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Rule of Law – ReVenge of the Vine (GP Dallas, *45th*)

Magic is a difficult game. There is a chance I could have top 8d GP Dallas/Fort Worth if I had played better. If my opponents had played better (and trust me, they had more ground to make up) I wouldn’t have even finished 44th. I actually like Standard right now, and the fact that there is so much play to it is a big reason why.

Standard would be better if Jace, Preordain, and the Titans didn’t exist. However, I don’t think banning anything is warranted. It’s like WotC brought home a dog, realized it was a bad idea, but now is stuck with either putting up with the dog and loving it, or giving it away and being heartbroken. Not getting the dog is no longer an option, just like not printing Jace TMS is no longer an option. Banning a card is just too drastic, and it’s not like playing against Primeval Titan 4 rounds out of 6 is any more fun that playing vs. Jace 4 rounds out of 6.

With that behind us, let’s look at what I sleeved up in Dallas/Fort Worth.

Friends and I started joking that the name of the deck could be Birds vs. Angels since it contains so many of each. It also contains a lot of Planeswalkers at this point. Both Ajani Goldmane and Garruk Wildspeaker performed well for me at the GP. I had to take a leap on both cards since they were last minute ideas (the former Paul Rietzl’s idea, the latter mine). I would keep those cards in the list.

I am starting to think 4 Journey to Nowhere and 1 Oust is better than 2 and 3. Killing Inferno Titan and Primeval Titan is just that important. In fact, I’m again considering splashing Doom Blade since what you REALLY want is something that nukes a Titan, Baneslayer, or Precursor Golem.

Playing two Sword of Body and Mind and zero Sword of Feast and Famine is something I stole from a Brad Nelson article. I thought about it and realized he was right, more pressure is better than untapping lands, and to have a shot against Primeval Titan decks, I’d need to hit them with Body and Mind early and often.

Here’s how the GP played out:

Rounds 1-3: Byes.

Round 4: RUG

I take game 1 as my opponent struggles to locate an Inferno Titan. As bad as I thought the RUG matchup was going into the GP, it wasn’t as bad as I thought. GW is a favorite to win the subset of games in which they don’t draw an Inferno Titan, and as for the other subset of games, a prepared sideboard with Journeys or Doom Blades ought to help. There are also some potential really fast starts involving Ajani Goldmane that can’t really be beaten (more on this in round 2).

Games 2 and 3 I just folded to Inferno Titan one game and Avenger of Zendikar the next. I had an Oust in one of the games and a Mortarpod in the other, waiting for a Lotus Cobra to come out, but my opponent just Explored and stalled and killed me. I journeyed and Gideoned 2 different Inferno Titans in one of the games, but I had no pressure on board so eventually an Avenger took the game.

3-1, but hey, I wouldn’t be playing against RUG every round, right?

Round 5: RUG

When he played Misty Rainforest into Preordain on turn 1, I sunk a little in my chair. Bad luck? Bad deck choice? Well, I couldn’t give up yet, so I just dug deep and hoped for the best.

In game 1 I had a Squadron Hawk and a Vengevine, so I searched up 3 more Hawks and discarded the Vengevine on turn 2. My opponent Explored. I played another Hawk. My opponent Preordained and held up a few mana. I played 2 Hawks, getting back the Vengevine and attacking. My opponent Bolted the Vine and took a couple damage. Precursor Golem emerged on my opponents next turn, but I held a trump card. I cast Ajani Goldmane, made my 4 Hawks attack for 8 (putting the opponent at 8 (fetchlands)) and passed the turn. My opponent drew his card for the turn and conceded the game. Cutting the Bonehoard for Ajani was paying dividends.

For game 2, I sided out some Gideons and mana creatures and angels, and boarded in all my removal, artifact destruction, and Firewalkers. The Firewalkers aren’t great vs. RUG, but they go a long way when you’re trying to apply pressure and not get blown out by Pyroclasm. In game 2 of this match, I think I stuck a Fauna Shaman and rode it to victory, with an opponent whose draw was perhaps a little too late-game oriented.

4-1, back in good spirits.

Round 6: Brian Kibler (Infect)

Playing vs. a friend and top pro is never a good thing, but at least it’s a matchup I like. The infect deck is good at managing one threat, one answer, an eventual second threat, etc., but the deck is fairly easy to swarm and overwhelm, and is very vulnerable to Gideon, which I now maindeck 3 of.

In game 1 I lost the die roll and we both mulliganed, after which I kept:

 

Brian began the game with Inquisition of Kozilek (leaving 4 cards in Brian’s hand), and took away my Cobra. My next 5 drawsteps were lands. I still could have won this game (!) if I drew, say 3 good spells in my next 5 turns. Instead it was a spell or two and another 3 land.

