The Mana Junkies – Sudden Death
Forty-six people showed up to battle the day after Survival of the Fittest was officially banned from Legacy. For a €500 ($1000) tournament, it could have been bigger but a fair-sized field would be easier to navigate. Here's a quick aside to Jelmer; thanks for getting my butt out of bed on a nice Sunday morning and driving us an hour and a half to the event… and the lashing on the ride back.
The weekend before I started sending out texts to various people who might be in town, and who might be down to game for some cash. At least one of them had access to an automobile, otherwise the train ride out there and back would be around €40 per person. Not efficient enough. At around ten in the evening the night before someone called back and offered a ride even though no one else was going. I had already resolved to skip out, and let's just say I'm glad I got out of bed that morning.
The original intent was to play Dredge in the best play testing session ever, a live tournament. Upon showing up and with time to kill, having a coffee and walking around the room turned up some rather typical decks. It's as if the banning of Survival never happened. There were people testing Goblins, Bant Agro decks, Counterbalance/Sensei's Divining Top oriented control. Generally it looked like a pretty even field, and the top eight would turn into a definition of what can compete outside of a format warped by a particular deck. In Europe, Survival decks weren't the problem they were in the American Open series of tournaments.
Of all the decks folks around me were working on, the B/U Necrotic Ooze deck was steadily improving as more practice was being put into it. My chauffeur was running the deck, as he was the one putting in more work for it. For reference here's the list:
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Honestly, it seemed like a good field for Zoo. Both decks came along for the ride, sleeved up and deck lists filled out. There weren't many changes to the list that I ran in the Dutch Legacy Opens. In the sideboard, I added Mindbreak Trap for Storm decks I had anticipated over as many Price of Progress. Also, Oblivion Ring was an out to slower control decks and people messing around with Emrakul. In the future, or until more Storm decks get popular, Sulfuric Vortex will be taking over the Mindbreak Trap's role.
Where Mindbreak Trap is narrow but effective hoser cards for certain other cards, it only addresses one strategy. Sulfuric Vortex is something that attacks something more opponents rely on, the clock. Time is a factor when one needs to set up a combo or stall and try to take over the late game. It is a strategy that puts people in a position to win sooner than they might be able to, while the deck is still applying pressure against them. With a double red spell to hard cast, not really counting Fireblast, adding a basic Mountain will be necessary. The lone Savannah could be switched for the Mountain, as some times I found myself wanting to be able to search for it in the face of a Wasteland.
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The seventy-five cards I audibled for upon arrival was simply familiar. Given that a fair amount of decent to good match ups were present, I figured I would go with what I knew in and out that already stood a good chance. With six rounds of Swiss, and a cut to the top eight, mathematically anyone with X wins and one loss would grant four people with X-1-1 the opportunity to battle for the cash. As it were, there were two people with fifteen match points, two with fourteen, and four with thirteen to make up the top eight. I was in that group of four at thirteen points after the Swiss rounds at the eighth seed. The tournament really started at that point. Otherwise, it was just a familiar gaming experience.
In the first round I was paired against Rob playing Bant Agro. Generally this match boils down to trading early resources like creatures and removal until finally a bigger creature sticks, or it gets equipped by an Umezawa's Jitte or Sword of Fire and Ice. After taking a mulligan, I ran with a double Grim Lavamancer and burn hand. Lavamancers were slow beatings and then none at all when a Tarmogoyf of his survived. My graveyard was empty thanks to the Lavamancer, and drawing none fetch lands wasn't helping at all.
I never thought I'd be happy to hit a pocket of fetch lands, but I was, even though he was cutting my deck like a surgeon. Every card for about five or six turns was a land for me, while he's playing cards like Ponder and Brainstorm.
Drawing out of that slump never came and when going all in on a Fireblast, he countered with Force of Will and I just scooped them up. The first game had been thirty minutes long, so the only real way to win, or rather not lose, was to step up tempo and play more aggressively.
