Entries from December 2008 ↓

Mono-White Control in Extended

Osyp suggested a similar idea (but no deck list) on our mailing list. You know that I am like a feather and anyone suggesting I play this… I probaly will float in that direction if it is mentioned.

The deck list:

3 Chalice of the Void

4 Akroma’s Vengeance
2 Crovax, Ascendent Hero
4 Decree of Justice
4 Eternal Dragon
4 Mana Tithe
4 Martyr of Sands
4 Proclamation of Rebirth
4 Wrath of God

22 Snow-covered Plains
4 Temple of the False God

1 Chalice of the Void
4 Unmake
4 Condemn
1 Crovax, Ascendent Hero
3 Kataki, War’s Wage
1 Boseiju, Who Shelters All

I played about five matches with this deck last night but my computer crashed so I lost the notes. So I am going completely on memory for the first night.

For the first night I played on Boseiju, Who Shelters All in the main. It was kind of awful. In fact I played it as my first land against Zoo and Red decks and I think it cost me the Zoo Game One. So I moved it to nowhere (I always had the second Boseiju in the sideboard). Anyway, I crushed Swans with two awful draws and I don’t see how you can reasonably lose to Faeries or Wizards on MTGO; I don’t see how those decks can beat you in a tournament unless you don’t draw anything the whole match.

I get the worst mana flood ever. Crush him.

I get a medium horrible mana screw. Crush him.

The Swans matchup was pretty simple. I drew sixteen straight lands in Game One, and somehow won. Basically I took a couple of hits from his Swans and then played Chalice of the Void for two, to counter his Chain of Plasma. I blew up his guy.

Wait, wait wait… He goes for it, Repeals my Chalice and plays the combo with all his mana… I have the Mana Tithe. Of course I re-play the Chalice and finally draw Eternal Dragon. Blood Moon of course did nothing.

Game Two was the opposite… I wasn’t completely screwed but I was discarding for a while. Just so happened to have a key Mana Tithe, etc.

I actually got run over by the super fast draw in Game One. Game Two I got Akroma’s Vengeance, and Game Three I got Kataki. Affinity is a non-issue for this deck.

As above, I was quite punished by the main deck Boseiju. I replaced it with a Plains… The deck actually needs 26 lands, and skimpint to 25 hurt.

Game Two I kept a hand with three Eternal Dragons and Condemnm but only one Plains. It took six turns to find the second one. Some nice stalling with the Martyr helped a lot. This was actually pretty close… He didn’t play Teeg (at least against me).

Going down 0-2 to Zoo is annoying if he doesn’t present Teeg… Just a case of my hiccuping against Zoo and the fact that you don’t want to do that. The sideboard is chock full of cards that are actually cheap enough to point at Teeg.

Gifts Rock
Nope, this deck can’t beat Gifts Rock. Death Cloud and Life From the Loam destroyed me. I had a Chalice on two in play in I think Game Two but he just killed me with Kitchen Finks.


All-in Red
A surprisingly easy matchhp. Especially in sideboarded games, I had every Unmake a girl could ever want.

Lightning Bolt Deck
This one was also super easy.

My hot play was to Martyr for four, not five, not revealing my tricky card. The opponent tapped out to point Flames of the Blood Hand… My last card was Mana Tithe ūüôā

Weird Elf Deck
I conceded match after he showed me a fourth Thoughts of Ruin. I actually screwed up on the first Thoughts of Ruin.

He timed out. I was the beatdown eerly, then got him eventually to three life. I suggested he concede but he kept playing.

There seems to be very little Fae / Wizards can do against this deck, at least in Game One. White has more card advantage, which is inexorable as it is inexhaustable.

The main advantages of this deck are that it is solid against Red and Fae. It cannot however beat The Rock, ever.

Just some thoghts. Happy New Year!


PS Is it worthwhile to splash Red? Lightning Helix is already White for the Martyr… Firespout might be good against Zoo and playable against Elves. Thoughts?

All-in, &c.

An updated deck list followed by a couple of matches with All-in Red, including two mini-You Make the Plays!

I have been playing mono The Rock lately but some discussion on my mailing list has put me off The Rock for the moment. I decided to play the other Extended deck I like tonight, All-in Red.

This is my deck list:

4 Chrome Mox

4 Demigod of Revenge
4 Deus of Calamity
2 Manamorphose

4 Blood Moon
4 Desperate Ritual
4 Empty the Warrens
4 Magus of the Moon
4 Rite of Flame
4 Seething Song
4 Simian Spirit Guide

18 Mountain

3 Umezawa’s Jitte
4 Firespout
4 Gutteral Response
4 Shattering Spree

Basically I reversed the numbers on Manamorphose and Empty the Warrens from the pre-Pro Tour Berlin version. Manamorphose really just improves Warrens; and Warrens was the best threat. I don’t know if Manamorphose will ultimately make the prime time version of the deck list, but I like it quite a bit because I have some gamble to me and have been known to play it just to see what happens. What usually happens is that I reveal a Demigod of Revenge or some such.

In this deck, versus Standard, I actually prefer Deus of Calamity more than Demigod of Revenge. In All-in Red in Extended, you don’t actually get to play multiple Demigods in a single game very often because you simply don’t have the mana (you usually use a lot of the Red Dark Ritual cards and don’t tend to have a lot of staying power); if you can play Deus of Calamity on the first turn on the play, there are really very few ways for you to lose. At the least you usually get to play The Abyss for a while until they can deal with the Deus, at which point you can often clean up with a medium Empty the Warrens or some other threat, exploiting the, you know, calamity that the Deus wrecked.

