Magical Hack - They Might Be Two-Headed Giants
With the State Championships tomorrow, we officially kick off the first official scramble for Two-Headed Giant rating points... unlike the last team-oriented Pro Tour, where “just” getting to a certain threshold will qualify you on rating, ratings will get you good short-term returns but very few players will pay off in the long run that way. The State Championships feeds rating points into the system for the upcoming Grand Prix: Boston in four weeks' time, and fifty points gets you one win while a hundred gets you two. But at the end of the season, those hundred points don't qualify you for the Pro Tour... the highest-rated 50 players (... and it's not clear whether “qualified” players occupy those slots or not, via PTQ wins or Players Club levels or Grand Prix finishes...) get to pick whoever they want to play with and hit the Pro Tour that way.
Two-Headed Giant has been around for years, and quite a bit of theory existed in one form or another as to how the format changes card valuations and play style... you just had to dig farther to find it. A lot of that experience just flew out the window, however, with the recent rules reset for the format. Knocking ten life off of each team is like two free Shrapnel Blasts for a beatdown deck, and it may be easier to work a decidedly more aggressive strategy now that you have to deal 25% less damage overall. And of course opinions vary wildly — Nick Eisel has one opinion on card valuation in 2HG using Time Spiral and Planar Chaos, while Jeroen Remie disagrees on almost all points except for the patently obvious. Both have been putting in a lot of testing time, and coming up with wildly different results, suggesting that this format may be a good deal deeper and more intricate than was at first assumed.
The “patently obvious” is that Storm is really, really absurd in Two-Headed Giant. Even otherwise forgettable Storm cards, like Volcanic Awakening, become highly abusive when twice as many players contribute to the stack each turn... Empty the Warrens is very similar to eight power for four mana, Grapeshot has been known to take down three or four choice targets when used properly, and every great once in a while Ignite Memories “gets in there” for twenty. The less obvious but still highly intuitive trick is that Slivers work really, really well together, and two decks full of Slivers work better than one deck full of Slivers would have. Some have gone so far as to say that Storm plus Slivers is their “only” draft strategy in 2HG Draft, when the only thing that seems well and truly safe to say at the moment is that no one really knows for sure quite how this plays out.
When last we hacked into Two-Headed Giant, I was pulling the wool over the eyes of more than a few readers, as instead of an “official” 2HG cardpool we added some more cards, using a Team Trios sealed deck pool so that our example would have some really hard cuts at the end. Having been outed the once, I'm no longer going to attempt to use creative license just to get a more dramatic “last card cut” from the deck, and will be using an actual 2HG Sealed pool such as you might receive tomorrow for our 2HG example today... I know, how novel.
Our cardpool for today:
- 1 Jhoira's Timebug
- 1 Venser's Sliver
- 1 Amrou Scout
- 1 Barbed Shocker
- 1 Basal Sliver
- 1 Basalt Gargoyle
- 1 Blazing Blade Askari
- 1 Celestial Crusader
- 1 Children of Korlis
- 1 Citanul Woodreaders
- 1 Corpulent Corpse
- 1 D'Avenant Healer
- 1 Drifter il-Dal
- 1 Dust Elemental
- 1 Goblin Skycutter
- 1 Greenseeker
- 1 Ironclaw Buzzardiers
- 1 Ivory Giant
- 1 Keldon Marauders
- 1 Looter il-Kor
- 1 Magus of the Disk
- 1 Might Sliver
- 1 Mindlash Sliver
- 3 Mire Boa
- 1 Nantuko Shaman
- 1 Necrotic Sliver
- 1 Nightshade Assassin
- 1 Pit Keeper
- 1 Primal Plasma
- 2 Prodigal Pyromancer
- 1 Psychotrope Thallid
- 1 Quilled Sliver
- 1 Reflex Sliver
- 1 Revered Dead
- 1 Saltfield Recluse
- 1 Sangrophage
- 1 Scarwood Treefolk
- 1 Shade of Trokair
- 1 Simian Spirit Guide
- 1 Sinew Sliver
- 2 Skirk Shaman
- 1 Spinneret Sliver
- 2 Subterranean Shambler
- 1 Thallid Shell-Dweller
- 1 Torchling
- 1 Uktabi Drake
- 1 Voidstone Gargoyle
- 1 Weathered Bodyguards
- 1 Norin the Wary
- 1 Hivestone
- 1 Prismatic Lens
- 1 Weatherseed Totem
- 1 Detainment Spell
- 2 Dust Corona
- 1 Enslave
- 1 Fallen Ideal
- 1 Feebleness
- 2 Ghitu Firebreathing
- 1 Mantle of Leadership
- 1 Melancholy
- 1 Seal of Primordium
- 2 Serra's Boon
- 1 Vampiric Link
- 1 Ancient Grudge
- 1 Clockspinning
- 1 Cradle to Grave
- 1 Dash Hopes
- 1 Dead / Gone
- 1 Erratic Mutation
- 1 Fortify
- 1 Fury Charm
- 1 Haunting Hymn
