So as you may have heard, Brian and I went to the Star City Open in Charlotte, NC. I got up early and met him at his house, where I found he had made some biscuits and bacon for breakfast and packed us both a sandwich and some snacks for lunch. So yes, Brian is great and the day got off to a great start. We had a nice ride down to Charlotte, and when we got there I recognized several familiar faces from the shops in Kernersville, Greensboro, and even back home in Hillsborough. After registering my name and borrowing a pen from Brian (somehow I never remember to bring a pen), I logged the following decklist:
Round 1 – U/B/R Tezzeret
I have to be honest, I wasn’t really planning for this matchup. Thankfully, he got started slowly, and even though he got Tezzeret out fairly soon and kept it for a while, it took a really long time to get even close to the danger zone with the number of artifacts. My Liliana really put pressure on him with the discard ability over the course of what felt like a thousand turns, and he had to spend resources every so often knocking her down a few notches to keep her from raising his Inferno Titan I had killed earlier. I tutored a Wurmcoil Engine when my life and his artifacts started to get too close for comfort, and that got me back in the safe zone. He did use the drain on me, but it was just to keep himself alive, and wasn’t lethal. After grinding on forever, the game finally ended with a Flung Persecutor.
A start similar to the first game. He Memoricided for Liliana, which was a good call on his part, considering I had her in my hand and was getting ready to play her as soon as I could. The game got into another lockup situation, and the first game had taken so long (35+ minutes) that time was called before we could finish this one. Neither of us were able to win before the extra turns ran out.
Matches 1-0-0, Games 1-0-1
Round 2 – Koth proliferating artifacts
While Brian and I were talking in the car on the way down to Charlotte, he brought up the interesting question “what does your deck do vs. Koth?” My only answer was “attack and hope for the best, then board in Hexmages”. In this round’s game 1, the answer was actually “nothing”. My Nighthawks got turned off by Contagion Clasps, my Pyroclasms sat dead in my hand, and I kept drawing lands. With help from a Throne of Geth, he was able to set up his 2 Chalices to make enough mana to use Spine of Ish Sah (tutored by a Treasure Mage) every turn, and my board position and dodgy draw couldn’t recover from it.
The Hexmages did their job game 2, zapping Koth when he showed up the first time so I wouldn’t have to worry about disposable 4/4s attacking me every turn. After a little bit of back-and-forth, he ran out of steam, and I ended the game with an attacking Sarkhan dragon token followed by the -4 dragon-damage ability.
I don’t remember too much about game 3 other than it started looking a bit like game 1, but then I felt I was really turning it around. A Mark of Mutiny from my opponent to my Wurm and his Inferno Titan’s attack trigger on my only other available blocker quickly dispelled that illusion.
Matches 1-1-0, Games 2-2-1
Round 3 – U/W Caw Blade
This is the matchup I tried to do the most work preparing for. I heard other people talking about having to play against Caw Blade after Caw Blade, but this was the only one I was matched against for the rounds I played. I started off doing a pretty good job killing the creatures he played, but then I stopped drawing useful cards (it’s good for Sarkhan to draw lands with his ability, but not for me), and came to the realization that I had no way to deal with Inkmoth Nexus outside of a Lightning Bolt. I never drew one, and I actually got wiped out with poison that game.
This game went right for me (even though I had to mulligan to 5), and displayed wonderfully what my deck is supposed to do against Caw Blade. Mystics and Hawks get killed immediately, Chandra runs interference by threatening her limit break, Hexmage keeps Jace out of my way (and even switches off a Tumble Magnet), and Sarkhan turns Persecutor into a dragon that can then attack one more time and “lava axe” for the game.
Oh, I was so close. I had the opponent on the ropes, I really did, and then it looked like he might be able to stall and stabilize with an Elspeth Tirel who made some chump blockers for my Wurmcoil Engine. He was all I had at the moment, since my Persecutor had been Condemned several turns earlier. I untapped and drew a Magma Phoenix, and went for what I thought would pretty much lock it up. I played the Phoenix and Flung it at the opponent, redirecting the Fling damage to Elspeth and killing her soldiers with the death-trigger damage. I swung in with the Wurm, only to see him get Condemned. I was out of cards, so when a Sun Titan came down next turn, picked up two Swords, and Sarkhan couldn’t find me anything good, I was dead within a couple of turns.
Matches 1-2-0, Games 3-4-1
Round 4 – W/g Quest for the Holy Relic
I remember this opponent by name; it was Travis (what up Travis?). All of my opponents that day were cool guys, but Travis had that extra bit of laid-back joviality that I and the rest of the host dorks really appreciate and try to keep about ourselves while we’re playing. When he opened up with Quest for the Holy Relic and 2 Ornithopters, I went into high-alert mode. My deck was made to deal with this sort of thing, but only if he didn’t get his ideal 2nd turn. Thankfully he didn’t, and I was able to Pyroclasm his board. The Lead the Stampede that I suppose he was counting on to let him fill out the Quest only got him 1 Memnite, and I was able to get a Gatekeeper and then a Nighthawk to start doing my thing. His Quest did get up to 5 counters eventually, but he could tell I was keeping mana open to respond with removal, and didn’t want to chance it without a backup creature. I was able to keep him on 1 or fewer creatures until the end of the game, which I think was finished by the Sarkhan “dragon axe” trick.
This game also went smoothly for me because of an unfortunate stumble in my opponent’s game plan. Hexmage cleared a Quest before it could go off, and I killed his Fauna Shamans before they were able to come online. Travis ended up calling a topdecked Gatekeeper that sealed up my advantage, and the game was eventually won by normal guys attacking (including Lavaclaw Reaches) and Chandra plinking away.
