Surprise! You Lose.

About halfway through the day Wednesday I was convinced there was something wrong with me. There was Magic to be played that night and I…didn’t want to go. I’ve missed Magic events in the past, but normally it’s because I had other things that needed doing. I can count the number of times I have actively NOT wanted to play Magic on one hand, and now here was another instance. I had done poorly at draft on Sunday and was just in a lousy mood in general.

Thursday arrived and it would be Mark to the rescue. Mark is one of my best friends and has a tremendous gift for snapping me out of any bad mood. We have the same sense of humour too, which is great for us but terrible news for anyone who happens to be within earshot. He dropped by for some playtesting that evening because he had found a new deck he wanted to play: GriselPod. I like a brew as much as anyone, especially involving Birthing Pod, but for the life of me I couldn’t think of a seven-drop I’d want to Pod away to get Griselbrand. Turns out it’s not G-Brizzle he was getting, but his faithful Hound instead.

We ran a few test games against my new brew, and I believe I came out on top. I won’t be at FNM this week (as I’m in Vancouver as you’re reading this) but next week I’ll be playing BUG Tezzeret. Animate ALL the artifacts!

Weapon Selection

This was a new one for me – I knew going in that I would be playing Primal Surge. That meant no last-minute deck changes, no scrambling to put something together. It was strangely refreshing actually, although there was still some tweaking to do. I had been unhappy with the deck’s performance against aggro rushes since removing the black from the deck, and really wanted to try and squeeze Massacre Wurms and Grave Titans back in. With all the mana rocks and the Birds in the deck, I figured I could make it work with only one or two black land sources being added. Unfortunately, I couldn’t come up with any sensible cuts from the deck except for one Pristine Talisman, which I decided would be better as Elesh Norn than a single Massacre Wurm. Here’s the list:

Plan A with this deck is to ramp to 10 mana and then win by resolving Primal Surge. With only three non-permanents in the deck, the odds are that you will end up with a lethal combination of hasty Titans and Craterhoof on the board. Plan B is to keep playing Titans until you win which, last I checked, was a pretty good plan B. You’ve got Wolf Run and Nexus if you need it, and Craterhoof with Emissaries and Elks on the board can also end games. It’s not the most subtle of decks: ramp, Surge, kill. Don’t sac your Elks or chump with your Emissaries until you have to, they can sometimes be the difference between winning and dying to a sweeper the next turn.

The Titan comes in against aggro strategies, the Slimes against Tokens and Pod. Conscripts come in against anything that goes big or plays ‘walkers with tasty ultimates. Veil comes in against control, along with Garruks and Karns.

How Did I Do?

The past couple of weeks had been packed with Naya Aggro and Naya Pod, but this week saw the return of one of the most skilled play groups to FNM: Blair, Nick, Josh and Mike were giving Diablo III a rest to try and dominate the competition. It also meant fresh takes on the meta. A couple of people had been scrambling for cards all week so I had some idea of what decks would be floating around, and I was pretty confident I could take it down.

Round 1 – Mark Butt with UW Midrange (Delverless Delver)

Well this sucks. Never fun to play a friend early, let alone one who knows your deck very well. Mark was not excited about the prospect either, but on the two previous occasions we’ve played at FNM he’s danced on my face. Not literally, of course. That would be a DQ. Mark was clearly not sure which deck to use, as he kept switching between the new Pod deck and his UW build. He settled on UW which worried me, because I wasn’t sure how many counters he was running.

Game 1 was uneventful but Game 2 was very interesting. I had sided in the Caverns but they weren’t really relevant. He had extra Day of Judgment brought in for the matchup and kept the board clear, then dropped a Tamiyo. At one point he even used the rarely-seen play of Snapcaster-Day of Judgment to kill a Titan. He was keeping me off 10 and then 13 mana pretty effectively with Tamiyo but I had drawn a Zealous Conscripts. Once she ticked up to 8 I slammed Conscripts with 6 mana open (I was holding a second one) and Mark proceeded to the scoop phase.

Mark hated his deck choice now and was wishing he had chosen the Pod deck. Tilt mode was engaged and locked in, and he dropped after round 3. Mark is almost always in the X-0 or X-1 bracket so this was particularly unusual for him and thus likely harder to swallow.

