Entries from November 2008 ↓

Shards of Alara – Five Corner Cases

It’s a bit late to do a Shards of Alara Constructed review, but it’s never too late to speculate about cards that, you know, might get played. This is just a short list of musings on some Shards of Alara cards that would probably rank as low Role Players. But hey… Not many would have thought that Gnarled Mass or Tallowisp would be key centerpieces to competitive decks 🙂

Deathgreeter is an interesting card that I have seen in some Constructed decks recently (usually tokens decks, next to Nantuko Husk, &c.). Yeah, Deathgreeter certainly raises an eyebrow, but… The text on this card is pretty similar to another 1/1 for B: Disciple of the Vault.

So why was Disciple of the Vault ban-able in multiple formats whereas Deathgreeter is a corner case? Well, Deathgreeter is probably just less powerful in general than a card on the order of Soul Warden or Essence Warden… It’s a sequence thing, but the Warden sisters probably have more singular upside.

Additionally, there is a clear terminus to what Disciple of the Vault ever has to do: 20. Deathgreeter can be “effective” and at the same time have no appreciable effect on the game.

Still… something worth thinking about, especially in this color, at this cost.

Call to Heel
Call to Heel is very versatile. It seems like a card that you generally want to play on your own Mulldrifter, but that you can live with playing against your opponent’s oncoming threat (hopefully not a Nucklavee).

There is a lot of upside to this card when you play it on your own creature… kind of like a Momentary Blink, but you need to pay mana to re-play your creatures, which may or may not be relevant as a specific game develops. The beauty of the card is that you can play it against anybody, unlike a Momentary Blink (even if that seems like an ugly option most of the time).

Compare with Turn to Mist, a card that was a decent two-of sideboard card in some decks but never a four-of main deck card. Like Turn to Mist, Call to Heel has a lot of play to it, a lot of “maybe this will go right” even if it does not go in everywhere.

Call to Heel seems like it would be more effective when you are playing a matchup where the opponent can’t really disrupt your ability to generate incremental advantages, especially when the opponent is likely to tap out on his own turn.

Paul Jordan tried to get me to play this right before States. It is actually pretty good. Necrogenesis is absolutely insane against Makeshift Mannequin (obviously). One of these can take at least a little starch out of a Cruel Ultimatum, and it is no fun for Unearth-based strategies or any kind of reanimation. Best yet, Necrogenesis is pretty cheap to get into play.

Definitely something worth trying in the sideboard, depending on the metagame.

Steward of Valeron
How awkward is this?

Turn three, attack with my Steward. Post combat, Wilt-Leaf Liege.

Awk, am I right?

I’d play it for sure.

Corpse Connoisseur
Here is another card that Paul Jordan suggested to me recently. I dismissed Corpse Connoisseur initially, but I think I was overly harsh. This card is kind of Entomb-ish.

Think about sending Squee, Goblin Nabob into the graveyard with Corpse Connoisseur… It’s like free card advantage, sort of. Or, you can keep getting more and more Corpse Connoisseurs and Unearth cards. A couple of Sedraxis Specters main might actually be a party!

Just some ideas.


Disaster, basically

How can the world’s greatest tee shirt and Optimus Prime, iconic leader of the Autobots conspire to such an unmitigated disaster? This Black Friday, there is only one way to find out, sadly.

So I found the world’s greatest tee shirt.

When I say “THE WORLD’S GREATEST” tee shirt, I am not kidding.

I created some of the game’s most inventive strategies and sideboards — meaning I have a pretty decent imagination — and I can’t begin to imagine a tee shirt even one per cent as great as this one. It is nostalgia, inspiration, art, and coming-of-age all rolled into one piece of clothing.

Go ahead and look:

(You can click that and get one yourself… maybe.)

I mean there is so much stuff going on. Me, I can actually visualize Optimus cruising towards Autobot City, with the instrumental gearing up behind him as he starts rolling over hapless Decepticons. The first 20 minutes or so of Transformers: The Movie is one of my favorite cinematic experiences ever.

The sheer ridiculousness of Optimus with speakers behind him, axing an electric guitar is… Sublime. It truly transcends genre, goes beyond animation, speculative fiction, meta-fiction… can only exist on the greatest tee shirt of all time.

The vendor even says “If you feel like you’ve lost The Touch, this shirt might just be the way to regain it.” Yes! Please help me regain The Touch! Please let me buy this tee shirt!

So… disaster?

The disaster is that they are all sold out of my size. In fact, they are sold out of M, L, and XL… Though if you are a small, 2XL, &c. you can still get one (provided they are not all sold out of everything on account of it being Black Friday). Check here if you have any taste at all.

I think I am going to call the company and complain and / or ask them if they are going to print another large. This is an exclusive and therefore there is no other place to get this tee shirt!

If they reload, I will keep you updated.

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. Perhaps if you put on too many extra pounds, you can upgrade to a 2XL or thereabouts and obtain The Touch.


