A Tale of Two Game Days

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When I got home from FNM late on Friday night (almost Saturday morning in fact), I was in a state. I know a lot of people who take every game of Magic seriously, but for me it’s very different. Magic right now is my only release, the only bright spot in my daily life. Last week was a bad week for me, and I was relying on FNM to bring me back to some degree of positivity.

We’re not going to discuss FNM this week. I did…poorly. Sometimes I show up with a bad deck and expect to do poorly, but I have a goal in mind: execute a certain combo at least once, troll the room, play with a certain card. The deck I took this week looked good on paper, but ended up…not being good. I won’t go into detail but somehow I forgot Liliana of the Veil was a card.

I was slumped on my couch at stupid o’clock on Saturday morning, unable to sleep because I was so miserable, watching Olympic highlights. Game Day was about 10 hours away and I had absolutely no intention of attending, mainly because I couldn’t face being beaten down again. Over-dramatic? Perhaps, but that’s where I’m at right now.

A little later in the morning, all it took was one message from Flemming (the owner of Midgard Gaming) to change my attitude around. Only one problem: I didn’t have a deck built!

Weapon Selection

I’ll be doing each Game Day separately, starting with Saturday’s.

With the event starting at one and the store being about a 20-minute walk from my house, I had about two hours to build a deck. Fortunately I was already pretty sure I was netdecking, so I didn’t have to innovate too much. I had been talking with Jesse “Smi77y” Smith about the Zombie Pod lists that were doing so well online and was pretty sure I wanted to run one of those. I didn’t like the Fume Spitters in the lists I was seeing and Bloodthrone Vampire seemed loose to me. The interactions with Restoration Angel, Geralf’s Messenger and Phyrexian Metamorph really appealed to me. I couldn’t understand the solitary Blade Splicer in the main deck, and the complete lack of Thragtusk was puzzling too. Smitty was adamant that the deck was sick as it was and didn’t need changing, but that only served to encourage me to change it even more. Here’s what I took to the event:

I felt this deck had the best chance of covering the wide open metagame we’ve had locally in the past few weeks. I knew there would be Naya, Elves, mono-blue Delver and more traditional Zombie builds, and I could see how this deck would handle all of them. I had been thinking about Phylactery Lich for a while, especially when I could clone it with Metamorph and put the counter on the Metamorph itself, but I wasn’t confident enough to play them main deck. Splicers were for the mirror, Duress was against any control builds I came up against, and Nighthawk was for Delver mostly. Zombie Apocalypse was my hedge against Naya being worse than I thought, and also a meta call as I knew there would be at least two Humans decks.

How Did I Do?

With one of the community (TurboFog aficionado David Bishop) getting married on the day, the turnout was expected to be lower than usual. We had 19 players, including a good smattering of the Little Ninjas. Who are they? Any player new to the game who is under 16 is automatically a Little Ninja in my book. I had a lot of players asking me to borrow cards for the day, so the first few minutes after my arrival were spent hooking people up. I’m hardly card-rich, but I do have a fairly large collection. I recently posted a photo of my dining room table on Facebook in order to let people know how much work was involved every time they asked me for a card:

“Do you have any Vapor Snags?”

Once that was done, I staked out my traditional spot and waited for the pairings. I was surprisingly calm given how much pressure I was putting on myself to win this one, or at least top 8. I didn’t particularly care about the playmat or the boosters, but making it to the top 8 with this small turnout was paramount.

Round 1 – Mike White with UWR Midrange

Having recently come back to the game, Mike didn’t have his own Standard deck so he had borrowed Finn’s for the day as Finn couldn’t make it. I don’t think he fully grokked how the deck is meant to be played, as he was very much playing it as a control deck. Mike also plays very carefully and methodically, which added more pressure to the game for me.

Despite running afoul of some Restoration Angel shenanigans I was able to pull this one out in two. This was the only match all day in which Bloodthrone Vampire was good for me, and that was because I was able to use Gravecrawler multiple times to find multiple Blood Artists, culminating in podding Gravecrawler into Bloodthrone and sacrificing my board to drain Mike to 0 without ever turning my dudes sideways.

Round 2 – James Randell with Solar Flare

JamRand plays control. Always. It could be UB, it could be Solar Flare, or it could even be UW or mono-black. It WILL be control, however. Today was no different, and the matchup just wasn’t good for me. I couldn’t find a Blood Artist, he had Celestial Purge and Oblivion Ring for my Messengers and Pods, and I never got going.

I seem to be having trouble beating Solar Flare every time I face it. I guess I need more graveyard hate in the board, or more experience playing against the deck. Not much else to be said here really: I got spanked.

