PV’s Playhouse – The Lone Star Without Jace

Hello everyone!

Let’s take a look at the supposed top 16 from GP Dallas:

UW
RUG
RUG
UW
RUG
UW
RUG
UW
UW
UW
UW
UW
UW
UB

BOROS

UW

One of those is not like the other! (Don’t worry, I made it large, bolded, underline and italics for easy identification in case you are not very sharp.)

Yep, that’s me. So, why did I end up playing Boros? More importantly, why was I the only one to not be Jaceing in the top 16? What happened to the other Boros players?

It all starts some days before the GP. I knew I was going to Dallas a while ago, but I can’t say I really bothered myself with it – it seemed I could not come up with anything new, so all that was left was for me to choose one of the existing decks, and none that I had never played before looked particularly hard, so I could just pick them up one day before the event. Now, that is not to say there was nothing new to come up with (and to be honest I think there is; the format does not look solved to me), just that I did not have the will, or possibly even the means to do so myself You see, this GP felt very much like a bonus tournament – a flying miles ticket, right in the middle of my school (in fact I came back right in time to take a test. Don’t think it went very well, probably missed the question on Marx, but we’ll see) – of course I wanted to get a good finish, but it was clearly not the tournament of a lifetime and I wasn’t willing to spend too many hours of my days in playtesting for the very small chance I would find something awesome.

As the tournament approached, I knew of two things:

1) I did not want to play Caw-Blade, but I would if I had to. If I had to play it, I would play UW.
2) I was not going to play RUG.

“blah blah blah win % blah blah”

I know, I know. The thing is, I’ve never trusted win percentages much. I understand that RUG and UW were the two best performing decks by miles in the last tournaments, but that actually doesn’t mean much to me. Ever since I played PT Hollywood and found out that Mana Ramp had won 75% of its matches against Faeries over a non irrelevant sample size (when I knew I wanted to play vs. RG Ramp every round myself), I’ve lost all faith in statistics if I don’t actually know the source of them. Magic Online is even worse – I pretty much ignore all that comes from that if I don’t know who is playing. In fact, the best way to make me not want to play a deck is to put more than 10 basic Plains or Forests in it, and the second best way is to say “It’s been crushing all DEs!”

Of course, I do not mean to say percentages are always wrong. In fact, they are often right – and in this case they were – I just don’t trust them, for good or for bad. RUG, for example, I didn’t want to play because it felt extremely inconsistent. Every time I had a turn 2 Lotus Cobra, I felt like I was in great shape. If I didn’t or if they killed it, I just felt miserable and wanted to scoop to save time. If they were playing a red deck, I also felt miserable. If they were playing Valakut, even more so. This is an exaggeration, but not by very much – the deck did feel extremely weak when you didn’t have Cobra (or in some matches Explore), and it shares the weakness of ramp that it kind of wants spells in the right order, though Jace helps a lot with that. Ultimately, It did not matter to me that other people had a high win percentage with it because I didn’t, and I didn’t feel comfortable with it – I could not call other people to play my matches for me now, could I?

With UW, my problem was different. I acknowledged it as a very powerful deck, likely the best in the format, but I didn’t want to play endless mirror matches, plus I thought everyone would be gunning for it. Apparently they were not, or if they were, they did not succeed. As far as the colors, I think UW is just superior. It has a much better mana base, and though Creeping Tar Pit is better than Celestial Colonnade in the mirror, the fact that they have Tectonic Edges makes up for that.

The plan was to try a couple of different decks, or at least talk to people, and if none of those worked out I’d just play UW. That was when Luis ended his video series, and he reported that he had liked Boros and that it had a really good UW match. I played a couple of games before leaving, and managed to beat UW pretty handily, and RUG did not look bad either – they needed to be really lucky to beat you game 1, and then games 2 and 3 would depend on their board but you certainly had game either way. My other two options when I left were Valakut and UW.