- 1 Krosan Grip
- 1 Mana Tithe
- 1 Midnight Charm
- 1 Mystical Teachings
- 1 Piracy Charm
- 1 Pongify
- 1 Rebuff the Wicked
- 1 Sprout
- 1 Tendrils of Corruption
- 1 Think Twice
- 1 Traitor's Clutch
- 1 Divine Congregation
- 1 Mwonvuli Acid-Moss
- 1 Plunder
- 1 Rough / Tumble
- 1 Sunlance
- 1 Tromp the Domains
- 2 Wistful Thinking
Let's look at each color in turn, to get a sense of what we're seeing as we step through the card-pool looking for direction. First up we'll look at White, which gives us an Amrou Scout with just Saltfield Recluse to search for, some second-string pseudo-counterspells like Mana Tithe and Rebuff the Wicked, plus a fair bit of other obvious chaff. Cutting it down to the cards we might actually want to think about:
Celestial Crusader, D'Avenant Healer, Dust Elemental, Fortify, Magus of the Disk, Necrotic Sliver, Quilled Sliver, Saltfield Recluse, Shade of Trokair, Sinew Sliver, Sunlance, Voidstone Gargoyle, Weathered Bodyguards
White has a strong Sliver theme going, with Vindicate-on-a-stick, Quilled Sliver to make combat math harder, and Sinew Sliver for the good old-fashioned Muscle Sliver pump. If we can find some more decent Slivers to go with this, it should prove quite worthwhile. We've got some repeating effects and a hard-to-use evasion monster; Fear isn't quite what it used to be, here, but it's still quite solid when attached to a body the size of Dust Elemental. With a true Wrath effect to reset the entire board, White here is very strong, though I suspect the 2HG rules on combat damage assignment make Weathered Bodyguards a lot less useful than it is in Individual play.
Next we'll look at Green, as it's the color that excites me the most here following up on our look at White. We have more Sliver-licious action, plus a very strong aggressive squad in three Mire Boa... which combines nicely with Magus of the Disk, in addition to being the kind of solid beatdown creature that can drive an aggressive strategy in this format. Slow and steady may be how most people try to win the race, but if you can start pouring on evasive damage early and often, wouldn't you?
Citanul Woodreaders, Greenseeker, Krosan Grip, Might Sliver, 3x Mire Boa, Mwonvuli Acid-Moss, Nantuko Shaman, Reflex Sliver, Scarwood Treefolk, Spinneret Sliver, Thallid Shell-Dweller, Tromp the Domains, Uktabi Drake, Weatherseed Totem
Here we have three more Slivers of note, including the important Might Sliver that can help make it all worthwhile; this brings our count up to six worthwhile Slivers, and suggests that Black and White need to be put together at least as a splash in order to really get your value out of the Sliver theme. Green here gives you some quality early blockers, a touch of card advantage and some aggressive beaters with those three Boas, topped off with Tromp the Domains to break stalemates and the late-game recursion power of Weatherseed Totem to break up stalls. And Krosan Grip is an auto-add; Split Second is very powerful in 2HG, as there are twice as many opponents providing you with juicy targets and twice as many people trying to interfere with your “answer” cards. Greenseeker is probably underrated, since it fixes color, balances draws to make sure you don't lose to not having enough and / or the right color of mana.
Following the Color Wheel, which may or may not still exist when we encounter Planar Chaos cards, we hit up Red and see what it's got. Torchling is pretty solid in individual play, but there are a lot more blockers in two-on-two play; that said, a creature with the potential to clear five or six blockers out of the way for a late-game push, and which must fundamentally alter how the opponent plays their game if they don't want to just get run over by either damage or a walking pinpointed Abyss... yeah, it's probably a little bit better here, because it has twice as many friends running past the blockers than it has in one on one play. You also get two Pyromancers and a Pyroclasm effect, which can size up to kill Dragons if that is what ails ye.
There's a lot of filler here, like the Buzzardiers and Skycutter, but they're reasonable filler that might make the cut. Subterranean Shambler is an exciting card to have two copies to build around, and Fury Charm is worth noticing because it might have some pretty broad application... it kills a problem artifact if there are shenanigans going on, can be used as a combat trick or to help force through some damage, and might advance a Suspended spell in a tricky fashion. It's solid but doesn't beg to be put with another color, it merely has its power cards plus some potential synergy hooks if you can get those Shamblers rolling.
