Tom had made the sensible choice to play paintball for Neil Rigby’s stag night rather than attempt to navigate what is basically the hardest PTQ in Britain, but Bruno and I were going to be playing. Our plan was to get picked up at somewhere around 5am, drive down, Bruno or I to win the PTQ, then go drinking with the stag party.
Tom had been on holiday with his girlfriend for the week previous, and had only got back to bonnie Scotland in the wee hours of Saturday morning. Bruno had gone out drinking on the Friday evening, and sent me a message at 2am asking me to bring him some sideboard cards. My alarm went off at 5am, and I hadn’t been clever enough to think up a reason why I couldn’t drive.
Tom picked me up, after Bruno had slept until 1 minute after he was supposed to be getting picked up, and I started the drive down. Tom made a valiant effort, and tried to stay awake for more than an hour, but failed. Bruno had come prepared with a ring pillow, and slept from before we left Edinburgh to just outside Manchester.
As I drove, I was thinking about a lot of the changes I’d made over the past couple of weeks. I’ve outlined a lot of these in my last article, found here, but they’ve been in place for a while now, and I’m starting to see some results. I’m losing weight quite quickly (a stone in 3 weeks), and I’m feeling a lot better for it.
As I’d said, in the part of my article that was about Magic, a lot of my problems with Magic had been down to poor deck selection. I was actually really happy with the deck I’d chosen for Manchester. It was objectively powerful, had the best combo in the format, the best individual card in the format and a shell to make it all work nicely. I’ve mentioned my distaste for Delver of Secrets based decks in the past, due to their inability to regain tempo once it’s fallen behind, but the deck that I played has no such trouble, and is almost always drawing live.
This is what I played, and is probably what I’ll play for the remainder of the season, if I actually bother to play in any more PTQ’s.
I haven’t done a deck breakdown for ages, so I’ll run through some of the cards, and discuss their inclusion.
This is the best engine in the format, hands down. This basic package can go into just about any deck, and make it better. I don’t have anything particularly revolutionary to say about this engine that hasn’t been said before.
You’re running 9 quasi-cantrips, but Ponder is so much better than any traditional cantrip. In this deck, any chance to control when you draw your Bonfire of the Damned is insane. I’d run 12 of them, if they’d let me. It’s important, in Delver decks in general to not be too greedy with Ponders. They’re absolutely not a turn one play, unless you’re digging for land. I’d rather maximise them in the later game than burn them early, even if I do have a Snapcaster in hand.
Snapcaster Mage obviously isn’t only Silvergill Adept, but that’s been the mode I’ve found myself using him as so far. I really can’t get enough of drawing cards, and in this briefest of windows where we’ve got fully powered standard – 6 expert level sets and 2 core sets, he’ll be pulling his weight more than ever.
Again, this engine should look relatively common to most people by now, as it’s been dominating standard like nobody’s business since Innistrad was released. I realise I’m somewhat late to the party, but it’s just so unbelievably consistent, I can’t believe I wasn’t converted sooner.
I’ve trimmed down on Mana Leaks, because the format I was expecting was a majority of Naya and Delver decks, and both of those run Cavern of Souls. Sure, sometimes they don’t draw it, and sometimes I want to counter non-creature spells, but for the most part, Mana Leak is on the decline. As I’ve said before, aggressive Mana Leaks are considerably better than controlling Mana Leaks, and while this deck is certainly aggressive, I found myself tapping out a lot, and not wanting to represent counter magic.
That said, in a deck with 8 flash creatures, not running at least 2-3 would probably be wrong. I like the spell, don’t get me wrong, but in a deck with limited space, I could definitely see trimming them down to bare bones. Mana Leak is a lot better in the UK than on MODO, where the standard of player is generally lower, so where I might normally side them out, I found myself keeping them in a lot at the weekend, thinking ‘he won’t play around it properly’. Your mileage may vary, but I wouldn’t recommend any less than two, for the moment at least.
I actually don’t like Thought Scour all that much in the deck. My mana base isn’t the most robust I’ve ever played, and it really, really sucks when you’re trying to get Snapcaster fodder to mill either your Mountain or your Plains. The synergy with Ponder and Snapcaster alone is enough to play at least one copy, but it’s important to think who you’re targeting with it, as it’s not as cut and dry as it may be with other decks.
This is, without a doubt, the best combo in the format. Both of the pieces are good on their own, but when you’re combining the two, they’re so much better than what pretty much everyone else is doing it’s not even funny. As I said, I was expecting a field of Naya and Delver, and Blade Splicer is crazy good against both those decks. Basically, Naya’s on the same plan as me, which is to do this combo, and cast Bonfire of the Damned. The main difference in the deck is that they get Gavony Township and Birthing Pod, while I get the best engine in the format. I consider the Naya deck more of a mirror match than the Delver deck, and I’m pretty sure I’d rather be on my end of the matchup.