I took a 2 hour flight to Rio, waited for like 5 hours in the airport, then took a 10 hour flight to New York, which even those Americans from the video “Americans are NOT stupid” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJuNgBkloFE (which is great by the way and you should watch) would realize is really not on the way to Dallas. The line for immigration was the longest I’ve ever seen, and it actually did turns and turns after the cords that were supposed to contain it. Luckily, once all the residents were dealt with (so about one hour after) the woman yelled for connecting flights and I was swiftly moved to a different line. As soon as I presented my Brazilian passport, the immigration agent made clear he could be right besides those people in the video and asked if I was there in the US for my spring break. If you don’t get it (or are Brad Nelson), I’ll let you think about that one for a while.

After that, I took a bus to La Guardia because it would have been very easy just to leave from JFK, and waited some more hours in there, until finally arriving at Dallas. It is funny how just today my classmate was complaining that she had had to wait for FOUR hours in some airport for a connection – she made it sound the worst pain imaginable.

We took the shuttle to the event, and were accompanied by a bunch of other Magic players, not after he ran a bunch of circles around the airport. We (me and Martin Juza) dropped our stuff, took a shower and then went to the event, in the hopes someone would just come and tell me what to play.

That did not go very well. Everywhere I looked, people were playtesting Caw-Blade mirrors. The GPTs held no real surprises, and Luis, the “Boros guy,” was nowhere to be found. I talked to Web and he told me Valakut was not good, and I did not need much convincing since I did not *really* want to play it, so that left UW and Boros. Web was playing UW himself. Watching all the UW mirrors, it really want me to play Boros more and more, especially since people just kept cutting Day of Judgment from their decks.

Since I couldn’t find anyone who actually wanted to talk about Boros, I just did what any sane person would do in that situation and went back to the hotel to playtest joined a cube draft. I ended up drafting UBgw, which is slightly below average for number of colors in my cube decks. Once we were done, Owen (who was on my team) said I had the worst deck he had ever seen in the history of cube drafting, and that they would probably take away from the cube all the cards in my deck once they realized how bad they actually were. He also said his deck was the best he had ever seen. We both went 2-1. From that, there are two possible conclusions:

1) He was very wrong
2) I am much better than he is

I’ll take either. Of course you could argue that I got lucky, but that would be silly since by now everyone knows Owen is actually the luckiest person in Magic.

At about 11, Luis arrived at the hotel. Really inconsiderate of him to leave his Kindle on the plane and then go back to get it while everyone is waiting for him, if you ask me. In any case, as soon as he got there, I said I didn’t like UW and he said “what about Boros?” and then soon enough we were figuring out our decklist, with a guest appearance of Paul Rietzl.

Now, I’ve actually read that Luis “tricked me” into playing Boros more than once. Though the concept of playing Boros originated from him, I think that sentence is a bit unfair to the two of us. To him because he never actually tried to convince me to play Boros – when I read that, I imagine that he tried to sell the deck to me as the best ever and it ended up being bad, and that is not how it happened. To me because, in the end, the decision is still mine, and I would never play a deck that I did not think was the best deck to play because someone else told me to, even if that is Luis.

We got our list sorted out, minus one card, and then I went back to sleep. On the next morning the five of us who would play the deck (Me, Martin, Luis, Paul and Eirik – yeah, only five, not “the whole channelfireball crew” as I’ve heard, mind you) got together to decide on the last cut – we had 16 in the sideboard. I suggested cutting something like the Spikeshot Elder for a maindeck Cunning Sparkmage to make room in the board, or a Journey to Nowhere for a Kor Firewalker. Everyone looked at me as if I was a madman. Then Martin (I think) suggested we moved one Mark of Mutiny to the main over a Journey to make room in the board, and everyone suddenly started scrapping their lists and writing “1 Mark of Mutiny.” After asking “seriously?” and “really?” like five times, I did the same too. Might as well teach those RUG players a lesson, if anything. Besides, if we ever got a judge call on playing Mark g1 it would have been very sweet.

