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Careful Consideration – A Cruel PTQ, Part 1 *4th*

Playing Five-Color Control has been an emotional rollercoaster for me this season.

In the weeks leading up to Worlds, I found that Extended queues on Magic Online were firing, and I dusted off my virtual Vivid lands and Reflecting Pools and had a good time beating all the random midrange and aggro decks that people were trying in order to try to figure out the format.

The fun didn’t last terribly long, however – the consensus that “Faeries isn’t a very good deck” heading into Worlds was proven soundly wrong, and with it went the viability of Five-Color Control (well, really it was four colors, but 4cc doesn’t have the same ring to it). So heading into the first PTQ of the season in Seattle, I wasn’t sure what to play. Mono-Red is usually the kind of deck that is not good enough to win a tournament, but it’s clearly good enough to win a PTQ in this Extended environment, as it’s won three PTQs to date so far.

However, Red is still the easiest deck in the world to hate out when you want to hate it out. I sleeved up some Mountains and Ball Lightnings, and after beating the mirror in round one, every subsequent opponent either maindecked or boarded in some sort of life gain. In those seven rounds, I saw the following cards boarded in against me:

 

Finks and Wurmcoil, sure – they are annoying, but an expected part of the format. Baloth and Forge-Tender are more of a problem, but as long as there isn’t a critical mass of them, it’s fine, but I can deal with it up to a point – Baneslayer Angel is annoying but it costs a l…OH COME ON WITH THE REST FOR THE WEARY, OKAY I GET IT YOU DON’T WANT TO LOSE TO RED GET OFF MY NUTS, GEEZ!!!!!

This was the weekend before GP Atlanta, and I was still without a deck. Then in that same PTQ, Martin Goldman-Kirst (an outstanding local player and someone I expect to make his name known on the Pro Tour scene quite soon, maybe as soon as Paris) resurrected 5cc and sneaked into the top 8. Martin reignited the flames for 5cc for me; maybe the Faeries matchup could be adjusted to be a coin flip.

I spoke with LSV about Martin’s deck, and LSV was already testing 5cc for Atlanta, just one week away. The addition of maindeck Plumeveil and Wall of Reverence made the Faeries matchup roughly a coinflip, and since I didn’t want to play Mono-Red, 5cc is the deck I knew the best. I played a deck similar to Chapin’s (not coincidentally; as I understand it, the Walls were his *ahem* innovation) to day 2, but I dropped a match against Charles Gindy I don’t think I could have won, lost to UG Scapeshift all three times I faced it, and then lost in round 15 playing for money when a surprise Realm Razer came out of nowhere when I was going to Cruel Ultimatum next turn. Ouch. 84th place isn’t embarrassing, but I wanted – and expected more from myself. The UG Scapeshift matchup was gnawing at me – I didn’t really have a very good plan against the deck, and it was only after the tournament and finding out how Chapin approached it that I realized I was doing things wrong.

On the other hand, the Faeries matchup was promising. I only played it once in the GP (12 actual rounds of play due to having three byes) and beat it, while Patrick played against it six times I believe, going 4-2 against it. 5-2 against Faeries overall, while being a small sample size, was encouraging enough that I would pursue the matchup and deck more when I got home from Atlanta.

What I found was that once I learned how to play the matchup, I felt like this build had not only pulled the matchup to even against Faeries, but dare I say it? – favored. So for the Magic Online PTQ, I sleeved up (clicked up?) the following 75:

This is only four cards off from my Atlanta list. I had a second Wurmcoil Engine in place of the maindeck Sunblast Angel, I played a fourth Volcanic Fallout instead of a fourth Lightning Bolt (I expected a lot of Mono-Red for this PTQ), and in the sideboard were two underwhelming Glen Elendra Archmages instead of the two Nature’s Claim I put in for the Scapeshift matchup.