Curiosity is the Gift That Keeps on Giving

A roll down memory lane where Michael recalls playing creature enchantments, Erg Raiders, and Hill Giants to a PTQ Top 4… In Constructed.

I am getting on a plane to go back to my ancestral home of Gates Mills, Ohio in a few hours (and by “ancestral” I mean my parents moved when I was a senior in college) to give thanks for Thanksgiving.

Technically I started playing Magic living in Ohio, but I didn’t become a serious tournament player until I had been living in Philadelphia for a couple of years, so most of the Magic I played during my first tenure in the Buckeye State was kitchen table Magic — you know, where pumping tons of mana into a Killer Bees or playing a third turn Craw Wurm could make a body go all Timmy Power Gamer.

You may chuckle, but I am pretty fond of some of those long nights up, doing battle with decks I made myself, in a time of true available card scarcity.

However I did spend the better part of a year living back at home in between graduating college and first moving to New York to help run The Dojo in the spring and summer of 1999.

During that stretch I did relatively well at the local level, including a Limited PTQ Top 8, a Limited PTQ win, numerous Constructed PTQ Top 8s, a Constructed PTQ win, an invitation to US Nationals, an undefeated Grand Prix Day one (in games, not just matches), and of course my “virtual Top 8” 9th on breakers US Nationals Top 8 in Ohio’s capital itself.

I am very fond of this time period in my life even though at the time I was actually quite miserable — no girl, lying in the fetal position crying about having no girl, spending 100% of my time trying to get on the Pro Tour (which, admittedly I did pretty well), eating three pound bags of M&Ms every night — what am I thinking?!? Why the aich ee double hockey sticks should I be fond of this? Never mind that bit.

Anyway, this is the deck that turned it all around for me:

“George” by Mike Donais

3 Capsize
4 Counterspell
4 Curiosity
3 Dominating Licid
4 Forbid
4 Hammerhead Sharks
4 Legacy’s Allure
4 Manta Riders
3 Thalakos Drifters
2 Thalakos Seer
3 Tradewind Rider

19 Island
3 Maze of Shadows

3 Bottle Gnomes
1 Helm of Possession
3 Portcullis
3 Mana Leak
2 Steal Enchantment
1 Thalakos Drifters
2 Stalking Stones

I didn’t do a tournament report for this one so I had to roll up the sleeves and find an article Mike Donais had written about it; this is a mashup between Mike’s article and Gary Krakower’s GP Austin-winning sideboard (but it is more or less the deck I used to get to the PTQ Top 4).

At the point that I made this Top 8 I had not qualified for a Constructed Pro Tour in going on two years (and remember, two years at that point was about 2/3 of the lifetime of the Pro Tour). I am sure a lot of you know how infinitely frustrating it was to put so much time and effort into my “hobby” and come up short time and again.

But George — even as a Top 8 / Top 4 and not actual PTQ win — showed me that I could do something and paved the way to all those subsequent Top 8s, PTQ wins, and so on for the rest of the year. In fact, I had a gigantic ratings advantage after this year in Ohio that I spent 1999-2000 qualified for every Pro Tour until New York 2000, where I embarassingly missed a PT in my own back yard (no, we don’t really have back yards in New York).

Yes, George was a very unusual deck — I mean Curiosity and Manta Riders in a format full of Survival of the Fittest, Living Death, and Mogg Fanatic — but was rewarding to play. One of the things I liked about it was how self-deprecating I could be thanks to the relatively low power of my individual spells, basically Goblin Baloon Brigade or a suped up Hill Giant. I could play all apologetic about the fact that I was summoning a Manta Riders. Meanwhile I knew it was going to kill the other guy, even when that other guy was a standout who taught me everything I knew, like Worth Wollpert.

I actually rolled undefeated through the tournament until my eventual loss to Jason Marks in the Top 4 (Jason is John Marks’s younger brother); including a Top 8 victory over my old Dallas rommate Worth and Swiss pairings with David “Tourless” Weitz (who would go on to be Ohio State Champion that year) and eventual Grand Prix superstar Trey Van Cleave.

The cards I liked best were Manta Riders (but only when enhanced by Curiosity) and Thalakos Drifters (which, combined with Curiosity made for a fair clock). The card that was least impressive for me was — believe it or not — Tradewind Riders. Tradewind was just a bit slow for this strategy, which was the beatdown in every matchup.

I actually beat Jason in Game One due to my Mike’s main deck Hammerhead Sharks (he had something like 14 Islands starting), but he came back to take the match with his Shard Phoenix, even though I had him on the ropes in Game Two (yeah, I probably gave it away). If memory serves, Jason took the PTQ (it was either him or Tourless Weitz, but as I recall Pro Tour Rome was the same day as Ohio States, and Weitz was in Ohio to win THAT tournament… but hey, it’s been ten years).

