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Utter Beatings – PTQ San Jose Report *1st*

 

As every good tournament report seems to start with the trip, and as mine was so enjoyable (by far the best I’ve experienced), that seems like a good place to start.

I walked the three blocks from my house to the PTQ.

So, the list:

Baneslayer 5CC

This is one of the few times I have gamed with a deck in a real tournament without first grinding a ton of matches with it online. Fortunately, I have people for that; LSV slaved away on MODO refining the deck.

Originally Luis had two Mulldrifters over two of the Jaces, but I’m pretty convinced Jace belongs in that slot. Mulldrifter is better than Jace in more matchups, but when Jace is better it is MUCH better, whereas when Mulldrifter is better it is only marginally so. Additionally, in most of the matchups where Mulldrifter is better, I was boarding out that slot regardless, making it all the more irrelevant which card was in it. Jace gives you a huge boost in control mirrors at little cost overall.

The most striking feature of this list is probably running zero sweepers main. Luis had four Fallouts in there, but didn’t think they were entirely necessary, and I agreed, so I fit in the fourth Plumeveil, the Negate, and the two Path in those slots. And that was, well, very wrong, at least for this PTQ, and I boarded in sweepers nearly every single round. I was expecting a field full of mostly Jund/Cascade and 5cc at the top tables, but that’s not what the tournament looked like at all. Elf combo was everywhere, hot off its recent and local 5k win, and all manner of UW decks, from Merfolk to Lark to Baneslayer, had taken over. I get the impression that elves is a local thing, but that the UW influx is indicative of the metagame most everywhere. If I could change what I played, I would have run three Fallout main, cutting a Negate, a Plumeveil, and a Lightning Bolt.

I think the Paths are very good, and coming from me that’s saying quite a bit, as I think Path is a bad card in general. I feel like the deck wants just a touch of removal for the creatures that Bolts and Fallouts and Plumeveils miss, and Path is the only card that can handle all the hard to kill dudes. Burrenton Forge-Tender, Figure of Destiny, Putrid Leech, and Chameleon Colossus are the cards you most want to be able to kill with this slot, and Path is the only card that can handle all of them. The card still sucks coming from a general power level perspective, it just happens to do exactly what you need here.

That brings us to the quad Baneslayer Angel, also known as Sower 2.0. It takes so very much pressure to overwhelm a single Baneslayer Angel that a Baneslayer surviving is just about game over, just as is the case with a Sower sticking. Make no mistake, Baneslayer is a format-defining card, and its impact is just starting to be felt. Until the format adjusts to accomodate Baneslayer (and maybe it will as soon as next weekend, but last weekend it certainly had not), I want to be playing four.

Baneslayer also solves many problems for 5cc. All manner of aggressive strategies, Giantbaiting being the best example, may think they have a good matchup against 5cc, and they may very well beat the other 56 cards in the deck, but they can’t beat Baneslayer. Baneslayer and Cruel are the two pillars of the deck. In every game, your entire game plan is to stick one of these, and if you do not do so quickly in most matchups you are just dead. I was pretty surprised in testing to discover that I was getting grinded out in long games by aggressive decks like Jund and Kithkin when Baneslayer or Cruel didn’t show up. Baneslayer and Cruel aren’t just your most important cards, they are your entire strategy and every other card in the deck exists only to support them.

Esper Charm is the glue that holds the two plans together, and I believe it is the third most important card in the deck. It used to be almost unthinkable to do anything other than draw two with Esper Charm, but Baneslayer costing less than Broodmate and Cruel makes it much less important to keep digging into land drops. In this list, Esper Charm is probably more important as a discard spell used to set up Baneslayer. Throughout testing and the PTQ, I cast Esper Charm discarding far more than drawing.

Of particular note is that over the course of the PTQ, I played against combo elves three times (though one was the mono-Green version packed with lords and light on Regal Forces), and didn’t lose a single game, despite running zero sweepers main. Esper Charm deserves all the credit for that; it is by far the best card in the 75 in the matchup. (To be fair, in testing against more Charm-aware opponents, Esper Charm was significantly worse and game one against combo elves seemed pretty unfavorable, but I don’t think you can expect many PTQ elf players to be good about playing around Esper Charm, especially since they probably aren’t used to facing it as a discard spell).