I originally only wanted to play about three matches but they went relatively quickly and ended up playing about five. Everyone I played tonight was very nice. Thanks for the games all.


Game One:

My opponent led off on Darksteel Citadel, pass.

Now no Affinity deck will ever do that so I put him on the Lightning Bolt deck. I kept this hand.

YOU MAKE THE PLAY ALERT. What do you run (answer in the forums)?

Chrome Mox
Chrome Mox
Seething Song
Empty the Warrens
Magus of the Moon
Demigod of Revenge

We can discuss this in future, but what I actually did was to play both the Moxes, imprinting Demigod of Revenge and Magus of the Moon to play turn one Empty the Warrens, burning to 19.

The other option is to play Demigod of Revenge; however as I put my opponent on Lightning Bolt deck, I assumed that he would have a hard time dealing with eight Empty the Warrens tokens whereas he might be able to just Shrapnel Blast the Demigod out of the sky if need be.

He played Keldon Marauders, putting your hero to 18.

I sent all my Goblin tokens and put him to 13.

He counterattacked and put me to 15, then played Sulfuric Vortex.

I looked at his board… Darksteel Citadel and Great Furnace, eh?

I will be on 12 on upkeep. If he hits a land, that Sulfuric Vortex is gonna… well you gotta play the cards that they give you!

He had the double Shrapnel Blast, but sadly (for him), no fourth land. Huzzah!

I decided to side in 3 Umezawa’s Jittes and 1 Shattering Spree for 4 Blood Moon. Magus of the Moon is no great shakes but at least he has a body for the Jittes I sided in.

Game Two:

He opened on Spark Elemental.

I responded with turn one Deus of Calamity.


Yep. That’s a concession.



I played a very nice player with medium Red whom I have played a couple of times before with my version of The Rock.

Game One

He shipped to five and kept a one lander. It wasn’t a competitive hand against my second turn Demigod of Revenge.

I sided four Firespout and 3 Jitte for seven Blood Moons and Magus of the Moons (leaving a Magus, obviously).

I had to use the first Firespout on his turn one Slith Firewalker. There were no Seething Song for Arc-Slogger heroics in this one and All-in Red beat medium Red in unspectacular fashion.



Game One

I kept two Moon cards versus Lightning Bolt deck. Luckily I drew eight Mountains off the top. So at the end of the game, my spell count was a Mox, Blood Moon, and Magus of the Moon. No, I didn’t get there.

I sided identically to the first match, above. I probably should have sided in more Shattering Sprees.

Game Two

Turn two Deus of Calamity was deployed, but he blocked to stall and played Ensnaring Bridge! Good gravy. I wasn’t sure what to do and played a naked Demigod of Revenge, which did nothing. Then I topdecked a Jitte. He ran out a Pyrostatic Pillar. I decided I didn’t want to mess with that with my no-acceleration hand and just made two Warrens tokens with the outlook of hopefully getting something online. However he had a Mogg Fantatic to keep the tokens off.

I played some dorks, took Pillar damage; he had to burn every one and take Pillar damage to keep Jitte off him. Eventually it was 5-7 my lead but he had this card Shrapnel Blast and saved it for when I foolishly summoned a Simian Spirit Guide.

I am not sure how I should have played it differently. Possibly I should have waited for another Warrens, but I think waiting too long I would have just died to multiple burn spells.



Game One

He opened on a tapped Steam Vents.

I was on the play and answered with turn two Deus.


Steam Vents? What is that? I assumed Fae but didn’t do anything on account of possibly being wrong.

Game Two

I got Spell Snared as a two-for one (I had already committed Rite of Flame)… so that prevented a turn two or three Empty the Warrens for six.

Then I resolved some Moon-ish spells, and the race was his Vendilion Clique versus my Magus of the Moon.

Following I got in Empty the Warrens for eight; this survived the aforementioned Vendilion Clique, which took my other Empty the Warrens.

He kept sending the Clique and used Threads of Disloyalty to mise one of my tokens.

Then he showed me Venser, which executed two tokens, and Vedalken Shackles.

I thought I had enough gas because of holding a Deus of Calamity back, but he had Flashfreeze as well.

Luckily I had gotten him to two life at this point.

So basically I could win on a storm Warrens or a Demigod of Revenge, but probably be frozen out by anything else. Unfortunately I knew there was one of my remaining three Warrens on the bottom of my deck, meaning I only really had two Warrens left…

But luckily one was on top.

So Mox for nil got me four tokens… possibly enough to win.

But no! Engineered Explosives ate all my guys and suddenly the fae was off to the races. He even made a Spellstutter Sprite for no value.

On his main phase he Shackled my remaining 2/2 dork to get in with Venser and the Clique. Okay… Shackles tapped. Sprite tapped. YT on two.

I could smell the demigod on top.

Yep, topdeck city!

That’s match. Thank you top of my deck!



Game One

I was on the draw.

He ran out turn one Overgrown Tomb.

I answered with turn one Deus of Calamity.

He was honored to be able to eat a Tarmogoyf.

Oblivion Ring! No fun.

Main deck Jitte? Even less fun; then Dark Confidant.

I basically had to play a Warrens for two just to keep the Confidant / Jitte from running me over.

Check and check plus… but he still had a Jitte with a counter.

I sprang into action with a hasty 5/4.

But he had another Oblivion Ring!

I was waiting for that and played another Deus. Whew.

But he answered with Mogg Fanatic, now wearing the Jitte.

He trades, but greviously, including a Seal of Fire.

Now it’s Spirit Guide beatdown.

But no! Kird Ape.

I play Magus of the Moon.

A terrible battle ensues, killing everyone and soaking up all the Jitte counters.