In addition to “turning around” a long stretch of non-finishes, I think this deck went a long way in shaping my outlook as a metagame player. Today R&D might just print a Blue Erg Raiders [that can block, I mean], but back then playing a card like Hammerhead Shark — with a significant crimp in overall flexibility — was a bit of a leap of faith. No, it wasn’t very good against the popular Survival of the Fittest decks, but Hammerhead Shark was a great beatdown creature against the Island-laden Shard Phoenix and Awakening decks, and a superb blocker against the Cursed Scroll-less Red Decks.

Thanks Mike.

Thanks George.

Thanks… giving?


Eight Matches with Blightning Beatdown – Part 2

A continuation of the previous post on Blightning Beatdown testing for the upcoming Star City $5,000 tournament in Philadelphia next month.

In case you didn’t read Eight Matches with Blightning Beatdown – Part 1, here is the deck list:

4 Bitterblossom

4 Blightning
4 Demigod of Revenge
4 Figure of Destiny

4 Flame Javelin
4 Hell’s Thunder
4 Incinerate
4 Mogg Fanatic
4 Tarfire

4 Auntie’s Hovel
4 Ghitu Encampment
4 Graven Cairns
4 Sulfurous Springs
5 Mountain
2 Reflecting Pool
1 Swamp

4 Infest
3 Thoughtseize
4 Gutteral Response
4 Everlasting Torment

1. Elementals

Game One – Elementals is a deck that I tested early for the States format. Properly built, it can be hell on the Reflecting Pool Control suite, it has fast — sometimes uncounterable — Cloudthreshers for the Fae, and Reveillark for a legitimate Stage Three game plan. The reason I discarded it is that Elementals often got slow draws against The Red Deck that could not be corrected (Shock your Smokebraider, &c.); and the slow games without Mulldrifter just seemed like a lot of comes into play tapped lands and glacial Harbingers.

In this game he actually has some Fulminator Mages to slow me down and a Horde of Notions.

I start on Bitterblossom and triple Mogg Fanatics. I kill the Horde two-for-one and he follows up with a Reveillark.

I just attack all in to get damage in.

He borrows a play from my States Jund Mana Ramp deck and runs a Gift of the Gargantuan for a Mulldrifter and Fire-lit Thicket; but I have Flame Javelin to finish.

Game Two – I didn’t sideboard (maybe I should have taken out Demigod of Revenge?) … I opened on Ghitu Encampment and pointed my Mogg Fanatic at his mana guy.

He played another mana guy and I came in with another Mogg Fanatic and Hell’s Thunder, then repeated the previous Mogg Fanatic play.

Time for Blightning!

The bad news… He discarded Gift of the Gargantuan and Horde of Notions (a little scared of Makeshift Mannequin in this spot).

“Luckily” he followed up with a Harbinger for another Horde of Notions, then played Gift for that Horde (pretty nice)… but managed to miss his necessary land drop.

With five mana I sent Incinerate and Hell’s Thunder #2.

His fifth land came into play tapped!

… But he had the dreaded Mannequin. How anticlimactic. In for five.

I flashed a Thunder from down under, putting him to one. He can’t do 15 the following turn.


2. Faeries with White

Game One – He opens with Arcane Sanctum, then Secluded Glen into Bitterblossom.

I skipped an attack with my Mogg Fanatic to preserve the option of a two-for-one (learned that from Brett’s video); he tries for the Scion, but I burn it.

But his double Mistbind Clique is really much more clever (or at least effective than anything I had this game).

Game Two – I sided out two Tarfires for two Gutteral Responses. I wanted the threat of being able to mess with his Cryptic Command set to Fog… but didn’t really have anything worth taking damage sources out just to force through with extra mana. I came out quickly with Figure and Mogg Fanatic, and we are to Game Three just like that.

Game Three – I open on turn one Fanatic and turn two Blossom; however I stick on two with a hand full of awesome threes. He has a Loxodon Warhammer so my goal becomes to not let him use it on me.

Anyway, once I start to get a little mass he sees the writing on the wall and points a Cryptic Command at my squad… but that’s why I have Gutteral Response (even if I only sided two of them, see above).

It would have definitely been better to side out Incinerate instead of Tarfire. Tarfire is just better against his guys (no one has three toughness), plus Tarfire is cheaper and a Goblin for Auntie’s Hovel. Oh well, that’s why we test.


3. Reanimator

Game One – He opens Swamp.

I go first turn Figure.

He goes Island.

I’m in. No pumps. He runs Agony Warp. Ha ha, I didn’t pump. Awesome Blossom.

Now it gets weird… Cunning Lethemancer?

The joke’s on you: I discard Demigod of Revenge.

He evokes a Mulldrifter; I evoke the Chris Pikula rule and Tarfire the Lethemancer.

Then he Beacons up his Mully… I play my own five mana Black spell, being a Demigod of Revenge… for Demigod of Revenge.

He points Profane Command at one of my Demigods but passes the turn on three, convenient for my Blightning.

