Nearly 3 weeks ago I went to Paris to play in the Pro Tour for the first time, sharing an apartment with 7 people (which turned into 9 when Marco Orsini-Jones and Stu Wright both crashed there at the weekend). Playing a reactive deck in an unknown environment is rarely good, but I hadn’t seen anything in Mirrodin Besieged that I thought would shake up the Valakut/Jace control/Swarm Aggro metagame so I played UB control, which I thought was the best Jace deck. (Vampire Nighthawk usually beats Squadron Hawks except that now people have huge glowing swords for their hawks to wave around and laugh at vampires with…) A combination of playing against decks I hadn’t seen before and a little bit of bad luck led me to be out of contention as fast as physically possible.
With the bitter taste of defeat I sleeved up Dredge for the Legacy side event the next day and continuing my losing streak by facing a turn 1 Thoughtseize, turn 3 Bojuka Bog (drawn naturally, not searched for with Knight of the Reliquary) in the first round. I played all 9 rounds, and ended up facing Patron Wizard tribal in the last round I’ll let you guess how many rounds I won…
The GP went better, but I only have myself to blame for missing the on board win in game 3 of round 9 at 6-1-1.
I registered for the Suday PTQ and went to find food. Severely sleep deprived and convinced that I was terrible at magic (aka on tilt), I decided at around midnight on Saturday night to switch from RG Valakut (which requires some counting skills) to a built-from-scratch Tempered Steel deck with the excuse that apparently any noob can win a PTQ with Tempered Steel .*
â€œdoes anyone actually have any Memnites? Only 2? That’ll have to do… Steel Overseer seems slow, I’ll stick to 3… how many lands should I play? 12? 24? I want to fit in some Trinket Mages to be techy and sideboard in a Nihil Spellbomb for against Vengevines…â€
On the way into the venue, we met Antoine Ruel (who knows one of the guys I was sharing the apartment with), who suggested Signal Pest was a good idea so I had to rush to the dealers (after a severe attack of fanboy- arrhea) and find space to cram them into my 60.
I had no idea how to play the deck (mulligan decisions especially), but I managed to win the first two rounds because the deck can just Thoughtseize and smash face. I lost to Naya in rounds 3 and 4, mostly because of Fauna Shaman fetching multiple Qasali Pridemage and Cunning Sparkmage/Basilisk Collar.
On the way back home, we discussed how to solve the Naya problem (since Naya had been popular in the Cambridge and London PTQs) and Linvala was suggested. Given that my deck can play a 4-drop on turn 2 (Mox, Springleaf Drum, 2 lands and a free creature) Linvala seemed like a good plan so I made space for her in the sideboard.
*For those of you not in the know, Carrie Oliver caused some controversy by winning the Cambridge PTQ with UW Tempered Steel. She may have made some ‘unusual’ plays, but her deck choice propelled her to a free trip to Japan. Hopefully she will be able to contribute outside-the-box ideas in block constructed too. Her article can be found here.
Proof of Concept.
Last week there were 2 PTQs – one in Reading and one in Nottingham. I had seen the potential in the Tempered Steel deck and I wanted to give it one more try in a PTQ. If I top8’ed I would play it again in Nottingham. If I scrubbed out, I would switch to a netdeck (Valakut or Faeries most likely).
I lost round 1 against Red Deck Wins. It wasn’t even close. I was gutted that I had wasted a precious PTQ entry on this terrible construction and spent all of round 2 telling my opponent (the wonderful Tom Robinson) how I was glad I brought my cube. He was playing UW control, but he apparently couldn’t draw Day of Judgement ever (and when he did, Unified Will was a blowout because he suicided his Sun Titan to get a land back thinking everything was going to die anyway). The match ended with me attacking with over a hundred power of creatures and activating Tezzeret to finish him off for the final 34 (He had Wall of Reverence + Sun Titan for a long time). Over the next 4 rounds I played against two Valakut (which couldn’t handle 8 discard effects AND Unified Will out of my sideboard), Faeries (which struggled against Zealous Persecution and big Ornithopters) and Thoughtseize/Sculler/Vendilion/Finks aggro-disruption to get to 5-1 and able to draw into the top8.
Glad to be winning again, but slightly worried that I had just lucksacked my way into a bad deck choice for the second PTQ, I played a tight Quarter finals against RG Valakut, where in game 1 I kept a decent explosive hand with Mox Opal, but then drew the other 2 Mox Opals as my first two draws and died to his Slagstorm + Primeval Titan.