The maindeck is a little soft to Geist of Saint Traft. Both parts of the combo can at least block him favourably, and with the engine to find it, it’s not the worst card to see across the table. The deck originally contained a single Phantasmal Image in the main as a nod to this, as well as being a solid value card in a format with Strangleroot Geist, Elesh Norn and other cards which are fun to copy. I’ve moved all the copies into the board for now, but I wouldn’t fault you if you wanted to try 1-2 in the main.
The best card in Standard, and it’s not close. We’re playing 4 of it, because pretty much every time you miracle it, you win the game. You can win without it, but you absolutely want to draw one every game. Even with the library manipulation, and multiple cantrips, we’re still not guaranteed to find one every time, but I want to maximise my chances of doing so, ergo 4 is the correct number. I expect Bonfire of the Damned will get really, really old, especially considering that we’ve got to play Standard with it until whatever’s after Return to Ravnica rotates into the format in the winter of 2013, but for now, I really can’t see myself not wanting to at least have them in my deck. As Josh Cho said at Pro Tour Avacyn Restored – ‘You can’t miracle a Bonfire if it’s not in your deck’.
Pillar of Flame kills both sides of Delver of Secrets, and is the best answer to Strangleroot Geist, Gravecrawler and Geralfs Messenger around. Sometimes, you can have issues breaking through a stalled board, and while your opponent is on a low life total, you just can’t break through. Pillar gives you another element of reach that the traditional decks lack. It’s not flashy, but it does the job. After Ponder, this was probably my most Snapcaster’d spell all weekend. I much prefer it to Gut Shot, due to the additional versatility.
Da Bad Guy
I see the mid-range decks moving away from him, and that’s fine, for them. I want to play an aggressive deck, and he’s the most aggressive creature that I have available in these colours. Mine didn’t particularly like flipping this weekend, but I’m sure the deck has enough instants and sorceries to do so consistently in the future. As a part of the engine listed above, Delver just gives free game wins, especially when you cast him on turn one, and reveal a Mana Leak on turn two.
The mana base isn’t particularly great, and I’ll freely admit that. It’s not as bad as it initially looks however. The engine, as discussed above powers through the deck at quite the rate of knots, and you can generally get all the colours you need in a timely fashion. Turn two Delver + Ponder isn’t that much worse than turn one Delver anyway, and outside of that, there’s not really anything that I need or want to play on the first turn anyway, so I can afford a few more enters the battlefield tapped lands than the two colour version. I’ve mentioned my concern regarding Thought Scour and this mana base before, but it certainly bears repeating. If you’re using this deck, please be careful not to cut yourself off colours unintentionally.
Cavern of Souls is well worth it. I’ve found myself naming ‘Human’ far more often than ‘Angel’ so far, but you might find differently. Fourteen of the twenty one creatures in the deck are humans, so that’s to be expected, I suppose. I’ve named ‘Dragon’ more than I’ve named ‘Illusion’ so far. Might as well make them try to play around Thundermaw Hellkite, am I right? People don’t do this nearly enough. When counters and colours aren’t an issue, there are absolutely small edges to be gained by naming other creature types than are in your deck.
One option would be to go down to two Cavern of Souls, and include a Desolate Lighthouse. I don’t think the mana would support a fully colourless land, but I’ll certainly try it out. You’d probably need to up the Evolving Wilds count a bit, if you wanted to do that, but possibly something like the following might work:-
Completely untested, and stops the deck being able to get a turn one Delver almost ever, with only eight untapped blue sources for turn one. I’m not sure it’s worth it, but I suppose I’ll try it out. One of the weaknesses of the Delver decks is that eventually, even with all the manipulation, they start flooding. This deck, with Bonfires and 4 drops, can’t afford to trim on lands, so that’s just the road we have to traverse. The Lighthouse would help us immeasurably in this regard, being able to pitch our excess lands, as well as being an additional way to draw cards on our opponent’s turn.
Everything here should be relatively obvious what it’s for.
Celestial Purge is for Zombies, and Goblins, if that’s a deck. Combust is to kill Restoration Angel, Hero of Bladehold, and that sort of thing. Divine Offering and Revoke Existence are for Swords of X+Y, and Tezzerator (Apparently). Gut Shot and Mental Misstep are for the ‘mirror’, both Naya and Delver. Negate’s for control decks with all the Planeswalkers, as is Zealous Conscripts, which also beats all the Titan decks.
As before, I’ve expressed a distaste for sideboarding guides. If you can’t work out what to bring in, you’re doing it wrong. The cards that I side out most often are Delver, Pillar of Flame and Mana Leak. I don’t like siding out Delver against the other Delver decks, as I’d rather stay as aggressive as possible, with my Bonfires as a late game. However, I don’t particularly like them against Naya.
Play around with it a bit, and see what works for you. I’m probably not going to sideboard the same as you do, because we play the deck differently. Personal play style accounts for a lot of sideboard choices. Find yours, it’ll be far more rewarding than just copying what someone on the internet tells you to do.
So, how did the tournament go?
Not well. So poorly in fact, that Gary Campbell dropped from the event. This man played in Pro Tour 1, and has never dropped from a tournament before. He 1-3’d, and drove home. He had a smile on his face, and he was still home for dinner. I don’t think any of the 12 or so Scottish in the room made it past round 5 still alive.
