When will I learn?
With only one remaining Grand Prix Trial in the Seattle area before the grinders, I vowed to do it right this time. I would get plenty of sleep, wake up with enough time to eat, and go to the venue refreshed and ready for Magic. Joe, a good friend of mine, was celebrating his birthday the night before, and I told him I probably wouldn't stay until the wee hours because I wanted to do well at the Trial.
Fast forward the day to where I'm at the bar with everyone and hear the waitress tell us it's last call.
I woke up tired, not refreshed, and no number of iced double tall sugar-free hazelnut non-fat lattes would replace the sleep I should have gotten. Oh well.
Here's the list I decided to run for the trial:
This list was largely due to my inability to pick a direction and stick with it. I liked LSV's Kyoto list for a field with a lot of aggro decks, but the new persist version was better against the five color control decks that were giving me trouble. Persist version seemed to give me trouble against the red decks, and I wasn't a fan of Thoughtseize, and I wanted Zealous Persecution for the mirror, and so I wimped out and played a few of each to figure out what I liked and didn't. This provided a good tune-up for Regionals, not to mention the Grand Prix itself at the end of the month. When Jared Porter, a testing partner, came to the a very similar build independently, it seemed reasonable enough to try to play this 75 and work out the kinks after a handful of rounds.
Before the tournament I had two Identity Crisis in my sideboard, but Martin Goldman-Kirst convinced me to cut them, as there was very little five color control in the room. So I tried a second Mark of Asylum and a second Wispmare. And we were off.
Round 1 vs Ryan (Bant)
The tournament started off poorly, with me seeing no lands in my seven, six, and five card hands, so I mulliganed to four on the draw and kept a hand with Fetid Heath, Tidehollow Sculler, Knight of Meadowgrain, Terror. I didn't draw a second land until turn five (another Fetid Heath), while he played Jenara, Dauntless Escorts, Qasali Pridemages, and Rhox War Monks that quickly beat me to death.
Game two started off much better, with me playing double Windbrisk Heights into Spectral Procession, hiding a Glorious Anthem and a Cloudgoat Ranger. He played his Glorious Anthem and got me to 12 with a Qasali Pridemage, but I was able to flip up both Windbrisk Heights on the same turn, then drew a second Glorious Anthem just to seal the deal.
Game three he got a pretty slow draw and was beating down with a Birds of Paradise with a Noble Hierarch on the table. A Rhox War Monk was Terrored, and I had a Spectral Procession and [card]Kitchen Finks[/card] to keep pressure on the table. He played Elspeth, but I drew a Cloudgoat Ranger, and two turns later Elspeth was dead, and three turns later he was dead.
Afterwards I realized that had I just attacked him twice instead of Elspeth, he would have died a turn sooner. I was definitely feeling very very tired, but that's no excuse not to maintain focus.
Round 2 vs Greyson (Jund aggro)
Greyson was sitting next to me the previous round and played against what appeared to be the same 75 as what I played against. Greyson also said that he screwed up when he attacked Elspeth when he could have just attacked for lethal damage that turn, but won anyway. This story sounded oddly familiar
Greyson came out of the gates with Bloodhall Ooze into Putrid Leech, and my turn two Bitterblossom was not looking particularly great. He played Bloodbraid Elf into another Putrid Leech, and I was way too far behind to do anything about that explosive draw.
Game two I started off with Burrenton Forge-Tender, which did a good job of keeping his Ooze at bay. Knight of Meadowgrain got involved, which was destroyed by an Incinerate. However, Ajani Goldmane, Mutavault, and Burrenton-Forge Tender did a tremendous amount of damage and Greyson had absolutely no answer to my 5/5 vigilant Forge-Tender.
Game three started off with him playing two Bloodhall Oozes, which were killed with a Zealous Persecution. He subsequently drew Putrid Leech, which he used to diminish both our life totals, but double Kitchen Finks plus Ajani made it impossible for him to win the race. Murderous Redcap got involved, and the persist creatures gave me a board position that made it impossible for him to come back from.
Round 3 vs Grant (Bant)
Grant and I had driven down together, and he said he was worried about this matchup. I kept a double Windbrisk Heights, Procession, Procession, Finks, Finks, Knight of Meadowgrain hand on the play, but things got a little awkward when I missed my third land drop. Grant played turn two Gaddock Teeg, making my Processions useless unless I drew a Terror, then he played Dauntless Escort and double Rhox War Monk. I drew the Terror and tried to kill Teeg, but he sacrificed the Escort to save Teeg, and I was unable to hold off his assault.
