After last week's article, I was on a rampage to find the optimal list for GR Tokens. I would play match after match of Magic Online, looking for slight edges in each matchup, figuring out how to sideboard in each, as well as trying out different sideboard options in order to best utilize the 15 spots in such a diverse metagame. With decks doing incredibly varied things, it was fairly difficult for me to find the optimal combination of cards. I knew I wanted some number of Manabarbs for the Turboland deck, as well as Goblin Ruinblaster to help against control and Jund. Forked Bolt had been testing well, and was making mincemeat out of Lotus Cobra decks, so I went with the full four. One large change I made from last week was adding Cunning Sparkmage to the maindeck, which was fairly strong due to the large numbers of Mythic decks that had been populating tournaments on Magic Online. With Cunning Sparkmage riding the back of Birds of Paradise, I could really wreck them before they could get started. Without their early mana producers, it is difficult for Mythic to put any real threats into play. Their manabase is fairly awkward, and consists of far too many Forests, leaving them in a lot of trouble should you kill all of their dorks.
Cunning Sparkmage was just the beginning. As I played the deck, I discovered various things I didn't like about it, and things I really wanted to change. First of all, I rarely won games where I didn't resolve either Eldrazi Monument or Overrun, which unsettled me slightly. With 5 effects that just won the game, I felt confident that I would draw one eventually, but it might be too late against a deck like Mythic or Jund that could just steamroll you with the right draw. I was in a pickle, but I wasn't finished brewing just yet. One of the cards I hated most in the deck was Kozilek's Predator. However, I also disliked the Borderland Rangers and Garruks, simply due to the fact that they were not doing enough for their cost. I was rarely hurting for hitting land drops, so cascading into Borderland Ranger was usually pretty terrible. Second, he was only a 2/2, and he was almost a dead card when I had all the mana I needed. For three mana, I just needed something better. Jund was pretty favorable already with the Vengevines, so the extra card just wasn't worth it. I decided early on I was cutting the Garruks and Borderland Rangers for Cunning Sparkmage maindeck, which also freed up a few sideboard slots.
With these sideboard slots, I decided to do something radical: adding another color to the deck. By changing the Arid Mesas to Scalding Tarns, I was able to splash for Unified Will against the Control and Combo decks by adding an Island to the sideboard, giving me a dagger to throw at them. However, it didn't quite work out as well as I had hoped. I was always siding out creatures, which made it a little worse than it should have been (since the deck was 90% creatures outside of the lands). Unified Will was great in theory, but actually pretty mediocre in practice. After you cascade into it, you will see why I cut it immediately after I was done with that particular tournament. Even though I won the tournament, I cast Unified Will exactly once, and cascaded into it with Bloodbraid Elf three times. While you could call this variance, you could also call it a sign from a higher power that you should just not bother trying to play Counterspells in a deck with Bloodbraid Elf. Here is my list from that particular tournament:
2 Khalni Garden
4 Misty Rainforest
2 Raging Ravine
4 Rootbound Crag
3 Scalding Tarn
1 Verdant Catacombs
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Bloodbraid Elf
4 Cunning Sparkmage
3 Kozilek's Predator
4 Lotus Cobra
4 Nest Invader
4 Siege-Gang Commander
4 Eldrazi Monument
3 Forked Bolt
4 Goblin Ruinblaster
4 Unified Will
While this list was good, I was still not satisfied with it, even though I won that particular tournament. With a lot of unanswered questions, I headed off to the deckbuilder and went to brewing. For one, I was still unsatisfied with the only three-drop being Cunning Sparkmage, and didn't want to try to force Borderland Ranger back into the deck. It seemed to me like Mythic's draws always consisted of an early mana-producer, followed by a Lotus Cobra and a fetchland on turn 2 in order to play a sicko three-drop, usually being Knight of the Reliquary. While these draws aren't always the average, they do happen often enough to frustrate the crap out of me. But why was I being frustrated by them, and not allowing myself to experience them? Without a good three-drop in the deck, I did a search for Green and Red creatures at the three-drop slot on Magic Online, coming up with a very few solid results. Mul Daya Channelers was close to the top of my list, but Leatherback Baloth was just a house. Unfortunately, Leatherback Baloth's mana cost made him an annoyance, and Channelers was just not doing what I wanted her to do when I wanted her to do it.