Black is up next, red-headed stepchild of Time Spiral — Planar Chaos limited play... we already know we're probably going to want to sneak some Black in to make the Slivers work, so we'll have a keen eye for the S-word again and hope that there's some more bodies to be added. We don't have any of the Black rebels to go with the White ones, so the Rebel theme remains unimpressive, but there's plenty of solid stuff saying Black may be worthwhile. Enslave is just flat-out good, and Haunting Hymn can be crippling as it takes everything one of your two opponents had left to work with and throws it in the trash. For Slivers we have two new yet unimpressive bodies... but they do have bodies, so they may be able to tag along. The removal is rather weak, but Vindicate Sliver might just make up for that in full and the power of both it and Enslave suggest that this will be a deck one way or another.
Basal Sliver, Corpulent Corpse, Cradle to Grave, Enslave, Feebleness, Haunting Hymn, Melancholy, Midnight Charm, Mindlash Sliver, Necrotic Sliver, Nightshade Assassin, Pit Keeper, Tendrils of Corruption
Unfortunately Black is relying a lot on the Enchant Creature sub-type, and more or less everyone knows by now that they should try to be prepared with a Disenchant effect of some sort, or at least Blue bounce or Whitemane Lions to protect their good cards from stuff like Melancholy. Nightshade Assassin is the only Madness-oriented theme and the Mindlash Sliver is the only outlet in the same color, so we have Nightshade Assassin and Tendrils of Corruption saying you should try to pack in more Black cards, and only a little bit of a reason to want to add more Black cards currently... just a splash for Basal Sliver, Necrotic Sliver and Enslave would put the Black cards here to reasonable use, if that's how you wanted to look at it.
This brings us finally to Blue, the color of stupidly powerful things done very well. Unfortunately there really aren't a lot of them there Blue cards, with just Looter il-Kor, Erratic Mutation, Think Twice, and Mystical Teachings really being impressive, and both Piracy Charm and Pongify filling the role of “filler removal.” I'm actually all about playing Pongify in individual Limited play, because I never target my opponent's creatures and use the three-power one-drop theory behind playing it in an aggressive deck; we don't really seem to have that card pool right here, though we do have some aggressive tendencies going on they aren't the kind that really interact in combat and trade with the opponent's creatures.
Blue is ultimately forgettable; we may add a bit of it in with one of our decks to use Mystical Teachings, but that's mostly because it might be a free add for both sides thanks to double Dreadship Reef making it possible to splash, say, Necrotic Sliver and Mystical Teachings off just one Swamp and two Dreadship Reefs in an otherwise W/G or W/R deck. Erratic Mutation is good but not worth playing a significant amount of Blue for, so we'll see how splashing seems to work out for this deck and go from there.
For Artifacts, we have two fun ones given the themes we're looking to push so far: Venser's Sliver and Hivestone. Whichever deck has the fewer number of Slivers may just be able to play the Hivestone and profit off the team-mate's Sliver theme in spades, if you don't mind trying to be a little tricky with how you go about weaving the two decks together. We also have a Prismatic Lens, sure to fit in somewhere (maybe in the W/X/b/Mystical Teachings deck?), and a Jhoira's Timebug in case the Suspend and Vanishing theme makes it worthwhile (it doesn't).
There's a lot to work with here, and one key decision to be made is whether the Sliver theme is going to get played here or not. With nine Slivers of varying quality, the answer may very well be “why not?” especially when you tack on the potential to do silly things with Hivestone... only one Sliver isn't particularly solid by itself (Mindlash Sliver), and another is overcosted by itself but downright ridiculous with friends along for the ride (Reflex Sliver). We won't go out of our way here, like splash Basal Sliver into a W/G deck alongside the Necrotic Sliver, but that Necrotic Sliver is a very powerful card to build around and the army-pumping Might Sliver and Sinew Sliver can help overpower an opponent if a Sliver-heavy draw comes up.
We don't have very much in the way of focus here yet, with a grand total of zero Storm spells leaving us at a disadvantage right off the bat against Storm-laden opponents; instead of fighting fire with fire, we get to fight fire with gasoline, not the best choice of methods for capping off a blaze. Lacking the power of super-Warrens and crippling Volcanic Awakenings, we have to... gasp... play fair. Playing fair is for chumps, though, so Slivers it is. Black and White work well together, and if we actually play the Black as a main color we can try and get tricksy with the Mystical Teachings action, which can fetch Dust Elemental alongside other interesting options “just” from the Black removal spells. This is the deck that we'll be relying on to try to break up Storm-based shenanigans, as that Haunting Hymn can really do a number on someone who's hoarding cards for one big turn later on, and since most of the opponents will have had a decent chance of pulling Empty the Warrens we may want to stagger ourselves away from (non-regenerating) one-toughness creatures to best use Subterranean Shambler.
