I'll defuse the suspense and say that I achieved two of my three PTQ goals, with the unfulfilled one being "win.”
Today, I'm going to review the deck I brought, how it played out in the PTQ, and then give some thoughts on how I might revise it ahead of the Worldwake release. I'm also going to discuss how I played in the PTQ, with an eye toward highlighting some of the concepts I've discussed previously.
Picking the right Gifts for the party
Although I enjoyed playing with variations of the [card glittering wish]Glittering[/card] [card gifts ungiven]Gifts[/card] deck, they all tended to feel like they were stretching too far to try and accommodate the Glittering Wish sideboard plan. Despite my hopes for a slew of useful new post-Alara targets, wishing for things is quite simply slow and very, very disruptable, so I had to set that aside.
I spent the time after that trying to decide what I could most effectively do with a Gifts deck. My basic goal for any Gifts deck is to have a resilient, durable shell that does not require a resolved Gifts for the deck to work, but that can benefit tremendously from having a Gifts resolve. To that end, I was seeking a combination of "resiliency through variety” and an endgame that can genuinely end games. I didn't necessarily like Shota Yasooka's [card emeria the sky ruin]Emeria[/card]-[card miren the moaning well]Miren[/card]-[card yosei the morning star]Yosei[/card] lock because, although it ends the game rather decisively when it works, the deck is very slow to get to that point and it's pretty shockingly dead in the water against combo.
There was some excitement early last week when I thought I had an amazing Gifts engine, right up until I shared the idea with Jon Loucks and realized about half a minute after firing off the email that, on rereading the key card, the deck didn't work as advertised. For the record, the card that had me excited here was Haakon, Stromgald Scourge. My error was believing that Haakon worked while in the graveyard, which would make for an awesome Gifts package. I could Gifts for Haakon and a Nameless Inversion, both cards would go to the graveyard, and I'd have infinite Inversions. Unfortunately, Haakon's ability works from the battlefield, which makes him less tenable, as I'd have to Gifts for both cards, cast Haakon, then protect him. Even with the option of also having an infinite Knight of the Reliquary, that was just too dicey.
After lots of Gatherer searching, I settled on this quirky design:
I'll break down the discussion of this deck into its major elements.
I mentioned above that I think a key part of making a Gifts deck work is to build it such that it benefits from Gifts but does not require it. To that end, the anti-aggro package in this deck seeks to diversify its assets while making sure they're all individually functional. We have four copies of Kitchen Finks, probably the all-around best anti-aggro card. That's backed by a single Loxodon Hierarch and a Selkie Hedge-Mage, which means that if I need to, I can Gifts for three life-gaining chump blockers against aggro (with an option of going for Primal Command as my fourth card if I'm at enough mana, or more likely an Eternal Witness to threaten a repeat performance from one of my creatures).
For removal, the deck relies on [card path to exile]Path[/card] as the "best” option, since it offers an out against Marit Lage and any number of [card demigod of revenge]Demigods[/card] and [card deus of calamity]Deuses[/card] from All-In Red. This is bolstered by a single Shriekmaw and a Bant Charm. The Charm is great against Marit Lage, and the Shriekmaw represents one of those "intersecting lines of action” I mentioned when I first talked about Gifts two weeks ago. It's tutorable via Primal Command and by a card I'll mention in a moment.
The deck features my typical package of four sweepers, with Wrath of God, Day of Judgment, Engineered Explosives, and Crime // Punishment. I like having at least three so I can always just straight-up Gifts for a sweeper, and I like the versatility of having two cards that are unequivocal mass removal and two more that can take out annoying artifacts, such as Sword of the Meek and Thopter Foundry.
Disrupting the opponent
The deck is light on maindeck disruption, as I've found that it was too costly to try and build in enough disruption to take down all-in combo decks like Hypergenesis and Living End. Instead, this deck features [card card ravens crime]Raven's Crime[/card] and Life from the Loam to go on the offensive against Scapeshift and [card tormods crypt]Tormod's Crypt[/card] for Dredge and Thopter Foundry.
The careful viewer will notice that there aren't a lot of twos in this deck. That's intentional, as Spell Snare is so prevalent that I think it's worth devaluing it when we can. It didn't take a lot of work in this case, since there weren't many candidate twos to run. The most obvious two, Tarmogoyf, is functionally replaced by Knight of the Reliquary, which has advantages over Tarmogoyf in a number of circumstances beyond just dodging Spell Snare.
