General Lee stood on a hill just outside of Richmond, studying the armies amassing to take the capitol of Virginia. He shook his head and passed his binoculars silently to Stonewall Jackson. Jackson squinted into the field glasses, muttering as he took a look for himself.
"Well, General," he said,"Providence has seen fit to send quite a collection of characters against us. Goblins of course, Zombies as expected, Angels, Trolls, Frogmites and -" Jackson broke off suddenly in shock.
Virginia's State Champs tourney certainly came out a bit quirkier than most. Not one, but two Mesmeric Orb decks made the Top 8, and a freakin' Disciple of the Vault deck took second place. But what about the common soldier of the battlefield, trudging through the mud and daring a hail of bullets, far from the blinding spotlight of the Top 8?
This is their story.
Or mine, at least.
The Obligatory Decklist:
4 Isochron Scepter
3 Raise the Alarm
4 Mana Leak
3 Sculpting Steel
2 Grid Monitor
4 Wrath of God
1 Oblivion Stone
4 Coastal Tower
3 Stalking Stones
1 Secluded Steppe
1 Lonely Sandbar
1 Seat of the Synod
1 Ancient Den
Funny thing is, this deck used to be a Goblin Charbelcher deck, but I ended up killing with Stalking Stones so often the deck began to drift. Nowadays, the idea was to hard-lock the other guy by imprinting Metamorphose on a Scepter, (preventing them from ever drawing anything new) then either killing their creatures or imprinting Boomerang on another Scepter and constantly bouncing threats. The backup plans were Sceptering a Raise the Alarm, or using Sculpting Steel to get multiple Grid Monitors into play.
Every once in a while, Metamorphose + Scepter + Timesifter meant many extra turns of fun. (It also turned Metamorphose into removal, but now I'm out-janking myself.) Fabricate is the card that made it all possible, grabbing Scepters, the Stone, Grid Monitors to staunch the blood flow, or even mana fixing (hence the reason for the two artifact lands).
I playtested perhaps thirty games each against Mono-Black, Equipped White Weenie, U/W, Goblins, and Affinity (with Lodestone Myrs - for God's sake, people, get it right!). Against Mono-black and U/W, I found the trick was to bounce lands in preference to almost anything else. An early Scepter/Boomerang forced Mono-black into the enjoyable (for me) situation of Culling Scales-or-lose. U/W would have to counter the Boomerang to try and dig themselves out of enforced manascrew. Equipped White Weenie got owned by the Fabricate-able Culling Scales out of the board.
Of course, Goblins and Affinity destroyed me. I think I won maybe two games where Goblins went first. Even main-decked Circle of Protection: Red didn't usually do the trick. So I took a gamble and massively hated on Affinity, putting in Rule of Law to stifle their explosive development, Altar of Light for obvious reasons, and March of the Machines to kill their land.
Not since my Onslaught-block Three-Color Decree deck (hey, once I got eight mana you were dead) had I so desperately hoped I wouldn't see any of those damn red men at a tourney. My backup plan was to pray my opponent didn't notice the"Protection from Blue" line on that silly Piledriver card.
Yeah, I know.
The plans had been made and the lines drawn - the Battle for Richmond had begun. I took my place beside the other hundred-and-eighty-odd (and boy, were they odd) soldiers and tried to ignore the revival taking place in the next room of the hotel. There were a few people more than expected, so the bottom tables were dragged in from adjoining rooms, and strongly resembled the kiddy-table that I and my cousins used to be forced to eat Christmas dinner on.
Round 1: Cameron (G/W/r control)
Straight back to Christmas I went, complete with tiny table, green and red imagery, and many rude surprises. Cameron kicked off with a Forest, then followed it up with a Mountain, tapping them both to play Lightning Greaves. What the hell was he playing? Whatever it was, it was about to beat me like a runaway slave. Playtesting had shown me that the Greaves were Affinity's greatest weapon against me, as most of my tricks require, well, targets. Plus, Haste is just good. So here I was, staring down my greatest nightmare in a deck I couldn't possibly anticipate.