For a first pass, we're looking at W/B/u, with either 17 or 18 lands and the Prismatic Lens, because this should be a deck that likes its mana: flashing back Mystical Teachings, casting six-mana Sorceries, using the mana-hungry Necrotic Sliver... plenty of rewards for playing enough Lands in this deck. Without a free mulligan I'd say 18 for sure, but with a free Mulligan I think 17 plus the Lens might just be sufficient, especially if we assign this to the B-seat and give it the extra card. That presumably leaves the other deck as G/R, unless it seems we're leaving something valuable out with this build... part of the reasoning is that the Black and White might work well together, but if the White is better placed with another color the Black deck can just splash the Necrotic Sliver instead.
Deck 1: W/B/u
Shade of Trokair
Magus of the Disk
We clearly have some substandard guys here, like Mindlash Sliver making the cut and Fortify probably not being worth inclusion when it only pumps half of the attacking force. We do have an interesting combo insofar as Dust Elemental and either Magus of the Disk or Nightshade Assassin can get quite rude, and we should definitely consider this to be the more controlling of the two decks and pull out the junkier cards in order to get down to the right number of cards for the deck. Erratic Mutation may be too greedy to add in this deck when we're already stretching the numbers; the only reason you are assigning a Blue card to this deck at all is because it doesn't work in the G/R deck with all of two Instants to pluck from the deck. You can still play an Island for Tromp the Domains in your Green deck and cast the exact same removal spell in the other deck, so pulling it out here won't mean it's completely wasted.
Purging the list to get a more final deck, we get:
1cc: Corpulent Corpse, Shade of Trokair, Sunlance
2cc: Pit Keeper, Quilled Sliver, Sinew Sliver, Prismatic Lens, Cradle to Grave, Feebleness
3cc: Weathered Bodyguards, Basal Sliver, Saltfield Recluse, D'Avenant Healer, Necrotic Sliver, Melancholy
4cc: Nightshade Assassin, Magus of the Disk, Dust Elemental, Mystical Teachings, Tendrils of Corruption
5cc: Voidstone Gargoyle
6cc+: Enslave, Haunting Hymn
This is 23 cards and 18 lands, so we will need to make a final decision about cutting a card or making this the B-deck and giving it 17 Lands, the Lens, and the extra card. But it does look solid so far, with the only notable cards pushed over to the other deck being Venser's Sliver and Erratic Mutation.
Deck 2: R/G/u
3 Mire Boa
2 Prodigal Pyromancer
2HG Deck A — Red/Green splash Blue
1cc: Greenseeker, Uktabi Drake, Dead / Gone
2cc: 3 Mire Boa, Spinneret Sliver, Thallid Shell-Dweller, Hivestone, Rough / Tumble
3cc: Basalt Gargoyle, 2 Prodigal Pyromancer, Citanul Woodreaders, Erratic Mutation, Krosan Grip, Weatherseed Totem
4cc: Nantuko Shaman, Reflex Sliver
5cc: Might Sliver, Torchling, Venser's Sliver
6cc+: Tromp the Domains
Pulling back the other deck, we can go for 17 Lands plus the extra card by nominating this for the B-seat, because our “A” deck already has a low curve and the ability to draw a few extra cards with its Citanul Woodreaders and Nantuko Shaman... the other deck has just Mystical Teachings to draw additional cards with, being quite an expensive route to doing so and only making up for it by offering the best of several key choices instead of “just” a drawn card.
2HG Deck B — Black/White splash Mystical Teachings
1cc: Corpulent Corpse, Shade of Trokair, Sunlance
2cc: Pit Keeper, Quilled Sliver, Sinew Sliver, Prismatic Lens, Cradle to Grave, Feebleness
3cc: Weathered Bodyguards, Basal Sliver, Saltfield Recluse, D'Avenant Healer, Necrotic Sliver, Melancholy
4cc: Nightshade Assassin, Magus of the Disk, Dust Elemental, Mystical Teachings, Tendrils of Corruption
5cc: Voidstone Gargoyle
6cc+: Enslave, Haunting Hymn
Looking at these gives you an idea of how things will play out, and it looks like Deck A sets on the early beats with Mire Boas then controls the board some with Prodigal Pyromancer, only to try and finish strong with Might Sliver or Torchling to overwhelm the opponent... contributing some low-cost spells to remove key problems along the way. Deck B suspends a solid threat for later then hopefully plays a two-drop Sliver, following up with a defensive three-drop and then removal spells of one sort or another for the next turn or two... until it tries to “end big” with Haunting Hymn to knock an opponent's head out of their later development, or Enslave the best remaining threat. There is precious little evasion between the two decks, so they'll be leaning hard on those Mire Boas and trying to push fliers successfully through combat, and the B/W deck at least is equipped to play a grinding mid-game of attrition thanks to Dust Elemental's ability to save creatures from removal or combat damage... and Mystical Teachings' ability to find it on command. Their curves look nice and they have repeating board control effects and some powerful combos, and if you look at the cards that are stranded unused you can gauge how well you have done by judging the worth of that which has been left behind:
Blazing Blade Askari
Children of Korlis
2 Dust Corona
2 Ghitu Firebreathing
Mantle of Leadership
Norin the Wary
Rebuff the Wicked
Seal of Primordium
2 Serra's Boon
Simian Spirit Guide
2 Skirk Shaman
2 Subterranean Shambler
2 Wistful Thinking
Of all of these cards, the only ones I am sad to not be able to play in 2HG is the Think Twice, Looter il-Kor, and Amrou Scout; Scout is highly dependant upon the opening of other Rebels in your card pool, as generic two-drops are not actually a valuable thing in 2HG. Looter il-Kor is pretty nice but is highly dependant upon the opening of other Blue cards, which didn't really happen this time... same for Think Twice.
