It had been a long, long time. I have only recently (as in the last 6 months) got back into Magic, and I’ve only been playing online. According to the DCI page, my last sanctioned tournament was 5 years ago. That’s a long-ass time. If you’ve ever played against me online you’ll know I’m not exactly top tier, but I decided that trying to qualify for Nationals was a low-risk proposition and an excuse to try out the paper game again. I also really wanted to try my skills out, to see if I was actually not a good player or if my MTGO experiences were being coloured by my lack of powerful cards.
So I dropped an email to Jonathan Medina and we worked out a deal for a tier 2 deck (Elves) that I knew wouldn’t break the bank and that I was fairly comfortable playing. It has some interactions and some tricky plays but it’s largely turning creatures sideways and smashing face. I made a couple of tweaks to a netdeck (and trust me, it hurt to play even a tweaked netdeck) and cleared my calendar.
I’d played at the venue a couple of times before and remembered it as small. That seemed to be favourable for me, since I could run hot and get there. I stopped playing there because at the time the TO only ran Vintage tournaments and I had heard some shady things about his business practices. When I checked out the store’s website it seemed like a lot had changed, but I was pleasantly surprised by just how much. Our $25 entry got us a guaranteed prize of 7 boosters plus a random prize draw entry where everyone got something (I got a promo Glissa). However, the store should probably only hold 30 people. He had it set up to seat 40, plus the 3 staff and the judge. We had…60. Yeah. Even in the single-digit temperatures, it was not a comfortable environment in there. Nor was the odour particularly pleasing. We had to do split seating for the early rounds, which meant a 6-round tournament took over 8 hours to get down to top 8. Not the fault of the organizer, I mean he can’t help how many people show up, but still it dragged the day out a bit.
I was going blind into the metagame so I chatted with a few people and found out that it was going to be a very varied one. There was plenty of Caw to be sure, but I didn’t see a single one of them all day. Shame, because I was confident in that matchup. Someone was actually running Soul Sisters though, with 4 Goldenglow Moth (wassup Matthias Hunt?!) main. No, seriously. And that wasn’t the strangest thing I saw all day.
Let’s get the list out of the way first:
3 x Tectonic Edge– Far from cutting Edge Tec. I think I blew up two lands all day.
17 x Forest
1 x Wurmcoil Engine – Played it maybe twice, both times it saved my ass. Could have done with more in the board against red and Valakut.
3 x Ezuri, Renegade Leader – Bah humbug. Never wanted to spend the mana, never wanted to keep the Elvish Archdruid back for it to make sense. Used the regen a couple of times, and the Overrun won a game for me once. Mul Daya Channelers might be better here.
4 x Llanowar Elves – I think I had these guys on turn 1 in over half my games.
4 x Lead the Stampede – So good. SO GOOD. I cannot overstate how good this card is in decks like this. Draw 4? Don’t mind if I do!
4 x Fauna Shaman – Did its job but without Copperhorn Scout in play it was hard to know when to swing and when to activate.
4 x Arbor Elf– Just OK. More valuable as a one-drop than a mana dork.
4 x Vengevine – MVP without question. This card is just silly.
3 x Joraga Treespeaker – Wasn’t impressed, really. So many other things to spend my mana on when I felt like I should be levelling.
4 x Elvish Archdruid – Did work all day. Quality stuff.
3 x Green Sun’s Zenith – Another amazing card that enables some really, really silly plays. A one-land keep with this and a mana dork can actually be the correct play.
2 x Joraga Warcaller – Tried to get a third before the tournament but none were to be found, hence the Wurmcoil.
4 x Copperhorn Scout – Surprisingly good. Never really looked at it for constructed play but in a deck where almost everything taps for mana, its crazy good.
2 x Leatherback Baloth – Only got cast once, didn’t stay long. Not a bad choice, just didn’t draw them.
4 x Leyline of Vitality – Absolutely key in several games. And to think I couldn’t see the value in it…
1 x Obstinate Baloth – Never got to cast it
1 x Ezuri, Renegade Leader – Meh.
1 x Kozilek, Butcher of Truth – Not sure what I had him in the board against, but he never came in.
1 x Tectonic Edge 3 x Nature’s Claim – Only cast it once but it won me the game.
2 Viridian Corrupter – Never drew them.
To the tournament!
