was black. Sure, I knew I was probably going to end up in Green in the end, but I was holding out hope that I would still be base Black with a splash of Blue, which is a far better color combination. Besides, the Harpy is a fine creature. As stated during the draft, Wind Drakes win games in this format. Admittedly, I’m talking more about Wind Drakes that scale into Exalted Angels via Wingsteed Rider + Hopeful Eidolon, but the point stands.

I really only made one decision in the first game, to keep a bad five card hand. Mulliganing to four is suicide, and even though my five was bad, I’ve won with worse. Also, I could have not played the Swamp and just conceded to hide my second color since there were two Dark Betrayals in the draft, and my opponent could have had them, but again there was the chance he was totally out of gas.

The second game’s only interesting decision was playing the Pharika’s Mender for no value. You can’t always just wait around to get something in your yard to return, and had my opponent not played the Sip of Hemlock he may or may not have drawn the turn I died, the Mender would have served as a decent clock.

That’s it for this week. I’ll be back next week with another draft, more interesting board states, and hopefully a win.

@NigelTheLondon on Twitter

OlentangyThe on YouTube

Occasional Guest on Running the Gauntlet

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Controlling Standard

This post is courtesy of @BrianEconomides, a friend of mine who thinks my blog is cool enough to want to post his own material here. Contact him on Twitter or on this post for feedback.

 

The good old days

The good old days

I remember the first time I ever truly understood what counter magic did. It was an experience that altered the entire game for me. Since then, we’ve gone from using simple spells like Arcane Denial and Counterspell to complex ones like Cryptic Command. I am a control player, one who really enjoys locking an entire game down and having my opponent scoop with the understanding that they just can’t win.

However, today’s Standard format requires a different style to be successful. With Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash producing next to no help for true control players while setting the stage for Naya and Boros decks to shine, what’s a control player to do? These last few weeks I’ve spent countless hours researching the best cards for an Esper control deck. My first effort looked a lot like Brian Braun-Duin’s Esper list that he tested on January 25th, with minor changes, but after putting it to the test, I was disappointed.

 

  • 3x Obzedat, Ghost Council
  • 1x Snapcaster Mage
  • 3x Jace, Architect of Thought
  • 1x Liliana of the Veil
  • 1x Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
  • 1x Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
  • 2x Detention Sphere
  • 2x Dimir Charm
  • 2x Dissipate
  • 4x Sphinx’s Revelation
  • 4x Think Twice
  • 2x Ultimate Price
  • 4x Lingering Souls
  • 4x Supreme Verdict
  • 4x Drowned Catacombs
  • 4x Glacial Fortress
  • 3x Godless Shrine
  • 4x Hallowed Fountain
  • 2x Isolated Chapel
  • 2x Nephalia Drownyard
  • 4x Watery Grave
  • 1x Swamp

I won’t go over the sideboard as my meta will probably differ from yours (I live in Japan), but here are some realizations from my first two weeks with this deck.

Lingering Souls

Lingering Souls has seen its time come and pass in Standard. Unless you are building a deck based around pumping your critters up, this card just lacks any value in this format. I even tried Sorin, Lord of Innistrad over Liliana of the Veil to give my Lingering Souls a little more value, but it just wasn’t enough. Too often was I casting Lingering Souls turn 3 to avoid getting slapped in the face by a 3/3 Haste creature, or worse, Geist of Saint Traft. Or, I’d cast it only to find out that they were holding a Bonfire of the Damned or Thundermaw Hellkite.

Think Twice

Too many times I found this card just sitting in my hand when what I really needed was either a way to deal with a creature, or a creature to put on the board. Additionally, many people see Esper and automatically think Rest in Peace, which turns Think Twice into a cycler instead of a draw spell. Coincidentally, Rest in Peace also hits Lingering Souls, and screws over the one Snapcaster Mage that wiggled its way into the deck.

Sphinx’s Revelation

Finally, I don’t feel there is a need for four Sphinx’s Revelation. I love this card, but if you draw more than one in your first four turns, they just start clogging up your hand and you start wishing you had answers for your opponent’s board and not a hand full of draw cards with three lands in play.

So, after some initial setbacks, I’ve come up with this new brew, one that should help us control player’s stand a little bit of a chance against aggro:

  • 3x Obzedat, Ghost Council
  • 3x Augur of Bolas
  • 4x Geist of Saint Traft
  • 2x Jace, Architect of Thought
  • 3x Liliana of the Veil
  • 1x Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
  • 1x Dimir Keyrune
  • 1x Orzhov Keyrune
  • 2x Dimir Charm
  • 2x Orzhov Charm
  • 2x Detention Sphere
  • 2x Dissipate
  • 4x Supreme Verdict
  • 3x Sphinx’s Revelation
  • 2x Essence Scatter
  • 4x Drowned Catacombs
  • 4x Glacial Fortress
  • 3x Godless Shrine
  • 4x Hallowed Fountain
  • 2x Isolated Chapel
  • 2x Nephalia Drownyard
  • 4x Watery Grave
  • 1x Swamp

Some notes on the new additions.

Augur of Bolas

Lumengrid Warden he is not

Lumengrid Warden he isn’t

I felt that this decks early game is what got it into trouble against aggro. In the past, we had access to cards like Wall of Omens that aided in the early game. Today, the closest thing to this is Augur of Bolas. Initially, I didn’t like the concept of Augur, however, I found myself always digging for spells and Think Twice wasn’t getting the job done. Augur allows me to see three cards down and have the option of which one to take. To top it off, this ability is attached to a 1/3? Couldn’t ask for more.