Ok, ok, I’ll stop stalling – we all know why you’re here anyway. Here is the list we played:

 

I will not dwell on rounds much this time, except to say what I actually played against or when something noteworthy happens. Instead I will give a general overview of cards and then matches:

Card Choices

1 Spikeshot Elder – this card overperformed. It was from good to excellent every time I drew it, and sometimes it is just the best card ever – when you’re flooded and have 3 Fetchlands and Adventuring Gear in play, for example. It is a cheap creature to equip, it multiplies equipment bonuses, it kills Cobras and Hawks, it finishes them – if I played Boros again, I would play at least 2 of those, with 3 not being out of the question. The downside is that the second one is horrible, so maybe only two. As for what to cut for it, well it starts with M and ends with ark of Mutiny.

4 Koth of the Hammer: Koth was very good, but I had too many Koths in my hands most games. This is a problem I am not sure how to solve, because I always want a Koth, but if you draw too many you might get in trouble. The thing with him is that, if they manage to kill a Koth, it means they will probably be able to kill a second one too – he is not like Jace that you can just Brainstorm, find an answer for their creature, and then play a second once you’ve dealt with it. Also, unlike Jace, you will never legend rule other people’s copies, or get yours legend ruled. And you can’t Brainstorm extras away. And he has pretty much no minus ability, so you can’t even abuse the fact that you drew plenty. Still, he is very good against Jace, and very good against Wrath, so I’d keep him at four for a while.

1 Sword of Body and Mind, 1 Adventuring Gear, 1 Bonehoard: the UG sword is actually better than Sword of Feast and Famine against anything that does not play black, which is the great majority of the field. Gear was the equipment I got the most, and it’s the best in the fast draws, which is your plan versus most people game 1 – a start of Steppe Lynx into Stoneforge Mystic for Gear into fetchland is a ton of damage. Bonehoard was the living weapon of choice over Mortarpod because, well, I don’t like Mortarpod. It’s very good against Boros, but it seems lacking in Boros, though I’ve never actually played with it. Paul says it’s pretty good, though, so feel free to try it. I think Hoard is better because it is just a card with more impact – it is not always good, but when it is good it is really good, which is what you want from a one-of that you can tutor.

1 Hero of Oxid Ridge: We had a Gideon in his place, but we figured we just wanted to kill people fast in game 1 and leave the controlling for game 2.

Sideboarding

The sideboard, though… the sideboard is where I feel that we failed.

To understand our situation, you have to be aware of the mistake we made – we were playing against the wrong versions of UW. The ones Luis played against, and the ones I played against, were ones that happened to be a lot worse against us – namely they didn’t have Mortarpod. At the actual tournament, a lot of people playing Mortarpod in UW, which made the Cunning Sparkmage plan actually not very good. More, people now had Sun Titans for the mirror, and it felt really weak trying to go control on a deck with Jace, Preordain, Gideon, Colonnade, and Sun Titan, especially if they kill your Collared Sparkmage with Pod. As it turned out, our sideboard plan was actually not good. I experimented with a couple of different sideboards during the tournament (yeah, not the best time to figure it out, I know, but I actually played versus enough UW that it ended up mattering for the later rounds), and this is what I was doing in the end:

vs UW:

on the play:

IN:

 

OUT:

 

On the draw:

IN:

 

OUT:

 

It is important to understand that for game one, you just want to be very fast against everything. For games 2 and 3, though, most people will usually have a lot of cheap removal against you, which makes for longer games, which means they actually have the time to use the advantage Goblin Guide gives them, even more so if they are on the play. For this reason, you will often take out Goblin Guides post board. I still feel like if you are on the play you can just overwhelm them, so I’d rather have guides than Sparkmage. I have also noted that Hawk is not even that important of a card that you have to use a card just to kill them.

The reason I keep in two Guides and not two Geopedes on the draw is that it has haste. It serves two important functions there – it hits them with equipment post Wrath and it kills Jace that bounced your guy. It is not there to race them; it is there to be a hasted body. If they get one extra card out of it, it’s fine because you landed a hit with Sword or you killed their Jace, both of which count for more than one card anyway. If your hand is very slow and you think the early damage is not going to matter much, you don’t have to cast him in the early game. I leave in an extra bolt on the draw because Jace-bounce is a more relevant play and you absolutely must kill it in this situation, and because t2 Mystic for Sword is way more threatening and you want another way to kill it.

