Warning: this is quite long but there is a tournament report in here somewhere. Promise.
First of all, a bit of introduction and background. If you played M:TG back in the late nineties then you may remember me. I was part of the Nottingham crowd along with guys like Steve Newberry, Nick Aubrey and Chris Wankling who’d be bothered to travel for tournaments – Gravesend and Edinburgh being the most ridiculous distances we travelled – and although I was never spectacular, was an OK player and had a half-decent DCI rating. I even qualified for Nationals back in 2000. Shortly after that I put my collection up for sale and completely walked away from the game for 6 years after a series of fairly unpleasant tournament experiences that culminated in a judge and a player colluding to cheat me out of a match win at a pre-release…
A pre-release for Christ’s sake!? :/
My six years in the wilderness were not idle ones though. One lunchtime at work I noticed a colleague had a stack of CCG cards on his desk with pictures of superheroes on them and I asked him to teach me the game. A week later I’m beating him every game we play no matter which deck either of us is running so he introduces me to another guy at work who is looking for somebody to practice with during lunch breaks. Fast forward a month and I’m finishing third in my first ever VS System tournament. A month after that, I win a constructed PCQ and the first of the 25 pro points I’d go on to accumulate. There’s also a modest travel reward and a box of product to go along with it. I’d go on to finish second in two more PCQs, but prize split with the winner so effectively win another travel award, and win another $300 by finishing 13th at a $10K event. Thanks to the prize structure, the only cards I’ve actually had to purchase in the best part of a year are the boosters for sealed tournaments and I find myself with a self-financing hobby. And that was the problem…
Within months, the travel awards disappeared altogether and the prize support focus shifted from boosters to promos. Then the Pro Circuit disappeared. And then the game disappeared altogether. All over the world, players were achieving a certain standard and effectively playing the game for free which meant that the game had to survive on sales to casual players alone. My last hurrah was a Top 8 finish at the player-organised UK Nationals but I was through with another CCG. Or, more accurately, another CCG was through with me.
At the height of my VS addiction, I’d spend a lot of time on the web reading tournament reports, articles and deck lists and as a result, I’d find myself reading about other CCGs. Around about September 2006 I stumbled across a press release announcing a new M:TG set called Time Spiral outlining how it’s basically a throwback to an earlier era of the game, so much so that each booster will contain a reprint of a card from the game’s past. My interest piqued, I locate my nearest pre-release and a few weeks later play my first games of Magic in exactly 6 years.
And I liked it.
VS was still taking up the bulk of my headspace but I do make it to the Future Sight pre-release and throw together a Standard deck that gets me Top 8 at a County Championship event. I play in a couple of qualifiers and the Lorwyn and Morningtide pre-releases, I even get an MTGO account and start drafting online – but real life starts to get in the way so I switch back to solely playing VS for a while.
It’s another two years before I pick up M:TG again and all it took was a couple of spoiled Eldzazi to reawaken my dormant Wakefield-gene. I go to the Rise of Eldrazi pre-release and, along with the Eldrazi monsters, Overgrown Battlement and Wall of Omens grab my attention. Back when I was playing seriously the only wall that ever saw play was Wall of Roots, yet here were two constructed playable walls in the same set. I hit Gatherer and look at what other walls are standard legal and if there’s anything else in the environment that could ramp mana. I get hold of playsets of all of the common and uncommon walls that are Standard legal along with Harrows, Explores and Heart Expeditions and, with the handful of Eldrazi I picked up from the pre-release, build the first version of Walls R Us.
And it sucked.
Although it was only 3 colours – G/W/U – I was playing too many non-basic lands, rendering the Harrows and Expanses useless after a few turns and the deck only had one trick: stall behind walls until you can get a fatty on the board. I turned to Gatherer to see if there was anything else around that would fit in the deck that presented an alternate win condition and also handled my creature control needs. Step forward Lavalanche. I manage to pick up a playset for next to nothing on eBay – which perhaps should have been a clue – and put three of them in the main deck with a fourth in the sideboard. It means going into all 5 colours but that allows me to happily drop some of the non-basic lands and slip in a Vent Sentinel as another alternate win condition. I even put Keening Stones in the board just to give me another route to victory. Feeling fairly confident, I take it to a local FNM tournament and, after dropping in a Maelstrom Archangel and Deathless Angel I’d just pulled from the boosters in a Deckbuilder’s Toolkit, sat down to play four rounds of swiss.
I went 0-4.
I could ramp quite happily but had to sit around and watch all of my walls die under an onslaught of Vengevines and Bloodbraid Elves. When I did manage to get an Eldrazi on the table it never got to attack as creature removal saw it off before I got to untap. Unsurprisingly, my single game win came when I was able to cast a turn 7 Emrakul. Dejected, the deck went back into its box and that should have been an end to it.
But then the Scars of Mirrodin spoiler was released.
