(Author’s note: This article was originally written on January 8th. Since it took a little while to get it up, keep that fact in mind when some of the “technology” aspects come up.)
First, for those of you who are wondering just exactly what curling is.
Curling is absolutely nothing like that. Nothing.
Okay, back to Magic.
I shouldn't have won. Really.
I didn't play a single game in preparation for the event.
I didn't want to pay $25 for such a low EV tournament, especially one that I hadn’t prepared for.
The source for card supply fell through at 10pm the night before the tournament, and almost everybody else I knew who had cards was in Austin for the GP.
I was still missing about 6 cards (and they were not easy ones to find on-site the morning of a PTQ, mind you) as the judge walked to the back of the room with seating for the player meeting.
I won my semifinal match due largely in part to drawing the 1 copy of [card]Ancient Grudge[/card] that wasn't even on my decklist until about 8 seconds before the judge collected it.
I was utterly annihilated in the Swiss by the only guy I played with Ancient Grudges, but beat that very same player in the quarters because he drew the wrong half of his deck in the wrong match.
I wasn't planning on playing. I didn't really have time to test properly and I really, really don't like to invest money into things I haven't prepared for. It's sort of the same reason I stopped writing articles for this site about a year and a half ago – I didn't want to be the guy who just submitted an article every week because he was supposed to, but never actually had anything that was worth writing about.
Well, now I do, I suppose.
When a friend offered to pay my entry fee in exchange for giving him all of my product prizes and helping him brew, I obviously couldn't say no. I also knew that I needed to find myself a sweet deck. Most of my success in the past has come from formats exactly like this one anyway (pretty early fundamental turns, lots of super powerful things to do), so why not?
Freerolling has a powerful effect on a person's psyche. It completely lifts any pressure you might put on yourself. It lets you forget about “not losing” and instead focus on winning, something I haven’t done a lot of in the last year or so.
Normally I worry about matchups when I begin looking at decks. I worry about what the metagame will be like. I border on outthinking myself a large portion of the time. This time, however, I just wanted something punishing. Something stupid. It's week 1 of the season. The field will be raw. The control decks won't be as tuned as they should be. I wanted to play a deck that would put my opponents on tilt every round because they “hate losing to that stupid deck”.
So I played the stupidest, dumbest, most hatred-inducing deck in the history of Magic: the Gathering.
I played Affinity*.
4 Galvanic Blast
4 Signal Pest
3 Springleaf Drum
2 Steelshaper's Gift
4 Vault Skirge
4 Arcbound Ravager
4 Cranial Plating
3 Shrapnel Blast
2 Steel Overseer
3 Etched Champion
4 Mox Opal
4 Darksteel Citadel
4 Inkmoth Nexus
3 Blinkmoth Nexus
4 Blood Moon
4 Ethersworn Canonist
1 Ancient Grudge
1 Etched Champion
1 Torpor Orb[/deck]
*I know it’s not “Affinity” blah blah blah, but [card]Cranial Plating[/card] is just as tilt-inducing as ever, so whatever.
This list is pretty close to the one that Ari Lax has been battling online with in recent weeks. In fact, this exact version was basically the result of a few Facebook chat sessions between the two of us about two days before my PTQ. He tested it in one Daily Event, and immediately gave it the green light.
We wanted to cut the [card]Frogmite[/card]s because they rarely come down on turn one and any time after that is usually just too late. They are embarrassed in a fight by basically every creature in the entire format, they have no evasion, and they give the deck no additional reach. Actually, they have little to no chance of contributing anything positive at all (except maybe tapping for mana off a [card]Springleaf Drum[/card]). So, yeah, they gotta go.
I told Ari that I was going to go super deep, and play some [card]Tempered Steel[/card]s. I didn’t care about the mana. No Gambol etc. Either I'm going to run good enough to win an 11 or 12 round double elimination tournament, or I'm not. Ari suggested [card]Steelshaper's Gift[/card] as a “spice” card instead, and we really liked the theory behind that choice. It seemed like it would provide enough of that punch I was looking for, because all you ever really want is a [card]Cranial Plating[/card] anyway. Once you have one of those with a guy to put it on, winning is usually elementary. I'm nearly positive that Gift will be stock within two weeks. It's that good.
Or, rather, [card]Cranial Plating[/card] is that good.