Geist of St. Traft

The old version really had no way of dealing with Geist of Saint Traft and the deck lacked any offensive capability. I believe the saying “If you can’t beat them, join them” comes to mind. Adding four Geist’s to the list brings not only giving me another means of dealing with him, but also the ability to turn a creature sideways for some damage.

Mana Considerations

I altered the mana curve slightly to account for the fact that Sphinx’s Revelation was only really effective at six mana or more. Two Keyrunes came in to help with the mana-fixing and to help create offense after a Supreme Verdict.

Orzhov Charm

I struggled to find an effective creature kill spell, but eventually landed on Orvhov Charm. I’m still wary of this card as it comes with a few downsides. First, you lose life equal to the creatures toughness. This really only becomes a plus against Thragtusk and Aurelia, The Warleader because they deal more damage than they can take. Second, one of the abilities of the charm is completely useless in the deck. I’m currently checking out some one cost creatures to see if it would be a good idea to run any, but am currently at a loss.

Board Control

The last thing I considered was the board control elements of the deck. I added two Essence Scatters to help with early threats, and ditched a Jace, Architect of Thought for a third Liliana of the Veil. Liliana is just great all around because if you aren’t forcing your opponent into top deck mode, you are helping nuke creatures off their board.

Test Time

Now that I feel the deck has answered some obvious issues with its early game, it’s time to test this thing out at my local Friday Night Magic. Keep an eye out for my next article where I’ll be discussing some of the best sideboard cards for each color.

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Breaking Down Gatecrash’s Guilds

Orzhov

THRULLInitially, I didn’t like Orzhov very much. The idea of Exort seemed somewhat low-impact at first. Adding one mana to all your spells seemed not worth the issue of making your curve higher. Triggering Extort every turn meant drawing a long string of spells, which very much felt like a ‘win more’ strategy. Also, many of the defensive creatures in Orzhov looked as though they would quickly become outmatched by growing Evolve creatures, Battalion-fueled alpha strikes, or turn after turn of Bloodrushed creatures.

The truth is that Exort is rather unimpressive by itself. However, what happens when you have two Extort permanents in play? Doesn’t spending two extra mana for a drain or two sound far better? What about three? At some point, an Orzhov deck probably starts to feel like a burn deck, or at least a deck with a fair amount of reach. There are eight common or uncommon cards with Extort in Gatecrash, meaning it’s very possible to build a deck that closes quite effectively without attacking.

That said, cards like Kingpin’s Pet (BW1 2/2 flyer with Extort) will be paramount to an effective Orzhov deck. It’s an aggressive flier that isn’t asked to put himself at risk through blocking. Trying to build your entire deck around grinding your opponent’s life down while hiding behind the four toughness ground duders with Extort probably isn’t going to get the job done by itself; the other guilds have too many ways to breach your defenses. Evolve, Battalion, and Bloodrush will all make a 1/4 Defender largely useless once the mid-game arrives. That’s not to say the four toughness men are unplayable. After all, they DO have Extort, and they all help pad your life total, which in an odd way, becomes your defense after you reach a critical mass. I can see some tense racing situations while playing as Orzhov, so remember, every life point except the last one is a resource to be spent. Use it properly, and you will win some seemingly unwinnable games.

Dimir

DIMIR1I chose Dimir to talk about next because I feel like it is uniquely placed among the guilds of Gatecrash. It has a bit of an identity crisis. It has mill effects, some beaters, and some control elements, which can make it tough to build or play.

My guess is that at times, Dimir(or Orzhov) will want or need to add the appropriate color to become Esper. The combination of each guild’s keyword is intriguing. When you play a copy of an encoded Cipher spell, you also trigger your Extort effects. If there was a way to play a ‘normal’ control deck in Gatecrash Limited, Esper will be the way to go. This format looks to be light on blocking, especially so when it comes to flying blockers. Any old flyer with a spell encoded on it has a good shot to do serious damage.

Playing Dimir by itself can be complex. Ever realize suddenly during a ‘normal’ game of Magic that the possibility of semi natural decking exists for at least one player, and you possibly should have switched gears a turn or two earlier? Be aware of that when playing Dimir, depending on how many incidental milling effects you have. If your initial offense fails, you can always try to fall back on drawing your Mind Grind,Whispering Madness, or random duders that help mill cards, which at some point in a game will become lethal.

Mind Grind in particular shines at finishing games. Imagine a turn nine on the draw. Your opponent has naturally drawn 15 cards from their deck, and you milled him for say, six cards with random stuff. He has 19 cards in his deck. Mind Grinding him for seven has a fair shot at ending the game, or at least pushing your opponent to the brink. The best part about the spell is that you usually have a good idea of what a lethal number is. Players rarely hold more than one land to bluff, though savvy ones may hold more if they are flooded and know you can Grind them.

The other way to win a game is by Ciphering just about anything multiple times, though this means you are connecting with a guy over and over. I could be wrong on Cipher being enough to dominate a game because Dimir’s creature defenses aren’t that great. Dimir’s removal is excellent considering how rare it is in this format, but given how dangerous almost anything can be from Gruul or Simic, waiting for the right moment is key.

Simic

SIMIC1Simic is the guild I officially represent according to Plansewalkerpoints.com. I picked them back before Gatecrash was previewed because I liked the Graft mechanic so much(and because their quiz told me I should). Gatecrash has NOT dissapointed me. Evolve is very simple on the surface, but might be the toughest mechanic to master. Measuring risk/reward ratios when deciding whether to play a guy that can later Evolve versus playing something to pump the existing team can create important decisions early in games. Sometimes it will be obvious, but other times the game could easily be decided by which play you make, and it could happen on turn four or five. You’ll have to choose with little information, so letting the right play happen by trusting your instincts will sometimes be the only way to go.