Giant hydra beats
In looking for a way to decisively end games once I had control, I kept returning to the Natural Order plus Progenitus finishing move found in some CounterTop builds in Legacy. I'd noticed in reviewing the current Extended environment that there are a lot of decks that run either no mass removal at all, or only Engineered Explosives. If this makes Baneslayer Angel effective, you have to imagine that it makes something even bigger with even more kinds of protection even more effective.
I really wanted to be able to Gifts for Progenitus, but how? The obvious problem with getting the soul of the world via Gifts is that the natural move on your opponent's part is to put Progenitus in the graveyard part of the Gifts split and then chuckle as he's shuffled back into your deck. After some poking around, I found a solution, and then after some testing, realized it was tremendously synergistic with the general shell of the deck.
Here's the "get me my hydra” Gifts package:
No matter what they give you, you can get back Entrance and Congregation at Dawn. You can then Congregation for Progenitus (and up to two friends) at the end of their turn, and have yourself an instant-speed hydra avatar at will from then on. Pleasingly enough, Congregation is great on its own, since against aggro opponents you can also Congregation for some combination of Loxodon Hierarch, Kitchen Finks, Selkie Hedge-Mage, and Shriekmaw to solve all your creature issues.
I was concerned that this might be too cute, and I think the PTQ proved me correct. That said, it was also a great deal of fun, and it seemed like something no one would be prepared for.
The deck's sideboard features a mix of hate cards that I thought would suit the metagame. Here was the rough sideboarding plan going in:
Bring in Bant Charm and [card night of souls betrayal]Night of Soulls Betrayal[/card]
Hypergenesis, Living End, and Scapeshift:
Bring in Bitter Ordeals
Incidentally, those Bitter Ordeals are not my innovation, but come from Conley's recent Martyr list. They are brilliant against so many kinds of combo in Extended. With fetches alone, it is reasonable to Ordeal someone for two cards on turn three, which is all the copies of [card valakut the molten pinnacle]Valakut[/card], Hypergenesis, and Living End in a typical build of each of those decks. If you need to do it through countermagic, just wait a little longer to have a couple more fetches or Sakura-Tribe Elders to sacrifice.
With the deck together, it was on to the PTQ.
Two out of three goals, very few match wins
As I alluded to above, I did not do particularly well at this tournament. I think that, in retrospect, this was largely due to a deck list / metagame mismatch. That is to say that I think my "misplay” here happened before I ever sat down at my first match.
That said, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to track in my notes whenever I caught myself making an "OODA” error. If that seems like gibberish to you, you may want to do a quick reread of my article on the OODA loop decision-making model. Basically, I wanted to see how often I caught myself making this type of error, and what impact that had on my games. Hopefully this brief PTQ report will be interesting from that perspective. I do think it's educational to follow a report where someone actually tracks how they messed up, or why their deck list was incorrect on the day.
We had a relatively small PTQ this time around, with 88 people. This meant seven rounds before the top eight, which is nicer than the typical eight and the occasional nine.
Round one versus Steve playing Teachings
With a first-game opener featuring Watery Grave into second-turn Thoughtseize, I immediately put Steve on Faeries. Although his Thoughtseize took my one copy of [card gifts ungiven]Gifts[/card] in hand, I topdecked another and went for the anti-control package of [card ravens crime]Raven's Crime[/card], Life from the Loam, Ghost Quarter, and a Swamp. He gave me Swamp and Crime and then Extirpated the Crime after my first use, which surprised me. As he leafed through my deck in a fruitless search for more copies, Steve paused and said, "Progenitus?”
When Steve went for an EOT [card teferi, mage of zhalfir]Teferi[/card] on me a couple turns later, I knew my initial read was wrong. I cast Gifts in response (that's number three in the game) and pulled up a removal package to kill off Teferi. I killed the ex-planeswalker, then things slowed down for a while until Teferi number two came out. I killed that one as well, only to see a [card mystical teachings]Teachings[/card] followed by Teferi number three. The subsequent flashed-in [card baneslayer angel]Baneslayer[/card] was a bit too much for me to handle and we went to game two with much of the time in the round gone.
Although I'd seen Teachings in Wafo-Tapa's hands in some of the MTGO Daily Events, I honestly hadn't expected to run into it at this PTQ.
Game two began with me getting a series of cards counterspelled until I resolved a Knight of the Reliquary, who naturally ate a Doom Blade. Steve cast Baneslayer and I played Gifts for a mix of Raven's Crime and removal, using the latter to off the angel. I subsequently topdecked a second Gifts and was all set to go for the Progenitus win package until Steve Extirpated Gifts during my draw step. I didn't recover in time and soon died to another Teferi-Baneslayer tag-team.