Round 1 vs David Bishop (UB Wafo-Tapa)
David’s a nice guy who kept checking in with me all day to see how I was running. Although it’s not an auto-lose for me UB control IS a horrible, horrible match-up. I knew a fast start was needed so I mulled to 6 when I only had one one-drop in my opening hand. In what would become a habit I opened with turn 1 Llanowar, turn 2 Archdruid. It all went downhill from there. A triple-kicked Warcaller got Mana Leaked, then he untapped and Zenithed. I got a Fauna Shaman one the board, drew 4 off a Lead the Stampede, and had a pair of Vengevines in hand to swing for 8 next turn. Oh wait, Zenith. All told I ate 4 Zeniths in game one and lost to two Grave Titans with him at 3 life.
I had no idea what to side in for this match so I went with my Baloth package, hoping to make him Zenith for more and thus have to delay a turn. I think maybe the Leylines might have helped too, even if I just went with a pair of them. Game 2 was shorter but even closer. A hyper-aggressive start aided by me Tec Edging his only blue source kept him from being able to Preordain, but when he Zenithed away my army and followed up with Grave Titan and then Wurmcoil Engine, I was in trouble. I had left my artifact hate in the board so I had no real answer to either card. Oops. Scoop I guess?
As it turned out, losing this early was a major help to me as it kept me away from some of the scarier decks. I also had the immense pleasure of stomping all over Big Jace’s face with pointy-eared effeminate ninjas.
Round 2 vs Mark Woodford (UB Tezzeret)
I had to try really hard not to get tilted for this one, especially when he opened with Island-Preordain then untapped and laid a Swamp. ARG not AGAIN! By turn 5 there were 3 Tumble Magnets and a Tezzeret, Agent of Bolasacross the board, plus a 5/5 Sphere of the Suns. I was able to overwhelm the Magnets with multiple Elves, drop a large Warcaller and an Ezuri and eventually double Overrun for the win.
Sided in the Nature’s Claims and the 2 Corrupters for game 2, and my opening hand had Forest, Claim, Green Sun’s Zenith, Llanowar Elf, Lead the Stampede, Elvish Archdruid and Vengevine. I tanked and finally kept it, praying he didn’t have turn 1 Inquisition. He didn’t. I drew the second land, dropped the Elf and passed, he had turn 2 Ratchet Bomb and ticked it up. I thanked my lucky stars for keeping, untapped and nuked the Ratchet then Zenithed for Fauna Shaman. An Archdruid and quad-kicked Warcaller later, I was 1-1.
Round 3 vs Blair Grouchy (BUG)
Another nice guy playing a good deck and having some bad luck. When I saw turn 1 Darkslick Shores I wondered what it would take for me to see something that couldn’t run Black Sun’s Zenith. When he played Forest and Explore I felt a little better, but not much. Fortunately for me Blair got flooded in game 2 and ended up getting stomped on. Game 2 wasn’t much better for him. He managed to Zenith once, but I had Vengevine in hand in addition to the one he killed. With four land in play, this sequence happened.
I love that card. Love it. I’m sure those of you who played when Rise came out aren’t surprised by that sequence, but to me it was like this amazing moment that made me feel like my deck was unstoppable. Clearly, it wasn’t.
Round 4 vs Tyler Beckett (RU Pyromancer’s Jank)
Because I can maths, I had figured out that I had to win out to have a chance at top 8. The top tables were starting to see a couple of draws (pesky Caw-Go mirrors) and I was worried that 4-2 wouldn’t make it. Tyler’s a younger guy and when I cut his deck it felt thicker than most. Well there’s no rule against that, of course. I kept a hand with three 1cc dudes and no real beef, then regretted it when I saw mountains. I just kept plinking away with little damage while he dug and dug and found…main deck Flashfreeze for my Archdruid? Really? He untapped, played Consecrated Sphinx and passed. I drew my card for the turn, he drew his two and I dropped a quad-kicked Warcaller to win it. He showed me the two cards he drew off Sphinx: Pyroclasm and Slagstorm. Gulp.
Sideboarding for this matchup was fairly easy, even if I wasn’t entirely sure what he was doing: Leylines, Baloths and out go the Arbor Elves and one each of Copperhorn and Ezuri. Shuffle up and deal…hey look a Leyline! That’s going to smart. Or will it?
You know how sometimes, when you play against a bad deck, they sometimes drop a card that you just can’t answer? Turns out that for me, that card is Lighthouse Chronologist. Before I knew it he had the thing levelled up and was taking two turns for my one. Then he dropped Chandra Nalaar and…yeah. Game three it is then.
