Despite not having to work on Friday, I left the house without actually knowing what deck I was going to play. I had nothing put together, but brought the commons and uncommons I would need to build Junk Walkers and Esper Lifegain.
The Junk deck held some appeal because of my heretofore unrequited love for [card]Sorin, Lord of Innistrad[/card]. I’ve been wanting to play the card for a while but it’s never quite fit in any of my brews. I also got to play Garruk, [card]Lingering Souls[/card] and [card]Thragtusk[/card] which I feel are all well positioned right now. Esper on the other hand gave me Sorin AND Ghosty McJazzhands ([card]Drogskol Reaver[/card], for the uninitiated) but also gave me a very slim chance to actually win.
I’m often indecisive about what deck I will run, but at least I have something ready to go when I get to the store. Two somethings, in fact. Sitting on the bus I was leaning more and more towards Junk, if only because I wasn’t sure I could get back my [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card]s I had lent out. Having stopped at Tim Horton’s for what turned out to be a very sub-standard coffee, I walked in to Midgard to see a fair few people already there: both Twinjas, JamRand, Mike Whelan and some of the EDH crowd. Well, crowdsourcing a deck seemed like a fine idea!
As I initially laid out the cards I wanted to play, it was obvious I was going to be going the Junk route. That meant a few achievements were going to be on the table:
Ultimate 3 planeswalkers in a game – With only four different ‘walkers in the deck, this will require some luck in terms of draws. Additionally, [card]Garruk Relentless[/card] has to flip AND put in some serious work to make an ultimate worthwhile. A steep hill to climb, but the view from the top of those hills is often the best.
Blink [card]Thragtusk[/card] with Restoration Angel – Chances are that as I’m playing green and white, this package will be in the deck. That [card]Thragtusk[/card] makes a token and fits my overall strategy is just gravy.
Win a game with Vraska’s Assassin tokens – I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t the reason I wanted to play this deck. I still think Vraska is better than she gets credit for, especially if she’s played into a congested board. Her +1 often encourages bad attacks out of fear, and is also a good way to get rid of the flying menaces that are making planeswalkers a little less desirable right now. She can also be sandbagged to take out a [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card], Tamiyo, Jace or other large threat. With all the blockers this deck can throw up, getting her to 7 does not seem all that far-fetched.
Three targets should be enough, given my recent string of poor luck in getting these achievements. So, how do we go about building our deck to maximise the chances of winning?
This deck felt like my first real good brew idea in a while. Hardly an original one maybe, but certainly something that isn’t being played right now. As I pulled the walkers from my binder, my brain was already thinking of other things that simply had to be played. [card]Lingering Souls[/card] was going to be my best defense against [card]Restoration Angel[/card] and [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card], so they were a must. If I didn’t want to flat-out lose to a Thundermaw, [card]Intangible Virtue[/card] also needed a spot. That works well with all the token-making my planeswalkers will be doing anyway.
Since we’re playing [card]Thragtusk[/card], we’re playing [card]Restoration Angel[/card]. I wanted more than just that to blink with Resto though, since tokens are monumentally bad targets for that particular triggered ability. In terms of creatures that make tokens, [card]Armada Wurm[/card] is pretty much the best choice if you can reliably cast it. One might even call him the cock of the walk. [card]Geist-Honored Monk[/card] is another good choice, and one that has been overlooked since rotation. If I can keep my board full she will be a massive threat with vigilance to boot, and she loves being blinked. She’s also a great post-sweeper threat, putting at least 5 power on the board and threatening more with Virtue or a flashback on Souls.
Finally, the only thing better than playing very powerful planeswalkers on turn four is doing so on turn 3. Being able to ramp into Sorin, Garruk or even just [card]Thragtusk[/card] a turn early can easily be what keeps me alive against aggro or lets me pressure control before they can get a hand full of answers.
I considered and rejected both [card]Gather the Townsfolk[/card] and [card]Increasing Devotion[/card]. I didn’t like the relatively low impact that Gather has, and Devotion just isn’t impressive on turn 5 compared with the other things I can be doing. The flashback was tempting, but ultimately I had to cut it. [card]Phantom General[/card] also fell by the wayside, lacking as it does the ability to fly and basically being a rather unimpressive 2/3 for 4 if I haven’t managed to keep any tokens out. [card]Oblivion Ring[/card] and [card]Selesnya Charm[/card] both get relegated to the sideboard, though I am loathe do to do with the Charm. All three modes seem like they could be relevant in the deck.