I racked up my first OODA loop fail at the end of this game when I marked Baneslayer's damage on my sheet before noting that I wanted Kitchen Finks to block Teferi. Although I was not going to find a topdeck that would let me live, given Steve's many untapped lands and wall of countermagic, this was sloppy on my part, and is the kind of mistake we tend to make when we're "sure” we've lost. We should instead endeavor to follow proper play to the actual end of the match, just in case.
Losing my first round was inauspicious, but it was a very unexpected matchup, so I didn't feel bad about it, and was looking forward to something more normal in the following round.
Round two versus Erik playing Thopter Foundry
My opening hand in game one held a [card ravens crime]Raven's Crime[/card], so I decided to hit Erik with it and see what was up. When he discarded a Sword of the Meek, I immediately cast the [card tormods crypt]Tormod's Crypt[/card] I also had in hand and knew I was in business.
I cast a Kitchen Finks and a Selkie Hedge-Mage to start the chump blocker beats while Erik tried to figure out a workaround for that pesky Crypt. When I eventually went for an EOT Gifts, he cast Gifts in response, giving me my pick of Trinket Mage, Tolaria West, Wrath of God, and Mana Leak. Since I knew I was going to go for the Progenitus plan, I binned the Wrath and Leak and gave him two ways to find Engineered Explosives. My own Gifts package was, naturally, Reclaim, Eternal Witness, Dramatic Entrance, and Congregation at Dawn.
When Erik went for a Thopter Foundry, I cleared the Sword from his graveyard and Congregationed Progenitus into position, then Entranced him into play. However, Erik was able to transmute for another Sword and managed to get his combo going. I had, at this point, cast a Primal Command in addition to my other creatures and was at 28 life, so the race was on.
Except it shouldn't have been. This was my second, and much more significant, OODA failure of the day, as I was so focused on the battlefield that I failed to recheck my graveyard, where I would have seen that Tormod's Crypt from earlier"¦easily recurred with the Academy Ruins I had in play. I realized this only after swinging with Progenitus, casting a Loxodon Hierarch, and generally letting Erik make a bunch of Thopters and gain some life.
Fortunately for me, I had a [card path to exile]Path[/card] in hand to end up at 1 rather than no life at the end of one of Erik's attack phases, and his inability to block Progenitus meant that even the life gain from the combo was not enough.
For game two, I sideboarded as follows:
Decks like this often have a [card baneslayer angel]Baneslayer[/card] sideboard plan, so you don't want to side out too much removal. I did pull the Progenitus, since I figured it was less useful than just nullifying his primary game plan and taking him down with [card knight of the reliquary]Knights[/card].
Erik was, indeed, on the Baneslayer plan and ran one out on turn five. Naturally, I killed it. He followed that up by casting Cranial Extraction naming Dramatic Entrance, which was a complete whiff. As game one had taken a very long time, this second game went to time and I won the match 1-0.
I pretty much expected to sideboard out the Progenitus plan much of the time after game one, as the combination of cards is rather obvious, and I expected to gain some added value out my opponent attacking a plan that was no longer present, as happened in this match.
Goal one was achieved. I'd killed someone with Progenitus. I'd also won a match, and felt like I was on track to do reasonably well on the day.
Round three versus Sean playing Burn
Burn is a curiously ugly matchup for many control decks in Extended. Life gain is amazing"¦unless they resolve an Everlasting Torment, in which case it's meaningless and you are on a depressingly short clock. My hope was that most Burn players would not be maindecking Torment, and that my sideboard plan would hold up for subsequent games.
My game notes for the first game are just a wave of minuses on my life total, as I was hit by Goblin Guide, Keldon Marauders, various varieties of Spark Elementals, and a bunch of burn off the top of the deck. I did manage a [card kitchen finks]Finks[/card] and a [card selkie hedge-mage]Selkie[/card] during the course of the game, but it wasn't enough, especially with Molten Rain harming me and eating my lands.
For game two, I sideboarded like this:
My game two record looks much like my game one record, except that the precipitously declining life total mysteriously stops and remains at 1.
I was at about 4 life when I played an EOT Gifts for Slippery Bogle, Worship, Eternal Witness, and Reclaim, with a Kitchen Finks in play. Sean stared at the pool for a while, then gave me the Reclaim and the Witness. I excitedly EOTed the Reclaim as well, and then put the Worship in my hand. That's clearly another OODA error, and also my only GRV on the day (done in front of head judge Toby Elliott, no less). I put the Worship on top of my deck and we moved on.
I was able to then cast the Worship, and a turn later Witness back the Bogle and cast that as well. This earned a giant pause from Sean as he read and then reread Worship.
