A Brief Preface by That Dude Who Wears a Bee Suit

“Mike Laucke has been missing from the country for years. Sometime before Faeries had rotated from Standard, he sold his cards, stopped going to FNM, and bought a ticket to Europe. From there, he unceremoniously regaled his friends and followers with details about the new countries he had just been hungover in, foods he paid criminally little for, and pictures in which he was looking more and more like a tan, shirtless, miniature Antonio Banderas. The last anyone knew was that he had purchased a dirt bike in India, and had somehow ridden the filthy little thing to Thailand.

So when I woke last month to discover him perched on the end of my bed in the pre-sunrise gloom, breathing heavily at my computer while pouring over spoilers of Return to Ravnica and Innistrad block, I was startled.

“What!?” Mike is in the habit of yelling for dramatic effect. “How is this card not blue!?”

Apparently, he had discovered [card]Thragtusk[/card]. Members of the Simic Guild all initially look at Thragtusk the same way that parents might look at their own squalling protoplasm in a maternity ward. It is only NOT blue (to us Simic) in the sense that it can't be pitched to [card]Force of Will[/card] or [card]Misdirection[/card]. (Research notes attribute [card]Pyroblast[/card]’s ‘having no effect’ on Thragtusk not to semantics or templating, but to its copious diet of GMO corn and Nacho-Cheese Doritos©.)

Needless to say, he wanted to build a control deck with it. He handed me a disorganized list of about 30 cards. After several hours of heated dialogue and a few dead pens, we had a list. Only someone with as much Cube experience as Mike would be crazy enough to register the deck list we produced.

My superiors in the Simic League have asked me to enforce the notion that this was NOT a Cube deck ‘originally.’ When 80% of the Magic you play is Cube, it’s only a matter of time before you treat the entire format card pool like some giant Cube Sealed pool. Most people who have splashed more than one color in a 40-card deck for [card]Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker[/card] know that if the fixing is there, powerful cards are actually better than feasibility—You just have to already be comfortable with losing to variance. Having not played in two years, Mike very well may have forgotten what variance is.”

~Co-author Brenden Hickey, A.k.a Killer____Bee

California: A 1st Place States Tournament Report

or

How I Went 14-0-3 In Standard Constructed with a Cube Deck

I can’t recall, at first, whether we didn't want to share our deck list because we knew we had an actual contender, or because it looked like a Cube deck. We exposed the list to one person, Daniel Roncancio, and, after building it, he dismissed it as, “too much fun to actually be good.” Several other trusted players swept the idea aside as well. When you look at our list, can you blame them?

[deck]Main Deck:
3 Thragtusk
2 Restoration Angel
2 Snapcaster Mage
1 Griselbrand
2 Detention Sphere
2 Garruk, Primal Hunter
2 Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
3 Abrupt Decay
2 Think Twice
2 Forbidden Alchemy
2 Feeling of Dread
1 Sphinx's Revelation
2 Supreme Verdict
3 Terminus
4 Farseek
1 Unburial Rites
2 Chromatic Lantern
1 Gilded Lotus
4 Hinterland Harbor
2 Isolated Chapel
2 Temple Garden
2 Overgrown Tomb
2 Hallowed Fountain
2 Evolving Wilds
2 Island
2 Forest
1 Plains
1 Swamp
2 Cavern of Souls
1 Vault of the Archangel
Sideboard
1 Steam Vents
1 Oblivion Ring
1 Terminus
3 Duress
3 Negate
1 Feeling of Dread
2 Purify the Grave
1 Curse of Death's Hold
2 Slaughter Games[/deck]

It’s like a nightmare. In this configuration, [card]Duress[/card] should have been [card]Appetite for Brains[/card], but this isn’t the SB that we settled on for States. And [card]Slaughter Games[/card]—I knew it wasn't good, but I didn't want to lose to a deck that really only had [card]Entreat the Angels[/card] or [card]Unburial Rites[/card]. This first sideboard was awful.

SATURDAY: The Side Event Before States (Grand Prix San Jose)

9 a.m.: 1710 players for Day One, 570 teams, and we get the dual land pool. If we should die early, let it not be to mana screw.

11 a.m.: As good a time as any to notice that there are 7 blue spells in my Sealed deck, 1 basic Island.

2:30 p.m.: x-2 with infinity rounds left. When do the side events start again?

3:30 p.m.: Back to the hotel for the deck. Can’t help but shake the feeling that I am only now putting on my game face.

4:00 p.m.: “The Comeback.” At this point, we were ridiculed by everyone we showed our list to. It was probably well deserved, anyone looking at this list of two-ofs could not imagine how it could stand up to a deck with four-ofs and consistency. Though, Bee and I were holding out and waiting for concrete results. This tournament was our first bag of concrete and I was to be the stirring stick.

Round 1: W/R Humans

Game 1: I open with 4 lands [card]Thragtusk[/card], [card]Supreme Verdict[/card], [card]Forbidden Alchemy[/card]. He curves out with a [card]Champion of the Parish[/card], then on his t3 he plays two creatures and I top deck [card]Terminus[/card]—With no white mana. I scoop.

SB:

-1 [card]Griselbrand[/card]
-1 [card]Unburial Rites[/card]
-1 [card]Shinx's Revelation[/card]

+1 [card]Curse of Death's Hold[/card]
+1 [card]Terminus[/card]
+1 [card]Feeling of Dread[/card]

Game 2: My opening hand is 4 lands, [card]Farseek[/card], [card]Thragtusk[/card] and [card]Curse of Death's Hold[/card]. He has a slow start of x/1s while I cast [card]Curse of Death's Hold[/card] into [card]Thragtusk[/card]. He [card]Oblivion Ring[/card]s the curse and plays two more creatures. I [card]Abrupt Decay[/card] the [card oblivion ring]O-ring[/card] and we are off to g3.