It’s worth bearing in mind that my frame of reference for Magic is 1995 – 2000 when we had cards like Necropotence and all of the madness that came with Urza’s Block so when I see a card like Genesis Wave I tend to get excited and instantly start thinking of ways to break it. Thankfully, it isn’t like the late nineties any more and redunkulously broken cards in standard are (hopefully) a thing of the past but I do already have an engine for a Wave deck. Snagging a playset for a reasonable price from eBay, I strip out all of the Alara block cards and take it back down to three colours with red replacing blue as Wall of Denial is replaced by Vent Sentinel and Wall of Tanglecord, which at this point is only in there ahead of Wall of Vines because it’s able to throw itself in front of a Vengevine and live.
I start testing it and it’s instantly apparent that not only can the deck produce big mana in a hurry but it can also do stuff with it. Turn four Waves for double figures are achievable and the walls are more than capable of stalling out for longer if needed. But there were still two problems: O-ring was no longer around and, while there we other ways of dealing with creatures in the deck’s colours, the freedom to deal with other types of permanents was lacking. The deck was also susceptible the turn after the Wave so something with haste would help on that front. I share the decklist with Chris and he has the same problems but suggests Gaea’s Revenge as the haste monster and Sunblast Angel as the sweeper. I’d already been looking at Sunblast as a possible solution for creature removal but the Gaea’s Revenge was a neat – and cheap – answer to doing damage on the turn the Wave goes off. It was while scouring eBay that I hit upon an even better solution for permanent removal: Admonition Angel.
I don’t know why I hadn’t seen it sooner – I’d certainly done a search for all cards with Landfall on Gatherer – but there was the solution to multiple problems all in one 6/6 flying package. Quickly checking that Landfall and Genesis Wave interacted in the way I thought it did (thankfully it did!) I picked up a playset and started testing to see how quickly I could get to three white mana and drop it on the board. The answer? Turn four and still be able to drop an Expanse and remove two permanents from the game. The Scars of Mirrodin Game Day was coming up but I opted to play a Phylactery Lich deck as the earlier version of the Walls deck had promised so much but delivered so little. Back in the drawer it went.
Flash forward five months. Nationals Qualifier season is coming up and, since the release of Mirrodin Besieged, my new obsession is a B/R infect deck that works in the exact opposite way to the wall deck; get some licks in early then stall out and proliferate your opponent to death. I test it to destruction on MTGO and have good match ups against most decks except for RDW and Caw-Blade which, unfortunately, are what most people are playing. I consider not going to the tournament – I don’t mind wasting the entry fee by playing a sub-par deck but giving up an entire day? That’s too high a price. I put the Infect deck back in the drawer and that’s when I notice the wall deck sitting there looking all unloved. I slip it out of the box and realise that 16 walls aren’t the worst thing to have in your deck against a red rush and a Wall of Tanglecord can hold off a bird with a knife all on its own. I take out the lone Vent Sentinel and switch the Mountains for Islands so I can put some counter spells in the sideboard. I’m still concerned that RDW in particular would be just too quick for it and spend the last few days before the tournament looking for copies of Fog to put in the sideboard along with a fourth Negate.
Walls R US.
Now you may have already gathered two things so far from this article; my collection of Magic cards is very small as I tend to buy singles to put my decks together, and, linked to that first point, I’m a miser when it comes to buying cards. Yes, I know the deck would be a lot better if I had Primeval Titans in place of the Gaea’s Revenge but I’m not prepared to spend the cash. Ditto Summoning Trap in the sideboard. This whole deck cost about £40 to put together – not counting the two promo cards – and when it came down to it, it was a bigger issue that I couldn’t find four copies of a staple common that’s been in just about every basic set for the past fifteen years than not having a playset of a powerful, but expensive, mythic rare. As I sit in McDonalds on the morning of the tournament I give serious thought to calling the whole thing off and going to watch Sucker Punch instead, all because I didn‘t think I‘d be able to get two match wins against a red deck without the aid of Fog.
Thankfully I didn’t.
By the time the tournament got going there were 63 players and 7 slots at UK Nationals up for grabs. 6 rounds of swiss was all that was stopping me from enjoying a weekend in Sheffield.
Round One vs. Manveer (R/W Boros).
Game One is a fairly cagey affair and a Geopede and Steppe Lynx manage to reduce me to 10 before I can get some walls down and an Admonition Angel out and remove all of his creatures over the course of the next few turns. I sideboard out two Gaea’s Revenges and bring in the fourth Admonition Angel and a second Hellkite. I’m not certain if he’s running any blades so I keep the Naturalizes in the board.
Game Two is a little trickier as he is running blades but a plucky Wall of Tanglecord prevents a tooled-up bird from hitting me and when Admonition Angel hits the table it only takes three turns to achieve victory despite it being stolen with a Mark of Mutiny at one point!
When I tested the deck online, I only came up against a White Knights deck once and was able to turn it over fairly easily.
Game One I keep a hand with five land and two walls and by the time he kills me on turn five, all I’ve drawn is more land, a couple of Harrows and an Explore. The Gaea’s Revenge are swapped out for the Sunblast Angels.