Here’s what I ended up running:
[deck title=Junk Walkers by Chris Lansdell]
4 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
4 Arbor Elf
4 Restoration Angel
2 Geist-Honored Monk
1 Armada Wurm
4 Intangible Virtue
4 Lingering Souls
3 Garruk Relentless
3 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
1 Garruk, Primal Hunter
2 Vraska, the Unseen
4 Temple Garden
4 Overgrown Tomb
4 Sunpetal Grove
3 Woodland Cemetery
3 Isolated Chapel
2 Gavony Township
1 Vault of the Archangel
3 Centaur Healer
3 Oblivion Ring
3 Golgari Charm
2 Selesnya Charm
2 Faith’s Shield
2 Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice
I wanted [card]Golgari Charm[/card] against [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] and [card]Faith’s Shield[/card] against [card]Detention Sphere[/card], as both of those cards set me back substantially. [card]Terminus[/card] would be a real problem but it isn’t seeing a lot of play right now. Healer and Trostani were for aggro in general, and [card]Selesnya Charm[/card] was meant mainly for GW Aggro and Naya midrange.
The holidays continued to take their toll on attendance as we only had 20 players for FNM. At least that’s where I’m choosing to apportion blame instead of saying that people hate the format. Five rounds to test this deck would be fun, there was a lot it could do and a lot I wanted to try with it.
Round 1 – Andrew Connors with GW Aggro
I joked before the game that there should be a rule saying you scoop to people who lend you cards. Twinja Andrew had a good half-dozen of my cards in his deck and had also watched me put mine together. He and his brother Evan have only been playing since Avacyn Restored came out (in case you forgot) but they have quickly become very good at the game. Quick learners indeed.
Game 1 was not close. I have no main deck answer to [card]Silverblade Paladin[/card]s being in relationships with Rancored-up beaters like [card]Loxodon Smiter[/card]. Game 2 was similarly not close in the other direction, as turn 3 [card]Garruk Relentless[/card] on the play took out his early mana dorks and a [card]Lingering Souls[/card] kept [card]Restoration Angel[/card] at bay long enough for me to -1 Garruk the Veil-Cursed, tutor up Trostani and play her. The [card]Thragtusk[/card] on the next turn wasn’t quite enough to make Andrew concede, but the [card]Restoration Angel[/card] the turn after that was…
Sadly, game 3 was decided by a misplay. Even sadder, it was my misplay. Wisely playing around [card]Selesnya Charm[/card], Andrew once again had paired Smiter with Silverblade but had put the Rancor on the Paladin. I had a [card]Thragtusk[/card] in play and 6 mana available, and in hand I had both Vraska and [card]Restoration Angel[/card]. Andrew had plenty of mana open and two cards in hand. I knew he wasn’t running [card]Faith’s Shield[/card] and there was a Thalia in play, so I figured he was holding Thalia and a land. I dropped Vraska and went to [card]Vindicate[/card] his Paladin, which promptly got blinked with Resto. I hadn’t seen one yet in our 3 games but as Crocker said to me after the game, “you always play around Resto.” The resulting lack of a blocker and missing 5 life proved fatal next turn with the additional 3 in the air, leaving me trying to avoid tilt mode.
Round 2 – Dylan Donnelly with Rakdos Rakdos
You may remember Dylan as the kid whose mother comes with him to FNM, and the one I conceded to with lethal in hand. What you probably don’t know (because I think it happened on a week where I didn’t write) is that he was 3-0 lifetime against me as we sat down to this game…and two of those wins he earned. You might expect a 12-year-old kid to get a little cocky in such a position, but all he said was “I hope I can get lucky enough to continue my winning streak against you.” No offence kid, but I hope you don’t.
Game 1 I was able to ride Sorin’s lifelinking Vampires to a relatively quick win. It’s amazing how powerful they can be with just a single [card]Intangible Virtue[/card] on the board. They were not only able to outpace the damage he could deal, but also let me beat down and win the game.
Game 2 was not much better. I ramped into [card]Geist-Honored Monk[/card] after an early Souls and Flashback, but he was able to chump block. I had [card]Restoration Angel[/card] next turn, made a deathtouch wolf with Garruk, made a Sorin Emblem and cast two dorks…for 19 damage in one turn. I could have waited a turn to get the one-shot kill but that seemed rude. Looking back now I realise I could have used Garruk’s -3 to overrun for 1 and unlock the achievement. Oh well.
Round 3 – Nick Crocker with GW Aggro
Crocker is still one of the best players in town, a guy I think I have beaten once in constructed. Game 1 of this round confirmed my earlier suspicion that [card]Selesnya Charm[/card] should have been in the main deck, and that the matchup is REALLY tough for me. Once again Rancored Smiters and Silverblades overwhelmed my tokens in short order.
