Monday, March 21, 2011

there and back again: a game day tale by bumbling parents

Why yes, you do look familiar...
The deck started with high hopes at Mimic Vat and ended at Bloodchief Ascension and a disappointing non-Top 8 finish in a tiny field of 17.  "What the..." you ask.  We have a similar reaction, a mixture of What the Heck?! + pure horror, every time we crack a poopy diaper.  Parenthood sucks the time away from Magic, for a different kind of magic, and gives you all kinds of new perspectives on cards with names like Ichor Wellspring.  If you have kids of your own, you know exactly what I'm talking about.  If you don't yet, know that you have something epic to look forward to.  Jon Medina's much-publicized SCG NJ Destructive Force gaffe is nothing compared to baby's destructive force gas.  Fissure Vent will never again be an abstract idea.  Target artifacts and nonbasic lands at our house have been destroyed many, many times over.  Necrotic Ooze?  Virulent Swipe?  I'll stop.  As fond of our little guy's bombs as we are, we're looking forward to when he's out of diapers and into (hopefully) Magic himself, dropping the Myr Battlesphere kind of bomb instead.

Baby bottoms aside, we knew simply due to the limits on our time that we had a challenge ahead of us trying to build a functional rogue deck for the upcoming Portland Game Day.  Elliot, like many other smart guys around, had it in his head that building something around Mimic Vat would be extremely cool.  I was excited because one of my alter egos is a journeywoman marketing exec and she wanted to name this deck Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  The idea was to steal your opponent's creatures, add insult to injury by sacking the creature and throwing it in the Vat, and then pump out hasty copies of their own dude, ultimately killing them in a most clever and delicious way.

Version 1
Object of obsession.
3 mimic vat
1 conquering manticore
3 liliana's specter
1 tuk tuk the explorer
3 viscera seer
3 go for the throat
2 pyroclasm
3 lightning bolt
3 inquisition of kozilek
2 duress
4 perilous myr
4 culling dais
3 mark of mutiny

10 swamp
3 mountain
4 blackcleave cliffs
3 dragonskull summit
3 lavaclaw reaches

And the result was...clunkalicious (the next article will feature a first-build that is not a clunker, I promise).  There was actually some nice synergy going on between certain components, and putting someone in a Vat-Specter lock late in the game is wickedly fun, but the number of things going on (discard, sacrifice, steal, copy, burn) was overwhelming and the synergies were present between sub-groups of cards in the deck (instead of there being a cohesive, singular synergy flowing throw all the elements), meaning that success was very conditional.

Here, we started down the road of making the deck better, only to fall into the all-too-common trap of making it worse.

-1 go for the throat
-4 perilous myr
-4 culling dais
-3 mark of mutiny
-1 viscera seer
+1 bloodhusk ritualist
+2 skinrender
+2 liliana vess
+1 red sun's zenith
+2 arc trail
+1 lightning bolt
You're fun.
+1 vampire hexmage
+1 liliana's specter
+2 doom blade

Version 2
3 mimic vat
1 conquering manticore
4 liliana's specter
1 tuk tuk the explorer
2 viscera seer
2 go for the throat
2 doom blade
2 pyroclasm
1 bloodhusk ritualist
2 skinrender
2 liliana vess
1 red sun's zenith
2 arc trail
1 vampire hexmage
4 lightning bolt
3 inquisition of kozilek
2 duress

10 swamp
3 mountain
4 blackcleave cliffs
3 dragonskull summit
3 lavaclaw reaches

Go go Lilie and the Chocolate Factory!  No, do not go.  And don't collect your $$$.  The Skinrender worked fairly well and proved useful in doing away with annoying hawks in several test games, and we still liked the Specter, but the rest of it was bleh.  No matter how bad I want to use Liliana, she's always, always too slow for Standard (this is why I cannot wait for Innistrad—please Mr. Bolas, let it be Lili's time to dominate).  There just wasn't enough power coming through reliably for the deck to be viable.

