If you had asked me yesterday my least favorite thing in Magic, I would have told you Loxodon Warhammer (aka Behemoth Sledge) in limited. Uncommon? Really? R&D hasn’t messed up a sealed format with a single card this badly since printing Sprout Swarm at common! But not today. No, today my least favorite thing in Magic is Loxodon Warhammer in constructed.
But first things first. I played the following to 9-0 in the swiss of the first Magic Online Championship Series event:
For more on the deck, make sure you check out Luis’ article from yesterday. To reiterate, Knight of Meadowgrain is terrible and I have no idea why we were ever playing that card, and Murderous Redcap is insane against everything. The swap may not seem like a big deal, but it really does make the deck so much more resilient and powerful. No longer is this a glorified (and [card Ajani Goldmane]Ajanified[/card]!) Kithkin deck.
This list differs little from Luis’ build, dropping one Thoughtseize main to run the full four Terrors. The sideboard numbers are a little different, but the plans are the same. I shaved a couple of the expensive spells to make room for the Thoughtseizes, and I like Head Games over Scepter of Fugue against 5cc. Unlike Faeries, this deck does not have inevitability over 5cc if it has an active Scepter, so Sceptering them at the expense of adding pressure is not really what you want to be doing. When you already have a clock on them, then Scepter gives you something very profitable to do without over-committing, which is awesome. In my experience, though, when you have pressure on them you usually can find an opportunity to resolve Head Games, and it puts away games that are out of Scepter’s reach.
I’m not sure how Luis conned me into running Thoughtseize main again (gotcha! – LSV), but that was a poor choice. In cutting two drops for four drops, I thought Thoughtseize made more sense to patch up the curve, but that isn’t really the case. The curve is good enough to keep your mana busy even with something more expensive in that slot, and it is still awkward finding time to play Thoughtseize. If Arcane Sanctum were a real dual then Thoughtseize might possibly be justifiable, but as is I can’t get on board. I would swap the two Thoughtseizes main for a Cloudgoat Ranger and a Mutavault, and drop the sideboard Mutavault to have three Thoughtseize in the board.
Note that even though you sideboard Sculler out in most matchups, it is good in game ones against the field. It’s just that the widespread addition of sweeper effects post-board, from both you and your opponents, makes Sculler much worse in sideboarded games. Your plan is to be able to ignore, or at least be very resistant to, sweepers, and Sculler is an unfortunate casualty of that plan.
Time to see the deck in action!
Round 1 – RW Lark
This round was over quickly, as I just curved out on him in two fast games and his deck did little. He was playing maindeck Wrath and Fallout, but they just didn’t matter. I was able to play a spell every turn and still never present better than a one for one for the sweepers, and was always ahead on the board post-sweeper thanks to Bitterblossom, Anthems, Mutavault, and persist.
-3 Tidehollow Sculler
+1 Ajani Goldmane
+1 Elspeth, Knight-Errant (only bring this in if they are sweeper-heavy; in the dark expect Wraths and Fallouts post-board and bring it in)
+2 Puppeteer Clique
The Wrath plan is not very effective against Figure of Destiny, Ranger of Eos, and Reveillark. Your plan of beating the crap out of them with dudes and Anthems, however, is very effective, so there is no reason to deviate from that plan. You are a much more efficient deck; racing is a losing proposition for them. They are forced to try to play control with sweepers, but your sideboard plan does a very good job of invalidating them.
Round 2 – RDW
Game one he has a solid curve of Figure and double Boggart Ram-Gang, while I have a Bitterblossom on the draw. I’m one step behind all game, and get burned out just as Cloudgoat was about to turn the game around.
-4 Tidehollow Sculler
+1 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
+1 Ajani Goldmane
+1 Puppeteer Clique (the second one comes in against Demigod and/or Shambling Remains versions)
+2 Path to Exile
Sculler has little effect on the board and is vulnerable to their sweepers; it is worse than Castigate against them, and Castigate would be pretty terrible. Unless they are extremely burn-heavy, Bitterblossom is quite solid. The blockers can save you a ton of damage, it ensures constant board presence through sweepers, and it can kill them quickly.
Games two and three are unremarkable. I have good curves that keep him from getting much damage through, and am able to finish before getting close to burn range. Murderous Redcap killing Goblin Outlander is pretty unfair.
Round 3 – RDW
My 35/35 gets there (And I guess that’s that then – LSV)
Round 4 – RW Lark
Game one my turn two Sculler on the play sees Battlefield Forge, Mind Stone, Volcanic Fallout, double Ranger of Eos, Reveillark, Balefire Liege with a Windbrisk in play on their side. I take the Mind Stone, have Anthem turn three to turn off Fallout, and have Finks the following turn. He has a Battlefield Forge and Mind Stone for his third turn, and on turn four has Fanatic with Fallout up. I make the trade of Sculler and half a Finks for Fanatic, Fallout, and a good chunk of damage, and the follow up Procession ends the game.