Nothing from him…

And I Mox for nothing, and play four tokens from Warrens.

And finally I get by a Jitte!

I sided out 1 Magus of the Moon and two Manamorphose for three Umezawa’s Jitte. Magus is okay-plus, but I figured he had Red removal and Jittes (which are colorless) as well as Plains for Oblivion Ring… So not that good.

Game Two

This is the hand I kept:

Simian Spirit Guide
Simian Spirit Guide
Deus of Calamity
Blood Moon
Seething Song
Magus of the Moon

He opened with Windswept Heath for Wooded Foothills.

I ripped a Mountain.

YOU MAKE THE PLAY ALERT: What do you do?

I elected to play first turn Blood Moon using both Guides.

He answered with a turn two 1/2 Tarmogoyf, which made me think maybe I should have played the Magus instead.

My next two draws were Deus and Seething Song, so little direct improvement, especially as he mised Plains.

Next turn I made Deus with Rite of Flame and Seething Song.

He swung…

I blocked and he finished off the Deus with a Tribal Flames.

He ripped and played Oblivion Ring on my poor Blood Moon.

I ripped and played Deus.

He played Confidant into Confidant…

But your hero picked up Jitte.

Uncontested Jitte did what uncontested Jitte does.


So 4-1… Not conclusive but certainly a fine record for the night.

Please address how you would have dealt with those opening hands in the comments below.


How to Survive the Elvish Onslaught

Some notes you might find helpful from preliminary Extended testing with The Rock, and against the dreaded Elves…

Before we get to today’s actual post, a couple of things…

Actually go back and read Playing with Follow-through. I know I said to read it after the last post / video but I bet most of you didn’t. IT’S AWESOME. I totally forgot that I wrote it with this completely affected diction, like a 1950s gossip rag. I don’t toot my own horn about articles that often (I mean other than Who’s the Beatdown?, The Rogue Strategy, and Magic: The Intangibles)… but this one was an absolute joy to re-read.

Just a little back story. It was about June of 2005 and I was worried about getting burned out. So I toyed with the idea of… Hold on, let me just find the bonus section from Sideboards I Like:


Bonus Section:
I initially submitted a 50’s-style society gossip column this week, highlighting the backbiting of a certain Mr. S_____ on the occasion of the P__ T___, but Teddy Cardgame rejected it on the grounds that Star City is an alleged “Magic Strategy” site and they don’t publish 50’s-style gossip columns…¬†Not The Month Before Regionals, anyway. So if you, like Jamie Wakefield, actually burst into tears every Thursday night at midnight at the lack of urine-inducing joviality in my once lighthearted writing,¬†you just wait.

You have been warned.

Anyway, go back and read that one.

Also Merry Christmas, &c.

With that preliminary stuff out of the way, I’d like to talk about testing Extended.

I think I have a pretty good Extended deck. 

It is The Rock.

I haven’t been losing very much. Basically not at all. Tonight I had the opportunity to test against a pretty good Elves deck; the demeanor of the player struck me as being very¬†knowledgeable playing Elves. I got the first game of our first match when he fizzled. He won games two and three possibly because I didn’t mulligan, possibly because I didn’t play very well.

In particular I was on the play one of the games and I elected to draw Barren Moor and Wooded Foothills on turn two instead of playing Chrome Mox and running out Engineered Explosives for one. His board was a Forest and a Llanowar Elves. Of course he killed me to death the next turn, albeit by narrow margin.

I talked it through with him and he agreed to play some more. 

I won I think all the rest of the games, admittedly with strong draws (though fueled by strategy-specific mulligans). Here are the preliminary things I learned:

1) You have to play cautiously against Elves. “Drawing two” and worrying about the consequences later was tantamount to “I don’t think you have it,” or at least “Prove it.” Don’t poke the dragon. He beat me in a game where I had Engineered Explosives for one down and Darkblast the whole game just by playing three Wirewood Hivemasters and swarming me before I could play all my creature removal. Elves, like High Tide, is the kind of combo deck that can fizzle, spend a ton of resources, but still be better off at the end of the turn than it was at the beginning of the turn (as opposed to some combo decks that can’t really win if they fizzle). Therefore if you have the resources, it is important to keep Elves in as close to Stage One as possible using removal because if you let them flirt with Stage Three, don’t be surprised if they show you a dominating Stage Three turn that you can’t actually beat.

2) You don’t tell bad beat stories about what was “supposed” to happen. Last night my Cleveland Cavaliers, arguably the strongest NBA team this year, but inarguably the strongest home team in the league came quite close to giving up their first home game during a nationally televised Christmas outing with the lowly Washington Wizards… the worst team in the Eastern Conference. For most of the fourth quarter I was on the edge of my seat chanting, “No. Not to this team. Not at home, and not on Christmas.” I was zombie-like. I don’t know who I was talking to, even though there were lots of people in the room at the time. Part of the problem was that the Cavs’ best players, both certain All-Star LeBron James and likely All-Star big Z were having sub-par games. Happens, right? But we were getting absolutely killed by an undrafted Washington guard by the name of Mike James. Mike James is a career .424 shooter averaging under 7 points per game this season. Last night he lit it up with superb 10-14 shooting, including 5-8 three point shooting. My dad had already consigned the Cavs to a giant lump of coal apparently, and “blamed” the game on Mike James coming out. “He isn’t supposed to do that. Those shots aren’t supposed to fall.” And no, when a team like Washington has every shot falling, that isn’t “supposed” to happen… but I bet Washington fans think it’s just dandy when that happens! Magic and the heavy statistical work I have been doing over the past couple of years has ironed out the kind of dialogue that I used to nod my head to as a sports fan. I knew the Cavs could have just not let Wally Szerbiak touch the ball. Wally — who gets paid about 13 million dollars per year and doesn’t even start — absolutely bled possessions and put up bad shots that could have gone to higher percentage players. If we lost a close six point game, I would have pointed my finger to our team’s decisions, and how five possessions in Wally’s hands had done more than enough damage to lose a single digits game.