Round 2 – Nick Crocker with Boros Humans

Huh. Just the night before I had said to Mark that I think “the Crockfather” is the best player in town right now, taking into account all formats. He’s also a rules guru and absolutely ready to take the judge test. If only I could convince him to do so…

Prior to the round I was pretty sure I had heard someone say they got blown out by Crocker’s Mutagenic Growth, so I put him on UG Infect. That deck is BAD news for me if I don’t have an opening hand with Emissaries and Elks, so I mulled to 6 to make sure I had one. He mulled too and went turn 1 Champion of the Parish. Well then. Fortunately my opening hand had Birds and Emissary, and I drew into another one of each plus an Elk…and Craterhoof Behemoth. On 7 life and with Crocker at 20 I dropped Behemoth and swung for 29 and the win.

Game 2 I ran into a Thalia which put a major spanner in the works. I managed to hold off an army of Blade Splicers, Champions and the like until I dropped an Elesh Norn. He untapped and slammed Conscripts for the win. Well OK, that makes sense and I couldn’t have played around it anyway. Game 3 was VERY tight and came down to one pivotal turn. I had a Primeval Titan and Urabrask in play and 10 mana on the board, but he had an army including Thalia. I was dead next turn. He had missed a land drop and was holding three cards. I top deck the best card I could possibly find: Inferno Titan. The only way I survive is to jam it and swing, killing his Thalia and 3 other blockers. I left the Urabrask home and also swung with the Primeval, in case he had a second Thalia in hand. It wasn’t lethal but the Primal Surge in my hand would almost certainly be next turn. Of course he taps W3 and flashes in Restoration Angel, blinking Blade Splicer after blocks and giving him exactly enough to kill me on the backswing. SURPRISE! Never saw that one coming, which would be the theme of the evening.

So…was the attack with Primeval a misplay? I had seen Pillar of Flame from him in a previous game, which currently had no good targets and could have been held back to squeeze through two last points. Thalia was also a viable card in hand. Angel never entered my thoughts as a possibility

Round 3 vs Evan Connors with BW Tokens

Remember last week when I played against Little Ninja Andrew? Well this is his brother. I still can’t tell them apart; all these Little Ninjas (ninjae?) look the same to me. This also gives me an opportunity to correct an error I made last week: they have in fact only been playing Magic for a month, since Avacyn Restored came out. This makes their development all the more remarkable.

Evan had a pretty strong Tokens build considering his limited budget. He had no Sorins and I don’t think he had a full four Champions but he had anthems and all the good token makers, so this matchup was likely to be rough. Indeed he rolled me in the first game when I just couldn’t get going. Games 2 and 3 were very different as I managed to find the Inferno Titans to buy me enough time to make it to 10 mana, and Surge locked it up both times.

I made sure to help Evan out during the match, telling him to stop main-phasing his Midnight Hauntings when he didn’t need to and also pointing out when he was being too defensive. I’ve noticed a lot of young players do this, and it’s simply a question of not taking the time to do all the relevant combat math. If you have an army of little dudes and I have one big dude, chances are an attack is still in your favour. Sure you’ll lose an attacker, but all that extra damage gets through. Assess the whole board, not just the scariest part of it.

Round 4 vs Jon Finn with UW Angel Delver

Man, what is it with round 4 being tough every week? In a strange coincidence I remember telling Mark on the way to FNM that I had actually never beaten Finn in any format. I don’t think that was incorrect, but I was hoping it was about to change.

Game 1 he got a quick start, but I had kept an opener with 2 mana rocks and Elesh Norn. I hit 6 mana and he Leaked one Titan, then Snapcaster-leaked a second one, so by the time I got to 7 mana I was relatively sure he had no counters left. I couldn’t afford to wait until I hit 10 to try and resolve her, so it was now or never.

You may have noticed there are no white sources in the deck. That’s intentional. People already assume I’m playing Wolf Run, and seeing white mana would almost certainly let them know that Norn is in the deck. You could make an argument for Day of Judgment instead, and that this would help me in that aggro decks wouldn’t over-extend, but it also makes them board into Negate which is bad for me.

I tap out, drop Elesh Norn and Finn blanches. No Leaks. He took a couple more draws to try and find an Angel but couldn’t and scooped. Game 2 Delver did what Delver does and on a sketchy but decent keep; I got rolled by a turn 3 Geist that I couldn’t answer in time. I think games like this are part of the reason that Delver is so frustrating to play against, and part of the reason people want something banned from it. Most decks would have just flat-out lost to the start he had in this game, barring some sort of cataclysmic misplay on his part. Finn’s WAY too good for that.

