Rites, Goldnights and Cenobites

The high from Game Day weekend lasted longer than I thought it would, but it was well and truly gone by Thursday evening. Even the phenomenal news that all our hard work had been rewarded with our first ever PTQ was marred by unfortunate arguing. Compounding this was the fact that almost everyone in our community Facebook group was looking for the cards to play Reid Duke’s Wolf Run Blue deck (Premium needed to view). I’m not entirely sure how to beat that deck.

FNM was exactly what I needed this week. I was pretty secure in my deck choice, and I needed a social outlet after a dreary and miserable week of work-home-bed with little human interaction. Summer in my office is a very quiet time, and the place is desolate most days. There was a small problem that was growing every minute though: I was losing confidence in my deck choice.

Weapon Selection

Last week I talked about a Gisela deck that I really wanted to play. I tested it briefly with Scott on his stream, but it felt a little inconsistent. While chatting with Alex Hayne again this week, he asked me how I planned to beat [card]Zealous Conscripts[/card]. Umm…I have no idea, Alex. In addition to that I wasn’t sure what I was going to do against [card]Nihil Spellbomb[/card] or [card]Grafdigger’s Cage[/card].

You know what? Shag it. Gisela hitting the board against most decks would be very hard to deal with, and the deck promised to be a ton of fun no matter what. To make sure I didn’t chicken out I removed every other deck from my bag and jumped on the bus. Here’s what I took to the store with me:

[deck title=Goldnight, Sweet Prince]
3 Wild Guess
4 Faithless Looting
2 Vessel of Endless Rest
1 Sphere of the Suns
1 Grimoire of the Dead
2 Defy Death
3 Unburial Rites
1 Magmaquake
4 Day of Judgment
2 Oblivion Ring
4 Lingering Souls
2 Slagstorm
3 Gisela, Blade of Goldnight
2 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
3 Flayer of the Hatebound
2 Isolated Chapel
4 Clifftop Retreat
4 Dragonskull Summit
5 Plains
8 Mountain
1 Slayers’ Stronghold
2 Faith’s Shield
3 Terminus
2 Divine Offering
2 Mirran Crusader
1 Oblivion Ring
3 Timely Reinforcements
2 Whipflare

Yes, that’s 61 cards. More on that later. There are lots of ways to just one-shot win with this, like a sweeper with two Flayers in play or [card]Slayers’ Stronghold[/card] shenanigans with Gisela. That’s without even considering what Grimoire can do with Flayer and Gisela. [card]Faith’s Shield[/card] was my answer to [card]Zealous Conscripts[/card] and [card]Divine Offering[/card] was to protect against graveyard hate. Timely and [card]Whipflare[/card] were for aggro decks (Duh) while Crusader was against Elves and Dungrove decks.

Why no Bonfire? Well in this deck, I am very rarely going to miracle it. I will be drawing multiple cards on my turn with no instant-speed option. In that scenario, [card]Magmaquake[/card] is more mana-efficient as an answer. Bonfire is obviously a really good card; I just didn’t think this deck was the right fit.

Whatever else happened, this deck looked like it was going to be great fun. I had been trying to find a deck for both Gisela and [card]Slayers’ Stronghold[/card] since they came out, and there were some very powerful interactions in here. Whether or not I would actually pull any of them off was another matter.

How Did I Do?

I went down early to Midgard so I could get some games in. If you’ve been reading this column for a while, you’ll know that I never play my actual deck in practice games before the event starts. I don’t like letting people in on what I’m playing, as silly as that might sound. I’m starting to rethink that position, as anyone who reads this column or listens to my podcast will have an idea of what I’m playing. Since I tend to build a new deck every week, I might be hurting myself more by not getting in any play time with the deck before actually taking it into a tournament.

This inkling was given more weight when I played a couple of games with the deck before the tournament and realized just how bad Grimoire was in here. I don’t think the card is unplayable; in fact in a deck with some proliferate options it might be really good. In THIS deck, I want to be reanimating a game-ender on turn four or five, not discarding one for no immediate impact. I took it out, both bringing me down to 60 and making the deck less janky. Let’s battle!

Round 1 – Kyle Allen with ElfWave

My deck was pretty much built to handle decks with lots of mana dorks, so I was pretty happy with this matchup. Kyle, a.k.a Spiderman, had borrowed the deck from Extra Balls but it’s not exactly a hard one to play. Game one however showed just why I was so confident: turn five Elesh Norn swept his board and let me finish him with [card]Lingering Souls[/card] tokens in short order.