Matches 2-2-0, Games 5-4-1
Round 5 – Eldrazi Ramp
Game 1 was just embarrassing. I had to mulligan to 4 because the hands I saw for 7, 6, and 5 were so incredibly bad and unplayable. I think the only nonland cards my opponent saw before it was all over were a Nighthawk and a Go for the Throat I used on his Primeval Titan. Eventually my Nighthawk got killed by his Ulamog and I conceded on my next turn, still on 4 lands and with nothing in my hand even remotely helpful.
Game 2 started with a massive screwup on my part. I was planning on playing a Nighthawk, saving my Gatekeeper for the Overgrown Battlement I was pretty sure my opponent would play on his next turn (his turn 2 play was an Everflowing Chalice). My brain got stuck on “Gatekeeper”, and when I played my card, that’s what I said. I thought I had just misspoken, but when I picked up my hand off the table, I saw I had played the wrong card as well. Because of the next several of my opponent’s plays and how they affected the game, I’m confident in saying that the game would have been over in 10 minutes max in my favor if I hadn’t done this. However, as it stood, the game ended up taking the rest of the round to finish. After some back-and-forth, I decided to use Sarkhan to upgrade a Wurm into a dragon and 2 baby wurms. Next turn, I decided to upgrade a Gatekeeper in the same way. The board kept getting more and more crowded as the game dragged on. I had to Fling a Persecutor at my opponent’s Wurmcoil Engine to sidestep the life-swing it would cause. He later used a Terastodon to give himself 2 elephants and kill my Chandra (giving me an elephant). I had the “advantage” in the air for a long time, but his Mystifying Maze was making things complicated, as it could evaporate my dragons completely. Finally, however, my pair of Nighthawks dealt the last points of damage. There was only 1 minute left in the round at this point, so we didn’t even start the 3rd game.
Matches 2-2-1, Games 6-5-2
Round 6 – U/B Control
Mulliganning to 5 again, I’m starting to wonder if the sleeves are sticking together. This game was extremely uneventful on my side, especially with my opponent’s Mimic Vat seriously cramping my style. The few creatures I drew would be a very bad idea to risk playing without some kind of backup plan, and my removal sat dead in my hand. When he finally did play a creature, it was a Wurm, so trying to kill that would be the worst idea in the world considering the active Vat and my complete lack of board presence. I lost. The game wasn’t a total waste, as there was a teachable moment in it. I tried to draw out some removal early on by attacking with a Lavaclaw Reaches. My opponent killed it, and chose to imprint it on the Vat, which gave me the first indication that he might not understand how the copy ability works. A few turns later, he did indeed make a token copy of the reaches, thinking it was a creature (since that’s what it looked like when it died). I explained it to him, he called a Judge to confirm (which you should always do in a situation like this), and knowledge was gained.
Another mulligan to 5, and I continue to draw one and a half bunches of nothing with Sarkhan helping me out for a few turns (thanks a lot, buddy). Hexmage gets a Jace, but it doesn’t do much in the long run, and a Wurm I play out of desperation gets the Mana Leak I fully expected to see. I actually die to poison from Inkmoth Nexus and Phyrexian Crusader.
Matches 2-3-1, Games 6-7-2, Drop
My deck was definitely not the strongest choice, but what it lacked in optimality was more than made up for by sheer weirdness, which is an advantage against opponents who have some trouble figuring out how to play against decks they’ve never tested against. That being said, there were definitely some things I could have changed to give myself a better experience (technically, “playing a better deck” does count, but that’s a different discussion entirely):
- Every serious Standard deck, with very few exceptions, has some combinations of Planeswalkers, Quests, and artifacts that use charge counters. Vampire Hexmage should have been in the main, probably with Pyroclasm moving to the board or being left out entirely. I boarded her in against every opponent except for the Eldrazi ramp, and she did some valuable work every single time.
- Did you notice how I never mentioned Ratchet Bomb being useful? That’s because it was a big piece of crap the entire day. It takes much too long to accomplish anything, and is too easy to play around. Manic Vandal should have taken its place in the sideboard.
- Did you notice how I never mentioned Black Sun’s Zenith doing anything important? If I ever boarded it in, I don’t remember, and I certainly never cast it. I still think the role it was supposed to fill in the sideboard is important, but I think Consume the Meek would have done a better job, especially since it’s able to deal with manlands in an effective way.
- Not having any Doom Blades at all was a mistake. Grave Titan isn’t as popular anymore as he used to be, and Wurmcoil Engine continues his ascendance in the face of Go for the Throats everywhere.
- 3 Sarkhans may be too much. When I was already in a bind, he would just get in the way. I thought about it some more, and of all the planeswalkers printed so far, Sarkhan the Mad does the absolute least (possibly tied with his non-mad version) if you don’t have other cards active and ready to work with him. -1 Sarkhan and -1 GTFO would let me bring in 2 copies of the Doom Blades I mentioned earlier.
- Inferno Titan is awesome, and I need to find a way to put him in this deck instead of just letting my opponents have all the fun with him.
At this point I’m counting the deck as officially retired. It was (extremely) fun while it lasted, but now it’s time to move on. I’m thinking something where I can just relax and attack over and over again (the Koth proliferate deck I played against was really awesome and interesting, but I’m afraid I would screw it up if I tried building it myself). I got my set of Mystics back when it was easy, lucked into some Swords of various types, and ended up with sets of Goblin Guide and each Battle Cry Hero by means of some pack-cracking and one of Randy’s “special notebooks”. My ideas in that direction aren’t all that solid yet, but I think there’s potential. What do you guys think?