Sorry dude, Chapin says you're unreliable.
Time for the time warp, skipping over a bunch of variations, poor changes, and mind-numbing spiral of tests vs Caw-Blade (please just go away) and Valakut (you are an amazing monster of machinations, capable of such feats as motivating Bennie Smith's recent epic mulligan-to-zero).  This phase of the deck build included a flirtation with switching to a white "hoser cats" deck I wanted to call Sylvester n Tweety.  With sweaty palms, I told myself I had the gall to ask @bmkibler and @thepchapin for their opinion on Leonin Arbiter.  When the deities actually replied (in holy trumpet-backed angelic duet, no less—this was a great day in my Magic life!), "Divine Offering is better," I almost fainted and then told Elliot that the Arbiter was probably not our Next Big Tech discovery.  Twitter, you make grand things possible.

It was time for the Ten Years Younger version of deck overhaul.  We cut the Vat and took a new approach.  Power was an issue, and we wanted something drastically different than what was out in the current metagame to bring to Game Day.  So we came up with this (before Mike Flores wrote his article, believe it or not):

4 Bloodchief Ascension
4 Pyromancer Ascension
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Burst Lightning
She rocks.
4 Staggershock
4 Duress
3 Arc Trail
3 Sign in Blood
2 Black Sun's Zenith
2 Diabolic Tutor

4 Arid Mesa
4 Marsh Flats
4 Mountain
4 Swamp
4 Lavaclaw Reaches
3 Dragonskull Summit
3 Blackcleave Cliffs

4 Goblin Ruinblaster
4 Stoneforge Mystic
1 Sword of Feast and Famine
1 Sword of Body and Mind
1 Plains
2 Ratchet Bomb
1 Memoricide
1 Demolish

And then we went to battle.  Would you believe after all that—losing those precious hours of sleep, cramming in testing before work and after, coercing the baby to nap and then frantically making changes and starting violent whispering arguments over card choice, wearing ourselves thin and beating domestic bliss over the head with Swords—we didn't fight one Caw deck and the entire field was poison?  That we had multiple Phyrexian Crusader matchups?!  Believe it.  Ugh.  Elliot's report follows.

Words of wisdom from the amazing, and too kind, Bennie Smith.



Relatively low turnout of 17 at Guardian Games.  Rian (my Standard compadre) made semifinals with W/u Tempered Steel poison before dropping to go watch a Blazers game.  Half of the Top 8 was poison - all different builds.  Rian's W/u, both of my poison opponents (mono-black and U/B control), and a G/B Livewire Lash + pump build.  Guardian was packed though - 30+ Pokemon kids, 16-player WoW TCG tourney also going on.

Round 1 vs. Mono-Black Poison

Game 1
Hate you.
I don't get to interact much.  He plays turn 3 Phyrexian Crusader, attacks for 2 poison on each turns 4 and 5, then turn 6 plays a hasty Skithiryx to attack for the last 6 poison.  Darn that protection from red... not fair on a black card.

Game 2
I'm on tilt, thinking about how I don't have good answers for Crusader.  I bring in two Memoricides and three Ratchet Bombs with Crusader in mind.  I keep a sketchy one-lander on the play - 2 Lightning Bolt, 2 Pyromancer Ascension, 2 Surreal Memoir, Dragonskull Summit - but figure that I have removal, and should be able to turn on an Ascension easy enough.  On turn 2 I don't get the land, but get an Inquisition, which I play, and breathe a sigh of relief as I nab a Phyrexian Crusader from his hand.  My Lightning Bolts get used up fast on Septic Rats and Hand of the Praetors, and he still beats down for one a turn with an Inkmoth Nexus.  I never draw a fourth land to recycle my Bolts with Surreal Memoir, and draw into the two sideboarded Memoricides and a third Memoir, so I'm cold when I can't answer his second Hand of the Praetors.  After he wins, he gives me a friendly "still had all deez" and shows me a Skithiryx and a third Hand of the Praetors.  I realize that I should have brought in the Pyroclasms to get value on his other random dudes, but was focused on my fear of the Crusader and the Blight Dragon.  