It is also very relevant to know what you have and what you don’t have in your deck. In games 1, I will mulligan very aggressively for an aggressive hand, because that is what you want to be doing, killing them fast. In games 2 on the draw, this is no longer your main plan. You have less aggressive cards in your deck, you cannot simply mulligan a hand that doesn’t have one drops for example. It is pointless to board in 4 Sparkmages if you’re going to mulligan a hand of Hawk, 2 Sparkmages, 4 lands for example because it is too slow. Your deck IS slower now, so deal with it.

vs RUG:

OUT:

 

IN:

 

Guides come out because you want to be Firewalkering, and there is no Sacred Foundry. He is not very good against Pyroclasm anyway. Two Guides might be better than two Geopedes, but I don’t think so. Sword of Feast and Famine comes in because it’s just a naturally decent draw, and they might have Acidic Slimes for the first one, though you will always search for Sword of Body and Mind first. Also watch out for Obstinate Baloth being discarded. The match against this deck is very straightforward.

Versus Valakut:

IN:

 

OUT:

 

The Sword is the exact same as the RUG situation. Make you sure you count the number of Valakuts and Mountains that are gone if you ever mill them.

Mirror:

IN:

 

OUT:

 

In the mirror or against any other red deck, you don’t want Goblin Guides, and not only because of Firewalker, and it’s irrelevant if you’re on the play or on the draw – you’ll probably not race them anyway and giving up the card(s) is not worth it. Geopede also comes out because it loses to any sideboard card (Firewalker, Arc Trail, Sparkmage). I feel like taking 3 Koths out is not correct, but I don’t know what else to take out – Hero seems better if Hawks/Mystics stare at each other. Maybe on the play you can find room for a second or third of him.

UB Infect:

My strategy for this matchup is to win round 1 so I never get paired against them.

Those were the matches I played:

The Tournament

Round 4: UW
1-2

My opponent played Flashfreeze, Condemn, Oust, Day of Judgment, Celestial Purge, and Baneslayer Angel. It felt very personal.

Round 5: URb Tezzeret
2-0
My opponent had some, say, unconventional sideboard choices, such as Koth and Kuldotha Phoenix. On top of that, he lacked black mana both games.

Round 6: UW
2-1

Round 7: Mirror
Something interesting happened this game. I lost game 1, then mulliganed into a hand of Plains, Steppe Lynx, Lynx, Firewalker, Firewalker, Bonehoard (though I could be mistaken on the second Firewalker and it could have been something else, I’m sure of the other 5). My opponent was keeping.

At this point, I remembered all I had written about one landers on the play. But this hand was so appealing… I didn’t feel like I had many good chances on a mulligan to 5 against the mirror, besides, if I do draw lands, this hand is very very good, and there were 26 in the deck after all. Even more important, I just knew I was going to draw lands; you know when you have a feeling and you can’t really explain it, and you are sure no one watching would approve, but at the same time you really do feel like you should just go for it, trust your guts? Well, I did – I kept.

I never drew another land, and the only reason I didn’t have to discard before dying was because I could play the Adventuring Gear that I drew.

Moral of the story: you feel what you want to feel, just mulligan one-landers. I of course already knew that, and only kept the hand so that I could teach you this important lesson. For the record, my opponent seemed very cool.
1-2

At this point, Martin Juza, LSV, and I were 5-2 (2-2), while Paul Rietzl was 6-1 and Eirik Aune was out. We just couldn’t help wondering if we had made a mistake (more like we were sure we had).

Round 8: UW
2-0

Round 9: UWb
2-0

I think I made a very interesting play this round; my opponent led with tapland, Preordain, tapland. On turn two, I played Squadron Hawk. My hand contained something like two Bolts, a Koth and 3 lands. I then searched for not one but two Hawks, discarding a land, because that was the only creature I had and I felt like I could not afford to get it Inquisitioned and to a lesser extent Mana Leaked, and the land was not really important.

In the end, Martin, Paul, and I day 2ed, and we were all very happy that we had managed to do so with our horrible decks.

