Another GP, another Top 8…
For Dallas, my testing process wasn’t any different than what I normally do, which is to play different tier 1 decks until I find one I like and just jam it until I’m satisfied. I started with a RUG list that t8ed one of the SCG tournaments and I just never lost with it so never really looked for a reason to play other decks. I started with this list:
After only a couple of daily events, I cut Ratchet Bomb because Kuldotha Red wasn’t enough of the field to justify it and it was just way too slow against regular Mono-Red, Vampires, and Boros to the degree that I would not even sideboard it in against those decks on the draw because it was that ineffective. I mean, it can be nice on the play when you can follow it up with a Jace. One of the ways they can play around Ratchet Bomb is to play out their spells a little slower than normal, and that makes Jace less vulnerable and therefore better, but it still was not good.
Since Ratchet Bomb was in the sideboard against aggro, I replaced it with 2 Arc Trail, but that proved to be too cute, as Boros players could play around it. When they go t1 Steppe Lynx, t2 fetchland, t3 Plated Geopede/Stoneforge Mystic, they are already playing around Pyroclasm (which is a known sideboard card in RUG lists), which also meant Arc Trail was killing just one creature. So, I made it a Burst Lightning which is cheaper, faster, and can kill Koth (all of which is very relevant).
When I was still new to the deck, one of the reasons Luis said he thought RUG might be strong was because it could run 4 Inferno Titan. So before I even played a match I cut 1 Avenger of Zendikar for the 4th Inferno Titan. Call it intuitive deckbuilding or dumb luck, but this change I am certain was correct and is pretty automatic. I was having some problems with Valakut, so I added 2 more Flashfreeze, which led me to the realization that Spell Pierce was too weak, and after sideboard against Valakut, having 4 Mana Leak 4 Flashfreeze and 2 Spell Pierce was way too many defensive cards and led to really clunky draws. Even against Jace decks where Spell Pierce should be awesome, it still failed to perform because it was so bad against starts involving Stoneforge Mystic, Squadron Hawk, or Lotus Cobra.
I’ve often been asked why I chose to run Acidic Slime over Nature’s Claim and the answer is because the Slime is just way more flexible. It may look wrong, but I actually like the Slime quite a bit against Boros as their plan against RUG after sideboard is to get Sword of Body and Mind (of which they have 5 [4 Stoneforge 1 sword]) on Kor Firewalker, and Slime conveniently stops both of those cards pretty well. Acidic Slime was also valuable the random times I would get paired against GW Quest, although that isn’t a huge part of the expected metagame now, but I ran into it a couple times in my testing and I was happy to have it.
Lastly, the Slimeballer was great against Valakut as it gave you an out to the actual land Valakut. Sometimes you have Flashfreeze as a hard counter to their spells, but in some small percentage of the games, their plan just degenerates to get out a couple Valakuts and start throwing Mountains at your face until you die. Plus you could get random free wins out of Mana Leaking their Cultivate into Sliming their Forest, not to mention to occasional hardlock with Slime + Jace to bounce it and go deep.
The sideboard I registered for the Grand Prix was:
When I cut Spell Pierce from the sideboard, I realized I had nothing to sideboard in against CawBlade, and that seemed like a pretty big problem. The games would all play out in one of three ways:
1 – I would have Lotus Cobra on the play, and I would win very easily.
2 – They had Stoneforge Mystic on the play and could stop Lotus Cobra or I didn’t draw Lotus Cobra, and they won.
3 – Neither of us had our nut draw and played a longer interactive game, which I would usually win (both because I think I played much better than my average Magic Online opponent, and because I think RUG is favored in those games).
Because of that, I wanted whatever card I added to the sideboard to be good against their Stoneforge Mystic draws. For a while I was leaving in the 4 Lightning Bolts and even siding in the Burst Lightning to try and blow them out when they went to equip, but this plan was flawed if they ever drew Squadron Hawk. In long games against a deck with Preordain, hoping they don’t draw Hawk is optimistic at best – then consider that my only countermagic is Mana Leak, so the Hawk is very easy to resolve. I tried Tumble Magnet and it was pretty strong in the games where their equipment would have been good.
The next problem I ran into with the deck was Mark of Mutiny, which when I started out with the deck was a huge pain. It took me losing to it a lot to realize what needed to be done and why. The first thing was to start sideboarding out Precursor Golem against decks like Boros and Vampires because they already had Lightning Bolt, and you can stabilize with Golem and just get ranched by a Mark of Mutiny.
Looking back, this seems automatic, but Golem is very good game one against aggro, since it is three blockers in one, and when it is uncontested, it can swing the game drastically. On top of that, when you play Lotus Cobra on turn two, if your opponent has a Lightning Bolt, he will cast it 100% of the time. So, in some portion of the games, they will have drawn Lightning Bolt, used it on your Cobra, and you will have drawn Precursor Golem and it will live and win the game anyways, which is sweet. It was also tough to start leaving it on the sidelines when it was one of the better answers to Kor Firewalker but in the end it was still too much of a liability.