Game 3: He takes a mull on the play, and I have an opener with [card]Feelings of Dread[/card] to reach [card]Thragtusk[/card], with [card]Restoration Angel[/card] to seal the deal.

1-0

Round 2: Bant Midrange

Games 1-2: This is the only round I have trouble recalling. I remember resolving [card]Griselbrand[/card] for the first time and winning from there. G2 was straightforward post-sweeper [card]Thragtusk[/card] beats.

I realized my sideboard was terrible in this round. At first, I assumed that I wanted to take out [card]Terminus[/card] and [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] against control. But most “control” decks side [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] in. So I have to keep Supreme Verdict. But against a midrange deck that uses Traft in the main, more creatures, and less counterspells, this is my plan:

SB:

-1 [card]Griselbrand[/card]
-2 [card]Think Twice[/card]

+1 [card]Feeling of Dread[/card]
+1 [card]Terminus[/card]
+1 [card]Oblivion Ring[/card]

2-0

Round 3: Bant Control by Kevin Knocke

For those of you who love to watch SCII, Kevin Knocke is one of the IGN Pro League announcers for SCII. He was a gracious opponent, and when he admitted it was his first time playing control since he started playing Magic, I was a little more lenient on takebacks. We had a blast.

Game 1: This was one of my favorite opening hands/games all day: [card]Hallowed Fountain[/card], [card]Cavern of Souls[/card], [card]Hinterland Harbor[/card], [card]Farseek[/card], [card]Griselbrand[/card], [card]Gilded Lotus[/card], [card]Garruk, Primal Hunter[/card]. I’m sure you can guess how this played out. [card]Farseek[/card], [card]Gilded Lotus[/card], turn five [card]Griselbrand[/card]. When he [card detention sphere]Detention Spheres[/card], I draw 14 cards into [card]Abrupt Decay[/card] to kill his Sphere, and play a Garruk drawing me 7 more cards.

Game 2: [card]Cavern of Souls[/card] naming Beast into several [card]Thragtusk[/card]s grind out a longer game.

SB:

-1 [card]Griselbrand[/card] (If they lose to it game 1, they usually sideboard like its your win condition)
-3 [card]Terminus[/card]
-2 [card]Feeling of Dread[/card]
-1 [card]Gilded Lotus[/card] (without [card]Griselbrand[/card] it has less impact)
-1 [card]Think Twice[/card]

+2 [card]Duress[/card]
+3 [card]Negate[/card]
+1 [card]Steam Vents[/card]
+2 [card]Slaughter Games[/card] (I really just wanted to see his deck.)

3-0

Round 3: Reanimator Combo?

([card]Angel of Glory's Rise[/card], [card]Fiend Hunter[/card], [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card], anything else)

Game 1: He eventually wins a long game via [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card]s and [card falkenrath aristocrat]The Aristocrat[/card] with [card]Unburial Rites[/card].

SB:

-1 [card]Griselbrand[/card]
-1 [card]Sphinx's Revelation[/card]
-1 [card]Gilded Lotus[/card]
-1 [card]Think Twice[/card]

+1 [card]Feeling of Dread[/card]
+2 [card]Purify the Grave[/card]
+1 [card]Terminus[/card]

Game 2: He starts slow and I ramp into t4 [card]Thragtusk[/card], t5 [card]Garruk, Primal Hunter[/card] which he [card]Dreadbore[/card]s, then I put on my socks and sandals and ride a [card tamiyo, the moon sage]Tamiyo[/card] to ultimate town with 5 minutes left on the clock.

3-0-1

Round 5: G/W splash U by Adam Neese

Game 1: I got to see a little of his deck since we played next to each other for the previous 2 rounds. He starts with the one card I wasn’t sure I’d like—[card]Dryad Militant[/card].

“Oh boy.” I cast a [card]Farseek[/card]. He reminds me of the exile and I turn it sideways in my graveyard. Suddenly all my [card]Think Twice[/card]s and [card forbidden alchemy]Forbidden Alchemies[/card] in hand had lost their luster. Fortunately, I win with a miracled [card]Terminus[/card] into [card]Thragtusk[/card] into [card]Restoration Angel[/card] into [card tamiyo, the moon sage]Tamiyo, Socks with Sandals[/card].

Whether or not he kept in the pesky 2/1 Dryads I didn’t want to find out. As he played lots of creatures my choices were straightforward.

SB:

-2 [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card]
-1 [card]Griselbrand[/card]

+1 [card]Feeling of Dread[/card]
+1 [card]Terminus[/card]
+1 [card]Oblivion Ring[/card]

Game 2: He starts with 2 [card]Dryad Militant[/card]s. He brings on the beats until we both get [card]Thragtusk[/card]s down. His [card]Armada Wurm[/card] and a [card]Restoration Angel[/card] seem better than my [card]Farseek[/card] and [card]Gilded Lotus[/card], until I cast [card]Terminus[/card] and [card]Garruk, Primal Hunter[/card] in the same turn. I ran out of things to use as 3/3 tokens before I won.

4-0-1

Round 6: Jund Midrange

Game 1: Won with [card]Thragtusk[/card] and [card]Restoration Angel[/card] after [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] on [card huntmaster of the fells]Huntmaster[/card], [card]Borderland Ranger[/card], and an Elf. Midrange decks always play dudes afterwards, but the initial X-for-1 backed by [card]Thragtusk[/card] parity always gets broken by Garruk or Tamiyo. Even Garruk by himself does an admirable job of holding off a [card]Thragtusk[/card] with a 3/3 a turn. This is why [card]Jace, Architect of Thought[/card] was scratched off of our lists entirely. Why toss -1/-0 around with a mini-[card]Fact or Fiction[/card] when you can make 3/3 guys and straight [card]Ancestral Recall[/card]?