This left me with only one option: venturing into a third color. Blue clearly had applications as the third color with cards like Negate or Unified Will, but failed to add what I wanted to the deck: a solid three-drop. Black offered literally nothing except Sprouting Thrinax (which was interesting), but then I would just be playing Monument Jund. I seriously considered just abandoning what I was doing and going that route, but I felt like I could break the format if I just tried. That left us with white. Naya had been doing really well, and I even won a few Dailies with it, so I was pretty sure there was some good overlap between GR Tokens and the Naya deck. I studied the two side-by-side, trying to figure out a way to hybridize the two, trying all sorts of combinations with Ranger of Eos, Scute Mob, and even Stoneforge Mystic, but none of those versions even looked remotely strong. However, when I just added four Knight of the Reliquary and two Noble Hierarchs to the GR Tokens list, it felt just right. I'm not sure how to explain it, other than using the porridge reference from Goldilocks, but that's exactly what it felt like. After cutting a few cards to make the deck less clunky, as well as altering the manabase significantly, here is the list I came up with for my PTQ this past Saturday in Mississippi:
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Bloodbraid Elf
- 4 Cunning Sparkmage
- 4 Knight of the Reliquary
- 4 Lotus Cobra
- 4 Nest Invader
- 2 Noble Hierarch
- 3 Siege-Gang Commander
- 3 Vengevine
Last week, the deck contained five Overrun effects, but that was mostly due to the fact that it couldn't win without drawing one of those. Whenever it drew more than one, it was effectively a mulligan, and drawing three was just the worst. While I still would want to run four Eldrazi Monument, it was just not going to happen unless I was going to cut some significant element from the deck, or trim down some of the necessary 4-ofs. However, I was still unhappy with the 3-of Vengevine, and just felt like you should always play four or none of that card. He's much better in multiples, but I honestly didn't miss them much on the day. I drew them when I needed to, and didn't draw too many to clutter up my hand, so I think three was fine. While "brewing," I separated the big 3-ofs from the rest of the deck: Siege-Gang Commander, Eldrazi Monument, and Vengevine. I stared at the screen for while trying to figure out just what I could or would cut to add the 4th copy of each of these back into the maindeck. The answer was nothing, so I decided that the list was satisfactory and this was the best list that I could come up with. The original manabase was a little off, but I was able to fix that after a few 8-man tournaments, and finally settled on this 75. With complete confidence, I woke up at 3am the next morning to drive the 3.5 hours to Hattiesburg to battle for the blue envelope.
Our friend Zac Hicks stayed with us the night before since he lived about 30 minutes away. Otherwise, he would have had to wake up around 2am or so in order to get to our place before we left, which would have been a pretty huge beating. We were leaving so early because Kali, as well as the other guys riding in our car, had to be at the event site around 9am to set up, as they were all judging. Being the only person in the car actually playing in the event, I was able to pick up a few of the cards I was missing from my deck from them, and the rest of the cards once we actually arrived at the event site. I had picked up a lot of cards recently, and had plenty of trade fodder to get the cards I was missing. Unlike in recent tournaments, I was not completely unprepared for this one, and had asked plenty of friends to borrow cards a few days prior, as well as traded for most of what I needed. However, when I showed up to the tournament, I was told by the dealers that they had a combined ONE Lotus Cobra. That's right. One Lotus Cobra in stock between the two of them. Everything else was pretty easy to pick up, and I even found someone willing to trade two Lotus Cobras for about $20 worth of Red Deck Wins cards. I also got one from friend Chris Penick (that I still need to return), and got the rest of what I needed from a dealer.
As the people around me began scrounging for cards, Austin Bersavich came up to me and asked me what I was playing. I was hesitant to show him, because he was one of the more competent players in the room, but I wanted to show off a bit. I liked my deck a lot. He was planning on playing Mythic splashing Red for Cunning Sparkmage, but immediately fell in love with my deck. He admitted to stealing my notepad with the decklist on it while I was getting cards for the deck, and built it for himself. While I would have gladly given him the list, I felt a little cheated that he had not just asked me for the list, and instead taken it from me while I wasn't looking. Fortunately, I know that Austin is a big sweetheart, even though he comes off as a gigantic jerk, so I just took it in stride and chalked it up to me being dumb for showing people my list. After getting the formalities out of the way, we began the tournament.