A quick sideboard guide, although bear in mind that sideboarding should never be set in stone:

vs 5-CC
-4 Plumeveil
-2 Path to Exile
-3 Lightning Bolt
+3 Negate
+4 Glen Elendra Archmage
+2 Runed Halo

vs Fae
-2 Ajani Vengeant
-3 Lightning Bolt
-1 Negate
-1 Cruel Ultimatum
-1 Baneslayer Angel
+4 Volcanic Fallout
+4 Glen Elendra Archmage

vs Jund
-3 Jace Beleren
-1 Broken Ambitions
+2 Runed Halo
+2 Firespout

vs Elfball
-3 Jace Beleren
-1 Cruel Ultimatum
-1 Baneslayer Angel
-1 Plumeveil
+4 Volcanic Fallout
+2 Firespout

vs Blightning
-3 Jace Beleren
-1 Negate
+2 Runed Halo
+2 Glen Elendra Archmage

vs Kithkin
-3 Jace Beleren
-2 Ajani Vengeant
-1 Negate
+4 Volcanic Fallout
+2 Firespout

On that note, let’s get right into the Mind Rotting and Baneslaying:

Round 1 – Goblins

Baneslayer took down the first game just about single-handedly. The second game was mostly the same, with me having little more than an Angel going on. However, this game my opponent had an Everlasting Torment that basically blanked my Angel as Goblin Outlanders finished me off. In the third game I kept up with his plays right up through turn seven. Cruel left him with no board and no cards in hand, and the game ended soon after.

1-0

Round 2 – Giantbaiting

The first game started out just as the matchup is “supposed” to go, with me being pretty punished for durdling around with Vivid lands; by my fifth turn I was down to two life staring down two lethal attackers. Of course, then I played a Baneslayer Angel and my opponent was cold. Game two was a non-game, as my opponent mulled to five and I Firespouted away double Bramblewood Paragon on turn three. Esper Charm then stripped away a couple of Snakeforms, and Baneslayer quickly cleaned up.

2-0

Round 3 – The one and only David Ochoa playing the 70ish card mirror

Game one went long and I had Jace active for many turns, letting me sculpt just about the perfect hand while Web was holding rags. Lost that one, wasn’t close; Web is such a master.

That, and I am terrible. I eventually made my move with end of turn double Esper Charm in discard mode, which Web allowed, discarding four psuedo-blanks down to two cards in hand. I untapped into Cruel with eight mana up and Negate and Cryptic in hand. Web’s last two cards were both Broken Ambitions, and he cast the first for five. I paid, and he cast the second for four, with two mana still up so that I couldn’t Broken back. Negate forced the Cruel through, leaving me with seven cards in hand, including a second Cruel and the Cryptic Command, as well as a Jace in play, to Web’s empty hand and board. But all was not lost for Web – his resolved Ambitions had revealed a Cruel on the top of his deck. (The Cruel was the last in his deck, and had even been clashed to the bottom early in the game, only to resurface thanks to me Pathing a Baneslayer at some point). So Web got to Cruel me, and I kept Cruel, Cryptic, Baneslayer, and Jace in hand pitching Path, Ambitions, and Plumeveil. On my turn I cast Cruel with Cryptic backup, and he had double Cryptic. How lucky!

Wait a second. I discarded a Broken Ambitions to his Cruel?! That I could have used to counter his second Cryptic… That I kept a redundant Jace and useless Baneslayer over… Yeah…

Justice prevailed, and that sequence left Web far ahead. All those turns of drawing cards with Jace caught up to me, and I decked first.

Game Two was far quicker. I resolved a turn four Archmage on the play, but it was met with end of turn discard two, untap discard two. This knocked me down to just a Cryptic in hand and four lands and the Archmage in play. The Archmage may have been good for an extra card, but the double Esper Charm had left me a card behind, and that was really all that was needed. Archmage in play is normally worth far more than an extra card due to the mana advantage it provides, but leaving me with so little resources made the mana advantage pretty unimportant, as I wasn’t able to leverage it for anything. Had Web just drawn two with the Charms, I would have been in good shape this game. Before long he forced an Archmage of his own through my Cryptic, Archmage, and six lands by using a second counterspell on my Cryptic with the Archmage’s Persist trigger on the stack. Baneslayer killed me soon after.

2-1

Round 4 – RDW splash Bloodbraid

Game one my opponent curved out on the play, I failed to keep up, and did not have a turn five Angel. Game two I untapped on turn six with Angel in play. Game three I more or less kept up with him and on turn seven at 11 life Crueled him down to no board and no cards in hand.