"So Everlasting Torment doesn't get around this, does it?”
He thought a bit more, then stepped aside to confer with Toby. After that, he returned to the game and played it out. I played a Knight and started the beats with Knight, Witness, and Kitchen Finks. It was over soon after.
Goal two was achieved. I'd successfully deployed my Worship/Bogle solution against a Burn deck.
Game three was unexciting for me, as I mulliganed to a hand of six featuring a Loxodon Hierarch and was burned out before I ever saw my fourth land.
For the curious, Sean was playing toward an actual out in game two. He'd left one Volcanic Fallout in his deck post-sideboarding, and if he'd managed to Fallout the Bogle away, he could have offed me with a second burn spell (as Toby explained to him in their conference, the Fallout alone wouldn't do the trick, as the damage resolution would occur while I still had creatures on the battlefield and Worship would still keep me at 1).
That put me at X-2, which is pretty much out of the running for any reasonably sized PTQ. I stayed in for one more round to learn more about my deck before switching to the GP Trial held the same day, and it confirmed some of my suspicions about difficulties with the build.
For the record, my "OODA error” tally for those three rounds of play was three, or about one per match. One of these had no practical impact, but was bad. One of them earned me a warning, but had no game play implications. Missing my Tormod's Crypt, however, was potentially game losing. This is why I like to spend time thinking about things like decision-making models, since I'm well aware that gaps in my decision-making process can lead to losing games I otherwise could have won.
A note from the GPT
After dropping from the PTQ, I moved over to a GP Trial that was being held at the same venue. I won't go into detail here, except to note that I played twice against Faeries, which was rather more than I expected on the day. This shaped the opinions I give below about what I might do with this deck pre-Worldwake.
The only other notable event from this GPT was my first ever game win off of an opponent missing a Pact trigger. This was very much an Observe-Orient type of misplay on his part. He had previously hit me with Vendilion Clique and seen that I had two copies of Gifts in hand, one of which the Clique pushed to the bottom of my library. He then time walked me for a turn with a Mistbind Clique in my upkeep, and decided to Slaughter Pact his own Mistbind at my end of turn to bring back the Vendilion and take out my other copy of Gifts.
This felt like an awfully complex series of actions, and I found myself wondering, as he went into his turn, if he'd remember the trigger. He went to draw, then paused, adjusted the die on his suspended Ancestral Vision"¦and then drew a card. Oops.
He was very good-natured about it, and explained that he'd just picked up the deck from a friend to give it a try after playing a different deck at the PTQ. He then went on to tell each of his friends about the mistake as they came by, which is a pretty good way of ensuring that he'll never forget a pact payment ever again.
Over all, I think the Gifts shell that I built was reasonably strong. While I'd tested heavily against Scapeshift, Thopter Foundry, and many variations of Zoo, I think I could have generated a better game against some of the other archetypes that showed up in more force than I expected, if I'd been wiling to sacrifice the overly cute Progenitus kill.
As I went to the PTQ, I reasoned that having the kill in the deck fundamentally took up just two cards, and that was reasonable in exchange for the possibility of dropping a nearly unstoppable finisher on the board. However, I think I was talking myself into a sub-par plan here.
Instead, I could have shored up a known matchup with a more versatile card – for example, by maindecking some [card arashi, the sky asunder]Arashis[/card]. If someone grabbed me right now and told me to fix the deck and head to a PTQ with them in the next ten minutes or so, the revised build would look like this:
Although I feel dreadfully boring going back to maindecking Arashi, he's so versatile and useful against the current metagame. In many circumstances he gets to be a simple 5/5 for five mana, but he's also an uncounterable airborne Wrath against Faeries, Thopters, and even Baneslayers. I have shoveled some potential cuteness into the sideboard in the form of the Dark Depths combo, which gives an unexpected game two plan against other control decks.
On to Worldwake
Although both deck lists above are going to be primarily of historical value in the very near future, I hope the process by which I came to the first list and a window into an "unsuccessful” PTQ experience are both worthwhile. I had a great time at this PTQ. My opponents were all great people, I had a number of intricate, fascinating games, and I won once with Progenitus and twice with Worship.
The Worldwake prerelease will happen between this week and next. Since GP: Oakland is the next major Extended event I'll be attending, I'll be looking at the full Worldwake spoiler with an eye toward novel decks and how the metagame should be expected to shift following the new set's release.
In the meantime, I wish I could head off to another big Extended tournament right now. I have all these [card arashi the sky asunder]Arashis[/card] just ready to go.