Game two lead with another mulligan, a trend that would literally follow me the whole tournament. He drew something like nine Swords to Plowshares, hyperbolic I know, but that's how it seemed. I brought in the Elemental Blasts as well as Krosan Grip. The first game saw no Counterbalance or Sensei's Divining Top, but the Stoneforge Mystic package included both Swords of Fire and Ice and Light and Shadow plus a Jitte for good measure. It was still a good call in the end.
After keeping a hand of a one, two, three casting cost curve of creatures and the lands to play them, it was a quicker game than the first. My sweet curve into his Ponders and Brainstorms sealed that game with extra turns just being called. Without realistically winning in two turns, we both drew, but my potential next hand was a Steppe Lynx, Wild Nacatl, three fetch lands and some burn. With that quick of a hand, nothing short of a 'goyf wall will stop that game from ending in about five minutes, sadly not five turns. Starting off with a draw isn't as bad as a loss, but taking it one match at a time frees up braincells from frying themselves with worry.
Round two I was up against Joroen manning Counter-Top. Mulliganville, population: me. After taking three mulligans in four games I was already a little upset. Eventually, after the fifth round and mulligans in between it got funny. I keep a hand with lands, a pair of Goyf's and burn not knowing what I am up against. I follow my plan while he digs for his combo piece with Brainstorms. After setting up the combo and me beating him down to eight with the pair of Goyf's he lands a Super Jace. He was within beatdown-burn range, but I had neither in my hand and he also found himself a pair of Swords for my Lhurgofs. I was drawing into a few fetch lands, while he was fatesealing me with Jace. I let him dictate my draws for a few turns until Super Jace got his twelve counters and was going to win Joroen the game. I decided to scoop them up and get on with it. Experience from the last round.
Game two, Mulligan, however, a pretty sick hand is staring back at me. I boarded out two Sylvan Libraries for two Krosan Grip, and three Path's for the Elemental Blasts. My opening hand was Steppe Lynx, Nacatl, three land with two fetch lands, and a Pyroblast. His draw was rather clunky, but he did have Force of Will for my Lynx. Sure it would have been good for eight damage, but the Nacatl was staying a 3/3 for a while so I chose to run the Lynx into possible counter magic. Seeing that he was trading FoW for my early threat, I put him on some part of his combo in hand as well as either a Swords or more counter magic to contest my draw. The thing is he was only working with two lands where I was drawing Krosan Grip for his Counterbalance and Pyroblasting his Force of Will on my Tarmogoyf. The game was over when I drew my second Grip for his freshly played Top.
Game three he starts but no mulligan for me. It was definitely a sense of relief. More of game two happens when I had an opening hand with Grim Lavamancer and Steppe Lynx, fetch lands, and a Krosan grip with a Red Elemental Blast.
I had just finished a round against a control deck but drew with a mid-range beatdown deck. Noticing a sense of sloppiness, there was nothing to do but reset and focus on the next match alone.
Maartin sat down for round three with Goblins, and the two games went quick. I only boarded out the Libraries for the Grips, as this match up is not fun for Goblins unless their sideboard is heavily black. He was indeed running Badlands to support only three Perish in the sideboard. Had he been running a Saito like sideboard from his U/b Merfolk deck winning GP: Columbus with four Engineered Plague and three Perish, he would have probably had a better chance against the field. There were lots of Tarmogoyf's, Knight of the Reliquary, Nimble Mongoose and Wild Nacatl running around that room. And Engineered Plague is also good against a quick Zoo deck. Naming Cat kills Steppe Lynx and neuters Wild Nacatl and Qasali Pridemage. Perish takes care of the Tarmogoyf's and Knights. Goblins multiply like rabbits, so when he showed me his sideboard and lamented over the match up it was clear he just didn't have the tools to answer lots of removal and bigger creatures.
I still mulliganed our first game.