Game Two – I put in three copies of Thoughtseize, dropping a trio of Hell’s Thunders. In hindsight this is probably wrong as there is a particularly good synergy between his Lethemancers and my Thunders. But with a deck as unpredictable as his, I think Thoughtseize is right… just a question of what to pull; I think Flame Javelin?

I drew Thunder anyway.

This game I stuck a pair of Bitterblawesomes. He played Blackman style and kept Warping my jones to only take one from my Thunder and eat a token.

He kept Warping tokens whereas I stuck Blightning the flash on Thunder until he was at 11 and I was gripping circa ten.


4. Jund Mana Ramp (possibly Jund Quillspike Combo)

Game One – I shipped Swamp (only land) with double Blossom into Hell’s Thunder and five land… make that six land after my draw step.

He opened on a Jund tri-land.

I went Fantastic.

He played a Devoted Druid and the juices started flowing.

I don’t think he can combo me if I have a Fanatic in play.

I just killed his Druid based on my hand.

He followed up with Garruk and a second Druid. I hit him with Thunder and pointed a second Fanatic at his second Druid.

He went Chameleon.

I went Demigod.

I did the math and realized I had to kill Garruk or the Chameleon would go intensely large + trample. Unfortunately my Demigod was not comely to the Elves and Eyeblight’s Ending got him.

Game Two – Paris to five.

Off curve; third turn Bitterblossom… against his Finks. I start to accumulate tokens and get a Figure.

He Jund Charms and I’m afraid he is going to kill my tokens and Figure and reset his Finks… but he just eats these two Hell’s Thunders that were hanging out in my graveyard. Then he evokes a Cloudthresher to actually kill my tokens. But Figure makes it in for four!

It’s a race!

… Until he plays a pair of Finks and sends Eyeblight’s Ending at my Figure.

I rip all lands of course.


5. Tokens

He opens on a Fire-lit Thicket.

I answer with Sulfurous Springs into a turn two Bitterblossom. Ouch ouch.

His first move is Nantuko Husk.

I want nothing to do with that and Tarfire it, following with Figure of Destiny.

A follow up Blightning reveals to Soul’s Fires (have I mentioned how good Blightning is?). I have 13 more points in my hand when he concedes.

Game Two – I remove four Mogg Fanatics for four Infests; mulligan a one lander.

I get a quick Figure of Destiny; his first move is again on turn three… a Sprouting Thrinax. I just draw lands and he eventually kills me with Sarkan Vol.

Game Three – Mulligan again; turn two Bitterblossom.

I spend a bunch of turns Incinerating Marsh Flitters; mana is pretty tight this game. He has four Goblins from his Marsh Flitters and I have some Bitterblossom tokens. Eventually I draw lands and play a ton of Blightnings and Demigods.


He plays Birds of Paradise (always trouble).

I play Figure of Destiny turn one over Tarfire.

Luckily he has no explosive turn two and I Tarfire his Birds and get in for two.

Blightning reveals Wrath of God and Garruk Wildspeaker.

He Oblivion Rings my Figure of Destiny; I deal four anyway with Hell’s Thunder, then play another Figure. He plays a Liege of some sort, which I burn out, prompting the concession.

Game Two I remove four Flame Javelins for four Everlasting Torments.

He opens on Murmuring Bosk, plays the 0/4 Harbinger and goes and gets another Mosk. My Figure bounces off of it until he deigns to play a Shriekmaw.

Hell’s Thunder in.

He goes 4/4 of his own – Chameleon Colossus.

This looks like it might be an interesting game except I have three Hell’s Thunders and a plenty of overload damage to race.


7. Jund Mannequin

Game One – He opens on Birds of Paradise. I open on Figure of Destiny, which earns an Incinerate. Okay; slow game this one. Blightning and Blightning snag six life, Violent Ultimatum, Firespout, Chameleon Colossus, and Makeshift Mannequin.

He tries to slow the old man down with some Fulminator Mages but I have enough lands this game. He switches gears and drops a diffeent Chameleon. Meanwhile I send three Flame Javelins at the face and finish with a Tarfire for the perfect 20.

Game Two – He mulligans into a weak hand and quickly concedes to Mogg Fanatic and some burn spells.


At 6-1, given the imaginary eight rounds of my imaginary tournament, I am in ID land. Top 8? Heh.

I decide to play one more because I don’t have any footage (look for this video to come up later in the week).

8. G/W Little Kid

Game One – You probably know I made a deck with all G/W cards and Wilt-Leaf Liege for Block that won one PTQ (that I know about). I actually started thinking about this strategy again for Standard just because Wilt-Leaf Liege is so good against Blightning and Cruel Ultimatum. So basically, alongside Kitchen Finks and better guys than are in my colors — let alone my deck — this is the nightmare match.

Luckily he had a slow opening, which was my only saving grace. One too many lands came into play tapped so he couldn’t overrun me with superior forces. I stuck a Blightning that was pretty ironic. A turn or two later and I would have been eating 4/4.