Unfortunately some decks just have better late games than 5cc, and for those matches I feel you need to adapt into a role of fighting in the mid-game instead of an unfavorable late game. 5cc is a “bag of tricks” deck, and you can push the deck in many different directions in order to accomplish whatever it is you need to accomplish. For example, against Scapeshift, some people prefer to play one-ofs to diversify angles of attack, but I prefer the brute force method of pressuring with Stags and direct enchantment removal, which is a big part of the sideboard.

It’s a fundamental question you have to ask yourself when building a 5cc deck. Which would you rather have: a big bag of tricks, or a bag of big tricks?

My goal for this tournament report isn’t merely just to be an account of what happened with no real information to learn from, as so many tournament reports are (and I’m as guilty as anyone of doing this), but rather to educate the reader about interesting decision points and why I made the choices I did, as well as going over some of the mistakes I made (and I definitely made my fair share). So I’m going to gloss over portions of the PTQ where I feel like nothing interesting happened, or little is to be learned from it.

And of course, you gotta have a plan. So I’ll discuss what my plan is for each matchup.

The PTQ being on Magic Online meant that I could record all the replays, and review each play and each decision in the days after the event, which I cannot easily do for paper events (I don’t have the capacity for details the way PV does).

Round 1: Mono-Red

My plan for this matchup: This is a pretty straightforward, classic, simple control versus aggro plan. Survive through early removal like Bolt, Path, and try to conserve life total by throwing Plumeveils in front of things if necessary – try to stabilize with Wall of Reverence and Cruel Ultimatum. Jace is a little slow here, but Volcanic Fallout can be surprisingly good in the right situations.

Game one
Because of replays, round one is really the only round where you don’t know what your opponent is playing. I kept a hand that’s good against the field but bad against Red. He had turn one Goblin Guide into more things and I was dead before I could actually play a spell that mattered.

IN:

 

OUT:

 

If I saw Ball Lightnings and Hellspark Elementals and Figure of Destiny, I would have been more inclined to leave Fallout in. Jace isn’t great, but there’s not much else to board out. But the only Falloutable card I saw was Goblin Guide; he was playing Boggart Ram-Gangs and such. As a result, I like Sunblast Angel to nom some of his guys and hopefully gain four life the same turn off a Wall of Reverence, even though it’s a little slow.

Game two
I mulliganed to six, he had a slow hand, and after I Bolted his turn two Stigma Lasher, he didn’t do much else. I was at 20 life on turn 7. How do you think that ended for him?

Game three
I mulliganed a no-lander into:

 

I thought seriously abut mulliganing it, but my opponent also mulliganed to six, and he spent a looooooong time deciding if he was going to keep his hand. He finally did, and I went with it. I tend to be on the greedy side, and I sensed his hand wasn’t very strong.

He played Mountain, Figure of Destiny on turn one, then another Figure of Destiny with no second land turn two. I drew Esper Charm, then Wall of Reverence, but he drew a Mountain t3 and my life totals went steadily down. I end step Esper Charmed on my turn three, and he double Bolted me in response, putting my life total to 5, and he still had three cards in hand.

I drew Runed Halo naming Figure of Destiny, Leaked his Plated Geopede, and got out of burn range with Wall of Reverence and Sunblast Angel, holding a Bolt for any Stigma Lasher shenanigans that could occur. Going up to 18 (and climbing) was plenty enough for him to concede.

Phew.

Potential mistakes:
1 – The hand in game three was poor, and I should have gone to five and been better served. Nobody seems to be able to agree on mulligans. As the joke goes* regarding a borderline hand:

Conley Woods would snap keep.
LSV would think about it, then keep.
PV would think about it, then mulligan.
Brad Nelson would snap mulligan.
Martin Juza would snap mulligan – to five, then say something about how Americans don’t mulligan enough.

(*Okay, it’s not really a joke in that nobody says this. But they should, because it’s true!)

The point is that even the very best players can’t agree on what to do on turn zero. This game is hard. I tend to key off LSV’s playstyle, so I tend to be a little loose on the keepsies. Game three was a little too loose, though. Going to five was the correct call. I got pretty lucky to win that game.

