by William Bloodworth, aka Bill, aka Kurai Seraphim, aka *REDACTED*
I’m not a pro player. I’m not really even a casual player anymore, as my playgroup has long since scattered across the country. No, I’m one of those awkward in-between players who does well at FNM but can’t seem to make it to the top 8 of a PTQ, much less qualify for a serious event. For me, Magic is about applying myself to something that I can always get better at by reflecting on my mistakes until avoiding them becomes second nature. For this reason, I push myself to attend bigger events whenever possible.
I traveled to Charlotte with the Mana Pool dorks early Saturday morning. I woke up extra early and set out about half an hour before I needed to because, historically, I’m really good at getting myself lost. I’ve ended up in the wrong city looking for game shops on the wrong main street before, so I always leave myself extra buffer. Thankfully, I’ve been to Chewie’s before and actually found it this time, so my day began with a promising start.
We hit the road with different goals in mind. Brian carefully sleeved his token deck while I rolled out down the highway, taking care not to spill his collection into the greedy maw lurking between the passenger seat and the center console. Only one mountain was found at a later date. In the back, Mike and Chewie kept the conversation going with typical dork banter that woefully went unrecorded but none the less made the hours on the road go by quickly. We arrived in time for Brian and I to make our way through the queue and register our decks with minimal difficulty.
At this point I suppose I should introduce my deck. Rather than rock a list I’d seen online, I opted to mash together two interesting archetypes and created an Esper-colored token build. In addition to a few of the typical token generators, namely Lingering Souls and Gather the Townsfolk, my deck focused heavily on pumping them up through anthem effects including 4 Honor the Pure, 4 Intangible Virtue, 4 Drogskol Captains, and 2 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad. My deck heavily capitalized on the Drogskol Captain + Phantasmal Image interaction made famous by Jon Finkel at Pro Tour Honolulu to typically dump 2-4 spirits and get them up to 4/4 status, preferably via Intangible Virtue to turn a Lingering Souls resolution into a pair of Broodmate Serra Angels. I didn’t run any copies of the format-defining Delver of Secrets, Snapcaster Mage, or any real control elements beyond two borrowed copies of Vapor Snag, so my deck was pretty much pedal to the metal aggro masquerading in control colors.
2x Vapor Snag
Ha ha ha no.
I named my deck Jolly Roger for three reasons. First, the Drogskol Captain looks like an awesome ghost pirate and he’s effectively the general of my deck that I always want to see in my opening hand. Second, my deck relies heavily on raising an anthem effect before charging into battle, which I refer to as “Hoisting the Colours” as if the Drogskol Captain were ordering his spirit crew to raise a skull and crossbones before marauding their way into my opponent’s life total. The general disregard for control elements and the vigilance granted by the Intangible Virtue often results in consecutive alpha strikes, so games play out like a pirate siege in my head. Thirdly and most entertainingly in my eyes, the deck looks like a Delver deck that missed its turn one Delver, so my opponents often board in Delver hate and find themselves sorely betrayed by my treacherous seadogs.
Now that I’ve introduced the deck, let’s move on to the report!
Round 1: Jolly Roger vs Wolf Run Ramp
Ryan, my first round opponent, opened my day with a red/green Wolf Run Ramp deck. I ran into a fair bit of this archetype at the tournament, but I have to admit a bit of mild frustration that my first encounter with a Huntmaster of the Fells came in the form of a Japanese card. I generally don’t mind people running foreign cards in their decks, but when said cards have been out for less than a month and they involve a lot of text I find myself awkwardly asking my opponent for the exact wording turn after turn. As far as the actual game play was concerned, I lost the first game to the Huntmaster’s aggressive lifegain and flipping tendency to kill my Drogskol Captains faster than I could protect them with other Drogskol Captains. Fortunately, I managed to Hoist the Colours with a few anthems in game 2 and plow through his airspace with copied spirits against a slow start.
Game 3, however, was a test of my mana curve. As you can tell from my list, I play a lot of 2 drops, a lot of 3 drops, and only a few cards that cost 4 or 5. My deck can play out an entire game and win off of three lands, though obviously 4-5 lands is ideal for casting my 4-5 drops and doubling up on anthems. The best play remains a turn 4 Phantasmal Image copy on a turn three Drogskol Captain combined with an anthem.
As such, when I began game three with a single Island in my opening hand alongside a Ponder and a number of two drop spells, I decided to set sail on the Sea of Chance and try my luck with a one lander. I was on the draw and luckily enough drew into a land, but the real fortune came from hitting absolutely no land in my 3 card Ponder peek and shipping it away for a total chance draw into my third land. From there, I started dropping anthems and spirits like nobody’s business. My opponent managed to beat me down to 10 life while floating back and forth around 20 due to his Huntmaster lifegain, but I ultimately managed to resolve enough tokens and anthems to sweep him for 18 damage in one hit and earn my first win of the day.
