I really enjoy watching people suffer.
That’s not to say that I’m going to go to a PETA rally while gnawing on a skewer of roast puppy (it’s adorable and delicious!). Rather, when I’m playing a game, I want my opponents to be as miserable as possible, which in turn makes me happy.
I used to have a multiplayer group I played casually with, but they asked me to leave because my favorite deck, Stasis, was apparently no fun. I beg to differ; that was the most fun deck I’ve played. I tried making other decks, but they generally involved things like land destruction or playing a Meddling Mage every turn (thanks, Soul Foundry!). It’s why I love Paladin en-Vec so much. In matchups where he’s good, he’s extremely good and their creatures are just staring at your unkillable guy as they contemplate how they’re going to get around him, but with the first strike and all the other stuff that comes along with him, they often feel helpless and sad. I love making my opponents feel helpless and sad.
So when I was offered the chance to play in an Extended tournament a couple of weeks ago, I jumped at the chance to play WBr Martyr, and off we went. My opponents were sad, I was gaining life, they couldn’t do anything with their aggro decks, and life was generally terrific. Attacking with creatures seemed so passe all of a sudden.
So in an effort to expand my horizons, I decided to try a control deck at the Seattle PTQ. I put the deck together on Magic Online and played it a fair bit, and I liked the way it felt and the way it ran.
So I sleeved up the following 75 for the Seattle PTQ this weekend:
Nothing too fancy here. Just a good ol’ standard 5cc list. Take LSV’s list from the 5K, replace the two spot removal spells (Doom Blade and Agony Warp) with the superior Lightning Bolt, go up to the full four Baneslayers, move the Negates to the board, and squeeze in the third Bolt to the main. And a few sideboard slots are different, but the roles are largely interchangeable. (He had one Firespout, but I liked Burial a little better because I saw random people running around with Primalcruxes and Oversouls of Dusk, and I wanted to be able to kill a larger creature if I had to.)
201 people showed up, which is the largest turnout for a Seattle PTQ possibly ever. (I can’t find anyone who recalls breaking the 200 mark.) Eight rounds, so let’s go!
Round 1 vs. Mike G. (5color Blood)
Well, that was an unfortunate pairing. I had tested with Mike throughout the week, and we both realized that this was one of my worst matchups. Mike’s also the most accomplished player in the room, and probably the best player at the PTQ. Still, you have to do 40 points of damage, so I buckled down and got ready for a fight.
Mike won the die roll. A Boggart Ram-Gang was his first play, which got Broken Ambitioned, revealing a Cryptic Command for Mike. He followed that up with an Anathemancer for three. A Bloodbraid Elf came down the next turn, and I suddenly found myself at 7 life. I had five mana at this point, and I could Cryptic Command his team, but he would just Cryptic me back and win. So I tapped out for Baneslayer Angel. If he tapped the Baneslayer (or bounced her), then I would go to 1, but 1 is more than 0. He would have to have Cryptic Command and Lightning Bolt to win that turn. Sure enough, he drew the Bolt next turn and killed me.
Game two didn’t fare too much better. A Putrid Leech was eaten by a Plumeveil. His board of a lone Anathemancer looked innocuous as I had just drawn a Runed Halo for it, but he cast Bloodbraid Elf into Maelstrom Pulse. I couldn’t keep up with his pressure, and he had triple Lightning Bolt to burn me out.
Certainly not the way I wanted to start out my PTQ. Still, Mike and I discussed the games and we both agreed that there was nothing I could really do. The matchup is essentially a bye for him, and with him getting above-average draws on top of that, I had no chance.
The unfortunate thing is that even though I expected Mike to do well, it meant that unless I got paired up, all my opponents would have at least one loss, dragging my tiebreakers down. With 201 players, 6-1-1 with my breaks wouldn’t be enough, so I had to run the full 7-0 to make top eight.
Round 2 vs. Trever (Merfolk)
Trever won the die roll and opened with a Silvergill Adept, revealing a Merfolk Sovereign, which I Lightning Bolted when he played it the next turn. A second Adept was eaten by a Plumeveil. Ajani Vengeant killed another Adept and subsequently died, but that gave me the room to resolve Baneslayer Angel. I untapped with her, and with me holding a Cryptic Command, I attacked four times for the win.
Game two was just an abomination of all sorts, and it’s one I’m pretty upset with, considering how I played. He opened with turn two Meddling Mage naming Volcanic Fallout, which shut off my next two draw steps. The Mage attacked me down to 14, but stopped attacking when I played a Plumeveil. A Stonybrook Banneret was able to walk past the Plumeveil by virtue of me having played an Island.