Round 10: UW
2-1

Round 11: UB
0-2
This was against Yuuya Watanabe, and a feature match.
Before the tournament, I knew UB would not be a good matchup (though we did have four Koths), but really who in their right mind would play UB? I understand that it won the previous GP, and that the player said he went 9-1 against UW, but I did not understand how and I was convinced the match should not go that way. This is another case of me not having faith in other people’s numbers – I didn’t care how much he had beaten UW, I expected the UW decks to hate out UB completely. Apparently they did not hate out every UB player (Shuhei t16ed and Wafo Tapa t64ed too), and Yuuya even had Phyrexian Crusader in the board to complete his domination of me (though I did draw 15 lands g1 and 3 g2).

In game 1, Yuuya also made an interesting play. My hand was Guide, Koth, Bonehoard, and 4 lands, and he led with Inquisition of Kozilek. I played fetchland, go, and on turn two I played the Lynx that I had drawn and another fetchland. On turn 3 I drew, played another fetchland and sacced both, attacking for six. He took the six damage, and then at the end of the turn Go for the Throated my Lynx. I think the key here is that, although he was playing versus a very aggressive deck, in that game aggression was not his problem – creatures were. He could not afford to kill my Lynx and then have me slip Mystic, Hawk, or really any other guy through his Mana Leak, and he thought waiting to make sure that did not happen was worth almost a third of his life total, and in that situation it really was, though a lot of people would shrug at the thought of taking so much damage for “no reason” against Boros. He Duressed my Koth (laughing at the Mark of Mutiny I had drawn), Mana Leaked my Bonehoard and then played Jace and I died.

Round 12: RUG
2×0

In game one, I had a very good Lynx/Mystic draw, and he had turn two Cobra. Then on turn three he went fetchland, Explore, fetchland and sacced it adding red. Some variation of “of course he has turn three [card]Inferno Titan[/card], why wouldn’t he, that’s the only way this stupid deck can win anyway” was going through my head, but then he played Frost Titan and died anyway.

Game two he also started with Cobra. It really does seem those RUG players play EDH with Lotus Cobra general to me; no wonder they think the deck is so good. He traded it with my turn two Firewalker, though, which was very weird because he had no follow up. The game stalled and I had the superior board by far when he played Preordain with one card in hand and shuffled the top two with the one he already had, resulting in a game loss for drawing extra cards. He was very understanding about it, and I don’t feel like there was anything I could have done differently – without knowing him, I have no way to tell he would put the right cards back, and it would be pretty much inviting him to cheat me if I told him to just put any two. SEE, TOLD YOU RUG WAS AN EASY MATCHUP.

Round 13: UW

My opponent won the die roll and mulliganed. Then he mulliganed again. Then again. Then he shrugged and said “eh, ok, go.” I then said “no, you won the die roll, you are on the play.” “Yeah, go.” #accidentalrubins. We split the other two games.
2-1

Round 14: UW
2-0

Round 15: Valakut
Game 1 I mulliganed a Hawk, 2 Koth, 4 land hand, which was great because he turned out to be playing Valakut. I led with Lynx, and then drew my Mark of Mutiny. I wish I could say it was the one time I drew it in the entire tournament, right against my one Valakut opponent, but I actually drew it against Yuuya game one too. I ended up not having to use it, though.

Game two I feel like he could have killed me with Titan but he didn’t attack. I didn’t do the math, because there is no reason I should, but I’m pretty confident he should have attacked there – at least he kills all my guys. I then attacked with a Sworded guy and milled five mountains (I had milled him for 20 already, but had only hit one or two Mountains), and he couldn’t kill me anymore.

2-0
12-3

12-3 was good for 15th place, which was great and left me very happy. Now, would I play Boros again? I don’t think so. I think the main problem with Boros is that it’s an aggressive deck that also wants lands. You cannot operate on 2-3 lands like other aggro decks, and you cannot operate on 10 like control. This makes it so that you want to draw between 4 and 7 lands every game, and if you draw anything out of that range, your hand is pretty bad.

That said, your game 1 against everything is very good – the format is just not prepared for Boros. Throughout the tournament, I feel like all the game 1s I lost were because I had mana problems, drawing either too many or too few (which will happen with this deck, because of what I said in the last paragraph). Every other time, I won. Games 2 and 3 were different matters – more times than I would like I had to just hope my opponent didn’t have certain cards, instead of them hoping I didn’t have them – it is almost as if the situations were reversed. That puts you in a bad position, and if you want to play Boros, it is now your task to find a good sideboard.