Lose match (0-1)

Round 2 vs. Pyromancer Ascension (without Archive Trap)

Game 1
He's playing U/R Pyromancer Ascension.  Raises my eyebrows when he plays a turn 0 Leyline of Anticipation.  He doesn't do much, and I end up triggering a Bloodchief Ascension to put him between a rock and a hard place and close it out.  At some point, he mills me for 5 with Tome Scour (I don't mind - spells in the 'yard help me trigger Pyromancer Ascension), and see him discard a Traumatize.  I ask him if he's playing Archive Trap, and he says no.

Game 2
MoxyMTG poll Best Hair winner
I keep an opener with two Inquisition of Kozilek.  He opts to play, and starts with a turn 1 Mountain.  I Inquisition him and he Bolts me in response.  His remaining five that I see are: See Beyond, Negate, Lightning Bolt, Jace Beleren, Reverberate.  I take the See Beyond, hoping to hold him off blue mana.  It works, and he whiffs for a couple turns while I lay a Bloodchief Ascension and start shocking him.  He eventually gets the islands he needs, plays the Jace and ends up with a Chandra Ablaze in play.  I deal with the Jace and turn on the Ascension when he's at 13 life, but he has an Inexorable Tide out and is proliferating Chandra, threatening to ultimate.  At one point, I have two dead cards in hand and he activates Chandra's -2 giving us each three new cards.  He wants to race me with Chandra (her ultimate could potentially kill me from where I was at 14), but the free draws he gives me gets me into more burn, and spend it keeping Chandra down while the Bloodchief noose tightens and he eventually drains himself into range for my burn to finish him off.  His Chandra misplay definitely lost him the game.  I might have pulled it out anyway, but it would have been much more close had he not given me those free cards.

We chat after the match, and it turns out he tried to get greedy and cut his 4-ofs down to 3-ofs...a big no-no for Pyromancer Ascension decks.  I tell him about the Flores Pyromancer/Trap combo, that I have a playset of Archive Traps that are for trade, as I won't be playing U/R for want of Scalding Tarns.  I trade the Archive Traps to him for two Glissa, the Traitor.

Win match (1-1)

Round 3 vs. U/B Poison Control

Game 1
Now I really hate you.
He wins the roll, and Duresses away my Inquisition on turn 1.  Which is a bummer, because my Inquisition was my chance to strip his Phyrexian Crusader, which he equips with a Sword of Feast and Famine...and I lose to that pro: red card again.

Game 2
I keep a hand with 3 Staggershock and an Inquisition.  I cast the IoK turn one and see three Phyrexian Crusaders.

Lose match (1-2)

Round 4 vs. Boros

Game 1
Finally, a game against a "real" deck!  He wins the die roll, and has turn 1 Goblin Guide which draws me a Mountain.  I play Mountain and pass.  He attacks with the Guide, I reveal another Mountain (*fist pump*), and hit it with a Burst Lightning.  He never touches me again... I burn away his creatures very conservatively, not letting him keep too many on the board.  His Bonehoard is a bit scary as I fill up his graveyard, but he can never get it equipped, and I cast Surreal Memoir twice for insane value and get there thanks to a bunch of splash damage from rebounding Staggershocks and Lavaclaw Reaches pumped all the way up to 7/2.

Game 2
this combo worked???

He brings in Kor Firewalker, but sideboards incorrectly and leaves Sword of Feast and Famine in the board thinking I'm mono-red (I only cast red spells in game one, but he apparently ignored my lands, including the Reaches that helped kill him).  Of course, he didn't get the memo that Sword of Feast and Famine should be maindeck anyway.  He threatens with another Bonehoard again, but he needed the pro: black Sword badly, as I cast Hideous End about five times over the course of the game thanks to Surreal Memoir.  Hideous End trumps the both the Bonehoard and two Kor Firewalkers, and I again bring it home with splash damage and without seeing a single one of my 8 Ascensions.

Win match (2-2)


No one dropped, and a couple intentional draws put the top 8 participants up to 7 points and kept me from sneaking in to get a foily, full-art Black Sun's Zenith.  Both players I lost to made top 8.