The whole time I was shuffling, I was pleading to whatever Gods might be listening to keep Lighthouse Chronologist off the table and to keep me from losing to this deck that somehow was 2-1 as well. I started cautiously, putting enough pressure on that he had to sweep the board, then refilling with Lead the Stampede. He had Arc Trails, he had Pyroclasms, he had Slagstorms. I got the Vengevines going and he Slagstormed again. He had a Chronologist with 5 counters on it, was tapped out and was at 8 life. “Might as well swing for two!” I said, holding one Elf and praying for a top deck. He swung for two.
I drew an elf.
Round 5 vs Josh Blanchard (Valakut)
I couldn’t tell early on if Josh was running RUG or Valakut since the only ramp I saw was a pair of Explores. I put some pressure on but a turn 4Inferno Titan was never going to mean good things for me. Turn 5 swing and Primeval Titan, fetching a Valakut and a Mountain giving him 5 was going to make a very large mess of my face next turn. Scoop I guess?
I was dejected as we boarded up. I knew I had no way to beat Inferno Titans unless he got mana screwed, which meant I really had no way to save my tournament. I brought in Baloths and Leylines and sided out one Lead the Stampede along with Arbors. Luckily he was kept off much fixing ramp for most of the game, leaving him on a single red and allowing me to get him into single digits. Of course when you’re running Summoning Trap AND Prime Time-tan, you don’t need double red on the board. I don’t remember the exact sequence of plays but he was on 5 life with a Prime Time-tan untapped, I had 2 Vengevines in the graveyard and a pair of Copperhorn Scouts on the board. I needed to draw Lead the Stampede to force game three.
Lesson learned? Don’t side out Lead the Stampede.
Round 6 vs Jared Gilbert (Red Deck Wins)
Jared is actually from the town where I tried to create a Magic scene before moving to St. John’s. He’s a good player but made a couple of key mistakes in this one. That didn’t prevent him from dancing all over my face in game 1 though, on the back of Forked Bolt, Cunning Sparkmage and Kargan Dragonlord. In came the Leylines and they would absolutely prove to be key.
Game 2, the Leyline was in my opener. It wasn’t even close as I had 4 Green Sun’s Zenith over the course of the game, each one fetching an Archdruid. At one point he cast Pyroclasm and Slagstorm to clear the board, but the Zeniths and a Lead the Stampede let me refill with ease. Koth of the Hammer was on the board at some point but I was so far on top I just ignored it.
Not so game 3. This one was very even all the way, with Leyline again in my opener (after I mulled to 6) and once again a Pyroclasm/Slagstorm tandem to clear the board. When Koth followed a Dragonlord I thought I might be in trouble, but instead of levelling three times he played Ember Hauler. I dropped a Vengevine and swung for several, and looked at my lone card in hand: Copperhorn Scout. I was at 13 life and staring down a Dragonlord with one counter and one card in hand. There was a Vengevine in the graveyard, and he was at 5 life. I figured I needed the second Vengevine to have a chance, but I also knew that I was on a dangerous life total. I couldn’t see any way for him to deal 13 with what he had on board but I figured if he could, 14 was safer. I tanked for a while but ultimately laid the Scout and gained the one life. He untapped, dropped a Mountain, -2 to Koth and fully levelled the Dragonlord, sacrificed the Hauler to deal 2 to me and Bolted me before swinging for 8. 13 damage. He extended his hand, looked at my life counter (from the Dissension Fat Pack, featuring Rakdos in all his defiling glory), and pulled his hand back. I untapped and won.
- Vengevine and Copperhorn Scout, for being clutch all day.
- My trusty lucky charm, Zap, for being Zap.
- The staff at Sword n Steele for putting together a very player-friendly event under the circumstances
- The players at the store for being, mostly, a bunch of stand-up guys
- Jon Medina and The Eh Team’s own Smitty for helping with the deck.
- Ezuri. Won me one game all day, barely showed his face otherwise.
- Kozilek. Wasted board spot.
- Black Sun’s Zenith. I hate that bloody card now.
So, 4-2 for 10th with a ton of draws floating around. It was never going to be enough, but I was really happy with the way the deck played and with the way I played. No obvious misplays, only a couple of bad sideboarding choices and a good foundation for the future.