Next I started to side in a couple Flashfreezes and just tried to wait until I had 8 mana and a Flashfreeze to play my Inferno Titan. That worked a couple times, but it wasn’t exactly a reliable plan. After I added Tumble Magnet to the deck, it was accidentally the best answer to Mark of Mutiny (I added it to the list for completely different reasons). In my first match against a deck with Mark in it, I was able to stunt their early starts (again very easily) with the help of Bolt, Pyroclasm, Burst Lightning, Baloth then land a Tumble Magnet on my way up the curve to Inferno Titan and have them be locked out completely by it. Also, one of the reasons I was able to get to the late game more often is because they would frequently be stuck with a dead Mark of Mutiny in hand, slowing them down. Tumble Magnet was also awesome as an answer to Kor Firewalker + Sword of Body and Mind.
Minutes before the tournament, I ended up cutting 1 Flashfreeze for 1 Deprive, as I felt they would be similar enough against Valakut while giving me an extra card to sideboard in for the mirror and UB control. I think the sideboard needs a 3rd Tumble Magnet. Deprive was useless for me in the GP, but since cutting the Deprive, I have been put in positions where I had nothing good to sideboard in against UB control. This is a problem, but not a big one, as I usually win against that deck anyways.
As for the tournament I’ll spare you the long detailed game-by-game recaps and just sum up my matches.
After 3 byes I got paired against Valakut, where game 1 I played Cobra, he played Cobra, I played Explore, Preordain, he played Cobra and missed a land drop and I dropped Inferno Titan and lit them both on fire. Game 2 he mulled to 5 and I had Cobra-Jace-Acidic Slime to put him out of his misery.
Round 5 I played against mono-red, and g1 I countered/Bolted his first couple threats until he played Koth tapping out to get me for 4. I needed to draw a land that didn’t come into play tapped so I could just kill it with Raging Ravine, totally swinging the game into my favor, as he only had 1 card in hand. Sadly, I missed and he was able to do a ton of damage with Koth. I was able to Lightning Bolt it to keep it from going ultimate for a turn so I could play Inferno Titan to finish it off, but I was down to 1 life.
He drew and said go with 2 cards in hand, and then I drew Jace, played it, and fatesealed him. I saw Goblin Guide, which I put on the bottom. Basically, I felt it was too unlikely that his hand was 2 lands, and if it was I would probably be able to win the game eventually anyways, so I assumed he had either a Koth or a Goblin Guide in his hand (or a Goblin Chieftain since I’d seen Ember Hauler and Spikeshot Elder so I wasn’t certain if he was playing Pat Sullivans deck or a Goblin version), and if he had drawn Koth or Guide on the turn I played Inferno Titan and passed I highly doubted he would have cast it.
I went deep into the tank after I bottomed the Guide and ended up attacking with Titan anyways since it put him dead on board, but that was just a mistake. If I was able to see a land or a Plated Geopede or a bad card when I fatesealed him I think it would have been much easier for me to play around a haste card in his hand by not bashing with Titan but it seemed like my odds of winnng would be insanely low if I didn’t try to win in a turn against a fresh draw and just a fateseal next turn. I frequently have this problem where I don’t trust my reads; I was pretty certain he had the Koth or Guide in hand based on how he was playing but it just logically didn’t make sense not to bash with the Titan and try to go for the win, because not bashing could give him more draw steps at any burn spell to beat me. But as I said, in the end I bashed and he just drew and played Koth and killed me. He may have drawn it or had it; I didn’t bother to ask.
Before the tournament when MJ asked me about Mark of Mutiny he said something like “how many Titans do you sideboard out” and I didn’t really have a good answer for him since it was something I hadn’t really considered before, which is my own fault since the only preparation I had done was playing Magic Online and I can be pretty rigid when it comes to trying new things. So, against this guy I sided out a couple Titans and couldn’t have been happier. I also left in some Mana Leaks and added all my Flashfreezes. Traditionally counterspells suck against mono red, but with Lightning Bolt and Pyroclasm as ways to deal with the cheap threats that usually slip under my countermagic and Koth being problematic I actually like them quite a bit. Games 2-3 played out the same; I killed his early creatures and played Obstinate Baloth and just won with that and Raging Ravine.
Everyone I talked to said they would cut some Obstinate Baloth from the sideboard, and though I only sideboarded him in in this matchup I’m glad I ran 3. It’s one of, if not the best, answers to Mark of Mutiny and it also lives through Lightning Bolt and blocks Kor Firewalker, as well as being able to attack and kill Koth. He’s also a pretty big game against Vampires because Bloodghast gets way better against all the spot removal I have after sideboard. In the end I’d rather have Baloth in my sideboard and not need it then need it and not have it.