The one time I did get a Pyromancer Ascension online, it was against U/R Pyromancer Ascension, and he Into the Roiled it before I got to copy anything.  Apparently though, this deck can win through incidental damage alone, as I did twice against Boros.  Bloodchief Ascension was clearly good, and easy to trigger.  Surreal Memoir was amazing when I could cast it, but definitely slowed down hands where I drew more than one, which was a big liability - it should probably be a 3-of and not a 4-of.  Staggershock was an all-star.  Arc Trail was underwhelming, and I wished it were an instant... it should possibly be Go for the Throat instead for more reliable removal.  Pyroclasm in the board was definitely needed, as the card advantage it provides is very important for a deck with no permanents... there's probably room for more sweep, and for a mix.  Black Sun's Zenith would have been good vs. Kor Firewalker and Phyrexian Crusader.  

I still can't tell how viable this deck is... I lost three games to Phyrexian Crusader (did NOT see that coming!) and one to a bad mulligan decision (don't keep one-landers!).

Perhaps the real lesson here is... watch out for Phyrexian Crusader.


Unrelated: Best Hair poll co-winner
Well, that was that.  Performance-wise we were definitely bummed, but the day was still full of little gems of experience.  One of my favorite parts of taking a deck to a tourney, other than winning, is having Elliot come back with all the play vignettes that help me learn rules.  Hopefully, when I do sit down to compete myself, I'll remember the lessons from the funny stories he's related to me over the years.

So the first story: Round 1, there was a Caw-Blade vs. Big Red matchup going on at the table next to Elliot.  The Caw player activated Gideon, attacked for 6, then cast Day of Judgment.  Oops. Can we call this Pulling a Medina?  (Jon handled himself so well after that abominable play.  I was at work and burst out laughing when I read his Twit: "Maybe I'll Destructive Force myself on the way to the trade tables." Classic, and humble.  Thanks, Jon, for being such a good sport!)

Also Round 1, another table had Caw-Blade vs. G/B poison locked in battle in a Game 3.  Caw pilot has in play Jace TMS, Gideon, Stoneforge Mystic, and Squadron Hawk with an active Sword of Feast and Famine.  The G/B player (out of gas) draws Livewire Lash, equips it to a Phyrexian Crusader, and passes the turn.  Caw player +2s Gideon, brainstorms with Jace, swings, and passes.  G/B player draws Groundswell, targets his Phyrexian Crusader, and ...(Caw player was at 8 poison)..."Kill you."  The Caw player, not understanding, says, "You have to attack Gideon!" and ends up calling a judge to explain to him why he's dead.  Elliot said this was a case of "RTFC" (read the f-ing card) and that the Caw pilot should have bounced the Crusader with Jace...apparently he didn't read Chapin's Paris article—watch out for that Livewire Lash!

Caution:  your opponent has crabs.
In Round 3, the U/R Pyromancer Ascension player who was Elliot's opponent in Round 2, was playing versus Valakut in a Game 1.  The Pyromancer Ascension pilot was only playing three creatures, but he drews them all and goes:  turn 1, Hedron Crab; turn 2, Hedron Crab and Hedron Crab.  With the help of some Scalding Tarns, he mills the Valakut pilot out of mountains in short order. Hahaha!!!  I love it when the little guys (and the ridiculous cards—this one is so cute) go FTW.

Magic should enrich your life, and so far it's been doing that for us.  Plus, I've made the acquaintance of some good people.  It feels great to write again.  Coming up in future posts:  Silly-awesome EDH decks, 2010 Game Day 5-color rogue reflections,  and the Poisonblade first build.

Till next time,
May Magic be your sword.

You smell like flowers.

1 comment:

  1. I ran into the same problems running black/red Ascension, I was staring at 2 Phyrexian Crusaders holding 2 Lightning Bolts in hand, sobbing internally, but I recovered thanks to an extremely well timed (read: extremely lucky topdeck) Black Sun's Zenith I had in the deck for emergency purposes, however, playing Blue/Red Pyromancer Ascension I ran into 2 decks packing Thrun the Last Troll. Troll indeed, one card completely ravages that deck.