Game two I played a Bitterblossom turn two and had plans for the Ajani in my hand, provided he didn't have another Teeg. He didn't play Teeg on turn two, but he did play Pithing Needle naming Ajani, then played Dauntless Escort and then Gaddock Teeg. I didn't have the answers to everything, and though I drew a Redcap to kill Teeg, Escort kept him around – and then he played a second Escort just to make sure that I had no chance. He kept attacking with double Rhox War Monk, and when he played Wilt-Leaf Liege, I had absolutely no chance. I ended the game with double Spectral Procession, Wrath of God, and Ajani Goldmane in my hand, all of which were blanked by Gaddock Teeg.
Round 4 vs Alex K (B/R aggro)
Alex led off with a turn one Tattermunge Maniac, so I was feeling fairly saucy when I played Knight of Meadowgrain. Knight got Incinerated, but I played a Kitchen Finks on turns three and four. Unfortunately, both my Finks got Magma Sprayed and I drew nothing but land for a couple of turns. With my life total running low, I had to play Ajani and gain some life, which Alex subsequently killed via attackers. I drew another Ajani and gained some more life, and he killed that Ajani, too. I drew three Bitterblossoms in a row and died soon after.
I think it may have been a mistake to gain life off the second Ajani. It's possible that I might have been better off hoping to topdeck a Spectral Procession or Cloudgoat Ranger and have enough guys on the board and pump then with Ajani to keep his Tattermunge Maniacs and Jund Hackblades at bay. Though I didn't draw either of those cards, the second Ajani was not utilized to its fullest.
Game two I played turn two Mark of Asylum, followed by Kitchen Finks. Mark of Asylum blanked the Magma Sprays in his hand, and when I played a second Finks, he had to chump block my attackers. Murderous Redcap hit Alex for a couple points of damage, and when I played Ajani, he had no answers in his hand.
Game three I was feeling fairly saucy with my turn two Mark of Asylum and turn three Burrenton Forge-Tender, but he surprised me with an Everlasting Torment, essentially blanking my trump cards. Fortunately he didn't have much else going for him in terms of pressure, so I was able to play Spectral Procession and Glorious Anthem to try to kill him before he could draw Infest or Volcanic Fallout. He didn't, and I was able to move on.
Round 5 vs Blaine (GW tokens)
The room was full of good players, but with only 23 players, we were able to draw in Top 8, and I took the time to call my mom and wish her a happy Mother's Day. I played that round perfectly in every way.
Quarterfinals vs Grant (Bant)
Of the six B/W Tokens players in the room, five of them were in the Top 8. The other three decks were Bant, G/W tokens, and a Jund ramp deck. I would have been happy with the others, but Grant had so thoroughly demolished me earlier that day that I wasn't looking forward to the rematch.
Sure enough, game one started off the same way. My turn two Bitterblossom was destroyed by a Qasali Pridemage. Then he played Dauntless Escort, Pridemage, and Teeg, and Wilt-Leaf Liege. The combination of cards shut off a good portion of my deck while providing a clock that I couldn't deal with.
Game two, Grant mulliganed to four, and played only a Treetop Village and Reflecting Pool. I played double Spectral Procession and Elspeth, then played Redcap and Grant never drew another land or played a spell. This game is easy!
Game three was an interesting one. He played Noble Hierarch and double Qasali Pridemage. When he played Stoic Angel and not Gaddock Teeg on turn four, I could not tap my lands fast enough to play Wrath of God. He cast Rhox War Monk and Birds of Paradise, and with him having no cards in hand, I Wrathed again with a Mutavault and Kitchen Finks on the table, and when I played Glorious Anthem and Murderous Redcap, he couldn't come back from the double Wrath.
I felt very lucky to win that match. Grant realized he had overextended with the Stoic Angel, but the second Wrath in my hand probably made that decision irrelevant. If he had played Gaddock Teeg, he might have been able to kill me before I could draw the Redcap to kill it. Dauntless Escort would have been similarly bad, so I was fortunate he didn't draw either of those cards.
I really wanted to take a breather and go outside and refocus, and I should have asked for a quick break. I was teetering on the edge of mental exhaustion, and a few moments to collect myself and refocus would have been very beneficial. Not asking for a five minute break was a huge misplay.
Semifinals vs Alex W (B/W Tokens)
The top four was all BW Token mirror matches, so I had to fight through a very very good player playing the best deck in the format.
I won the die roll and played a turn two Bitterblossom, which prompted Alex to comment, "That's a good card." He played a Spectral Procession and we traded some damage for a bit until I played Knight of Meadowgrain, followed by Ajani. Alex had Glorious Anthem, but after two turns my Ajani trumped his Anthem.