Round 5 – Turbo Grind
You cut your most expensive spells, as you want your curve to be as low as possible. Mutavault is great for dodging Cryptic to get those last few points in, and it is critical that you don’t miss land drops. The way games play out is they take hits as low as possible and then string fogs in the form of Cryptic Command and Evacuation long enough for them to kill you. This makes Redcap pretty insane, as it gives you a fair amount of reach once they have the combat phase locked down. Thoughtseize and Sculler are your best cards in the matchup, as their deck is godawful if you can keep them off of a Howling Mine or a Jace.
Game two he sticks a Jace, and though I have a ton of pressure I am torn between going after Jace or my opponent. The problem with killing Jace is that you turn all of their other Jaces from blanks to insane, and if they have multiple Jace and you try to go after them you are never going to make any forward progress. For this reason, I think you normally want to attack Jace just enough to stop his ultimate unless you know they don’t have another from Sculler or Thoughtseize.
I definitely punted this game with my attack choices, though, as my opponent killed me with Jace’s ultimate when he was at one life. I chose to attack him down to one, rather then send anything at his Jace on six, so that my Mutavault could go lethal through Cryptic (I was holding Terror, so if he tapped my team and bounced Mutavault to survive I could Terror my Mutavault to counter the Cryptic), and to make a topdecked Redcap lethal. He ended up having double Evacuation, though, and Mutavault can’t work around that fog. I had to attack almost perfectly incorrectly to lose that one. One more hit at my opponent would not have worked out, as Jace’s ultimate would have just ended me a turn sooner, but one more attack sent at Jace at any point that game likely would have done it. I also could have dedicated my attacks to Jace and killed him quickly, which would have worked out much better for me this game.
Game three I open with Bitterblossom and double Thoughtseize (and even get to turn one Thoughtseize), basically the nuts in this matchup, but he peels a Howling Mine to stay in the game. At one point I allow him to Twincast (which I had seen from the Thoughtseizes) a Spectral Procession rather than play something else, as my Anthem the next turn makes his tokens fairly irrelevant. Eventually, the board at the start of my first main phase is my Bitterblossom, fresh faerie token, Glorious Anthem, Mutavault, Caves of Koilos, Reflecting Pool, and double Windbrisk Heights (both already used), to his six Islands plus Shelldock Isle and three life. I still have 39 cards left in my library, but he has a full hand thanks to Howling Mine. The relevant cards in my hand are Sculler, double Redcap, Head Games, Mutavault, and Fetid Heath. Note that I hadn’t seen a Broken Ambitions from him all match, so I assumed he was not playing any. Assuming he has Cryptic (which he has to have to have any hope) and plays correctly (and as Evacuation bounced a Redcap, he almost certainly will), I have no way of killing him this turn. I can send Mutavault, which would force Cryptic tapping Mutavault and bouncing Anthem, and let me Redcap leaving him super dead next turn, but if he has Plumeveil then I get wrecked doing this. I go with the safer play of Sculler, which if he has to counter leaves me in the same position that sending Mutavault would have (albeit down a Sculler in hand), but gives him less relevant cards. The risk is that he may have something like double Cryptic which will allow him to let the Sculler resolve, but I’m still in fine position if this is the case. He does Cryptic the Sculler, bouncing Anthem, but that leaves him facing Redcap, Bitterblossom token, Mutavault, and another Redcap in hand with him at one life. He has no way to survive that, and attempts to mill me out with double Sanity Grinding into a third from the Shelldock Isle, and comes up short (Is this unlucky or lucky? – LSV, who doesn’t know the expected average amount of cards milled per Grinding).
It is worth noting that this game ended with me at six life. Against a deck with zero creatures that attack. When I played only a single Bitterblossom. I had Finks in hand, and could have played Fetid Heath earlier instead of Mutavaults, so it’s not like I was in danger of actually going to zero, but that sure is a lot of damage this deck can do to itself. Caves of Koilos accounted for a good chunk of the damage, as I had to take a pain off of it pretty much every turn, but this game makes for a pretty good reminder of why I don’t like Thoughtseize main in this deck. Just imagine how costly the four extra damage I gave up from two Thoughtseizes would have been against a deck that actually could attack me.
Round 6 – RW Lark
This match is rather unexciting. Game one he gets stuck on four lands with multiple five drops in hand, and Ajani crushes him. In game two I have a reasonable draw but come out a little slow and find myself on the defensive, a very bad place to be in the matchup. He overwhelms me with Siege-Gang, Balefire Liege, and Reveillark. We both mulligan to six in game three, and I curve out perfectly while he is stuck on two lands.