SB:

-1 [card]Griselbrand[/card]
-1 [card]Gilded Lotus[/card]
-1 [card]Think Twice[/card]

+1 [card]Feeling of Dread[/card]
+1 [card]Terminus[/card]
+1 [card]Oblivion Ring[/card]

Game 2: This is a very long game in which I go to 4, use [card]Feeling of Dread[/card] 5 different times to stave off lethal damage, and cast all 4 copies of [card]Terminus[/card]. When the final turn ends, I have [card]Garruk, Primal Hunter[/card], [card]Thragtusk[/card], and [card]Restoration Angel[/card] with 7 cards in hand. He attacks with [card]Borderland Ranger[/card] and a [card]Rakdos Keyrune[/card] to kill my Garruk. I [card]Abrupt Decay[/card] the Keyrune, and when he plays [card]Golgari Charm[/card] regenerating all his creatures I play [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] on a 2nd [card]Abrupt Decay[/card] in my graveyard, then a [card]Restoration Angel[/card] on [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] after the Charm resolves, targeting the 1st [card]Abrupt Decay[/card]. I end the game at 18 life, attacking for lethal, with about 8 cards left in my deck.

5-0-1

11:30 p.m.: 5-0-1 was good enough for first place solely on record, after some of the pair downs lost their respective matches.

By the 5th round, a small crowd had gathered to watch my match at the rumor that “a highlander deck was going undefeated.” Some were opponents turned spectator, excited to see what other cards might be crammed in there. Some were people who simply hadn’t seen me in years and wanted to know what “Bant Demons” was. Some were non-American Grinders, curious by the crowd. As the tempo swung in my favor for game 2, and the deck started to “Make the Comeback,” the throng started asking for the deck list. Only someone who hadn’t seen the deck list, but only how utterly it won each game could possibly be interested. But I had to keep it under wraps. I collected email addresses from anyone curious in getting the list later, and promised them that as soon as States was over, I would send a mass email.

Some shots, beers, and team pool later it was 2am, and we were hovering over a coffee table with the sideboard spread out. I kept transitioning between various stages of getting ready for bed and staring at the 15 while we laid the rest of the deck out. We eventually came to the correct impression that red was not needed, and that if we cut red, we could add a new dimension to the “control” mirror.

The new sideboard, with a more cohesive anti-Zombies package and a grip of hexproof dudes, would complete the anthology of “two-ofs” that later had an ecstatic Mani Davoudi shouting, “TWO-OF! TWO-OF! TWO-OF!” as he and Brandon Nelson examined the deck late Sunday night. At no point did the fact that I sided out [card]Griselbrand[/card] every match compel us to cut it.

SUNDAY: 8 Rounds of Swiss in CA States

Of course our late night would almost prove to be the end of us. 30 minutes before registration was over, I ran out of gas in an intersection on my way to Starbucks. I haven’t had a cell phone since getting back, so I was on my own while my friends wondered what had become of me. I really didn’t want to miss this tournament after the previous night’s success. I was able to refuel the Eurovan from where it had stopped in about 5 minutes after running through traffic. When we arrived at the convention center, we had time only to sleeve the deck. It was at this point that we paid the greatest price for having a deck rife with 2-ofs. The players meeting announcement went up as I wrote down the last card names in the sideboard.

Here is what I registered Sunday morning, complete with new sideboard:

[deck]Main Deck:
3 Thragtusk
2 Restoration Angel
2 Snapcaster Mage
1 Griselbrand
2 Detention Sphere
2 Garruk, Primal Hunter
2 Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
3 Abrupt Decay
2 Think Twice
2 Forbidden Alchemy
2 Feeling of Dread
1 Sphinx's Revelation
2 Supreme Verdict
3 Terminus
4 Farseek
1 Unburial Rites
2 Chromatic Lantern
1 Gilded Lotus
4 Hinterland Harbor
2 Isolated Chapel
2 Temple Garden
2 Overgrown Tomb
2 Hallowed Fountain
2 Evolving Wilds
2 Island
2 Forest
1 Plains
1 Swamp
2 Cavern of Souls
1 Vault of the Archangel
Sideboard
1 Feeling of Dread
3 Negate
2 Geist of Saint Traft
1 Sigarda, Host of Herons
2 Duress
1 Oblivion Ring
1 Terminus
2 Centaur Healer
2 Purify the Grave[/deck]

Round 1: 5CC

This deck looked very similar to my list—Almost as if they saw me play the night before, went home, and tried to build it but forgot what cards they saw. They added [card]Pillar of Flame[/card], which I was happy to see game 1 since that meant 4 dead cards.

Game 1: My opener is 4 lands, [card]Farseek[/card], [card]Thragtusk[/card], [card]Restoration Angel[/card]. I play [card]Thragtusk[/card], which dies to [card]Dreadbore[/card], then I play [card]Restoration Angel[/card]. He one-for-twos it with double-[card]Pillar of Flame[/card] and plays [card]Thragtusk[/card]. I then draw 4 more lands in a row to die.

SB:

-3 [card]Terminus[/card]
-2 [card]Feeling of Dread[/card]
-2 [card]Think Twice[/card] (I’d rather have sideboard cards than a 5-mana divination)
-1 [card]Abrupt Decay[/card]
-1 [card]Gilded Lotus[/card] (I wasn’t sure what the last cut should be, so this is what I usually default to)

+2 [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card]
+1 [card]Sigarda, Host of Herons[/card]
+3 [card]Negate[/card]
+2 [card]Duress[/card]
+1 [card]Oblivion Ring[/card]

Game 2: Geist does enough damage that [card]Restoration Angel[/card] can punch through the final points.

