Not too long ago, an article I wrote appeared on Star City. I gave a decklist and said that I would take it to States and beat people with it if they didn't have a way to deal with it. Well, nobody prepared for it, and I went 6-0-2 in the Swiss rounds while everyone else wondered how the heck my deck could possibly win.
This was the deck I played:
//NAME: We Didn't Start the Fire
4 Scorching Lava
4 Volcanic Hammer
4 Flame Burst
4 Urza's Rage
4 Blurred Mongoose
4 Call of the Herd
4 Quirion Dryad
4 Mossfire Valley
4 Karplusan Forest
4 Shivan Oasis
3 Barbarian Ring
I didn't do a thorough analysis in the previous article, but I might as well do one now.
The deck runs twenty-four cards that do damage to target creature or player, fifteen creatures, and twenty-one lands. In game 1, the deck wants to do things in this order:
1) Burn every creature your opponent plays
2) Play a creature when you can't burn your opponent's creatures anymore
3) Burn everything your opponent puts in the path of that creature
4) Attack with that creature until your opponent gets into burn range
5) Burn your opponent to death.
This plan is surprisingly effective."Burn range" is usually about ten to six life.
I did my best to keep the cost of all the cards down, so I could run less land and have room for more burn spells. Despite having only twenty-one lands, I only lost two games to mana screw in the entire tournament; if you have two lands you can play twenty-eight of your thirty-nine spells, and with three land you can play thirty-six of them. The only way you get mana screwed is if you need to mulligan to five cards and still don't have two land in your opening hand. Color screw is not an issue. The only card that costs more than two mana of one color is Skizzik, and there are twelve lands that tap for both colors. (Mossfire Valley is probably the best land in the deck; it gives you both colors, doesn't come into play tapped, and doesn't do damage to you.) The only way to get color screwed is to not have two lands. However, that does not mean late-game lands are dead draws; four mana lets you make a second Elephant token, five lets you reuse Firebolts and play Skizzik with kicker, and Barbarian Ring can be sacrificed to finish off an opponent or get rid of a pro-red creature.
I chose the creatures I did for specific reasons. Blurred Mongoose can only be stopped in four ways: Block it, race it, Wrath it, or use an Evil White Enchantment like Circle of Protection: Green or Worship. To block it, you need to keep a creature in play, which is hard to do against heavy burn. You usually need to have a creature to race it as well. I didn't have a single Wrath (or Earthquake, or Pyroclasm) played against me all day, and Tranquility and Hull Breach tend to keep Evil White Enchantments out of play.
Call of the Herd is also hard to deal with because it creates two creatures. If Wrath of God kills one, you have another waiting. If Glacial Wall blocks one, you have another one that can get through. If one gets Terminated, Raged, or blocked by a 3/3, the other one is still there to do damage. Call of the Herd is card advantage as well as an efficient creature; there's a reason they're going for $20.00 apiece on StarCity.
Quirion Dryad is a questionable choice, but I still like them. Even though they're much easier to deal with than the other creatures I run, they can do a lot of damage very quickly if unopposed. If they don't get bounced or killed, they get huge. I've even seen them kill Glacial Walls by doing eight points of combat damage, although that doesn't happen very often. I think that they are better than Wild Mongrel in game 1 (when the deck tries to be as aggressive as it can get away with).
Skizzik takes the highest casting cost slot as the finisher. If I think I can kill my opponent right away, I sometimes play it without kicker, although usually this waits in your hand while you wait for the fifth land. With twenty-one land, I can't support many spells that are more than three mana, so I couldn't run Skizzik and Flametongue Kavu at the same time without adding land. Since FTK doesn't do five to the dome and I had so much other removal already, I chose Skizzik. If you just can't stand the thought of not running FTK in a red deck, you can pull six burn spells for two land and four Flametongue Kavus, although I think this will weaken the deck in the second and third games.
In games two and three, the deck gets tricky. You sideboard out three Skizziks, four Quirion Dryads, and one other card for four Wild Mongrels and four Ensnaring Bridges against G/r beats, G/U/x tempo with or without Opposition, and anything that runs Spiritmonger or Phyrexian Scuta. Ensnaring Bridge is completely broken in a creature-dominated metagame when your opponents neglect to add artifact removal to their sideboards. I warned everyone that I was going to play the Bridge at States and watch as my opponents sit there not attacking while I just throw burn spells at them until they lose. I told people to prepare to play against the Bridge... But nobody listened to me.