Game 3 was different as I managed to get Caverns into play, which enabled me to drop Primeval, ramp more and then Surge. Lots of beef hit the table and the game was done from there. He hadn’t seen Primal Surge in either of the previous games and couldn’t figure out what card I had been holding all game (it was in my opener) so he stopped playing around it. Finally, a win over Finn.

Round 5 vs Matthew Murphy with White “Weenie”

Big one here, as 4-1 with my breakers likely means a top 4 finish while 3-2 means diddly squat. I had to think for a minute when I saw my matchup because nobody ever calls my opponent Matthew. He is and forever will be Smurf. He’s not blue and to my knowledge does not own a white beret, yet Smurf he is.

Smurf has been playing WG Tokens for as long as I can remember, so that’s what I was expecting. He’s also an interesting character, who takes Magic far less seriously than a lot of people and always seems to be having fun when playing. Not that he’s not a good player, not at all. He’s very good with the right deck. Smurf sits down and asks me if this means he’ll be famous on the internet. Well, maybe not famous, but some people at least will read this.

Nothing in the first few turns of the game made me think Smurf was on a drastically different deck. Mirran Crusaders and Silverblade Paladins made short work of me in game 1, mainly due to Honor of the Pure and me only finding artifact ramp. I never thought I would see the day where Inferno Titan traded with Champion of the Parish, but it happened here. That generally means the game is going badly for me.

Game 2 was probably the most fun I had all day. We went back and forth with Thalia stopping me from being able to cast Primal Surge. I had to block a large Mirran Crusader with an Inkmoth Nexus; naturally the next turn I drew what would have been my 11th mana source. Eventually I found the land I needed and cast Surge, and Smurf did a double take. He read the card, watched me flip card after card into play, then said something like, “So that’s pretty good,” and we went to game 3.

Whereupon I got completely rolled. How, you may ask? Turn two Honor of the Pure, turn 3 Mirran Crusader, turn 4 Angel of Jubilation. Wait, what? I’ve been looking at that card and Herald of War since the AVR prerelease but could never find a deck for them. I guess Smurf did, because DANG. Surprise angelic beatdown ensued, and I was finishing out of the prizes.

What Did I Learn?

Let me start by saying the sideboard was a total mess and maybe only 7 cards were any good. I should have had Bonfire of the Damned over Autumn’s Veil for sure, and the Markov Warlord is less useful with Zealous Conscripts being in there. Another Conscripts or even the third Bonfire seems like a better choice. Bonfire is great against Delver, which is also a matchup where Surge is likely to eat a counter. Autumn’s Veil was left over from Genesis Wave, but is actively bad in Surge.

Main deck I really needed one less Urabrask. Primal Surge only has two stumbling blocks when it resolves: hitting another Surge, or hitting a second Urabrask. Dropping to two Urabrask would let me go deeper with the Surge while likely still hitting one to give my army haste. The fourth Inferno Titan could then come into the main deck.

My reads of potential threats can still use some work. I still don’t think anyone could put an opponent on Angel of Jubilation or Lost in the Mist, but I’m still not sure if I should have seen the Restoration Angel coming.

Young, new players can get really enthusiastic really quickly. It’s best to encourage this early but also to temper it, lest they burn out.

Writing articles about people makes them come back to FNM. Since mentioning that two of the three Prodigies had quit Magic, they have started showing up again. Hey Ken, did you quit Magic? We miss you!

Zealous Conscripts is not a remotely fair card. Not even a little bit.

What’s On Deck?

With GP Vancouver this weekend, I don’t know if I will get a chance to play Standard. In the event that my judging shift on Friday finishes in time, I will be playing some sort of Magic at the venue but those FNMs tend to be Sealed. They’re also not technically FNMs.

That said, I have a crazy Tezzeret brew I want to play in the near future. Two, in fact. Mark and I also had an idea today that might be good in Standard, and even if it isn’t it plays some cards I really want to try. Finally, there’s a deck involving a heretofore unplayed mythic rare from Innistrad that is begging me to play it.

I hope to see some of you this weekend in Vancouver. I’ll be the big black dude in the judge shirt.