I’m back home, in Montana, watching the Portland PTQ and Grand Prix Boston from the sidelines. I’m not jealous of anybody playing in Boston, as that’s not a format I want anything to do with, but I really wish I could be playing in a PTQ right now. I hate missing even one PTQ, but I’m going to be out of town for the first two PTQs of the season. Lame. But enough about my sorrows, we’ve got a day two of Nationals to cover!
When we last left our hero, he was sitting at 4-3. In order to make top eight, he would need to X-0 the day. To land in the money, he could absorb one loss, and if all else failed, X-2 would give him a better record than the last time he was at Nationals, years ago, and he could leave Kansas City with at least some pride.
All I really wanted to do was escape the Draft rounds, the first three rounds of the day, with a decent enough record to make my Constructed meaningful. I thought I drafted this format a lot, so I’m not entirely sure why I dreaded the Draft as much as I did. I kind of feel like I have a loose gear when it comes to Limited, like there’s a kink in my strategy, or there’s a concept that hasn’t entirely clicked yet. I continuously see other players succeed in Drafts with decks and cards that don’t seem better than my decks or my cards, and I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because I keep drafting Grixis.
Draft Deck Two – URB
I took Thraximundar first pick in pack three over a Bituminous Blast, but realized it was wrong (with some help) shortly after the Draft. I took the mythic because of its power to win the game on its own without much work, and I lazily picked the easy winner. In reality, Bituminous Blast is the better card, and would have been great in my final deck. The one maindeck Molten Frame felt a little sketchy with cascade, but it was never an issue. I couldn’t bring myself to run a second Absorb Vis or Dreadwing over it, though Sanity Gnawers was close. In the end I went with the cycler that was also good against the best deck.
Round 8 – Adam, UB
Adam never did anything that scary in game one. He just played Death Baron, Rotting Rats, and a few other small blue or black creatures that might have been zombies or skeletons. I made a huge mistake in the later turns that could have cost me the game. I played my seventh land so I could cast an Igneous Pouncer and still have a black up to regenerate my [card]Kathari Remnant[/card], but when he blocked with a Rotting Rats I realized the last card in my hand, a [card]Thraximundar[/card], was toast. Sure enough my opponent unearthed the rat on his next turn and nabbed my Thraximundar. There was no reason I needed to regenerate my Kathari Remntant, I wasn’t in danger of dying or anything, so it was just a dumb mistake to go down to one card in hand by playing my seventh land. Luckily Adam continued to make non-threatening plays (though I did see a [card]Slave of Bolas[/card]) and I won the ensuing top deck war.
In game two we battled for a while, trading creatures, grinding each other down. [card]Grixis Sojourners[/card] did their job as a weak [card]Rhox Brute[/card], and I’m beginning to fall in love with them. Eventually, I played Thraximundar and got to attack twice. On my opponent’s last loot with a [card]Grixis Battlemage[/card], he found a Slave of Bolas and took my Thraximundar. I sacrificed a [card]Puppet Conjurer[/card] token and proceeded to kill my opponent anyway. Who needs Bituminous Blast?
Round 9 – Conrad, GWu
I’m still not 100% sure if I made a mistake here. My opponent cast a [card]Naya Battlemage[/card] on turn four and passed the turn. I made a [card]Puppet Conjurer[/card] token in my upkeep in order to make my [card]Rockslide Elemental[/card] big enough to attack into the 2/2, and swung. He declined to block, so I used [card]Drag Down[/card] to kill the Battlemage, planning to win the game with a big Rockslide Elemental. Unfortunately my opponent saved his Battlemage with a [card]Might of Alara[/card], but that wasn’t the worst thing that could happen. The worst thing came next when my opponent cast a [card]Mirror-Sigil Sergeant[/card] thanks to an [card]Obelisk of Bant[/card], and even had a [card]Fieldmist Borderpost[/card] as a handy blue permanent. The card I drew on my previous turn was a [card]Soul Manipulation[/card], but I had already used my single blue mana to make a Puppet Conjurer token, so I couldn’t Soul Manipulation the Mirror-Sigil Sergeant that I ended up losing to. I think my mistake was getting too far ahead of myself. While I didn’t know I was going to draw Soul Manipulation, I give myself the most options if I wait a turn to grow my Rocklside Elemental, making a token at the end of my opponent’s turn, and leaving my Drag Down open in case my opponent casts something even scarier than the Naya Battlemage. I died with Thraximundar in my hand, desperately wanting a Bituminous Blast instead.
I was behind all of game two. My opponent was an aggressive GW deck splashing blue for one or two cards – I must have seen the slower side of his deck in game one. I ended up getting Conrad low enough so that I could top deck Thraximundar for the win, but it wasn’t so, and his GW men swarmed me. I never saw a blue permanent other than the Fieldmist Borderpost, so that was a little frustrating.
Round 10– GUW
This was the first opponent I had all weekend that chose to draw. I punished him by casting [card]Goblin Deathraiders[/card] on turn two. I kept applying pressure, cast some [card]Grixis Sojourners[/card] (which, as I said before, I am growing to love), and won the game when I cast [card]Thraximundar[/card]. Nice card.