Turn 2 Scepter-Boomerang got trumped when Cameron played a Troll Ascetic, Lightning Greaved him up, and starting swinging. My mind raced. I needed a Wrath of God. As luck would have it, I had a Wrath. But it wouldn't do much good to blow it on one little monkish Troll. Fortunately, I had a plan . . .
I took the beats yet again from my least favorite 3/2 in the format, then Metamorphosed one of Cameron's lands - I wanted to keep him off Vengeance mana, and maybe I could bait him into dropping another creature. After a brief pause while he read the card (the best part about playing jank is watching your opponent's look of confusion), he dropped a Plated Slagwurm.
Christ, I thought. This guy's playing a deck with so much hate for me, you'd think I'd just slept with his daughter. But he'd taken the bait.
I untapped, laid a fourth land, and Wrathed like my life depended on it - which, of course, it did. He must have seen my blue mana and waited for me to tap out, though, because he immediately Naturalized my Scepter. Yup, Naturalize in the main deck. Bravo! I hadn't the guts to maindeck Altar of Light, myself, though in hindsight it probably would have been an excellent idea.
Still, I'd gotten his threats... I thought I'd smelled blood. I dropped a Grid Monitor and prepared to go aggro. Next turn saw me swing with the Monitor and activate my Stalking Stones. Cameron took it all in stride, unconcerned and just laying land. Then I got careless. I played Sculpting Steel to get another Grid Monitor - before my attack. His resultant Wing Shards made me want to spit in my own face for being so stupid. The Molder Slug that followed it up sealed my doom.
Speaking of which - Molder Slug? Man, I hope Cameron played Affinity later in the day; his deck'd be like a punch in the throat.
I think I might've sided in some Shards of my own, for all that it mattered. Game two was much worse. Mana birds accelerated Cameron into a turn 3 Plow Under, and it was pretty much over. At one point he attacked with the just the Birds, leading me to say,"Damage on the stack?" wryly. But alas, no Giant Growth (this time). A pack of Trolls ended the match.
Towards the end of the match, one of Cameron's friends came up to him and began exclaiming how he'd lost to a deck that had killed him with Goblin Replica, Shrapnel Blast, and Promise of Power. I almost choked on my own spittle - could it be that John Matthew, playtest partner and JankMaster supreme, was at the tourney with his Disciple of the Vault deck? It had to be. I couldn't imagine there being two such decks in existence.
Me: Matches 0-1, Games 0-2
Round 2: J.B. (B/W control)
Well, I'd lost, but I was off the kiddie table! The people to the right and left of me got deck-checked during this match. So, apparently, did my friend Todd - a highly unfortunate occurrence since he'd marked his U/W deck as containing"Four Dragon, the Big One" and"Four Vengeance". (Shockingly,"Dragon, the Big One" doesn't seem to be in our card database - Knut)
Surprisingly, the"Vengeance" turned out to be a bigger issue, as Vengeance is an actual card, distinct and separate from the slightly-more-maindeckable Akroma's Vengeance. They insisted that Todd replace his four Akroma's Vengeance with four Vengeance, on top of the game loss. Poor guy couldn't stand the thought of being de-fanged in the Affinity matchup and dropped for some Subway.
But enough about him; let's talk about me.
J.B. kept things nice and easygoing by cycling a Renewed Faiths for a while. Then I got a Scepter-Boomerang and started bouncing Plains in earnest, keeping J.B. at four lands. He threw down a Mystery Morpher and proceeded poking me. Annoyed, I Fabricated for a Grid Monitor and played it. J.B. Persecuted me and I felt I had to Discombobulate it (my only counter). He went up to two plains and unmorphed the Exalted Angel. I panicked and bounced the Angel instead of his land, noting that he'd only go up to five mana. J.B. reminded me once again that I really should have learned a few lessons from Onslaught Block season, dropped a Temple of the False God, and cast Vengeance - or rather, Akroma's Vengeance (poor Todd).
Well, um, at least I'd hit him for four with the Monitor.
I don't even remember what killed me after that; I was too deep in a blind fog of self-loathing to notice.
