On the Stack: My Turn for the Good Cards!
There were 138 participants at the Mirrodin Block Constructed Tournament in Harrisburg. Matt Murphy was in the Top 8 with his Blue/White Angel deck. Matt's Top 8 opponent was playing Big Red and started the first game with Turn 2 and Turn 3 Slith Firewalkers. Matt put down a Turn 4 Leonin Abunas. Big Red attacked next turn with the 3/3 Slith. Abunas blocked and was finished with an Electrostatic Bolt. Matt cast another Abunas on Turn 5, which was immediately dispatched with Shrapnel Blast. Despite"stalling" on three lands, Big Red was able to swing unobstructed with the two Sliths and finish with Pulse of the Forge.
The deck that got Matt into the Top 8 is as follows:
2 Stalking Stones
4 Leonin Abunas
3 Solemn Simulacrum
4 Pristine Angel
3 Wayfarer's Bauble
3 Last Word
3 Echoing Truth
2 Pulse of the Fields
4 Vedalken Shackles
3 Thirst for Knowledge
The main deck Acquire was a metagame call to grab Tooth's Darksteel Colossus. I caught one of Matt's games where he used it against Affinity on an Arcbound Ravager. This combo-ed nicely with a couple Vedalken Shackles to chew up his opponent's side of the board.
Big Red was a difficult matchup for Matt and the dead-draw Acquire were boarded out for the underwhelming replacement March of the Machines. At least that would limit fuel for Shrapnel Blast.
Matt began game two with a Wayfarer's Bauble, Leonin Abunas, and Vedalken Shackles. Big Red (sorry I didn't catch the name) opened with a Blinkmoth Nexus and a turn 4 Slith. Not quite the explosive start of the first game.
I'm pretty sure Matt had the only Blue/White deck in the field. Perhaps this and the unfamiliarity of the matchup explain the next couple of uncharacteristic mistakes by Big Red. He tapped mana to Shatter the Shackles. However, the Shackles couldn't be targeted because of Abunas. Using the two mana already in the pool, Big Red tapped two more and cast Solemn Simulacrum. As Matt had attacked on his previous turn, Big Red attacked into an open board with the Slith. That is until Matt tapped the Shackles and blocked with the Simulacrum.
Late in the game Big Red threw his entire hand at Matt's board. Shrapnel Blast Abunas; Shatter the Vedalken Shackles, and Shatter on an active Stalking Stones. He dared Matt to go ahead and play the Angel. Matt untapped and dutifully drew and cast Pristine Angel. Both players laughed and moved on to game three.
Matt kept a two-land hand, but couldn't draw another one over the next three turns. He was prepared to pitch one of his two Angels at end-of-turn when Big Red hit him with Magma Jet. Matt cast Condescend and although it didn't counter the Jet, it did enable him to set up a third land for turn 4. Big Red Seething Sang himself a fourth turn Arc-Slogger. Despite Matt's turn five Abunas, Big Red had so much burn Smokey the Bear couldn't have put out all the fire: Arc-Slogger, Slith Firewalker, Shrapnel Blast, Pulse of the Forge.
Other Top 8 matchups included Semion Bezrukov's Affinity deck with Moriok Rigger beating Jared Helwig's mono-Green build. Allen Jackson guided a Green/Red Freshmaker variant that included Rude Awakening and Viridian Shaman over an Affinity deck. Finally, there were a couple of Big Red decks paired up in a pyro-special mirror match. Allen Jackson ended up winning in the final against Semion Bezrukov.
Not sure whether it's fair or not to call Allen's deck a"Freshmaker variant." As a regular StarCityGames.com reader would know, Joe"Bags" Gagliardi and his GFC team created the Freshmaker deck and saw its power and success through to multiple Top 8 finishes at Origins and a qualification for PT: Columbus. Bags and Allen both play Red/Green with a very similar card pool: Arc-Slogger, Molder Slug, Eternal Witness, etc. What Green/Red deck doesn't play these cards? But as hard as Bag's lobbied for Ouphe Vandals and the fact that Allen played Viridian Shaman, maybe Allen's version needs to come up with its own name...
I, on the other hand, am a shameless net-decker. I took Freshmaker right off the internet and built it card-for-card. Part of the reason is I had all the cards; second is that it didn't seem all that difficult to play. [Be careful there, chief. You'll wake up Kyle Boddy with that sort of talk. - Knut]
After a fair amount of testing, I made two minor adjustments. First of all, the 14 Mountain/11 Forest ratio was a fine proportion given the main deck. But after sideboarding, there are as many as nine Green spells going into the deck. I therefore tweaked the land count to 13 Mountains/12 Forest. (Sometimes you just have to go out on a limb!) Second, I came to have need for a full complement of Oblivion Stones. I based this change on repeated testing against Matt and his Blue/White deck. Oblivion Stone was my only reliable answer to the Pristine Angel. Thus, I replaced a copy of Grab the Reins with a fourth Stone in the sideboard.
My results at the PTQ were not so great. I ended up 5-3 after starting the day 0-2. So slogging out a 5-1 record over the lesser half of the room doesn't say much... or does it?
Round 1 - Harrison Gardler, Affinity
Harrison dropped a Darksteel Citadel and Aether Vial on turn 1. A second turn Darksteel Citadel was the last land he would play, much less need, the rest of the game. Sometimes, Affinity just wins.
