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Recurring Nightmares – The Art of Losing

ALERT: The following article includes a tournament report wherein I perform poorly. Actually, much worse than that – I believe I may have actually come in last place in this event. If you’re looking for a top 8 report and the latest in Legacy technology, please feel free to hit the back button. I’ll wait.

There. Now that the haters have gone, let’s discuss all the places I went wrong at this month’s Jupiter Games NELC Qualifier. This will be a cautionary tale, one which will hopefully allow you to avoid all the pitfalls I managed to trap myself in last weekend. Never fear – this won’t be a tale of misery and woe – and I assure you it will have a happy ending.

The list I decided to play was a combination of the brew I posted in last week’s article, along with some fine tuning from the local Legacy event I played it in on Thursday, along with a bit of testing with Jon Corpora and Bryant Cook prior to the event itself. I felt like this deck had a lot of game, and was convinced that it had a genuine shot at putting either Jon, me, or both of us into the top 8 on Saturday.

[deck]4 Delver of Secrets
3 Snapcaster Mage
4 Tarmogoyf
1 Phantasmal Image
4 Brainstorm
3 Daze
2 Dismember
4 Force of Will
3 Ghastly Demise
3 Spell Snare
4 Stifle
1 Life from the Loam
2 Ponder
3 Mental Note
1 Unearth
3 Polluted Delta
1 Scalding Tarn
1 Misty Rainforest
1 Verdant Catacombs
4 Tropical Island
4 Underground Sea
4 Wasteland
Sideboard
1 Sylvan Library
2 Krosan Grip
1 Nature’s Claim
3 Thoughtseize
3 Spell Pierce
1 Phantasmal Image
1 Darkblast
3 Surgical Extraction[/deck]

The changes from last week were relatively minor ones – we switched out a [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] for a [card]Phantasmal Image[/card] in the maindeck, because we found that a multitude of Snapcasters were actually weaker in this deck due to the lower land count, and felt [card]Phantasmal Image[/card] was a good way to hedge your fourth Snapcaster when you wanted another real threat instead of the trick. It lets you match well with decks running [card thrun, the last troll]Thrun[/card], [card]Progenitus[/card], and [card]Knight of the Reliquary[/card], as well. Overall, this slot was excellent, and I was happy with the choice to run one in the maindeck, as well as an additional in the sideboard. This was one of the stronger decisions we made with the list.

Swapping a [card]Ghastly Demise[/card] for a second [card]Ponder[/card] was another decision that was made in testing, as we often found ourselves looking for additional shuffle effects or cantrips, but clogged on removal spells – even against aggro decks where the removal is warranted. This was another solid decision, but we should have taken it a step further. On paper, [card]Mental Note[/card] provides an accelerated way to put cards into your graveyard to fuel [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] and [card]Ghastly Demise[/card]. When your list runs [card]Tombstalker[/card], this is even further exploited. In reality, [card]Mental Note[/card] doesn’t do quite enough to make it worth the slots it takes up. While it is true that there are some situations that it can get you out of where [card]Ponder[/card] couldn’t, the difference isn’t so great that it makes up for the lack of selection the [card]Mental Note[/card]s give in comparison to [card]Ponder[/card]. I feel that going to the full playset of [card]Ponder[/card], at the expense of [card]Mental Note[/card], is a change that we should have made. As far as the graveyard fueling aspect goes, it was rare that you’d have a game where [card]Mental Note[/card] would make the difference between winning and losing – the singular time where I could see the difference in gameplay was a game where my opponent was attempting to control the size of my [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] through the use of [card]Scavenging Ooze[/card] – and the extra two cards from [card]Mental Note[/card] allowed me to keep the Goyf the right size. This is not enough value to make the choice all that close.

Round 1 – GW Maverick

In our first game, I kept a hand which included a [card]Polluted Delta[/card], a [card]Ponder[/card], a [card]Delver of Secrets[/card], and a few other spells. My opponent opened with [card]Savannah[/card] into [card]Mother of Runes[/card], and I [card]Force of Will[/card]ed, since I had no removal in hand, and needed to protect any should I draw it soon. I put him on Maverick, as no other decks really run both Savannah and Mom. Because of this, I sat on the fetch to protect myself from [card]Wasteland[/card] until I naturally drew a second land. This did not happen until turn 4, wherein my opponent had followed his initial [card]Savannah[/card] with 3 [card]Wasteland[/card]s. I was forced to [card]Ponder[/card] to find some action, and was immediately Wasted. To make matters worse, I didn’t see a land on any of the 4 [card]Ponder[/card] cards.