Game 2 I sided in Unified Will, which blew him out when he went for a Titan to block my lethal board.
Game 3 I used Tidehollow Sculler and Thoughtseize to rip apart his hand, but he managed to cast a Prismatic Omen and a couple of ramp spells off the top. I attacked him down to 5, with a board of Tidehollow Sculler, Tempered Steel, Master of Etherium, a couple of free cratures and some non-creature artifacts. I cast a Tidehollow Sculler to see just land in his hand and pass the turn, just hoping that the top card of his deck isn’t a Scapeshift, Primeval Titan or Green Sun’s Zenith, but it’s and my dreams are crushed.
Since I had top8’ed I had to play the same deck for Nottingham. I had been unimpressed by Signal Pest – when it was doing it’s thing it would add 1-2 damage to the attack most of the time, but since the deck usually has huge creatures attacking for waaaay more than lethal the Signal Pest damage was irrelevant. When signal pest was confronted with a Bitterblossom token or a Baneslayer Angel or something, it was super-bad. Signal Pest also encourages you to over-commit to the board and then you get blown out by Slagstorm. So I cut it and moved Unified Will to the main deck to protect from topdecking luckbox Scapeshift players… This made space for Kor Firewalker in the sideboard to shore up the red matchup.
In Nottingham I went 5-2, losing to 2 mtgUK’ers Simon Bainbridge playing Doran/Glissa (too much removal) and Jono Randle (Faeries Master). I did get to play against another Tempered Steel deck, which had Court Homonculus and I wasn’t impressed by that either.
With a combined 10-4 record over the weekend, I was pretty happy with my version of the deck – it had proved to me that it was powerful enough to top8 and people weren’t really prepared to beat it. With the rise of go for the throat as the removal of choice in Faeries, I had beaten Faeries every time except for Jono (’cause he’s a master). Moving Unified Will to the main deck had also improved the matchup against control and Valakut.
I also had won every game where I had an active Steel Overseer, so I wanted to up the number in the deck to 4.
I’ll leave out sideboarding notes because the sideboard is actually pretty fluid depending on what you see of your opponent’s deck. The deck is so fast that sometimes all you see is 10 cards of your opponent’s deck before they are dead. In general, Zealous Persecution is for Noble Hierarchs, Birds, Cobras, Sparkmages and Faeries. Unified Will is for creature-light decks. Linvala is for Elves and Naya. Path is for Baneslayer, Doran and Master of Etherium. Basilisk Collar is for Vengevine. Pithing Needle is for Qasali Pridemage, Cunning Sparkmage, Swords and Manlands.
The cards that come out are usually Unified Will (bad against creature decks), Memnite (also bad against creatures), Trinket Mage (against removal light decks where you don’t need Pithing Needle or Collar), Tezzeret (x1 vs. Faeries – they just attack him), 1x Mox Opal, 1x Springleaf Drum (against decks whose primary removal is Path to Exile). Trinket Mage stays in against Faeries as Ornithopter 5-6.
Game 1 He trades his Maelstrom Pulse for my first Master of Etherium and I play a second one immediately after. He makes a Doran and a Behemoth Sledge, but my creatures are bigger due to Tempered Steel and I can trade an Ornithopter for Doran with a double block. I add Steel Overseer to the board and he makes the mistake of attacking his 6/6 Knight of the Reliquary into my 8/8 Memnite. I attack back for lethal fairly soon after.
Game 2 he has double Baneslayer and removal and I only draw 1 Path to Exile and I lose.
Game 3 I get a double-Inkmoth Nexus draw accompanied by Steel Overseer and fast growing Nexi finish him in the air before he is in the game.
Record: 1-0 (2-1)
Round 2: GWu.
Game 1 I am too fast for him, he removes a Steel Overseer with Bant Charm but that is not nearly enough.
Game 2 He starts with double Noble Hierarch, which both die to Zealous Persecution. He follows that up with double Qasali Pridemage, but I have Trinket Mage to fetch Pithing Needle. I follow that up with a Tempered Steel and my creatures are much bigger than his so he dies.
Record: 2-0 (4-1)
Game 1 Again my deck is too fast to make a huge board. I Sculler him and see just lands, I start beefing him with a 6/6 Master of Etherium. He plays a Baneslayer and keeps chumping with Celestial Colonnades to stay alive and keep his Baneslayer. I have Unified Will in hand for the whole game so he is locked out and I ride the huge Master to victory.