Wild Mongrel just helps get your hand empty faster and is harder to burn than a 1/1 or 2/2 Quirion Dryad. The deck is still perfectly capable of following the plan for game 1 after boarding in the Bridge; the Bridge just makes sure you don't get overwhelmed by creatures that are bigger than yours and hard to burn away. I don't recommend maindecking the Bridge; you want it to be a surprise when it hits in game 2.
Tranquility goes in against any deck with access to white mana and against Orb-less Opposition decks. The last thing you want is to be Worship-locked or staring at any other Evil White Enchantment that stops you from damaging your opponent. With a Bridge in play, Tranquility is better than Hull Breach because it doesn't need a target; you can play it with no enchantments in play just to keep your hand empty if you're staring at more Squirrels than you can easily block. It usually replaced Scorching Lava or Call of the Herd when I was using the Bridge plan. Hull Breach is strictly for troublesome artifacts like Static Orb or against decks that you'd want to leave the Dryads in against; I only used it in one match.
I used as many good burn spells as I could find, and you'd be hard-pressed to find many good ones that I left out. Blazing Salvo didn't even come close to making it into this deck; when I want a creature killed, I don't want my opponent paying life to save it, and when I want my opponent to take damage, I don't want my opponent to sacrifice a creature to save himself. However, I had to think long and hard before excluding Fire/Ice. Fire/Ice is a good card, but I think the collection of burn spells that I have is better than one that includes Fire. Flame Burst is better than Fire in this because it can sometimes do more damage and kill Elephant tokens and Shadowmage Infiltrator. Shock costs one less mana, Volcanic Hammer and Urza's Rage always do more damage, and Firebolt costs one less mana and has Flashback. Scorching Lava is probably the worst burn spell in the deck, but if your opponent has a regenerator like Spectral Lynx or Nightscape Familiar, you'll need it. Fire is often better than Scorching Lava, but I don't think that it is good enough to make me remove the one burn spell that I have that can kill a Spectral Lynx with black mana open.
Well, enough about the deck. Now it's time for the real report, starting with the ever-unpopular road trip story. I found the directions to the Ramada Plaza hotel on Gray Matter's web page, and I had an uneventful twenty-minute drive to the hotel, arriving with very little time left to register my deck. That's the entire road trip story.
Once I got there, I had a problem. I had twenty-eight dollars and a credit card with me. I used twenty of that twenty-eight dollars for the entrance fee. I was missing a few cards from my deck, but I thought I could get them easily. The cards I was missing were three Shocks. It's a common, so how hard can it be to find? Well, there was one dealer there who had some, but they were from Stronghold and they were two dollars each. I didn't have opaque sleeves, so I would have to buy them from the other dealer for six dollars or play my deck sleeveless. I had an Urza's Rage with a bent corner that was clearly marked without opaque sleeves, so I needed to find three Shocks for two dollars. I went around asking people who had brought lots of cards to trade if they had any extra copies of Shock. About five minutes passed, and I still couldn't find anyone who had any extra copies of Shock! Some other players tried to help me find some, but they couldn't find anybody with any spare copies of Shock, either! Just as the first round was starting and I was desperate enough to buy from the dealer and play without sleeves, I find someone who said that he had a red deck he wasn't using with Shocks in it. I give him two dollars for the three Shocks, bought a pack of blue-backed sleeves with my remaining six dollars, and hurried to get everything ready for the first round.
I apologize in advance for the lack of detail in some matches; all my notes were scribbled down after each match ended.
Round 1: Andrew Rivara playing G/U/r Opposition
We were assigned to table 65, but there was no table 65. We have to play on the floor in the hallway. It was actually cooler in the hallway than in the rooms where most of the other people were playing, but my opponent wasn't happy about playing on the floor. I don't have my cards sleeved yet, so I sleeve them while he shuffles and then try to get my sorted deck into a more random order. This takes a while, but I assure my opponent that the match will be over soon one way or the other.
I lose the die roll.
I guess I didn't shuffle well enough. I get a one-land hand, with several doubles of spells. I mulligan. I still don't have two lands, so I go to five cards. My five-card hand only has one land, but I keep it anyway. I don't draw land soon enough, and my opponent gets 3/3 Elephant tokens and 4/4 Beast tokens to kill me with while Opposition makes sure I can't possibly recover.
I can't win a creature war against Beast Attack, so I board in the Bridge and Dryad for three Skizziks, four Quirion Dryads, and a Scorching Lava. I also board in Tranquility, removing Call of the Herd.