Admittedly, these decks are a little bit poor... but they curve well and have powerful cards, or at least as many powerful cards as the card-pool came with. I'm really missing the Havenwood Wurm or other fattie boom-boom you'd expect to find in Green, and I'd be concerned that you may lose the “fat fight” against the other team's Green deck since your biggest creatures cap out at 4/4. Fortunately, what we lose in sheer size we do make up in quality, with a Torchling ready, willing and able to dominate the board when it comes down... pushing blockers out of the way so the rest of your swarm can come through is a great way to break the 2HG stalemates that can develop as the board grows more complex.
Now, one thing I haven't heard anything about for 2HG is the strategy behind the “public information” zone. Maybe I have a bit of a different perspective on this one, thanks to my background in live-action role-playing that is equally long as my background in Magic, but Two-Headed Giant does have a few more bells and whistles differentiating it from “individual Magic.” One big feature that comes up is the addition of “table talk” to the game... after the Pro Tour: Charleston qualifier season, we all got pretty used to the new communication rules that basically say you can talk about anything you want. 2HG is inherently based upon player communication, and many teams will be trying to veil their talking or even exclude talking altogether. Some people will be making fools of themselves, using hand signals of their own devising to try and tell their second head what to do... without actually saying what to do, why, or naming a single card in their hand. Others will just be eerily silent, pointing at cards and raising an eyebrow whenever the junior head seems to disagree, lots and lots of pointing at cards, enough so that you'd have to be blind not to figure out what they're “discussing”.
I think the information-exchange element of 2HG is actually quite interesting... and not just because you have to be better at bluffing to protect your “tells”, and not give away future information while you're deciding upon present play. Reading the opponent for information is every bit as crucial as protecting your own... but you can do better if you try. You know how lots of sitcoms have a cheesy laugh-track accentuating “humorous” moments? (Dear god, I almost turned into Mark Rosewater and mentioned Roseanne! Someone, please, stop me now!) Well, if you want to really skewer your opponent's play, there is something very simple you can do to get them to play for a different future reality than actually exists: Lie your pants off.
I think 2HG is the most interesting format for informational exchange, because it is one where it is profitable for the two players to know what they are doing and be able to work together towards a single plan... but intentionally argue about what to do for the purpose of broadcasting false information, talking about planning on doing things “next turn” or otherwise choosing to broadcast a fictional reality to the opponent while they are trying to read your signals. Lie all the time, and lie towards a purpose, to broadcast cards in your hand that frankly don't exist... lie about “I need to wait to draw my splash color, or else I've already taken a mulligan with these two cards I can't cast yet” and maybe it'll change the opponent's play. (Who knows, maybe they'll rush their own plans to try and take advantage of this entirely fictional “misfortune” and conclude the game before you draw that Swamp... that's not in your deck.) Lie till you're blue in the face, but lie well, because you're trying to spring a trap so that your opponent is worrying about something so completely different from what you actually plan to happen that there's a totally “gotcha” moment when they finally realize that they've been had.
This is of course difficult to do... but no less viable a strategy for controlling the flow of information than “don't say nothin' ‘bout nothin' to nobody” or “maybe if I just POINT A LOT they won't get what I mean!” But imagine the possible rewards, as your opponent holds back on a key card during combat because you'd spent the previous turn talking about how you two were setting up your Storm spells for this turn, made believable by the fact that your Keldon Halberdier came off of Suspend this turn... and multiply those small bits of edge over an entire game as you sow hesitation and doubt through your all-too-believable shenanigans, you might just end up with an impressive margin by bluffing your opponent and misdirecting them right out of the match. “Bluff Week” on MagicTheGathering.com told us about some of the best bluffing mechanisms ever made, and how Patrick Chapin hits Liar's Pendulum far more often than most other people do. I'm sure somewhere in there the “Cursed Scroll you, naming Counterspell” story probably chimed in and repeated itself for the hundredth time... but just imagine how much more potent a tool getting to have a normal conversation about the events of the game and the strategy you intend to employ in it can be for pulling off those truly awesome bluffs that win games and burn themselves into your memory.