2 – In game three with him at 15, six untapped lands, no cards in hand, a 2/2 Figure of Destiny and a 4/4 Figure of Destiny (both shut off by Runed Halo), I attacked with my Sunblast Angel. My hand was Creeping Tar Pit, Cryptic Command, Runed Halo. He predictably leveled his Figure of Destiny fully, which I subsequently bounced with Cryptic Command to get in for four more damage. While I was in no danger of dying (I would go to 18 at the end of this turn), I used my Cryptic Command to force through my Angel, but maybe he has some crazy card that I should have held my Cryptic Command for, and relied on Creeping Tar Pit to kill him. I was gaining four life a turn from Sunblast Angel, so it’s not likely that it matters, but I think it was a little too aggressive.

1-0

Round 2: Faeries

My plan for this matchup: Volcanic Fallout and Great Sable Stag are the obvious cards in this matchup, but the secret heroes are Wall of Reverence, Plumeveil, and Esper Charm. I almost never Esper Charm to kill their Bitterblossom, but rather to draw two cards. It feels unintuitive to do so, but I’m pretty sure it’s correct; any two random cards are going to be better than killing their Bitterblossom most of the time. There are times when it’s correct to deviate from that, but for the most part the “draw 2” is an awesome mode – or sometimes I also attack their hand to get the last two cards out of their hand in order to resolve whatever it is I need, or to draw out a counterspell and make them use their mana on their turn. The “destroy target enchantment” mode is the one I use the least in this matchup.

Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Cruel Ultimatum seem slow, but this plan puts pressure on them and makes them use mana on their turn. Wall of Reverence is actually a clock against them in a weird way. If you stick a Wall, it essentially negates their Bitterblossom. Even if they amass tokens, it often takes just one Fallout to set them back, and they tend to start tapping out in order not to lose – they have to win somehow, and that’s frequently going to require Creeping Tar Pit beatdown. And if they’re tapping mana on their turn, you’re in great shape and can often resolve expensive cards like Cruel Ultimatum.

Also, they often know you have Cruel Ultimatum via cards like Thoughtseize, Inquisition of Kozilek, and Vendilion Clique, and they have to be very careful about tapping out. Unlike previous 5cc/Faeries matchups, you are putting the pressure on them and you force them to do something, and when Faeries has to go all proactive and is pushed out of their comfort zone, that deck loses a big part of its edge.

Postboard, you get to go beatdown and bring in Great Sable Stags. With Stags and Walls, you get to prevent them from winning while actively killing them. I don’t bring in Thoughtseize because I don’t think it’s a particularly good card against them – I don’t really care about their early plays (and I can never cast t1 Thoughtseize anyway with this manabase), and Thoughtseizing into a Spellstuter Sprite in the midgame in order to resolve something is pretty miserable. Plus, I just never found it necessary.

Game one
I lost the die roll and kept:

 

He went Mutavault, Secluded Glen, Bitterblossom. The dreaded turn two Bitterblossom! But he played a second Mutavault as his third land, and when I drew into Wall of Reverence and Esper Charm, all I wanted to do is resolve Wall of Reverence. I figured he wasn’t playing Doom Blade, and he couldn’t cast Cryptic Command to bounce my Wall or anything the next turn because he had only one blue source, so Wall was going to stay on the board. Wall of Reverence is so important; it’s hard to lose when you have Wall on the board and Fallout in hand.

So during his end step, I took the unusual step of destroying his Bitterblossom with Esper Charm in order to bait out a counterspell. He played Scion of Oona in response, which while not being a counterspell, accomplished the task of tapping his only blue source, and I got to stick my Wall. Scion was probably better anyway; I had a Fallout in my hand, so I could continue to take advantage of the Bitterblossom liability.

Wall of Reverence blocked some Faerie tokens for a while, gained me some life, and then I played Fallout a few turns later. He was really manascrewed and never drew a third land, so I got to Cruel Ultimatum mana, end step bounced his Secluded Glen, and Crueled him.

