Karn-ya’ believe it? – A first taste of Competitive REL, by Alex Mitchell
Given that this is my first article, I thought I should introduce myself. My name’s Alex, and I’m a relatively new player to Magic – I started around the time of New Phyrexia (May 2011). I was pretty bad when I started playing, but my time playing at Chimera Nottingham with some really cool people has helped me improve, including coming 3rd at a GPT for Manchester.
I went to GP Manchester, but I went into it having absolutely no idea how Limited worked (apart from the pre-release, I’d played precisely zero 40-card games), so the recent PTQ in Liverpool is my first taste of a competitive event which I was prepared for. So, this article is going to be an account of my experiences – what I came across, lessons learned, and a tournament report. Hopefully, anyone who’s in my position can learn from this, and be a little more prepared than I was!
I played RG Tron for the PTQ, on the basis that:
A) I had most of the cards for the deck and
B) The meta seemed to be full of decks where Tron tends to do well (Jund, Control, Zoo etc), and
C) Return to Ravnica has also given Tron a powerful tool – Slaughter Games – to fight combo decks, which are normally pretty bad match ups.
Tron is also one of the cheapest tier 1 decks (it costs less than a playset of Tarmogoyf!), which is a very good point in its favour.
4 Karn Liberated
This is a relatively stock list – the two main differences are the Urborg (to help cast Slaughter Games from the sideboard – there are a few other good options, such as Tendo Ice Bridge, City of Brass, Overgrown Tomb or Llanowar Wastes) and Sundering Titan over a third Wurmcoil Engine (to explode all those delicious shocklands). The sideboard was a bit all over the place, as when I arrived to the onsite trader I found out that Sudden Shock and Slaughter Games were both all out, so I had to make do.
Lesson Learned: Make sure you come prepared – aim on getting the cards you want before the event, not at the event. If you try and rely on friends at the event, or traders, you run the risk of giving yourself un-necessary stress to pick up the cards you need (at best), or you won’t be able to play with a sideboard at all (at worst: a sideboard must be exactly 15 cards or 0!)
For those who don’t know the deck, it’s designed to power out the full ‘Urzatron’ (Mine, Tower, and Power Plant) on turn 3 or 4, and does so with shocking consistency. From there, it starts casting gigantic colourless men and controlling the board until it can get enough mana for an Emrakul to finish the game.
The Tournament Report
I’ll seed this with lessons I learned from playing the various decks. If I’ve butchered a name from my notes, I apologise.
Dan seemed pretty new to the deck, and was quite unlucky.
Game 1, he seemed to get stuck on lands, and it was relatively easy to Karn away the Deceiver Exarch he played and finish things off with Emrakul.
Sideboard: -4 Relic of Progenitus, +2 Slaughter Games +2 Torpor Orb
For Game 2, I got the worst feeling – I cast Ancient Stirrings, and saw both of my Slaughter Games. That was awkward, but luckily for me Dan’s main play was a Kitchen Finks with some Restoration Angel backups, which I continually smashed into with a Wurmcoil Engine. Eventually, he ran out of Kitchen Finks after Karn began sniping his blockers.
Spirit Jund is an incredibly good matchup for me, as I generally don’t care about Lingering Souls and I’m not as afraid of their sideboard hate as I am for other variants of Jund.
For Game 1, I got a Karn online, but I couldn’t find a sweeper for what was a rapidly-growing board. Initially, he began knocking down Karn, but after a while he switched to going straight for me; luckily, by the time he managed to get a swing for 12 through I found my Emrakul for the win. Richard misplayed, here; had he left up a Spirit token as a blocker I would have had no chance.
Lesson Learned: Take care of how much, and what specific mana your opponent has available, especially when the answer to ‘does he have 13/15 mana available’ is the difference between healthy and dead.
