I have been going around and around with decks. I hope to play in another IQ in Denver at the end of the month, and at first I was very concerned about the M14 set rotating in. I worried that Doom Blade would be too much for Naya Zoo to handle, or that other archetypes would just crowd Naya out. Plenty of pros have written about Naya midrange decks, but they haven’t been putting up really great finishes at top tournaments (with a few exceptions, like GP Guadalajara).
I also didn’t do very well at last week’s FNM with the Naya deck. Going 3-2 at the IQ tournament seemed good, but the same record at our FNM just seems weak and disappointing. I was looking for a different deck.
I have almost all the cards I’d need to make The Aristocrats, Act II deck. All I need are a creature or two and a set of Isolated Chapel. But a lot of the power of that deck comes from understanding all the different interactions that you can create between the cards. It’s the opposite of the Naya beats deck, in that many of the individual cards are unremarkable, but the way they work together is very powerful.
Another option that I have been looking into would be a zombie deck of some kind, most likely B/W or Junk. Zombies are pretty straightforward to play and are getting some help in the M14 set, mostly in the form of Lifebane Zombie. It didn’t seem unreasonable to think about playing zombies in an upcoming tournament.
As kind of a halfway point, I re-created a deck similar to the B/G zombies deck I was playing at the start of Return to Ravnica. Here’s the list:
plus Overgrown Tomb, Woodland Cemetery, and Swamps.
I played against Other Steve at the Yellow King tonight, him playing my Naya deck, me playing the zombies. Zombies won our test match, 2-1. So again, I’m not feeling great about the Naya deck’s chances.
But really, it’s the deck I have been playing in one variation or another for weeks and weeks. Switching now would be fine for FNM, but if I’m going to go up to Denver and try and do well in a larger tournament, I think I have to stick with what I know, and I know zoo.
I wasn’t sure what to expect at J&J Pac & Ship. People at the Yellow King had joked about it being a Mailboxes Etc. with one box of Magic cards for sale, or about playing Magic in a garage. In reality, it’s a place where the gamers think it’s kind of weird to have to work around a row of UHaul dollies, and the customers there for shipping services or picking up a rental truck must wonder what all these nerds are doing here, and just why is there a big Warhammer display in the middle of everything?
Here is the round-by-round breakdown.
Round 1 vs. Aristocrats.
My opponent had come down from Denver for the tournament, which I think is enough to indicate that he’s a pretty serious competitor. He mulliganed to five on our first game and still made a good close game of it.
I think it was game two where I played a Thundermaw Hellkite and passed the turn before saying “oh crap, haste! Uh, can I just take that…oh no, I guess not.” He won game two and I went on a bit of an insecure tilt, feeling a bit paralyzed to make decisions, then rushing into poorly thought-out moves. Even at the very end of the game I neglected to tick up my Domri Rade to see if I could get a blocker that would have at least bought another turn; I think I’d gotten confused between the +1 and =2 abilities.
So it wasn’t a stellar start. But I found out that the other three guys at the tournament from Yellow King had also lost. I tried to stiffen my resolve to play slower and tighter in the following rounds.
Lost 1-2. Overall 0-1.
Round 2 vs. Gruul Aggro
This round was an exaggerated reversal of the previous round, where my opponent seemed much less experienced than I was, and where he kept missing triggers. He was a pleasant guy who reminded me of a shy (not psycho) Crispin Glover. I reminded him several times that he gained life from Huntmaster triggers and so on. He got a bit color screwed the first game, and I pretty much just ran over him the second game.
Win 2-0. Overall 1-1.
Round 3 vs. Red Deck Wins
This opponent was reasonably close to my age–he had three kids with him, anyway. He was playing an RDW variant with Hellrider, Ash Zealot, Vexing Devil, and so on, but also with Archwing Dragon. I sided in Unflinching Courage and drove myself nuts in forgetting the lifelink trigger. I lost game two, partly because of those forgotten lifelines, but rallied in game three where the lifeline helped me seal the win. As Kibler’s videos showed, Unflinching Courage is just a beating against red–at least when I remember the lifeline.
Win 2-1. Overall 2-1.
Round 4 vs. Junk Reanimator
This round brought my most publicly embarrassing mistake, and in some ways, my most costly mistake. We shuffled up for game one, drew, played, and on my first or second draw step I saw that I had a Boros Charm in hand, meaning that I hadn’t de-sideboarded. I immediately called a judge and had to explain to him in front of all the top-table guys how I’d screwed up. The judge gave me a game loss (which is what I expected). I’m happy that I managed to shed that tilting feeling while shuffling for game two, which I won (think my opponent might have been mana- or color screwed), Game three was closer, but I still pulled out the win to go 3-1 over four rounds.
My opponent was a nice guy who called me “sir” the entire time. I told him, “I hope you are calling me ‘sir’ because you are excessively polite, not because I am excessively old.”
Win 2-1 (one GL). Overall 3-1.
To my surprise, 3-1 was a good enough record to be able to play in to the top 8 rounds. My Yellow King friends had opposite records (if not worse), but they were genuinely happy for me and very encouraging. I very much appreciated that.
Round 5 vs. Bant Control.
The winner of our game would become the number one seed in the top 8 due to all the intentional draws that the top players had made. I felt the pressure, but also felt a bit relieved when my opponent (who I’d played once before at Yellow King at a prerelease) got mana screwed in game one and I got a free win.
Game two I got to see the horrible things his deck really did, like using Clone on his Restoration Angel to re-blink a Thragtusk. His life total on my pad goes 18, 23, 21, 26, 29 while mine went 14, 8, x_x.
Game three was interesting. I sided in Unflinching Courage since I believed that I had to race him; I could handle the Angels flickering the Tusks, but not the Clones, or his life total would just get out of sight. His life had gone up and down a little, and so had mine, but then I stuck a Thundermaw Hellkite onto an empty board. He was able to tap it down with Feeling of Dread. Next turn I had another Thundermaw in hand. As I start tapping, he said, laughing, “if you have another one of those, I’m going to throw my hand at you.” I cast it, and he ended up throwing his hand, as in playing out the cards: he had another Feeling of Dread to nullify my combat phase, and on his turn he played a Supreme Verdict, wiping my board and ruining my chance to beat him with the Boros Charm in my hand (five damage from one dragon + ten damage from a charmed double-striking dragon would have finished him, even after the two turns I’d lost due to Feeling of Dread).
So I’m not sure what the lesson of that round is. Here are some possibilities:
When an opponent acts like he’s hoping you won’t do something, there’s a good chance that he’s bluffing and trying to goad you into doing it.
Don’t overextend into wrath. A three-turn clock can be better than a one-turn clock, if the difference is keeping a backup plan in hand.
Sometimes you just have to try and race, and make your opponent beat you with counter spells and removal. (He showed me his hand with Plasm Capture, so even had I held back on the second dragon, I think he would have still beaten me handily.)
Lost 1-2. Overall 3-2 for 10th place out of 30-ish.
Of course I was sad to miss top eight, but my goal for the day had been to go .500 or better, and I did that. I think I beat the guys I was supposed to beat, while losing to the guys I would most likely lose to. Mostly it just whetted my appetite for more competitive play, and I think I’ll be heading to a bigger tournament in Denver at the end of July.