In our second game, I kept another reasonable one land-er, this time with [card]Stifle[/card], [card]Ponder[/card], and 2 [card]Brainstorm[/card]s. I led with [card]Tropical Island[/card], my opponent went for the [card]Wasteland[/card], and I [card]Stifle[/card]d. I went for a main phase [card]Brainstorm[/card], and whiffed. On his second turn, he played a [card]Noble Hierarch[/card] and passed. I drew my non-land card, and passed. He added a [card]Knight of the Reliquary[/card], and I [card]Daze[/card]d. On my turn I replayed my land, after drawing the second non-land card. I passed, hoping to represent another [card]Stifle[/card]. He went for a [card]Wasteland[/card], I [card]Brainstorm[/card]ed and bricked again. He followed up with a second Knight, and I realized I would never get to 2 mana before dying.

So far, we’re two games in, and I’ve seen 2 lands total. Not the start I had hoped for.

I wandered over to Jon’s match to see if he was faring any better. He was deep into game 1 with a UW control player who’s deck featured no less than 12 U/W dual lands ([card]Tundra[/card], [card]Hallowed Fountain[/card], [card]Glacial Fortress[/card], etc), and won with a combination of [card]Figure of Destiny[/card], [card]Delver of Secrets[/card], and [card]Exalted Angel[/card]. Jon had his opponent to 1 life, with a morph in play. He didn’t realize that the errata on [card]Exalted Angel[/card] had settled it to having a triggered ability once again, so he left the win on the table for a few turns before finding an answer. His second game was hopeless nearly from the get-go, as his opponent managed to rip every perfect card off the top until he had a [card]Sensei’s Divining Top[/card] for the assist. They started game three, but never finished, as time was called and Jon was put in the draw bracket. At least he played some lands in his match.

Collective record – 0-1-1

Round 2 – Mono-W Death and Taxes

This player was on my right as I played my last match, or what little of it there was, and I saw his deck, so knew what I was in for. Or, at least, I thought I did.

Both of our games were very interesting, and they came down to a point where I would have his life total to 5 or so, but be unable to close the game out before he drew a [card]Mother of Runes[/card] or a [card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card] and lock up the board. Then I would spend a bunch of time trying to get him to screw up, which he did or didn’t do depending on the situation, but I would draw a land and be unable to capitalize. In our first game, he had a very problematic [card]Sword of Light and Shadow[/card] that neutralized my removal if I didn’t respond to the equip. Eventually he played enough guys (his deck IS full of them, after all) to mount the Sword, and I was on the defensive. In reality, there was a point where I should have gone on defense, which was much sooner than I actually did go on defense. This mistake ended up forcing me into bad blocks later on, and cost me the game.

Our second game was a stand off between my [card]Phantasmal Image[/card] on his dead [card]Jotun Grunt[/card] versus his [card]Mother of Runes[/card] and blanks. I ran out of cards in our yards with 6 counters on the Grunt, all the time having failed to find either a [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] or a removal spell to deal with the Mother. I was frustrated by this, and doubly so as the last turn prior to my Grunt dying, he found a Sword to turn the tide – once again, [card]Sword of Light and Shadow[/card] – which allowed him to rebuy the only card left in his graveyard ([card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card]) and play it through my counter wall, getting an [card]Umezawa’s Jitte[/card] and dashing my hopes.

I didn’t take this loss very well, which bothers me almost as much as the loss itself. I’ve come to this point where I can’t decide if I take the game too seriously or not enough. If I’m at this event and trying to do well, I should probably take it seriously – otherwise why put the money into the entry fee? But if I’m not enjoying the experience of playing (win, lose, or draw) then what’s the point?

Jon also lost. We commiserated with the X-0 Bryant as we headed to lunch.

Collective record – 0-3-1

Round 3 – Cephalid Breakfast

I actually won this round. In our first game, my opponent had a flashback to my first match, where he was stuck on one land the entire game. His sole land was a [card]Tropical Island[/card], and during one cleanup step, he discarded a [card]Dread Return[/card]. This told me what he was playing, and I sideboarded accordingly.