Plumeveil got Pathed, but I drew a Lightning Bolt, Bolted the Mage, and played Fallout to kill an Adept and a freshly-played Reejery, putting me to 7. He played another Meddling Mage naming Fallout, then a Merfolk Sovereign and a Stonybrook Banneret. Then the key turn of the game happened.
He had a board of Mage, Sovereign, and Banneret, plus a Mutavault. He said, “Declare attackers,” and I said, “Okay.” He activated Mutavault and tried to attack, and I told him that he passed priority during his declare attackers step, so he couldn’t attack with Mutavault. The judge made the same ruling, and instead of attacking for a lethal nine, he attacked for only six, which put me to one.
I drew Cruel Ultimatum the next turn and resolved it, Bolted the Sovereign and Mage, and then played Ajani to tap down his Mutavault. I couldn’t draw a finisher to save my life, and I was digging with Esper Charms to find an Ultimatum or Baneslayer. Eventually I drew a second Ultimatum that got Cryptic Commanded, and a Baneslayer got Pathed. Time was running out. Ajani was killing creatures as they came into play and keeping his Mutavault tapped, just trying to buy me time. Then with me at 2, I used Ajani’s Lightning Helix ability to kill a creature, which he Harm’s Wayed back to me for the win.
or so I thought. I thought the game was won by him, and we wouldn’t have time to finish a third game. So he said, “That’s a draw?” Luckily a spectator took advantage of the new “a spectator can stop the game and call a judge” rule, and a judge was called. Since all the damage is done at the same time, I gained the three and had Harm’s Way redirected two of me to me, which nets me one life instead of killing me. Phew. I hadn’t scooped up my cards and I’m very upset with myself for not knowing the rule and not calling a judge if I didn’t know the rule. That almost cost me a win. I played Cruel Ultimatum the next turn, played a Baneslayer Angel, and killed him in turn four of extra turns with only three cards left in my library.
Not that best played game, but I guess I won.
Round 3 vs. Matt (Cascade)
Matt seemed like a pretty personable, nice guy, but after he played Bloodbraid Elf into Anathemancer, his intentions to inflict harm on me were made clear. He was also taking advantage of my poor position, as I mulliganed to five after losing the die roll.
I stabilized with a Baneslayer Angel, which I thought it safe to attack with. With me at 24 and him at 10, he played a Bloodbraid Elf into an Anathemancer, and I was suddenly at 12. Baneslayer then died, and I had no more Baneslayers, nor did I have a Cruel Ultimatum.
Game two was odd. Plumeveil ate his creatures and I was able to Cryptic Command and Broken Ambitions him, keeping him from getting any kind of pressure on the board. When I played Identity Crisis with him having an empty board, he was obviously in a bad spot. But he topdecked Thought Hemorrhage naming Baneslayer Angel, which awkwardly left only Mulldrifter, three Cruel Ultimatums, and two Ajanis in my deck as win conditions. I misboarded by not bringing in the Hellkite for Thought Hemorrhage purposes, which left me in this awkward position. I played Cruel Ultimatum the next turn, and he looked at the clock, then scooped.
I don’t know if that’s right. Yes, he had no cards in hand and no creatures on the board, and I did just resolve a Cruel Ultimatum, but he also went through my deck and realized that I didn’t have a good way to win. I guess if he figures I’m eventually going to win that game, then we’re going to not have much time for game three, so he would rather scoop and move on. If he thinks that it would take me so long to win game two that I couldn’t finish it in the 15 minutes or so we had left, then it’s wrong to scoop. That’s a tough one.
Anyway, we went to game three and there was now a Hellkite hanging out in my deck somewhere. A Runed Halo naming Anathemancer slowed him down a little, but it got Pulsed away. Finks and Anathemancer were beating me down when I played a Baneslayer Angel, which I used to attack him a couple of times. He played his last card, a Primal Command which he used to gain seven and search for an Enlisted Wurm which I let resolve. During his draw step I Esper Charmed away his hand. Unfortunately he played a Baneslayer the next turn and I was in an awkward situation with me only two attacks away from the win. I drew two Cryptic Commands and tapped his team down twice and finally got through for the final ten points of damage.
Round 4 vs. Sam (Conley Woods Special, AKA Mannequin)
Game one was odd. I had a very reactive hand full of Bolts and Fallouts, and Sam didn’t do anything except play a Putrid Leech on turn two. Leech never got pumped (he was playing around Bolt), and he didn’t play another spell until I played a turn seven Cruel Ultimatum.
Obviously, I lost that game.
He sandbagged a couple of Anathemancers, and my life total went from 21 to 14 to 7, and then I had the issue of these Anathemancers I couldn’t deal with. Even if I killed it, he could just unearth it and kill me, and I didn’t draw a Baneslayer Angel to try to get ahead on life totals, so I died.