Round 6 I played against CawBlade, won the die roll, and had Lotus Cobra and just browned him.
Game 2 we played a long drawn out game where I needed Tumble Magnet to shut down a Celestial Colonnade. I had Oracle of Mul Daya in play basically the entire game and for about 5 straight turns I was able to maximize value from it shuffling away the bad cards I’d reveal and keep the good ones. I played around every counterspell he could possibly have and in the end I had 14 lands out, including 4 Raging Ravines, and the turn I went for lethal I did it through a Condemn and 2 counterspells. I dealt the final blow with me at 1 life and his top card being Stoneforge Mystic for Mortarpod.
Round 7 I played against Eldrazi Green. Game 1 he mulliganed to 5 and I had Cobra on the play, game 2 I kept a terrible hand and he had a great hand, and game 3 I had Cobra into Jace with plenty of action thereafter. Skill game!
Round 8 I played against UB control. Game 1 he flooded out and I won. Game 2 was pretty fun as I resolved Avenger of Zendikar against Liliana Vess and Tumble Magnet and no hand. His turn was using Liliana to make me discard my last card. I drew a 2nd Lotus Cobra and cast it while he drew and used Liliana to -2 to Vampiric Tutor. I drew Jace and rather than try to Brainstorm into a fetchland to turn on my six 0/1 plant tokens I went to combat. Avenger got tapped by Magnet and I killed the Liliana with my 2 Cobras and played Jace. I fatesealed him, seeing Ratchet Bomb and put it on the bottom. He Jaced my Jace and scooped when I drew a land to fire up the Avenger tokens.
Round 9 against Cawblade I mulled to 5 and he drew only 1 Mana Leak and 0 Jace so I was able to resolve most of my spells, including 2 Inferno Titans that took game 1. Game 2 we played a normal game where he resolved Jace vs my 5 mana and had no good plays since my hand was Inferno Titan, Jace, Jace, Mana Leak. So if he fatesealed to try and play around Lightning Bolt or Inferno Titan then I would just play Jace with Leak up and he would have gotten no value from a resolved Jace, and if he brainstormed I could just play Titan and kill it. RUG can be pretty awesome in Jace wars, not that those are super relevant in this standard format or anything…
Day 2 started off with me getting 2 nut draws vs Korey Mcduffie, though I feel he could have played a little better. Game 2 he used Tectonic Edge on my Halimar Depths on turn 3 after I Explored on the draw. That was bad because I hadn’t shown yet that I was out of lands and trying to manascrew me when I have a handful of lands is pretty pointless. About 7 turns later he was still stuck on 3 mana and had to play Into the Roil without kicker on Precursor Golem, which as you can imagine, isn’t the blowout it could be. I also saw Kor Firewalker in a sideboarded game which is pretty useless when I was sideboarding out Lightning Bolt for Tumble Magnet.
My next victim was Alex Bertoncini in the RUG mirror and I was able to win in 2 quick games where I seemly always had Mana Leak and he never had it, which is a pretty big game in the mirror since he was always the first to tap out and I was always the first to resolve a Jace/Titan.
Round 12 I played a RUG mirror where game 1 I kept a terrible hand and got smashed, and game 2 was very long and interactive, but I managed to pull it out thanks to the 1 Avenger. Game three he missed his 4th land drop and I never missed a land drop so I was able to leverage my better draw into a win.
At this point I was 12-0 and needed to go 0-2-1 to make Top 8, and got paired down against CawBlade. I won game 1 and games 2-3 were the same, with me playing scared of Jace and just losing to Hawks. I honestly feel like I played pretty bad this round knowing I could afford to lose a round and still Top 8 anyways, which sucks because ive started 14-0 in GP DC and 13-0 at GP Atlanta and now 12-0 here, and everytime when I was locked for Top 8 I played out the next round to try and X-0 the swiss all the way through and just never could.
Round 14-15 I drew with Wrapter and Mike Jacob, which was awesome not only because I was able to make Top 8 as a result but because Josh and Mike are two good friends I’ve made playing Magic and people who I will always root for and wish for them to do well at in any tournament they play in.
In the first round of the Top 8 I played against Korey again and won the roll and had turn 2 Cobra and just steamrolled him. Game 2 wasn’t much different; though I didn’t have Cobra it was still a brutal beatdown that left him out in 8th place. Korey played well overall and I hope to see him do well in the future.
Finally I lost to the eventual winner playing CawBlade and frankly, I blew it. I just made dumb mistakes and my deck didn’t bail me out. It was really disappointing to lose like that but I really have nobody to blame but myself. Of course I can say everybody makes mistakes and its true, but I expect more from myself and know I’m capable of it. I could go on about this but it’s probably better as another topic for another article all together.
You would do yourself a service playtesting the deck and figuring out how to sideboard on your own but too many people would complain if they finished reading and weren’t told how to sideboard so I’ll quickly go over how to sideboard against the top 3 decks.