Game 3: This was a more interesting game by far. We develop our mana for a while and make some trades. The momentum swings when he casts a [card]Garruk, Primal Hunter[/card]. I [card]Detention Sphere[/card] his Garruk and he plays a second, so I [card]Abrupt Decay[/card] my Sphere then play my own Garruk. It stuck for 5 turns drawing cards and making Beasts. (When they have red mana, never go to ultimate with your planeswalkers. I learned this over and over again—[card]Zealous Conscripts[/card] is so annoying!)

1-0

Round 2: G/W Haste

Game 1: He’s on the play. His [card]Arbor Elf[/card] compels me to think he’s playing something midrange so I get excited. He plays a [card]Strangleroot Geist[/card] with a [card]Rancor[/card] on it. I fetch a Plains in case I miracle [card]Terminus[/card]—but it’s in vain. On his third turn, he calmly plays an untapped [card]Temple Garden[/card] and plays [card]Silverblade Paladin[/card] with the double-white mana from his [card]Arbor Elf[/card].

SB:

-1 [card]Griselbrand[/card]
-1 [card]Gilded Lotus[/card]
-2 [card]Think Twice[/card]
-1 [card]Sphinx's Revelation[/card]

+2 [card]Centaur Healer[/card]
+1 [card]Feeling of Dread[/card]
+1 [card]Terminus[/card]
+1 [card]Oblivion Ring[/card]

Game 2: After an initial scare at a first-turn [card]Dryad Militant[/card] ('not again!'), he misses a land drop and I see game 3 on the horizon. I play [card]Centaur Healer[/card], go to 19, and win with Ms. Socks-with-Sandals when I target his Forest for a few turns.

Game 3: This is a nail biter, and drew spectators. I have a strong opening hand with [card]Feeling of Dread[/card], [card]Centaur Healer[/card], [card]Detention Sphere[/card], [card]Abrupt Decay[/card] and lands. He starts off fast, and I have to use [card]Feeling of Dread[/card] on my t2 and t3, then [card]Centaur Healer[/card] to chump-block before I finally [card]Detention Sphere[/card] two [card]Silverblade Paladin[/card]s.

He still has the pressure on though with all the haste and pump spells. I drop to 2. He then proceeds to play two more creatures—I’m not sure why since he has Elf, [card]Loxodon Smiter[/card], and 3/2 [card]Strangleroot Geist[/card] on the board. Maybe he didn’t want to let me have an extra draw due to [card]Feeling of Dread[/card] if it was in my hand, but I miracle [card]Terminus[/card] and play [card]Tamiyo, the Moon Sage[/card], tapping a land. This is his only turn to have any one of 12 cards to beat me. When all he can muster is a Loxodon Smiter and an Elf, I top deck [card]Restoration Angel[/card] and play [card]Thragtusk[/card] to seal the game.

2-0

Round 3: G/W Little Kid Mid’

Game 1: Once “The Comeback” has permanents in play, it’s really hard to lose because of how many cards it draws. Garruk is almost as blue as [card]Thragtusk[/card]! Drawing 5 cards with all lands untapped is better than the new Jace by a wide margin.

SB:

-1 [card]Griselbrand[/card]
-1 [card]Gilded Lotus[/card]
-1 [card]Think Twice[/card]

+1 [card]Feeling of Dread[/card]
+1 [card]Terminus[/card]
+1 [card]Oblivion Ring[/card]

Game 2: This game is more of the same, this time with a Tamiyo Emblem. For some reason, whenever I take the Tamiyo Emblem out of my box and place it in front of my opponents suggestively, they always lean in to read it. Thank you Daniel for the Korean Tamiyo Emblem.

3-0

Round 4: G/W splash U midrange by Adam Neese

This was the same opponent I played in round 5 on Saturday—I’m sorry if I got his name wrong. He didn’t want a loss naturally and was eager for revenge, but before the match began he did say that if he lost to me he was happy since he liked my deck.

Game 1: t1 he plays [card]Dryad Militant[/card] as per normal. I go into my anti-midrange routine of a timely [card]Supreme Verdict[/card]. His followup is a [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] that takes me to 2 life before I Cavern [card]Thragtusk[/card], and use [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] to block Geist.

1:40 p.m.: I’ve never played with [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] before, and the copies in my sideboard are Korean and Japanese. Siiiiiiick. Now I have to simultaneously know what they do, pretend I know what they do, pretend I'm not excited, and not get excited. Oh, I also haven't eaten in like 24 hours. And I’m excited. :(

SB:

-1 [card]Griselbrand[/card]
-2 [card]Think Twice[/card]
-2 [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] (Although I thought he knew I was going to side this out, he kept in [card]Dryad Militant[/card] for early beats)
-1 [card]Gilded Lotus[/card]
-1 [card]Abrupt Decay[/card]

+2 [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card]
+1 [card]Terminus[/card]
+1 [card]Sigarda, Host of Herons[/card]
+2 [card]Negate[/card]
+1 [card]Oblivion Ring[/card]

Game 2: I wrath into a [card]Sigarda, Host of Herons[/card], and she deals 15 damage before I have to wrath again. Not sure what did the last 5 damage, but it was either [card]Thragtusk[/card] or [card]Garruk, Primal Hunter[/card]. This game was mercifully short, giving us more than enough time for game 3.