Game two I had Runed Halo naming Anathemancer, but he had Maelstrom Pulse to destroy it. The game wasn’t that interesting. I played a Baneslayer Angel and dared him to kill it, and he couldn’t, so I got to untap with her and I had double Cryptic Command to protect her. He Anathemancered me, but my life total soared to 31, and Baneslayer did what she does when you get to untap with her: you win.
That’s one of the reasons why I love running four of her. She has to be answered, or they will lose the game. And if you’re not worried about what they can resolve on turns five or six, you can just play her on turn five and see if they have an answer. If they do, fine. You have others. If not, you win.
Game three Sam missed some land drops, which I took advantage of by playing an Ajani to lock down his land. I played Baneslayer Angel the next turn, but he evoked a Shriekmaw and killed it. So I played a second Baneslayer Angel, which he killed when he Mannequined back his Shriekmaw. I made Shriekmaw not untap with Ajani (killing it due to the Mannequin counter), and played a third Baneslayer Angel. He of course had a second Mannequin, so we did the same thing. Then of course I had the fourth Baneslayer Angel, and he didn’t have an answer to that one. I Identity Crisised his hand away which had scary things like Cloudthresher and Puppeteer Clique, and he had no hand, no board, and no graveyard, and I had a Baneslayer and an Ajani. I won that game.
Round 5 vs. Bryan (Grixis Faeries)
I know Bryan pretty well, and he and I tend to have the same stupid sense of humor, so our matches tend to be a lot of fun. Bryan almost certainly was playing Faeries, as he’s played that deck since before Morningtide at almost every event I’ve seen him at. Since Grixis Fae had just won a PTQ in Portland two weeks prior, it was a safe bet that he was packing [card]Bitterblossom[/card]s.
And hey, look at that. Bryan opened with a turn two Bitterblossom. What are the odds?
A turn two Bitterblossom is pretty scary, but he didn’t have a Scion or a Mistbind Clique. I took my hits from his tokens and used a Fallout when he did eventually play a Scion of Oona, then just ran cards into his Cryptic Commands by playing Ajani and Cruel Ultimatum, trying to get the counters out of his hand. I figured if I can resolve a Baneslayer or Ultimatum, I’m in pretty good shape. The second Ultimatum resolved, and he died to his own Bitterblossom. There was a turn where he could have Mistbind Cliqued me and then won the game the next turn, but he was playing around Hellkite. If I had a Hellkite, then I just flash it in and kill him. I didn’t have the Hellkite in my deck at that point, of course.
Game two Bryan kept a two-land hand on the play with Thoughtseize, Bitterblossom, and some number of Cryptic Commands and Spellstutter Sprites. He Thoughtseized away a Cryptic Command and then played a Bitterblossom on turn two. I played Fallout and then Baneslayer Angel when he was still stuck on two lands, which left me with a Baneslayer in play versus his Bitterblossom. That’s a race I can win. I attacked a few times, he chumped a few times, and eventually I drew an [card]Esper Charm[/card] to destroy his chump-block factory, paving the way for Angel.
That’s a pretty tough matchup and I felt happy to get out of that one. When a competent player gets turn-two Bitterblossom, it’s pretty tough to win. He made a misplay game one and then I got lucky game two by him getting manascrewed.
Round 6 vs. Frank (Mono-black control)
Frank opened the game with double Thoughtseize, which made my Esper Charm, Cryptic Command, Fallout, four-land hand a little more awkward. I didn’t have much going on when he played a Demigod of Revenge, which I Cryptic Commanded (after the trigger resolved, of course) followed by a Bitterblossom. I played a Baneslayer Angel that got [card]Corrupt[/card]ed, and then he played a second Demigod of Revenge. I bolted his token and played Cruel Ultimatum, and he had no hand when I played the Baneslayer Angel that had previously been Corrupted, and his Bitterblossom wasn’t enough to save him from a dazzling array of Baneslayer attacks and Volcanic Fallouts.
Game two I kept a horrible hand of five lands and two Baneslayers, thinking any spell except for Cruel Ultimatum would put me in a good position, because his deck was so bloody slow. He Duressed me and saw my hand and whiffed, but he played a Stillmoon Cavalier and Black Knights while I didn’t draw a spell for the rest of the game, and I was dead before I could attack with Baneslayer (and she doesn’t block either of those creatures).
Game three was a war of survival, as I used Bolts and Fallouts to kill his Stillmoon Cavaliers and Black Knights, and I countered a would-be lethal Corrupt, digging for a card that can save me. Eventually I drew the seventh land I needed to Cruel Ultimatum, and when I followed that up with a second Cruel Ultimatum the next turn, he scooped.