A big problem with Simic besides tough choices is just getting your cards in the right order. Many of the most powerful Evolve cards start very small, and have limited board impact in the mid to late game. Ever drawn a Stromkirk Noble on turn six? Yeah, it feels something like that.

the last issue I have with Simic is that it doesn’t pair that well with either of it’s partner guilds. Both guilds bring some splashable removal, but their keywords aren’t great. Bloodrush is always nice, but generally your guys are supposed to be bigger anyway. Some of the blue Cipher cards are fine, but everything shy of Shadow Slice(B4 Sorcery Cipher Target player loses 3 life) seems not worth straining a manabase. Then again, Green does have an additional fixer, so perhaps the opportunity cost is low enough after all.

Of course, if everything goes right, if you open a solid pool and curve out often, you will feel unstoppable. And you very well may be. Simic can have those kinds of draws.

Gruul

GRUULI’ve thought about how Bloodrush affects creature combat extensively. I’ve had whole discussions on the topic, but to no avail. The only conclusion I’ve arrived at is that Bloodrush will be a polarizing force for Gatecrash Limited. Barring the fear of being Giant Growth’d out of the game, opponents will likely either always block or never block. Ones who change their tactics midgame may have a trick to cause the behavior change, are just trying to read you for a particular card, which is exceptionally difficult to do given the range of Bloodrush costs and effects, or just trying to stop you from playing another duder on your turn by forcing you to spend mana in combat. or they could just be mentally flipping a coin in their head, which actually would probably make mapping out your future turns a nightmare.

There could be a slight issue with choosing Gruul for the prerelease. I see the ideal Gruul deck having 18+ creatures. It’s likely very rare that any normal sealed pool will be able to build a straight Gruul deck with 18 guys. As a result, Bloodrush’s impact will be diminished a bit because you will often need to commit another creature to the board rather than use it as a trick.

The above issue isn’t a real turnoff to choosing Gruul. It has many advantages, especially at a prerelease event. Gruul is very linear, which makes it well suited for an event where you may be playing for Top 8 at 8 am. With Gruul you can just shove your dudes forward while you’re half asleep. The wide array of tricks you could have also may cause opponents to assist you in closing them out by not knowing just how much you could pump your guy and blocking poorly or not at all. I expect to see many players die from 8+ life to a single attacker.

Boros

BOROSThis is the guild everyone is all excited about for Standard, and who can blame them. They got the best charm, a sweet X spell, a way to counter an X spell, and some more humans to just maybe make R/W Humans a thing.

Limited is a different story however. Boros is in a strange spot in the meta of Limited. The Battalion mechanic is quite powerful, but it’s presence on many of Boros’ dudes means that without Battalion, their cards are rather weak, and will usually die in combat without help. This means Boros decks are weak to decks that can brawl early and go bigger later to keep up with Battalion triggers. That’s pretty much the definition of both Gruul’s and Simic’s strategies, so be wary when facing off against those guilds.

The good news is that leaves two guilds to pick on. Against their strategies that are grindy and not overpowering, you can be the deck that goes biggest. The bad news is that I think Orzhov and Dimir will be the least played of all the guilds, so choose Boros with caution, and open well. They do seem to have a ton of playable cards, so maybe just having a deck with a high density of quality threats is enough to keep pace with Gruul and Simic.

Or maybe I’ve just completely misread how these guilds stack up against one another. Guess I’ll find out in about 24 hours. See you all at Gamer’s Gauntlet. Any over/unders on attendance? Last prerelease was over 160! So come on by and play. I’ll be dispensing advice on builds all night whenever I’m not in a round.

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Back in the Saddle

Over the past several months, instead of posting in this blog, I’ve been posting pictures on my Facebook page, live Tweeting events, and streaming RTR Limited often. I’ve also been a part of Running the Gauntlet, a weekly podcast where I comment on news, decks, issues, and the like. So it’s not like I haven’t been living and breathing Magic as I have been for the better part of a decade now. The format changed, and my old style of blogging just wasn’t getting it done. All that stuff is new, and fun, but I’m happy to be able to say…

It’s good to be back.

Even if it’s only for a little while, I’ve missed putting my talents to work in constructive ways, so I’m going to ride out this revival as long as possible. That sentiment applies to more than just my plans for this blog. I decided that despite the part of me that loves to sleep in on Saturdays was practically pulling my eyes closed last Saturday, I got up and went to a PTQ in Fenton. It was my first of the season, and in fact my first of the entire YEAR (I played in exactly one PTQ all of 2011 as well, also in November, where I punted the win and in round to Russel Slack), so while I had been playing a fair amount of MTGO, I didn’t have the highest of hopes.

The short version is that I played well enough to take it down. The long version is as follows.

I woke up Saturday morning at 8:30, only five hours after I went to sleep. Getting home from work at 2 am has the unfortunate side effect of keeping me up at least another hour, most of which was spent deciding if I even wanted to go to a PTQ all bleary-eyed at BC Comix, a place where I had never won a match of Magic in my life, and I personally considered to be cursed as a result. On the way, I decided to leave I-75 early because there were a few lane closures before my exit, so I meandered through 10 or 15 miles of swampy farmland on Davisburg Road or some such, but eventually arrived just before 10 am. Dismayed that most of the crowd I expected to be there was absent, I said hello to Mike Guptil and Dave Rappaport from PES, both of whom I hadn’t seen in some time.

Seriously, I once lost to a Bump in the Night.dec with no red mana in it.