3-1

Round 5 – Kithkin

I was able to keep him off of his double Windbrisk Heights in game one, as he never drew a Spectral Procession and I got to Cryptic his one Cloudgoat Ranger. He did stick a Ranger of Eos fetching two Figures, but I had Path for both. Despite untapping with Baneslayer in play, the game ended up being very close. At that point he had a Goldmeadow Stalwart, Wilt-Leaf Liege, and Honor of the Pure in play, with him at 20 and me at 15. As it stood, I was just barely one turn ahead in a race. I wouldn’t willingly choose to race Kithkin here, and would prefer to sit back on a stalled board, but just about anything, from an Anthem effect, to a Harm’s Way, to a Rustic Clachan, would really punish me for not attacking. He also had a couple of cards in hand, and had not had an opportunity to cast Harm’s Way all game, so I figured that was pretty likely. The race was on. I drew a Plumeveil on my next turn, and two attacks from me left him at 10 and me at 16. At the end of my turn he used a Clachan on his Stalwart, and then on his turn played a second Liege and attacked me down to 3. So much for winning that race.

Cruel Ultimatum off the top? So much for losing that race! My opponent cast triple Harm’s Way in response to the Cruel, so I couldn’t get in with Baneslayer and had to pass the turn. Two 7/7 Lieges charged into my Plumeveil and Baneslayer. I didn’t hit enough gas off the Cruel (as in, another Cruel) to be able to double chump to play around Harm’s Way or Clachan, so I double blocked one, trading Baneslayer for it, and dropping to 1. The Baneslayer I played the next turn was good enough to end it.

In the second game Baneslayer showed up right after a Fallout swept his board, and this time it went unopposed.

4-1

Round 6 – Blightning

We were deck checked, and my opponent got a game loss for running 5 Graven Cairns and 3 Auntie’s Hovel. Running good!

Game “two” he had the kind of draw I didn’t realize was beatable. Turn one Figure got in for two before being Bolted, but turn three Ram-Gang stuck. On his fourth turn my opponent got in with Ram-Gang and a Hellspark Elemental, dropping me to 9. End of turn I cast Esper Charm, choosing the seldom used “Gain seven life” mode (my opponent discarded Lightning Bolt and Flame Javelin). I passed the turn back with Cryptic up, and took a hit from Ram-Gang down to six. He cast Blightning post-combat, which I countered and bounced Ram-Gang. I untapped into Esper Charm, making him pitch the Ram-Gang and the last card in his hand, an Anathemancer. He drew a land, unearthed Hellspark, and attacked me to 3. On my turn I played the Ajani I drew the previous turn to Helix up to 6. He drew a Blightning, but on my next turn I played Baneslayer, giving him one last turn to peel. He flipped a land, and then even the Anathemancer he had the following turn was not enough.

Have I mentioned how good Esper Charm as Mind Rot is yet?

5-1

Round 7 – 4C Cascade

My opponent was running the full cascade chain, from Captured Sunlight up through Enlisted Wurm, with I believe only Anathemancer, Kitchen Finks, and Maelstrom Pulse as the cheap cascade hits game one (and post-board against 5cc he had only Anathemancer, Blightning, and Pulse). In game one Plumeveil halted any profitable attacks and I stuck a Baneslayer while he did little but gain life from Captured Sunlights and Kitchen Finks. Baneslayer was giving him the business, and I had a Cruel and lands in hand. I had no reason to Cruel immediately, as I was under no pressure to play any other spells as long as I had Angel out, and he had no way to stop the Cruel. Waiting would let me get more value out of the Cruel, as I could strip more important cards from his hand and I didn’t yet have a dead Baneslayer to get back. So I sat on the Cruel until he finally hit a Pulse.

Cruel hit another Cruel, and again with nothing else but lands in hand I sandbagged the Cruel until the Angel died. The second Cruel drew into two Angels plus the one I got back, and I had enough mana to play one Angel that same turn. My opponent drew an Enlisted Wurm into Primal Command for another Wurm on his turn. After I attacked, he was at 19 (despite me having dealt 25 damage) and I was at 37, but he had two Anathemancers in his yard that were threatening twelve damage each. If I didn’t run out the second Baneslayer, I was actually in a position where I was going to have to keep Angel back on defense. Rather than sit in a stalemate when I was ahead, I decided to run the second Baneslayer out there, despite the decent chance of his Enlisted Wurm cascading into Pulse. If he did hit it, we would end up in the exact same position, albeit with one less Angel in my hand.