Next up, we have a surprise appearance from today's two-header partner columnist, Jason Hall...
smckeown @ livejournal.com
Magical Hack: Hacking The Hacker!
Unbeknownst to many, there is a secret sub-community of StarCityGames.com Magic aficionados who favor Magic Workstation over Magic Online for their electronic gaming needs. At the moment, we are hosting an Extended tournament for anyone who wants to download Magic Workstation here and participate... in which my two-headed columnist partner is 2-0, having beaten the winner and the runner-up of the last of these tournaments in the first two rounds. [Sean's note: “And boy, are my spells tired...!”] While it's too late to play in this specific tournament, there's another one that is signing up now through Monday for Legacy that you can play.
To help get a little bit of exposure for the StarCityGames.com Magic Workstation tournaments, for now and for the future, here's feature match coverage of the first round as played between “Turbulent Dirge” and “Who Me, Yeah U”... the tournament organizer who originated these tournaments, and the winner of the first tournament he ever ran. It's Round 1, then, and be warned... it's long for an aggro matchup!
Turbulent Dirge has been given a small break from hosting these events by Artandge (...though Dirge is currently organizing a Legacy tournament in the appropriate forum, so he's not out of work yet!). This will be our first tournament with Planar Chaos in the mix, and while it hasn't made much of a splash in Extended in real-life tournaments or MTGO yet aside from the odd Damnation and Extirpate, these forum tourneys typically get a little experimental, with former Top 8s including such decks as Draco-Explosion and even an interesting deck using Red Rituals to power out quick Chalice of the Voids. Will Planar Chaos have an impact in our online metagame? Will the tech resulting from this tournament be put to good use? Let's find out!
Our first feature matchup is between Turbulent Dirge, enjoying his chance to play the game once in a while rather than always hosting these events, and Who Me, the original champion of Dirge's original tournament. For these five rounds, Dirge has chosen to pilot Gaea's Might Get There, an explosive aggro deck that has been a silent predator for a few months, having jumped into the spotlight with GP: Dallas in the books. Who Me has chosen to pilot Bests.dec, a mid-range R/G aggro deck first introduced to the Magic community by one Michael J. Flores, feeding off of a similar strategy as the Chalice Green decks of a few months ago. Bests is purported to have an excellent aggressive matchup, but we've all seen how Gaea can simply power out the beats. Will Dirge's quick clock be enough, or will Who Me's better top-end and advantage engines overpower him? Those of you following the tournament thread at home already know of course, but I have to make it interesting somehow, right?
The dice are rolled, with Who Me winning 12 to 1 and electing to... draw? No, not really! Anyone and his uncle can tell you that until Wrath of God or Persecute cost three mana or less, no one will be electing to draw in Extended for some time. Both players keep their opening seven, and we're off... Who Me leads with an untapped Stomping Ground into a Boreal Druid. Dirge also leads with an untapped Stomping Ground, but we get to see very quickly who the aggressor in this match will be as he uses his shockland to make a 2/3 Kird Ape. Who Me untaps, plays a Blinkmoth Well from his hand, and uses his Ground and Well to dump out what is usually the trump for all aggro matches in the form of Umezawa's Jitte. However, it is clearly revealed as a bit of sloppy play, as Who Me then attempts to tap his Druid to make a Llanowar Elf; clearly the excitement of having the Jitte so early in this important matchup got to him. Dirge untaps, smashes with his Ape, plays a fetchland, and ends his turn. Not the lightning aggro start the deck is known for, but Gaea's success has also been warranted by its ability to generate wins from almost nowhere. Still, with a Jitte on the field, Dirge needs an answer, and right quick. On his turn, Who Me plays and cracks a fetchland for a basic, then taps down to put Ravenous Baloth into play, and Dirge suddenly appears to be in quite a hole.
Dirge cracks his fetchland for a Temple Garden at end of turn (making it 3 basic land types for those keeping track), untaps and swings with Kird Ape. Who Me fears trading a Gaea's Might for a mere 4 life and takes the hit. Dirge then plays an untapped Sacred Foundry and plays a Wild Mongrel before ending his turn, clearly representing the feared Might. Who Me cracks back with a Baloth for 4, making the life totals 11 for Dirge and 13 for Who Me, then follows his attack by tapping down for a Phantom Centaur. Dirge lays another fetchland, and then swings into the Centaur with his Ape and Mongrel. Who Me places the green Phantom in front of Mongrel, which baits the Gaea's Might from Dirge's hand to keep his puppy around for a while and drag a counter off the Green damage shield. A Grim Lavamancer hits play after the attack, making that Centaur look more fragile by the minute, and Dirge ends his turn. Who Me cracks back with Baloth and Centaur (but the Jitte is still sitting on the sidelines looking lonely...) which Dirge takes to the face, making it 3-11 in favor of Who Me. After the attack comes a forest and a Llanowar Elf followed by another Baloth. From here it's elementary. Dirge plays a Watchwolf on his turn, but when Who Me equips the Jitte and comes barreling into the red zone with 14 points of power and the legendary fork, Dirge fights valiantly and only takes two damage from the attack.
