Game Lost

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Despite plans to the contrary, last weekend saw me end up in a city far from my own to play in the last WMCQ in the Netherlands. I decided to play Junk Aristocrats, and I can honestly say that it was a great choice for that weekend. There were a ton of assorted aggro and midrange decks, and I felt like a favorite in almost every game I played.

I do not intend to make this a full tournament report nor a primer. I’m sure Brad Nelson will write about the deck, and mine was only a couple of slots off from his. I basically took the list from my last article, cut the Maw of Obzedats and a Young Wolf, tinkered with the sideboard a bit, and ended up here, which I believe is only about five cards off from his SCG Baltimore winning list.

What I do want to do is go over some interesting situations that came up during the day, all of which ended with a lost game for me. I started out 3-0, beating one of my teammates, and then played against an RG Aggro deck, which looked more like Naya Aggro without Reckoners and Smiters than like the average red deck splashing for Flinthoof Boar and Ghor-Clan Rampagers.

We split the first games, and in the third game I kept a hand with an Isolated Chapel and a Gavony Township on seven-great if I drew a green source, not so great if I didn’t. I stumbled a bit, drawing only non-shock lands, but I was alive. At some point, my opponent’s board was a Burning-Tree Emissary, a 3/3 Flinthoof Boar, and a 3/2 Strangleroot Geist. I had a High Priest and two Spirit tokens from a Lingering Souls and was looking for a sac-outlet to let my Demons take over the game. I was at 14; he was at 18 or so. I asked how many cards he has: one. Being not so familiar with doing a lot of combat math, I approximated. He had 8 power on the board, and I was at 14-far from dead. I attacked with my tokens and played a Voice of Resurgence, ensuring I would have a blocker for the next two turns while I searched for a sac outlet.

He untapped, drew his card, and sent his guys in. I blocked, and double Rampager hit me for exactsies.

My opponent’s friend made a comment about how bad my attack with the Spirit tokens was, but I’m not sure I agree. I wouldn’t have won that game if he has double Rampager regardless, because even if I chumped and drew a sac outlet the next turn, I would die to trample damage that turn. The High Priest’s Demon token doesn’t soak up that much damage when he can just pump one of the other creatures. And in general, my philosophy in Limited has always been “if you don’t intend on blocking with something, you might as well attack with it.” I’m pretty sure that’s true for constructed as well.

I got paired against my other teammate and knocked him out of top-eight contention, going to 4-1. That’s when the most important round happened: standings put me in sixth place, with three people on 15 points, so I was third highest on breakers of the 12-pointers. Winning this round would almost ensure I could draw into top eight. (And it did turn out to be a clean cut: everyone with 16 points or more made it in.)

Round 6 – Junk Reanimator

I lost game one after once again taking a wrong line due to my unfamiliarity with aggressive/midrange decks. A couple weeks of testing does not easily erase years of instinct, and the control player inside me would not be tamed easily.

My opponent was on the play, and his first action was a Grisly Salvage, flipping over Unburial Rites, Fiend Hunter, Sin Collector, Angel of Serenity, and a land. He took the land, and I started planning for a turn-four Angel. I had a Skirsdag High Priest and a Doomed Traveler, so I planned to make a Demon in response to his reanimating an Angel, using a Cartel Aristocrat that was in my hand. He untapped and played a Fiend Hunter. I had a second High Priest in my hand though, so I just played the Aristocrat regardless, planning to sacrifice my own Doomed Traveler to at least leave something on my side of the board. My opponent reanimated his Angel, targeting one of my creatures and his two creatures in the yard. I sacked my dude to give my Aristocrat pro-white and untapped to play a Blood Artist and another High Priest. A Thragtusk came down on his side, and I played Varolz and a Young Wolf, getting ready to make Demons.

My opponent took his turn and attacked. I chumped with the Spirit I had left from the Traveler and made a Demon at the end of his turn. Now I had a decision to make. My opponent had a two or three more cards in hand and hadn’t played anything. I figured he might have a Restoration Angel, which would put him up to almost 30 life. I was at 13, having taken a hit from an Angel and two from a shockland. Not being super proficient with combat math and racing situations, I once again made an estimation and decided to keep my Demon back, planning on making another Demon in his turn to double-block his Angel.

This was a terrible, terrible decision. I have a ton of live draws to keep chumping the Angel ad infinitum, while if I start attacking with multiplying Demons, I reduce his number of outs to a small subset of his deck. As it was, I traded a Demon for his Angel by double blocking, he played Unburial Rites in his second main phase, and I lost most of my team, on top of returning a Sin Collector and a Fiend Hunter to his hand. Yeah, that was stupid.