I made a horrid mistake when I played Tidehollow Sculler, prompting him to Zealous Persecution in response. It didn't kill any of my creatures, but when I saw two lands, I had the game sealed up. His Anthem was way off to the side, on the other side of his library as the rest of his permanents, and my fuzzy mind didn't process it. I ran my guys into his blockers, Alex assumed I had Zealous Persecution, I didn't, and the attack was pretty bad. However, I had too many creatures and one too many Ajani, and my attack the following turn was lethal.
Game two I had a turn two Bitterblossom, but I didn't have a lot of other pressure on the board. He played Spectral Procession with a Windbrisk Heights on the table, and I thought and thought, and decided to Zealous Persecution to wipe his board on my turn, trying to keep him off Heights. He played Procession again, and this time I couldn't do anything about it.
Underneath the Windbrisk Heights was a Glorious Anthem, so when he played Cloudgoat Ranger, I Wrathed. But he played a second Cloudgoat Ranger, and though I topdecked my own Cloudgoat Ranger, he had an Anthem while I did not, and I was unable to recover.
Game three was not very interesting. I had a terrific hand of Bitterblossom, Spectral Procession, Ajani, and four lands. Alex followed my Bitterblossom with his own, but I had Ajani advantage when I drew Ajanis #2 and 3. There was just no way for him to deal with so much pressure on the board and the inevitability of Ajani, and I took the match.
An interesting aside: I may have been able to win the match against Alex much much sooner.
Earlier in the day, Alex was playing next to me and Alex had double Bitterblossom in the B/W Tokens mirror against someone, and had attacked with the two tokens that had just come into play. It was realized a full turn later that those two tokens couldn't have attacked, so both players were given warnings for game rule violations. Later in that same match, another mistake was made (I don't know what it was, as I think I was in the middle of a very tense game at the time), and Alex once again received a warning for something.
Fast forward to our match. We were both tired, and we both had missed the lifegain off my Knight of Meadowgrain. Now, this is a missed trigger, and is presumably just a warning. But knowing that Alex had gotten two warnings already earlier in the day, it was possible that the penalty for him would be upgraded to a game loss. Should I have called the judge about the trigger?
I didn't. Alex is a friend of mine, and although I do absolutely believe in playing to win, that's something I didn't feel 100% comfortable about. That seems like an awful way to get a free win. I told him to be more careful and that I wasn't going to call a judge because I didn't want him to get a game loss.
In game three, he attacked with a Bitterblossom token that had just come into play, and I very pointedly told him that it just came into play and glared at him. Had the judge been watching, again, that ran the risk of a game loss for him. Once again, I chose not to call a judge for the infraction, although in a strict sense, I probably should have.
And I normally would have, had I not known about the warnings earlier. This was REL Competitive and there were three byes on the line, so I would call a judge to make sure the infraction was documented as well as letting my opponent know that this is serious and that the game needs to be played correctly. And I have also called a judge on myself on multiple occasions when I've made a similar mistake, because I absolutely believe that everyone should be held accountable. But knowing it was possibly a game loss? I just didn't feel comfortable with the situation. Though it's possible Alex was trying to put one on me by sneaking in a point of damage, I don't believe he was trying to do so – he's like me in that his play significantly deteriorates when he's tired or hungry, and he and I were both very tired at the end of the day.
However in game three, he played a Swamp on turn three and then picked it up and I held him to it. There's no gray area when it comes to takebacks. At an FNM, sure. But at a higher level, especially in game three of the semifinals? No way. So he played the Swamp instead of the Arcane Sanctum he wanted to play, which meant that he couldn't curve out the way he needed to. He said after the match that the takeback would have made a huge difference in the way the game played out.
I don't feel the least bit bad about that one.
What would you have done in my situation? I'm really interested in knowing how others would handle this.
[This seems like the best place to point out that Warnings do not get upgraded between different infractions like a Game Rule Violation and Missed Trigger. You need to commit the same infraction in order to get the upgrade. -Riki]
Finals vs Kent (B/W Tokens)
Game one I kept a marginal hand on the draw with Sculler, [card Glorious Anthem]Anthem[/card], Cloudgoat Ranger, and four lands, none of which were Windbrisk Heights. I think that hand was a touch too slow for the mirror, and I was punished for it. I Scullered away his Anthem, but he Scullered away mine right back, and then he Path to Exiled my Sculler. By the time I played Cloudgoat Ranger, he had played two of his own, and I was too far behind.