... But when Who Me drops a Trinisphere to follow up the attack, Turbulent Dirge packs it in. This is certainly an auspicious start for Who Me, who controlled that game from the 3rd turn onward. Bests certainly seemed to do its job well game 1, so let's see how it fares after sideboarding...
It starts off with a double mulligan. Who Me sees two unkeepable hands with Dirge on the play, effectively neutering his deck, which requires either great card advantage, or good acceleration into good card advantage. With only 6 cards to work with on his first turn and with Gaea a full turn ahead of him, it will be difficult to pull this one out. Dirge leads with a fetchland, which he cracks for a tapped Sacred Foundry. Now, you might be wondering what the aggressive deck is doing without a first turn creature, but in truth the majority of Gaea's cards come in the two-slot, with one- and three-drops varying from list to list. Who Me leads off with a tapped Stomping Ground and ships it back. Dirge cracks another fetchland for a Stomping Ground of his own and lays Watchwolf. Who me again has the turn 2 Jitte! Certainly a boon for his bad luck with mulliganing if he can get it into the mix early enough this game. Dirge cracks in with the Wolf, and lays another one after his attack, playing Flooded Strand as his third land. Who Me plays a Ghost Quarter and then Call of the Herd for a 3/3 of his own, trying to stem the bleeding before it drains too much. The Strand fetches a Steam Vents at end of turn, and Dirge puts both wolves into battle; one of them tangles with the Elephant, and Who Me is looking at a Jitte with no friends to hold it. A Kird Ape rounds out Dirge's turn. Who Me, trying desperately now to put a stop to this, plays and equips a Llanowar Elf, a sorry body next to the three toughness dudes opposing him. Unfortunately for Who Me, the little utensil that could was suddenly deprived of his owner at end of turn by a split-second Shock. Dirge cracks in for five on his turn, making the life totals 14 to 9 in Dirge's favor. He contemplates a play after the attack, but decides better of it and simply passes the turn. Who Me has only the very sorry play of a Sword of Fire and Ice on his turn, leaving no blockers up and a wide open hole for a Gaea's Might or Tribal Flames to win the game. Cleverly, it does.
As expected, those mulligans ate into Bests' ability to set up a solid defense quickly enough, and that proved to be Who Me's undoing.
For game 3, this time it's Turbulent Dirge who starts with a mulligan, though only once, and it needs to be noted that playing second doesn't put him nearly into the whole that it would've (and did) for Who Me, as his deck has the tools to overtake anything less than an optimal start for Who Me start simply due to sheer aggression. Who Me leads off with a Forest and everyone's favorite, Llanowar Elf. Dirge plays and cracks a fetchland for Stomping Ground, looking to gain the drawn turn back in power by playing a Kird Ape. Who Me simply plays a fetchland and another Llanowar Elf before sending the turn back. Dirge plays a Mountain, swings with Ape, and plays Wild Mongrel after combat, certainly curving out well to put the pressure on Who Me. The fetchland gets a basic Forest for Who Me at end of turn, and down comes Phantom Centaur and another fetchland for his turn. Dirge seems to have the trump though by playing his own Jitte to follow it, though he misses his third land drop and neglects to swing, preferring no doubt to let the fork do most of the dirty centaur-killing work while sacrificing as few of his own creatures as possible.
How that will work out will be difficult, seeing as how the Centaur's ability prevents damage and thus stops Jitte counters from accumulating. The fetchland fetches a Stomping Ground this time for Who Me, and on his turn, Who Me noticed that Dirge was having a few mana troubles, and windmill... clicks?... well, windmill-clicks Trinisphere into play. The “3spehere” poses a lot of trouble for Dirge, as until he finds a third mana source all of his spells are completely shut off, and the Jitte's going to be useless on attack as long as Who Me can hold that Centaur back. Every turn Dirge waits spells more and more trouble, for if Who Me is allowed to draw into any of his better spells this game is going to be over quickly. But then, inexplicably, Who Me attacks with the Centaur. In all fairness, Who Me does have to fear a third mana into Cloak turn from Dirge negating just about every play he could manage at this point, but if counters appear on that Jitte...well suffice it to say, it's bad.
Dirge goes to 12 life on the attack and Who Me ships it back. The Fork jumps onto Mongrel and we're off to the races! Both Elves bite it as chump blockers and Who Me retains his life total, but two counters ominously appear on the fork of doom. Who me swings in with Centaur again, bringing Dirge down to 5 while staying at 16 himself, and then plays Ravenous Baloth in his second main phase, also a handy tool to keep counters off the Jitte while padding his life total. Dirge fails again to find that all-important third land, and swings in with his Jitte'd Mongrel and Ape.