Starting the fourth round with six cards, my opponent was Robbert rocking UGR Threshold. We would eventually meet in the quarterfinals, but now we were both looking to maintain contention to the top eight. My six card hand was nothing compared to the fountain of Stifles, Lightning Bolts, and the gaggle of Mongeese he had. All my critters died and his multiplied. I was unfamiliar with the match up, but it seemed he had a good draw.
I take out the Libraries and a Path to Exile for the three Blasts, then get excited to open a grip of Blast, Lynx, Lavamancer and lands. He has a double wasteland hand and the Lavamancer hangs around while the lynx gets in there before dying. While his board is light with only one Mongoose, I keep getting in there with the Lavamancer. He doesn't have threshold yet, and doesn't want to trade his 'goose, so that tells me he's got a bunch of counter spells or Stifles in hand. Sure enough, I draw into fresh lands and try to play a Goyf only to be met with Force of Will. I waited a turn to cast it playing around Daze, in case he left them in. He then played his own fat Goyf, but I peeled one and stuck it. We start trading licks and I start drawing more outs, but turn after turn he hard casts three Forces as I deploy freshly drawn threats. It got comical to a point, but I was holding onto a Lightning Helix for when he got into range. He went from eight, to five, to four, to three. He still had two cards in hand and since I was getting there with my dudes, I'd play that to an end and save my burn. I myself was getting low on life. Counter attacking with his team, he got me down to five before I decided to pull the burn. Turns out all he had was a Stifle and a land. But after casting three Force of Wills in consecutive turns I was weary that he was holding one more.
The third game sadly went much like the first, except this time I double mulliganed a one-lander and then a no-lander. There wasn't much to do, I just played my creatures, applied a little pressure to get him down to eight before he took the match. At X-1-1, I could win out to a place in the elimination rounds, but only if no one went undefeated.
Round five saw another Bant deck with Stoneforge Mystic played by Jan. As opposed to the first round, following a mulligan of a one-lander I drew into a sweet creature curve as we traded removal. He got a Sword of Fire and Ice on the table, and equipped it to a Goyf, but the two Paths sitting in my hand made sure my 8/8 Knight of the Reliquary was getting somewhere. He threw this team of Noble Hierarchs and Goyf's under the bus and Miss Elspeth got me there.
Since he was also playing maindecked Rhox War Monk, I had to bring in my Blasts, as well as two Grips for the equipment. Out came the two Libraries and Steppe Lynx. Both of those cards are sub par on the draw, and making room for extra ammunition for a Removal War seemed like the right line of play.
No mulligans for the second game, and I lead with a Nacatl into a Goyf backed up by burn for his Hierarch who stayed around for a few turns too many. He was light on land and used a Force to protect it from a Chain Lightning. The next turn he played his War Monk. I played a Knight and just passed, with Fireblast in my hand. At this point I had five lands on the table, three of them a combination of Plateau and Taiga. He drew a Jitte, and played it. As he tapped out to equip it to the Monk, I tap two of the duals for mana, red and white I believe, just in case he had a Daze of course, then sacrifice them to the alternate cost of Fireblast on the Monk. He pondered for few seconds, but I knew he didn't have anything. He just didn't want that Monk to die, as it would have surely taken the game with or without a Jitte. Lifegain is pretty strong against Zoo, creatures like that can turn games around through their presence.
We finished kind of early, but since it was random seating, Jan and I played at Table 1 (…), I didn't know where to find my next potential opponent to scout out his game. I was fatigued after a night without a good ten hours of sleep and little food throughout the day. Munching on the last bit of a sandwich, the final round pairings went up. As well as the standings.
With the top four able to draw, that left six other people in contention to the top eight. I was ninth seed playing Joost at tenth. We couldn't draw, or rather, technically we could but only if players at sixth and eighth place lost their matches. We were there to battle in the first place, and I'm pretty sure he knew what I was playing as we shared tables throughout the tournament. He was playing a three color Landstill with Elspeth, Humility and a nasty Engineered Explosives/Academy Ruins package. The winner was in the elimination rounds, I had to keep fast hands, as the late game was inevitably his.