Round 1 against John Freitas playing "Dredge"
If you haven't seen this deck yet, I don't blame you. It is not a very widely known deck, but it is something Steve Sadin wrote about on another site recently. The deck consists of Looters, Hedron Crab, Renegade Doppelganger, and cards that return from the graveyard like Vengevine, Bloodghast, and Extractor Demon. It is very fast, and can just roll you if you aren't prepared for it. In our opening game, both of us mulliganed. I kept a hand of Knight of the Reliquary, two Vengevine, and 3 land on the play. I played Knight, while he played a Merfolk Looter and started going to work. However, his discards were Bloodghasts, which didn't block my Knight or Vengevines very well, and he was dead when he tried to put me really low using a Doppelganger and Vengevine on the fourth turn. His only creature held back was a Bloodghast, and my second Vengevine along with the other two creatures attacked for 13 on the fifth turn with John sitting on 10 life from the previous attack, as well as a couple of his own fetchlands.
For the second game, I sided in a lot of Forked Bolts, but decided to leave out the Paths because his only real relevant target is Vengevine. His deck requires some decent amount of mana to operate, and giving him more mana is not really what I want to be doing. Plus, I'm not really sure what all is in the deck, and he could easily go "nuts" with Hedron Crab if I have to Path one of his other creatures. For the second game, I kept a hand featuring Birds of Paradise, Lotus Cobra, Bloodbraid Elf, Forked Bolt, and lands. This hand was pretty ridiculous against him, and I was able to go crazy on Turn 3, hitting a Sparkmage off Bloodbraid Elf and shutting down his engine. The Forked Bolt killed a Cryptologist, and he conceded to the Sparkmage, unable to keep up with the pressure I presented.
After this round I go say hi to Kali, who is scorekeeping. Luckily, I got to see her every round because she was the designated scorekeeper. She asked me to go get her some snacks from the vending machine since I had plenty of time between rounds, so I obliged. Twenty minutes later, after stumbling around for a bit, I finally found the vending machine and returned with goodies for her to consume, as well as some Powerade. She was quite pleased. I sat around waiting for the next round to start for quite a while, since my match only took about 10 minutes. Both John and I play quickly, and neither game lasted more than 5 turns, so that was that. After the pairings are posted, I find my seat for Round 2 and we're off.
Round 2 against Nathan Hulsey playing BW Control
My opponent was very cordial when we sat down, and I had literally no idea what he was playing. It was apparent from the beginning that he had no idea what I was playing either. He won the roll, and opened with a pair of Vampire Hexmages off of two Swamps. Thinking he was Vampires, I played out a few Knights of the Reliquary. Surprisingly, he opted to play Day of Judgment on the fourth turn, killing both of my Knights, but also both of his Vampire Hexmages. On the next turn, I played Lotus Cobra, and fetched into Vengevine, attacking for 4. He untapped, cast another Day of Judgment with a White mana up. I played a few dorks and got Vengevine back, while he had Path to Exile for it. But, this got me my second Red source, and allowed for my Siege-Gang Commander to come in on the next turn. He had no answer for it, and scooped to my Eldrazi Monument on the following turn.
In the second game, he came out a little differently with an Abyssal Persecutor on the fourth turn. I played out a pair of Knights, and began to get them large. When they were 7/7's, I attacked into his Persecutor. I also had a Birds of Paradise and a Cunning Sparkmage in play, while all he had was lands and the Persecutor. After he blocked one of my Knights, I knew something was up. He cast Zealous Persecution, which seemed like a real beating. I misplayed though, pinging him for 1 instead of the Persecutor, mostly because I miscounted and thought his Persecutor would survive due to the Zealous Persecution. I noticed it a turn later and felt really dumb, but just chugged along and cast a Siege-Gang Commander. He used another Zealous Persecution the next turn to wreck me a bit, killing my Knight and all of my tokens, but I threw a few of them at him for some damage, putting him pretty low on life. I cast another Siege-Gang, putting lethal on board, while he mainphased another Zealous Persecution to kill my Siege-Gang tokens, and followed that up with a Tidehollow Sculler for a Nest Invader I'd been holding. Luckily, I topdecked the third Siege-Gang Commander, which let me kill him the next turn when he flopped down 3 lands from his hand, showing he'd drawn very little gas other than the Persecutions.