In our second game, I managed to [card]Ghastly Demise[/card] an En-kor guy and [card surgical extraction]Surgical Extract[/card] it in order to limit his ability to combo. Of course he had the other En-Kor guy in hand, but it did allow me to see how he boarded – he took out the [card the mimeoplasm]Mimeoplasm[/card] combo, and replaced it with [card]Laboratory Maniac[/card], to go for the instantaneous kill. I thought this was a great piece of innovation, and he and I worked on his boarding strategies after the match to help him have better game with the deck.

Collective record – 1-4-1

Round 4 – Bant Snapcaster

This round I played Tariq White, a local sometimes player who was almost in our car for the ride down. He stopped by my house on Saturday morning, and I told him all about this cool new card called [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card], and how good it was. He traded for four that morning before the event, and put them in his deck.

I made a couple mistakes this match that cost me dearly. In our first game, I managed to try and chump a Jitte’d Snapcaster Mage with an unflipped [card]Delver of Secrets[/card], forgetting about the exalted trigger from his [card]Noble Hierarch[/card]. Solidly frustrated, I conceded rather than deal with coming back from a bad block and a now-active Jitte.

In the second game, I was having a reasonable time of things, despite Tariq having a [card]Sword of Fire and Ice[/card] and a [card]Sword of Light and Shadow[/card] (seriously, what is with this card seeing play again suddenly?) active. He managed to incorrectly equip to a few creatures and make some bad attacks, which cost him threats and let me back into the game. Of course, this all happened a single turn after I had [card]Brainstorm[/card]ed, put [card]Krosan Grip[/card] back, and [card]Ponder[/card]ed it away. Had I had access to that Grip, I could have negated the single attack he managed to push through with his [card]Sword of Fire and Ice[/card], which killed a Delver and got him back in the game.

I failed to properly assess the things that could turn the game around, and was punished for it.

Around this time, I came to the conclusion that this deck was awesome – but I’m simply not good enough at Magic to pilot it well enough to win. This game is frigging HARD, and Legacy is doubly so (or more). I think I’m a pretty smart guy, but this is some tough stuff.

Jon finally won a match as well, so we’re headed into the same bracket. At least if we get paired, one of us will get a win.

Collective record – 2-5-1

Round 5 – Affinity

Seated in the bowels of the standings, I can’t imagine I’ll have much in the way of good matchups from here on out. Of course, I don’t think I’ve continued in an event into this depth of misery before, so who knows?

My opponent mentions that his only win was against the player to my left, who is piloting RUG – and they agree it was a blowout. This rings ominous. That opponent is playing against Jon, so we both get the chance to witness the steady decline of the other’s day.

My opponent wins the die roll, and leads with [card]Memnite[/card], [card]Memnite[/card], [card]Mox Opal[/card], [card]Seat of the Synod[/card], [card]Frogmite[/card], [card]Thoughtcast[/card]. I Force the draw spell to try and get myself into the game. I debate over which spell to pitch to Force, and come up with [card]Daze[/card]. This is a mistake, and it’s due to my own failure to assess what the rest of his hand could look like. When Affinity has two mana and 4 artifacts in play, the only spells they wouldn’t dump on the table are the three drops – [card]Etched Champion[/card], [card]Master of Etherium[/card], etc. I convinced myself that since most of his spells are free, I’d be ok without the [card]Daze[/card], and better off with the [card]Mental Note[/card] I kept. This punched me in the face as he ripped a land off the top and slammed down a [card]Master of Etherium[/card]. Now on the back foot, I managed only to play a [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] before he played out another irrelevant artifact and crushed me.

In our second game, I mulligan, and he follows suit. He hems and haws over six for a bit of time, telling me it’s a risky one. I play a land and pass. He looks at his top card and exclaims “PERFECT!” and reveals a [card]Mox Opal[/card], plays a land and a [card]Memnite[/card]. I play a Delver, and pass. He drops a land and another [card]Master of Etherium[/card], which gives me a groan. He’s one artifact ahead of my graveyard for the next few turns as I try to contain the Master. The turn before I find a way out, he draws, says “You’re gonna love this one!” and drops a [card]Cranial Plating[/card]. As I try to figure out how to deal with a 14/7 [card]Master of Etherium[/card], I realize that I have an out – but I’m so tilted from the way this match has gone, I screw it up. I untap, float a black mana, [card]Wasteland[/card] my own Sea, and cast [card]Life from the Loam[/card]. If I choose not to target any lands, I have 7 cards in my graveyard, and can use [card]Ghastly Demise[/card] on the Master. Instead, I target the lands, try to rectify it by responding with the [card]Demise[/card], realize that the Loam isn’t in the yard yet so the [card]Demise[/card] does nothing, and concede. My opponent tries to show me the last card in his hand, and I tell him not to. He insists, and I become firm – please, I don’t want to know. He further insists, and I have to become quite loud to prevent him from “still got all these-ing” me. He says “Good games” and walks away.