If you want to play aggro, I think Boros is the best of those. It might even be the best non-UW/RUG deck. Some people will tell you that its “winning record over many tournaments is 47%”, but hey, who cares? In the end, I believe our records were 9-3, 7-3-2, 7-4-1, 3-3 and 2-3, for a 28-16-3, which is a respectable 59.5 win %, 63.6% if you don’t count the draws. Sure, we had a small sample size and we were all good players, but the deck is really not bad – I did have a 6-1 record versus UW after all, and RUG is also not a bad matchup, and those are the two most popular decks by far. It is just not as good as UW, which is the deck we all should have played.

I was originally scared of playing infinite UW mirrors, but if I think of it, I actually think the mirror is not as bad as it looks like. If both players are very good it’ll be very draw/die roll dependent, but there are a lot of ways for people who are not very good to mess up – such as for example blocking a creature with Sword of Feast and Famine as if it granted the Phage ability. In retrospect, I am not sure why I did not just play UW – if I could go back, I would probably have played that. If there was a tournament tomorrow, I’d play UW too.

And, to answer the question on page 1: I think the reason you did not see more in the top 16 is that there were simply not many Boros decks in the tournament, and because it’s not actually as good as the other two decks – I think 1/16 is not an unreasonable number to expect, and I don’t think there were 1/16 (roughly 75) Boros decks in the tournament (though this is very speculative and I have no actual idea). It is important to remember that, although there was only one Boros deck, that was one more than the number of Valakut, Vampires, Mono Red, White Weenie, GW, Infect, Eldrazi Ramp, etc, etc.

Before I leave you, here are some tips with the deck if you do decide to play it:

– Be careful with your fetchlands. Always use Arid Mesa last, and DO NOT break them just because you don’t want to draw land – a fetchland that you don’t need should stay in play in case you draw Steppe Lynx, Adventuring Gear, or Plated Geopede, it is not worth it for the tiny minimal % of drawing an extra spell.

Koth does not give Mountains haste. In one game in the GP, I actually missed four damage because my turn four was “sacrifice two Tarns, Koth” and I realized I couldn’t attack because I had just gotten two Mountains.

– The deck is very mana hungry, and it has cards like Squadron Hawk and Stoneforge Mystic that create a scenario in which you can use a bunch of mana in one turn. Because of that, you should almost always play out lands instead of saving them for landfall, though, again, fetches are best here since you can just leave them in play for whichever situation. Also, saving lands to bluff is not good – it is better that you know they have nothing if that means you’re able to go Hawk x4 or Mystic, Bonehoard, equip in case you topdeck one of those.

– Sometimes not breaking a fetch will deal more damage, for example if you have t1 Lynx, t2 Lynx Tarn, it’s better to break it on turn 3 instead as to deal two more damage.

– If you’re undecided between playing another creature or not against UW, play it. Playing another creature is only worse against Day of Judgment, but it is better against Jace, Gideon, any creature of theirs and spot removal. If you run an extra guy into Day, that’s annoying, but if you get your only creature bounced by Jace or killed by Gideon, then that is a lot worse.

– If you have a strong enough board, do not expose your Koth to Mana Leak. If you just pass they will have to do something, be that Wrath or Jace or Hawks, and then you can safely play Koth and punish them. Playing it on turn four when they have three lands up just means they got to deal with your best card in a turn where they would instead have done nothing if you had just passed.

– Try to do all your shuffling together. There are 22 cards in the main that make you shuffle, and if you play fetch sac get land, shuffle, play Mystic, get equipment, shuffle, you will find yourself drawing despite playing an aggressive deck. What I do if they’re tapped out is just sac the fetch and drop the Mystic, and then I get both the equipment and the land at once.

Also before I leave, I’d like to say thank you to everyone who approached me in Dallas to say they liked my articles. I really do appreciate it, and it’s a big reason of why I write.

I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and see you next week!
PV

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