Round 7 – WB Tokens
The board stalls out in game one, with him having more guys and a Bitterblossom but I’m ahead on Anthems two to one. From empty hands, he draws Marsh Flitter and I draw Procession and Cloudgoat Ranger, and Anthem advantage takes it down.
This sideboard plan solidifies you as the control deck in the mirror. Wraths and Redcaps make Scullers and Knights look pretty silly. Racing does not really happen much in the mirror, so life totals are less important here than in other matchups. Usually whoever has better board position will be able to kill without risk of taking hits back. Thoughtseize is pretty solid in the matchup as a result, and the disruption is much more effective against in the mirror than it is against other decks like RW Lark. You can afford to take a ton of hits early on as you wait for your more powerful spells to take over.
Game two he mulligans and only casts a Knight of Meadowgrain and Ajani.
Round 8 – WG Tokens
Game one I keep double Fetid Heath plus the nuts on the play. I agonize over the keep, but the hand basically can’t lose if it hits a colored land by turn three, so in the end I like my chances with it better than six cards, even if I am not a favorite to win the game. The decision might be wrong, but it is certainly very close. I miss and am crushed quickly.
Game two he has a Figure and Wrath and little else. A couple of Bitterblossom tokens assisted by Anthem trade with Figure, and the Wrath trades with a Procession and one faerie. Cloudgoat cleans up from there.
He has another lackluster draw game three, and can’t compete with some tokens and Ajani.
Round 9 – Faeries
This is one matchup where the Knights were pretty good, but not having them mostly blanks their Terrors and makes their sideboard Infests much worse. Redcap is a little clunky, but can lead to some pretty big blowouts, especially when they don’t know about it (cue foreshadowing).
Game two he leads with Bitterblossom and me with Finks. He plays Secluded Glen revealing Scion of Oona, and tries to ambush Finks with Plumeveil. This is pretty fortunate for me, as I have the Terror and a topdecked Sculler. Sculler reveals Scion, Infest, and double Cryptic, taking Infest. He passes back with Cryptic mana ready and two tokens, both untapped. I send the team, and he double blocks Sculler as expected. I assign one point to each token, and he takes the bait and runs out the Scion. Murderous Redcap kills the Scion, and just like that the board is my Finks and Redcap to his Bitterblossom with him at 10. He gets Infest back, and has double Cryptic still, but those no longer matter at all. He Infests to slap a -1/-1 counter on each of my creatures, and I untap into Ajani for the complete blowout.
If he doesn’t run out the combat Scion, I probably lose this game rather than having it be a blowout in my favor. To be fair, he couldn’t possibly know to play around Murderous Redcap, and given the information he did have his play was probably correct. It is just pretty insane how much of a game-changer his Scion timing was.
The third game is anticlimactic, as he mulligans to six and misses his third land twice.
Quarterfinals – GB Elves
At the end of his third turn game one, my opponent’s board is Llanowar Elves, Chameleon Colossus, Treetop Village, Mutavault, Forest, and mine is two lands Bitterblossom. Not looking good. He plays Loxodon Warhammer the next turn, and I have no outs to the trampling Colossus.
Game two ends up going very long, with both of us having slow but powerful openers. He has a couple of Noble Hierarchs, double Mutavault, double Treetop Village, and double Loxodon Warhammer. Murderous Redcap gets pretty insane value, munching two creatures and leaving behind a persisted body. At one point my opponent plays a Gilt-Leaf Palace revealing Llanowar Elves, and passes the turn with five untapped lands and a Hierarch. I had the persisted Redcap, Mutavault, and Anthem in play at this point, and a Spectral Procession and Path to Exile, among other spells, in hand. I obviously don’t attack and don’t play Procession, and Path his Cloudthresher after he double equips and bashes. My opponent got such terrible value out of the Cloudthresher and would have been much better served waiting on it. He is in no hurry to kill me quickly, as double Warhammer gives him pretty insane late game, and he still has plenty to do with his mana, bashing me with double equipped dorks. This game he certainly would have gotten my Procession had he waited and made the Cloudthresher less transparent. He risks giving me more draw steps to find removal, but even then my mana is limited and he can probably catch me tapped out, and getting a hit in with Cloudthresher would be game.
I whittle down his creatures with my Anthem-enhanced army, but once I am down to one life I have to start throwing tons of extra bodies in front of his guys to soak up trample damage. My card advantage slowly starts to overtake the advantage granted by the Warhammers, and I start to take over with persisters, Ajani, Elspeth, and double Anthem. I eventually grind through all of his creatures, and have Wrath in hand with Elspeth at something absurd like 12 ready to go ultimate if I want to Wrath. He is on a two turn clock when he finally draws a lethal Hurricane.
It’s pretty rough going from the high of 9-0ing the swiss to suddenly being out of the tournament, with the equivalent of nothing to show for it. I couldn’t think of a better way to drown my sorrows than to… write a tournament report dwelling on their source.