It’s been a wild few days, and it’s only going to get wilder. I’m sitting in the hotel room after missing day two of Grand Prix: Oakland. I was knocked out in round eight of nine when I picked up my second draw, finishing at 5-1-2. (Ok, so I played the last round and lost, resulting in a disappointing 3-2-2 finish after discounting my two byes.) But all was not lost.
I had planned on playing the Hexmage/Thopter deck in the grand prix after I stumbled my way into a Magic Online PTQ Top 8 (where I lost in the mirror match with no idea what to do). Then a few days before the event I had convinced myself (with a little help from Gavin Verhey) that Elf Combo was the deck to play. On the plane ride down here, however, Gavin noticed a decklist in my notebook an began to get excited. This decklist started with four Gifts Ungiven.
I know, I know. I promised I wouldn’t write about Gifts Ungiven for a while. But what can I say, I just can’t help myself. Somehow on the plane I was convinced that the deck was good. We created a list the night before, and I threw something together for the grinders on Friday. (I had two byes already, so figured I would battle for the third bye while also getting in quality playtesting.) The deck was a blast to play, but it sure was hard.
For reference take a look at the list I registered for the Grand Prix, then I’ll get back to the grinders:
What turned me on to playing this deck was kind of an odd thing – it was realizing that Birds of Paradise can block a Merit Lage token. And it was exactly that action that alowed me to beat turn one Thoughtsieze into turn two 20/20. I took one hit and lived thanks to Kitchen Finks. Then Birds of Paradise joined the team, blocked, and was returned with Saffi. Then Mulldrifter hit the table and blocked. Then Reveillark came down, and I’m sure you can see how hard it would be to get through with the 20/20 at that point.
The one problem I was having with the deck was time. Not only was I having to think through Gifts Ungiven packages on the fly, but my opponents never had any idea what was going on. You can imagine where my two draws came from in the Grand Prix. (More on those later.) However, one heck of a story came out of time being called in my match against Zoo. You see, in the grinders, being single elimination, the winner after five turns of time is the player with the highest life total. That was good for me if I went off and gained infinite life, as I didn’t actually have to kill them at that point, but it was bad for me when my opponent is playing Zoo and time is called while we are sideboarding for game three. At first the judge said it’s the first change in life total that decides the match, so we each frantically sideboarded out our sac lands. Then he came back and told us there will be five turns, and the highest life total after the five turns wins. So we each changed our sideboarding to be as fast as possible.
Luckily I was on the play, meaning my opponent would only get one chance to attack with his turn one Wild Nacatl and would also most likely take damage from his lands. My opening seven cards had little to do in this type of game, so I mulliganed. My opponent kept, saying it’s the best he could possibly hope for. Six cards showed me nothing good. Five cards showed me nothing good. At four cards I was staring at the god hand. Forest – check. Essence Warden – sweet! Horizon Canopy – ok Qasali Pridemage got there! My turn one Essence Warden was met with a Forest and a Wild Nacatl, and I was at 21. My turn two Qasali Pridemage kept me at 21 and he blocked my attack. On his next turn, the only other turn he got before the five turns were up, he could only show me his second Wild Nacatl and concede.
That win got me to top four of my second grinder where I fell to Hex/Depths. Out of six total grinder rounds that day I faced four Dark Depths and finished 3-1 in those matchups, so I felt ok. My other loss came in round two of my first grinder to Jeremy Fuentes and GRb Aggro Scapeshift. I was able to win game two in the best way – end of turn Chord of Calling for Stoneforge Mystic, fetch Sword of Fire and Ice, untap and cast Meddling Mage naming Scapeshift, Mystic in the Sword, and equip it. Unfortunately I couldn’t answer his red Akroma in game three.
I tuned the deck for the Grand Prix (to the above list) mostly by taking out Life from the Loam and Raven’s Crime while also making the sideboard more consistent. I would love to play Bant Charm in my maindeck, but there’s no room for that kind of card past the four [card]Path to Exile[/card], and that card is probably not cuttable.
I was really happy when Gavin and I came up with the “transformative sideboard” that brought in big equipments to battle graveyard hate the old fashioned way – attack! I was very happy with the plan all weekend.
I also managed to finally get my own Channel Fireball T-shirt (thanks Luis!) and even landed a decktech with Mashi! Sweet.
The Grand Prix
I entered the tournament in round three with a feature match to kick things off. My opponent was playing Doran, which I thought would be an easy matchup. In game one I did what I always did when I played the Kiki-Jiki deck, which is focus on getting a Reveillark into play. Once the big white elemental hits the table, they really have no good response. I managed to Gifts Ungiven and craft the exact situation I wanted, getting a Reveillark into play on turn four with Etenal Witness and Body Double in my graveyard and a Mirror Entity on the way. My opponent attacked with an exalted Dark Confidant and I happily traded my Reveillark and brought back my two creatures.