Both of us played very slowly game one. I think there may have been only ten minutes or so left in the round after it was over. I'd like to take time out to thank J.B. for being an extremely good sport, and actually hurrying along to make sure we'd finish the match. He didn't have to do that, especially as he'd already won and could freely stall (more or less legitimately) with his very slow deck. I have to wonder if I'd do the same in his place. Thanks, dude.
Game two saw his Phyrexian Arena-fueled hand of discard reach out and touch me in a very non-consensual way. Blackmail, Unburden, Coercion, and Persecute (which I countered! Ha!) all came out to do their dirty with me. My crudely-violated hand could only whimper and seek counseling. A Temple of the False God brought Eternal Dragon onto the stack on turn 6. I signaled I had a response and thought very hard.
I'd boarded in Scrabbling Claws in deadly fear of Dragon, the Big One. So if I played right, I could actually deal with this thing, but it would have to be now...
I countered it with my only remaining"business" spell, did my math again, untapped, drew something, dropped a land, Fabricated for the Scrabbling Claws, played the Scrabbling Claws, and cycled them away to rid the world (and his graveyard) of everybody's favorite Dragon. Whew!
"Play another one and make baby Jesus cry," I said, wiping the sweat from my brow.
J.B. grinned and played another one.
And so did I.
Matches 0-2, Games 0-4
Match 3: Taylor (Aggro Zombies)
At least the pressure was off now. In the 0-2 bracket, all the too-serious people (read: people with sense) drop, so only the fun opponents should still be in. Hey, this is a game, after all!
My instincts were correct and Taylor turned out to be a great guy with a rich Virginia accent. His karma paid off and his first turn saw a Chrome Mox and a Withered Wretch enter play. Turn 2 tantalized me with a Mystery Morpher. Turn 3 began bleeding Taylor's life away with a Graveborne Muse. Perhaps he'll kill himself, I thought. Mystery Morpher became a Bane of the Living and dragged a pesky kill-all-my-no-longer-chump-blocking-Raise-the-Alarm-tokens ability onto the stack with it. My countermagic remained relegated to the role of Persecute-blocker throughout. Surprisingly, his zombies proved far more efficient at killing me than him.
We joked while we sideboarded. Apparently both of us were playing for the honor of an untarnished losing streak. I brought in the Shards and noted that Karma wouldn't have been very useful against Taylor, as I'd seen Vault of Whispers, Barren Moor, and Unholy Grotto. Clever.
Once again Taylor had a Chrome Mox and Wretch, but this time I answered with an Isochron Scepter, imprinting Raise the Alarm. Taylor's eyebrows went up.
"Not bad," he admitted. Then he played a Damping Matrix and turned me into his chew toy. (Figuratively, you pervs.) Wretches plus Rotlung Reanimator made my Wraths nigh-useless, and just when I thought my Grid Monitor would save me, Taylor flashed me two Consume Spirits, a sheepish grin on his face. We shook hands vigorously; Taylor's victory couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. Too bad I had to steal his losing streak from him.
Me: Matches 0-3, Games 0-6
Match 4: Rezo (Mono-black control)
Damned if I wasn't back at those kiddy-tables. I swiftly sacrificed my morals for expediency by deciding my unblemished losing streak wasn't worth it. I was gonna win this match, no matter what the cost!
Down at the bottom table, the atmosphere was what they call"relaxed" in France. Trade binders, pizza, and Burger King vied with the Removed-From-Game Zone for table space, and won.
Rezo seemed a bit young, but after watching a friend of mine lose to an eight-year-old with his deck in pink sleeves, I was of a mood to be wary. I kicked off this Featured Match with a pair of Coastal Towers for my first two turns. Rezo led with a double-Swamp opening and I smiled. Finally I was playing a match I'd playtested. Somewhere around turn 4 I got the Scepter-Boomerang c-c-c-combo! and started to abuse it. I actually managed to counter or kill all his threats, with Consume Spirit for two not really cutting the mustard. Eventually I saw a second Boomerang, dropped Scepter number two, bounced all of Rezo's land, and watched his own Phyrexian Arena do him in.