That’s how you have to approach Magic, I think; at least tournament Magic against good decks that can explode on the second turn. Before Pro Tour Berlin I was working with Jacob Van Lunen and he was walking me through a matchup scenario; I stopped him mid-sentence. “I know you have them on winning turn four-point-five, but you can’t actually play like that. You don’t get eliminated from Day Two or Top 8 contention because things happened exactly the way they were supposed to!” Maybe that combo deck is supposed to go off on turn four-point-five, but what about that point five? That means that they go off on actual turn four sometimes, or maybe three-point-something. You don’t get eliminated by everything going the way you planned (or at least I hope you don’t!). It’s the games where you leave shaking your head, complaining about a Mike James getting hot when you should have been focused on keeping Wally off the floor… those things YOU can control.

When I lost to the Elves deck because I went for Loam instead of Mox and Engineered Explosives, I let Wally shoot. Wally was traded to the Cavaliers last season as a marksman… He was supposed to be the number two scorer on the Cavaliers, the guy who broke up opposing defensive rotations and kept LeBron’s coverage to a manageable three or four defenders instead of all five. When he hits a three, the crowd is very happy. Just like when you draw two cards for two mana with sights set on three cards next turn (still for two mana), your inner crowd cheers. But when he rims out — or the opposing combo deck has a disagreement with your projected inner cheering and you don’t actually get to untap — What then? You have to control the things you can control. And in this case, that starts with cautious play that respects the opponent’s ability to kill you instead of daring him to prove it.¬†

Because he just might prove it.

I talked the game over with my ¬†very gracious opponent and a spectator, and the general conclusion was that I would have had to pop the Explosives early, but I would have slowed the game down somewhat. I wouldn’t have ruined him by any means, popping it early, but…

It would have been a hell of a lot better than dying. 

Which is what happened.

Like I said, I learned a lot, and I think I am going to be confident with my build of The Rock. I will of course post it here (provided I am still on it) as we get closer to the Extended PTQ season.


PS The best game was when I was sitting on Engineered Explosives for one and he presented all twos… Elvish Visionary, Hivemaster, Hivemaster. Then Fecundity. I could see the gears moving in his head, and he went for Weird Harvest for four (I only had three men left in my deck). I saw the Golden Path and drew three at the end of his turn. Two of the three were Persecutes. Hot damn! Main phase I played Crime // Punishment for his twos, let him draw three, and slammed Persecute with a Mox! Things looked bad for him, but he topdecked and played a second Fecundity. I played an Engineered Explosives for three… and mis-clicked and popped the one I was saving for some future Nettle Sentinels and Druids various. Doh! But I had just read Playing with Follow-through and knew to give up the turn to eat the Fecundity twins anyway.¬†

B/W Tokens Part Two

Who’s the Beatdown After Sideboarding?

For that matter, who wants to be?

It’s “B/W Tokens Part Two” and quite a mite more!

When I originally wrote Who’s the Beatdown?,¬†the prevailing strategy in sideboarded games was to try to go more control. Here is a pretty basic example of how a deck might want to do that, Dave Price’s Top 8 deck from Grand Prix Seattle:

David Price – Negator or No?

4 Carnophage
4 Dark Ritual
4 Dauthi Horror
4 Dauthi Slayer
4 Demonic Consultation
4 Duress
3 Hatred
1 Kaervek’s Spite
4 Phyrexian Negator
4 Sarcomancy
1 Spinning Darkness
3 Unmask

16 Swamp
4 City of Traitors

3 Cursed Scroll
4 Masticore
2 Null Rod
3 Perish
3 Sphere of Resistance

In sideboarded games against other beatdown decks, specifically the Red Decks that were so hard to beat, Dave would remove cards like Sarcomancy (almost always awful) for cards like Masticore (more expensive, but worth lots of cards). This deck could set up a second turn Masticore with Demonic Consultation and Dark Ritual; cross the old fingers. With three lands — provided one was a City of Traitors — the Black deck could play the control, with the Masticore drawing fire (but possibly surviving still due to high toughness and regeneration), generating much card advantage by being able to pick off Ball Lightning. You can call this a kind of “Tinker” scenario, but for our argument it’s jockeying into the “control” role due to the non-tenability of the “beatdown” role against Fireblast and Ball Lightning when you have all these suicidal Zombies in your deck.

Arguably 2/3 of Dave’s sideboard could be categorized as “creature suppression” … Compare with the main deck’s 1/60 (unfettered beatdown).

The same was not untrue for “control” defaulting decks. Dave’s deck was from about a year after I wrote Who’s the Beatdown?. Look at Randy Buehler’s influential World Championship deck from about a year before¬†I wrote that fairly well received article:

Randy Buehler – CMU Blue

4 Nevinyrral’s Disk

4 Counterspell
4 Dismiss
2 Dissipate
3 Forbid
4 Force Spike
4 Impulse
3 Mana Leak
1 Memory Lapse
1 Rainbow Efreet
4 Whispers of the Muse

18 Island
4 Quicksand
4 Stalking Stones

1 Grindstone
2 Capsize
4 Hydroblast
4 Sea Sprite
4 Wasteland

Even with 26 lands main deck Randy was willing to side in four more¬†lands for the mirror to prolong the time until he would actually have to start tapping¬†lands by just playing more and more of them (and in this case having something to say about how the opponent spent his¬†mana in the case of Wasteland applied to cards like Stalking Stones)… Jockeying for more and more and more control.