I actually have land this time. I play a Blurred Mongoose on turn 2 and another on turn 4. At the end of my turn he plays Mystic Snake to block a Mongoose, then untaps and plays no spells. I untap and try to burn the Snake. He plays a second Snake to counter my burn spell. I then try to burn the Snake again, and it resolves. I attack with both Blurred Mongoose, trading one for the remaining Snake. I get him down to ten life and he plays Call of the Herd to stop the Mongoose - but he's at ten life. I Rage him twice and throw two Barbarian Rings at him for the win.
I get about as close to a God draw as I can get. I Bridge lock him early, and throw burn at him. He plays creature after creature while I slowly burn him out. He never gets an Opposition, and I eventually kill him with my burn spells after a long game. He left two Oppositions in his deck after sideboarding, but they turned out to be near the bottom of his deck.
Well, the first round was over, and I was off of the floor. Andrew was a little upset about his bad luck in game 3, but these things happen. I saw him after each round to see how we were both doing; he went 2-2 drop and played in the side drafts.
Round 2: Bill McCurdy, playing"Bloom 2K" (one of those"Ghitu Fire you for 20" decks)
He gets a game loss for something he did in round 1, so I only have to win one game. He gets to play first, though.
This is how my turns went:
Meanwhile my opponent has been trying to get as much mana as possible. He got two Vernal Bloom in play (3G Enchantment, all forests produce an additional G when tapped for mana) and tries to play Time Stretch. I count his mana and it turns out that he only has nine mana instead of ten. He concedes and I win the match. We play another game unsideboarded and I win the same way.
Apparently his deck kills turn 6, while mine can kill turn 5. I go order a sandwich from the hotel restaurant,"Harold's Deli." I pay for it with a credit card, since I have no cash. I don't have time to pick it up before the next round starts.
Round 3: Chris Boyd, playing B/G/W Spiritmonger Control
I lose the die roll. That red die I've been giving my opponents to roll seems to be lucky.
I have a lot of burn in my opening hand. I get hit with Gerrard's Verdict on turn 2, and discard a Call of the Herd and a Firebolt. I hold my burn spells for creatures, but he plays two Necra Sanctuary for some strange reason. I don't get a fourth land to flashback Call of the Herd until it's too late; he has a Spiritmonger that I can't burn away. I had more than six damage in my hand but I didn't have enough mana to kill the Spiritmonger before he untapped and had mana to regenerate it. I did draw a fourth land and started making creatures to throw in front of the Spiritmonger, but the situation is hopeless. Eventually he plays Armadillo Cloak on the Monger. I can't survive another attack and the six points from the Sanctuaries, so I scoop.
I don't get hit with an early Verdict this time. I play a Blurred Mongoose, then a Call of the Herd. He answers with Spiritmonger on his fifth turn, tapping out to play it. Here's where things get interesting; I'm holding a Bridge and some burn. I attack with both creatures, and he doesn't block either one, apparently fearing burn spells. I play the Bridge, leaving me with five cards in hand. His Spiritmonger can't attack, but my creatures can. He untaps and Vindicates my Bridge, but I don't think he attacked with the Monger. I untap and attack with everything. He blocks the Elephant, but I have enough burn to finish him off.
I burn his Birds of Paradise and he never sees a third land. I kill him with a Wild Mongrel and a pair of Elephant tokens. The only cards he had in play were two lands and two Sterling Groves (which do nothing against Tranquility).
I don't like to win because of mana screw, but it's part of the game. I go get my sandwich and discover it's not a sandwich; it's a huge pile of meat and half a loaf of sliced rye bread on the side. Well, I put some of the meat on the bread, and it isn't too bad. I don't get to eat that much because it was very salty and I kept going to the water fountain. The big brown paper bag was just perfect for holding all my stuff, though. I had a pad of paper, my deck in the box the sleeves came in, my sideboard in a plastic box I brought from home, and a plastic bag with counters, dice, and pencils.
Round 4: John Murphy, playing G/R/w beatdown
I lose the roll yet again. This deck seems to do pretty well drawing first, though.
My opponent plays a turn 2 Wild Mongrel. I Volcanic Hammer it.
My opponent plays a turn 3 Call of the Herd. I Volcanic Hammer it.
My opponent plays a turn 4 flashback Call of the Herd. I Volcanic Hammer it.
I had two Hammers in my opening hand and I topdecked a third. Three damage for two mana is some good, even at sorcery speed.