OUT:

 

IN:

 

I was boarding out Bolts during GP Atlanta, but with people boarding in Vampire Nighthawk, I want to make sure that stupid card doesn’t interfere with my sweet, precious walls. I also like the idea of the tempo gain when they tap three on their turn, followed by me spending one mana during their end step to kill their guy. Bolt also makes them keep their Jaces honest, kills Creeping Tar Pit if you have to, and even fits in well with the aggro plan if you just need to go to the face. I don’t think the card is insane in this matchup or anything like that, but it’s doing just enough to warrant keeping it in. As I mentioned before, I don’t really think Thoughtseize is that good and/or necessary in this matchup. And I didn’t board in Nature’s Claim because Bitterblossom just isn’t that big of a deal (and often they’re holding excess ones anyway – them gaining life, then playing another doesn’t sound very good when my whole plan is to race them). Bitterblossom’s often a win condition – for me. (Suck it, Faeries!)

Game two
I kept on the draw:

 

I drew Wall of Reverence, but he turn two Thoughtseized me and took my Cryptic Command, then played Inquisition of Kozilek the next turn and took Esper Charm. Still had all these Wall of Reverence though!

He played a Bitterblossom, which was annoying. I drew some lands, and he played turn four [card]Mistbind Clique[/card] into turn five Mistbind Clique. I drew a Cryptic Command for the second Clique. He missed some land drops, so when he cast Jace Beleren on his turn, he had only a Swamp open.

That means I’m throwing a wall party, and guess who’s invited?

Eventually I drew into Lightning Bolt, Lightning Bolt, Volcanic Fallout. I blocked his Mistbind Clique with Wall of Reverence, and Bolted it postcombat, which resolved. My Creeping Tar Pit killed Jace (and also served as a nice Wall of Reverence target during my end step), and he panicked, activating Creeping Tar Pit on his turn when he only had five lands. This allowed me to play Fallout, untap, then Cruel Ultimatum him.

How do you beat the most dominant deck in the format? Play a 1/6 creature. With defender.

Potential mistakes:
I don’t think blowing up his Bitterblossom was right in game one. If he was holding a Mana Leak, he could have just let the Esper Charm resolve and then my plan to “draw out a counter, then play Wall of Reverence” wouldn’t have worked, and if he had another Bitterblossom in hand, that very well could have been his line of play. I might have been able to wait, and I generally would prefer to draw two cards than kill his enchantment. Alternatively, I could have just Esper Charmed to draw two during his end step and possibly drawn out a counter that way – and if not, then I’m up a card. The only thing to consider is that the longer the game goes on, the better chance he has of drawing [card]Thoughtseize[/card], which can put a kink in my plans, but it’s not devastating by any means. Overall though, I think a better line of play is to Esper Charm to draw two, and demonstrate more patience than I showed on that turn.

2-0

Round 3: Faeries

I lost the die roll and kept:

 

At the end of his turn 3, he hadn’t done anything except play three lands, and I had drawn Island, Sunblast Angel, Lightning Bolt. I thought about running out Plumeveil at the end of his turn, but if he Mana Leaked it, then I couldn’t take advantage of it by resolving a Jace, since I only had three lands in play and I didn’t have a fourth land in hand – so at the end of his turn, I didn’t do anything.

I drew a second Plumeveil, discarded a Sunblast Angel, and we both missed our fourth land drop. Now with two Plumeveils in hand, I played one during his end step, and it predictably got Mana Leaked.

I drew a Vivid Creek, played it, and passed. He Thoughtseized me on his turn, which I Mana Leaked, since I wanted to protect the Fallout in my hand. He played Bitterblossom, and that let me resolve Jace on my turn.

…or I would have, had I not drawn Wall of Reverence.

Maaaybe I’m overvaluing that card, but Wall + Fallout = victory. So with him tapped out, I played my Wall. Two turns later I end step Plumeveiled and he countered it, letting me resolve Jace – this time with Wall protection.

