For a long while I was happy to be playing Blue/Green at States. I had survived the often publicized frequent “favorite deck” changes from Mr. Flores, and was feeling confident enough that I, at the very least, had a deck I was comfortable playing in a field where there was no clear dominant deck.
Around Tuesday of the week before States, I got a call from Mike stating that after all of this time and testing, he had found the deck. It beats aggro. It beats control. And it even has some game against Dragonstorm. The deck was Solar Pox.
Applying the expected amount of (blind) faith in Mike, I tested with it. I played against Zoo first, and was immediately encouraged. I stopped after the first seven games were won in Solar Pox's favor, with none being close. To get a feel for the deck, I moved to a more control-ish matchup against Solar Flare, as I figured that the other aggro matchups were at least similarly paced as the Zoo games were. After the first set, Flare was up 6-4. After the second set, Flare was up 12-8. After the third it was now up 16-14 from a more promising Pox showing. After 30 games though, I failed to see the over-powering I was hoping for. I reported back to Mike, who was convinced I was just playing it wrong. I conceded the possibility and continued down the road of trying to get cards to build three copies of the deck (Mike, me, and Julian Truth-Teller-Intern- IV, etc).
As of Thursday we were looking like we could cobble together two copies of the deck after much borrowing. Secretly, I was happy. I could play Blue/Green, still be considered to have accepted Mike's word as Bible, and on top of that I could play the role of martyr, letting Mike and Jules get the “good” deck and they owed me (the last time this ploy was run, I got to play ‘Tog at Grand Prix: Philly while Mike and Steve both played some awful beatdown deck - neither of them was near the money while I lost in the last round to miss Top 8 and end up in seventeenth).
Around lunchtime on Friday I got a text message from Mike asking me to call him. I obliged and was answered with, “Are you with us, or ‘No'?” The clear answer was OBV. This is where the story diverts from the standard MichaelJ operating procedure. Usually I'd be telling you about how Mike was telling me about how he just broke the format and how we're all going to be rich and famous, or something-like-that. That's what I was prepared for, and I actually told him his call was early (I expected to hear from him around four or five that evening). He threw me for a loop though, and said he got a new deck from Brian Kowal, had never tested it, and we were all running it.
Plans were set into motion to get our hands on the physical cardboard representation of Kowal's deck (times three, of course). Steve Sadin was going to have to go two hours home from school, then an hour from home into NYC to meet up with Mike for dinner and to do a card exchange. I called up Anthony “Tony” Tsai, and the OMS brothers. Tony was helpful, the O's sadly had all their cards in storage after both of them recently moved. Julian and Mike went to Neutral Ground to barn cards from their various barns (oh, the irony). At NG, young magician Asher caught wind of the commotion and joined in- now we needed 300 instead of 225.
The evening before the event was also Matt Wang, of Top8Magic fame, was hosting his annual birthday and/or Halloween bash. In addition to the expected Magicians, there were also the Wives of Wizards (a not-for-profit organization seeking to help those women whose significant others' lives have been monopolized by a stupid card game) as well as an impressive array of people whose only affiliation with Magic is the fact that they know Matt Wang. All told there were four Pro Tour champions, and to the best of my calculations over 1,400 career PT points. And there wasn't even a single draft the entire night.
It was a good time all around. My fiancé and I didn't stay too long though, as I was getting up early for States, and she was stuck getting up early when I got up. Sorry, no crazy stories. I'm actually pretty lame.
Before I give you the decklist that we played, let me first ask a few questions. No pressure, I'll give you the answers.
Question 1: Who is a renewable threat against control and life gain against beatdown?
Answer: This Girl
Question 2: Who gets in for three every turn and blocks Call of the Herd?
Answer: This Girl
Question 3: Who is slimmer, faster, and a cheaper date than her famous mother?
Answer: This Girl
If you're up on your Magic art, you know what kind of deck we ran. Here's the exact list:
Against all kinds of theory, practice, history and common sense, I played this deck without having ever played it before. Not a single test draw, APPR game, or proxy game. Nothing. Cold, as they say. Combine that with being spoiled by MTGO and the convenient prompts asking me if I want to do something and it isn't hard to figure out that I missed a good amount of life gain from lady Firemane (I'm going to say I got it about 75% of the time). That is very bad for this deck.
I'll spare you the drama on the actual building of this deck, but let me just say that I'm kind of impressed that in less than 24 hours we were able to harvest the requisite 300 cards for four fully stocked decks. That's not easy, thanks to anyone who lent us something (and sorry if there's anything I didn't return).
Round 1 I was paired against Dan Olmo. Dan's a NG regular, and a Yankee fan so he's good in my book. He was playing the mono-Blue control Teferi deck. I wasn't extremely familiar with the deck, although after playing against it and then watching it later in the day I was kind of impressed. If only it could stop Demonfire.