Round 2: Jolly Roger vs Blue/Black Infect
Ken, my second opponent, was a really great guy. He was fun to talk to while we played and even spotted me a life tracking pad when he saw that I was recording my life totals on a single page of notebook paper (graciously provided by the Lead Rambler Brian in the first round). Both of us had a good sense of humor and I think we had a lot of fun during our round together.
The games themselves were largely an exercise in absurd probability. Ken won round 1 after drawing all four copies of Virulent Wound, which accumulates poison rather quickly against a token deck. Game 2, however, we hit a bit of a board stall until I managed to get 8 power of vigilant flying lifelink + deathtouch together courtesy of my Vault of the Archangel. Suffice it to say, we went to game 3 and ran into a mana flood on my part against a mana screw on his. My low curve, however, let me establish a strong enough board presence to drop threats as quickly as I drew them and I pulled out of the flood before he could stabilize from the screw.
Round 3: Jolly Roger vs Delver Spirits
Trevor joked before we started about playing Turbo Fog, then proceeded to bust out an absolutely sick Delver curve on me in game one. My life log shows a turn 3 Delver flip followed by a few more beatings and I was dead in no time. The pendulum swung the other way in game 2 as I managed to beat Ryan’s life total down to 3, which he then bounced back up to 9 on but ultimately couldn’t handle my vigilant crew. Game 3 saw the pendulum swing back once more and he curved out to beat me to death before I got a single creature across the red zone.
At this point it became clear to me that while my deck was more than capable of dropping a lot of damage really fast, it was going to have trouble going up against decks that were a little slower but featured effective removal to stunt my advance. I think I had good odds in this matchup given the way game 2 went, but I’m definitely editing my list for the next tournament to handle this kind of matchup a little better.
Round 4: Jolly Roger vs Wolf Run Ramp
Arnold and I had a really amazing game 1. The life total exchange takes up an entire column on my sheet, which is more than all three rounds of my other matches entailed. I got off to a pretty sick early lead by establishing a board presence and capitalizing on Vault of the Archangel and a steady stream of Sorin’s lifelink vampire tokens to gradually get my life total up to 57 while knocking my opponent’s life down to 3. Unfortunately, my opponent was very, very good and resolved a Primeval Titan into a full set of Inkmoth Nexus while I was beating away at his life total and slowly throwing away tokens to keep my Sorin, Lord of Innistrad alive and token-making.
My key mistake in this game was not activating a Vault of the Archangel with one of my tokens to kill the titan when I had the chance. I knew that if I held onto even one more token than my opponent had Inkmoth Nexus, I could get in the last 3 damage and win the game, so I let the Titan through a few times and gave my opponent enough land to build up to a lethal Inkmoth Nexus. My hope was that I would draw into either one more token producing spell (preferably a Lingering Souls) or one of my Vapor Snags, which could easily push me over the top against him, but he ultimately hit his lands before I could hit another token and I punted a game that I would have likely won if I’d killed the Titan sooner.
Game 1 took more than 30 of the 50 minutes allotted to the round, so I kept an aggressive hand for game 2. My opponent hit a Huntmaster early, which he managed to flip and trade a few times. Ultimately I won game 2 by resolving a Drogskol Captain, then copying it with two Phantasmal Images on the next turn. I ultimately managed to knock him from 17 life down to 2 life, then swing for the kill on the next turn.
We ran out of time and didn’t get to play game 3. I feel like my deck has good odds against Wolf Run Ramp given it largely has to rely on Birds of Paradise and Inkmoth Nexus to block in the air and otherwise gets hit for 6-8 damage a round. The Inferno Titans and initial Huntmaster flips are tough, but once I get enough anthems out to keep my guys out of Whipflare range the game is pretty much mine. At any rate, my mistake in game 1 cost me the round and I had to settle for a tie.
Round 5: Jolly Roger vs Wolf Run Ramp
Michael brings me Wolf Run flashbacks so soon after going to time against it. Unfortunately for me, Michael’s Wolf Run deck carried a bit more removal and managed to keep my spirits down enough to win out game one without much fanfare. I got him down to 12 life, but he managed to beat me down directly.
Game 2 was a bit more interesting, as I managed to knock Michael down to 2 life with flyers in the air before he stabilized with a very aptly named Timely Reinforcements. The life gain and creatures combined with a strategic removal spell on one of my tokens pushed me out of the race and I lost round 5.
Despite this round’s performance, I maintain that my deck has a good Wolf Run matchup. I’m going to tweak the deck to be more consistent, as it seems to run out of tokens against red decks and fall flat just before getting in the last bit of damage. I’m pretty sure I could have sideboarded better for this matchup as well, as I boarded in my typical anti-Titans Dungeon Geists and the like when my main problem was actually just hitting a slow start and falling on a mana screw. It’s easy to tell yourself to take Ponder out when you need to board in tech but my manabase just can’t handle it.