My opponent still chose to draw, for whatever reason, so I cast a turn-three [card]Shambling Remains[/card]. I killed his blocker, attacked, attacked, cast [card]Deny Reality[/card] on a [card]Mycoloth[/card], and attacked for the win. My opponent remarked that he probably should have chosen to play, and I can agree with him.
It was back to Constructed for the last four rounds of the tournament. It was doubtful that I could top eight anymore, but a 4-0 constructed finish would land me in the money and might just qualify me for something. I felt a lot more comfortable with Constructed, but approached one match at a time. For reference, here is the deck I was playing:
I was happy with how the deck was playing, and as long as I could dodge Five-Color Control I felt good about my chances.
Round 11 – Richard, Five-Color Control
Dangit! When he played a first turn Vivid land I was so hoping it was Five-Color Bloodbraid, but it wasn’t to be so. Luckily, in game one Richard, got stuck on six mana. I got to Primal Command him, and I felt like I barely killed him before he got to his seventh land to Cruel Ultimatum me out of the game. That was a lucky break, and I was hoping I could squeeze one of the next two games out in the same way.
I sided in Great Sable Stags which could be awkward for Five-Color, and I got one online early in game two. Unfortunately, he cast a Wall of Reverence that he followed up with a Plumeveil, so racing the four life a turn wasn’t going to happen. Richard got up to Cruel Ultimatum, and I was never in this game.
Game three was looking good for me. He was stuck on four mana and sitting at two life with a Runed Halo locking down my two Great Sable Stags. I had eight mana with a Bloodbraid Elf and a Thought Hemorrhage in my hand and ended up doing everything in the wrong order, I think. I smelled the win and cast Bloodbraid Elf, which cascaded into Borderland Ranger instead of a Lightning Bolt or Maelstrom Pulse that could have won the game. Then I cast Thought Hemorrhage, which got snagged by a Broken Ambitions. If I would have cast the Thought Hemorrhage first, I probably could have hit a card in his hand for the last two points of damage to win the game. I’m pretty sure the better play was to shoot for the card in his hand instead of the cascade. I think I chose the play I did because I couldn’t decide what to name with Thought Hemorrhage. Baneslayer Angel would have been safe, but so would Hallowed Burial.
In any case, my opponent still missed his fifth land drop, and I drew and played an Identity Crisis next turn, to which my opponent responded with a Plumeveil. Now it was two Stags and two random creatures against four lands, two Plumeveils, and a Runed Halo. He drew and played a land. I drew a land. He drew and said go. I drew a land. He drew and played a Baneslayer Angel. I drew a land. He drews and played a land, and attacked. I drew a Great Sable Stag. He drew and attacked with the Angel again, and I drew another land. That was the game. It turned out the other card he drew right before the Angel was a Cryptic Command. Nice deck.
This game made me think that Identity Crisis isn’t as good against Five-Color as I thought. The problem is that they have so many good cards in their deck like Esper Charm, Mulldrifter, Baneslayer Angel, Broodmate Dragon, Cruel Ultimatum, etc., that once they draw a spell all of your hard work is undone. I felt pretty good when I Identity Crisised a Five-Color opponent stuck on four mana, but even that didn’t work. I still lost to a play mistake, so I can only blame myself.
Now that Five-Color Control is the big deck, I really need to come up with a sideboard plan that can beat it. Anathemancer and Blightning are two good options, and even Haunting Echoes could be exciting. With all the Mannequins running around now, Haunting Echoes has even more work to do. It’s so good in the attrition mirrors!
With five losses I really couldn’t hope to land in the money, but if I won the next three rounds I would at least have a better record than the last time I was at Nationals.
Round 12 – Brian Kowal, Rg Burn
I know Brian in a small way (I think we ate dinner together in Honolulu) but I have no idea what kinds of decks he plays. It turns out Brian was playing red spells, and I fell quickly in game one to double Flame Javelin. Yikes. I still felt good about this matchup as long as he drew more creatures than burn spells. I knew that if I drew a Primal Command in the next two games things would be a lot easier.
What I didn’t factor in was what happens when my opponent mulligans to four. No Primal Command necessary, Brian was just never in this game. I won at 24 life thanks to a Kitchen Finks.
Game three was weird. I kept blocking Hellspark Elementals with Borderland Ranger and Bloodbraid Elf, knowing that the late game was pretty solidly in my favor. There was even a turn where an Enlisted Wurm blocked a Ball Lightning, which felt dirty, but you do what you have to do. Eventually, I drew a Primal Command and tutored up a Kitchen Finks, but the game was pretty much over by then. Brian had drawn nothing but lands for a long time, so I got another cheap game win.
Round 13 – Shaun, Five-Color Bloodbraid
I was very much relieved when it was clear that he wasn’t playing Five-Color Control, but this matchup can still be scary if they run Cruel Ultimatum. He was on the play in game one, but he let me Lightning Bolt his Putrid Leech when he attacked with it and pumped, which gave me a lot of breathing room. I love being able to Lightning Bolt a Putrid Leech almost as much as I love killing a Tarmogoyf with a Lightning Helix. (That sounds like something a hoity-toity person could say at a party in order to mock the poorer people around them. At least, that’s the way I hear it.) I played a few Kitchen Finks and overwhelmed him with cascade, though Shaun didn’t do a whole lot in game one. (By that I mean he didn’t cast Cruel Ultimatum.)