Game two I had turn two Bitterblossom, and he had his own Bitterblossom turn two. However, I played Wispmare to destroy his Blossom, and Ajani came down to help the team. He had Zealous Persecution to set up some trades, but eventually I punched through with Ajani and Bitterblossom and Kitchen Finks.
Game three, Kent mulliganed to six and looked at his hand for a long time, then decided to keep. I looked at my hand and it was (on the draw):
If I draw a white mana producer, that hand is almost unbeatable in the mirror. Procession into Anthem is very strong, and Wispmare is so key in the mirror. But if I drew one of the two Mutavaults, the Swamp, or one of the two Reflecting Pools, then I was in trouble. I was on the draw, which influenced my decision.
I kept the hand. In retrospect, I think it was a mistake.
Kent played a Reflecting Pool and passed the turn.
I played a Reflecting Pool and passed the turn.
Kent played another Reflecting Pool and passed.
I drew Windbrisk Heights (hiding Cloudgoat Ranger) and played it, internally heaving a huge sigh of relief.
Kent drew his card and sighed his own sigh of relief, playing a Fetid Heath that let him play Kitchen Finks.
I looked at him and asked as incredulously as possible, "Did you keep the double Reflecting Pool no other land hand?" He smiled at me and said, "Maybe." I said, "Wow," in disbelief.
However, the rest of the game was mostly academic. Kent did draw two more lands and played a Cloudgoat Ranger, but with Procession + Ajani + Anthem, I could fly over and do more damage than he could prevent, and he couldn't race me at that point. My hand was Wrath of God, Cloudgoat Ranger, and Puppeteer Clique as well, so if things did get out of hand, I could take the game right back. Kent tapped out, attacked Ajani, I looked at the board, did my own math, and realized he couldn't keep me from killing him next turn. I let Ajani die, and Kent extended his hand.
6-1-1, and more importantly, 3-0 at GP: Seattle in three weeks.
I'm not all that happy with the way I played, as I found myself making a lot of mistakes I don't usually make. Some of them were small and didn't matter, some of them were not so small but didn't matter (because I was so far behind or ahead), and I made some mistakes that did matter. I drew pretty well, mulliganed very little, and I felt like my draws allowed me to take advantage of the power the deck is capable of.
Some assorted thoughts and conclusions:
After all that, I'm still not sure how I like this particular 75. One card that seemed underwhelming for me all day was Tidehollow Sculler, and I'm strongly considering playing without him and seeing what life is like. Dwayne St. Arnauld, also in that Top 8, was playing Knight of the White Orchid and [card]Path to Exile[/card], and he said he liked it quite a bit.
Knight of Meadowgrain was good when it was good, and horrid when it was bad. It's such a hit-or-miss card depending on the matchup, but I think if I were to cut the Scullers (which might be insanity – someone talk me out of this if this is a big mistake), I'd have to have four Knight of Meadowgrain at least, as I don't want my only two drop to be Bitterblossom.
I'm still on the fence about Mark of Asylum in the board. It doesn't die to Terror like Burrenton Forge-Tender, but being able to block creatures and prevent damage from a Flame Javelin headed to your head is also really important.
Every time I drew Murderous Redcap, I was happy. I think I want more.
Zealous Persecution and Ajani were the cards that won me the most games in the mirror. Ajani is so amazingly important for the mirror match, and if you draw Ajani and they don't, you're going to win a vast majority of the time. I don't think I'd maindeck four, but three in the main and one in the side is correct, and I strongly urge anyone to consider cutting him to rethink that.
Tokens is obviously very strong and if you're playing a deck that can't beat it, you're in for a long day at Regionals. I believe it is the best deck in the format, and the best approach might just be to play the deck and learn how to beat the mirror. That tactic worked for Lorwyn block last season with Faeries, and Tokens is feeling a little like Faeries right now.
Bonus coverage: Top 8 decklists from the event.
1st Place: See decklist above
2nd Kent Ketter
3/4th - Alex West
3/4th Dwayne St. Arnauld
5-8th Grant Bolanos
5/8th Blaine Rybacki
5/8 Paul Waite
5/8th Jeff Hicks
B/W Tokens - 6
G/W Overrun - 2
Bant Aggro - 3
Jund Aggro - 2
U/B Faeries - 2
Vengeant Weenie - 2
Jund Ramp - 2
B/G Elves - 1
Bant Lark - 1
5 Color Control - 1
B/W/G Aggro - 1
Jund Land D - 1
B/W/r Tokens - 1