Randy’s Forbidian from more-or-less the exact moment of the original Who’s the Beatdown? sided three lands as well as some glacial Whispers of the Muse that were certainly not there for the ultra-fast beatdown and combo decks of the era; played quickly, these Whispers would increase Randy’s chances of drawing early Thawing Glaciers, played late, they were even more effective in the card advantage department, especially very very¬†long games.

Of course there are no hard-and-fast rules that are completely unbreakable… We’re talking about prevailing trends here. At the time I talked to Zvi about why this might be — players (at least sometimes correctly) positioning themselves as beatdown or control in game one, but both usually going for control sideboarded — and he remarked that it was obvious: Control has more card advantage, and it’s simply easier to win with more card advantage.

The reason this is interesting is because as time has gone on the best deck designers and players have tried more and more to go more beatdown¬†than control sideboarded. Maybe not beatdown in the sense of “siding in Jackal Pups” (though that happens all the time when the format gives you the tools you need), but beatdown in the sense that you want to seize the initiative and force through your threats.

Think about Jund Mana Ramp v. Fae. I think Jund Mana Ramp is the control in this matchup (consider Asher ManningBot’s comment from You Make the Play, You Make the Play), which is as dodgy as it is unexpected (Game One is not exactly the most stable pillar of percentage)… But consider the specifics. Fae is the threat deck. They win not with permission but resolving Bitterblossom on turn two, and overwhelming with Mistbind Clique. Spellstutter Sprite is a pure tempo move one-for-one and Cryptic Command is usually there to get spit out of the way so that the infinite 1/1s and big old 4/4 can get in. Jund Mana Ramp is the Spartan 300 in this matchup. Jund is trying to hold the hot gates. The legions of little Fae are buzzing in… Jund wins by killing lots of them with Jund Charms and Cloudthreshers, usually wins with one big old Cloudthresher that didn’t get countered or killed… You know, how Weissman did back in the day with his one Serra Angel. That’s why getting in with a Kitchen Finks, Chameleon Colossus, or in Asher’s comment a Civic Wayfinder can change the tenor of a game: It’s like a special treat where you aren’t just taking it every turn and trying to survive until you can do something awesome.

But sideboarded, Jund can tear fingernails getting into the beatdown spot with Mind Shatter, or specifically Mind Shatter + Gutteral Response. So much more active. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. When it’s working, you either work¬†them and they have no chance to be either beatdown or control because they now have nothing and you are about to untap and smash whatever they have left with the soon-to-be-full value Cloudthresher in the grip; when it doesn’t, you are still making active plays that are wearing on a limited screen of counterspells that will eventually buckle if they don’t, you know, execute on their¬†plan and beatdown you to death.

During the span that made me Resident Genius a couple of years ago, many of the successful decks I put together — Josh Ravitz on Kuroda-style Red, my PTQ win with Critical Mass, and Osyp Lebedowicz with URzaTron — featured controllish decks with sideboards set up to beat controllish decks by forcing through table-shattering threats… All three of those sideboards were masterworks.

So why am I on this topic?

Here is a video I just uploaded to ye olde YouTube:

If you watched B/W Tokens Part I you can see that I had overwhelming offense in the sky with multiple Marsh Flitters and Cloudgoat Rangers while he couldn’t get through on the ground due to my little White men. However he was playing with the powerful Chameleon Colossus, which is usually medium scary for Bitterblossom players.

I mentioned in the video I sided out Glorious Anthem which just makes me even more beatdown in favor of Wrath of God and Elspeth, Knight-Errant (block one Chameleon Colossus forever and / or guarantee Wrath of God card advantage) in order to cover that side of the spectrum. In this case I am going kind of old school, siding control / card advantage cards, but you see how I cut off both beatdown [which I already had] AND control [in the case that he could get his bit threats through] roles.

You see a lot of successful decks implementing exactly this strategy, even if no commentator indicated that was what they were going for.



Michael Jacob’s B/W Tokens

4 Bitterblossom
3 Marsh Flitter
4 Terror
2 Thoughtseize

4 Tidehollow Sculler

3 Ajani Goldmane
4 Cloudgoat Ranger
4 Glorious Anthem
2 Knight of Meadowgrain
1 Knight of the White Orchid
4 Spectral Procession

4 Arcane Sanctum
4 Caves of Koilos
4 Fetid Heath
2 Mutavault
3 Plains
3 Reflecting Pool
1 Swamp
4 Windbrisk Heights

2 Head Games
2 Thoughtseize
3 Stillmoon Cavalier
2 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
3 Wispmare
3 Wrath of God

PPS: Reading List

UG Threshold and The Ancient Art of First Round Flores by Zvi Mowshowitz (you need Brainburst Premium to read this, but it will be in the upcoming Zvi book by Top 8 Magic)

By me:
Sullivan, Nimble Mongoose, and Sullivan
Playing with Follow-through

You Make the Play, You Make the Play

Hello beloved readers!

Before we get to the next¬†You Make the Play (in case you hadn’t yet noticed You Make the Play is about Ajani-times more popular than anything else to read on this site!), I wanted to tie up some older installments of You Make the Play. First, regarding Thoughtseize v. Rampant Growth – Fight! (itself a response):

The opening hand consisted of these pretty pixels:

And the question was how to spend a first turn Thoughtseize. My opponent took the Rampant Growth (which I at the time didn’t want him to take) and I beat him up with a Civic Wayfinder on the way to winning the match.