I cut the other two Frogs for [card]Steel Overseer[/card]s so that I could have more of a late-game plan against the token and Martyr decks. It isn't much, but it gave me a plan at least, and it's not like I lost any value anywhere else by cutting Frogmite.
We worked on the sideboard a little too, since Ari didn't like his Atogs, and I wanted something against the white token decks that were very popular online. Plus, as an added bonus, I got to Whip my Flare back and forth!
Author’s Note - After the tournament, Chris Anderson hit me up for the list and we cut the Ravagers (worst card for me by at least six miles; Ari still likes them, for what it’s worth) for 2 [card]Welding Jar[/card]s, another [card]Steel Overseer[/card], and the 4th [card]Etched Champion[/card]. He won his PTQ the next week. The Champion in the sideboard had become a [card]Mortarpod[/card] for a while, but I’m experimenting with [card]Thoughtseize[/card] and [card]Dark Confidant[/card] now as well, due to the rise of Grudge decks and Twin in the online metagame.
So, I had the list I wanted to play. Getting it would be another adventure all together. The normal sources for a full 75 were in Austin, or on the East Coast visiting family. I was able to scrounge up most of the easy stuff through a bunch of help from Gavin Verhey and Max McCall, but I was still missing a few things. The most important of which was [card]Steelshaper's Gift[/card].
I asked probably 80 people if they had it. I would guess 75 of them responded “Um, what? What does that card do?” or “Is that from Besieged?” This is gonna be tough.
Turns out, one single person in attendance had seen Ari play in the Daily the day before with them, and thought “Huh, that might be good”. He didn't want to play Glimmervoids though, so he ended up not playing the Gifts. He also had the two [card]Whipflare[/card]s I needed that nobody else had, for all of the same reasons. He handed them to me right as the judge walked by with seating for the player meeting.
It was at this point I started to feel completely invincible.
Pairings went up and the first poor, unfortunate soul of the day was about to meet his demise, but not before I cut a [card]Spellskite[/card] for an [card]Ancient Grudge[/card] as the judge was holding out his hand for my decklist.
Round One – Elliot with MonoRed
Elliot flipped up a [card]Keldon Marauders[/card] during shuffling. The good news about this tournament for me was I had no idea if that was good or bad for me. I was just going to do my best to crush him anyway.
He spent most of the first game trying to burn me, rather than my creatures, which almost worked, since I didn't have a lot of pressure, but I did have a [card]Vault Skirge[/card] that got to connect a few times. His Bolts and Shrine had me dead on his untap, but I had the Shrap for exactsies. After board, we both mulliganed, and he missed his second land drop a couple of times while I had a [card]Cranial Plating[/card] and some cards with the type Artifact Creature (Recurring Themes for 200, Alex).
Round Two – Sean with UW control
The first game started with a lot of creatures in play on my side, and then they all went away. I moved in with my Ravager on an [card]Inkmoth Nexus[/card] to put him on a 1 turn clock with basically only [card]Path to Exile[/card] as an out, but he had [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] for his earlier Path. Down a game, hunker down.
Game two went like this:
Me – Land, [card]Signal Pest[/card]
Opponent – [card]Celestial Colonnade[/card]
Me – Land, [card]Cranial Plating[/card] (A blazing start, to be sure)
Opponent – [card]Celestial Colonnade[/card]
Me – [card]Blood Moon[/card]
That game was close! Magic is fun!
Game three was pretty grindy. I played some guys, he Wrathed them. I played some more guys, he played some [card]Kitchen Finks[/card] to fend them off. I eventually stuck a Champion and (Recurring Themes for 400, Alex) my opponent ran out of answers.
Round 3 – Jordan with Jund
This match was a massacre. Game two could have been a massacre the other way, but I drew my 3rd mana source on about turn 3209572348623687, so yeah. His curve in game 1 was something like [card]Lightning Bolt[/card], [card]Terminate[/card], Liliana, into another Bolt and starting the Treetop Beatdown. Game two he had a Bolt, a [card]Seal of Primordium[/card], a Liliana, some random creature, and a [card]Ancient Grudge[/card]. I've never been so thoroughly thrashed in my life.
Round 4 – John with MonoRed (heavy Goblins element)
John's deck contained cards like [card]Tattermunge Maniac[/card], and [card]Goblin Chieftain[/card], along with a host of other small red creatures and not that much burn. Me and Willow Whipped our Flare back and forth in this one, to be sure. [card]Cranial Plating[/card] eventually took it home (Recurring Themes for 600 Alex… AND THE DAILY DOUBLE).