I boarded in only the Scrabbling Claws for the Undead Gladiators I'd seen him play. Game 2 everything went off like clockwork. Turn 2 Scepter-Boomerang kept Rezo at three lands for some time, until I drew two more Boomerangs and bounced him down to one. Strangely, he continued to draw and discard faithfully every turn, so I dutifully kept bouncing and playing land until I could activate the Stalking Stones and swing for the victory over seven turns.
I felt kinda crummy. It can't possibly be fun to play under that kind of stupid lock. Then I found out that one of my friends had just been decked by Isochron Scepter + Boomerang and Mesmeric Orb. If there was a worse fate, I couldn't think of it. I swallowed my guilt and moved gratefully away from those thrice-damned little round tables.
Me: Matches 1-3, Games 2-6
Round 5: Drew2 (Affinity Orb)
"Drew," I said to my round five opponent, holding out my hand by way of introduction. He looked at me in surprise.
"No kidding," he said, shaking my hand and his head,"My name's Andrew, too." The match slip confirmed he wasn't lying to try and pick me up.
"Hey, that's wild," the guy next to me said,"I'm also Andrew."
Oh, you wild, zany people who pair the matches - at least I now know you have a sense of humor. I tried to continue the joke by suggesting we all ID so we could say we drew, but the motion was defeated.
That wasn't the only surprise in store for me at the Andrew table. Drew2 presented his deck, and I blinked. Hard.
"That looks like more than sixty cards," I said, the implied question dripping from my voice.
"Yeah," Drew2 said with a grin,"It's around a hundred." I shook my head in puzzlement.
"You'll see," he said, grinning more broadly.
What I saw was an artifact land followed by a Glimmervoid - indicative of Affinity... And then a Howling Mine? I took the extra card he gave me and vowed to stop shaking my head, lest it fall off from overuse.
I drew my three and found both halves of the Scepter-Boomerang, and played it. Drew2 drew three, hit me with his nutty Frogmite, then played a Talisman, a Chrome Mox imprinting Mind's Desire (daddy?), and a third freakin' Howling Mine. Good God, was this triple-digit-card-count monstrosity somehow a combo deck? Well, I could keep him off Desire mana easily enough - I bounced a land with the Scepter.
"Still no Spellbook," Drew2 muttered, discarding at the end of his turn. I played another Scepter-Boomerang. Drew2 still didn't seem concerned. Finally I saw why. After drawing his four cards and replaying his land, he dropped another Chrome Mox, a Welding Jar, an Ornithopter, a Mesmeric Orb, and Brain Freezed me for a hell of a lot.
"You're trying to deck me!" I accused Drew2.
"Yup!" he said happily.
"And I think you can still play with zero land!"
Drew2's happy demeanor was infectious, and despite impending Orb plus Mine doom, I shot the breeze with him between plays, Fabricating up my Oblivion Stone (never before had I wished so hard for the Culling Scales main deck), and laboriously making sure all my toys were Fated to live. Then he dropped another Welding Jar in between free Affinity creatures and I realized my plan wasn't nearly as good as I'd thought.
Fortunately, my friend John Davis showed up at this point with his lovely wife Abby and adorable baby in tow. He hadn't been able to make the tourney in time to play, but he still wanted to see how we were doing.
"Welcome to the Andrew table," I said. Drew2 waved.
"Who won?" John asked, clearly amused at the board.
"Um, this isn't a side game," I told him.
"What game is this?" John said incredulously. I glanced at the clock and saw that there were only six minutes left in the round.
"Game one. Now shut up," I said, and hurriedly set about Fabricating a Grid Monitor and playing it. He and his Stalking Stones buddies smashed into chump-blocking 'thopters as precious seconds ticked by. John's baby watched on impassively, mocking me with her vacant stare.
"You're about to draw," her drooling face seemed to say."I could do better than you," she cooed. But finally game 1 was mine. Drew2 and I boarded as fast as inhumanly possible and began game 2 with four minutes remaining in the round. He chose to play, of course, and play he did.