Between rounds I headed back over to see my wife, and also found out that Austin was crushing as well. He was 2-0 and loving the deck, and we both felt very confident about our chances with it. I grabbed some of Kali's homemade Ande's Mint Brownies, and went back to work.
Round 3 against Johnathon Hirsch playing Mythic
I felt a little bad for Johnathon, as he was a very nice guy and mulliganed both games into weak hands. I drew lots of Knights of the Reliquary, as well as a Bloodbraid Elf, and just steamrolled him.
Game 2 was a bit worse, since he was stuck on one land with a few mana producers. I used Forked Bolt to kill a Birds of Paradise and a Lotus Cobra, giving me infinite time to get my dorks online. I attacked with a Bloodbraid Elf, Lotus Cobra, and a Knight to finish him off on the 6th turn.
Round 4 against John Pazel playing Jund
He doesn't do much of interest, and I play out a Vengevine and some dorks. This is enough to make Monument lethal in just a few short turns.
Game 2 he mulligans, and I play out a few creatures that he doesn't kill. I follow it up with a Monument when he taps out for a Bloodbraid Elf on the fourth turn. The Monument isn't lethal but it puts him in such a pickle that he has to tap out for Maelstrom Pulse to kill it, which leaves him vulnerable to Knight of the Reliquary and Sejiri Steppe on a Vengevine.
Round 5 against Dylan Smith playing Monument Jund
This is where the train fell off the tracks, and I got a bit tilted. Game 1 I absolutely destroyed him, curving perfectly with Nest Invader, Sparkmage, Bloodbraid Elf into Knight of the Reliquary, and then a Siege-Gang Commander to top it all off. He had played out some creatures, but wasted a Lightning Bolt early on for my Spawn Token, which I was pretty unsure was a good play.
Game 2, he just steamrolled me with double Vengevine, while I floundered and got all of my mana producers killed. I ended the game with two Goblin Ruinblasters and a Siege-Gang Commander stuck in my hand with only one Red mana.
Game 3 was pretty epic, and involved us both racing until we hit a standstill. On the sixth turn, I was at 8 life, with a board of Vengevine, Birds of Paradise, and Noble Hierarch, with no cards in hand and 5 lands in play. My opponent had a Vengevine and Bloodbraid Elf in play, (the Vengevine was freshly played) and he had only one card in hand at that point. He decided to attack me with just Vengevine, holding back Bloodbraid Elf. I could block with either Noble Hierarch, Birds of Paradise, or take the 4 damage. Since he was at 7, I was planning on attacking the next turn with Vengevine, but didn't want to trade with his Bloodbraid Elf. For this reason, I blocked with Birds of Paradise instead of Noble Hierarch. I topdecked Siege-Gang Commander, attacked him for 5 down to 2 life, and played a Siege-Gang Commander with only 1 mana open. He untapped quickly, cast Eldrazi Monument, and hit me for 9.
There were two ways I could have won here, but I made the play that lost me the game. I looked back on this play and tried to figure out what could have made me make the play of either not blocking or blocking with Noble Hierarch. I finally figured out that the only way I would ever block with the Noble Hierarch there is if I know his hand has Eldrazi Monument, which I haven't seen in the match yet. However, without this knowledge, I still could have taken 4 damage from Vengevine down to 4, then attacked him down to 2 with Vengevine, and killed him with the Siege-Gang Commander. I wasn't playing for my outs, and didn't plan ahead since I had no cards in hand. I was trying to make the best on-board play, even though I was falling farther and farther behind. His Monument was almost irrelevant, and I should have just taken 4 damage from the Vengevine. But, this is one question I really wanted to ask you guys: What would you have done? Why?