Game 3: We trade Geists and Thragtusks before I play Garruk. I have just 2 lands in hand and think he might have [card]Detention Sphere[/card] so I draw 5, which draws me into a 2nd Garruk and [card]Unburial Rites[/card] to kill his fresh Geist. When he Spheres my Garruk, I have this funny flashback to when I played [card]Reveillark[/card] and did stupid things in response to each other, so I play [card]Oblivion Ring[/card] and target it with my own [card]Abrupt Decay[/card] to RFG his [card]Detention Sphere[/card] on Garruk. He laughed and looked puzzled, then looked at my hand size and scooped.

4-0

Round 5: Bant Lifegain by Jordan Butler

Game 1: This was the craziest game I played all tournament. It went on for 30 minutes and I almost decked.

His turn 4 is [card trostani, selesnya's voice]Trostani[/card], I cast [card]Gilded Lotus[/card] with an [card]Overgrown Tomb[/card] up. When he [card]Detention Sphere[/card]s it, I float three black, let it resolve, then tap the [card]Overgrown Tomb[/card] and [card]Abrupt Decay[/card] the Sphere when he passes the phase. 3 blue from the now untapped Lotus lets me play [card]Think Twice[/card] and [card]Forbidden Alchemy[/card]. Then I untap into [card]Griselbrand[/card] and draw 14 cards.

At this point he plays a [card]Thragtusk[/card] and I just cast my own with [card]Restoration Angel[/card] up. I attack with [card]Griselbrand[/card] to gain 7 then untap it and block to gain 7 more, all while drawing cards. He resolves two [card]Sphinx's Revelation[/card]s and [card]Cackling Counterpart[/card] on [card]Thragtusk[/card]. Between all of that each turn, we were at a stagnant 35-65. It ends with my double [card]Terminus[/card] into Garruk ultimate. He plays some creatures and I EoT [card]Feeling of Dread[/card] his whole team, and attack for 66 when he is at 63.

SB:

-2 [card]Think Twice[/card]
-2 [card]Feeling of Dread[/card]
-1 [card]Gilded Lotus[/card] (I thought we would get all our lands into play anyway)
-1 [card]Farseek[/card]

+3 [card]Negate[/card]
+1 [card]Sigarda, Host of Herons[/card]
+2 [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card]

Game 2: Isn’t as fun—I board sweep with either [card]Terminus[/card] or [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] and win with a [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] and a [card]Restoration Angel[/card].

5-0

Round 6: Jund Midrange

Game 1: Sitting down to table one I wasn’t stoked to see Swamp followed by Mountain. But, it turned from Zombies to Jund with a t3 [card]Borderland Ranger[/card]. I squeeze out a win with good value on [card]Terminus[/card] and Supreme Verdict.

The game is much harder to plan out when they run upwards of 8 haste creatures that can kill your planeswalkers in one hit. And now, because of Bee, I’m dreading having to play around [card]Zealous Conscripts[/card].

SB:

-1 [card]Griselbrand[/card]
-1 [card]Think Twice[/card]
-2 [card]Abrupt Decay[/card]

+1 [card]Terminus[/card]
+1 [card]Oblivion Ring[/card]
+1 [card]Feeling of Dread[/card]
+1 [card]Sigarda, Host of Herons[/card]

Game 2: He mulls to 5 and my card advantage is just stronger than most creature-based decks, especially when they lose two cards. I just get down a [card]Thragtusk[/card] and [card]Garruk, Primal Hunter[/card] and sail those to victory. It’s worth noting that Garruk’s draw cards ability really shines as a minus ability when the only thing I fear is [card]Zealous Conscripts[/card]. Drawing five cards with a [card]Thragtusk[/card] in play and all my lands untapped feels significantly better than anything I could be doing with a different planeswalker.

6-0

Round 7: Jund Zombies

This was the first time standings were posted, and there was much discussion about whether the three undefeated people could double-draw into Top 8. Brenden ran across the room to track down Matthias Hunt, who he assures me is better at tiebreaker math in his sleep than any two people are awake. A few seconds later, the consensus is that I can double-draw.

After talking it over with my opponent, however, he wants to play even though he has a sealed seat. I understand since I knew he was playing Jund Zombies (one of my worst matchups) and the higher seat gets to choose to play or draw. We agreed that if either of us goes 2-0 then it’s a win, but if we go 1-1 then we will draw. Unfortunately, this works in his favor as Zombies has the best game one in the format, and most people lean on their sideboard for them, like me. But I can’t force someone to draw, so we play it out.

Game 1:

It starts off strong for Zombies, with a creature coming down each turn and a [card]Rancor[/card] thrown into the mix.

I had a [card]Feeling of Dread[/card] to stall into [card]Thragtusk[/card] with [card]Abrupt Decay[/card] in hand, but his EoT [card]Brimstone Valley[/card] did the trick after blocks.

SB:

-1 [card]Griselbrand[/card]
-2 [card]Think Twice[/card]
-1 [card]Gilded Lotus[/card]
-1 [card]Sphinx's Revelation[/card]
-1 [card]Unburial Rites[/card] (This card can be strong against Zombies with [card]Thragtusk[/card], but it's dead weight in an opening hand)

+1 [card]Terminus[/card]
+1 [card]Feeling of Dread[/card]
+1 [card]Oblivion Ring[/card]
+1 [card]Sigarda, Host of Herons[/card] (There is nothing better than tapping out on t4 or t5 for Sigarda knowing they don’t have a single answer)
+2 [card]Centaur Healer[/card]

Game 2:

I open the dream hand and he mulls to 6. I have 3 lands, [card]Centaur Healer[/card], [card]Feeling of Dread[/card], [card]Thragtusk[/card], [card]Farseek[/card]. It gets me there as he doesn’t have many creatures in his mull.

At this point we drew and decide to play one more game just for the crowd's sake, which I win with a timely [card]Terminus[/card].