I brought in the [card]Whipflare[/card]s and Crusaders for game two and kept a two land hand based on having [card]Whipflare[/card] in the opener. I was able to take out three Elves and an Archdruid with the [card]Whipflare[/card] but unfortunately I had not yet seen a third land on turn five. Luckily I was able to discard a Sheoldred and a Gisela but without a couple of land drops I wasn’t getting anywhere. Fortunately, Kyle was flooding out. I was barely staying alive on two life when I drew my fourth land. He had one card in hand, six lands in play and a [card]Llanowar Elves[/card] and [card]Viridian Emissary[/card] on the board. I had two Spirit tokens in play and a [card]Day of Judgment[/card] in hand. It was obvious he was holding [card]Craterhoof Behemoth[/card], so I was a land away from dying. My options:

1)Swing for two, [card]Day of Judgment[/card]. This option lets me reanimate Sheoldred next turn and then Gisela the next, which would be enough to win the game no matter what he draws…unless he top-decks the eighth land.
2)Reanimate Gisela. If he doesn’t get the land, this wins me the game in a hurry…but ultimately does nothing to keep me alive if he DOES get it. I’d be relying on him to not understand how to assign the damage from the trampling Emissary with Gisela in play. I still have the Day if I need it, but he is much better off the top than me and only needs to keep one dude alive for one turn.
3)Reanimate Sheoldred. That leaves me relying on him being bad and sacrificing the Llanowar over the Emissary. If he sacs the Emissary AND gets the topdecked land, I lose anyway. If he keeps the Llanowar and doesn’t draw the land, I have to triple-block the Behemoth and hope for a threat or cast Day for one creature.

I went with the [card]Day of Judgment[/card] and lost when he topdecked the land. What would you have done?

Game three he nut-drew me, with three Emissaries on turn three and a Craterhoof on turn four. My next draw was a [card]Slagstorm[/card]. So, 0-1 to a (possible) misplay and a nut draw. Not exactly the most inspiring of starts!

Between rounds Kyle took a look at the deck and, in what would become a theme of the evening, fell in love with it. As it turned out I still had my Architect deck with me (good thing I didn’t notice that before round 1) so I played that against Kyle piloting the Gisela deck…and got thrashed. Well at least I know it works!

Round 2 – Michael Ingram with Tezzeret

Ingram has recently decided to play fun decks at FNM and good decks at our Wednesday night events that have more prize support. I love this approach and if I had the time and financial ability to play on Wednesdays, I’d do the same. That said, Tezz is hardly a bad deck and Ingram is one of the better players in town. Plus I was pretty sure he’d have maindeck [card]Nihil Spellbomb[/card] at the least, and possibly [card]Grafdigger’s Cage[/card] in the board to boot. Game one I managed to just take the game down with Souls tokens, going past a Wurmcoil. Ingram got stuck at six mana and although he had tutored up a couple of Wurmcoils with [card]Treasure Mage[/card]s, he was worried about tapping out and letting me do something gross with a Gisela or Sheoldred. I believe it was this game that showed me how powerful [card]Magmaquake[/card] can be, clearing out [card]Liliana of the Veil[/card] and Tezzeret while leaving my Spirits untouched.

Game two showed me one of the inherent weaknesses of the deck: I saw all draw spells and no gas. I had changed to [card]Terminus[/card] from Day because of the Wurmcoils and did get to miracle one but when he activated a [card]Mindslaver[/card] with a strong board position and me having sideboard cards in hand, I conceded. Game three wasn’t close. I cast a turn three Looting and had to choose between keeping the finishers in hand, discarding other draw spells and playing the long game, or dropping Rites and Gisela and going for it on turn four. He had no Spellbomb in play, and I decided to gamble that he wasn’t sandbagging it. He had it. I had no more gas and he animated two artifacts and smashed face in short order.

The drafters had started to show up at this point and had they been ready to start their draft, I would have dropped in a heartbeat. I was enjoying the deck when it did what it was meant to do, but losing from board positions that looked like winners is never fun. With some more practice and tweaking I’m fairly sure I could be at least 1-1 at this point. Luckily, round three started before there were eight for the draft.