(Oh, Wall of Reverence. Is there anything you can’t do?)

With Jace hiding behind a Wall of Reverence, I fatesealed him to death and ultimated Jace a few turns later.

Game two
I kept on the draw:

 

I drew into Island, Vivid Crag, Great Sable Stag, but he played a Wall of Tanglecord to stop my Stag beats. I tried attacking into his Wall and then playing a postcombat Lightning Bolt, which he Cryptic Commanded. This allowed me to resolve Wall of Reverence, and I was gaining 3 life a turn off Stag.

He resolved Jace, the Mind Sculptor on his turn and Brainstormed, then played Bitterblossom into Mistbind Clique, championing the Bitterblossom. He played a second Bitterblossom, and I just took my Mistbind Beats, electing not to block with Wall of Reverence – Wall was gaining me 3 a turn off of Great Sable Stag, and if I block Mistbind Clique and he Grasp of Darknessed it (which is a plausible card for him to leave in so he can stop Plumeveil), then I would fall behind in life totals. As is, Mistbind Clique was netting one damage per turn, and with me at 28 and him at 18 with a Bitterblossom in play, I was going to win that race, and doubly so when I drew a second Wall of Reverence to gain 6 a turn.

Unfortunately, I took a long time figuring out my plan game one, what to fateseal, and being very careful not to make a mistake. So by the time I played double Fallout to kill his Mistbind Clique to give him two Bitterblossoms in play, I had 17 seconds left on my clock – and he was at 6. For those who aren’t familiar with Magic Online, you get a priority clock. If you run out of time on your clock, you lose the match.

He went to 4 on his upkeep. Tick…tick…tick. Stupid Wall of Reverence trigger means I can’t just mindlessly f6 through my turns, but had to spend precious seconds clicking on which creature I wanted to target with the ability.

He went to 2 and I drew Volcanic Fallout! TICK. TICK. TICK.

Cast Fallout for the win but nooooooooooooooooooo timed out noooooooooooooooo………..

LOST

Potential mistakes:

In game one, I had the classic mistake of “make a plan, then let something happen, then change the plan midway through executing the first plan.” He Mistbind Cliqued me during my upkeep, and I didn’t have a counter. So I let him see what he championed, which was Bitterblossom, and with the “tap lands” trigger on the stack, I double Bolted the Clique, because I wanted the Bitterblossom in play, as that was my way to win given what was on the board at the time, as his life total was diminishing and mine was increasing.

I should have killed the Mistbind Clique with the champion trigger on the stack. Sure, he could have championed a Faerie token and then I bolt the Clique and he’s down a Faerie token, but that one token didn’t really matter.

The other thing is that I took too long in making these decisions, resulting in me timing out. It’s 100% my fault that this happened – I need to learn to play faster.

2-1

Round 4: Faeries

I lost the die roll.

I mulliganed a no-lander into:

 

Bear in mind that I knew what I was playing against through the ability to replay games on Magic Online, so I was aware my matchup was against Faeries. Again, this hand isn’t exciting, but my plan doesn’t revolve around stopping their Bitterblossom on turn two the way it is for a lot of control/faeries matchups. What I do want to do is make my land drops and then force through a key spell here and there. The two spells don’t do anything right away (and Sunblast Angel is not likely to do a lot this game), but I’d keep a four land, Path to Exile hand against Faeries on the draw. The question is “is this hand better than an average five card hand?” Having four lands of various shapes and sizes that let me cast whatever I want says to me that yes, this hand is better than an average five against Faeries.

A turn one Thoughtseize took my Path. I drew into Plumeveil, then Fallout. During my end step on turn 3, he Vendilion Cliqued me, and I had the mana to play either Plumeveil or Fallout. I opted to play Plumeveil in response, thinking that Plumeveil is a more permanent “answer” to Vendilion Clique. He of course took the Fallout, which drew me into a Cruel Ultimatum.