I took my seat for registration and build, wondering what business I even had predicting the PTQ habits of people whom I hadn’t even seen at a PTQ in over a year because I just wasn’t attending them. The registration was uneventful, shipping a Pack Rat and some other fair stuff two to my left. Someone at my table decided that a foil Jace, Architect of Thought and some shock lands were good enough to just get up and leave, prompting a discussion about what everyone’s personal price was to simply drop out. I didn’t think there was one for me, but I’m sure an eyeful of foil Jaces might have swayed me. Of course, it was not to be, and I looked over my pools rares first (as MTGO has taught me to do), I wasn’t all that impressed. Slaughter Games, Search the City, and Counterflux were pretty unexciting, while the Mana Bloom, Grove of the Guardian, and Sphinx’s Revelation all seemed decent. I lamented my rares, and the player who registered my pool said something along the lines of it being  the worst sealed pool he’s ever seen.

Here is the entire pool. That’s an Axebane Guardian in the top right corner, and a 3rd Transguild Promenade obscured by the flash from my camera.

If you have trouble reading the card titles, just click the image to zoom.

I waffled around, building Rakdos, and then trying Selesnya splashing blue, trying to ignore the incredible mana base I’d been gifted. Transguild Promenade was not a card I’d liked very much in RTR draft, which was essentially how I learned to play the format on MTGO. Losing your second turn could be crucial, and going BACK a turn later in the game could be equally as devastating. Still, this was Sealed, and  it was a different game. If I could dodge or get lucky against fast decks in the first few rounds, their numbers would dwindle to nothing, leaving only the lumbering grindy decks that didn’t care about tempo or curving nearly as much. I had the right cards, so I built the best deck to match that plan of attack.

The greediest of greedies. Travis Ladoucer would have been proud.

That Launch Party should be a Druid’s Deliverance as lucky number 23. I had a little trouble recalling my maindeck at first. Either way, I added the classic four Forest, three Plains, and three Islands to my deck and was ready to play some long games.

Round 1 – Richard Stachurski (Golgari or Esper)

I was going to take a picture of all of my opponents in case I couldn’t read my own handwriting when it came time to recall their name, and to put a face to the name even if I DID remember it right. Richard decided to be coy and declined, AND I scribbled down his name illegibly, but lucky for me Planeswalker Points already has the updated information.

Richard mulled once on the play, opening on Slitherhead and Sewer Shambler vs. my soon to be usual slow start of turn two Promenade. I recall being quite happy when he Stab Wounded my Vassal Soul, thinking if he’s wasting time Stabbing that then I was going to easily win this game because either my opponent has no gas or he’s just unskilled. Well, I figured out why a few turns later when I looked at my board of Centaur token and Court Hussy both bleeding me to death. The game wasn’t going to last too much longer either way. Richard had not much going on, and I was stuck on four lands. I EOT Dramatic Rescued my Hussy, and spent my Druid’s Deliverance (this play is why I know it was #23) copying the centaur. Richard could only add a Cackler and a Brushstrider, and fell to my random bigger guys with me still at five.

I was so preoccupied trying to process his game plan, and how I should craft my own around his at least triple Stab Wound that I didn’t notice right away that he had went from a sleeved deck to an unsleeved one. I recalled him unsleeving just a few cards, so when he opened on white and blue mana, I assumed he also had Swamps so he could Stab people.

We played a fairly uninteresting few turns, to the point where I only recall a few key points. One was when I had a weak clock on him to his virtual nothing, and he cast Sphinx’s Revelation for 6 on himself on my end step, and I responded by casting my own for five. I remarked that if this is how the entire PTQ was going to go, playing against triple Stab Wound and having two copies of busted mythics on the stack at once, I had underestimated how interesting the format was. Rich untapped and cast Supreme Verdict, but had no follow up, while I slowly rebuilt my idiot army. Rich had exactly one land left in his deck at the end of the game when he extended his hand.

1-0, 2-0

Round 2 – Todd Davis (Izzet)

Todd is a solid player I’ve known for a long time, but I usually see him at events trading with people more than playing actual Magic. He happily consented to me taking a picture of him, but since he was the only one who assented, there’s no reason to post it. I can see from my notes that his life total went down by two each time it moved, so I’m guessing I Stabbed a Splatter Thug. He didn’t play much  early besides the Thug and a Los Lobos(Lobber Crew) or two. I probably sat there and watched him bleed to death. I played a Dramatic Rescue, but don’t recall why. Honestly, my deck had two avenues of attack. I could make a 3/3 on two and start beating down, or if I drew the Revelation, any of the 2/4s, or Grove I played the waiting game, trying to grind them out with superior card advantage, Stab Wounds, and 8/8s.

Game two’s life totals indicate I went the 8/8 route, as Todd’s life goes from 20 to 12 to four. My notes only include cards Todd played, since they were actually so I could recall potential plays from my opponents in later games. I do remember him playing Tenement Crasher, hitting me for six, then playing Faerie Impostor and bouncing it. A Sphinx of the Chimes died to my sideboarded Ultimate Price, and my 8/8 was enough to get the job done.

2-0, 4-0

Round 3 – Ryan Starski (Izzet)

This was the last round  I even tried to take a photo of my opponent. Ryan, as you know, declined. Ryan led on Civic Saber into Caclker. I offered Vassal Soul to trade, but he had Mizzium Skin. Still, I mounted a beefy defense with my 2/4s and stalled the game long enough to deal him three a few times, bringing him low enough that either Vassal Soul number two or a Stab Wound finished him.