Sideboard: -2 Prophetic Prism, -1 Sylvan Scrying, +1 Wurmcoil Engine, +1 All is Dust, +1 Pyroclasm
Game 2 has a lot of action on it, from my notes page! A double Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek took away most of my hand, but that slow start meant I could still assemble Tron (the deck is very consistent) and slam down a Wurmcoil. Liliana of the Veil killed my Wurm, but All is Dust quickly took the game away from him from there.
Andrew went on to win the PTQ, and it couldn’t have happened to a nicer man. Regular Jund is a bit trickier (because of the heavier use of cards like Molten Rain or Fulminator Mage), but still a good matchup, especially now that Jund tends to use Abrupt Decay rather than Maelstrom Pulse.
Game 1 is pretty standard – I take a few hits, resolve a Wurmcoil, and things go very quickly downhill for Andrew from there. Jund has an extremely tough time dealing with the 6/6, especially pre board.
Sideboard: -2 Prophetic Prism, +1 Wurmcoil Engine, +1 Pyroclasm
Game 2, on the other hand, seems completely the opposite – he stays at a nice, consistent life total while heavily disrupting my plan and playing the aggro game. Slaughter Games naming Wurmcoil Engine was fairly rough, as it made stabilising very difficult.
Game 3 was an interesting one. I manage to stabilise, but on 1 life. I have a Wurmcoil Engine on the field, but if I attack with it I get hit back with a Raging Ravine for exactsies. I have the capability to activate Eye of Ugin to find an Emrakul for the kill next turn, so Andrew needs to kill me this turn, and the only card which does it is Lightning Bolt (Rakdos Charm doesn’t work, because Wurmcoil Engine has lifelink). He untaps, draws…and shows me the Bolt. Unlucky for me, but it happens.
Unfortunately, these weren’t enjoyable games for me. The deck can be fairly rough to beat, as it can use counterspells to disrupt our plan and can present a very fast clock, and I didn’t draw my relevant cards. Also, my sideboard plan was awful, as you’ll soon see.
Sideboard: -2 Pyroclasm, -2 Prophetic Prism, +2 Nature’s Claim, +2 Torpor Orb
Claim was an attempt to fight Stony Silence, but siding out Pyroclasm was an awful idea, and I was lucky that it didn’t turn out to matter.
Lesson Learned: remember to sideboard based on what you expect to see, and not what you saw. I was quite lucky not to get murdered by Geist of Saint Traft because I was so fixated on Restoration Angel and Golem tokens.
G2, my opponent’s life total reads as ‘19’ followed by ‘Emrakul’d’. I suspect I won that game.
Game 3, a Vendillion Clique took chunks out of my life total, followed up by a Restoration Angel. I managed to Firespout to stem the bleeding, and then he followed it up with a second Clique. I pulled out a Karn, but too late to stop him adding a Celestial Colonnade to the board.
Lesson Learned: Another very important lesson I picked up in this round is about the current rules on triggers for this level of competition. At one point, my opponent attacks with a Geist of Saint Traft, made no mention of the Angel, and at that point I’m well within my rights to only take 2, as he has missed the trigger. Make sure that you mention every trigger, or do something to clearly show you know the trigger happened (all you have to do is put something to represent a token down, say ‘Exalted’ or ‘Bob’ or even just ‘trigger’), because as much as your opponent might seem like a jerk for telling you that you’ve missed your trigger, that’s how the rules currently work.
This was an interesting one, mainly for the later games.
Game 1, there was very little in the way of disruption to my plan (or a game plan of his own), so I managed to crash in with a Wurmcoil and assemble Emrakul for the win.
Unfortunately, this meant that I thought my opponent was on some form of Hatebears plan, as the only creatures I saw were Linvala, Keeper of Silence (exiled from hand by a Karn) and mana dorks. I don’t remember how I sideboarded, but it was pretty light.