Moving on, I got some water and stopped myself from tilting. Since the tournament was just under 128 players, we had a solid 7 rounds where no 5-1-1's would make Top 8, and I had to win out from here.
Round 6 against Stan Moore playing Next Level Bant with Sovereigns
This match was pretty weird. I expected it to be really easy since I have never had trouble with Next Level Bant, since they are pretty weak to Eldrazi Monument. However, he was playing Bant Charm maindeck, as well as Oblivion Ring, and even had the devil in his deck: Sovereigns of Lost Alara (along with Conscription obviously). Game 1 was a pretty fast blowout, and I killed all of his mana producers with Sparkmage, and flew over his walls with an Eldrazi Monument when he tapped out for an Elspeth.
Game 2, I made a pretty bad misplay, playing a land before casting Bloodbraid Elf, which cascaded into a Lotus Cobra. Since I had already played my land, I couldn't cast the Cunning Sparkmage in hand, which left him with exactly enough mana to cast Sovereigns and send me to a precariously low life total. I died the next turn.
Game 3 was pretty easy once again, and I overran him with Siege-Gang Commander and Bloodbraid Elf while killing his mana producers with Sparkmage, and killing his Manlands with Goblin Ruinblaster. Even though he was able to stick a few threats, nothing was even close to killing me, and he died with me at 17 life.
Round 7 against Malachi Mooney playing UW Control
This game was pretty weird. He played an early Jace, which seemed like it was getting out of control. However, I was able to land an Eldrazi Monument while he was tapped out on the 5th turn for Gideon Jura, which let me overrun him with dorks since he never drew Oblivion Ring.
The second game, he cast a few Day of Judgment, but that wasn't enough to stave off my multiple Ruinblasters, as well as Knights of the Reliquary. I played a Monument, and started attacking through Baneslayer to eventually take the game.
After making Top 8, I was pretty excited. Austin went 5-0-2 with the deck, drawing in the last round to make Top 8, which made me even more confident in the deck. The only two players with the list made the Top 8, and weren't looking to slow down. Unfortunately, from the way the brackets were set up, Austin and I would have to play in the Semifinals if we both won, but I was determined not to let the apprentice outwit the creator. I sat down for my Quarterfinals match ready to do battle.
Quarterfinals against Juan Loya playing Stock Jund
In the first game, I got absolutely demolished. He played a few Leeches, as well as a Thrinax, and used Sarkhan the Mad to make a 5/5 Dragon. After playing a Broodmate Dragon, I had to topdeck an Eldrazi Monument. When none showed up, we shuffled up for the second game.
In game 2, I opened with a pair of mana producers, while he killed both of them but failed to play Black mana. My Nest Invader, coupled with an unkicked Ruinblaster (since his board was 2 Mountain and a Forest) put him to precariously low life in a hurry, while he did nothing for the rest of the game.
In the third game, I wrecked him pretty badly with double Ruinblaster, which I was able to "accelerate" into via Knight of the Reliquary and only 3 lands in play. He used Blightning at a pretty crucial time to hit another Knight and Ruinblaster out of my hand, but a topdecked Ruinblaster shut off his Black for the rest of the game and he never played another spell.
Semifinals against Austin Bersavich playing the mirror.
Before the tournament, Austin had taken a few cards out of the sideboard and swapped them for Oblivion Rings and a Bojuka Bog. We joked for a few minutes before the match about how Bojuka Bog would break the mirror, killing Vengevine and shrinking night of the Reliquary. I wasn't sure if he would actually bring it in, but it never mattered because he never cast Knight of the Reliquary.
I didn't take great notes here, but I remember pretty much everything that happened. I won the die roll, and I had an explosive opening featuring Cunning Sparkmage. He couldn't really recover, and pretty much died to my Siege-Gang Commander. He played one of his own, but was tapped out. I was able to use Sparkmage and my Siege-Gang to take care of his and most of the tokens, allowing a Nest Invader to get in some damage. After the exchange, he played a Vengevine, and accidentally dropped an Eldrazi Monument face up onto the table from his hand, but it was pretty much a dead card at that point.
Game 2 saw us both drawing plenty of Forked Bolts, but I had double Knight of the Reliquary, while he had double Vengevine. Mine looked a bit better in a stand-off, and I was able to use Knights to pump themselves to 12/12's, before going to get a Sejiri Steppe to get my Knight through for 13 unblockable damage with him at 13.