Round 3 – Andrew Connors with Elves

Ah, a pairing against a Ninja. Andrew is one of a pair of twins who both started around Avacyn Restored. They have both learned a lot since then, largely by listening to the advice they’re given, but they both still have a way to go. With the passion they show for the game though, I don’t doubt they will get there. Andrew’s brother Evan had beaten me the night before in my pitiful FNM performance, which was both heartwarming and upsetting at the same time.

I’m more than familiar with the little green men, and Andrew is a competent pilot. He showed just how competent in game one when he organized a jaunty little soiree for the pointy-eared buggers…on MY FACE. There were little wooden piccolos and everything, and they had s’mores. There were hoof-shaped craters left at the end of it. For game two I brought in as much removal as I could muster: O-rings, Go for the Throats and I think even the Nighthawks for some lifegain. I mulled an opener with no removal and kept a six that included Mortarpod, Blood Artist, Tragic Slip and Gravecrawler. My first three draws got me a third land, Diregraf Ghoul and Oblivion Ring. Andrew never really had a hope against that sort of opening. He did manage to keep me off Birthing Pod with Naturalize and Beast Within, but the attrition got him.

Game three was also a Mortarpod party, but also saw me blink a Thragtusk. If you haven’t done this yet, you are missing out on one of the greatest and dirtiest feelings in Standard. Andrew played well but needs to remember when playing decks like Elves that he is the beatdown. Mike Flores’ timeless article should be required reading for any new player, so if you have never read it, go here now. I’ll wait.

Are you back? Good, wasn’t it?

Round 4 – Bob Mirka with Mono-Black Zombies

Bob is a brand-new player and was playing in his first ever event. He’s very friendly and seems to have picked up the game remarkably quickly. Game one he just went over the top of me with Lashwrithe having drawn a Messenger before me. Game two I kept a one-lander with three one-drops, Mortarpod, Geralf’s Messenger and Blood Artist. By the time I saw land number two I was facing down lethal. That’s Magic I guess. I know it was a sketchy keep but my experience with the Zombie mirror is that Messenger is the key card. I didn’t think a six would have been much better.

So I’m at 2-2 with one round to go. The standings show that I have insanely good breakers, so a win in round five should squeak me in to top 8. That was my goal when I left home that morning, so I had to focus on just winning the next one. There were some troublesome matchups for me among the six-pointers, especially Cory and his GW Aggro build with Sublime Archangel.

Round 5 – Cory McLeod with GW Aggro

Of course. Why not? I was pretty sure this was the worst possible matchup for me, but you can only play the person put in front of you. Game one I was sure I was on the ropes, but an early Blood Artist had been pecking away at him. On one key turn I was able to pull off Messenger-Pod-Angel-Metamorph shenanigans to take him down to two, but I completely missed that I could have just swung for lethal. I asked if he would let me take it back (we are at Regular rules enforcement after all) and he quite reasonably declined. Fortunately he didn’t draw an answer and his Sublime-powered Rancored Birds of Paradise was a point of power short to kill me. I would double block and kill him with Blood Artist triggers.

Game two I got stomped by turn two Strangleroot Geist, Rancor, smash face. I couldn’t really recover in time. Game three he unfortunately mulled to four, and I went Diregraf Ghoul, Blood Artist, Nighthawk, Messenger. Cory was incredibly tilted, understandably so, and I was trying really hard not to dance on the table. I very rarely get to play in events that cut to top 8, but since coming back to Magic I have only once missed that cut in four tries. Presuming I make it.

Standings go up, and I did indeed make it! YES! Unfortunately…

Top 8 – James Randell with Solar Flare

I gave ol’ JamRand a run for his money in game one, but a reanimated Elesh Norn stopped me cold. Game two I drew seven lands in eight turns and lost a game that I would have won had I drawn gas, as he was short of any. Oh well, I got a Magmaquake!

What Did I Learn?

The Thragtusk never got stuck in my hand once. The Restoration Angel did, but nobody told me not to run that.

If you are new to Birthing Pod decks, this is a good one with which to start. The decision points aren’t as varied but the power level is definitely there.

Should I have kept that one-lander? It’s easy to say no in hindsight, but what do you all think? My mulligan decisions are definitely the weakest part of my game.

Blood Artist may be the most underrated creature in Standard, despite all the success Zombies have had.

The tricks at the three and four slot in this deck are plentiful. Take the time to learn them.

I never drew the Phylactery Lich and often sided out the Disciple. I feel the latter was a mistake now, but I rarely wanted to sacrifice anything and when I podded a Messenger it was for and Angel or Metamorph.

Game Day 2 – Weapon Selection

When I got home Saturday evening I was in a far better mood than I was on Friday night. When I left Midgard I was trying to decide what jank I would be playing the next day. I had been jonesing to try the Grimoire of the Dead combo deck I saw online a month or so ago, with Flayer of the Hatebound and Gisela coming out of the yard for the one-shot kill. I also wanted to try something with both Grand Architect and Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas. I was trying to decide which I liked best when The Eh Team’s Scotty Mac mentioned that he wanted to do some streaming with me later that night. You can see the results of that stream can be seen here, but I should warn you that some of the language may offend human beings.