Anyway he got out a ton of 4/x and 5/x creatures (with Liege boosts) but I had a late Bitterblossom to get in for a tiny amount of damage… eventually burned him to death.

Game Two – I side out Blightnings (obviously) for Everlasting Torments.

I luck out that his third land is a Mosswort Bridge, meaning my Figure of Destiny is 4/4 before he has a Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers in play. This is just what I need to get in -one too many times-. Then it’s all Hell’s Thunder and burn to the face. No sweat, thanks to his stumble.


All in all, I was very pleased with this deck.

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Eight Matches with Blightning Beatdown – Part 1

Wherein Michael J. Flores discusses the beginnings of his preparation for the upcoming Star City Games $5000 tournament in Philadelphia, PA. This article features initial deck selection, card choices, and testing with a modified version of Blightning Beatdown.

So there is a big Standard tournament coming up the first week of December.

It is a Star City Games $5000 tournament (you know, the kind Alex Bertoncini always wins) in Philadelphia, PA. I lived in Philadelphia for four years, and won my first PTQ there with a heavily metagamed B/R Necropotence deck.


Recently, over at Top 8 Magic, I have been thinking a lot about my deck selection over the past couple of years. It all started when Brian David-Marshall accused me of being the Greenest One of All in a recent Top 8 Magic Podcast. [In case you haven’t been reading Top 8 Magic… which you should be] I have been some kind of Green in 80% of my last 20 individual Constructed tournaments. I even did a spreadsheet breakdown.

Yep, down 199 rating points over that time period.

On balance, the twenty individual Constructed tournaments before those I was Green only about 1/3 of the time. Instead, I was up 146 points, qualified for two Constructed Pro Tours, crushed a late summer Standard with my U/W “Wafo-Tapa” deck that won five straight NAC Qualifiers (Steve Sadin, Julian Levin, yours truly, some guy not in our crew, and Chad Kastel), finished Top 16 in that respective NAC, and of course finished two-then-one in the New York State Championships in consecutive attempts.

I am not 100% down on Green at all (in fact, Critical Mass was one of the best decks I ever developed, hands down)… But I think Brian probably has a point that I am biased towards Green.

But not in Philadelphia; when I won that PTQ, it was with B/R.

End aside.

Speaking of B/R, I have been heavily impressed with Oscar Almgren’s Blightning Beatdown since I first stumbled upon it and made the initial Blightning Beatdown videos.

At the pre-States Top 8 Magic Mock Tournament, Brian David-Marshall kicked all kinds of bum with Matt Ferrando’s version of Blightning Beatdown — which didn’t even have Bitterblossom or Demigod of Revenge if you can believe THAT — and recommended it for States on basis of our previous Mock Tournament prognostication with Jushi Blue, B/W Deadguy Ale, &c.

However for myself, Josh Ravitz had already [physically] made me my Jund Mana Ramp deck and told me he would punch me in the face if I didn’t play it. Josh himself, though, smartly switched to Blightning Beatdown! He finished a match out of Top 8 in New Jersey, parallel to me.

So anyway, based on many factors — including a deliberate effort to broaden my color choices, my frustrations with playing Reflecting Pool Control mirrors, and my hatred of plus desire to quash the First Among Equals — I decided to at least try out Blightning Beatdown as the initial weapon of choice. I really love this strategy and its combination of pressure, domination over the Fae, and the namesake card Blightning itself.

For reference, here is Oscar Almgren’s original LCQ-winning version:

4 Bitterblossom

4 Ashenmoor Gouger
4 Blightning
4 Demigod of Revenge
4 Figure of Destiny
4 Goblin Deathraiders

4 Flame Javelin
4 Incinerate
4 Tarfire

4 Auntie’s Hovel
4 Ghitu Encampment
4 Graven Cairns
4 Sulfurous Springs
5 Mountain
2 Reflecting Pool
1 Swamp

4 Infest
4 Thoughtseize
3 Everlasting Torment
4 Magma Spray

This is the deck that I tested for this exercise:

4 Bitterblossom

4 Blightning
4 Demigod of Revenge
4 Figure of Destiny

4 Flame Javelin
4 Hell’s Thunder
4 Incinerate
4 Mogg Fanatic
4 Tarfire

4 Auntie’s Hovel
4 Ghitu Encampment
4 Graven Cairns
4 Sulfurous Springs
5 Mountain
2 Reflecting Pool
1 Swamp

4 Infest
3 Thoughtseize
4 Gutteral Response
4 Everlasting Torment

Here are the modifications I made for this one:
-4 Ashenmoor Gouger; +4 Hell’s Thunder
-4 Goblin Deathraiders; +4 Mogg Fanatic

I like the relentless pressure that Hell’s Thunder gives you when you already have a little momentum. Neither 4.4 for three mana is particularly good against beatdown, but the Shards of Alara option is a much better racer. Ashenmoor Gouger is better against the Fae, but Hell’s Thunder is much better against Reflecting Pool Control. Those are obviously the two most popular decks, and the First Among Equals is already a cakewalk, so I wanted to err leaning the other way.