Round 5 – Matt with Esper control (reanimation package included)
Before the match, Matt asked me if I was ever going to write again. He cited a story of a couple PTQs ago when he played Cedric and asked him the same question. Cedric’s response was “Maybe if I win the tournament.” When Matt asked me again, I told him, “Maybe if I win the tournament”. So here's to you, Matt!
The only things I remember about the first game are his [card]Path to Exile[/card] on my [card]Steel Overseer[/card], his Inquisition taking whatever sweet card I had in my hand, and a [card]Damnation[/card] to wipe my board. And yet, somehow, my scorepad shows my life at 10 and his at 0. Sooooooooo...
Game two started off much the same as the first, but after his turn four [card]Damnation[/card], he just never played another spell. Turns out, it was because he just never drew another spell. I'll take what I can get.
Round 6 – Jed with Storm
I'd sat next to Jed in round 1, and noticed he had a [card]Deceiver Exarch[/card] in play during a sideboarded game, so I knew he was transforming for games 2 and maybe 3.
Game One, my hand was the stone cold, but missing a Mox. Obviously I drew it on turn 1. After he Probed me even, for maximum tilt value! My turn 1 was Citadel, Skirge, Mox, Gift for Plating. The plan was to suit up on 2, and then dump my hand on 3.
That would have been a pretty sweet plan, if I ever got another turn. [card]Desperate Ritual[/card], [card]Desperate Ritual[/card], [card]Seething Song[/card], [card]Past in Flames[/card], [card]Desperate Ritual[/card], [card]Desperate Ritual[/card], [card]Seething Song[/card], [card]Gitaxian Probe[/card], [card]Grapeshot[/card] to kill my Skirge and hit me for 8, and [card]Empty the Warrens[/card] for 20 guys.
Yeah man, you win okay! Jeez.
I boarded in both halves of hate cards, as well as the [card]Whipflare[/card]s, because I wasn't sure what version he would be on in sideboarded games. I didn't really need to guess either, because I had 9 cards that weren't very good versus either version: 2 [card]Steel Overseer[/card], 3 [card]Etched Champion[/card]s, and the Ravagers (moving in is pretty loose after board because they surely have access to Echoing Truth).
Games two and three were super grindy, and I couldn't possibly do them justice here. The second game I drew my one [card]Torpor Orb[/card] on turn 3, and played it instead of equipping [card]Cranial Plating[/card], basically giving him a free turn if he was storming, but giving myself a lot of insurance against the Twin half. Turns out, he was on the Twin half, and didn't find an [card]Echoing Truth[/card] in time, so he eventually died to a couple of dorks, after trying to keep the board stable with Deceivers and Pestermites.
Game three was one of the coolest games I've played in a long time (and easily my favorite of the tournament, other than my entire semifinals match). I was super choked on mana the whole time, and couldn't ever play and equip my Plating because I wouldn't have mana for the [card]Galvanic Blast[/card] in my hand in case he was Twinning. Again, this left me super soft if he was on the storm plan, but there was just something about the way he was playing that made me think we was on the Twin plan. I had a [card]Spellskite[/card] in play, and he seemed pretty concerned by it, albeit very subtly. But it was all I had to read him on, so I just had to go with it. It was a game where I had to incrementally pressure him just enough so that he had to make a move, but make sure not to commit too heavily that I gave him an opening to kill me. On one final turn, he had a Exarch in play, but was tapped out, and it was my second main. He had about 4 cards left, and 6 lands in play. I had 1 mana left with a [card]Galvanic Blast[/card] in hand, and he had bounced my [card]Spellskite[/card] so I couldn't replay it. I knew he was transforming after board, so I just had to figure out the exact configuration. 3 [card]Echoing Truth[/card] for sure; 4 Exarch for sure; 4 [card]Splinter Twin[/card] for sure; at least 2 [card]Pestermite[/card]. Then I had to decide if the last 2 slots were Kiki-Jiki or not. They could also be the other 2 Pestermite, or 2 Dispel or something like that. If I think the last 2 slots are [card]Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker[/card] I should wait until his turn to kill the Exarch so that I can stop him mid-combo, but if I think they could be [card]Dispel[/card], I should kill it now so that he can't counter it. I ended up deciding to kill it on my turn, which prompted the following comment from Jed:
“Well, I guess this one needs to be a Kiki-Jiki”
He chained through like a hundred cards it felt like, but he ended up not getting there (Recurring Themes for 1000, Alex). Yeahhhhh, I deserve itttttt!