What do the kiddies have to say?

#1 Apprentice Asher ManningBot Hecht
“Civic Wayfinder, obv. You probably did like six before he stopped it. That matters.”

I hadn’t thought about it from that perspective, but good old Civic Wayfinder did in fact get in for relevant damage!

The Pennsylvania Champ, Brett Blackman
“I would have taken Rampant Growth.”

Isn’t this what we spent the preceding post debunking? Well, this isn’t the last time YT clashes with his betters.

But now I’m getting ahead of myself…

Next: Deciding on Disappointment 

Zack Hall has four cards in hand and a Figure of Destiny (1/1) in play. You have four lands including a Ghitu Encampment. Zack is up a card due to playing second, and is presently nuking you with Blightning. This is your grip:

What do you pitch?

Now before we get all the way settled, let me just ask you a question. Which side of this divide would you rather be on?

GP Top 8 competitors Zack Hall and Gerard Fabiano…

… or Magic commentators, Evan Erwin and Mike Flores?

Choose carefully.

To answer Dave Petterson, the life totals were 19-14 my lead.

Interestingly, most of the earlier responses favored holding onto a Flame Javelin, and most of the later responses –especially after the absolutely superb response by Alexan — had us holding Demigod of Revenge. The Demigod of Revenge camp, which included the newly wedded BK, were much more strategic: “We’re probably losing… now how do we find a way to win, however improbable?”

At this point it probably won’t surprise you to learn that…

Team Keep the Demigod: Fabiano & Hall

Team Keep the Flame Javelin: Erwin & Flores

Of course my favorite response was from wobblethegoose:
“Pitch a Demigod of Revenge and Flame Javelin. Prior scouting lets me know that Hall is running Unwilling Recruit, significantly reducing the EV of a resolved Demigod.”

What a savage metagamer.

Anyway, this is what I was thinking… Two things:

1) I am behind, but I can predict what Zack is going to do with his mana. Unless he has a Demigod of Revenge, he is going to put four mana into the Figure -at some point- if not next turn, and I can steal mana and take out his key threat, potentially buying me the time to topdeck out of this situation.

2) I lost a fair number of Demigod mirror matches in Block Constructed because I tried to play the Demigod beatdown. I went for it with Demigod of Revenge and my opponent sat and waited, Flamed my Demigod, then counterattacked with his Demigod when I was tapped.

It’s as Kowal said, we’re probably not going to win… and maybe I wasn’t playing to win… but I did. This is how it went down:

I pulled a land and immediately played it. I coyly looked at my graveyard and eyed the Demigod.

Zack’s eyes rolled back. “Please don’t slow roll me!” I had previously double-pumped both fists and danced about when he shipped to Paris in Game One (you may have seen this dance on The Magic Show). I smiled and didn’t have it this time, passed with all five lands open.

Zack played his fifth land and played Demigod of Revenge. He did not attack with his Figure of Destiny, no doubt worried that I might eat it with Ghitu Encampment.

Of course I killed the Demigod with Flame Javelin.

Along the way I got a little card advantage back with a Blightning of my own, revealing a pair of Unwilling Recruits. Had I kept the Demigod of Revenge, I am pretty sure I would have lost to those on the spot. My last turn, I got in with a Hell’s Thunder when Zack’s remaining removal spell was a Lash Out, and landed the last three with a topdecked Incinerate.

I obviously got immensely lucky on topdecks, and that Zack’s last removal card couldn’t stop the four from Hell’s Thunder, but I was just so used to getting beaten up when I “went for it” with my own Demigods in Block that I was almost “trained” not to try. I don’t know if this is faulty thinking, but in this case it got there when the alternative might have cost me the game.

More to come, of course!


Show, Don’t Tell

At the recent Star City Games $5,000 tournament in Philadelphia, a lot of people came up to me and asked about The World’s Greatest Tee Shirt. I am proud to say that having explained the desperate situation that the heroic Autobots found themselves in — at least until the arrival of their mechanical messiah — and how Optimus Prime, the Touch in tow, was able to save the day (or at least Autobot City) well enough that players present seemed to “get it” and new friends like Garrett Sheier even went and got themselves some Optimus Prime tee shirts.

So I thought I’d share what I talked about “in real life” in Philadelphia… and keeping in mind that you don’t have me swearing like a sailor in your ear… maybe you will come to understand why I find a tear in my eye every time I see that newly beloved tee shirt image. Transformers: The Movie has been one of my favorite films for over twenty years.

Here’s the setting.

The Decepticons are blitzing Autobot City! The Decepticons are BLITZING Autobot City. I know you are used to some skirmishes over the tee vee seasons with ‘bots from both sides of the Red / Purple insignia division walking away or even rolling out as it were, but the film to this point has been a murder of murders. Ironhide. Prowl. Wheeljack. I owned some or all of the vanquished ‘bots. At age 11 I didn’t yet realize that this was a ploy to, you know, sell more bits of plastic and die-cast metal.

But through the long night some of the Autobots have survived. The villanous Richard III-like Megatron calls for the final destruction of all that is holy and good and energon-powered on Earth, the end of a war that began in the time of the dinosaurs, perhaps… but not at all a good ending for us and ours.

Devastator, six ‘cons strong, shrugs off a heavy blow and is tearing Autobot City in two with mighty hands of steel, threatening to expose the last hidey-hole of the now exhausted Autobot faithful.

All seems lost.

But there is hope.

Hope that rides on sixteen wheels.