Game 2, I came across the worst possible scenario. On turn 4, my opponent cast Sowing Salt on my Urza’s Tower. This is a pretty devastating play against Tron, as it permanently shuts off all the other Urza’s lands from making any more than 1 mana. I decided that I hadn’t quite lost yet, so I carried on. Luckily (perhaps “somehow” is the better word) I managed to curve out into a Wurmcoil Engine on turn 6, and a Karn the turn after, and my opponent showed his hand (so to speak) with a Deceiver Exarch. I managed to get the following Kiki-Jiki, the Mirror Breaker with a Sudden Shock (sided in on the basis of ‘well, it might catch a Qasali Pridemage’), but I couldn’t stop him getting a Restoration Angel and Podding it into the Goblin legend.
The guns came out after that!
Sideboard: -4 Relic of Progenitus -1 Sylvan Scrying -2 Pyroclasm -1 Firespout -1 Chromatic Star
+1 Sudden Shock +2 Slaughter Games +1 All is Dust +1 Ghost Quarter +1 Wurmcoil Engine +2 Torpor Orb +1 Nature’s Claim
I think I went a bit overboard on sideboarding here; I was determined not to get caught out twice.
Luckily for me, I saw neither Sowing Salt nor Kiki-jiki; his Chalice of the Void for X=1 came out too late to hurt me, a Sundering Titan exploded most of his lands, and he quickly had to throw his mana dorks underneath the Titan and his Wurmcoil friend.
Round 6 – Samra Manveer (Spirit Jund)
Samra was another lovely guy who was unfortunate to be paired against one of his worst matchups. At the start of the round, we had our decks taken off us for a random deck check. Basically, a ‘deck check’ involves a judge taking your deck and sideboard, and comparing it with the deck you have registered to ensure that everything’s hunky-dory. As a new player, this is pretty terrifying, but if you’ve double and triple checked that your registered deck is what you’re playing you should be fine.
I chatted a bit with Samra and the guy sitting next to us (whose opponent didn’t appear) to calm the nerves while we waited. The decks came back all fine, and we started to play.
Game 1 ended as you might expect – I took a few hits, landed a Wurmcoil, and Samra picked up his cards after a couple of swings.
Sideboard: -1 Relic of Progenitus, -2 Prophetic Prism, -1 Firespout +1 All is Dust, +2 Nature’s Claim, +1 Wurmcoil Engine
I was sideboarding in anticipation for Stony Silence, but it turns out Samra didn’t play them. When on T4 I destroyed two of his lands with Sundering Titan and exiled the third with Karn, he scooped.
Another regular Jund matchup, Levi had quite an impressive almost all-foil deck, which I was all pumped up to crush (the act of losing while playing Jund is often known as Jundstice), but alas, it was not to be.
Both games were very similar – Levi resolved a Tarmogoyf, it grew relatively large because of the artifacts and sorceries often in my graveyard, and it beat me to death before I could answer it.
Round 8 – Ross Silcock (Storm)
Luckily, I’d sat near Ross during the earlier rounds, so I knew that he had a Splinter Twin plan in the sideboard. For those who don’t know, some Storm players will have a sideboard stuffed full of Deceiver Exarchs and Splinter Twins, to use a combo which ignores many anti-Storm sideboard cards. Your opponent plays out their Rule of Laws and Relic of Progenitus‘, which are usually good cards against Storm, and ends up getting killed by infinity Exarchs instead.
Storm is normally a very, very rough matchup (as a friend of mine said later, “Tron is a bye for Storm.”), so I wasn’t optimistic about my chances here.
Game 1 ended exactly as I feared. A t2 Goblin Electromancer led to a t3 storming off that put me down to 1 life. I managed to come back by repeatedly sniping lands with a Karn, but I couldn’t stop him eventually finding the red mana and final 1-Storm Grapeshot for the kill.
Sideboard: -3 Oblivion Stone -1 Sundering Titan -1 Pyroclasm -1 Firespout -1 Sylvan Scrying +2 Slaughter Games +2 Chalice of the Void +2 Grafdigger’s Cage
I assumed that Game 2 would have the Twin plan in (if I drew Slaughter Games, I was going to name Splinter Twin before Grapeshot), but Ross didn’t draw into it. Instead, I resolved a Chalice of the Void for 2, a Grafdigger’s Cage, and a Karn to snipe away his hand and lands, and from that kind of board a Storm player is almost certainly not going to win.