I then proceed to beat down with Blurred Mongoose and my own Call of the Herd. He kills an Elephant token with a Flametongue Kavu, but I still had the other token. I do something a little foolish here; I attack with both the Mongoose and the remaining token into the FTK and another Wild Mongrel. He blocks the token with the FTK and the Mongoose with the Mongrel. I Shock the Flametongue before damage goes on the stack, and he makes the Mongrel a 3/3. I think I should have killed the FTK first, so at least one creature got through. Anyway, it doesn't matter, because I soon play Skizzik and attack for the win.
There is no game 2. When sideboarding, I discover that I left an Ensnaring Bridge in my deck after the previous match. I agonize over it for a few seconds, but I have to be honest. I tell my opponent. He tells the judge, and I get a game loss, but my game 1 win still stands. I resolve to be more careful when sideboarding.
I make the Bridge transformation again and decide to board in Tranquility because I saw white mana. I board in four Bridges, three Mongrels, and four Tranquilities for three Skizzik, four Quirion Dryads, and four Call of the Herds.
I get a turn 3 Ensnaring Bridge, but have trouble getting my hand empty. He had a Cloaked Wild Mongrel and got up to twenty-seven life, so it took a long time to burn him out. He plays lots of creatures and land, then draws a Thornscape Battlemage at six life. At this point, I have two Bridges in play. He plays it with the red kicker but not the white. He only had painlands for white mana, but the red kicker brought me to ten life. I wonder aloud why he didn't pay the white kicker, and burn him to four. He topdecks a second (!) Battlemage, and again casts it with the red kicker, taking me to eight. I topdeck Firebolt and kill him. He then says that he had an Urza's Rage in his hand and was trying to get to twelve mana to kill me. What he did makes sense, but I still think he should have paid both kickers on the first Battlemage; he had enough creatures to kill me if he attacked with them all.
Four wins and no losses is amazing. I go eat some more of the"sandwich" and come back to play round 5.
Round 5: Marc Colacl, G/U Opposition/Orb
I lose the die roll yet again.
I start off with a Mongoose and he plays an Elvish Lyrist to block. I play Call of the Herd and he counters; I play the flashback and he plays a Mystic Snake. I start burning stuff, but can't seem to do enough damage to kill him. We trade burn spells, creatures, and counters for a while, then he plays an Orb when I am nearly tapped out. I have a Mongoose, an Elephant token, some burn in my hand, and two Barbarian Rings in play (I have threshold). He has two Birds of Paradise and a Llanowar Elf. He plays Opposition. I'm not quite locked; he can only tap two of my cards and still be able to tap his Orb at the end of my turn. I really don't remember exactly what happened, but I manage to get him to four by burning his creatures and attacking with the Mongoose before he gets Kavu Titan from a Fact or Fiction, plays it with kicker, and kills me.
I have a hand of cheap spells, but one of my two lands is a Ring. I start beating with Wild Mongrel and Blurred Mongoose, but he stabilizes with bounce spells (I think Aether Burst), counters, and Snakes. Eventually my side of the board is clear of everything but the Mongoose and he is drawing two cards a turn from his Thieving Magpie. However, he doesn't draw enough counters and I burn him out when I topdeck a Firebolt.
Compared to the others, this game was anticlimactic. I burn his first-turn Birds and he doesn't get enough mana quickly enough to stop me from killing him. He wasn't exactly mana screwed, but his hand was too slow to keep up with the creatures I played.
Five wins, no losses. I didn't even do this well when I won that online tournament three weeks ago. One more win, and I can draw into the top 8.
Round 6: Craig Krempels, U/G/R Liquid Tempo (no Opposition)
This guy takes forever to shuffle. He pile shuffled (six piles), then riffle shuffled about seven times, pile shuffled again, and then riffle shuffled some more before he gave me the deck to shuffle. It got annoying. He was the closest thing to a jerk I played all day; when I tried to shake hands after the match, saying"Good games," he said that they weren't good games. Whatever. I won the die roll for the first time that day; we both rolled the lucky red die and the unlucky white die, and I had the highest total. I seriously consider drawing first because I won all those other matches drawing first in game 1, but decide not to.
I get the double-Mongoose draw and burn all his blockers. He loses quickly.