Game 2 I start with a Thoughtseize and then cast a Tidehollow Sculler or Thoughtseize almost every turn. As a result I get to dictate the flow of the entire game and end up attacking him to death with a double-Tempered Steel’d Inkmoth Nexus.
Record: 3-0 (6-1)
Round 4: Faeries (Stephen Murray).
Game 1 He keeps a hand with double Go for the Throat and draws two more over the course of the game. Against my deck they are dead cards and he quickly succumbs to my board of robots.
Game 2 He keeps a fine hand, but I have practiced against faeries and don’t attack my Inkmoth Nexus into a potential Vendilion Clique. He flashes in Clique in my draw next step, which allows me to make a Master of Etherium. My tight play doesn’t matter thought because he draws land every turn for 8 turns and dies anyway.
Record: 4-0 (8-1)
Game 1: I win the dice roll and play a turn 1 Mox Opal, Springleaf Drum, Memnite, Ornithopter, Tidehollow Sculler (with Tempered Steel in my hand). He shows me a 1-land, Mox hand and a sad face.
Game 2: He has turn 1 triple Ornithopter, Mox, land. I could have had a turn 1 Steel Overseer, but I have to play my Mox to remove his and lay down just an Ornithopter and a Memnite. He shows me his sad face again because his hand is double Tempered Steel and no land. I play the Overseer on turn 2 and a Master on turn 3. By the time he draws a second land he has a Memnite and a Glint Hawk in play and I have a massive army.
Record 5-0 (10-1)
I am the only player on 15 points (two 4-0’s drew round 5) so I am a lock for the top 8 even if I lose the next two rounds. My opponent can’t ID, but I could scoop to him. I decide not to for two reasons:
1) To have a good look at his deck and potentially his sideboard strategy.
2) If it’s a bad matchup, I’d rather take the chance to knock him out of the top 8.
If it’s a good matchup then I’ll scoop him in afterwards. He gets pretty lame draws both games and I steamroll him. I do get to cast a Thoughtseize or two to see that his deck is almost entirely removal, so I decide not to scoop him in after the match is over.
Record 6-0 (12-1)
Round 7: Faeries
I can’t dream crush this round because we are both locked into the top8, so we ID and play momir basic with my cube.
Record 6-0-1 (12-1)
Quarter Finals: Faeries (Ed Ross)
It has been a slog for my opponent to get to the top8 – 7 full rounds with Faeries is definitely tiring, grinding into 8th place on tiebreakers. He played solid, but I don’t think he has much experience against my deck.
Game 1: My draw is fast and I get a huge board while he taps out for Bitterblossom. I Sculler him to see just a Vendilion Clique and he is never in the game.
Game 2: He keeps triple Bitterblossom, Vendilion Clique, 3 land. I Thoughtseize him and take the Clique so he is all-in on double Bitterblossom (casting the 3rd would be suicide). He draws the perfect sequence of Disfigure and mana leak to stop my Steel Overseer + Trinket Mage draw and I can’t get enough gas on the table before double Bitterblossom kills me.
Game 3: My hand is fast out of the gates with a turn 2 5/5 Master of Etherium. He doesn’t have Bitterblossom and his lands are double mutavault and one UB dual so he dies pretty quickly.
Semi Finals: Combo Elves.
I played a bit during the week on magic workstation and the Combo Elves matchup seems really bad. They can accelerate into a huge board just as fast, but Ezuri means that their huge board is always lethal and you can never attack into them. (You have to fly over with Inkmoth Nexus, but they sometimes have Acidic Slime too…) My only hope is for my opponent to mulligan into bad hands, not to play a turn 1 Llanowar or Arbor Elves and then I get Thoughtseize and Sculler and a big board fast.