Game 3 I shifted the board around the little, trying to find the cards which were good against both the Storm plan and the Twin plan. I came up with Slaughter Games, Grafdigger’s Cage and Nature’s Claim.
We got to the situation where my field was a Chromatic Sphere, Urza’s Mine, Urza’s Power Plant and Forest, with Nature’s Claim, Prophetic Prism and Slaughter Games as relevant cards in hand. Ross sends in Deceiver Exarch, and chooses to tap my Mine, untaps, and goes for Splinter Twin. I manage to Claim the enchantment, then the draw from Prophetic Prism allows me to draw the Urza’s Tower to cast Slaughter Games, naming Splinter Twin. I then resolve a Wurmcoil, and Ross makes a misplay by swinging Exarch into Wurm (he thought it had Flying, it was pretty late in the day, happens to the best of us), and then has a wall to climb with a traditional Storm turn. Unfortunately, he runs out of cards, and his choice of Desperate Ravings as a card draw source pitches both of his Grapeshots.
This put me on 5-3, which got me to about 25th place or so, which I decided was a pretty good place to be for my first try. I felt like I got slightly lucky on a few occasions (especially going over the games objectively), but I think that a lot of it was due to mulligan decisions, which is something I can wean out with practice. Tron is a very linear deck, so knowing when to mulligan is very important – not quite as much as combo decks, but close.
Lessons and Changes
The overall lessons I picked up from the PTQ would be the following:
- Remember your triggers! I was pretty lenient with my opponents, but I really didn’t have to be and quite a few people aren’t going to for you.
- Be prepared! I’ve been practising with the deck on and off for a while, but the best way to know what hands you can keep or how to react to situations is by getting in some solid practice. Even if you proxy up some common decks on Cockatrice or a similar free site and play against yourself, it’s much better than nothing. Better still is to talk to people at your local gaming store and see if you can test against real people.
- Have a plan! Looking through my notes, my sideboarding was extremely erratic, even when playing against very similar decks. You don’t have to follow a plan to the letter, but knowing roughly what you want to take out and put in will make your games more consistent.
- Be optimistic! I was very close to a 6-2 record (which would have put me in the top 16), and if you’re thinking, “I’m going to win this match!” rather than, “Urgh, Jund, guess I’ll pick up my cards.”, you’re actually going to do much better. Belief is a powerful thing. Go into every game thinking about how you’re going to win, rather than what could happen for you to lose.
Going into the future, I also decided that my sideboard could use some work. I had built the original one from scraps and love, so I found the cards which actually worked and cut the ones which stayed in my sideboard for most of the day.
Mainboard changes: -1 Firespout +1 Pyroclasm (Spout’s 3 damage was almost never relevant, and trying to get RG to hit everything can be tricky)
This is how the sideboard currently looks:
Roughly speaking, here’s where I want each card:
- Nature’s Claim – kills Stony Silence, Blood Moon, Splinter Twin, Pyromancer’s Ascension and a few other problem permanents.
- Wurmcoil Engine – Jund, Burn/RDW, and any match up where Sundering Titan is pretty useless (such as the mirror).
- Chalice of the Void – Storm and Infect. If I’m on the play against Robots I might put them in too (setting them on X=0 can really slow them down).
- Torpor Orb – Twin, Pod and any Restoration Angel decks.
- Grafdigger’s Cage – Storm and Pod.
- Sudden Shock – Twin (only Exarch + Twin survives it; it’s better than Combust because not even Mizzium Skin saves them), Infect, Robots.
- Slaughter Games – any and all combo.
There are probably plenty of tweaks from here, but currently I’m pretty happy with how the list looks. I’d certainly be happy to play the deck in the future, and crush dreams under giant artifacts. :-)
Thank you for reading! Please feel free to let me know whether there’s anything I can do to improve my article writing, and if there’s any subject you’d like me to cover in the future.
Until next time!