This got weird. I drew all four Calls of the Herd and played Elephant tokens on six consecutive turns, leaving one in my hand. The first five were bounced and countered, and a Flametongue Kavu killed the sixth. I should have played the fourth from my hand instead of the third from the graveyard, because I draw a Bridge and play it with four cards remaining in my hand. I get beat down to nine by the Flametongue and an elephant token before I empty my hand. I burn him to three, but he somehow gets to twelve land and plays Urza's Rage with kicker. If I had taken one less attack, I wouldn't have been in Rage range.
I get some early Mongoose beats in. He plays Fact or Fiction, turning over two Call of the Herd, Urza's Rage, Counterspell, and a land. I split the piles like this: Rage + Call / Counterspell + Land + Call. I forget what pile he takes, but I now have no chance of winning with creatures. He makes an Elephant token and I play a Bridge. I burn him out three turns later.
I went undefeated for six rounds! Now if my opponents cooperate, I can draw into the top 8. I'm getting tired; I got up early and I've been playing Magic all day.
Round 7: Gerard Fasiano, U/B/R Infiltrator Control
We're the only players that are 6-0. Before we start, he tells the guy sitting next to me that he won about six hundred dollars at PT New Orleans. He seems friendly enough. He asks me what my rating is, and I tell him it's around 1600 because I don't play in sanctioned tournaments much. He decides that he doesn't want to draw because he wants to help some other people make top 8 and that a draw might hurt his rating, so I get ready to play.
I'm a little confused as to what happened. I stalled on two land, a Mountain and a Forest. I Flame Burst him because I have nothing better to do. He plays an Infiltrator and I play a Mongoose, forgetting about the second Flame Burst in my hand. Even though he's drawing cards, he's losing the damage race. I eventually remember that I have the Flame Burst when I float a red mana in response to an Ice on my mountain and kill the Infiltrator. He then plays a second one, which I answer with another Mongoose. He Recoils both of my land, and I discard a Firebolt and Call of the Herd. I eventually draw a Barbarian Ring and Urza's Rage the Infiltrator. He's at three life after I attack with the two Mongoose.
He offers to draw and I accept. His friend sitting next to me teases him about this, and he admits,"I bailed out."
They post standings and I'm in first after round 7!
Round 8: Osyp Lebedowitz, playing a U/W/r deck
Apparently my final opponent will also need some convincing before he decides to draw the match. He is also scared of hurting his rating with a draw. I think I lost the die roll this time.
My opponent plays a turn 2 Ice on my land with mana from a Plains and a Shivan Reef. He then plays another Plains and a Galina's Knight. I look at a hand full of burn and decide that I can't afford to hold any of it. I start throwing burn at him. He then plays another Galina's Knight, missing a land drop. I play a Mongoose and start attacking with it after he attacks with his Knights. With him at seven life, I play Skizzik without kicker and attack. He plays Ice on it and goes down to four. One turn before I would have died to the Galina's Knights, I burn him out.
The first non-land card he plays is a turn 4 pro-red Voice of All followed by Worship on turn 5. I play Tranquility, leaving him staring at an Elephant token and a Blurred Mongoose with only a 2/2 flyer in play on his side.
He offers a draw. I accept.
6-0-2. Can anyone do any better than that? I enter the top 8 as third seed.
All I need to do is keep winning and I'll get that nice plaque that says"New Jersey State Champion."
Quarterfinals: Craig again
It's the same guy I faced in round 6. He's back for revenge.
I get two Blurred Mongoose. He gets one. I attack a lot and win.
He gets two Blurred Mongoose and I get one. He attacks a lot and wins.
I see a one-land hand. I mulligan to six.
I see a one-land hand. I mulligan to five.
I see a zero-land hand. I mulligan to four.
I see a hand with one land, a Bridge, and two other cards. I keep.
The only way I could possibly win from this position is if the top two cards of my deck are lands. I proceed to draw"not land" while my opponent gets set up and then kills me.
I knew the risks when I ran twenty-one land in my deck, and, well, these things happen. I actually expected to drop more games to mana problems than I actually did. Oddly enough, I am now 0-for-3 in top 8 rounds against people I beat in the Swiss pairings, but I am 1-for-1 against people who beat me in the Swiss pairings.
I go home with a box of Odyssey, my first Top 8 pin ever, and a bunch of ratings points.
- The guy who had the spare Shocks - you made my top 8 possible
- Harold's Deli, for giving me that nice paper bag to put all my stuff in
- Ensnaring Bridge, for winning every game but one in which it resolved
- Triple mulligans
- Craig, for being rude when I beat him
- My round 7 and 8 opponents, for not wanting to draw until they were losing