Game two featured an odd play. Ryan played a Stealer of Secrets on the play. I had seen Pursuit of Flight in game one along with Mizzium Skin. I decided to Ultimate Price his Stealer on his upkeep, thinking that if I drew the counterspell I was free to play a Spider, which seemed important since I had no guys on the board and my hand was quite slow. I could have waited to see if he suited up his guy, and perhaps that really was the best choice since I had played a guildgate that turn and only had two mana up, limiting the ways I could punish him for playing the aura. Ryan ended up letting the Stealer die, but played another one. My Spider was trumped by Pursuit of Flight, and he crushed me with Mizzium Skin again when I cast Eyes in the Sky on his attack step. He chose to kill the Spider, but had little follow up besides a Cancel late enough in the game that my dorks took over.

3-0, 6-0

These last two rounds are a perfect example why it’s best to just try to play the most powerful spells you have available in RTR Sealed. Sure, you might be able to play a decent aggressive deck, but when you stumble, you just never get back in the game. When Ryan didn’t have a great follow up to his Mizzium Skin blowout in game two, despite him being ahead I got right back into it by just playing more impactful cards. You’ll see that I stopped getting paired with pure aggro decks as  the event wore on, mostly because they lack the ability to overcome a poor start.

Round 4 – Keith Herrick (Bant)

Keith had am overachieving Selesnya Keyrune, which dealt 12 damage to me in game one. But because he was wailing on me with it waiting for his bigger spells to come online, I had the time to try to set up a Revelation, which never ended up being cast. Keith ended up Supreme Verdicting because I had Stabbed something of his, but I rebuilt faster and got there. Keith told me that was his first loss of the day. I told him that would have been my first loss.

I sided in the slower cards and more instants to have more options.

Game two was very similar to game one. He played his Keyrune again, but had spells to ramp into. I was attempting to get enough mana and dudes to be able to make a Grove of the Guardian token and be able to Druid’s Deliverance on the same turn to essentially counter whatever bounce spell he had, but for some reason I traded my Skyknight for a 3/3 and ended up having to wait two more turns to get it going. When I passed with the right mana up, Keith EOT played Sundering Growth on my own Selesnya Keyrune, forcing me to make a token on my turn. He then cast Voidwielder and Syncopated my Druid’s Deliverance to take game two.

Game three was uneventful. Keith hit me for 12 more with his Keyrune, but drew all the weaker cards in his deck like Selesnya Sentry, Tower Drake, and Seller of Songbirds. Yes, I know those aren’t bad cards, but they were the worst in Keith’s deck. I made some 3/3s and bashed him.

4-0, 8-1

Round 5 – Andy Moore (Bant)

Having feature matches at a PTQ sounds lame, but BC Comix did a pretty good job for their first effort. Luckily for me, this round was streamed AND archived here, so you can watch it there if you so desire. Unfortunately the sound doesn’t work for the first several minutes, but again, I liked the idea of feature matches at PTQs overall.

::EDIT::

At some point those videos will dissapear from twitch.tv, probably within a few days of posting this report. If I discover BC Comix decided to archive on YouTube, I will adjust the links accordingly. Watch them ASAP, especially the games against MJ, for maximum entertainment.

::/EDIT::

Just a few notes about the match. In game one, my plan was to Stab Wound him to death essentially the entire time. Once I got him to Common Bond that token, the race was on! In game two, if Andy had any extra pressure beyond his Keyrune and Centaur, the game would probably have gone to him. Also, I did think about Common Bond when I triple blocked his Centaur token. I needed a man to die that turn, and triple blocking to take Common Bond out of the picture was worth taking the extra three damage from the unblocked Selesnya Keyrune. Lastly, if I had drawn an untapped Blue source the turn after he played the Centaur’s Herald, I would have gotten to play my sideboarded Izzet Staticaster for the super blow out. Sadly, it sat in my hand the entire game, but I still won the match.

5-0, 10-1

Round 6 – Michael Jacob (Azorius + Red)

How lucky, two feature matches in a row! Here’s the coverage.

This match was pretty epic. Lots of maneuvering and back and forth action. MJ’s deck was pretty much the flier deck, with some premium removal like Arrest and Martial Law(which turned out to not be as great as it looks). Something you may not have caught from the coverage was MJ missing his Matial Law trigger on my Risen Sanctuary. I pointed it out late in the turn by saying “you’re detaining this guy again, right?” So yes, I did allow him to detain my creature despite the rules technically saying it was too late. I could have tried to mise a win there, but honestly, that’s just scummy. We had a fun match going on, and it was pretty obvious that my dude was being redetained from the board state.

I was paid back for my generosity in the second game, where I had a Stab Wound going, and on MJs upkeep he looked at me expectantly, and I just started back. I think he grabbed a pen to mentally nudge me to state my triggers. Eventually I understood what an idiot I was being and pointed at it sheepishly. I tried to cover for it by saying that MTGO has made me terrible at calling out my triggers, and that I’d never had to declare my Stab Wound triggers so obviously before, which was true, but still, I knew I was a better player than that. As I recall, I won the game where I gave MJ a take back, and he won the game where he more or less gave me one. I ended up losing a squeaker where I may or may not have misplayed, trying to get my Stab Wound back with a Keening Apparition a little too late. I’ve reviewed the tape, and it’s hard to figure out because I can’t tell when I drew the Apparition. If you can keep track of my hand, feel free to comment here or in person what you think I should have done. Either way, MJ peeled the Dramatic Rescue off the top on a Nivix Guildmage loot to win the match in extra turns. Honestly, I’m sorta glad he did, because it cemented one of us in the top eight, where a draw would have left our futures in doubt.