Round 7 – Chris with Affinity
Chris is actually the guy who loaned me the Gifts and Whipflares. His version still had [card]Frogmite[/card]s, and he was playing [card]Thoughtcast[/card].
The Affinity mirror plays out a lot different than I thought it would. I thought it would be all about getting on the board first (mostly because of Mox), and it would be difficult to come back from a weak board position. It turns out that's not true at all. The game is all about controlling the skies. Plating is obviously important, but you just want to make sure you manage your fliers. Basically, the last guy with a living [card]Vault Skirge[/card] is a huge favorite. Trade anything you can for a [card]Vault Skirge[/card], and don't attack with your [card]Vault Skirge[/card]s if they can use anything other than their own Skirge to trade. Obviously this is context dependent, but it's a good starting point. As long as you don't let yourself get fireballed out by an Inkmoth, you should be fine with that line of play.
Game one, I was able to trade a couple Nexus for his Skirges, and use a Blast on his Nexus, and my Skirges picked up a [card]Cranial Plating[/card] and cleaned up.
Game two, I had to be pretty patient, and pressure him with [card]Ornithopter[/card]s, leaving my Skirges back until the way was clear. He tried to poison me out, since it looked like his only path to victory, but he didn't have enough time to get through my chump blockers.
Round 8 – Rob with Reveillark
My breakers were pretty bad, so I had to play the last round. There was another match that had to play, and if the right person lost that match, we could safely draw in. I really wanted to do that, because Rob's deck probably couldn't beat Affinity if given 30 tries and it would have been nice to have him in the top 8. He smashed everybody else he played though, so I'm certainly not trying to knock his brew.
Unfortunately for the “draw so that a very good matchup is in the top8” plan, I won the match in about 4 seconds.
Quarters – Jordan with Jund
After the thrashing I received in round 3, I was not excited to play against the only person in the top 8 with [card]Ancient Grudge[/card]s.
Game one was pretty tight, and at one point he had a 4/5 [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] in play. I had a Blast and a Plating in hand, with a Skirge and a [card]Memnite[/card] in play. He was empty handed, and my only mana was a [card]Springleaf Drum[/card] and a Citadel. He played a Liliana and chose to +1 her. I could discard the Plating, and use the Blast to kill Liliana, but my Skirge wouldn't be able to race his Goyf. So, I discarded the Blast and hoped to peel a land. It worked. Blessed, Justice, Run So Good, etc. I got my Plating down, and killed his Liliana. I just had to hope he didn't draw a removal spell for two turns. He didn't.
Game two was also tight. He got a couple big Goyfs down, but I had a [card]Blood Moon[/card] choking his mana, and a Champion with a Plating plus a Galv Blast was able to race his pair of 4/5s by one turn.
Semifinals – Alex with Affinity
Alex had Top8'd six consecutive PTQs in our area, so I knew there weren't going to be a lot of mistakes made in this match.
Game one he stuck a [card]Steel Overseer[/card] relatively early, but was a little short on flying creatures. I was able to hit with a [card]Vault Skirge[/card] for 9 once, but then he started drawing a pretty steady stream of Nexii. His board was starting to get out of hand, so I had to find my path to victory fast. After a couple trades in combat, he had a Plating, the Overseer (a 3/3 at this point), a Ravager (a 2/2), and a Memnite (a 3/3), but he only had two Inkmoths as fliers, and the lifetotals were Alex – 11, and Me – 19. I had a [card]Signal Pest[/card], a 1/1 Ravager, 2 Platings, a [card]Glimmervoid[/card], a Mountain, 2 Citadels, and 2 Inkmoths. I animated both lands, equipped each one with a Plating, and attacked with both lands and the [card]Signal Pest[/card]. This brought both lands to 10/1s, and forced him to chump with his two Inkmoths. I would be dead to his counter attack if he drew a removal, and I would lose if he drew another flying creature, but I had to take the chance because I wasn't going to beat that Overseer if I waited any longer. So, he chumped, bricked on his draw step, I chumped with my Ravager, moved the Modular counter to my Pest, untapped, equipped both Platings, and swung for 11. Exactsies! It was pretty interesting to me that my only path to victory (that I saw, anyway) was to threaten a poison kill in order to set up the damage kill.