Here is a music video (I didn’t make it, but they let some other videos sit on the same site as Five With Flores), albeit largely less popular:



Check it out at about 0:09… That long shot of Optimus Prime rolling out and crossing the bridge to what will be his final battle. Can you hear the palpable hope alongside Stan Bush’s power ballad crooning?

0:16… The Decepticons hear it, and are rallying to the bridge. 300 Spartans nearly held the hot gates against the greatest army history had seen to that point. But can a small army of robotic killing-machines stand against a single sixteen-wheeler?

0:21… We have completely misjudged this situation! The ‘cons aren’t rallying… They’re RUNNING! From a single Autobot! He must have “the Touch” or some such.

0:24… This is the reflection of a supervillain’s face right before he’s…

0:25… splattered to the sky by an oncoming sixteen-wheeler.

0:33… Prime is so tough he seems completely immune to blaster fire, even in truck-mode. Eff these guys and their stupid blasters.

0:35… There go the jets. This is the iconic moment. Prime is vaulting from “run over the slower Decepticons” truck-mode to “heroic mass-murderer” Autobot mode. If you aren’t cheering as he launches from the ground to the sky, I fear, my friend, that you have no soul.

0:37… He hasn’t even hit the ground yet, but his gun is in his hand.

0:39… Fatality!

0:40… Fatality!

0:41… Fatal… Um, we know Soundwave lives, but he seems pretty effed up anyway. Remember, Prime hasn’t even hit the ground from his transformation yet and he has already run over 2-3 Decepticons and shot another 2-3 to death already. Has this guy got the Touch or what?

0:42-0:47… We aren’t even a FULL MINUTE into the song yet and Prime has just unloaded 10-12 more rounds. We see the results of the last two; that is, two more ‘con corpses. Given his shot percentage to this point, how many ‘cons did he drop along the way?

1:07… No clue why Megatron flying tackles Prime here instead of shooting him with his black hole-powered cannon. This guy needs like, a life coach or at least to listen to Top 8 Magic or something. What a poor play.

1:25… Oh, that’s why! Black hole, black shmole! Prime would just dodge his lightspeed cannon-blast! (No clue why being disparately shown to shrug off blaster fire and dodge singularity-level destruction moving at the speed of light, he was successfully tagged by a hurled piece of debris, which you can see sticking out of his gut… You know when the Japanese guy shoots all his rounds and Gojira and they don’t hurt him, but then he inexplicably throws his empty revolver at the rampaging dragon-god? Imagine that the gun knocked him back into the sea. Logic.).

1:34… Megatron has a lightsaber!

1:35… Prime is vulnerable to lightsabers (I mean who isn’t?); this will be important at a later date.

1:44… Megatron, though, is vulnerable to PRIME’S EVER LOVIN’ FISTICUFFS!!!

2:00… Also Prime’s Judo!!!

We all know how this fight ends. It is Optimus’s last fight. Though he defeats Megatron and routs essentially the entire Decepticon invasion force, he is greviously wounded and has to pass the torch — or the Matrix of Leadership in this case — to the Prime of the next generation.

3:11… Rodimus Prime unleashes the Touch and lights our darkest hour. Do you see how the Touch can be passed to the most incompetent of potential heroes?

But you can surely see how Prime’s inspiration and leadership — and most importantly the hope he represented to the embattled and desperate heroes — combined with the magical music of the time combine sublimely (almost like Devastator or perhaps Voltron to go off-universe) into The World’s Greatest Tee Shirt:

Your old buddy michaelj (or Mrs. michaelj properly) ordered two. They will be mine for Christmas! Thank you beloved Better Half!

If you have foolishly not gotten yours yet, think about it like this… Do you not have the Touch? Do you want it? Are you constantly complaining about bad mana, bad luck, being topdecked? Perhaps you need the Touch, or perhaps the Power. Did you notice Prime teasing your opponent and calling him a loser with that L-shape up top his head?

You just might want to think about that.

I plan to start next year’s Extended PTQ season with the Touch in tow.

Happy Holidays everybody!


Jamie Parke’s Reflecting Pool Control

Just a quick video on my friend Jamie Parke’s Top 8 deck from this past weekend’s 2008 Magic: The Gathering World Championships.

In case you haven’t seen it, here is Jamie’s deck list (designed, I hear, by Gabriel Nassif):

4 Cryptic Command
4 Mulldrifter
2 Negate
4 Remove Soul
1 Tidings
1 Cruel Ultimatum
3 Esper Charm
2 Jund Charm
1 Oona, Queen of the Fae
4 Rhox War Monk
2 Cloudthresher
1 Pyroclasm
2 Condemn
3 Wrath of God

2 Fire-Lit Thicket
1 Flooded Grove
4 Mystic Gate
4 Reflecting Pool
1 Sunken Ruins
1 Underground River
4 Vivid Creek
4 Vivid Grove
4 Vivid Meadow
1 Yavimaya Coast

1 Austere Command
4 Bitterblossom
2 Condemn
1 Glen Elendra Archmage
3 Guttural Response
1 Pithing Needle
2 Pyroclasm
1 Wrath of God

The major differentiating element is that this deck plays Rhox War Monk over Kitchen Finks, which is sometimes worse but sometimes quite dramatically better (for example, Jamie ran all over Tsuyoshi Ikeda in the Top 4 gaining tons of life with Spiteful Visions in play).

The super tech was Bitterblossom in the sideboard. Jamie rode his awesome blossoms to beat Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa in the deciding game of his Top 8 match.

Here’s the obligatory video…

I actually had to go back and edit that just now. I think the opponent (playing what looked like Michael Jacob’s B/W Tokens deck) actually missed a kill the turn I tapped out for Oona. Yay us?

Anyway, I hope you liked it.