However, that left him with a Faerie on board, and that turned on his Mistbind Clique – and Vendilion Clique is a powerful Mistbind target. Mistbind Clique is exactly what he did during my next end step, tapping me out. But he made a mistake I think in activating Creeping Tar Pit on his turn, essentially tapping out and attacking me. I had a Jace in my hand, so I didn’t trade want to trade Plumeveil with Mistbind Clique, since that would let him get Vendilion Clique back, which would subsequently get the Jace out of my hand. But when he played a postcombat Mutavault, things got less attractive. With Creeping Tar Pit, Mutavault, and Mistbind Clique on the board, I couldn’t play Jace and +2 it and have it live through an attack.

So the question is, is it worth it to play Jace and cantrip? The answer is yes. And here’s why:

1 – I get to see three new cards, which lets me set up whatever plan it is that I’m going to take to win this game.
2 – There was a Vendilion Clique championed by the Mistbind Clique. If I trade Plumeveil for Mistbind Clique (which I have to do at some point, or I’m going to lose this game since I didn’t have a Wall of Reverence in play), then he’s going to see the cards in my hand and take one. Brainstorming hides the best cards on top of my deck for when this happens.
3 – It makes him use his mana on his turn to activate Creeping Tar Pit. Given that I could easily Brainstorm into a card I want to resolve on my turn, making him use his resources on his turn makes it infinitely easier to accomplish my goal of resolving whatever it is I want to resolve.
4 – I didn’t really have any better options that turn. It was either Jace, or just play a land and do nothing.

So I played Jace and Brainstormed, hiding Cryptic Command and Plumeveil on top of my deck. Plumeveil traded with Mistbind Clique, and when Vendilion Clique came back into play, he looked at my hand of Cruel Ultimatum and Sunblast Angel, and let me have both of them.

I think he forgot that I knew the top two cards of my library, because after I drew my card for the turn and passed, he activated Mutavault and Creeping Tar Pit. A Volcanic Fallout would have been a complete wrecking, but Cryptic Command to tap his team and cantrip into Plumeveil was enough, letting me play Sunblast Angel the next turn, killing his Vendilion Clique. He played another Vendilion Clique taking my Cruel Ultimatum, but it drew me into a Volcanic Fallout. I attacked him with Sunblast Angel on my next turn.

On his turn, he activated Mutavault and attacked me with it and the Vendilion Clique. I flashed in Plumeveil, and he played Spellstutter Sprite. With the ability on the stack, I played Volcanic Fallout, killing his Sprite, Vendilion Clique, and Mutavault, AND countering the Sprite’s ability, so my Plumeveil resolved. He conceded three turns later as he was beaten to death by a Sunblast Angel.

I boarded the same as I did the previous two Faeries matches.

Game 2
I played this game embarrassingly poorly.

I kept on the draw:

 

He played turn two Bitterblossom, but I drew a Reflecting Pool and played a Great Sable Stag on turn three. He Inquistioned my Mana Leak on turn 4 and played Jace Beleren, giving me a window to resolve Wall of Reverence, which I played over the second Stag I had just drawn.

Wall + Stag + Bitterblossom should be victory for me, right?

Well, he played a second Mutavault and Thoughtseized me, taking the second Stag. I didn’t notice the second Mutavault, so I ran my Stag into his double Mutavault, and I was now down a Stag – and two life a turn. I Jaced his Jace, but I never drew a Fallout to stabilize the board. He activated Creeping Tar Pit and attacked me, leaving up one mana – and he knew I had Cruel Ultimatum in my hand, which I foolishly played right into his Spell Pierce.

I died a few turns later to Creeping Tar Pit and Mistbind Clique beatdown, and I never drew another relevant spell (my lone Plumeveil did not let me win the race in the end).

Game 2 – you think it’s game 3, but game 2 never happened. You hear me? IT NEVER HAPPENED.

Game 3
Actually, game 3 was the one that (essentially) didn’t happen. He was so low on time that it didn’t really matter what he did – he timed out and that was the match for me.