Except it wasn’t actually the same Rock matchup I had always known. This deck could use Knight of the Reliquary to grab Bojuka Bog at instant speed. There went my graveyard – Reveillark, Eternal Witness, and Body Double all gone. Oops. Time was called early in game three and we drew the match.
I learned how to play the deck at a fast pace and was moving pretty quickly by the final few rounds. I managed to get all my other matches to finish before time, though it was always cutting it close. I called judges multiple times each round to “watch my match and make sure things are moving at a reasonable pace.” Dark Depths players are the worst because not only is their hand full of options, but when you present them with a Gifts Ungiven it’s so hard for them to decide. Couple that with the time it takes them to write your hand down every time they Duress you and it’s hard to keep the game moving forward.
I lost my second round to Hexmage/Depths. For some reason I keep losing game one, and I’m not sure why. I don’t often just lose to a 20/20 because of my Path to Exile and blockers, and eventually I get the game where I want it – stalled. Then it’s up to me to find my combo and go off, as most Hex/Depths decks seem cold to either of my combos in game one. However, thanks to some early Thoughtsiezes my hand is pretty ravaged at that point. All I need is a Gifts Ungiven or a Mulldrifter or something, but eventually they draw into Thopter/Sword and kill me. I can’t tell if that’s the way things are supposed to go or if variance hit me and prevented me from drawing my combo pieces (or ways to get to them).
My three wins were against Faeries (a matchup that should be terrible but his hands were awful), Rubin Zoo (which should be awful thanks to Punishing Fire but my opponent made some mistakes), and UWB Thopter/Sword (which I think is awful but he had awkward hands and lost to the equipment plan). The Rubin Zoo match was incredibly close in game two, and I almost scooped at one point when I figured I had no outs to him just burning me with Punishing Fire. However, I realized my opponent never returned Punishing Fire off of my Kitchen Finks lifegain triggers, so I was able to get some Finks to hit play. I topdecked a Bant Charm which let me counter a Punishing Fire, then I equipped Sword of Fire and Ice to a creature, and then I killed him.
My second draw was against UG Scapeshift, and I’m not sure there was anything I could do. In game one he went for a lethal Scapeshift with four mana open (UUUG), but I had Venser. He cast Peer Through Depths twice, then let his Scapeshift get bounced. I was able to Chord of Calling at the end of that turn, get Essence Warden, untap, Eternal Witness back the Chord of Calling, and then Chord for Crypt Champion to get the Saffi I had already drawn back into play. I gained infinite life, but my opponent just nodded at me. Great, he wanted me to kill him. Three Remands and a Cryptic Command later I was finally able to stick the Reveillark part of my combo and I bounced all of his permanents with Venser, but it ate up a lot of time.
He got me in game two, and game three was getting close. He didn’t draw Scapeshift, and I was beating down with Mirror Entity and creatures. He cast Meloku which looked like game over, but he attacked it into a Birds of Paradise while I had four mana open. Mirror Entity was happy to help out. Time was called, and on turn two of time played his sixth Mountain and got double Valakut triggers to kill my Mirror Entity and random creature, leaving me with a Birds of Paradise. I didn’t draw a land on turn three of time to kill him (Makeshift Mannequin on Mirror Entity, activate for four and kill him with Birds) so I set up for the turn five of time kill by playing a Kitchen Finks and setting up for the end of turn [card]Makeshift Mannequin[/card] on Mirror Entity. Unfortunately he drew his second Meloku on turn four of time, which gave him enough blockers to survive my turn five attack – and that was the draw, knocking us both out.
PTQ in eight hours
I think I’m going to play something very similar to this in the PTQ tomorrow, but I’m not sure what changes to make. I feel like I need some kind of a trump card in the maindeck against Thopter/Sword, and that card might be Crovax. I’m just scared that he kills all my Birds of Paradise and then I might actually die to a 20/20. Still, I’m happy with the deck, and I think with tighter and faster play it really has potential. It sucked going straight into the draw bracket from my first round since that meant I didn’t have as high of a chance of facing Zoo, and that’s a matchup I wouldn’t mind seeing. Hopefully that will all fix itself in the PTQ tomorrow. I hear there is some crazy RW landfall deck running around, and I hope Wall of Roots will keep me alive.
Then again, I could always switch back to Dark Depths. I don’t know what to expect out of the PTQ metagame. I guess I can figure it all out in the morning. For now sleep is probably the best thing for me. After a large family-style dinner with too many names to drop (that’s right, I’m cool) my stomach is full and sleepy.
Oh, and before I go, thanks to everybody that has come up to me this weekend and said hi. I got to meet a lot of readers and even a few people taking my advice (like running white in Faeries). Really, it’s great to hear from readers and meet them at tournaments. I’m still coming to grips with being recognizable now, and I’m really hoping I can put up the results this season to justify it. Fingers crossed.
Thanks for reading,
Loucksj at gmail
JonLoucks on Twitter
Zygonn on Magic Online