Him:"Seat of the Synod, Chrome Mox, Tooth of Chiss-Goria, Frogmite."
Me:"Hrm. Tapped Coastal Tower."
Him:"Attack for three, Tree of Tales, Myr Enforcer."
Me: (having two Boomerangs but no second source of blue, and no Scepter)"Um... tapped Secluded Steppe?"
Him:"Glimmervoid, attack for seven."
Me:"...and I'm at ten. Stalking Stones, Sculpting Steel copying your Enforcer. How ya like me now!"
Him:"Sorry, Dispersal Shield. Vault of Whispers, attack for seven."
Me: (not drawing a Wrath)"...good game."
The only plus I can think of for that game was that it took approximately forty seconds, leaving us three whole minutes to play out game 3. I brought in practically my whole sideboard, realizing I might need the Shards if the Frogmite sickness happened again.
This time I tried to remember to Leak his early plays, as playtesting had taught me. I forgot immediately and went for the Turn 2 Scepter-Boomerang gambit. Drew2 shattered it. I played Rule of Law. His eyes widened, then Drew2 Naturalized it. Geez, he must have had as much hate for me as I had for him. A small crowd of people stood nearby. They were playing with John's baby, of course, but that didn't stop me from feeling the pressure. One minute left.
I played a Grid Monitor. Drew2 responded with a Frogmite. I attacked. He didn't block. He dropped an Ornithopter. I attacked again. He didn't block again. The judge called time. I played a Sculpting Steel to get another Monitor and started thinking very hard. Two turns to kill Drew2, or it was into the prestigious 1-3-1 bracket, where we would no doubt play each other again immediately.
The baby giggled at my obvious distress.
Drew2 played a clearly topdecked Welding Jar. I removed the Frogmite from the game with an Altar of Light, Boomeranged the Ornithopter (yay for tempo!), and swung with my two guys, bringing Drew2 down to four. One more turn.
He replayed the Ornithopter and played a reasonably large Broodstar. It looked like the draw bracket for sure...
I drew a second Altar of Light, smashed the 'thopter (Power Play!), played another Sculpting Steel just to be stupid, and swung away like that dude in Signs. One unblocked Monitor later, I'd actually won a match of Magic that involved player interaction.
Man, was I good at this game or what?
The baby crapped itself upon witnessing my presumptive hubris.
Me: Matches 2-3, Games 4-7
Match 5: Daniel (U/W Orb)
Daniel must have either been a bit cranky or a good poker player; he didn't seem to want to make nice. Still, he was hardly rude; I guess I just wasn't used to the"game face" necessary for survival in the 2-3 bracket. Daniel hinted that his last opponent had been terribly confused by his deck, and presented it to me for shuffling.
Daniel won the roll and led with a Coastal Tower. Uh-oh. U/W was a tricky, tricky matchup for me. Still, I'd playtested it enough to feel fairly confident. I matched his Coastal Tower. He dropped an Island and passed. I decided to risk the gamble and put an Isochron Scepter on the stack.
"Scepter?" I queried.
"Mana Leak," he said. Damn. Well, it was worth a shot.
Daniel untapped, dropped a Plains, and tapped it all for a Mystery Creature... Which is to say, an Exalted Angel. Which is to say, Crap. I instinctively reached for my Boomerang - and then stopped. Earlier today, I'd died because I'd panicked in the face of an Angel. U/W has no direct damage, I told myself. Calm down. You'll see everything coming (well, barring an end-step Decree of Justice, of course). Just take things one step at a time and don't overreact. While I'd bounced morphers earlier today just to see what they were, this was U/W - there shouldn't be any janky surprises other than maybe Chromeshell Crab.
I took a deep breath, dropped a land, and Fabricated for another Scepter.
Next turn he unmorphed an Exalted Angel (surprise, surprise) and gut-punched me with it. It hurt, but I tried to keep my focus. I dropped land number four and passed. Daniel's Angel kicked me in the teeth. I dropped land number five. The Angel clubbed me in the throat. I hit six land and could finally play a Scepter with Discombobulate backup. Our counters clashed and the Scepter was good, with a shiny new Metamorphose imprinted on it. At this point the game should be mine unless he could kill me with what was in his hand. I took the (hopefully) final beatings from the Angel, bringing our wildly separate life scores to four to thirty-six in his favor. Thirty-eight if you count the Renewed Faith Daniel cycled. (I know he certainly did.)