Round 6 vs. John (Grixis Faeries)
This was another tough matchup, and not one I was happy to see being two wins away from top eight. But you play the hand that’s been dealt”¦
We didn’t do a whole lot the first few turns. He had a Scion of Oona that was hitting me for a bit, but when a Mutavault got activated to join the party, Fallout took care of the two. I was playing lands hoping to draw into multiple counterspells or try to start a fight on his turn with a Plumeveil or something, then resolve a Cruel Ultimatum.
He played another Mutavault and Scion, and with him having eight lands in play, he Mistbind Cliqued me during my upkeep. The relevant cards in my hand at this point were Cryptic Command, Broken Ambitions, and Volcanic Fallout, with nine mana available. I opted to Cryptic Command, bouncing his Scion and drawing a card, forcing him to activate Mutavault to save his Clique, at which point I could Fallout. Or if he had a Cryptic Command, he would be tapped out and couldn’t activate his Mutavault, so I could Broken Ambitions for one, countering his Cryptic Command and killing his Mistbind Clique.
I figured that Broken Ambitions over Fallout was the choice here, since he had eight lands in play and the value of Broken Ambitions was diminishing pretty quickly. It’s not a very good late game card, so if I can get use of it there, then that’s better than using the Fallout.
I think what I should have done instead is Broken Ambitions for five, and then Fallout if he countered it. That way his Scion and Clique are dead and I’m left with a Cryptic Command in my hand.
All of that was fairly irrelevant however, since he untapped and surprised me with a Cruel Ultimatum, which I didn’t expect maindeck from Faeries, especially one that’s running four Mutavaults. I was unable to win post-Ultimatum.
Game two was rough. My Runed Halo got countered, and he double Anathemancer plus Banefire to burn me out. When they can counter your Runed halo and just play super aggro post-board, which seems like a very tough matchup. It’s one I would have liked to have tested more, as I feel like maybe my board could have been better configured for the deck that had just won a Northwest PTQ.
I was unhappy with the result of this match, although John played it well and I’m not sure what else I could have done game one. Play a different 75, I guess.
At this point I wanted to drop, but Mike, my friend and round one opponent, was 6-1 at this point and was just on the bubble for being able to draw in. He said he was going to go for it, so I opted to play another round to try to help his tiebreakers. Now the pressure was really on!
Round 8 vs. Mark (Elf combo)
I knew what Mark was playing, and I kept a hand with multiple Bolts, a Plumeveil, and Broken Ambitions on the play. Good enough, although a Fallout would be nice. I Broken Ambitioned his turn two Llanowar Elves (when he forgot to play a land before playing the elf – oops!) and revealed a Fallout from the clash.
Mark was playing really cautiously and resolved a Ranger of Eos, but was waiting for the One Big Turn when he could protect his team from Fallouts. Ranger of Eos attacked me before Plumeveil could get involved to stop that, but some end step Esper Charms put only three cards in his hand, allowing me to Cruel Ultimatum. When I played the second Cruel Utlimatum the following turn, he scooped.
I made an interesting sideboard decision that may have been wrong. He was playing so cautiously and was very careful about not overextending, so I boarded in Identity Crisis. If he was going to sandbag threats in his hand, then I would try to punish him for it.
Unfortunately, I mulliganed to five in game two and kept a four land, Esper Charm hand. Good enough. He mulliganed as well, and had a slow start. I drew more lands while he had just a Llanowar Elf in play (again, cautious about overextending). Esper Charm got me a Cryptic Command which countered a Ranger of Eos, and his board was a lone Forge-Tender when I resolved Identity Crisis. With no fear of him going off the next turn, another Esper Charm got me to Baneslayer Angel, and I killed him with a Hallowed Burial in my hand that I didn’t even have to cast.
Mike got into top 8 in 8th place, edging out #9 on tiebreaks. So maybe my last round win did something. That was the only consolation I could find.
I was overall not terribly unhappy with the day. I beat all the matchups I should have, beat one where I’m a dog, and lost to two bad matchups. Jared Porter played a similarish list and didn’t see 5c Blood or Faeries and got himself into the top eight, where he lost when his Baneslayer Angels were Crib Swapped away (nobody at the time realized that this can’t actually happen). Maybe with different pairings I squeeze into top 8, but who knows.
I definitely felt comfortable with the deck. This may sound a bit like a broken record coming on the heels of LSV’s article this week, but Magic Online helps. A lot. Having two weeks to test a deck and really get to know it and watch your replays to figure out where you made mistakes was an enormous help. And I would definitely play the deck again, although I would change it a bit to have a better Faeries matchup, as that deck is still around and the red version looks to be solid.
We’ve got one more PTQ left – Vancouver on the 29th. You have to play well and get lucky to win one of these things, and I feel like I’m definitely improving in the former department – so the latter should come eventually, right? Just gotta keep grinding it out.
zaiemb at gmail dot com