To cut a long story short, we realized my best bet was this little number:

This thing looked like a blast, and playing it against Scott WAS a blast. The only answer I had to pretty much every strategy was “cast Wurmcoil” but I do have the ability to make a LOT of Wurmcoils. There’s also a Mindslaver lock in the deck, which is always fun. I wasn’t sure how Battlesphere would work out but copying it seemed pretty good. The board was pretty much a toolkit, with Contagion Engine being my main weapon against mana dorks. It was likely that I would be able to cast and activate it in the same turn in this deck, which is pretty sweet. Tamiyo was my hope against Titan decks (if there were any) and Redirect is some tech I am trying out. It takes care of a lot of stuff: Rancor, Bonfire, Mana Leak and so on. I was looking forward to slinging some spells with this beauty!

How Did I Do?

Flemming offered to give me a ride to the store, which was great given that it was a million degrees outside. I had already received several requests for cards, so on arrival I grabbed the customary blue Gatorade and picked up three Wild Guess for the Gisela deck so I could test it between rounds. Then Lansdell’s Card Mart opened for business. That left me precious little time to sleeve up the Gisela monstrosity, which in a way was positive. At least I couldn’t change my mind at the last minute.

With the previous day’s wedding party still nursing hangovers, we were still lower than normal for an event like Game Day. We still managed 23 players, as Jon Finn and his group showed up to play. Five more rounds to navigate, with no self-applied pressure and no expectation of winning anything. Sweet.

Round 1 – Mark Butt with Wolf Run

I had decided when the pairings went up that in the unlikely event I managed to win this one, I would concede to Mark. He’s one of my best friends and he actually wanted the playmat. I didn’t think it would come up, seeing as how I had no way to deal with Inkmoth Nexus apart from Spine of Ish Sah. I was right, he stomped me in two straight games. Not even remotely close.

On the bright side, I was able to put the finishing touches on Gisela and get a couple of test games in. It’s hilarious and capable of some insanely powerful things. Might just have to play this on Friday!

Round 2 – Stephen Dillon with Merfolk

That’s not actually a typo. Merfolk in Standard. An army of Wurmcoils would win game one, while my first Mindslaver lock of the day would take down game two. I wish there had been something interesting about this round or the first one, but really it was a case of me being stomped and then me doing the stomping. I felt bad for Stephen, who’s a very enthusiastic player and is rapidly immersing himself in both Standard and Modern. I built the deck to have fun, and nothing about this match was terribly fun.

Round 3 – Jon Finn with UWR Midrange

Second day in a row playing against this deck, and this time in the hands of my nemesis Finn. He was 2-0 and was paired down, and seemed very confident he was going to destroy me. He didn’t. I think this one went to three, because I remember using Redirect early in game two to blow out his Bonfire and then Slaver-locking him in game three. Finn hates losing and he was visibly tilted after losing to me on a pair down.

Round 4 – Evan Connors with Get ‘er Dungrove

Good to see a Ninja in contention! When he beat me on turn four with a triple-Rancored Strangleroot, I was pretty sure he was going to roll me. Game two I was barely staying alive behind Wurmcoil Engines and picking off his mana dudes with Staff of Nin when he dropped a Predator Ooze and Rancored it. Luckily a combination of Mindslaver to buy me a turn, Contagion Engine and Metamorphs enabled me to take down the Ooze and swing for lethal.

My game three luck held out as Evan got screwed on mana and I had an early Staff, allowing me to keep him off his mana dorks long enough to stomp face. That left me at 3-1 and able to ID in, despite thinking I was playing pure jank. Three of the Ninjas were in top 8 contention, which was awesome to see, even though it looked like only one of them would make it.

Round five I lucked out and got paired up to the only 4-0, who agreed to the ID. However he had to leave to catch a boat, so he was dropping anyway. That left the door open for another Ninja to top 8, which was awesome.

Due to the magic of tiebreakers, I ended up in first after the Swiss. I conceded to Evan in the top 8 to give the kid a chance to move on, as I had no real interest in playing it out and it meant more to him than it did to me.

What Did I Learn?

Well, not that much. The deck is very powerful but a little fragile, though I think I can fix that with a proper sideboard.

When all your thoughts are dark, even the smallest light can be dazzling. This weekend proved that.

I might actually be a good player. When on earth did THAT happen?

Trading Post wins games. I didn’t see it very often, but when I did it took the game over.

What’s On Deck?

The Gisela deck is absolutely going to be played in the near future. It might not be that consistent but it sure as heck is powerful. It’s fragile to graveyard hate but I’m working on ways around that. Any ideas? I also want to bring back Primal Surge, do more with Trading Post and play a deck with Swords before they rotate.

 

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