Game 1: He wins the die roll, mulligans to 5 and leads with Llanowar elves. I keep a hand with double Tidehollow Sculler, thinking that turn 2 and 3 Sculler is going to be great against his 5 cards. I play a land, Springleaf Drum and Ornithopter. Turn 2 he lays down an Elvish Archdruid. I have the option to cast a Master of Etherium, or the first of two Tidehollow Scullers to look at the 2 cards in his hand. I see a Ranger of Eos and a Primal Command. I take the Primal Command, hoping that he will draw 1 mana elves or lands for the rest of the game and my Master of Etherium will force him to chump. He casts Ranger of Eos fetching a Nettle Sentinel and a Joraga Warcaller, casting the Sentinel and keeping Warcaller in hand for a big multikicker next turn from the Archdruid. On my turn I Sculler away his Warcaller seeing that he has a Heritage Druid in hand. On his turn he topdecks and casts Gilt-leaf Archdruid, then he casts the Heritage Druid and draws a card, casts an Arbour Elves, uses Heritage Druid’s ability to make mana casts 6 more druids off the top, then Ranger of Eos for 2 more druids, Green Sun Zenith for Ezuri, Primal Command for Devoted Druid infinite mana, attack for lethal with the Nettle Sentinel that started the turn in play…
He won through double Sculler on a mulligan to 5 on the play. I do not see how this matchup is winnable. I side in 4 Path to Exile and 2 Linvala for 2 Trinket Mage, 2 Unified Will, 2 Memnite.
Game 2: He mulls to 6 and keeps Heritage Druid, 2 lands, two 3-drops, Ranger and draws Primal Command and Ranger of Eos as his first two draws. Meanwhile I lay down a huge Master of Etherium and some other stuff and he misses his 3rd land drop so he’s just dead.
Game 3: My hand is Memnite, Mox Opal, Windbrisk Heights, 2x Tempered Steel, Inkmoth Nexus, Tidehollow Sculler. Zead mulls to 6 and again doesn’t have the turn 1 accelerant. I turn 2 my Sculler (play and activate Inkmoth Nexus to make metalcraft) to see a land heavy draw with Ranger of Eos and Green Sun Zenith. I take the Ranger and cast Linvala to force a â€œfairâ€ fight, then poison him for 5 in the air twice while he can’t mount a defence.
I am amazed that I have beaten what I thought was an unwinnable matchup. I move over to spectate the other semi-finals to see RG tribal Shamans being surgically dissected by Stephen Murray‘s Faeries deck.
I am glad to face Stephen again in the finals, because he has had a huge slog of a tournament, 4 main deck go for the throat AND I have the psychological edge of having crushed him in the swiss. He is unlikely to play perfectly at the end of all that.
Finals: Faeries (Stephen Murray)
The match goes to 3 games, with head judge Stelios Kargotis helpfully handing Stephen plenty of Faerie tokens (he got 3 Bitterblossoms down in game 2, but had to use them all as focefields) and wishing us both good luck before each game. 9 Rounds have clearly worn Stephen out and in game 3 he makes several sloppy plays allowing me a Zealous Persectution blowout and I manage leverage a Tezzeret into a win.
Record 9-0-1 (18-4)
Now I understand that a lot of Tempered Steel decks just flop their hand onto the table as fast as possible and hope that it’s good enough – full of cards like Glint Hawk, Court Homunculus, Signal Pest. They rely on hitting a pump effect and hoping it doesn’t get destroyed and they can play out a lot like Kuldotha Red in standard. (Here’s my hand, got removal?)
That is the reason I sleeved up the deck in Paris – I could just luckbox my way to a Pro Tour slot. But as I continued to play the deck and change it, it turned into something much more resilient.
The deck has a lot of disruption between Thoughtseize, Tidehollow Sculler, Unified Will, Path to Exile, Linvala, Zealous Persecution, Pithing Needle. With 20 lands and 26 mana sources (16 white, 15 blue, 11 black), the deck is rarely mana screwed (other Tempered Steel decks I have seen run 16 lands). I minimized the number of low-impact cards. I played cards in my sideboard to beat the decks I wanted to beat.
You have to get lucky to win a PTQ – not many decks will consistently go 18-4 in games, but I did not play a â€œcoin flip deckâ€ – I played a fast, disruptive deck tuned to beat the decks I anticipated people playing – Valakut, Faeries, control and Noble Hierarch decks. (The bad matchups are Combo Elves and decks with a lot of removal and creatures (e.g. Doran, removal heavy Jund, Red Deck Wins)).
There is one more PTQ this season, in Birmingham on March 12th. I would recommend playing my deck, but beware that now it has won a tournament people might be more prepared for it. Etched Champion is an interesting idea, but the 3-slot is clogged up with Trinket Mage, Master of Etherium and Tempered Steel and he is just a 2/2 so I don’t think I would make space for him. If you want a good Elves matchup, switch the Kor Firewalkers for Ethersworn Canonists.
Thanks for reading,
Sebastian Parker (RisingSun000 Online)