Game 2 was very close, and at one point Brian was at 4 life with 2 Tumble Magnets (1 counter and 2 counters left) and an untapped Inkmoth Nexus and Island. I had Mortarpede (spelled ala Nassif) (unequipped), Vengevine, Stirring Wildwood, and 5 other lands. I animated the Stirring Wildwood and declared my attack. Brian tapped the Vengevine and blocked the Wildwood with the Nexus, leaving 1 counter on each Magnet (which was important as he proliferated many times later in the game). Oops. I should have equipped the Vengevine with the Mortarpod first, so that Brian couldn’t block the Wildwood with the Nexus. This isn’t a major mistake, since he could just tap the Wildwood and block the Vengevine, but I’d rather he shrink my Vine over time than my land.

I also sideboarded in my 2 Journey to Nowhere, which is bad against his deck unless he brings in his Vatmothers to block Vengevines, but I had to make an educated guess. Even if I played and sideboarded optimally, I think I still would have lost. I mention the mistakes to give you a flavor of the play of the games, the complexity of Standard, and the kind of examinations it takes to become good with any particular deck.

Brian eventually cast Volition Reins on my Mortarpod to stay alive with his Magnets and a Phyrexian Crusader held off my team. This matchup is fine, but my draws just didn’t have enough firepower.

4-2. At this point I’ll need to win 3 rounds in a row just to make day 2. Frustration sets in, but a pep talk from Paul gets me back in the right mindset.

Round 7: Boros.

My Boros matches kind of blur together, as they were fairly representative of how the matchup goes. The goal is to survive a while with chump blockers and Mortarpod, then let Vengevines or Baneslayer or Sun Titan or Gideon lock things up. I sideboard many cards against Boros simply because the maindeck is hedged towards anti-caw blade.

I think in this round my opponent had me on the ropes game 1 (I was at 2 life), but a Linvala made sure Spikeshot Elder couldn’t kill me, and then a Baneslayer Angel made sure an attack couldn’t kill me. Game 2 was less exciting as I just rode Firewalker and Vengevine home.

5-2

Round 8: Vampires

This matchup is like playing against Infect but they don’t have Pro Green First Strike Infect creatures or 4x Tumble Magnet. Here you just have to stay high enough to not lose to Highborn, which isn’t that tricky, or after sideboard you can just Journey or Oust the Highborn. Garruk is really good against them, as a 3/3 factory might as well be making Dragon’s since their creatures are so bad. Vengevine and Gideon give them fits, and Squadron Hawk is great too. Hmm, I somehow win 2-0.

6-2

Round 9: win 2-0, no recollection of the round.

Stay with me… Sorry. I know it wasn’t caw-blade, since I never played vs it once in 12 rounds! (the caw-blade matchup is a fine matchups, and while I won’t pretend to know the exact win percentage, I wasn’t hoping to dodge that matchup). I’m sure it was a non-caw blade, non-RUG, non-Ramp deck, probably mono red or Boros.

DAY TWO:

Round 10: Calcano playing RUG.

RUG again, and this time piloted by the lifelink token himself, Christian Calcano. I once again win game 1 using a combination of an aggressive draw and some voodoo magic preventing Calcano from finding an Inferno Titan. That’s 3-0 in RUG game 1s for those keeping score at home.

Calcano takes game 2 in Titanic fashion, so it all comes down to the third game.

Here, my mistake wouldn’t just be a bump in the road toward an inevitable loss, I actually would throw (punt) the match. I started the game on the play with a Birds, then a Kor Firewalker then a pair of Vengevines. Calcano plays his 4th land and plays a Jace. That leaves me with a choice. I can kill the Jace and send him to 8 life, or leave the Jace alive and send him to 4. I was thinking about Tumble Magnet too much and not enough about Precursor Golem. I knew Golem was a possibility, but I thought in terms of “reduce the number of possible ways he can survive” rather than thinking about how the game really would need to play out for him to win from this position.

Once he’s this far behind, he’s going to need the Precursor Golem next turn, period. Once he has it, would I rather he have 8 life and no Jace or 4 life and a Jace? It isn’t that simple since I have a Squadron Hawk in hand to both get back Vengevines and provide a flying clock. However, the correct play is to kill Jace. Jace helps him find that Precursor Golem if he doesn’t already have it, and as the game goes a few more turns if he does have it, Jace could pull him back in it.

I attack Calcano down to 4 leaving Jace alone. He untaps and plays Precursor Golem, and Fateseals me with the Jace. Several turns later, that Jace had Brainstormed, reset Golem, and reset an Inferno Titan, and Calcano barely won. Ugh. I punted.