What I should have done is let him cast the Wurm first, and then on my next turn go ahead and play Baneslayer number two. This would have reduced my clock by a turn, but giving him one less cascade at the Pulse would have been worth it. His Wurm whiffed, hitting Sunlight into Finks. On his next turn he slammed the top of his deck face up, which proved to be rather awkward when he revealed a Hallowed Burial. Plumeveil jumped in front of an Enlisted Wurm rather than blocking Finks as a result. I played the third Baneslayer, and by the time it died I was sitting on the third Cruel to get it back. That one went all the way.

At the end of the game, my hand was six lands and a Cryptic Command that was freshly drawn off the final Cruel. The entire game my opponent thought he was drawing dead, but the game was actually very close despite me resolving all three Cruels. Had I not waited on each Cruel to get back Baneslayer, I would have lost.

Game two he opened with double Blightning, both of which resolved. I had a turn four Archmage, and the next turn he Bloodbraided into Anathemancer. I punted hard not blocking the Bloodbraid with Archmage, giving up a free Lightning Bolt. I had a Plumeveil in hand and was loathe to get so little value out of Archmage, but I still had to trade the Archmage away the following turn. That three damage made his Anathemancer unearth lethal shortly thereafter.

The deciding game wasn’t close. Under no pressure, I stuck a Jace, an Archmage, a Halo on Anathemancer, and before long, a Baneslayer.

6-1

Round 8 – Elf combo

Half of the 6-1’s got to draw in, but we had to battle. Game one my opponent had several elves and lots of lands, but I just hid behind a Plumeveil playing draw-go. I made a big mistake when he fired off a Primal Command, choosing to Cryptic it rather than Negate it. I was looking for lands to cast Cruel, but I was under no pressure to Cruel quickly; I left myself exposed to Regal Force for basically no reason. My opponent did have the Regal Force, but refused to cast it into my open mana, so we just sat there until I hit the seventh land to Cruel his hand away. He failed to recover.

Game two was a slaughter, with an Esper Charm sweeping his hand and a Firespout sweeping his board.

7-1

Quarterfinals – Mono green elf aggro/combo

My opponent was running the mono green elf deck that has been floating around, mostly aggressive but with (presumably) four Primal Command and two Regal Force, in addition to the Heritage Druid and Nettle Sentinel engine. I was pretty worried about his Wilt-Leaf Lieges, as they meant I could not rely on using Esper Charm to stop the Primals and Regals, but other than that I was pretty happy he had a bunch of dorks that were cold to Baneslayer rather than combo enablers like Ranger of Eos and Devoted Druid.

In game one Plumeveil traded with Vanquisher, then a second Plumeveil munched on a Nettle and held off a Heritage Druid and Llanowar Elf. My opponent cast Primal Command into Broken Ambitions on turn five, and kept a Nettle on top from the clash. Keeping Nettle only made sense if his last card in hand was either Primal Command or Regal Force, so I was pretty confident that my draw step Esper Charm the next turn wasn’t going to backfire. The last card was in fact Regal Force, and Baneslayer played cleanup.

Next game I was stuck on three lands for a few turns, with a Thorn of Amethyst in play, but Plumeveil completely halted his offense. It wasn’t long before I drew the fourth land to Fallout his board away, and the fifth land for Baneslayer Angel.

8-1

Semifinals – Elf combo

Game one my opponent played around my Plumeveil, but it still got him pretty good when I played it turn three and Ajani turn four. Ajani shot down Elvish Archdruid, and my opponent suicided one of his two remaining elves into Plumeveil to finish off Ajani. That was enough to keep him from exploding early, and we settled into draw-go with Plumeveil holding the fort. He had a few random elves in play, and played out a Thousand-Year Elixir. I countered a Primal Command with Broken, revealing a second Primal on top for him that I had no counterspell for. What I did have was double Esper Charm, knocking out his four card hand in his draw step.

I couldn’t help but find humor in the Thousand-Year Elixir sitting on the table – it was strictly worse than a blank this game. It never once did anything in play, and were it actually a complete blank it would have been in my opponent’s hand. I wouldn’t have been able to get the second Primal Command with Esper Charm, and that Primal for Regal Force almost certainly would have been lethal. Instead, Thousand-Year Elixir let me Charm him down to nothing, and Baneslayer finished him quickly.