5-1, 11-3

Round 7 – Tim Joseph (Doran)

In both the last two PTQs I’ve played in (this one and November of last year, in case you forgot over the last 2500 words), Greg White and his brother Tim Joeseph were in attendance. It was good to have someone I knew to talk to between rounds, and at this point Greg also stood at 5-1. I avoided him, but drew his brother Tim, whom I had never played as far as I knew, but could tell he was a solid player, especially if he was playing with Greg.

Games one and three ended up not being very interesting. Game one Tim only played a few spells, including a Soul Tithe and a Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage. My lie totals state he went from 20 to 18 to 13 to 8, so I likely just played out some fliers and Centaurs while Tim didn’t have much going on. Game three he kept a land light hand on the draw, essentially gambling on making top eight with a few good draws, but didn’t get there while I deployed my ultra slow hand and slowly won.

My loss came in the only real game of the match, where we both had fair sized armies, but I got completely blown out by Rootborn Defenses to kill my 8/8 token and grow his centaur army.  When I last ditch Stabbed his Korozda Guildmage to try to make the inevitable clash easier to figure, Tim correctly Common Bonded it and killed me in two attack steps. Still, I was moving on, and feeling rather lucky to beat a pretty aggressive deck that I didn’t match up well against.

6-1, 13-4

Round 8 – Raymond Perez (???)

The ID made me essentially a lock for top 8. I had seen Richard, my round one opponent, playing a feature match in the later rounds, so I knew my breaks were pretty good. Unfortunately, Greg White fell in the last Swiss round to end up 6-2. The top eight was pretty stacked for a PTQ. Joining Raymond and I were Stephen Boggemes, DJ Kastner, Ben Perry, and of course Micheal Jacob. Sorry I didn’t know the other two guys, but I’m a little disconnected from the community these days.

The pairings for the draft were not randomized, so I knew a rematch with MJ was in the works. Also, though I am unsure of how or why it happened, we were unable to use the relatively new ‘seeding’ rule for determining who gets the choice of playing or drawing first. I was seeded in the lower half thanks to my last round draw, so of course I was just fine with that.

I opened a pretty weak pack one. Hellhole Flailer and Security Blockade were my only meaningful choices. I chose the Blockade because frankly, I don’t enjoy drafting Rakdos that much, and although Flailer is a premium creature, what makes Rakdos great is it’s removal and general curve. A 4/3 on three is nice, but honestly, any dude with a respectable body would do in that spot, whether it be Failier, Thug, or even Viashino Racketeer. A few packs later I was settling into a white based deck. What’s more, only a few picks in I had two Security Blockades and an Ethereal Armor, so I decided to gamble a little and draft a deck I’d only heard about: the auras deck. Tom Willoughby had beaten the crap out of me a week or so earlier with the ‘armor’ deck, it had come up very briefly during conversation among the players who drew the last round, and of course Ari Lax made the deck semi-famous with his turn three Fencing Ace kill(2(1+3+3+3)=10) at GP Philly this year. I knew that White was the color to be drafting in that seat, especially if I can make up for weak picks by picking up ‘useless’ Ethereal Armors that would only get better with each successive pick.

By the end of pack one, I had some dorks, two Armors, and two Blockades. I hadn’t chosen whether I wanted to be Azorius or Selesnya yet, but I was leaning towards Selesnya because the slightly over-sized bodies would allow me to close games faster with my dudes that were essentially immortal in combat. There was also the idea of stretching my opponent’s potential bounce spells by making them choose between a token or an Armored creature. Sadly, I passed a Blood Crypt 13th to Ben Perry because I had to take a Rubbleback Rhino. Rubbles ended up sitting in my board. Sadface.

Pack two started off well, and cemented me in Selesnya by gifting me a Grove of the Guardian. After that though, not much came around besides a Palisade Giant and a third Ethereal Armor. I was getting playables, but not the kind that make you think, I’m gonna win this draft. As it turns out, DJ was two or three to my left, and he ended up some amalgamation of Selesnya and Golgari, and MJ was one or two to his left forcing Golgari. I imagine that clash caused DJ to abandon Golgari a bit late and end up three colors, also messing with my second pack. At the end of the pack, I was very confident that pack three would be very kind to me since with both DJ and I snapping up Selesnya, there was essentially nothing at all getting passed right.

In pack three, I opened…Concordia Pegasus. Yep, that was my best pick. I don’t recall what other choices I had, but since I settled on the dorkiest of dorks clearly there wasn’t much else. Lucky for me, the next pack had Armada Wurm, a card I certainly had never been passed and likely have never opened. My eyes widened when I saw it, and I tried to pretend I was looking at the rest of the pack, but inside I went from “I’m not sure I’m leaving here with 2 boxes for second place, let alone an invitation, to HOLY SHIT THIS PACK IS GOING TO BE NUTS IF RAY SHIPPED ME THIS!”

Yes, I brought the Wurm token from home. I was feeling lucky!

Sure enough, I was shipped the absolute goods. After the Armada Wurm came a Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage and a Call of the Conclave, instantly launching my deck from mildly good to completely bonkers. I finished up with a fourth Ethereal Armor and some random dorks to wear armor. As I was building, I told Dave I was going to win, something I usually don’t do, but after laying out the deck, it just seemed unbeatable. Since I had potentially unreal starts featuring Ethereal Armors and busted uncommons alongside six drops like Armada Wurm, Palisade Giant, and Grove of the Guardian in a consistent two color deck, the angles I was attacking from focused on the two points during a game where players tend to not have much control over what happens; the very early turns and the very late turns. Most decks are either good early or late. If I failed to dispatch them early with my auras, then my rares could take advantage of an opponents already taxed resources. The only time my deck wasn’t good in my estimation was the mid game, when larger creatures start to match my enchanted men and removal can two for one me. Luckily, most RTR limited decks aren’t built to shine in the middle turns.

