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. 

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