A single Plumeveil got to “ambush” three creatures in game two. First it was flashed in to gobble an attacker. After sitting in play for a number of turns, my opponent had several elves and just resolved an Archdruid. He sent the team into the Plumeveil, only to have the Archdruid Bolted, resulting in a creature sacrificed to shock me. The same play happened a couple of turns later, and finally my opponent seemed to accept Plumeveil as Moat. We passed back and forth for a long time, my hand stacked with counters and sweepers. I was discarding quality like Baneslayer, as I just had no reason to tap low enough for him to potentially resolve a Regal Force (backed by Guttural Responses).

When I shipped a Fallout to the bottom off of a Broken Ambitions clash, my opponent had to know the game was over. Once I was near Banefire range (not that I thought my opponent was playing it, but I couldn’t figure out how else I could lose the game), I Crueled his hand away and still had Cryptic and Negate mana up.

9-1

Finals – GB Rock

Game one my opponent Duressed me down to a couple of Lightning Bolts while he beat down with Finks. I drew into a Baneslayer, and was pretty terrified when my opponent cast a Primal Command, as I had nothing but the Angel in play and two Bolts in hand. Fortunately, he didn’t have a Shriekmaw maindeck, and the best target he could come up with given the Bolts I was sitting on was another Finks. He never drew a Pulse, and I’m not even sure if I cast a spell other than Angel all game.

Game two double Duress take two Cryptic Commands, leaving me with a Firespout and double Baneslayer. On my fifth turn my opponent had a minty Hypnotic Specter that I Firespouted away rather than get greedy with a Baneslayer. He had another Specter the next turn, and I had no choice but to play Baneslayer. It was killed and Specter connected, but my second Baneslayer stuck. I drew a Bolt for the Specter, leaving his board empty facing my Angel, with both of us playing off the top. I had a Broken Ambitions for his Primal Command, revealing a Doom Blade on top for him and a land for me. Obviously he kept and I shipped it, and I hit a Negate for the Doom Blade.

I whiffed on my next draw and attacked him down to 5, but he drew a Shriekmaw for the Angel. The Shriekmaw, a Chameleon Colossus, and a Master of the Wild Hunt started taking huge chunks out of my life total, as I drew blanks for two turns. I then drew another Angel, but it was trumped by a topdecked Primal, killing the Angel with Shriekmaw and ensuring I didn’t see another live draw step.

In the final game, Jace and Cryptic went down to Duress and Thoughtseize, leaving me with Cruel, Path, and lands. He had three lands in play, plus two Birds, and a Chameleon Colossus. I drew a Fallout, and decided against using it to kill the two Birds, which was a mistake. My reasoning was that the game was going to go long and he would eventually draw into mana for his spells, especially since I was going to have to Path his Colossus. Though true, he had pretty profitable uses for extra mana between Chameleon Colossus, Mind Shatter, and Primal Command, and having the mana earlier was obviously valuable. If getting more value out of the Fallout was realistic, waiting might have been fine, but the only other things Fallout could kill were Hypnotic Specter and one Acidic Slime, and any Specters would have had to come off the top.

After I Pathed Colossus that turn, he Mind Shattered me for my three remaining cards, the Fallout, Cruel, and land number six, so I ended up having to Fallout the Birds away anyway. I would have been far better off had I used the Fallout earlier. He had a second Chameleon Colossus on his next turn, but I ripped a Baneslayer. I also Esper Charmed into a Cryptic Command, essentially locking up the game. I sat on the Cryptic as he pumped Colossus for two turns futiley trying to race the Baneslayer. Three Angel swings and a Fallout later, and the tournament was over!

10-1

(Apparently even winning a PTQ wasn’t enough to convince Josh to write a conclusion, so here I am, as usual! – LSV, who watched enough of the PTQ to get a good sense of things)

Apparently, even running zero Volcanic Fallouts is enough to beat Elves three times in a row, at least when you are running good (and to be fair, purposely sandbagging Esper Charms to get their hand does increase the odds of that). I managed to dodge Faeries all that, which is pretty nice too, but that was to be expected based on the metagame around here. I would recommend this deck, which may sound obvious, seeing as I just won the tournament, but I would hope that I could avoid being results-based if this deck was in fact bad. You definitely want to add three (minimum) Fallouts main, probably cutting 1 Lightning Bolt, 1 Negate, and 1 Plumeveil (Josh actually endorses this, so don’t worry that this is just me making things up – LSV). Baneslayer Angel was certainly insane for me, but if people start catching on it could drop in utility rather fast. I know I wouldn’t like to face down a room full of Shriekmaws and Doom Blades if that becomes the norm.

Until then, I would say to keep Slaying!

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