Josh played Goblin Deathraiders at States, but no Tarfire. Basically both of us — and Oscar himself — all ran some combination of these Goblin cards. I just wanted more fast action (which might be in slight conflict with this deck’s Ghitu Encampments and annoying basic Swamp).

I borrowed Oscar’s mana base in the entirety; no complaints so far, really, other than I mulligan more than I am used to and I don’t particularly love the Swamp; on balance Josh loves the Swamp and says you might need 26 lands in this strategy (I don’t know if I am that brave, though).

As for the sideboard modifications, I really wanted to play with Gutteral Response because the only way the Fae can get out of your tempo games is usually with multiple Cryptic Commands, and Gutteral Response v. Cryptic Command is about the best fight you can expect in Standard. I really don’t like Magma Spray and if you are already playing Everlasting Torment, I just don’t see the value in it; those are the side justifications.

A brief card breakdown:

Unsurprisingly, the best card in the deck. It feels so much better in this deck than in the Fae. I really like the pressure this card provides against control — which typically operates in that old school “remove the threats” way even in 2008 — allowing you to sit back and set up with burn spells. Just such a great card… which is why I and everyone else hates it so damn much. But hey, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!

Probably my favorite card to play in the deck. You just feel so powerful resolving this on turn three. Do you realize it only does one fewer damage than a Flame Javelin? Ka-pow! My favorite play is attacking with my 2/2 Figure of Destiny on turn three with mana open, and playing the chicken game. Nope; let’s go to damage. Grumble Grumble. Here, have a Blightning. Grumble Grumble.

Demigod of Revenge
Ferrando didn’t play this card at all! Honestly I don’t play it very much on account of stalling. It is still like the best big guy in Standard, and one of the scariest possible threats against any kind of Counterspells.

Figure of Destiny

Flame Javelin

Hell’s Thunder
As above; we replaced Ashenmoor Gouger with this guy, 4/4 for three for 4/4 for three. Ashenmoor Gouger is mostly better against Faeries and Hell’s Thunder is mostly better against Reflecting Pool Control. Of the two most popular decks, one is a near bye. So we went with the card that was / is better against the other one, that is more likely to tap out for a Firespout / Wrath of God and give you an open to brain for four.

This is probably my least favorite card in the deck. I can see going to two copies for 26 lands per Josh’s suggestion, and / or swtiching to Lash Out. But no official changes as of yet.

Mogg Fanatic
Mogg Fantastic! I re-added this to the strategy (if you recall my pre-States Demigod Deck Wins videos all featured Tattermunge Maniac) based on the Brett Blackman video. He could not stop ranting about how bad Mogg Fanatic is for Faeries. In.

I actually have loved this card so far. Not powerful, but a Goblin for my Auntie’s Hovels… and it works nicely with this deck’s often tight mana.

As for testing format, I decided to do eight rounds in the Tournament Practice room as an initial run.

But we’ll have to look into those games tomorrow!


Thoughtseize v. Rampant Growth – Fight!

This is the follow-up to “You Make the Play – How Do You Spend Your Thoughtseize?” … a discussion as to which card a first-turn Thoughtseize SHOULD take given these options…



I was very interested in what you guys had to say about this one.

For those of you who have not read the responses to You Make the Play – How Do You Spend Your Thoughtseize, the Five With Flores readership came out heavily in favor of nabbing Gift of the Gargantuan over taking Civic Wayfiner… and not a one [at the time of this writing] said he would take the Rampant Growth.

I really enjoyed reading how you guys puzzled through this problem. There were some very well thought out responses and if you haven’t read through them, I recommend all of them, but especially starwater, Gifts Ungiven, and Private_Dream.

So this is what happened in real life: My opponent and I were playing for 6-2 at best and despite the slight chance for Top 8 it was a very friendly match. I was frankly quite surprised at having pulled out Game Two given I had kept a slow, two land hand, especially as he stole my Rampant Growth on turn one.

When I showed him my hand, I secretly wanted to keep the Rampant Growth… But this is because of the curse of patterned behavior. One of the things that I am really going to work on — and I am going to encourage anyone reading this blog to work on — is to break this lazy and comfortable “autopilot” approach to the game. In those rare tournaments where I have done exceptionally well for myself, I can always pick out a couple of rounds that I won specifically because I did not do what my mana said to do… Just think of how many times you miss Top 8 by one game or so, and cross-reference with this statement.

So what if Rampant Growth is the only thing I can play on turn two? It doesn’t really get me anywhere unless I immediately rip Chameleon Colossus [remind me to bring this up when I do the response-to-the-responses for the first You Make the Play].

But I think consciously I knew Gift of the Gargantuan was the strongest card in my hand [for him to pilfer with Thoughtseize] and I actually suggested he take it. Did he think I was running the Jedi Mind Trick? Like I said the game was friendly, so I don’t know that he thought I was trying to fool him. He probably also fell into the same pattern as my “secret wish” and took my Rampant Growth in order to deny turn two action; no, I didn’t immediately pull the Chameleon Colossus, but I did get a little action over the next couple of turns just off the top of my deck.