6-0-1

Round 8: American Control (Splashing Thragtusk)

This round was an intentional draw to secure a Top 8 berth. I knew he was playing American control and was a good matchup for me. If I beat him, I would put myself at seat 1 for the option of play or draw all through the Top 8. It was tempting, but my tiebreakers were subpar, so if I lost I would be out of the Top 8 and I didn’t want to be that guy.

7:30 P.M.: I took this round to scout the other potential decks in the Top 8. Gerry Thompson’s B/G Zombies was something I was really hoping to face. B/G is pretty favorable, because while their early game is about as fast as B/R, they’re trying to punch through with [card]Crippling Blight[/card] and [card]Rancor[/card]—not [card]Blood Artist[/card], [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card], and burn. Making [card]Feeling of Dread[/card] more like [card]Moment's Peace[/card] by virtue of the spells in your deck is the surest way to lose to what “Comeback” is trying to do.

The other deck was this weird UWR Pseudo-Delver that played lots of 1/1 flying Spirits with main deck Geists, [card]Izzet Charm[/card]s, [card]Syncopate[/card]s, [card]Searing Spear[/card]s, and [card]Runechanter's Pike[/card]s. And then the usual consortium of midrange.

I placed 5th out of the 8, so I would be on the draw for all my rounds, which wasn’t a huge concern for me until I realized that my first round opponent was the Jund Zombies that I drew with in Round 7.

Top 8

Quarterfinals: Jund Zombies

Game 1: Nerves are running high as I take a look at my opener. 3 land, [card]Supreme Verdict[/card], [card]Restoration Angel[/card], [card]Thragtusk[/card], [card]Farseek[/card]. I couldn’t be happier. Although [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] is underwhelming against Zombies, his first turn play is [card]Diregraf Ghoul[/card] into a [card]Rakdos Shred-Freak[/card]. I am at 16 when I play [card]Farseek[/card], going into perfect mana for [card]Supreme Verdict[/card]—as long as he doesn’t play Messenger on his next turn I am looking strong. He plays [card]Dreg Mangler[/card] (which makes me very happy) and drops me to 9 (the magic number is 5 because he runs [card]Brimstone Valley[/card]). I untap into [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] and a land. I know this is the make-or-break turn—whether he hits an [card falkenrath aristocrat]Aristocrat[/card] or not. He plays [card]Lotleth Troll[/card] and passes. I untap into [card]Thragtusk[/card] with [card]Restoration Angel[/card] in hand, which carries the rest of the game.

SB:

-1 [card]Griselbrand[/card]
-2 [card]Think Twice[/card]
-1 [card]Gilded Lotus[/card]
-1 [card]Sphinx's Revelation[/card]
-1 [card]Unburial Rites[/card]

+1 [card]Terminus[/card]
+1 [card]Feeling of Dread[/card]
+1 [card]Oblivion Ring[/card]
+1 [card]Sigarda, Host of Herons[/card]
+2 [card]Centaur Healer[/card]

Game 2: I open with 3x lands, [card]Feeling of Dread[/card], [card]Oblivion Ring[/card], [card]Restoration Angel[/card], and [card]Tamiyo, the Moon Sage[/card]. His curve is t1 [card]Diregraf Ghoul[/card], t2 [card]Lotleth Troll[/card], t3 [card]Geralf's Messenger[/card]—which I answer with [card]Feeling of Dread[/card] into [card]Oblivion Ring[/card] on Messenger.

After using an Angel to block, I play [card]Tamiyo, the Moon Sage[/card], tapping his only creature. Four turns later I reap the benefits of Tamiyo’s ultimate. Some decks are built to abuse Tamiyo’s Emblem, and while this isn’t one of those decks, It does a pretty good job of winning the game while drawing the medium number of cards possible. [card]Recurring Nightmare[/card]/[card]Thragtusk[/card] against a deck that’s trying to win with ground dudes is a fine soft-lock.

7-0-2

Top 4: UWR

This was the innovative midrange deck I watched during round 8. I got to see most of his deck as the game he played was very long and they were almost to the point of decking, I wasn’t too scared of it but knew he ran a lot of counterspells. I would just have to be patient and play around [card]Izzet Charm[/card] and [card]Syncopate[/card] as much as I could. These games were sure to be a bit longer and more complex than playing wrath, [card]Thragtusk[/card], and [card]Restoration Angel[/card].

Game 1: It progresses as normal for two control decks that are meant to beat decks that actually play creatures. The only exciting thing happens in the early game when he plays Geist and I use [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] to kill his it and an Augur. After a bit of back and forth, I play EoT [card]Restoration Angel[/card] and untap into [card]Tamiyo, the Moon Sage[/card] with enough mana for [card]Izzet Charm[/card]. My Tamiyo resolves so I tap a land and play defense. His draws must have been abysmal at that point, because when I drop a Garruk a few turns later, he has nothing. He dies a short while later with what I can only assume was a grip full of lands.

SB:

This was my first time playing American Control in this tournament, so I wasn’t 100% on my sideboarding.

-2 [card]Feeling of Dread[/card]
-2 [card]Think Twice[/card]
-2 [card]Abrupt Decay[/card]
-1 [card]Griselbrand[/card]
-1 [card]Gilded Lotus[/card]
-1 [card]Farseek[/card] (This was a bad choice in retrospect, but I was feeling lucky and I wanted all the cards I was bringing in)

+2 [card]Duress[/card]
+1 [card]Sigarda, Host of Herons[/card]
+1 [card]Oblivion Ring[/card]
+3 [card]Negate[/card]
+2 [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card]

Game 2: On the draw again. He resolves his [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] first, which I kill with mine, then he plays EoT [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card]. I [card]Duress[/card] his only counterspell, [card]Syncopate[/card], seeing a 2nd [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] and [card]Spectral Flight[/card]. I then have my [card]Chromatic Lantern[/card] countered by a 2nd [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] flashing [card]Syncopate[/card] back.