Now here the players (or at least Who Me) make a mistake. Who Me throws his Baloth in front of Mongrel, but then sacrifices it in response to the Mongrel pumping up. The Mongrel increases in size but the counters haven't budged, perhaps because Dirge thinks he'll just gain those two back so why bother with the manual clicking... and Who Me misses this entirely, and the combat concludes with two counters still on the Jitte. Dirge wouldn't have gained any back since the sacrifice prevents combat damage from successfully being dealt, and the players' failure to see this impacts the game in a very large way. Who Me's life goes up to 18, and Dirge ships the turn. Who Me throws his Centaur into the ring again, bringing Dirge down to just two life, and then plays a Jitte of his own, trying to play an Elf afterwards... which he cannot do thanks to his own Trinisphere, as Dirge reminds him. Now here's where the impact comes in: Dirge gained four life from the counters off the Jitte that shouldn't be there, putting him back up to six and out of range of the Centaur for another turn.
Dirge sends in Mongrel keeping the Ape back, pitching a Savannah Lions to pump the damage some. Who Me plays one of the deck's card advantage engines, Contested Cliffs, on his turn... but then mistakenly tries to activate it using the Centaur. Centaur goes into the red zone, and Ape trades with a +1/+1 counter. Who Me taps three for a Llanowar Elf, and passes his turn, having a Pendelhaven in play to pump the little mana buddy. Dirge draws his card, comments on how much he is in love with the MWS shuffler [Sean's note: Isn't that always the way?], and misses his third land again. With only a Wild Mongrel and two lands on his side, Dirge simply passes the turn. Who Me swings in with Elf and with Centaur, and Dirge bites the attack from the Centaur, eating the little mana elf (Who Me didn't activate Pendelhaven because? Obviously not an on day for the former champion.)
Turbulent Dirge goes to two, and would've had to block differently had the Jitte counters been handled correctly earlier. Who Me then apologizes profusely, and plays and activates Ghost Quarter narfing Dirge's Stomping Ground in true Wasteland style. Dirge then finally topdecks his third, er, second land, a Sacred Foundry, and again passes the turn holding Mongrel back to block. Centaur goes on in for Who Me, and Dirge trades three cards in hand (Isamaru, Swiftblade, and Gaea's Might... man does Trinisphere hurt...) for another counter off of the green behemoth. Who Me passes the turn without a play.
Dirge now finally manages to go over the hump and play his third land of the match, a Temple Garden! But faced with almost certain doom should WM somehow remove the blocker or draw equipment, Dirge passes the turn, representing a trick of some manner. On Who Me's turn, two more cards in Dirge's hand trade with the Centaur (a Might and a Kird Ape) keeping the dog alive to fight another... Phantom Centaur, which is Who Me's post-combat play. Dirge plays the last card he held in hand on his turn, a Boros Swiftblade, and passes the turn back. Who Me swings in with his Centaur, and this time the dog goes down, taking Centaur #2 down a counter. However, with no play for his post-combat phase, Dirge has an opening. An ever so slight opening.
What do you do when you're on 2 life, and your opponent is on 15, when you have one creature in play that happens to be a Boros Swiftblade, and you'll probably die to whatever your opponent draws within a few turns? Well, Dirge knocked the top of his deck. And lo, the spirit of Craig Jones doth smile upon the faithful, and the top of the deck yielded him his one and only out: an Armadillo Cloak.
Onto the double-striking little soldier it went, and suddenly the tables looked a lot more even. The resulting attack put the life totals to 9-8 in favor of Who Me, but this was a major blow. You can almost see the agony in the “OK” typed in to signal the Cloak resolved. Who Me throws his Centaur, now useless against double-strike, into combat, trying to minimize his opponent's life gain and brings him back down to four. Again though, no post-combat play for Who Me spells trouble. Dirge's counter-attack makes it 3-10 in his favor, and then he taps three mana to play the Grim Lavamancer he just drew to follow it up. Who Me plays a Ravenous Baloth on his turn, but lacks the mana to utilize his Contested Cliffs and remove either of the opposing dangers since he now faces a two-turn clock from Lavamancer even if he manages to kill the Swiftblade. The Centaur doesn't attack...but thanks to trample, this game is over. Who Me reveals a hand of Ancient Grudges, and checks to see when another creature would have come along... not for another five turns.
And so Turbulent Dirge wins round 1 in a swingy and gripping matchup between two forum greats! Be sure to check in here later for round 2 coverage! In the meantime, thanks for reading, and remember... if you want to get in on the action, they're forming up pretty often and there's even one getting ready to start next week in the exciting Legacy format!