Breaking Through – Jarad’s Last Chance

Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.

These last two weeks have certainly been just that—Life. Last week, I was stuck in Denver while hundreds of fellow mages converged on Dallas/Fort Worth. I was very excited for the Grand Prix due to how happy I had become with my Dredge list. I have not put this much work into a deck in a long time.

Over the past year or so, the role that Magic plays in my life has changed quite a bit. While I love the game, other things have become meaningful over time. When I was young and had no responsibilities, it was easy to put Magic first. What else did I even need to prioritize? Classes? Those things were easy enough that I rarely even went to class. Instead, I did something I truly enjoyed and put a lot of work into it.

Eventually, I graduated and Magic was center stage for a while. I picked up some local part-time job just to get out of the house. And when I was in the house, I was playing Magic. Eventually, I moved in with roommates, and things began to change. My level of responsibility went up. Females were suddenly more visible on my radar. I was even dipping my toes into various small business ventures. I was growing up.

Once I could no longer hide from responsibility, Magic became something I love to do in a field of have-to-dos.

Over time, as more and more things entered my life, Magic slid further. I still made time for the tournaments, but other things became chores. FNM was four hours spent not doing something else I had to do and Magic Online drafts became pointless unless I was recording them. Everything became about managing time and maximizing efficiency which had Magic become less and less of my time. I didn’t even do a good job of focusing on the things I should have been, but I did manage to shrink the impact Magic had on my life.

Then I began to notice the results.

Less testing meant worst lists or random netdecks that I had never played a game with before the tournament. Not only was I doing more poorly than I ever had, but I wasn’t even having fun. I had boiled Magic down to the nuts and bolts so much that all that remained was a chore. The fun was gone. The thrill was gone. The Fire was gone.

I recognized this to degrees. I have even written about it in the past. What I did not realize until recently, was that I am in complete control over the roll that Magic has in my life. If the burden of other things has gotten too heavy and I am missing Magic, I can cut on of those things out of my life, or rework my schedule so as to reach the balance that makes me comfortable, that makes me happy.

I think that I’ve done a good job of getting toward that place recently. Between already exploring Modern for Valencia* and working on BG Dredge for Standard, I once again enjoy Magic. Brewing and creating things is my favorite part of the game and I had to rediscover it again, but it’s back.

*if you have asked me any questions about Modern on social media and I have not responded, this is why. This is a Pro Tour I want to leave a mark on more than any I can remember.

With the ability to put some time toward Magic and do what I love, last week’s missed Grand Prix stung even more so. I played this deck in Albuquerque, but my results were not satisfying and I knew I could do better. For Dallas, I thought the deck was in the best shape yet, but Mother Nature had something to say about that.

I still really wanted to play this deck in a big tournament, and the Grand Prix schedule was very light over the next few months. After Dallas passed me by, I decided I was going to go to the Invitational in Las Vegas this weekend. While I am not qualified for the Invitational itself, I could still play in the Opens and then, worst case scenario, I would be in Vegas.

I worked some more on the deck in the week between the tournament that was not to be and the tournament just over the horizon. And then, I woke up.

Not figuratively in some sort of realization or profound moment, but I literally woke up to the sound of my alarm, ready to head into work as normal. My throat was dry and getting out of bed was more laborious than usual. I was sick. If there was any doubt still to be had, the image of me curled up on my bathroom floor removed all of what remained.

I have been around the block enough times to know that things happen. Dallas sucked, but was understandable, but now this? It is only frustrating because of my level of excitement about my deck. My play is still rustier than it has been in the past, but that will come back with more repetitions. A good deck on the other hand? There is little consistency in finding a deck that excites you. Maybe one will pop up tomorrow, or maybe I am waiting until the Pro Tour for it to happen, so to lose out on this one was a big blow.

That said, life happens. I know that and my frustration will fade. I do hope someone braves the field with Dredge though, even if it can’t be me. Over the week, I made a few small adjustments and played quite a bit on Magic Online. This is where I arrived:

[deck]Main Deck
4 Deathrite Shaman
4 Elvish Mystic
4 Sylvan Caryatid
1 Manaweft Sliver
4 Lotleth Troll
4 Nighthowler
3 Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord
2 Shadowborn Demon
4 Nemesis of Mortals
3 Thoughtseize
4 Grisly Salvage
4 Commune with the Gods
4 Overgrown Tomb
7 Swamp
8 Forest
3 Golgari Charm
4 Skylasher
2 Shadowborn Demon
1 Hero’s Downfall
1 Ultimate Price
2 Deadbridge Chant
2 Nylea’s Disciple[/deck]

Oh, how we have come full circle. Originally, when I built this list, one of the draws was that it was a proactive deck that had access to [ccProd]Thoughtseize[/ccProd]. While some decks, like Esper and Mono-Black definitely had Thoughtseize at the time, they were reactive decks. You have actually seen Mono-Black move more toward a proactive deck these days with full sets of [ccProd]Pack Rat[/ccProd]s and [ccProd]Desecration Demon[/ccProd]s that used to not be staples.