Round 3 – Nick McNeil with GW Midrange

This was an unfortunate match. I haven’t played Nick before but he is a big EDH fan who hasn’t played much Standard recently. I had looked through his deck earlier and given him a couple of tips, and I knew it had a lot of powerful two-ofs without a great deal of synergy. None of that really matters when you keep one-landers with mana dorks and I sweep your board early. Game two the beating was severe: I had a slow start enabling him to land a [card]Primordial Hydra[/card]. It got up to a 16/16 before I was able to bring back a Gisela to go along with my Elesh Norn. He attacked into Gisela, forgetting the -2/-2 from Norn. Gisela consumed the Hydra; I swung in for 14 in the air and finished him off with a [card]Slagstorm[/card] to players.

Round 4 – Dustin McLachlan with UW Puresteel

Dustin was pretty darn stoked to be playing me, mainly because he wanted to be in my column. Hmm, OK. The matchup was likely to come down to me having sweepers before he got metalcraft and started doing very unfair things. That didn’t exactly work in game one as I kept a two-lander with some draw spells and never saw a third land. I went right into tilt mode, which for me is normally exhibited by wry cynical humor. Flemming from behind the counter told me to make sure I mentioned that I had engaged full tilt mode, and I had.

It wasn’t made any better when I had to mull to five in game two. When he went turn two Puresteel, turn three [card]Sword of War and Peace[/card], turn four [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] and I had no sweepers whatsoever, I was even more tilted. Then I got lucky: a top-decked [card]Faithless Looting[/card] drew me [card]Unburial Rites[/card] and [card]Slagstorm[/card]. I had a Gisela in hand, which got dumped with the Rites. [card]Slagstorm[/card] swept the board, I drew [card]Slayers’ Stronghold[/card] and reanimated Gisela, and then next turn laid in the vigilant beatdown.

Game three I managed to sweep the board three times before hard-casting Gisela and beating down with [card]Lingering Souls[/card]. THIS is what the deck was always supposed to do, and when it did it I was favored against most things. Even removing my finishers was a small impediment with the reanimation I have. Dustin wasn’t even pissed to have lost to me, and joined the ranks of “this deck is sweet man.” Yeah, it was.

Round 5 – Anthony Phelan with Venser Control

Anthony has been coming to Midgard for a while, and much to his chagrin we had never played before. Our records always seemed to be divergent after round one, and he was really anxious to play me for some reason. I won’t go into detail out of respect for his privacy but Anthony was coming off an incredibly tough week, and was using FNM as a way to get back to some semblance of normalcy. I can absolutely identify with that: Magic is my stabilizer, my anchor. Playing me was something he had wanted to do for a long time, so I was glad to be able to be a part of his recovery, however small that part would be.

That didn’t mean I wasn’t going to try and destroy him of course. In game0one1 he never saw a Venser and I was able to keep his Stonehorns off the board. He did get a [card]Drogskol Reaver[/card] out but I trumped it with a [card]Defy Death[/card] on Gisela with [card]Flayer of the Hatebound[/card] in play. Game did not last long after that.

Game two he got the lock and I got stuck on three land. Not really much else to say here, that’s what his deck does and I had no answers. Game three was pretty much a carbon-copy of game one, with Gisela and Flayer providing obscene amounts of facial damage.

So a 3-2 finish, sadly never getting to sweep the board with two Flayers out. I had a blast playing the deck though, and even when I was getting mana screwed I managed to enjoy the tilt mode.

What Did I Learn?

I think the deck is fine as a one-off to play at FNM when you want to do stupidly powerful things, but it’s by no means competitive.

Playing the deck before playing it in a tournament is actually a good idea, miniature edges be damned.

Magic can be extremely therapeutic when you’re as immersed in it as some of us are.

People have no idea how to deal with Gisela. Her effect is unique and her power level is so much higher than almost any other creature in Standard that she demands an immediate answer. You’d expect that from a 7-mana card but still…MVP of the deck.

Sometimes a card looks like it fits in the deck, but it’s actually actively making the deck worse. Grimoire in here was one such card, being at the wrong spot on the curve and too slow for it to be effective.

There will be situations where you simply have to stop, slow your roll and count everything up in your head. Do the maths, figure out each line of play and then make your choice. I am bad at this. I am pretty good at seeing different options, but I tend to choose one far too quickly.

What’s On Deck?

There are a few cards I have never played that I want to try before rotation: [card]Chancellor of the Annex[/card], [card]Hero of Bladehold[/card] (yes, seriously never played her), and [card]Koth of the Hammer[/card]. I also want to do something with Swords and [card]Mirran Crusader[/card] before October.

Thanks for joining me again this week; I’ll be back next week with the results of another wacky brew.


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