Game Two kicks of with me dropping a brace of walls and following it up with a Hellkite and an Admonition Angel. Gideon hits the board and destroys the tapped Hellkite but the Angel removes the Planeswalker from play and, after removing every creature he plays from that point on, I win three turns later.
Game Three sees Ken horribly mana-screwed and despite Condemning my fourth turn Hellkite, I Wave a few turns later for the win.
Round Three vs. Mike (R/W Boros).
Although Mike has got a fairly rapid start with a Steppe Lynx and Stoneforge Mystic. I’m looking at a 7 point wave on turn five that should at the very least get me some more blockers to join the three walls I already have in play, if not an Angel or a Revenge. Mike has other ideas as on his turn five he drops a Hero of Oxid Ridge and urinates all over my deep-fried potato products. Having seen that he’s running blades and other assorted artifact nastiness, I bring in all four Naturalizes in place of the Explores and the Revenges make way for Sunblast Angels.
The second game is the kind of game I would have lost when I was playing M:TG the first time around. Mike is able to get down some early creatures and apply some pressure but I get a Captain and a Battlement down and they’re both still around by the time I untap on turn three.
Although on the surface this deck is all about casting walls until you have out enough land to cast Genesis Wave or an Angel, unless you make the right decisions on all of your early turns you can slow the deck down by one or even two turns. My hand consists of a Heart Expedition, Harrow, Admonition Angel, a Wall of Omens and a Plains and provided Ido everything in the correct order, I end the turn with 7 lands (including all three plains I need to cast the Angel) and 3 walls in play along with 2 cards in hand. I tap both lands to play the Heart Expedition, drop the Plains into play, tap the Battlement and the Plains to Harrow, pop the Heart Expedition for two more lands and tap both of those to play the wall which nets me an Expanse. I soak up some damage on the next turn but next time around I play out the Admonition Angel and use the Expanse to remove two of his monsters. I Wave for 9 on the next turn but Mike concedes before it resolves.
Game Three opens in a similar way to Game Two but my start isn’t quite so strong and I soon find myself on 10 life again. I have to lose a few walls but with the help of a well-timed Naturalize I soon establish control with an Admonition Angel. After removing most of his creatures and artifacts, I Wave for 10 which resolves and brings in a second Admonition Angel, 2 Sunblasts and a couple of land. Needless to say…
Round Four vs. Nick (Valakut).
This is a total 50/50 match-up for me and comes down to a straight mana race.
In Game One, I’m able to get out a few walls while Nick just builds up his land. Then we both achieve critical mass and Nick gets down an Avenger of Zendikar which forces me to Wave for 9 on the next turn and get an Admonition Angel along with some more walls, a few land and a Heart Expedition. It’s at this point that I notice the judging team have taken an interest in our game and all three of them along with Dibs, the T.O. are watching our impromptu feature match. They were then witness to one of the most ridiculous boards they’re ever likely to see. Despite removing Nick’s Avenger from the game, he still has a bunch of tokens with counters on them but I have 11 walls on the board along with an Angel and a Gaea’s Revenge. He then casts another Avenger of Zendikar and creates even more tokens before passing his turn. I untap, draw and then, after counting the cards left in my deck to make sure I won’t deck myself, tap two Overgrown Battlements and Wave for 19. Another Angel makes it onto the board along with 6 lands and lets me remove the second Avenger along with a whole bunch of tokens. The next turn I’m able to get him to two life and although he’s able to target one of the Angels with six points of damage, the other Angel removes it from the game and he concedes.
Sideboarding is fairly automatic and out go two of the Revenges and in comes the second Hellkite and fourth Admonition Angel.
Game Two is horrible and Nick quickly establishes control and eventually kills me without me getting a single threat on the board.
Game Three sees us both build a fat mana base and after he gets a Primeval Titan on the board, I get out an Admonition Angel. Extra turns are called and on the first of them, I remove the Titan from the game and swing for six before casting a Hellkite. Next turn costs me a couple of walls but I still have the two flyers and 8 mana up with which to pump the Hellkite so I manage to take the third game just before time runs out.
Even though it was a little risky to do so, four of us ID the next two rounds and I manage to scrape into seventh place. Perhaps an angel was watching over me but just to be sure I’ll learn how the current tie-breaker system works for future events!
Overall, I was pleased with the deck but found that the Gaea’s Revenges were more trouble than they were worth. On several occasions I found myself with 9 available mana but had to wait a turn to Wave in case I hit a Revenge. They were also boarded out in almost every match so if I do play the deck in future then I’ll definitely main deck the fourth Admonition Angel and the second Hellkite and possibly even replace the third Revenge with Emrakul. And I’ll get four copies of Fog for the sideboard.
I guess the point I’ve tried to make with this article is that sometimes you have to walk away from the thing that you love – be it the game as a whole or a pet deck – to help get some perspective and come back refreshed. That’s certainly true in my case. I’m playing better than I did the first time around and I’m enjoying the game again. And, thanks to a slot at Nationals, I’m even taking the game a little more seriously.
You never know, I may even pick up that playset of Primeval Titans…
Thanks for reading and good luck,