Game two I double mulliganed and got crushed.
Game three I mulliganed again. Come ON! Not like this! I just wanna play a good game!
My 6 card hand had a [card]Springleaf Drum[/card], a [card]Ornithopter[/card], a [card]Vault Skirge[/card], a land, a [card]Steelshaper's Gift[/card], and a [card]Ancient Grudge[/card]. Okay, let's go. He had a very fast double plating draw, but all the creatures were only good if they had a plating on them. I drew a second Drum, and on turn 3, I was being attacked for a lot of damage, but I Grudged both of his Platings, and it was back to square one. There was a lot of trading and jockeying, but I just made sure never to risk my Skirge in combat. Eventually, he had to trade all his guys for my Inkmoths (I had drawn like 3 straight), and on just about the last possible turn, he ran out of blockers, and I got to suit my Skirge up, and the metal zombie bird thing took me home.
Finals – Melira Pod
It all happened so fast, I never actually got my opponents name. He looked pretty nervous after he won his semifinals, and I was pretty sure this was a very bad matchup for me, so I was planning to have to use some psychological warfare.
I wasn't going to ask him if he was going to the PT. I wasn't going to ask if he would concede (they NEVER concede). I wanted him to be scared. Intimidated. I wanted him to make nervous mistakes. I was ready to offer to play for it all, second place gets nothing, not even Steak Knives; give him the stone-face staredown, etc. It probably wouldn't work, and I might look like a jerk or an idiot, but I'll take my extra 2% wherever I can get it (within the rules obviously).
The judge explained the rules of splits in the finals, and my opponent started the “negotiation”:
“So, I'll take...”
“...both the boxes, and the rest is yours.”
I said I shouldn’t have won. I said I almost didn’t play. Here’s yet another reason why. Let's go back.
It's Christmas Morning, 2011. My girlfriend Erika is in the kitchen of my friend Colin’s apartment chopping vegetables for the Prime Rib Dinner ™ that we have organized for about 9 people. That's a lot of beef. She's using her favorite gift she received: a very expensive, very fancy chef's knife.
Cedric Phillips and I are about 4 Blue Moons deep (each) and just finished watching – on Colin's new 60” 3D Plasma no less – Carmelo kick off the NBA season by draining 2 free throws, and Kevin Garnett miss the subsequent buzzer beater that would have been automatic up until about 3 years ago. The first of 5 games on the schedule is complete. Next up – a rematch of last year's NBA Finals! It's going to be a good day.
Halfway through another game of Cribbage (losing every time, tiiiiiiilt), I hear this, from the kitchen:
Erika - “Oh God, I think I just cut my thumb off...”
Colin - “Haha, good joke.”
Erika - “NO REALLY IM PRETTY SURE I JUST CUT MY THUMB OFF!”
Colin - “Yeah, okay sure, what should we do about it?”
Erika - “UHHH, HOSPITAL?! DUHHHH”
Time to sober up. Real quick.
We got back from the hospital a little over an hour later, thumb still intact. The knife was so good at being a knife, she didn't even need stitches; just glued the tip back on. For the record, it was real gross. Still is, kinda. But the beer, beef, and basketball still made for a pretty darn good day. We just had to be careful not to make too many “thumbs up” jokes.
This last Friday (the 6th), Erika's thumb developed an infection. She made an appointment to get it checked out on Saturday morning at 10:45. We were both kind of scared that she was going to lose the tip of her thumb (actually, she was very scared), so I offered to go with her to the doctor, and skip the PTQ. I was having trouble getting cards for the deck at the moment anyway, and obviously this was an important thing for her. There was about an hour long period at approximately 11pm the night before the tournament where I had pretty much decided that I wasn't even going to attend.
Later, on our way to get some late night fast food, Erika turned to me and said “I want you to go to the PTQ. I'll be okay, I'm just nervous. And if I get scared tomorrow I can just call you when I'm at the doctor.” (Cedric said that if I ever let this one get away, he will punch me in the throat. That's reasonable, I think.)
We ate our cheeseburgers and ice cream sundaes, and went to pick up some cards. 22 hours later, I had a ticket to Spain.
George is just lucky, I guess.
(Addendum: It turns out my Finals opponent is leaving on a religious Mission for his church on May 2nd. I'm not a religious man, by any means, but Tim Tebow you better look out! Jesus has a new favorite bearded twenty-something!)
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