I've taken a pretty large break from writing about Magic. After about a year and half of working on the Single Card Strategies column over at MagicTheGathering.com with Wizards it was time to move on. I was planning on an immediate return to Magic writing over here at Star City Games but you see I am plagued with this teeny tiny problem: when it comes to writing bona fida Magic strategy I don't particularly like writing something unless I have something to say. What's worse is that I find I can lose the thread of articles if I begin to dislike how it feels. Essentially I have the same problem that Dave Price said that he had: if he wasn't writing a really good article he didn't want to write an article at all. Maybe I'm just overly self-critical but I find I abandon a lot of my articles.
Magic strategy writing is an interesting thing. Oftentimes there are very narrow windows of time available to write about a topic. If you don't act quickly someone else will scoop you. Even if no one else does a new deck can show up and make the article you were thinking about writing irrelevant. In the lead-up to States I found myself feeling like I didn't know enough about the format yet to make an article commenting on the metagame and the decks out there and at the same time there didn't seem to be anything truly worth writing about right now other than States. So I simply didn't write.
Instead I read articles to get a sense of the metagame. I put together a deck for States like everyone else and I playtested it as much as I could. I felt like the deck was good but I wasn't sure how good. I guess I must have done okay with it—of the three people who played it in Wisconsin and Georgia all of us placed in the Top 4 and I won the whole thing.
So here it is the winning decklist.
Before we get to the meat of it all I want to explain the name of the deck. I@n DeGraff were debating on what we should be calling it when we stumbled on the name Eminent Domain. For those of you who don't follow law and politics the idea of eminent domain in the real world is that it is possible to seize private property from their original owners if it can be somehow demonstrated that it will serve a greater better purpose. A city for example can seize a house and the land on it to make a strip mall or a park. Crazy sounding I know but it seemed suitable for this deck... "Hey it seems like you aren't making good use of this here Plains and that. We've got a good use for it—I think it might just pay for this Wildfire I'm planning on next turn!"
After thinking of the initial list and honing it down to what it is now over the course of many playtesting and brainstorming sessions I felt pretty good about the card choices. Shocks were the best burn spell in a land full of Hippies Birds and Jushi Apprentices. Remand seemed like the best counterspell in the format. Even without Icy Dream Leash seemed like a cheaper Confiscate and the mana denial struck me as really potent all building up the strength of Wildfire. Icy Manipulator not only seemed like a fantastic answer to Umezawa's Jitte but also a versatile answer to any aggressive threat a way to push through a threat versus Monoblue and simply silly with the Leash. Finally Keiga and Kokusho made the deck have powerful quick impact threats—threats that most decks wouldn't want to accidentally kill. The sideboard wasn't tested very thoroughly at all but I liked a lot of the cards in theory though my playtesting sideboard was about 22 cards and I only selected my exact board cards at the tournament based on just the vibe I got out of what the field was.
And so I marched into the tournament still not sure how ready I was. I felt a little bit of confidence but I wasn't 100% sure that I had made the right decision. Maybe I should have copied a deck from Flores or some such...
The Main Event A quick glance around the big room shows that it is a pretty green event. There are a ton of old school hard-core tournament players who are not here. In fact there are actually very few people that have taken many of the big beats from events. There are a few former State Champs my favorite being "Wisconsin State Champion 1997" (as I call him) Rob Castro. Mike Hron and Lucas Hagar are probably the only other players in the room that could be said to be even somewhat experienced on the Pro Tour. Where are even the top Madison players that dotted the room last year? Most of them I'm guessing have been sapped away by poker and WoW. A bit depressing to say the least. Oh well. Less resistance I guess.
Round 1—Tony from Gilette playing Heartbeat of Spring Combo
I'm guessing Tony is in his late teens and he seems a little nervous. He's got a solid three-color base Green for mana Black for Tutors (and his Maga Traitor to Mortals kill) and random Blue cards to help with more Transmute and a few other tricks.
The first game takes a long time. I push into his mana turn after turn with Annexes and Icys but he does get out a Heartbeat and I can't find a Wildfire to knock him out of the running. He casts an Exhaustion effectively keeping me off of using my Triple-Icy Manipulator. With the mana available he drops a Blue Myojin and draws a handful of 11 or so cards but has to wait a turn.
I steal another mana with an Annex and he goes for it "most of the way" with a 12/12 Maga rather than waiting to lose more lands. He was working with very few lands (only four) and I think he was fearing the Wildfire locking him out of it. At the end of his turn I tap the Maga and then Dream Leash it taking it home for the win.
The next game is a lot more lopsided between Shadow of Doubt and his decision to go into a "switcheroo" mode by dropping in Dragons and Melokus. I Leash his Keiga and Wildfire away all of the Meloku and friends.
Round 2—Jesse from Eau Claire playing Black/Green Midrange
His deck is that combination of fast mana Hippies and large dangerous Black and Green creatures like Grave-shell Scarab and Ink-Eyes Servant of Oni.
He breaks out the mana immediately with Elves of Deep Shadow and Llanowar Elves and I retaliate by stealing some mana with Annexes and several Icy Manipulators. He drops a Scarab and I put out a Keiga to join Icy in holding it off as well as his Elves. It comes in once before he draws three copies of Putrefy first killing Keiga (I steal a Bird) and then follows up by killing a pair of Icy Manipulators. Still I have an Icy and when I Wildfire he is left with nothing at all in play. When I drop the dreaded Spectral Searchlight he starts taking a little bit of damage and after I follow up with a pair of Dragons he is done for.
The next game starts out scarily. He drops a turn 2 Hypnotic Specter and even though I am looking at a good hand it is still worrisome. Out of my two Icys my two Wildfires and my two-mana accelerators he knocks out a Wildfire and drops a pair of more mana accelerators (putting him on two land but five mana). Fortunately I draw a Pyroclasm and his entire board is ruined. I follow up with both Icys and nibble away at him with damage from a pair of Spectral Searchlights before dropping the first of several dragons. He Putrefies the first one but the next one sticks and it makes short work of him.
Round 3—Chad from Green Bay playing Flores-style Mono-Blue control
Chad's a nice player and he appears comfortable with his deck as he plays. He is playing the Mono-Blue deck that splashes Black for sideboarding Cranial Extraction and his kill is a combination of Meloku and Keiga. Tons of counters are on his side of the table but he has his dead Threads of Disloyalty and I have tons of mana to fight the resource war.
I win the flip and drop a Signet on turn 2 and he frowns a bit before letting it go. On the next 4 turns I cast Annex Icy Annex and Dream Leash. The first Annex he thinks about for a long time before countering. He stops the Icy. I lead on the next turn with a Spectral Searchlight and follow up with a second Annex. He lets them both hit but he's still frowning about it. It is now my turn 5; I now have 8 mana to his 3. He drops his fourth land (a Dimir Aqueduct) and says go. I try to cast a Dream Leash on the Aqueduct which he frowns and counters. On his turn he lays a land and at the end of it the pinging begins as I give him one mana from the Searchlight that he can't use.
Over the next several turns I Wasteland him once with a extra copy of a legendary land ping him down to 15 with the Searchlight and sneak out a second Searchlight all while activating the Mikokoro and casting random potential threats like Icy Wildfire or Dragons. At 7 life from Searchlight damage he finally decides to drop a Meloku with 3 mana back to protect it. I give him a pair of mana and he returns 2 tapped land to his hand to make 2 tokens and leaving himself with only 6 land in play total. I cast Keiga which he allows and then Wildfire and protect it with double Remand leaving him with only 2 land in play. He dies on the next turn during my attack phase.
In the next game I feel mana shy and drop my big threat Spectral Searchlight right away. He has a Remand but seems and grudgingly follows up on the next turn with a harder counterspell. I'm pretty sure this means he is low on his counters. I follow up with a second Searchlight but he counters it though he allows me an Annex. On the next turn he casts Extraction with 2 mana up naming Kokusho. Lucky him I have 2 of them in my hand. Despite this I'm confident. I drop Soratami Savant and Remand his counterspell he has back.
Now that the "ESPN Check Mark" (as the Madison kids call it) is in play I know he has a one-turn window. He has 6 mana. I on the other hand have 8. He is counter heavy and threat low and passes the turn.
It will take 10 turns but he will die. The only relevant threat he has left in his deck is Boomerang and I carefully leave up enough mana to never allow him to succeed in casting anything. A few times he futilely tries to throw out a Meloku or Keiga but he can only really cast one threat like that at a time and he concedes when I get enough mana out that less than three Boomerangs won't save him.
Round 4—Rob Castro of Milwaukee (aka "Wisconsin State Champ 1997") playing Ponza
Rob's a great guy and one of those friends that makes traveling to tournaments fun. It's not at all surprising that Rob is playing Ponza. Like a lot of us from the Madison or Milwaukee area we often find ourselves gravitating to mana-control backed with burn. Wildfire is a pretty exciting card these days too wrecking great havoc on White Weenie and Green/Black and new formats often include decks with weak mana bases. We both joke with each other and discover that the other is undefeated in games. "Sorry to have to ruin your streak" he quips with a smile.
Game one and two aren't particularly exciting. I drop a Dimir Aqueduct because I have to and he Stone Rains it. From there I'm in the exciting position of being way behind in mana the entire time and I never even see the three mana mark. Game two is much the same but in reverse. I draw a Signet and on turn 3 I Annex a Boros Garrison. I follow up with a Wildfire when it looks like he can get frisky and he pretty much dies to my Spectral Searchlights.
Game three is all about mana accelerants. I drop a Signet and we both work on each other's mana. He Blood Moons but I have enough alternate sources to keep my colors flowing though he does knock out two mana by making my Guild-lands less powerful. A combination of Icys and Wildfire keep him off of any relevant mana and we both knock each other's life lower with Spectral Searchlights until the Icys keep me safe by turning off his Searchlight during his upkeep. When I drop the Kokusho he is at 7 life and dies in a single attack aided by Searchlights.
Round 5—Sean-Michael of Janesville playing Straight Burn
Sean is another friend and we'd worked together on decks in the past including Pro Tour Philly and the recent GP up in Minneapolis. He's a good kid and this match includes one major malfunction that ranks up there with this recent Pro Tour semifinal match that I don't even want to think about... To make things more interesting I get awarded a game loss for failure to desideboard from my last round. Sloppy sloppy.
Sean starts out burning me immediately. Lightning Helix is followed by another three-damage spell and then a Char on turn 4. I'm at 10 and I'm thankful for the Shivan Reef in play keeping me safe from a Hidetsugu's Second Rite. He drops a Searchlight and nicks me down to 9 when I drop the Kokusho. He has been activating Mikokoro almost continuously and I have two more Kokusho (the full set!) waiting in my hand. On my next turn I attack and cast the second Kokusho just to get my life out of the danger zone. He taps 3 mana and I fear the worst a Flames of the Blood Hand. Thankfully it is only a Yamabushi's Flame. He aims it at a Kokusho keeping me from gaining the full 10. I drop the next Kokusho but he can only knock me down to 3 even after tapping out before it kills him.
The next game starts out much the same way. He burns me from the get go while I drop an Icy. When I cast a Keiga on his next turn he knocks me to 3 but leaving his hand nearly empty. I get in with the Keiga once and immediately sack it to Miren rather than doing anything else. He doesn't play a burn spell. On the next turn I drop a Kokusho and work on his mana with Annex and Icy. I'm still too low for comfort so I sack the Kokusho and jump up to 18 life. I Wildfire him to a low mana count and use Icys to keep him from useful mana while nibbling at his life with Spectral Searchlight.
The problem? Well we had a pretty large crowd watching including up to two judges at any time with one judge there the whole time. After the match concluded a spectator pointed out that I had had two Miren the Moaning Well in play. Yikes. While I had always had a mana available in my hand to drop and so there wasn't a question that I had needed it for mana it was obviously visibly frustrating to Sean. I had messed up big time and he had only lost because of the extra 15 life I had gained off of Mirens that should certainly have been in the yard. Sorry Sean...
5-0/10-1 (you can count this as 10-2 if you want to count an awarded game loss)
Round 6—Cory from Wisconsin Rapids playing Traumatize
This deck has been making the rounds essentially pairing the counters of a Mono-Blue deck with a bit of Black elim and a kill mechanism that usually involves a Traumatize followed by either two Glimpses or Glimpse the Unthinkable and a Twincast. Much like the typical Mono-Blue matchup this is a resource war but the differences in the two decks make this matchup somewhat less of a routing than the typical Blue deck faces against Eminent Domain.
Game 1 and 2 are basically the same. I push into his mana nearly every turn while he backpedals. In game 1 I hit him for 15 with Spectral Searchlight and one Dragon sneaks in for 5 at some point. In game two Spectral Searchlight is the only thing that does damage to him and I just keep him busy in the meantime dealing with random attacks on his mana.
Round 7—Justin from Kenosha playing Heartbeat
Justin's deck seems a lot more honed than the guy I played in the first round. He only barely goes into the Black mana and instead of using the clunky Myojin he uses the Weird Harvest engine to get everything he needs (including 4 Drift of Phantasms). As undefeateds we could both draw in but I am hoping to help out I@n's chances by knocking other people potentially out of the running and tell him I'd like to play.
The first game is a real squeaker. He gets the near perfect acceleration (one on turn two and two accelerators on turn four) while I steal his mana with Annexes and Dream Leashes slowing him down with an Icy. When he gets out the Heartbeat I'm forced to choose whether to Wildfire and drop to only a single mana. This will leave him with only three land not generally anywhere near enough to go off on but I'll have only a single land myself and I won't be able to cast anything in my hand. I think about my other alternatives which include dropping Keiga and just hoping he doesn't win or Annexing and hoping he doesn't win again.
I Wildfire and he does nothing on his next turn. I tap my lucky penny on my deck topdeck one of the many land and Annex a land of his. On the next turn I draw another Icy and lock him out of relevant mana while a Dragon eats him up.
He goes semi-switcheroo in the next game bringing in Melokus Keiga and worst of all Silklash Spider. He has a pretty strong advantage on the table with Meloku Silklash and Keiga facing off against my Kokusho. He drops me to 7 and forces me to trade Keiga for Kokusho by coming in with everything. I Wildfire away the rest of his team and hold of his Silklash with an Icy. Icy gets joined by a Dream Leash and he dies to his own Spider with a little help from Spectral Searchlight.
Round 8—Chris playing Fungus Fires
I'm not actually sure where Chris is from but he's the other undefeated. He offers the draw but I know I'm in either way and I have no idea actually how this matchup plays out. I tell him I'd like to play both to help out I@n chances of getting into the Top 8 but also because I came to play.
I'm not going to lie. Game 1 he smashes me. He has a ton of mana out there and is well equipped to handle Wildfire. Plus his Sunforger is a terrible terrible threat. I tap and steal his first Sunforger but the second one gets onto a token creature and he begins to tear me apart with his Disenchant-effects he uses main deck. This matchup felt like the Mono-Blue matchup in reverse: I was the one backpedaling and trying to find some way into the game. I offer him the draw back and I think he accepts it partly because he wants a cigarette. For my part I want to talk to other players that have played against this deck and come up with a plan.
Not bad. I had thought the deck was good but I hadn't thought it might be this good.
1st—Adrian Sullivan—Yay me!
2nd—Chris Nighbor—Fungus Fires (from Round 8)
3rd—I@n DeGraff—The other Eminent Domain deck. Yay us!
4th—Justin Cohen—Heartbeat Combo (from Round 7)
5th—Tom Sieverding—Gifts (another Madison player)
6th—Cory Hiller—Glimpse (from Round 6)
7th—Robert Brellhauser—White Weenie/Red
8th—Jeremy Barbeau—Green/Black Control (and fellow Five-Color player)
I am really liking the brackets. I get to potentially avoid Chris until the finals though he does get the chance to fight against White Weenie first. Also I@n and I won't theoretically meet until the finals and he'll have a chance to play Chris so I could benefit from anything he might learn if he wins the matchup we expect him to smash (Glimpse).
Quarterfinals—Jeremy with Green/Black Control
Jeremy and I banter for a bit. He's a very solid player but as anyone in the Five-Color community is likely to know he prefers that format. I feel like I have a slight hometown advantage playing in Madison with a bunch of people cheering me on. I don't know the makeup of his deck yet but one of the only cards I'm particularly scared of is Plague Boiler. It is of course in his deck.
Game one he gets all up over me right away and simply overwhelms me with big creatures before I can do anything relevant. Icy comes out a few times to try to slow him Down but he has this card called Putrefy.
In the next game I hold off a Vinelasher Kudzu and a Umezawa's Jitte on a Scarab for many many turns with a pair of Icys. He adds another large monster to the fray and I drop a Kokusho. We're at an impasse but I'm holding back that third Icy just in case. He drops the Plague Boiler and starts us over but I hold him off with an Icy and Keiga flies in for the win.
In the third game he disrupts me a bit with some Viridian Shaman and I put out a Kokusho to hold them off. He kills it with Putrefy and I replace it. He comes in again and I let it through rather than risk a Sickening Shoal or a Last Gasp (let alone some weird pump spell) kill it off. My plan is to Wildfire on the next turn and while he could kill it anyway he might spend mana instead and commit more to the table. He ninjutsu's out an Ink-Eyes and I lose both of my Kokushos and am at 7 life. I Dream Leash it and he knocks me down to 5. I race him with the Ink-Eyes and I leash one of his Shamans. He drops me to 3 and the Ink-Eyes comes in again this time eating a Carven Caryatid. On his next turn he swings with the Shaman and we trade. He drops a Plague Boiler but it will need one turn to blow and when I swing in again his own Shaman comes back on my team eating the Boiler. Soon after he is finished.
Semifinals—A rematch with Justin and his Heartbeat deck
By this point I've had a chance to watch him play his deck even more. He's very good and can keep track of his mana in his head while the Judges play catch-up with pen and paper. It looks like he dispatched his last opponent pretty readily but I'm feeling pretty confident about the matchup despite it still remaining a dangerous one.
The first game goes about as expected with me working his mana base. He slips out the Heartbeat and I have an absolute ton of mana. Normally he would wait to Weird Harvest and go off in one turn but he knows he can't count on that against me so he Harvests me a handful of Dragons and all of the mana in the world. Still though I need to kill him and he's nowhere near dead. I drop a Keiga and Kokusho. He moves to kill me and I'm hoping that he will try to play around the Remand that I don't have. That might give me a chance. He doesn't and plays the Maga for exactly 30. He could have done it for 34 if he had wanted. Amusingly with all the mana I was exactly one mana short of sacrificing a Kokusho to Miren (going to 30) untapping the Miren with Minamo and sacrificing the Keiga to go to 35. Alas...
In the second game I aggressively Remand his Kodama's Reach twice and then Shadow of Doubt it. I follow up with Annex and then a Dragon. Over the next turns I push into his mana and Shadow/Remand to keep him from anything useful.
In the third game I remain uncertain whether he played a switcheroo or not but I just run the game plan using a Shadow of Doubt on a Reach and then playing a "Reach" of my own stealing a land with Annex and then another "Reach" with a Leash. I develop out my mana for a turn (dropping a pair of accelerators) and then Remand his Keiga. Switcheroo it is I guess.
When he recasts the Keiga on the next turn I have a terrible answer for him: the Brain. Overwhelming Intellect. I draw 6 cards including another Brain and Remand. I develop out my mana again and Remand his next Keiga. On the following turn I Overwhelming Intellect again and now my hand sits at another Remand and two Shadow of Doubt. I drop out my own Dragon and sit on Shadow for his Gifts Ungiven. After attacking the second time I drop the second Kokusho and finish him off.
Finals—Chris with Fungus Fires
I spent a lot of time talking to I@n about the strategy here. Essentially it seems that the best bet is to just try to turbo out a Dragon and hope that my deck works and his doesn't. If the game develops any length of time it is incredibly likely that he'll tear apart my deck with Disenchants. I know going first is going to be a big deal here and I'm lucky to win the flip.
I start out fast and my hand develops picture perfect. Turn 2 Signet turn 3 Annex turn 4 Kokusho. I consider Wildfire on turn 5 but I know that he could just finish off my dragon and leave me back at square one. I Annex a Boros-land and attack a pair of times before casting the Kokusho to knock him to —5.
Game two is bizarre and I have to think that his plan was wrong. He draws. I'm confused as to why he would do this until he lays a turn 1 Weathered Wayfarer on me. Now he thinks he's being smart but it seems to me he is just being a little bit too greedy. He could be on the play and make this same call using his Boros-land or my own Annex to make the Wayfarer active. As it is I drop my second land and it is a Dimir Aqueduct.
He frowns at this attacks and drop a second Wayfarer but not a second land still waiting for me to take the bait. I cast a Signet and pass the turn. He frowns and decides to drop another land and on my turn I lay a land cast a Spectral Searchlight and another Signet. This puts me to 6 mana to his two. When I drop the Dragon it is pretty much lights out but I Wildfire him just to make sure.
Wow. Well I'm pretty happy with the deck. As far as I know only three people played Eminent Domain me and I@n in Wisconsin and another player in Georgia who played an older version of the list. All of us made Top 4. That's pretty gratifying for a deck that really only had about a solid week-and-a-half of testing between being conceived and being played at the tournament.
Eminent Domain is one of those great decks that plays out incredibly well against decks that don't expect it. The metagame was about exactly what I expected—a smattering of various styles of mid-range control to pure control decks White Weenie and Heartbeat. Sure there were some Rogues out there but I felt pretty confident of the general power level of the deck to handle it. I have to say I definitely underestimated the presence of Fungus-Fires which floated at the top all day but thankfully it turned out okay for me.
The presence of Fungus Fires illustrates the weakness of Eminent Domain. Their deck generally starts with its Seed Sparks and has access to plenty more Disenchant style effects. My deck is definitely based off of the power of plenty of cards that don't react well to massive Disenchantment. As a result Eminent Domain lurks in this place that it can be a very powerful choice when people aren't gunning for it. Even a simple card like Cleanfall can be absolutely terrible news for the deck.
The thing about States weekend however was that it was a Putrefy field. Most people weren't particularly concerned with Enchantments and so Eminent Domain was able to get away with this glaring weakness. Cards like Plague Boiler were a definite risk but you can always try to play around cards like Nevinyrral's Disk and Boiler is still a card that you don't have to expect coming out from a lot of decks. If you are really concerned try to fit a few Demolish or Smash into the board.
With regards to the majority of the field Eminent Domain fit into a really excellent slot as a control deck. Nearly every control matchup is essentially a war about resources. The Annexes and Leashes aren't simply expensive Stone Rains they are actually massive resource shifts like a variant version of Kodama's Reach. These fit neatly with the Wildfire and generally leave non-counterspell decks left without a real shot. Normally their Elders and Reaches would keep them safe but the Annex/Leash combo really changes that and the Leash/Icy combo not only combine to potentially steal anything but also really hurt these decks that essentially run incredibly few finishers.
The counterspell decks aren't nearly as hurt by things like Wildfire but they end up falling behind on mana so much that they can't afford to actually cast much of anything without leaving themselves open for some majorly bad spell to resolve. Very quickly Mana Leak can become a dead spell to join their Threads and Boomerang is only barely alive if you let it be. They are reduced to playing like Big Blue instead of Mono-blue Control—if they don't drop that Meloku real quick and kill you with it it should be lights out. The matchup was so boring in testing I@n eventually begged me into allowing him to stop playing it.
With the exception of White Weenie the aggro decks out there (few though they are) are in the unenviable position of trying to fight through Icy/Leash/Dragon/Wildfire. Not as fast as White Weenie the double-sword of Icy/Wildfire is particularly damning and both Keiga and Kokusho are very good at resisting aggressive draws especially if they are powered out on turn 4 or 5. It's this potential for the turn 4 or 5 Dragon (or Wildfire) that you are actually leaning on when you play against White Weenie. They run on such few mana you need to get out a huge monster to have the best hope of staving them off. The current board may be an overreaction but 4 Pyroclasm and 3 Execute seemed to make the tight rope a lot easier to walk.
Overall I would say that this deck would be an amazing choice to play in any environment that hasn't already prepared for it or isn't overwhelmed by Fungus Fires. The shelf life on a deck like this is actually pretty small and generally wears out once people want to actually beat it. Until then play Eminent Domain and put your opponent's permanents to better use than they are.