“Anyway,” I thought, “game one isn’t great regardless, and a turn-four Angel means I lose very often, so let’s just get to sideboarding.” I boarded in three Deathrite Shaman, an Appetite for Brains, and a Garruk to fight his mana dudes. We presented, and a nearby judge decided to give us a mid-round deck check.

We sat there for a while and waited. Somebody came up to ask why we weren’t playing. It took a long time before a judge returned, with only my opponent’s deck box. My heart sank to the floor. Did I misregister my deck? That never happens to me. I can dream the decklist I take to tournaments for weeks after.

I showed up at the judge table, and the headjudge started asking me questions: “What did you board in this round?” I told him. “How did you sleeve your deck?” “When did you get these sleeves?” Clearly, something was wrong with the sleeves I bought the day before the tournament. I hadn’t used them yet, having sleeved my deck the night before.

The head judge made me shuffle my deck and then handed it to the floor judge. “Show him.”

The floor judge started examining my deck. “I don’t see it now, but it’s more clearly visible from the other side of the table.” He came and sat next to me, hunched over, staring at my deck from a couple inches away.

“This isn’t really helping the case” the head judge mentioned.

The floor judge pulled out a few cards, and the head judge looked at them before flipping them over: two Deathrite Shamans, a Voice of Resurgence and a Gavony Township.

“Let me look at it.” The head judge shuffled my deck and examined it, fairly quickly pulling out a pair of Deathrite Shamans.

“Your sleeves are marked. That’s normally a warning, but because there’s a pattern, I’m upgrading it to a game loss.”

“That means my tournament is over, then.”

“I’m not disqualifying you. If I thought you were a cheater, we would be having an entirely different conversation.”

“The end result is the same, though. I don’t even get to play another game and am out for top eight.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Yeah, me too.”

What was I supposed to do? Appeal? This was the head judge. He had a point too: there was a pattern. The cards they could repeatedly find were the Deathrite Shamans, and those were sideboard cards. Apparently, the sleeves in my maindeck wore down more quickly than my sideboard sleeves, so they were noticeable. Not to me, and not easily, but if I was a piece of scum, I could’ve had an advantage I shouldn’t have. I still disagree with this ruling. Or at the very least, it did not sit right with me.

The “pattern” that got me the upgrade to a game loss was created completely at random. They did not pull out my other sideboard cards as easily, for example. I had boarded in the Garruk already during the course of the day, and it did not stand out in the maindeck. I just hadn’t played against Reanimator that day. Had I played it during the earlier rounds, nothing would’ve happened. Had they deckchecked me at the beginning of the round, nothing would’ve happened. Had I been playing against one of the umpteen Naya Aggro decks, nothing would’ve happened (unless they tried putting sideboard cards I hadn’t boarded into my deck to check if they stand out, which I doubt they do without specific reason to do so).

I don’t know what I could’ve done to prevent this game loss, except bringing only 60 sleeves and switching cards in and out of those sleeves. What if one breaks though? Some sleeves will always be worn more than others anyway. Of course erring on the side of caution is understandable when it comes to cheaters, but why would you upgrade a warning to a game loss if you are sure someone is not a cheater? And if you’re not sure, investigate further. Don’t take the middle road and ruin someone’s tournament.

The game loss really upset me, as I feel like the entire situation was largely random. You can’t really play without sleeves, but at the same time if the ones you’re using are too old, you risk getting a game loss. If they’re too new, apparently you can get a game loss as well. So Wizards, could you perhaps publish a list of sleeves that are tournament legal, with an appendix on how used or old they can be? Thanks!

Kidding aside, though, it sucks to lose matches to mana screw, mana flood, or just horrendous draws, but over time I’ve learned to accept those losses. I refuse to accept losing matches to random game losses though. It pissed me off this time, and will piss me off again if it ever happens at a different tournament.

Please, judges, consider if what you’re doing really is necessary to “maintain the integrity of the tournament,” or if you’re following rules just because. The latter, for clarification, is not good. I’ll try my very best to comply with the rules, as I always have.

Do you have an opinion on what I should’ve done? How do you prevent game losses like this? Please let me know in the comments, because one of these is quite enough, thank you very much.

May you never sit on the wrong side of a judge table.

Jay Lansdaal
iLansdaal on Twitter and MTGO

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