Round 6: Jolly Roger vs Mono Green Aggro
Jonathan was pretty awesome. Not only did he bust out a monogreen deck against me, he actually had Sword of Body and Mind in it. He managed to produce cards like Dungrove Elder with alarming speed and held me in tight spots, but I managed to pull out game one with timely assistance from Gideon Jura. With Gideon clearing the path, my tokens were free to stomp their way over and deal direct damage to my opponent’s face for game 1.
Game 2 was similarly aggressive; I was knocked all the way down to 6 this round. This kept me just outside the Fateful Hour necessary to resolve 5 tokens from my Gather the Townsfolk, but once again Gideon Jura showed up and took a whole lot of unblockable Bellowing Tanglewurm-fueled violence while my tokens swept their way into war.
This round combined with round 2’s poison adventure reaffirmed my belief that Gideon Jura gets things done. Elspeth is generally the go-to Tokens planeswalker, but I find that Gideon buys me that one or two extra turns I need to get through the last 6 or so points of damage. The fact that Intangible Virtue leaves me with a lot of oversized blockers might not do much against a Bellowing Tanglewurm, but against most other things it’s like a one-sided board wipe.
Round 7: Jolly Roger vs Traditional Black/White Tokens
Gina and I had pretty horrible luck in our games. I was really looking forward to another token matchup because I wanted to compare my deck against something similar to see what works and what doesn’t for future builds. Sadly, game one saw me mana screwed on my opening hand lands, which regretfully contained no blue sources as I drew into a hand full of blue. Her Sword of War and Peace swung for a nasty 11 damage against my full hand and empty board, which unceremoniously shut me out of game 1.
Game 2 saw a fate reversal as Gina was stuck on mana screw and I curved out perfectly to swing for ten damage a turn and a quick win. Game 3 bounced things back as I hit no land past my opener once again and she beat me from 19 to 8 to dead.
While I didn’t get a great test opportunity here, I did see the need to return Midnight Hauntings to my deck. My anthem collection turns Midnight Haunting into a really sick combat trick and flashing in a pair of 4/4 flyers at the end of my opponent’s turn practically offsets the loss of Lingering Haunt’s flashback, though honestly I’m going to run 4 of both during testing and see what happens next.
Round 8: Jolly Roger vs Black/White Tokens
Karl and I had an amazing pair of games. Karl’s deck featured Shrine of Loyal Legions and popped out a depressing quantity of Myr and left me clutching my vigilant tokens for dear life. While both of our decks contained Sorin, Lord of Innistrad, it was Karl who he decided to serve this day. Karl managed to get an emblem out early and outraced my own anthem production as my deck decided to deny me tokens.
Game 2 saw Karl boarding in enchantment hate for my anthems, which was the right thing to do given token matches will go to he whose tokens survive combat with the enemy tokens. In this case, Karl again hit Sorin early and managed to resolve two Emblems on him before marching out his own token army.
Interesting side note: the first time I went to write down my life total, my pen exploded in my hand. I couldn’t explain why, but it just split open and shot pieces of itself everywhere. As a result, I don’t’ have specific notes, but I’m typing this with the match fresh enough in my mind that I think I’ll be okay.
At this point I was 3-4-1 and out of range for any sort of prize placement. I was also hungry and tired from a long day, so I finally dropped at this point.
Final Record: 3-4-1
I went back to watch the Mana Pool guys engage in a particularly long game of Commander. After several minutes of watching the game grind out, I opted to wander the various booths for a bit to check out the card alters and 3D effects, but I didn’t buy anything as I’d already spent my Magic budget for a bit ordering a mint condition Shahrazad, which I’ll be getting signed by Kaja Foglio at the upcoming ConTemporal convention. I was, however, really tempted to get a custom angel token for Geist of Saint Traft, as I think tokens are the best thing to get in 3D given they don’t ever have to be in your deck.
All in all I had a really fun time at the event. I like how my deck kept people guessing when sideboarding and I loved the look on people’s faces when I resolved a Gideon out of the blue or closed the Drogskol Captain loop with a pair of Phantasmal Images. I’m going to continue working with my deck to get it ready for this weekend’s Game Day and possibly one more tournament after that, so hopefully I can get it tweaked and optimized in short order.
I encourage you to try to build your own decks when heading to tournaments in the future. You don’t have to start from scratch; just find elements you like in a deck and make them your own. I had a lot of fun playing around my opponent’s expectations and playing up the pirate imagery throughout my deck, so I hope you have as much fun developing your own twists as I had innovating mine.