This is roughly what I registered:

Anytime your deck includes Trained Caracal, it’s either unplayable or insane. This deck is probably the latter.

Quarterfinals – Michael Jacob (Golgari)

Once again, you can find match coverage here. MJ’s Golgari deck really changed my perceptions about what the non-rare laden Golgari deck does, and how it is built. MJ and I talked a little bit about his deck during and after the match. He told me that he just forced the guild in the draft, and has had great success with it most of the time. His vision of Golgari plays out like a weird combo deck, and it’s not just using Daggerdrome Imp to race. Using Golgari Decoy, MJ can permanently wrath an opponent’s board as well. Everything in his deck was designed to reach the point where he can Voltron up a guy. His supplemental cards were all intended to dig through his deck to generate card advantage and/or bin scavenge creatures. MJ eschewed guild staples like Trestle Troll that can stretch a game in favor of being completely all-in on his scavenge plan. The deck was actually well set up against my slower draws.

Luckily, I drew Armada Wurm twice while MJ missed his third turn land drop in game two. Watch the coverage if you want more insight into my decision making process since most of the noteworthy crossroads I encountered were all on the attack step, making them pretty easy to follow. Note though, that in the first game, my attack that dropped MJ low but didn’t kill him was designed to encourage not blocking much damage to give me a better chance of winning the game on the next turn. If I attack with more guys, he would be forced to block a fair chunk, and it would become nigh impossible to win.

7-1-1, 15-4

Semifinals – DJ Kastner (Doran)

I assembled, for the only time the entire draft, the unstoppable armored kitty juggernaut in game one. I’m guessing from my life going up 12, 22, 28, 34, 40 meant that I had a Caracal with an Armor and Valor on it, with a Security Blockade in play as well. DJ had a very slow draw, and I just wailed on him until he ran out of guys and died.

Jace (one of my cats) is practically unstoppable once he’s clad in these auras.

Game two was more interactive. I had Armada Wurm, but DJ had a decent board presence on the ground, and was racing me with a Common Bonded Griffin effectively. The critical turn came when I was at three life to DJ’s five, and I played a Security Blockade before combat to get an extra +1/+1 out of my Ethereal Armor. This would also allow me to survive the next attack from the Griffin, provided I dealt damage with my naked Caracal. I didn’t do the math of it all because it was rather uncertain how the attack would play out, but wanting that extra +1/+1 may have cost me the game. When I attacked, DJ blocked my Caracal with his Golgari Long-Legs, and cast Swift Justice on it(!) to enable him to survive the attack at three life. Moreover, my Caracal didn’t gain me any life, so I died to the Griffin the next turn with an overwhelming ground army. If I don’t play that Blockade before combat, it’s possible DJ trades his Long-Legs + Swift Justice for an Armored Wurm token, or some other block that doesn’t include my Caracal getting first striked down. If he just sits on it, which I think is VERY unlikely, he can still kill me by just pumping the Griffin.

Luckily, DJ kept Stab Wound plus nothing else in game three needing a black mana, and didn’t deal me a point.

8-1-1, 17-5

Finals – Raymond Perez (Azorius+Red)

Raymond made it quite clear to me before our match that he liked to chatter, certainly more so than I do, so I just left him to do most of the talking since he knew almost everyone watching, while I knew about three people. Although I kept the banter to a minimum, I got jabs in here and there. When I was at 23 and he Lobber Crewed a little forcefully, I informed him that I’ll let him know when he gets me under 20. When he Crewed me to 19, I pointed it out too. Don’t mistake that kind of banter for hostility though. We were two players in the finals of a 160 person event. It’s perfectly natural by this point to be extremely confident, to the point of playful verbal jabs.

Once again, the coverage is here. Skip forward to the 11:45 mark to skip my uneventful game three against DJ. Game one, I stumbled a little on mana, unable to find the lands to cast the Armada Wurm and Palisade Giant in hand, but I mounted a fair offense with an Armored Centaur Healer. Ray had a New Prahv Guildmage that he used to bridge the gap from four to six, when he started to assemble a flying army with an Isperia Skywatch. I continued to whiff on lands, and used an Azorius Arrester to simply buy time. When the Wurm finally came down, I also had the chance to play Palisade Giant before combat, but declined because I wanted Ray to use a removal or bounce spell on one of the 5/5s to ensure I didn’t die to either Teleportal or Explosive Impact. Either were relatively likely out of his Red splash in addition to the Lobber Crew. My suspicions were confirmed when he declined to detain using his Guildmage, and a Trostani’s Judgement came down, removing my Wurm token. He went to two from the attack, and when I played the Giant after combat, I was just about sure I was going to win from 14. I chose to only attack with my Armored guys on the next attack step, crippling him and ensuring my Giant lived even longer. Ray had no answers and scooped.

Game two Ray mulled to three on the play. Predictably, I played Armada Wurm on six, and Ray was gracious in defeat.

9-1-1, 19-5

Afterward, I was sort of in a daze. I shook some people’s hands, was congratulated a bunch of times, and only vaguely understood what Mike Guptil was telling me about how to contact WotC to book my flight. I had been playing Magic since 10 am, and it was now midnight. It was strange not having close friends there to celebrate with, and I left the site alone. The first person I called to tell that I won was my wife, who doesn’t play Magic, but was happy for me nonetheless. The fog on the hour long drive home was oppressive to the point where I couldn’t tell where I was, and the exit signs came and went in just a second or two. I sped through this weird, uncertain world, thinking about my weird, uncertain future, playing songs that reminded me of my weird and sordid past, and smiled.