In fact, after my Civic Wayfinder, I didn’t have time to play my Gift of the Gargantuan for three or four more turns, and when I did, I was already ahead just thanks to the top of my deck.

So what is the right choice?

I think that Rampant Growth — which is what I secretly wanted to keep and what he ended up taking — is the weakest candidate. It is only relevant if I get Chameleon Colossus right away.

From my deck’s perspective, I will generally play Civic Wayfinder before playing Gift of the Gargantuan for two reasons: 1) I want to get some board presence so I can start attacking as soon as I can, and 2) I like Thawing lands out of my deck before playing Gift so that I can increase the chances of a relevant two-for-one (even if you are generally favored to get a two-for-one, Thawing a Forest out of your deck increases the chances of scoring with a Treetop Village for instance). In that sense, it is not only faster at affecting the game, it might therefore be “better” in this game.

From the Fae deck’s perspective in the abstract, Civic Wayfinder is not really a relevant threat. It is a a Balduvian Bears stapled to a Lay of the Land… “card advantage” for Green, but not something the Fae need typically to worry their winged boots over, at least not by itself.

However, given how much the Jund Mana Ramp side favors the Civic Wayfinder over the Gift of the Gargantuan, I would seriously consider taking the 2/2. Remember that the humble Wayfinder is also a “two-for-one” and a more consistent [two-for-] one at that. At least half of “interactive” Magic: The Gathering is denying the opponent what he actually wants to do, not just doing what you want to do (and maybe more).

In fact, in writing this post, I actually reversed my opinion (which was originally Gift of the Gargantuan)! Imagine how slow the Jund Mana Ramp side will be with no turn two, and no board position on turn three (just a potential two-for-one, not even guaranteed). Fae should have some kind of response by turn four, right?

I am going to ask Blackman (Fae Champion of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania)… But believe it or not, I now think the right answer is Civic Wayfinder!


Discuss of course.

You Make the Play – How Do You Spend Your Thoughtseize?

An all-new, all-different You Make the Play: What play would you make? What play do you think he made? What is the right play?

The situation:
Round Eight of the New York State Championships.

You are playing Fae, consensus best-or-second-best deck in the format.

Game One you won against a donkey with a Jund Mana Ramp deck utilizing some combination of Bitterblossom, Spellstutter Sprite, Mistbind Clique, &c. You know, how your deck rolls.

Game Two was highly improbable. Your opponent kept a hand full of expensive spells, but only two lands and a Rampant Growth. He could theoretically start playing his ponderous three mana spells (Civic Wayfinder, Kitchen Finks, stuff like that) if you let him play the Rampant Growth. Strategically, you took it with a first turn Thoughtseize.

Donk slumped back in his chair. No action.

Yep, he missed his third land drop, too. He had nothing going on.

Yet somehow he topdecked a land or two and managed to draw out of it.

The rest of the game went a long murder of Chameleons, Cloudthreshers, & Finks; from your side a succession of Puppeteer Cliques keeping you alive by slowing down the Chameleons. Your Mistbind Cliques took forever to show up… Not until after he resolved a Mind Shatter with Gutteral Response backup. The game was long and increasingly awkward from both sides — with your blocking way too many times with Bitterblossom tokens — but he eventually pulled it out by attacking over and over.

So onto Game Three…

You are on the play and open up on Thoughtseize.

This is what you see:

He has four assorted lands [note: I don’t really remember what lands they were. -MichaelJ]; you can take one of…

    Civic Wayfinder
    Gift of the Gargantuan
    Rampant Growth

Wow, a relatively slow hand. This is your opportunity to lock up 6-2 and potentially sneak into the coveted last spot in the Top 8.

Once again you have the opportunity to snag a first turn Rampant Growth, the only play he can make before turn three.

But… What card do you take?


A Reflecting Pool Control Mirror

Wherein Michael J. Flores further discusses the one thing that matters most in the Reflecting Pool Control mirror match and displays a long back-and-forth battle between competing Stage Three strategies (possible spoiler: the one from Shards of Alara wins).

Last week in Top Decks I described a frustration with the Reflecting Pool Control mirror matches which was instrumental in my switching to Jund Mana Ramp for the New York State Championship.

That frustration was / is that the Reflecting Pool Control mirrors generally come down to State Three, where one player resolves Cruel Ultimatum and eventually wins… regardless of what either player did or how hard the other player fought during State Two.

After identifying this, I simply decided to switch from a paradigm of mana efficiency and card advantage in Stage Two (where most “Magic: The Gathering” is played) to a strategic game revolving around beating my opponent in Stage Three, that is, saving my Cryptic Commands for his Cruel Ultimatum even if if meant falling behind his Mulldrifters (or at least not scooping up some juicy Mulldrifter targets) during the second Stage.