Potential mistakes:
I didn’t play around a clearly telegraphed Spell Pierce, and I walked into the double Mutavault in game two, and I’m pretty sure it was wrong to play Plumeveil in game one with Vendilion Clique’s ability on the stack. Or I could have just done nothing and see what he did (and what I drew), then during my end step after Vendilion Clique resolved, either play Plumeveil or not, and hold on to the Fallout.

Overall, I’m really unhappy with the way I played that match.

3-1

Round 5: Mythic

My plan for this matchup: This deck isn’t particularly popular on Magic Online (although I think the deck is quite good, were it not for a horrendous Mono-Red matchup), so I haven’t played against it a lot. I’m pretty certain, however, that the matchup revolves around Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Jace can bounce their big threats, and as long as you don’t get Conscriptioned out of the game, an active Jace should be able to take away the long game from them and turn it back in your favor. 5cc has pretty good Conscription insurance in Esper Charm and Cryptic Command, so it’s not as terrifying as it might be against some other matchups. Stick a Jace and ride it to victory is my plan.

I won a die roll(!)

I kept:

 

Even if he has turn three Sovereigns, this hand is fine. I can Esper Charm an Eldrazi Conscription if necessary, then deal with the next one with Cryptic Command, and most Mythic decks only play two Conscriptions. And that’s if he gets the nut draw.

Game one wasn’t much of a game. He missed some land drops, instead relying on Birds of Paradise and Noble Hierarch as his mana. I played around Mana Leak by tapping his creatures and bouncing his only untapped blue source with Cryptic Command, then played Sunblast Angel. On the next turn when I was in the middle of tapping my lands to make Cruel Ultimatum mana, he conceded.

OUT:

 

IN:

 

Runed Halo doesn’t do anything against them because it could be any creature at all that Conscriptions me to death. Life totals aren’t usually what decides this matchup, so I didn’t like Wall of Reverence, and similarly I didn’t need to board in Obstinate Baloth. I am not really beating down against their Knights and Chameleon Colossi, so Great Sable Stags don’t make any sense here. That leaves one Plumeveil in the main, although I wish it was something else – there’s just nothing else to bring in.

Game 2
On the draw, I kept:

 

He played a turn 2 Birds of Paradise, which I did not Bolt, thinking that I would save it for Jace or Lotus Cobra, or a 3/3 (or smaller) Knight of the Reliquary.

Unfortunately, he played two fetchlands before playing his turn 3 Knight, making it a 4/4, and out of Bolt range. I could have double Bolted it on my turn before he could have Mana Leak mana up, but my plan was to double Bolt it at the end of his turn, forcing him to Leak one of them, then untap and Jace it back to his hand, forcing him to replay Knight, and letting me Brainstorm.

But this plan went out the window when he went land, Knight of the Reliquary.

Uh oh.

He even tapped and untapped his lands very carefully to make sure that he had Mana Leak mana up, which was an issue (and I’m pretty sure he wasn’t bluffing – I was certain it was a tell). I had just three lands in play, one of which was tapped, and he now had two 4/4 Knights on the board with Mana Leak backup.

I could end step double Bolt one of them and hope he’s bluffing the Mana Leak, but if he had one, I was totally hosed. Even if that meant resolving Jace, I would just bounce one Knight, then have Jace die to the second, and he would be able to replay the first Knight. So that doesn’t get me anywhere.

So he attacked me for 4, and he passed the turn. I drew Vendilion Clique, and I played my land for the turn (Island), setting up this situation. Click on the image to see it in full-size:

So I was pretty sure he had Mana Leak. I could Bolt a Knight, and if he doesn’t Leak it, then I can Fallout. But if he does Leak the Bolt, then where does that get me? I can resolve Vendilion Clique on my turn if that happens, but I still don’t know how that wins me the game. Presumably the Clique would see a Mana Leak, which I would get out of his hand, allowing me to resolve Jace the following turn. But where does that get me in the end?