I side in all the artifact hate for game two and open a decent hand, limited only by the lack of Forests. Without missing a land drop, it wasn't until turn six or so that I cast Solemn Simulacrum. This got me my first Forest and a warm body for blocking. Soon after, I drew a second Forest and dropped Molder Slug.
Somehow, we get to the point where I'm at six life with only a Molder Slug on the board. Harrison is attacking with Atog, Myr Enforcer and a Cranial Plated Frogmite. As much as I'd love to watch his board rot under the pressure of Molder Slug, I unfortunately had to throw it in front of the attacking Atog. I Bolt the Enforcer, and Harrison responds with a Shrapnel Blast-sack that puts me to one. When I Bolt the Frogmite, he sacks in response to pump his Atog to 3/ 4.
"Ready for damage, Harrison?"
"Yeah. I guess my Atog dies."
It wasn't like he didn't have permanents to spare... but Molder Slug survived combat. The turn ended with me at one life, no cards in hand, and Molder Slug still on the board. Meanwhile, Harrison had twenty life, Cranial Plating, and four land, among them an unactivated Blinkmoth Nexus.
I drew next turn into my umpteenth land, and take a moment to pretend re-reading the card as if it's a business spell. Molder Slug attacks and Harrison drops to sixteen. I pass the turn to Harrison and he sacks a land. He draws. He taps a land. Activate Blinkmoth Nexus? I conspicuously re-read the basic land in my hand. Then he taps the Blinkmoth for mana! Thoughtcast.
I get another turn... I draw another land. Now with two bluff cards in hand, I again attack with the Slug. Harrison goes to twelve.
The game continues in this manner with me getting Harrison all the way down to four. Can I possibly steal this? Unfortunately for me, Harrison drew Shrapnel Blast and had Great Furnace for the Red mana. So I lose a game that I could have won, but really should have lost in the first place. Does that make sense?
Round 2 - Russell Colosi, G/r
I win the first game rather handily. After extensive sideboarding, Russell shows up in games two and three with multiple copies of Viridian Zealot and Viridian Shaman. I can see the Zealots, as I have a full complement of Oblivion Stones from the sideboard. But why on earth is he casting Viridian Shaman with no targets? (Argument #1 in favor of Ouphe Vandals.) Russell also showed at least one copy of Joiner Adept.
I forget if I had too much mana, not enough mana, or the wrong color mana. Bottom line is that in a world of Arc-Sloggers and Molder Slugs, Russell won games two and three with elf beat-down.
So do I quit on Freshmaker just because of a 0-2 start? No offense to my two opponents, but I would like to have those matches back while being able to play some spells. On the other hand, how do I assess a 5-1 finish when my various opponents' cardpools consisted of Oxidda Golum, Whispersilk Cloak, Pulse of the Dross, and Fists of the Anvil? Maybe Russell was on to something with the Joiner Adepts. Maybe I'll test Wayfarer's Bauble in lieu of Solemn Simulacrum. Any suggestions in the forums would be greatly appreciated.
Let me change direction a bit with a couple of tricky stack plays I noticed from the weekend. If you know them, fine. If not, perhaps awareness of them could tighten up your game.
Tricky Stack Play #1:
Harrisburg PTQ Round 8, Game 3 versus Jon Anderson. Jon has rogued out Big Red by including a Blue splash for Condescend and Thought Courier. I'm in the midst of a land flood with only an Oblivion Stone in play. We're each experiencing a flood actually, having gone"Draw-Go" the last couple of turns. Finally, Jon casts a Furnace Dragon. What is the correct response?
You don't want to"crack" the Stone in response to Jon playing the Dragon. The Stone's effect would only impact those non-land permanents in play. The Dragon is not yet in play.
Instead, you want to let the Furnace Dragon come into play. When it comes into play, the Dragon's"remove all artifacts from the game" effect triggers. This trigger goes on the stack, and priority is passed to you. Now, with the Dragon in play, it is time to"crack" the Stone. All non-land permanents, including the Furnace Dragon, are destroyed.
When I did this against Jon, he sighed as he said,"Yep. That's the play."
Tricky Stack Play #2:
You attack with Pristine Angel. During the second main phase you tap out to cast Solemn Simulacrum. Solemn Simulacrum resolves and you search your library for a basic land. You put the land into play. You untap the Angel.
Everything okay? Not really.
The Pristine Angel's untap trigger is a"may" effect. If you want the Angel to untap you have to announce this intention when you play the Simulacrum. When Simulacrum resolves, you are too late. When you search for a land you're now two steps late. By the time that land comes into play and you're about to end your turn, the untap effect is as stale as day-old bread.
On a final note, I'd like to welcome a couple new players to the world of sanctioned, tournament Magic. With a shiny, new DCI card, Dave Greene participated in his first sanctioned Magic event. Undaunted by a 0-4 start, Dave battled back to a very respectable 4-4 finish. Also, Mark and Will Perkins took a big step away from Friday Night Magic (and Erie, Pennsylvania) with worthy performances of their own.
I really should sign off here, but there's one thing that's bugging me that I really have to get off my chest. I may regret it, but I have to say it anyway. Matt Murphy, the Top 8 participant from the beginning of this article, is my son. We share a common card pool. But that's about all we share. I'm the one that sorts the cards. I'm the one who proxies the decks. I read the articles and I pore over the strategies. Yet, he's the one with two Top 8 finishes in PTQ events. He's the one with a J.S.S. victory. He's the one with a Top 8 at last years States tournament. This leads me to one stark and inescapable conclusion: He's the one playing the good cards!