This, I believe is still right.

The problem is that especially in sideboarded games, the crafty Reflecting Pool Control player can just play to force his Cruel Ultimatum regardless; for example he can wait until eight mana and play Cruel Ultimatum + Gutteral Response, or set up with a Vexing Shusher. It is basically impossible to outsmart this strategy. Like even if you sit back with double Cryptic Command on eight mana you will fail if they simply went first. Grok?

I know you grok.

Even in Game One situations, he can wait until nine mana to cover with a Negate.

So I just decided to avoid this dance entirely and play a more proactive Mind Shatter + Gutteral Response strategy at the New York State Championship.

So speaking of the New York State Championship, I made a video based on our reigning Champion Stephen Carpenter’s Reflecting Pool Control deck. Here is the aforementioned Reflecting Pool Control deck:

Reflecting Pool Control

1 Adarkar Wastes
4 Vivid Creek
3 Vivid Meadow
3 Vivid Grove
4 Reflecting Pool
3 Mystic Gate
2 Flooded Grove
2 Sunken Ruins
1 Fire-Lit Thicket
1 Cascade Bluffs
1 Yavimaya Coast

1 Oona, Queen of the Fae
4 Mulldrifter
4 Kitchen Finks
2 Cloudthresher

1 Cruel Ultimatum
2 Pyroclasm
4 Wrath of God
2 Condemn
2 Bant Charm
1 Makeshift Mannequin
2 Remove Soul
2 Negate
4 Esper Charm
4 Cryptic Command

2 Condemn
3 Runed Halo
2 Resounding Thunder
1 Remove Soul
1 Negate
3 Jund Charm
1 Cloudthresher
2 Glen Elendra Archmage

So interestingly, I immediately got into a Reflecting Pool Control mirror match where my opponent outdrew me on Cryptic Commands and got a slew of two-for-ones on me. Yet I was able to win it in State Three because he blew three Cryptic Commands on Cloudthreshers and Esper Charms and was out when it came down to the one card that really matters in the Reflecting Pool Control mirror: Cruel Ultimatum from Shards of Alara.

This was a really interesting back-and-forth battle. I hope you like it.



PS I won Game Two very quickly with three Kitchen Finks on offense so it never came down to Stage Three shenanigans.


The New Girl from Champs

Brian David-Marshall wrote about a UK Champs winner he dubbed “The New Girl” (after my win with the Brian Kowal designed “This Girl” at New York States a couple of years back). I decided to make a video about The New Girl as part of a post-Champs Standard discussion for the mother ship.

This is it:



The New Girl, Gravesend UK Champs Winner, by Ian Walters

3 Stoic Angel
3 Mulldrifter
4 Wilt-Leaf Liege
4 Rhox War Monk
4 Kitchen Finks
2 Chameleon Colossus
1 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
1 Loxodon Warhammer
4 Cryptic Command
3 Negate
3 Bant Charm
4 Oblivion Ring
2 Flooded Grove
2 Wooded Bastion
2 Mystic Gate
2 Adarkar Wastes
4 Seaside Citadel
4 Yavimaya Coast
2 Brushland
2 Forest
2 Plains
2 Island

3 Wispmare
2 vendilion Clique
1 Chameleon Colossus
1 Negate
2 Stillmoon Cavalier
3 Hindering Light
3 Runed Halo

If you try this deck, I would suggest tuning the mana a bit. I found myself in trouble more than once due to the preponderance of Adarkar Wastes, &c.


Brian Kowal’s Boat-Brew

Brian Kowal designed a new R/W homebrew creature deck that he used to win a recent Game in the Gulf “boat” Qualifier. His deck hybridizes Ranger of Eos selection with a Reveillark end game. It comes out fast and has a deceptive amount of power.

4 Mind Stone

4 Ajani Vengeant
4 Figure of Destiny
4 Kitchen Finks
4 Murderous Redcap

4 Mogg Fanatic
3 Siege-Gang Commander

1 Burrenton Forge-Tender
4 Knight of the White Orchid
4 Ranger of Eos
3 Reveillark

4 Battlefield Forge
3 Mountain
4 Plains
3 Reflecting Pool
4 Rugged Prairie
4 Windbrisk Heights

4 Gutteral Response
4 Vithian Stinger
3 Runed Halo
4 Wrath of God

Vithian Stinger seems a little loose to me, but I really like how the deck has played out so far.

If I were to change anything, I would add some spot removal — probably something along the lines of Lash Out or Condemn in the sideboard — because Brian told me not to play any spot removal in the main deck.

Irony of ironies, Brian won his Cruise Qualifier by swinging with a bunch of Siege-Gang Commander tokens, tripping Windbrisk Heights, and popping Wrath of God. For reals! Then he followed up with Ajani Vengeant to lock out the end game (opponent was Kithkin).

Anyway, give this one a whirl. It is interesting to play and quite different from basically everything else in Standard.

Here’s the video version: