Last year I did pretty well at States, making the Top 8. Of course, my friend Lou was around for playtesting and general deck building advice back then - but Lou moved away last summer, and I haven't found another person to work with for serious deck building and play testing.
On the plus side, I'd started making FNM more-or-less regularly the past few months and had been doing pretty well. My one post-Odyssey FNM, I made top eight with a gently modified Fires deck. (Saproling Bursts and Blastoderms out, Call of the Herd, and one Beast Attack in, along with increasing the number of Flametongue Kavus and Shivan Wurms to four each.)
The modified Fires deck played well, but I also recognized that I had a run of really good draws and some flat-out lucky plays. Imagine that you've run your opponent down to five life, you sit at eleven life, staring down a Spiritmonger with a couple of +1/+1 tokens and you're out of chump blockers. You do have lots of mana, two Fires of Yavimaya in play, and a third in your hand. Now you know that you've got one Urza's Rage and one Ghitu Fire in play. Your opponent is without counterspells. It's your turn. You know that if you can draw the Rage, you can bring your opponent to two life, take a hit from the 'Monger, and win the game if you draw just about any critter in your deck. Better yet, just draw the Ghitu Fire and toast the guy.
Do you draw burn?
Do you draw a nice-sized critter?
You draw a Birds of Paradise. A card you love to see in your opening hand next to a green mana source... But when you're two turns away from toast, not exactly what you're hoping for.
I almost conceded the game right there; Bruce told me to. But then Lenny gave me a swift kick in the shins and pointed out that Birds fly and Mongers don't, and that Fires also works as a pump spell. Yeah, that's the ticket... Play the third Fires, play the Birds, attack, and blow all three of the Fires making the Bird a 6/7 flying gamewinner.
That's just the most memorable play in a night full of topdecking solutions or seeing clever ways out of problems.
I knew that Fortuna can be fickle about topdecking... But I was really happy about seeing solutions that I know I would have missed a few months ago. All those long drives to FNM were paying off with improved skill. Maybe I could repeat a T8 performance at States again this year.
Preparing for States:
As I said, I didn't have Lou around this year to play test. But I was following every bit of strategy I could find on the web, trying to guess the metagame and how to best build my deck.
I knew that I was going to have to increase the number of threats in my deck to deal with all those flashback token generators running around. I know that a hasted 3/3 token is a lot of fun - but Call of the Herd and Fires of Yavimaya both want to come out on turn two. Either way, the token attacks on turn three, but with the Fires I also have a permanent on the table that only deals two points of damage once instead of another critter. Besides, a lot of post-Odyssey G/R decks were doing great without Fires... Why shouldn't mine?
So out went the Fires and in went four Horned Kavus. I figured that these were great early plays... Forest plus mana elf or bird on turn one.... Drop a mountain, drop the Kavu, and use the forest to recast the mana critter. Not only was that a cool play, but the Kavu is also a 3/4 that kills 3/3 tokens. Ha! So much for Call of the Herd card advantage.
As the week went on I fiddled with the deck a bit more. At some point I cut the number of Shivan Wurms from four to three and mana elves from four to two, and took out my one and only Beast Attack. I also moved the single Hull Breach that I kept in the deck for emergencies to the sideboard. In addition to the Kavus, I added two Kavu Titans, a single Molten Influence (for emergencies), one Might of Oaks, two Overruns, and a Hurricane.
Do you see what I did? Did I increase my threat density even one little bit? No, I did not. Well, maybe just a little, but not enough to matter... I could have just left well enough alone, but I didn't. Might of Oaks and Overrun are just toooooo much fun. And the thing is they work well with mana elves and birds, because mana critters are almost universally ignored as offensive threats... But I cut the number of mana critters by two.
And Molten Influence was just too much fun as well. Sure you can Fact or Fiction, but it'll cost you four life. Sure, you can counter my Overrun... For four life. I mean, how can you not like this card?
During this time, I was trying not to do a card-for-card copy of the decks I was seeing on the net. (Why? I do not know, I am, after all, one of the defenders of the use of net decks. In fact I defend their use exactly because some of us don't have good play testers and/or deck builders to help us develop good decks. I've argued that it's fine to use a net deck, just as long as you understand how and why it works before you take it out for a tournament. And I was certainly trying to understand the netdecks that were out there.)
I should have used a net deck.
But I didn't. I did develop a couple of poor decks to test my G/R deck against... A G/B and a G/U. I'm still not sure why the G/U deck didn't work, as I'd largely copied it from a deck that I'd seen tearing up FNM... Winning five straight matches 2-0. I must have missed a couple of the critical cards.
But, back to the point... I'd built a couple of other heavy green decks because I figured the metagame was going to be all about green-based creature decks and Finkel-based decks. I figured that between large offensive threats and burn, I wasn't going to get too worried about Finkel - but I wasn't sure I could beat the other creature based builds, so that's what I worried about.