Game 1 I was caught off guard by a Draining Whelk, but was able to Lightning Helix it with its ability on the stack. I still got two-for-one'd, but at least I wasn't just plain losing. The game went on a little bit, with him using Sheets and eventually getting a Teferi into play so things weren't looking good. On top of it, I was having trouble emptying my hand for the Demonfire kill. I eventually had to Wrath away my board. Being the cocky fool that I am, while he was debating if it resolved, I flashed the Demonfire. He then Remanded the Wrath, leaving me short on mana to replay the Wrath and have a lethal Demonfire. It took 2 more turns to force it through, but I got it. Dan later told me if I hadn't flashed the X spell, he would have let the Wrath resolve. These are the reasons why I no longer consider myself good at Constructed. When I hit 10-12 PTQs per season, I really got to know the format and every possible card I could see. Now, I'm just not there.
Game 2 was kind of the same, without the Remand folly. I got in some early damage and then did an X spell for double digits.
Round 2 I played against a U/G deck. I wasn't sure what the matchup would be like, but assumed that the card-drawing creatures in addition to the card drawing would be a problem. I was wrong. Between Wrath and Lightning Helix he wasn't able to keep anything meaningful on the table, and Lightning Angel really does a number on Call of the Herd. Game 2 was worse, as I could Repeal his Call tokens.
At this point I was feeling pretty good, as the matches were relatively easy and the deck looked just awesome. For round 3 I had to face Solar Flare. I went in worried about a fast Akroma, with only really five possible answers. I picked the wrong card to worry about. I lost four cards to a turn 3 Persecute and never really recovered in game 1. In game 2 Persecute hit me for five cards. It wasn't even close.
I'm not even sure what to say about this match. I don't know if the deck simply can't handle Persecute or if my lack of experience with the deck didn't tell me the plays to make and how to properly play around it. Without having the time to learn the correct plays, I went to round 4 befuddled. Fortunately I was paired against Zoo, which should be an easy win.
Game 1 proved me right. A Helix and a Wrath basically put the game out of reach by turn 4, with the kill being academic. Game 2 I was not expecting any mana denial and was basically left dead in the water when Darwin came down on my Boros Garrison, which in addition to the insane tempo it gave him also took away my only Red source. I brought in the Mana Leaks for game 3, as was our plan against mana control strategies. It did no good, as I had to mulligan and he had a Cryoclasm and an Avalanche Rider.
States was over for me without much fanfare. My next chance for glory is GP New Jersey.
Bonus Draft Coverage
What does one do when round 5 leaves them without an opponent? Draft, of course. It wasn't too difficult to find seven other willing drafters. The first pack I started off taking Rift Bolt over Griffin Guide. I wasn't sure, as they're both obviously amazing. I the end I think I was wrong, but not by a lot. From there, the packs were very weak, and therefore confusing. I somehow ended up taking some Green cards after wasting some picks on White cards (virtually no Red showed up). Pack 2 was the exact opposite. Every pack had 3-4 cards I wanted. I got some good Red removal, featuring a Firemaw Kavu and Sudden Shock, and ended up with two Phantom Wurms for some nice late game fat.
This was actually my first Green/Red deck and I was frankly a little worried about it. It worked out pretty well, going 3-1. My team ended up winning overall, which was even nicer. I learned a lot about Conflagrate and how awesome it is… Except when it is awful. It was never just okay. It was always one or the other. Sometimes it is insane, killing a small guy the first time, and then wiping away their board while using up extra lands (or some madness card). Other times they have something with a three-toughness and you don't have seven freaking mana.
After the draft, Mike was still in the thick of things in the main tournament. He made top 8 with a 6-1-1 record and was paired against mono-Blue control. Mike had been complaining that he had been missing life gain all day, at an approximate rate of once every two opportunities. Outside of that though, Mike had been making very sound in-game decisions.
In the top 8, I noticed that Mike made an adjustment of keeping his pen in his hand during his opponent's turn. He kept it in his right hand, which is the same hand he draws a card with. He physically forced himself to either right down a life gain, or actively put the pen down before drawing a card. With that small change, he consciously allowed himself to concentrate even more on the game, while still gaining the benefit of Firemane Angel's optional upkeep effect.
Watching a few games from Mike in the top 8, I realized that I have virtually no idea what I'm doing when I have 60 cards in my decks. He is constantly plotting turns in advance, essentially writing the script to the figurative murder of twenty separate life points owned by his opponent. I don't want to steal too much thunder in the details, as I'm sure Mike will have a tournament report of his own, but he really is actually playing well. For real.
Knowing him for over six years now, it does come as a surprise. He's always played okay. He would have intelligent ideas about how games should progress, and seemingly superior strategies, but would not be able to consistently actualize those concepts. Now though, he's making those plays that I scratch my head at until after the game when he explains it. I don't know what happened, but he seems to have committed more to self-improvement and real game play, no longer being content with just building decks.
I had to leave in the Top 4, leaving me in suspense as to how he did. My next plan for a tournament is GP:NJ in two weeks. The last Jersey GP had me, BDM and Tim McKenna playing for Top 4 in the last round after receiving a match loss and sadly falling short. This time, obviously I hope to do better. See you there.
Later on in the evening I called up Mike to see how things went. Below is a transcript of the conversation.
Me: Who's the NY State Champion?
Mike: This Girl.