My tournament was as follows:-
Round one – RG Aggro – 2-0 W
Round two – Mono Green Aggro – 2-0 W
Round three – Esper Midrange – 2-0 W
Round four – GW Midrange – 2-1 L
Round five – BR Aggro – 2-0 L
Round six – Mono-Green Infect – 2-0 L
Round seven – UWR Midrange – 2-0 W
Round eight – Gone to the pub.
Overall, pretty disappointing. The most interesting thing that happened was against my round 5 opponent. I Gitaxian Probed him in game one to see a hand of two Vampire Nighthawks, and some other spells. I assumed that he was on a normal, RB Aggro plan, with Geralf’s Messenger, Falkenrath Aristocrat and the like. He killed me with an Aristocrat in game one.
It’s game two, beginning of my turn 4. My board is Sulfur Falls, Cavern of Souls on Humans, Plains. My hand has Ponder, Pillar of Flame, Blade Splicer, Snapcaster Mage, some irrelevant stuff, and no lands. My opponent’s board is 3 lands, a Gravecrawler and a freshly cast Geralf’s Messenger.
What do you do?
I thought that the best line was to Ponder, find the land, play the Blade Splicer and Pillar the Messenger the next turn, rather than spending my entire turn 4 killing it. Thinking that Mortarpod was the best card that he could have cast against me in that situation, and that it was unlikely that he’d equip it to the Messenger that turn anyway it wouldn’t matter too much, that if he attacked, I’d just take the three, and deal with it the following turn, while developing my own defences.
As it was, he untapped, dropped a Birthing Pod, and fetched a Phyrexian Metamorphed copy of the undying Geralf’s Messenger, made a second Messenger the turn after, turned it into a Falkenrath Aristocrat, and killed me. I think my line was better, as I didn’t expect Vampire Nighthawk and Birthing Pod to be in the same deck, but still, it’s questionable. I’m pretty sure I’m right in the line I took, given the information I had available, but it did sting a bit.
Other than that, my losses could pretty much have been solved by me drawing Bonfires at sensible times, and the two other matches I lost, I didn’t see them at all.
I dropped after the penultimate round, as Tom was getting back from the paintballing, and was going back to the hotel. Bruno and I split a double bed in one of the rooms we’d booked, and he went for a power nap while I tidied up the cards we’d been using. After half an hour or so of putting cards away, I went in the shower, and started getting dressed.
We jumped a taxi into town, got some horrific food from a chippy on a corner, mainly to get out of the rain, and met the rest in some utter dive of a pub. I think it was called Lloyd’s Bar, or something equally terrible. They played the Baywatch theme, in a serious way, while a bunch of middle aged boiler’s with cellulite on their arms danced around with their shoes off. It was one of the worst places I’ve ever had the misfortune of being in. We left, and I was happy.
Then we went outside, to stand in the rain for a bit, while someone tried to make a decision about how to get to the next place. We were apparently on the guest list at a Vodka Rev place, which was supposedly a 5 minute walk away. Given that it was pissing down with rain, this wasn’t too bad. After about 15 minutes walking, the gentleman who’d told us it was 5 minutes admitted that it was probably another 10 minutes away. We piled into an old man’s pub, for a quick pint, and to dry off.
They had a band playing classic rock covers, and while we were there for roughly four songs, two of them were by Rod Stewart. I liked this place the best.
By the time we got to Vodka Rev, we were soaked through, again, and our free entry had supposedly expired, so we had to pay. They played electronic music that made my head hurt. It basically sounds like what noises my microwave would make when trying to shag my printer, while the chorus of a song I used to like was played repetitively over the top of it. I hate electronic music, it seems like a competition to make the weirdest noises possible, and still have people buy the music.
I imagine a warehouse somewhere, with all the electronic ‘musicians’ in it, laughing away, ‘So I’ll just play this note 45 times, and bend it exactly the same way each, while some drum program on my computer bashes away, and about 3 other weird noises are happening, and the chorus to Sweet Child O Mine plays and people will buy this?’
Soul crushing stuff.
Here is a checklist for music I will possibly like.
1. Band is full of dudes who look and dress like slutty chyx.
2. Songs are about partying, cars, how much you rock and/or the women you get.
3. There’s a face melting guitar solo somewhere between the 3rd and 4th verses.
4. The people actually play their own instruments.
5. Not Coldplay
The three of us were all shattered, and called it a night somewhere around 2am, and got a taxi back to the hotel. I was woken up the following morning somewhere around 11am by Bruno farting for about a minute solidly in the toilet, 2 feet from my head. It was pretty brutal.
We hit up the Golden Arches for some sweet Double Cheeseburger action, and then drove home. I think I got in the door somewhere around 4pm, and I dropped my bags off, and went to collect my daughter.
I had an absolutely wonderful weekend, music notwithstanding, and congratulations to Neil, and commiserations to Jade for when the big day comes.
Stay classy mtgUK,