I really enjoyed our third game, though I don’t think my opponent enjoyed it nearly as much. He got a little stuck on land and didn’t have a blue Command to stop my green Command, so I got to put a land on top of his library while fetching another Enlisted Wurm. The second Enlisted Wurm I cast hit another Primal Command, which yet again put a land on top of his deck and grabbed a third Enlisted Wurm. Then I proceed to draw my fourth Enlisted Wurm – awesome! I end up casting Footbottom Feast to get back two Enlisted Wurms, and won the game after having cast Enlisted Wurm five times, with a sixth one in my hand. I sure was happy, but my opponent didn’t seem to share in the joy. He never cast Cruel Ultimatum this match, which I was certainly thankful for.
Round 14 – Aaron, GW Elf Combo
All day, Jeremy, a friend from Vermont* I had been chatting with online leading up to Nationals, had been praying for his friend Aaron and I to play. I always prefer playing people I don’t know over people I do because I assume people I know are better than people I don’t. This is probably an unreasonable assumption once you get out of the local scene, and even though I barely knew Aaron, I still felt this way.
I thought game one wasn’t going my way when I cast a turn four Bloodbraid Elf and hit a Kitchen Finks instead of a removal spell to kill the one elf on the table, but I needn’t worry. Aaron just drew a card and passed the turn. Weird. Another Kitchen Finks came down and I end up killing Aaron before he did anything relevant. His hand must have been terrible. I’m glad I won game one, because while games two and three are in my favor, things can go wrong and it’s nice to have the cushion.
I stopped the early damage from killing me, but Aaron had a couple Ranger of Eos to provide a ton of fuel. I Hallowed Burial, but Aaron was able to go off in one turn since I hadn’t Thought Hemorrhaged yet. I got to untap and Hallowed Burial again, but Aaron’s hand was perfectly sculpted and he got to go off again. That’s game.
Luckily, I got to Thought Hemorrhage away Regal Force in game three, so now it was an attrition war. Unfortunately, I saw two Ranger of Eos, but there was no Primal Command in sight, the only other card that really mattered at this point. I eventually got him to put his hand on the table after a Hallowed Burial, which let me [card]Shriekmaw[/card] his Burrenton Forge-Tender and Volcanic Fallout the rest of his team. It was easy for Bloodbraid Elf to clean up from there.
Phew, I escaped Nationals with what I consider a respectable finish, finishing in 32nd in the largest US nationals to date. Sure, I wish I came away with something to show for it, but my rating didn’t even get high enough to qualify me for something else, so that was that. It’s back to the PTQ grinding for me after a temporary visit to the big leagues.
Man, I really need to get back.
The Next Big Thing
If I had to change something about the deck I played, I would change the Identity Crisis in the sideboard to another Primal Command. Other than that, I was really happy with how this version functioned. The only problem with Flores Barn was that it didn’t have a good plan against Five-Color Control, and for that the deck would need to be revamped a little bit. Somehow a decent sideboard plan against the control deck would need to be devised, probably including Anathemancer, and that would likely reshape the maindeck a little. Volcanic Fallout is the card I dislike the most in the maindeck, as it really doesn’t synergize with the deck at all, but it seemed necessary for the weekend of Nationals. My next PTQ isn’t until late August, so I’ll see how the metagame develops over the next couple days before I make any big changes.
There was something exciting to come out of Nationals, though, and that was the success of Time Sieve. First, in what seemed like a fluke, a deck very close to my own Time Sieve list won Finnish nationals. Apparently I shouldn’t have given up on the deck, so congratulations to Mikko Airaksinen for giving it a chance. I was even interviewed at Nationals about the deck by Kelly Reid of quietspeculation.com (check it out!). This was exciting enough, and then Olivier Ruel made top eight of French Nationals with the deck! Believe it or not, Olivier Ruel was the same person to make top eight of Grand Prix Krakow with UB Mannequin, another deck of my design. That’s two of my decks this Frenchman has piloted to a top eight finish – I need to give that man a hug! I love to see my decks do well, and it’s good to see the Time Sieve deck wasn’t a complete waste of time.
I’ve got another three weeks before my next PTQ, likely my only one of the season, so I’ve got to make it count. I don’t know what I’ll be playing yet, but it’s entirely possible that there are extra turns in my future. In the meantime I’m stuck in Montana for a week, so I need to come up with a topic for my next article without actually playing Magic. Ideas? I’m also going to be at Gencon in two weeks once again demoing the miniatures game I’ve been working on, Arcane Legions, so if you’re going to be there please stop by and say hi! Nobody visited me at Origins and I was very sad.
Thanks for reading,
Loucksj at gmail
*It took me most of the day to realized Vermont isn’t a part of Canada. Embarrassing.