My board would be Jace to his two Knights of the Reliquary. I could bounce one Knight and chump block the other with Vendilion Clique, but since both Knights are active, he could just protect one Knight from the bouncing by fetching up a Sejiri Steppe.

So, having no good options, I passed the turn, planning on Cliqueing during his end step.

He drew his card, and attacked with one Knight for 4. and he did not play a land. I did Vendilion Clique him during his end step, which resolved. I saw:

 

Uggh, I was in trouble. The only way I was winning this game is if he made a misplay somewhere – and if I get to resolve a Jace. It was also clear that he was playing around counterspells or Path to Exile or any number of things, because if he didn’t have The Fear, he would have just floated a green off his Murmuring Bosk, sacrificed it to get a land, then played Sovereigns of Lost Alara and then wreck me to pieces. (It’s not unreasonable for him to assume I have something; I had seven cards in hand. Mana Leak, Cryptic Command, Path were all pretty bad if he took that line of play, although I’ll get to why he might not play around Mana Leak in a second.)

Jace was the key to winning this game, and that means I had to take Mana Leak, even though Sovereigns is an extremely threatening card.

I drew Cruel Ultimatum on my turn, and passed. He sacrificed his Murmuring Bosk to get a Celestial Colonnade. I could double Bolt his other Knight in response, but then he knows I don’t have Cryptic Command, reducing the number of answers to Sovereigns to just Mana Leak or Path (and he didn’t see Path game one). He also knows that both of his Knights resolved when I had Mana Leak mana up and presumably those are big enough threats that I would have Leaked it if I could have, so that suggests that I don’t have a Leak unless I just drew one.

That is to say, if I don’t have Cryptic Command mana up, an astute opponent could (correctly) conclude that I don’t have Mana Leak, and he could go for Sovereigns. If he does so, I lose on the spot. The risk of him making the correct read here was too high.

Fine! Have your stupid Knights! See if I care.

He played Misty Rainforest and attacked with both Knights (Aha! The mistake I was waiting for – we got a window of opportunity, boys!), and I blocked with Vendilion Clique. He sacrificed the Rainforest, and I took 6, going to 6. Then he passed the turn. I end step Bolted the Knight with three damage on it, then when that resolved, I Bolted the Birds with my other Bolt, knowing that I would be using my mana on other things, and I wanted to keep him off Sovereigns and/or Celestial Colonnade mana, since I was going to Jace next turn and I didn’t want it to die to the Colonnade.

I untapped, drew Mana Leak, played Jace, bounced his Knight, and passed. He played Chameleon Colossus, which I bounced. I leaked his Colossus on the way back down, then used a dazzling array of Brainstorming into lands, Cryptic Commands, and Cruel Ultimatums to win the game from that point.

Potential mistakes:
After talking to LSV and others, I think the right line to take from the screenshot is to Bolt the Knight on my turn and see what happens. If he Leaks it, then I play Vendilion Clique and I can take essentially the same line of play as before. If he doesn’t Leak it (and it’s entirely possible he doesn’t), then I can Fallout and I’m in a much better situation, especially since I get additional value by killing his Birds of Paradise.

Moreover, I should have just double Bolted the first Knight when he didn’t have Mana Leak mana. I was trying to bait the Leak out of his hand in order to resolve Jace. Him going land, Knight #2 caused huge problems. Lotus Cobra would have been similarly problematic, although perhaps less so due to the presence of Volcanic Fallout in my hand.

This isn’t like a huge glaring obvious super punty mistake, but I think it’s a mistake here – this line of play worked out, but there were more efficient ways to achieve what I was trying to achieve. This is a good example of a complicated game, and this was a complicated series of turns for sure.

So I was 4-1 with three rounds to go. Some number of 6-2s would make top 8, but I didn’t want to think that way. My plan was to win out and make my round 3 timeout loss to Faeries irrelevant.

Stay tuned for part 2 later this week!
Spoiler: More Faeries are involved.

Yours (five) colorfully,
-Zaiem

zaiemb at gmail dot com
@zbeg on Twitter

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