He tried to use [card]Spectral Flight[/card] to get his beats on, and I kill it with [card]Abrupt Decay[/card]. Once I get Tamiyo down, her ultimate resolves in short order. I EoT [card]Sphinx's Revelation[/card] gaining 5 and drawing 5, returning [card]Sphinx's Revelation[/card] to my hand via Tamiyo Trigger. Then I untap with [card]Negate[/card], [card]Detention Sphere[/card], and many other useful cards in hand.

I try to [card]Detention Sphere[/card] his Spirits and he uses [card]Negate[/card]. I Negate back while I had another Negate in hand, thinking maybe he had the [card]Syncopate[/card] and wanted to exile my Sphere if I tried to recast it. With my Negate on the stack, it turns out he had a second Negate for the Sphere—I almost cast my second Negate, but then I glance at the Tamiyo emblem, allow everything to resolve, point at Detention Sphere, and announce “Tamiyo Trigger?” When it returns to my hand and I still have three mana due to a [card]Chromatic Lantern[/card] sitting on the far side of the battlefield, he scoops.

8-0-2

Finals: Naya Midrange

Going into this round I felt confident, since I knew I was playing against midrange—but I thought he was Jund splashing white for [card]Restoration Angel[/card], not just straight Naya.

Game 1: I don’t remember too much from this game, but I think he either didn’t draw well or I just played two [card]Terminus[/card] and a [card]Thragtusk[/card]. I remember going into game 2 not really knowing all the cards he was running and I thought he missed black for the first half of the game.

SB:

I didn’t see many spells besides burn and [card]Bonfire of the Damned[/card] so I didn’t think I’d need [card]Negate[/card] or [card]Duress[/card]. I sided like a normal creature-based strategy.

-1 [card]Griselbrand[/card]
-2 [card]Think Twice[/card]
-1 [card]Gilded Lotus[/card]

+1 [card]Terminus[/card]
+1 [card]Oblivion Ring[/card]
+1 [card]Sigarda, Host of Herons[/card]
+1 [card]Feeling of Dread[/card].

Game 2: This was a good example of the deck playing like it looks like it should on paper. I open my 7, see one land, ship it back and shuffle for another 5 minutes. After a few more minutes of shuffling I open my 5—1 land. I couldn’t see that the odds would continue to be any better at 4 cards—all I needed was to draw two lands, and I was on the draw. He played some haste creatures I didn’t see game 1, like [card]Strangleroot Geist[/card] and [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card] with a [card]Garruk Relentless[/card], so at least I got good information in this game when I died with 3 lands.

Game 3: This was, naturally, my most nervous point of the whole tournament. My first three cards are lands—I knew I was keeping no matter what! Until I drew [card]Farseek[/card], land, land.... I was praying the 7th card wasn’t a land. It was [card]Thragtusk[/card]. "Keep," I say quickly, not wanting him to think I had a subpar hand.

I cast turn 4 [card]Thragtusk[/card] into t5 [card]Garruk, Primal Hunter[/card] making a Beast. His [card]Strangleroot Geist[/card] with [card]Rancor[/card] hits before that, into t4 [card huntmaster of the fells]Huntmaster[/card] and a [card]Restoration Angel[/card] on turn 5. He proceeds to untap and play [card]Garruk Relentless[/card] killing my Garruk. I continue to draw lands until I rip Tamiyo and tap Restoration Angel. He plays [card]Borderland Ranger[/card], which seems odd to me since he has [card]Huntmaster of the Fells[/card] on the table. I’m holding land, land, [card]Chromatic Lantern[/card], [card]Farseek[/card], and [card sigarda, host of herons]Sigarda[/card]. I have to play each of these one turn at a time so he doesn’t get a Huntmaster trigger on my turn.

I play Sigarda and tap his flyer with Tamiyo and pass before drawing another land. A little frustrated that I’ve drawn land, land, [card]Farseek[/card], [card]Chromatic Lantern[/card] for my last 4 draws, I stupidly play [card]Farseek[/card] and [card]Chromatic Lantern[/card] in the same turn. He plays a land, casts something I can’t remember, and passes with 3x cards in hand. I peak at my top card and its a Swamp! The worst foil Unhinged land I have ever seen.

Tamiyo is at 7 and he is playing red. I refuse to go to 8 counters with the other player holding 3x cards. I need a card, but he only has one tapped creature. If I threaten to go ultimate, he either has [card]Zealous Conscripts[/card] to win outright, or enough haste creatures to sink my Tamiyo. I draw one card. [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] is my draw.

10:30 P.M.: Zealous Conscripts causes me to have nightmares. Zealous Conscripts causes me to have nightmares. Zealous Conscripts causes me to have nightmares.

His board is 5 lands, [card]Borderland Ranger[/card], [card]Huntmaster of the Fells[/card], [card]Restoration Angel[/card] (tapped due to Tamiyo), 2 2/2 Wolf tokens, [card]Strangleroot Geist[/card] with [card]Rancor[/card] on it, a mana dude, and a [card]Thragtusk[/card].

Tamiyo now at 5 counters. I have 2 3/3 Beasts and [card]Sigarda, Host of Herons[/card], at 12 life.

[card]Supreme Verdict[/card] would wipe the board but leave him a 3/3 Beast and a 3/2 [card]Strangleroot Geist[/card], returning the [card]Rancor[/card] to his hand and the 3 other cards he hand in hand after triggers resolved. It would leave me with nothing but a Tamiyo at 5 counters. I pass. He draws his card and as I am still thinking of any good possible outlook to this board state. I guess he drew the creature he needed because he got excited and went to begin tapping his lands when someone from outside whispered in the judges ear and immediately play was stopped.