After this match, we were informed that the event site would be closing at 9pm, and it was already 8:45. At this point, we figured we had to move venues, but no one would have guessed we would be going to a chicken finger restaurant. The finals match was against the only person who had beaten me all day, and it was all I could do to keep the image of losing out of my head, since he had been my Kryptonite from the start.
Finals against Dylan Smith playing Monument Jund
Two Green-Red Monument-based decks in the finals was something to behold. Innovation was everywhere, and I felt good about it. Even though he had beaten me earlier, I was confident and wanted nothing else in the world at that moment than to win the tournament.
Game 1 I keep an opener on the play of Knight, Birds, Nest Invader, and 4 lands. Unfortunately, he has the Terminate for my Knight on the 2nd turn, and I draw a Noble Hierarch and lands for the rest of the game. He beats me to death with a pair of Vengevines and a Bloodbraid Elf while I flounder and do nothing.
Game 2 I punished his control draw with a pair of Bloodbraid Elves, which grab Nest Invaders. I put him on a very low life total very quickly, and even use Path to Exile on my own Bloodbraid Elf to keep them from getting Pulsed. I attack him down to 2 on the next turn with Cunning Sparkmage in play, him with an empty board and 3 lands. He draws a land, plays Bloodbraid Elf into Doom Blade, which targets the Sparkmage, and I ping him down to 1 life. I have a lot of draws that win the game immediately, but I'm holding a land. I draw an....Eldrazi Monument! He scoops to the lethal attack and we're off to the decider.
Game 3 was a real heartbreaker. I mulligan on the draw, and keep a hand of Forest, Misty Rainforest, Noble Hierarch, Nest Invader, and Knight of the Reliquary. I draw no lands for the entirety of the game, and he kills both my Noble Hierarch and my Spawn Token, keeping me from casting anything until I was dead to his Bloodbraid Elves and Vengevines.
So, on the day I was 8-2, losing to the same person twice who went undefeated on the day. It was his first Top 8, and he was visibly nervous, but his deck was strong and he played very well. I was upset to lose yet another finals in a PTQ, but he had a great deck and played well. He deserved it. If I had to play the tournament again tomorrow, I wouldn't change a single card. All of my sideboard cards game in at some point, even though I never cast Manabarbs, but I still recommend it due to the presence of Turboland. It is a good deck and you have to be prepared for it in some way.
One thing I was having a minor bit of trouble with was getting access to double Red for Ruinblaster against Jund. I might suggest cutting the Verdant Catacombs for another Rootbound Crag, since the land coming into play untapped might make a world of difference when compared to another Raging Ravine. I wouldn't add another Basic Mountain, since you always want Green mana on the 1st turn. Unfortunately, you have to make sacrifices sometimes for consistency. Overall, the deck performed beautifully, but I'm not sure where it stands in the coming weeks. A Mono Red Burn deck won the StarCityGames.com Standard Open this weekend, which is just a terrible matchup for my deck, and I don't recommend it in a field full of Hell's Thunder. I am literally 0-8 against Mono Red in actual matches on Magic Online, and even adding cards like Dragon's Claw and Wall of Reverence didn't make a difference. They will always find a way to kill you.
Anyway, I'm back to brewing, and hopefully I'll come up with something that smashes the metagame in the next week or two when I hit my next PTQ. For those of you who were wondering, the location of the tournament was awesome. It was in a very nice ballroom at a student union at a college. The tournament was run very well by Mr. Kevin Dolbert, and I would like to thank him for that. I've been to a lot of tournaments recently that were run very poorly, and rounds took far longer than they should have, simply to process results. Israel, the dealer at the tournament, bought Kali and I dinner and drinks at a local restaurant, and even hooked us up with a cheap hotel room at the Hampton Inn (since we had been awake since 3am that morning), as a token of apology for the event having to move locations I assume. It was really nice of him to do so, and it was much appreciated. We awoke refreshed the next morning and headed home.
The first thing I did when I got home? Logged onto Magic Online. This game is in my blood.
Thanks for reading.
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