I also made a couple (ultimately irrelevant) bonehead misplays this third game, like missing two life off Firewalker and forgetting to hit Calcano for 1 with a Hawk one turn. I rarely miss either of these things, but I had been out drinking until 2am the night before with Greg Hatch, Kibler, Owen Turkeydick, and others. If your #1 goal is winning the tournament, don’t do these things. Just a reminder.

7-3

Round 11: Valakut

Great, I started day 1 with RUG + RUG, now I get to start day 2 with RUG (punt) + Valakut. I’m able to steal one of the first two games using a Sword and the other game he *forgets* to put his third land into play AND I have another god draw. All I could think was “lol” when he told me after the game he forgot to play a land. This happened to me in the finals of a PTQ once too. I guess I’m just so intimidating that in a big match some players can’t sort out the “play one if you’ve got one” turn 3 land drop system.

8-3

Round 12: Boros

Typical Boros stuff, except my draw game 1 was pretty sweet. Turn 1 land go (Birds of Paradise left in hand deliberately….wait for it). Turn 2 play Squadron Hawk, get 3 Hawks, discard TWO Vengevines. Turn 3 Birds of Paradise + Hawk = Vengevine triggers and crushed opponent.

9-3

Round 13: Eldrazi Green

This Primeval Titan deck is a little worse vs me than Valakut since there’s no threat of Pyroclasm or Slagstorm and Linvala actually breaks them sometimes. Thankfully, my draws cooperate and I get the literal god draw against him game one (Birds into Cobra + Sword turn 2). Game 2 he goes off and I watch in horror just hoping I get to find out which Eldrazi he’s left in after board.

Game 3 I open with Lotus Cobra and am met with a Battlement. I play a fetchland and cast and equip a Sword of Body and Mind. You know, an average draw on the play. I make a wolf and my opponent flips an Eldrazi and shuffles up. His next play is Wall of Tanglecord. I don’t have one of my Ousts or Journeys (I did board them all in, they’re good vs all the walls and Treespeakers etc) but I do have Ajani Goldmane. Once again Ajani earns his keep by pumping up my guys and getting ready to do the same next turn. Indeed, the following turn my opponent plays a ramp spell while I play a fetch land and a Stoneforge Mystic, which lets me tutor for the second Sword, cast it, and equip the wolf. I activate Ajani and all of a sudden I’ve got 2 SIX power Pro-Green guys swinging in. The wall of Tanglecord has to chump block, and not even a Primeval Titan next turn can save my opponent as I have a Vengevine or Wildwood plus another Ajani activation to attack for lethal.

10-3

Round 14: Goblins

Game 1 is won by Baneslayer Angel on turn 4. Goblins has a few draws that can beat her, but not that many.

Game 2 I cast Vengevine on defense when I had a Linvala in my hand, and before I even passed the turn I thought to myself “Why didn’t I play the Linvala to play around Bolt or Searing Blaze?” He doesn’t have either, but he has Mark of Mutiny for the Vengevine, dealing an extra 1 point of damage compared to the Linvala that should have been cast. I end this game with a Kor Firewalker in play and 1 life point when my opponent casts Arc Trail targeting me for 2. I could have won this game if the top of his deck was non-burn. Another punt. Sigh.

Game 3 he gets a Spikeshot Elder draw that’s just a bit too fast to handle, and the Kor Firewalker doesn’t appear until it’s too late.

10-4, Magic is hard.

Round 15: UB Control

Playing for $200 and a pro point, I’ve come too far to lose and go home empty handed. My opponent is probably thinking the same thing. We play 3 close games of a matchup that runs pretty close overall, and I squeak out the victory, watching my Vengevines get Memoricided but having enough threats to finish off what they started.

11-4, good for 45th place.

So, like I said, I wish I had played better, I was fortunate my opponents didn’t, and I was happy to cash and get a pro point. Given my pairings (certainly above average difficulty) and my misplays, I have to be happy with 45th.

I’m trying to get a Garruk or two and a couple Journeys or Doom Blades maindeck in my latest tinkerings, but I haven’t settled upon anything final. As RUG continues to be popular, continue to adapt. It is possible that going back to Naya instead of GW so you can sideboard Mark of Mutiny is the best decision right now. What I’ve learned (and attempted to teach) about this deck should allow me (or you) to go back to Naya and keep many of the best elements of the GW deck intact.

Focus your energy on beating Jace, not complaining about Jace, if you want to be prepared not just this season, but the next time an annoying card like Jace rolls around.

-Matt Sperling
mtg_law_etc on Twitter

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