Eventually, I realized I needed more enablers for the deck but wanted to keep the creature count high. One of the few things I could actually shave from the list was Thoughtseize, so I let it go. It was helpful, but it was not mandatory, especially once people began trying other aggressive and midrange strategies. Well, these days, the format is solidly made up of three decks: Mono-Black, Mono-Blue, and Esper. Sure, there are other decks like Red Devotion or White Weenie, but three decks have a stranglehold on the format. It just so happens that Thoughtseize is a pretty stellar card against all three of those decks.

I originally wanted to keep the [ccProd]Sin Collector[/ccProd]s in the list and just move them to the main deck, much like the Thoughtseizes are currently, but Sin Collector is not as good against those same decks. Against Mono-Blue, it will often miss entirely. Against Esper, you can’t pluck a Blood Baron or an Elspeth out of their hand. And against Mono-Black, you lose the ability to snag Pack Rat or Desecration Demon before either can hit the field.

Another benefit of Thoughtseize is that single black pip in the top right corner. Obviously being able to cast it plus another threat in the same turn is huge, but even more importantly, it gives me three more 1-drops, improving the chances I can curve out to the best of the deck’s ability. [ccProd]Drown in Filth[/ccProd] was a 2-drop in a deck full of them, so it was often held until late or as a desperate early card. This might seem like a small thing, but the deck performs so much better when you have a play on turn one that this is actually a very big benefit.

Thoughtseize can deal with the same things that Drown in Filth does, it just needs to get them before they hit play. For example, I think that [ccProd]Master of Waves[/ccProd] is a bigger problem in game 1 situations for this list than it was with [ccProd]Drawn in Filth[/ccProd] but a card like Thassa or Bident is much worse, so there is some trade off. Losing the 4-card mill is bit of hit, but when I decided I needed more enablers for the deck, [ccProd]Lotleth Troll[/ccProd] was not in it. While Troll does not fill the ‘yard in the same way that Drown does, it still has some ways to enable the rest of your deck.

Patching the Sideboard

With Thoughtseize moved to the main deck, we had a three-card hole to fill in the sideboard. Seeing as how we just lost three copies of Drown in Filth, it might make sense to move those to the sideboard. The problem here is that Drown in Filth is not the most reliable card. If I am bringing in a card to deal with Master of Waves or [ccProd]Nightveil Specter[/ccProd], I would rather have something that I know will get the job done.

So, in came a couple of dependable spot removal spells. It could be correct to run two copies of [ccProd]Hero’s Downfall[/ccProd] and no [ccProd]Ultimate Price[/ccProd], but having a diverse set of costs on your removal is nice. Considering that the heavy lifting comes from [ccProd]Shadowborn Demon[/ccProd] which costs 5 mana, having a two-drop can be a big deal. Ultimate Price fails to kill Reckoner or Nighveil Specter, so perhaps it is not the right card, but it has tested well thus far.

I also had a few slots left over for one of the less common matchups. Currently, I am running two copies of [ccProd]Nylea’s Disciple[/ccProd] again just to make sure I can beat Mono-Red or other aggressive strategies. Drawing a single copy of one is usually enough to win, especially when backed by life gain from [ccProd]Deathrite Shaman[/ccProd].

There is some merit to a card like [ccProd]Gift of Orzhova[/ccProd] though. Against the white weenie decks for example, Gift gives you not only a source of life gain to survive, but it allows you to kill them in an attack or two just so they cannot pull anything out to turn the game around. My creature count in the sideboard would take an even greater hit though, but perhaps I can solve that by boarding wisely.

Wrap Up

As I am writing this paragraph, it is Thursday morning. Perhaps some miracle of healing will give me what I need to head to Vegas in the morning. In the event that I do not make the event on Saturday, I wish everyone playing in the event good luck, especially those packing a Jarad or two. And for those planning on winning the event, remember—

Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans — John Lennon

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