After my mulligan, I keep a Nacatl/Pridemage hand backed by Burn. He fills the graveyard with an Explosives and Goyf mops him up. He was short on lands and didn't have enough Swords for all the creatures I was drawing. The game ended in short fashion. Just one to go, but I put that thought immediately out of my mind. I had three more rounds after this to go, not just one game. There was a game to focus on, so I reached for my Blasts/Grips and a pair of Gaddock Teegs to assist with that whole Humility/Elspeth, Knight Errant problem. The Oblivion Rings came in for the first time in the tournament. It was a last minute change as I saw a lot of planeswalkers in my scouting. I guess I'm glad I had them, but I didn't want to lose another bubble match to an Emrakul or something Zoo can't typically handle. They replaced as many Path to Exile and my opening hand was excellent. Steppe Lynx, fetch lands, a Pridemage, and some burn.
He had the good ol' Swords+ lands hand it seemed, and my dudes didn't hang around long. All the while he wasn't doing very much, while I was drawing into replacement beats. A Grim Lavamancer showed up with a graveyard to munch on, but so did Elspeth, who kept pumping out Tokens for my attackers. Eight life, six life, four life. With no cards in hand, Fireblast sealed the deal and he congratulated me.
I was so used to being the one doing the congratulating that it was sort of surreal to be on the receiving end. He was a great sport and took that loss like it was last year. After the round ended, I checked in with others who were also in. A few I knew, others I only knew what they played.
Going into the top eight in eighth place meant that I would have to play against the number one seed. Luckily, this match up was a good one, Goblins. I felt confident, borderline cocky, and only after looking back does it become clear that I had lost focus.
After taking a mulligan, a Lynx and Pridemage with a couple lands and removal came back. No need for a random five card hand. He leads with Goblin Lackey and I draw and play a Nacatl. My only white producing land was a fetch land, the other being a Taiga. Saving the Wooded Foothills for the Steppe Lynx, Taiga cast the Nacatl. He draws and immediately plays a land, then plays another Lackey and passes. Drawing another fetch, I play it and attack into him for three. I played the Lynx, with a Lightning Bolt in hand for the second Lackey.
Both Lackeys charge, and one gets burned down while the Lynx chump blocks the Lackey. A Goblin Matron gets a Warren Weirding, and he passes back. Drawing Tarmogoyf made me happy, so he joins the party and Wild Nacatl gets in there. On his turn, another goblin and Gempalm Incinerator take care of my Nacatl and he passes. I drew a Knight of the Reliquary, which would be out of burn range thanks to the two fetch lands in the yard. I get in with goyf before he gets chosen to be sacrificed on the following turn, thanks to another Warren Weirding. We both play guys and pass for a few turns.
Here's basically when the game turned into a drawn out pageant of horrible playing.
He was on low life and I had a Grim Lavamancer that had eaten my graveyard. With a small wall of creatures of my own, and him with quite a board presence there was nothing for me to do but start attacking and applying pressure. I had lost my focus on what really mattered which was throwing my huge guys into his swarm of dorks. He had to block, he was at three. So me trading a Knight of the Reliquary and a pair of Tarmogoyfs, which weren't all that big thanks to the Lavamancer, was a good deal. He couldn't counter attack because I was at high life, he'd be forced to throw his guys under the bus.
If I had just started attacking, my graveyard would have also been filled up with ammo for the Lavamancer. Yet my tunnel vision was on the Lavamancer himself, and counting on top decking a burn spell or fetch land or something to get the graveyard live for the 'mancer. I left my guys back to form a phalanx. By this point, my opponent had gotten a slow play warning, and we were both asked by another judge to speed things up. Anyways, this game ended with him on one and me with a sour taste in my mouth. No problem, I was on the play and was blessed with a nice opening hand. No mulligans this time.