The resolved Wrath of God let me breathe easier than a nicotine addict with an open stoma. During Daniel's upkeep, I Metamorphosed a land. He read the card carefully, looked at his hand thoughtfully, and dropped Shared Fate into play.
And then, of course, he cast a Leveler.
...yeah, that's what I thought.
Actually, after looking at the board, Daniel had just shot himself in the foot. My deck excelled in top-of-library and hand manipulation, to say nothing of the fact that Metamorphosing the Shared Fate would deck him when he tried to draw... A fact my friendly neighborhood observer commented on.
"Judge!!" Daniel screamed, his hand shooting skyward.
The judge ruled that I could still take the action, since the advice had come unsolicited. Daniel looked really pissed. I felt pretty bad. I sure know I would hate to lose a game that way. So I looked at the board and passed the turn.
A 10/10 steamroller came screaming my way on Daniel's turn, and met my constant Metamorphose companion. Daniel dropped my Stalking Stones into play on resolution (the card he'd drawn off my deck). Then we realized the Shared Fate cards weren't actually in his hand. So he dropped another Exalted Angel instead, and just played the Stones.
I drew the Leveler off his library and played it. How many games have you seen where both players have no library, eh? Daniel's turn saw the Angel going to the top of my - er, his library. His poor mistreated Leveler came back to haunt him, and suddenly thirty-eight life didn't seem like so much.
Daniel's turn, my Stalking Stones tried to hit me - and generously returned to the comfort and safety of my hand via Boomerang.
Leveler hit again, then was joined by an Exalted Angel and some Stalking Stones. Two turns later the game was over.
I boarded in the Altars, having finally learned to always board them in. Everybody and their mother has some kind of artifact or enchantment hate for you in their board, it's time I just got used to it. Where is the love?
Our jank had dueled, and mine had come out on top. But would I be so lucky game two?
In a word - yes. Turned out Daniel's deck was a Mesmeric Orb deck, and game 2 I saw the Orb and multiple super-Stormed Brain Freezes. (I asked him afterwards, and he said he always boarded out the Shared Fate/Leveler combo.) I honestly wouldn't have been surprised to see a Millstone at this point.
Funny thing about the Orb, though, is that is has the interesting side effect of turning Metamorphose into removal. I Scepter-Boomeranged Daniel's Orb once my library started getting low, and started attacking with Stalking Stones and two Raise the Alarm tokens. Four turns later I'd taken the match, and an even record!
Me: Matches 3-3, Games 6-7
Man, I could only imagine the fierceness of the competition that went on in the 3-3 bracket. Maybe I'd even see a few (gasp) NetDecks. Unfortunately, one of the friends I'd driven had to get to work, so we all dropped and the rest of us went to Friendly's.
So what did I learn? I learned that I play very, very badly under pressure. I'd seen the seeds of this abominable character trait ever since I'd choked painfully while PTR made farting noises at me. So it should have come as no surprise. On the plus side, playtesting seemed to be invaluable - I won every match that resembled one I playtested against. And hey, it could have been worse - I could have been paired with Goblins.
In closing, when (Ha ha, I said when. It should really be"if") someone plays Metamorphose on you, you don't have to tell them you have no permanents in your hand. But if you want to, hey! More power to you. I just hope you've got an awesome poker face. And are lying.
Atop his horse, Traveler, General Lee looked on the many and varied armies retreating from Richmond. Stonewall Jackson said a prayer of thanks.
"They've left, General," he exclaimed fervently.
"Yes," Lee said tiredly,"but they'll be back. This was not a decisive battle, just a test of strength. And those people do not fight the way they used to. We must adapt to this changing warfare, or it will destroy us," he shook his head sadly,"It will destroy us."
Plans had to be made. There were always more battles to be fought. He could never stop innovating.