We missed his Huntmaster trigger. After much discussion it was left up to me whether I would let it be put late onto the stack. I was very torn as I didn’t want to seem unsportsmanlike, but then again this same thing happened to me with my own copy of [card]Martial Law[/card] during the GP, and I didn’t get it to resolve so that’s what I stuck with. (The judges told me later that the only reason that I have the option to force my opponent to put their missed triggers on the stack is if for example they are at 1 life and we both missed their [card]Dark Confidant[/card] trigger. They said everyone would do what I did in that situation, but in the back of my mind, I thought, “What would Kenji do?”)

He should have been attacking over the last 5 turns mathematically, the fact that he hadn’t made me aware that he was putting me on spells in hand. That, or he wanted to win in one turn and was waiting for what he drew. Bizarrely, he played [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card], tapping my Sigarda, and attacked Tamiyo (Which was at 5 counters) with it, and then only attacking with [card]Strangleroot Geist[/card] with [card]Rancor[/card] and [card]Thragtusk[/card]. Not his Huntmaster or Wolves or [card]Borderland Ranger[/card]. I would be dead if he had just attacked me, but I guess he was still playing around spells I might have and giving me the rogue benefit. His attack left me feeling a little bit like I had just [card]Mindslaver[/card]ed him. I drop to 11 after blocks with trample damage from [card]Strangleroot Geist[/card].

I draw [card]Forbidden Alchemy[/card], attack for 5, and cast [card]Supreme Verdict[/card]. He draws another [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card] and attacks me to 6—neglecting to put [card]Rancor[/card] on it. I [card]Forbidden Alchemy[/card] during his end step and am forced to choose [card]Terminus[/card] over a [card]Restoration Angel[/card] and lands. I [card]Terminus[/card] on my turn and pass. He peeks at his top card and I fear the [card]Bonfire of the Damned[/card]!

As soon as I say, “no Bonfire,” he looks at his six lands and plays his seventh. I untap into [card]Detention Sphere[/card] and pass. When he draws his card he peeks—Whiff! He makes a land drop and passes. I flashback [card]Forbidden Alchemy[/card], seeing [card]Restoration Angel[/card], land, [card]Thragtusk[/card], and [card]Unburial Rites[/card]. I take the [card]Thragtusk[/card], untap and play it, going 11. He draws and passes!

I draw [card]Forbidden Alchemy[/card] number two and play it main phase. I find [card]Restoration Angel[/card]. He tries to Kill my Thragtusk on the attack with [card]Selesnya Charm[/card], and I respond with [card]Restoration Angel[/card] to which he plays a 2nd [card]Selesnya Charm[/card]! I flashback [card]Forbidden Alchemy[/card] at his EoT finding the 3rd [card]Thragtusk[/card]. He plays a [card]Borderland Ranger[/card] on his turn, leaving him no cards in hand. I play [card]Thragtusk[/card] gaining 5 to 16, then flash back [card]Unburial Rites[/card] on [card]Restoration Angel[/card]. I go to 21 and and attack for lethal to a smattering of applause from the 30 or so spectators shortly thereafter.

For first place, I got a [card]Mox Pearl[/card], a plaque, and what I was assured was free entry into premier-level events for a year.

After it was over, deck lists were shared and email addresses were recorded. Since Sunday, the following suggestions have been made by various spectators who have since tested the deck:

(-1 [card]Abrupt Decay[/card], +1 [card]Sunpetal Grove[/card])
(-1 [card]Abrupt Decay[/card], +1 [card]Ultimate Price[/card])
(-1 [card]Gilded Lotus[/card], +1 [card]Thragtusk[/card])

I have also taken into account that [card]Griselbrand[/card] was my #1 most sideboarded-out card. I still have a copy in the main deck, for now, but future versions of the deck could very well be constructed more as though they were Bant control decks splashing black for [card]Forbidden Alchemy[/card], [card]Unburial Rites[/card], and [card]Abrupt Decay[/card]. I stand by my opinion that [card]Garruk, Primal Hunter[/card] is superior to the newest [card jace, architect of thought]Jace[/card], but many people who have finally agreed to take the deck seriously first try to cram as many copies as possible in, which may or may not be necessary. Michael Hetrick suggested changing the main to this configuration, before heckling Bee for building a deck that could cast both sides of [card]Lingering Souls[/card], but neglecting to even run it in the sideboard:

[deck]4 Thragtusk
2 Restoration Angel
2 Snapcaster Mage
1 Griselbrand
4 Detention Sphere
2 Garruk, Primal Hunter
4 Jace, Architect of Thought
3 Abrupt Decay
2 Sphinx's Revelation
2 Supreme Verdict
3 Terminus
4 Farseek
1 Unburial Rites
2 Chromatic Lantern
1 Gilded Lotus[/deck]

I would like to take this opportunity to thank one of my best friends, Brenden Hickey (Killer Bee) for his part in the construction of this deck. This deck was as much his creation as it was mine. The design of the mana base and all the physical cards (most in foil) wouldn’t have been possible without him. His support, encouragement, and criticism of me and my playing skills since the first Ravnica are part of why he’s my best friend. He put in more than 100 hours of playtesting with me before the set was even legal, traded for all the RtR cards at the prerelease, and helped me write this. I wouldn’t prefer to playtest with anyone else more than him, and I know he feels the same way about me.

Thank you very much for reading this article; I know it was long but I hope you enjoyed it and gathered some good information! If you have any further questions, please post here, or send me an e-mail at Michael.laucke@gmail.com.