I was back.

PROPS

PES for running a great event.

BC Comix for streaming a feature match every round. They did an excellent job, and I hope that their efforts go further in this direction.

Raymond Perez for passing me Armada Wurm

My wife for always supporting my love of a children’s game.

Larry and Tony for arranging to get my lunch. You guys saved my life.

SLOPS

My opponents (except Todd) for refusing to take a picture.

WotC for discontinuing the awarding of Top 8 pins.

Me for taking over a week to write this. I’ve been busy at school, ok?

Nigel Higdon

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Bringing the Vengeance

Hopefully for the last time ever, MTGO has caught up with the paper world with M13 release events firing every few minutes. I personally joined one for 25 tickets, played one round of double mana screw, and dropped. Limited play for Core sets is so boring. Even if I had ever drawn a fourth land in either game I played, it wouldn’t have been that exciting, and not having to play M13 is about as fun as playing it anyway. After selling some of my rares at the highest price they will ever be(ex. sold Cavern of Souls during release event for 24ish tickets. Now I get them passed to me in draft), I turned to updating the R/W ‘Storm’ deck originally featured here:

http://www.starcitygames.com/magic/standard/24343_Thank_God_Its_FNM_RW_Storm.html

When I first read this article, I quickly dismissed it as poor because there were no notes on actual performance, or even a primer on how to play the deck correctly. Normally a primer isn’t needed because a deck’s function will be obvious, but with so much card selection, it is vital to know what you are looking for. Tough decisions are more often the case now that there are eight looting effects, so don’t just try to blow through your deck without a plan in mind. But before some general advice, the new list:

  • 4 Faithless Looting
  • 4 Infernal Plunge
  • 4 Kuldotha Rebirth
  • 2 Panic Spellbomb
  • 1 Noxious Revival
  • 4 Wild Guess
  • 4 Krenko’s Command
  • 4 Ichor Wellspring
  • 2 Mycosynth Wellspring
  • 4 Battle Hymn
  • 2 Increasing Vengeance
  • 2 Past in Flames
  • 2 Burn at the Stake
  • 2 Reforge the Soul
  • 1 Devil’s Play
  • 18 Mountain

Sideboard

  • 4 Smelt
  • 2 Gitaxian Probe
  • 1 Noxious Revival
  • 2 Reforge the Soul
  • 2 Burning Vengeance
  • 4 Whipflare

There are three big changes of note: Krenko’s Command, Wild Guess, and Increasing Vengeance. One of the major issues the deck had previously was an inability to refill or add to your token army in the middle of the critical turn because Gather the Townsfolk required White mana, and in most cases all your mana was Red once you started going nuts. You lose the ability to go to five or less and then go off out of nowhere, but the consistency gained in both the mana base and having more paths to win seems well worth it. Wild Guess is an additional selection spell, and means we don’t have to play quite as many Reforge the Souls. It is quite rare that I even cast one during a win. With all the Lootings/Guesses/Wellsprings, it’s not hard to craft a hand and graveyard that can win without seven new cards. Still, I left two so the option is open in case a key piece is missing. Increasing Vengeance is probably the most interesting addition, for two reasons. One, it was available at the time the original article was written, so why wasn’t it included? Also, it is just incredible at bridging the gap between an engine that never really does much and killing the enemy easily. When you flash back the Vengeance for RR using Past in Flames, you still get the extra copy of the spell; it is literally double Fork. When copying Burn at the Stake, it also remembers how many creatures were tapped for the first one. I played against some weird life gain brew last night, and easily, EASILY Burned him for NINETY using the Vengeance. Yes, I needed all three copies for thirty to kill him.

This deck takes a bit of mashing before becoming proficient at taking care of witches medieval style. It took me several games to realize that you should probably not loot away a Rebirth or Artifact just about ever. One mana for three guys is your most efficient way of making a Ramen Instant Army. Krenko’s Command is a backup plan at best, and is generally used to test an opponent for a sweeper by throwing out two goblins, or to refill during the Burn turn. Deciding when to use your Vengeance is usually just a matter of math, but don’t lose sight of the goal of just having enough to kill your enemy. I have caught myself several times having to rethink a line of play because I was opening myself up to disruption for a gain that was much bigger than what was required to win the game. Lastly, many openers with this deck will look clunky or useless. It’s a combo deck, so that’s perfectly natural. Most hands that have either a Ichor Wellspring, Faithless Looting, or Wild Guess are keeps with the ability to cast said spell and not much else. The idea is to get a graveyard going most of the time, and these spells get the ball rolling.

Before I leave you to play with this hilariously fun deck, a few quick notes on the sideboard. Smelt is a catch for Grafdigger’s Cage, and I would never bring in more than two blindly(though of course I would have to suspect it before I blindly board anyway). Any deck that still plays Cranial Extraction somewhere brings in the Revival, as it’s not bad just sitting in the deck letting you redraw a Rebirth, or setting up a Reforge the Soul. Burning Vengeance is an alternate win condition, but mostly it’s there because I can’t think of what else to jam against a deck that wants to go long.

There are also a number of other directions this deck could go. Becoming even more graveyard-centric is an option. A RUG deck that plays Rebirth, the Artifacts, Rituals, and far more ways to fill the bin like Mulch or Thought Scour could be better options. Creatures like Augur of Bolas would find a home in a deck like this quickly as well. I leave it to you, reader. Go forth, and brew!

Nigel H.

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