That, and I worried about land destruction. I think that there is a nasty, nasty LD deck out there waiting to really hose people. I haven't seen any deck lists from anywhere yet, but I'm thinking something R/B running LD and Braids could be really, really evil. But that wasn't the LD deck I built for testing... The one I built sucked. It especially sucked because when I played my G/R against the LD, deck the G/R got almost perfect mana acceleration and managed to get out multiple Horned Kavu and elephant tokens before the LD could be effective. (This was before I pulled out the two mana elves.)
So instead of using a net deck, I sat up until midnight the night before States fiddling around with my deck and sideboard. That's when I made all of the bad changes I told you about above. I almost added black for 'Mongers and Terminates... Again, I had a good deck that I could copy, but I didn't. And, as I worked on my sideboard I completely, completely forgot about the Spellbane Centaurs in my binder.
Oh yeah; I wanted to buy a digital camera so I could do the Rizzo photo shoot thing, but I spent too much money on cards and can't afford one just yet. So no photos.
You knew I had to get here eventually.
The tournament was held at the Dragon's Den in Sioux Falls, SD. I arrived for registration at about 10:30, registered the Frankenstein's Monster deck that I had put together the night before, and ran out to grab a sandwich before the festivities actually began.
I played against Gerald. Gerald was one of twelve folks that drove in from Rabid City, SD to play at the tournament. Nice enough fellow. We exchange a few pleasantries and get started.
Gerald is with a B/U/W deck that includes Spirit Lynxes, Absorbs, and Desolation Angels.
Game one was a real nail biter... I was picking away at Gerald's life total when he drops the Desolation Angel and starts taking big chunks of my life total away way too quickly. I did have a couple of mana critters when the Angel hit, so I was able to block the Angel once with a bird and rebuild my mana a bit. I am at one life when I... when I...
...When I do something that drops him from six life to zero. I'm thinking a Might of Oaks on an unblocked mana elf.
Game two I had a slow start. I was only able to get a few critters out and started nibbling away at Gerald's life total. Unfortunately, this was the game were I found out he also had a Dromar in his deck. I was at exactly six life when the Hurricane showed up in my hand... I was so excited that I almost tapped out to cast it before realizing I'd lost.
Game 3 - only ten minutes left. I got down some small early beats, but wasn't able to get anything big on the table. Gerald was at eight life to my eighteen at the end of extra turns.
Matches 0-0-1, Games 1-1-1
Not exactly an auspicious start. But I can still come back. One draw isn't that bad... Heck, better than a loss, right?
Versus Josh B., who is with Finkel, Wizard Patron, Temporal Adept, and some counters.
Game one is all about me... I get threats out early and keep 'em coming. I don't take a single point of damage.
Now this is the strategy part of the article...pay close attention to what I am about to do and never ever do this!
Between games I side out the Horned Kavus and a couple of other critters and side in Simoons and Hull Breaches (Josh had shown me the Opposition that would have been his next draw at the end of game 1.) Siding those cards in wasn't much of a mistake... But leaving Might of Oaks and Overrun in when he had counters was plain silly. I didn't need to pump my threats; I just needed to keep them coming.
But it gets worse.
Game two, I keep a hand with three lands, two mana critters, and two Hull Breaches. Draw one off of my deck is a land. Draw two is the third Hull Breach. It is turn three before I draw my first threat. (I think we can say that Fortuna was not on my side of the table for this game.)
Meanwhile, Josh is building up his army of little wizards and starts paper cutting me to death. I do finally draw some threats and take Josh down to five life before he kills me.
And, oh yeah, with three Hull Breaches in hand guess what never gets played? Yep, Opposition.
Game 3 I side in some Molten Influences... If he's going to counter, he's going to pay. I think that I took out the Hurricane and one of the Hull Breaches. By the time we get going, I'm rattled and not thinking straight. I let Josh Fact or Fiction while I have a Molten Influence in hand and untapped mana on the board. I also let one other spell go by unchallenged before finally using the Molten Influence on his second Fact or Fiction.
By this time Josh had a soft Opposition lock in place. He took the damage and killed me a couple of turns later on the second or third turn of extra time.
Note: It was late in game three before I ever got to show Josh's Finkels one of my Rages. Josh said he had been wondering why I wasn't using them..."I didn't draw them," was all I could mutter. (Fortuna hates me today!)
Matches 0-1-1, Games 2-3-1
Well, not an auspicious start. But, I can still win three straight rounds and maybe - just maybe - eke out a T8 spot.