We started the second game with fifteen minutes left. Thanks to my hand and his poor draw, I got way ahead by the time we went into extra turns. We both had amassed an army, and it was time to decide who was moving on to the semifinals. He's down within burn range, and I have another Lavamancer threatening him with lethal burn given the extra turns. I think this is where he lost focus on what mattered.
In a nutshell he gave this game away to me. I had one shot with a Lavamancer and a Path to Exile in hand and decided to attack, as sitting back wasn't going to win me a thing but six Scars of Mirrodin boosters. He throws some goblins under the bus but still has the important ones on the board.
If he would have played Goblin Sharpshooter, it would have been game over a while ago. However, he goes in for a lethal counter attack into my lonely Lavamancer, and I Path his +1/+1 Lord, and Shock the Piledriver with the 'mancer. This put me taking ten damage going to eight, and he knew he screwed up. This was now the fourth extra turn, the fifth being passed back to me.
I drew a Lightning Helix, obviously, but just attacked for the win.
Time called, extra turns up.
The DCI rule states that the first change in life total between the two players wins. First blood. This also means Fetch Lands, City of Brass, and anything that does damage to you means you lose.
Thanks to the burn package and lots of one casting cost creatures, Zoo is a heavy favorite against Goblins. This was the first time ever encountering, hearing about, or experiencing this thing, Sudden Death. Everyone was watching now. Lots of muffled conversation was going around.
Now's a good of a time as any to focus on what matters.
What matters is drawing a burn spell and a non fetch land, or a one drop creature to hopefully get in there first. We mulligan after mulligan, when finally I open a hand of Forest, Chain Lightning, Tarmogoyf, and Lightning Helix. He mulliganed his four card hand, and I snap kept. It was past the point of no return, and my holding onto four cards while he stopped at two was a huge advantage. He started and just passed.
The card I drew?
We shook on it and packed them in. Gerrit was pretty upset losing in such a fashion, and I didn't deserve the win. Then just about everyone came around and suggested better lines of play, then when everyone left and it was just me at the table, the judge of our match came by.
He wasn't happy with the way that went either, and doing it again, we'd both have received warnings until someone received a game loss. Deservedly so.
The final four decided to split the pot, with an arbitrary player receiving the Title and advertised bragging rights for the year. We were happy with our top eight beer of choice… and the money, of course. The venue was pretty well equipped. There was a two lane bowling section, a stocked bar, a wee kitchen, and enough space to seat well over one hundred gamers. Probably the nicest thing was the walk in beer closet that was insulated and cooled. That just sounds nicer than saying it’s a fridge, because it was way more than that. I went with a favorite, Brigand.
The high fives for prize splits and victory beer was the best tournament experience I have had in almost a year. Aside from the Grand Prix and Pro Tour (side events) I attended, of course.
We all wished each other a safe trip home, as most of us drove over an hour to get there. A good half of the way home Jelmer was chewing my ear off about how miserable we (I) played that round. It was true, everything he said.
In this particular match up Zoo is the aggressor. Trading one of your big dudes for several or all of theirs runs them out of gas really quickly. Zoo, thanks to its consistency is a better top-decker than Goblins. Given tight play, it's got the tools to win easily.
As mentioned, the sideboard will be switched up, and a mountain added to accommodate said changes. Otherwise, I wouldn't change a thing. It's not scary to play four three casting cost spells and ten two casting cost spells with only ten mana producing lands in the deck. Twenty lands isn't much, but either my deck likes me or it really is a good ratio.
Next week will see a competitive adaptation of a typical Rogue deck, Infect Stompy. Don't worry, I know some of you Junkies are still out there who want to sleeve up Dredge, and I promise we will.
Until the next fix...
By David Croom (jandax)
The Mana Junkies - MtgFanatic's exclusive Legacy column