Game 2 was basically decided by me getting [card]Gavony Township[/card] online first. He had a lot of dudes out to defend, but once I got a [card]Thragtusk[/card] large enough to take out any one blocker I started picking away at his team one at a time. Vraska came down to take out a Silverblade, and when I had 40-plus power on the board and a [card]Selesnya Charm[/card] in hand against his board of 3 blockers, I was able to one-shot in for the win.
This presents an interesting dilemma. If I unlock an achievement that was not on my list of targets, can I still count it? My feeling is that I can, because in other games with achievements you can unlock any achievement at any time. As such…
Unfortunately game three was a case of Magic being Magic. I never saw a white source, and even a single one would have won me the game as I had two [card]Restoration Angel[/card]s and a [card]Selesnya Charm[/card] in hand and a [card]Thragtusk[/card] on the board for blinking shenanigans. That’s the game we love!
Round 4 – Tyler Beckett with Esper Spirits
When I started writing this series, I was challenged to take a match to time in game 1. While it’s stalling to do so on purpose, these things can and do happen. I was hesitant to accept this because I didn’t want anyone to think I was stalling at any point. Shame really, as this match was a draw…in 0. And not a single Bant Control list to be seen.
There was a lot of back and forth in this one, with some epic plays on both sides. A [card]Drogskol Captain[/card] prevented me from using Sorin’s ultimate to steal [card]Drogskol Reaver[/card], and his double [card]Vault of the Archangel[/card] held off my Vault plus Gavony combination. At one point I used Vraska’s -3 to take out an [card]Intangible Virtue[/card], used Sorin’s ultimate, stole his Captain and destroyed my Vraska, cast a second Sorin and made a token, then used Vraska’s +1. Sorin, Gavony and 3 Virtues gained me a ton of life but his fliers were overwhelming mine as his Spirit tokens were bigger than even my [card]Restoration Angel[/card]s. [card]Geist-Honored Monk[/card] ate a [card]Detention Sphere[/card], his [card]Drogskol Reaver[/card] died to Vraska, and the game kept swinging back and forth. I was sitting on 95 life for a long time, realising I had an achievement for reaching a tripe-digit life total. Vraska hit 8 counters and went ultimate, meaning I now had a definite way to victory past his seventy-odd life. [card]Gavony Township[/card] was making my tokens bigger than his, despite him having [card]Intangible Virtue[/card] AND [card]Favorable Winds[/card]. [card]Dungeon Geists[/card] got copied by [card]Cackling Counterpart[/card] (the nerve! Using my own pet cards against me…) to tap down my Assassins, and stalemate was reached. I drew into [card]Thragtusk[/card] and windmill-slammed it HARD to go to 100 life.
One unexpected side-effect of having these achievements is that the rounds after I lose a second time still mean something to me, so if I enjoy playing the deck it’s not a waste of time to play on. I started grinding away at his blockers, a tough assignment with two active Vaults on his side to make every block into a trade, but I couldn’t get him below 3 blockers AND destroy all his Geists. Once again I cursed the lack of main-deck [card]Selesnya Charm[/card], as trample at any point would have ended things. Every other player in the store was gathered around the match as we went to time, and the game was swinging back to Tyler as we went to extra turns. I got his Geists off the board but ran out of time to swing with the Assassins, leaving us at a draw.
Round 5 – Kyle Allen with UWR Flash
Good to see ol’ Spider-Man back at FNM. The poor guy’s deck didn’t treat him very well though, and I won in two quick games with nothing of note taking place.
The deck is definitely powerful. Sorin is really good in combination with [card]Lingering Souls[/card] as long as you can deal with Rancor and [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card]. Sweepers present very little danger to the deck unless they come along when you have no walkers out. [card]Armada Wurm[/card] never showed up, so I can’t assess its value in the deck. That said it would be a likely cut along with a mana dork for two [card]Selesnya Charm[/card]. That card is so versatile and suits this deck really well.
Getting three achievements out of the way was awesome, and the feeling when I windmilled that [card]Thragtusk[/card] to hit 100 was the sort of thing I had been missing in previous weeks: the thrill of just playing Magic and having fun, win or lose.
Next week I wanted to play Esper Lifegain, but many of the achievements I wanted with that deck were reached this week. Instead I might go with a RUG Deadeye brew, or try the all-Dragon achievement. If you have suggestions for any of those decks or for a different deck, please let me know. Thanks for reading, and I will see you next week!