B/W Tokens

For anyone who hasn’t seen the new B/W Tokens decks in Standard, Michael Jacob used a version to help knock down the 2008 Worlds team title in favor of the good old USA.

Michael Jacob’s B/W Tokens

4 Bitterblossom
3 Marsh Flitter
4 Terror
2 Thoughtseize

4 Tidehollow Sculler

3 Ajani Goldmane
4 Cloudgoat Ranger
4 Glorious Anthem
2 Knight of Meadowgrain
1 Knight of the White Orchid
4 Spectral Procession

4 Arcane Sanctum
4 Caves of Koilos
4 Fetid Heath
2 Mutavault
3 Plains
3 Reflecting Pool
1 Swamp
4 Windbrisk Heights

2 Head Games
2 Thoughtseize
3 Stillmoon Cavalier
2 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
3 Wispmare
3 Wrath of God

This deck has some unusual choices…

[Only?] Two copies of Thoughtseize on one… but these compliment the full set of Tidehollow Scullers on two.

Black two mana spells include tons of Terrors, but also possibly the most powerful spell in the deck, a quartet of Bitterblossoms. This is the kind of deck — along with Blightning Beatdown — where I can really appreciate Bitterblossom. It’s obviously a strong card… I just hate the fact that it is Faerie-stamped.

The only “true” three mana spell in Michael’s deck is Glorious Anthem. I saw a similar innovation in a deck that Andre Coimbra showed me before Worlds. Andre was testing my Blightning Beatdown pretty heavily and was losing badly to B/W tokens. So he decided to brew up some mirror innovations for the B/W deck, and Glorious Anthem “to win the tokens fights” was one of the things he came up with. It looks like Jacob had the same idea.

Regardless, Glorious Anthem has killer synergy with token creatures in general… It can help to make 1/1 throwaways into [more] legitimate threats.

One thing that struck me as a little odd in this deck was the White Planeswalker in the main, that is, the “other” Ajani [Goldmane]. Yes, you can increase all tokens with Ajani, simiar to Glorious Anthem, but Elspeth Knight-Errant actually makes tokens. Her “to the air” attack is about as devastating as you can get with a Knight of Meadowgrain early. Do you realize that a ten-point life swing on a stick actually increases Elspeth’s loyalty?

Offense is rounded out by multiple “make three or more guys” guys… Marsh Flitter, Cloudgoat Ranger, and Spectral Procession. In the following video, I get my Spectral Procession stolen on turn two, but the other two token generators make quick work of Game One.



You Make the Play – Deciding on Disappointment

You Make the Play returns with a mirror match dilemma from this past weekend’s Star City Games $5,000 tournament in Philadelphia, PA.

The situation:
You are 4-1 or thereabouts in the Star City Games $5,000 tournament in Philadelphia last week. Your deck in this one is Blightning Beatdown… So is your opponent’s.

That opponent is Zack Hall, who has a Grand Prix Top 4 this year and is probably better than you.

That said, you got Game One at least in part because Zack shipped to Paris on the play; he had a lot of Flame Javelins to your Bitterblossom, but you got there with the card advantage.

So it’s game two. Having read Why Dave Price Goes Second, Zack opted to draw.

This strategy has served him pretty solidly this game and he is currently ahead. It’s Zack’s turn five and this is the situation:

He plays super duper deck namesake Blightning with three or four more cards in hand. Wow that is a lot of cards.

Zack’s board is a 2/2 Figure of Destiny and four lands (no Ghitu Encampment).

Your board is:

Ghitu Encampment,
Reflecting Pool, and
Auntie’s Hovel.

Your hand is (of which you will have to pitch two cards) is: Demigod of Revenge, Flame Javelin, Flame Javelin.

You missed your last land drop. You have sided out three Bitterblossoms for three Lash Outs this game.

Okay geniuses-in-training! Make the play. What do you pitch and why? More importantly (and it’s kind of the same question)… What do you keep?


Reflecting Pool Control

This one is kind of like a Who’s the Beatdown? redux.

It wasn’t really intended that way… The first part especially is about the Reflecting Pool Control deck Mike McGee used to make Top 8 of the Star City Games $5,000 event. But game play gave us a rare opportunity to observe the control deck switching roles.

I guess it all came down to turn one, where the opposing beatdown deck played Ghitu Encampment. Because I was on the play, this let me Remove Soul his first play and buy a ferocious amount of time.

Then it was Kitchen Finks, Kitchen Finks against an opponent with no creature set up to block.

Normally a deck like Red Deck Wins or Blightning Beatdown is a challenge for Reflecting Pool Control. However instead of playing a sit-there attack-acceptance strategy where we would win (hopefully) after a lifetime of draw-go Magic, I saw multiple Finks as an opportunity to attack.

A lot of the readership (viewership?) has been asking for full matches. So we will probably be following this one up with Game Two… and why we didn’t side in something that would seem obvious to most of you.

Until then… Don’t get played.


P.S. Oy! Mike’s deck list:

2 Island
3 Remove Soul
4 Wrath of God
3 Condemn
2 Cascade Bluffs
2 Flooded Grove
2 Cloudthresher
4 Cryptic Command
3 Jace Beleren
2 Mulldrifter
4 Vivid Creek
3 Vivid Grove
1 Vivid Marsh
4 Vivid Meadow
1 Negate
2 Ajani Vengeant
2 Cruel Ultimatum
4 Esper Charm
4 Kitchen Finks
2 Mystic Gate
2 Sunken Ruins
4 Reflecting Pool

1 Glen Elendra Archmage
2 Primal Command
3 Chameleon Colossus
3 Negate
3 Jund Charm
3 Runed Halo