I'm playing David, another of the Rapid City contingent. This is nice since I'm not just playing the same people I play for FNM. David is with a mono-black deck and is 0-2 before playing me. Fine says I to myself... Weak player with a weak deck...This is the beginning of my comeback, although David did say something about not being able to get his deck running in the first two games. I should have taken that as a bad sign.
Game 1 David wins the toss and Duresses me on turns 1 and 2 while I try to build up some mana. Turn three he plays a Ravenous Rat and I toss a land. Turn 4 he drops a Braids, and I start to worry. I don't have burn in hand to kill the psycho queen, and I don't have much on the table to sacrifice. I do manage to hold on to enough mana to cast a couple of small critters and get a few points of damage in before I die.
I'm not even sure what I sided in or out on this game. I think that I took out the Shivan Wurms and some of the Horned Kavus because I didn't want to be bouncing things when I had to sacrifice to Braids. I think that I must have sided in Tangles and Molten Influences, trying to stave off the bleeding and maybe counter a Duress.
I was really rattled by Braids. I wasn't sure how to play against her, and I mucked it big time. I mulliganed a five-land hand because I had no threats. I drew into a three-land hand with a single threat, which I lost in combat. I drew no additional mana, and Braids wiped me out while David slowly beat me down a little at a time. (Well, not really, but it sure seemed slow and painful at the time.)
Matches 0-2-1, Games 2-5-1
Now I'm wondering if I should just bag it and go home to spend some quality time with the kids. Clearly I am not going to eke out a T8 spot now. But, prizes do go down to twentieth place, and at least I wouldn't leave empty-handed.
I'm playing against Andrew, from Watertown SD, who is with a U/W deck and is using Teferi's Moat and Patron Wizard. (By the way, has anyone else noticed that I haven't yet faced one deck with forests, even though I expected the tournament to be filled with G/x decks? Not only was I expecting it, but seems like most of the folks on the web were as well.)
Game one I win the dice roll for the first time all day and proceed to get out critters and do massive amounts of damage quickly.
Game two, I still haven't seen much of Andrew's deck, but figure Molten Influences should be good against a blue-based deck. Again, I make the mistake of taking out critters instead of Might of Oaks, et al. The good news is that it doesn't matter as I still get out more threats than Andrew can handle. The final play of the game was interesting, though...Andrew is at four life and I tried to Might of Oaks an elf; Andrew casts a Fact or Fiction so that he can go look for a counter, and I Molten Influence the FoF. After some thought, Andrew decides that dying to the Molten Influence is more interesting that dying to an oversized critter.
We play an additional game for fun and chat for a while we wait for the final round to begin.
Matches 1-2-1, Games 4-5-1
If I win this, I have a chance at top 20 and a prize. If I lose I'll kick myself for not having gone home to play Harry Potter with the kids.
My final opponent of the day is Charles. Charles is also from Rapid City and was my first round opponent at States 2000 when he showed me exactly how vicious an Ankh/Tide deck could be. I ended up winning that round, but only just and I'm leery of what Charles might be playing today.
Charles has forests! The first forests I've seen all day except for my own. He also has plains, the"protection from creatures" critter, and Blurred Mongeese.
Game one I get a terrific start, and I never get to see much of Charles' deck.
Game two, since I really don't know what Charles is playing, I only sideboard in Simoons since I know he has at least some weenies in the deck.
Charles has a much better start this time and inflicts ten damage before I start to get my troops on the table and burn a few of his away. But, I'm at a pretty severe deficit because he also has life gain and the life totals stand at thirty to ten. I manage to get a couple of small attacks in before Charles shows me that I may have underestimated Moment's Peace, casting it after my Overrun had resolved. Next turn I attack and he flashbacks the Moment's Peace. I attack again and he has another Moment's Peace in hand. Two turns later I finally get an attack through, and one turn later I win the game.
Matches 2-2-1, Games 6-5-1
When the 9th-20th place prizes were being handed out, it took an awfully long time for my name to get mentioned. When things calmed down a bit I check...Eighteenth out of 31.
Not as well as I would have liked to do, but considering the number of mistakes I made... Well, I could have done a lot worse.
And, as they say, don't believe everything you read in the papers. There was plenty of blue and black running around and doing well. Green may have gotten a boost from Odyssey, but I think we're not done with islands just yet.
Islands should be restricted.
A decklist...you want a deck list? But this deck sucks.
Well, okay, if you insist...look it over and understand why you shouldn't design decks at the last minute.
4 Birds of Paradise
2 Llanowar Elves
4 Flametongue Kavu
4 Call of the Herd
3 Horned Kavu (Only three? I played thinking I had four!)
2 Shivan Wurm
3 Thunderscape Battlemage
2 Thornscape Battlemage
2 Kavu Titan (should have been four or none)
3 Urza's Rage
3 Ghitu Fire
1 Might of Oaks
1 Molten Influence
3 Karplusan Forest