I was a little less than gracious with my opponent, who honestly was just there for some fun games with his Affinity deck. He obviously didn’t realize how insulting he was being by trying to show me how easily it was for him to beat me despite the hoops I had tried to jump through to stay in the game. Still, how many times to I have to politely refuse to be had deez’d before he understands? I think I was quite patient until the third time I had to (not ask, but) tell him not to show me.

Jon loses, and we decide to take action.

Collective record – 2-7-1

To the bar!

We take the time left in the round (about 20 minutes) to explore the garbage dump of a town that is Johnson City. Jupiter Games has just begun the long process of moving from their former location – which is too small to hold 100+ person events, but located in a strip mall with plenty of amusements to distract one who is miserable – and into a spot on the other side of town, which makes up for its lack of parking with a bunch of dead storefronts and dollar stores. On the plus side, it has a ton of space and nice bathrooms, so once their renovations are complete it should make for a pretty sweet place.

We tried to find some 40’s, because nothing says I’ve given up like a man drinking out of a paper bag. The one store we thought would be on point ended up having a beer sign in the window, but no alcoholic beverages in stock. We were kind of low on time, so we decided to jump into this local bar that was so shady they neglected to even have a sign with their name on it.

Jon and I bellied up to the bar between an older man drinking Keystone Light cans and a biker type complete with handlebar mustache. Cindy, our hostess, made us a pair of 7&7’s (doubles – we’re short on time), and informed us that our biker friend was actually the owner of a catering business, and had brought in a side of pork and about 20 lbs of chicken, along with a bucket of macaroni salad. Dig in.

And, good god, was it delicious. The man knew what he was doing, that much was obvious. The pork was tender and juicy, with a sauce that brought out the flavor, but didn’t skimp on the spice. It was a perfect pairing for the wonderful well drinks that Cindy had made us, and we went back (after a second round of both, of course) feeling full and fuzzy.

Suddenly, my outlook on the day had improved considerably.

Round 6 – BUG

My opponent Scott and I have seen each other at many of these events, but haven’t had the opportunity to play each other prior to this round. I assure him that I’ll be headed straight toward drunk as the round progresses, and wish him luck (and that we could reverse positions, so I could watch myself get drunker). We’re on a pseudo mirror, although he has [card]Dark Confidant[/card] in addition to the creature package I’m running. This ends up not making all that much difference. I win the first game largely due to the combination of [card]Wasteland[/card] and [card]Life From the Loam[/card], and board out [card]Mental Note[/card]s and [card]Force of Will[/card]s for some better spells. Our second game is a grind fest, as we trade creatures and removal spells back and forth until it becomes apparent that we’re both completely out of gas. He resolves a [card]Sylvan Library[/card], and I’m way behind. I manage to leverage my draw step via [card]Brainstorm[/card]s, Dredging [card]Darkblast[/card], and get a threat to stick. A turn or two later he kills it, and proceeds to drop three creatures to my nothing. In the third game, we both resolve Libraries, and we’re going deep to find a way to gain advantage in the slugfest. It ultimately comes down to the fact that he didn’t board out [card]Force of Will[/card], as it gives him a set of additional counterspells for my Goyfs where I don’t have the same, and he sticks a threat while I slip into alcohol oblivion.

Collective record – 2-9-1

Back to the bar. Oh wait, we have another round? Crap. I make the executive decision that Jon and I should both concede to our seventh round opponents (donating those PWP), and grab Ethan Heilicher’s Block Battles for something to kill time at the bar.

This was a great idea, and we ran with it. Many block battles ensued, and a pig and many chickens were consumed. We had a designated driver to get us home, and enjoyed the rest of the evening immensely. It was a perfect way to cap off a terrible performance. We now have a solid Plan B for all future NELC events, so feel free to join us!

Collective record – 2-11-1

Sweet deck.

In all reality, I think we missed the mark with this one. We’re either lacking another threat to capitalize on the tempo we can create in the early game via [card]Stifle[/card]/[card]Daze[/card], or we’re not playing the appropriate amount of library manipulation. Basically, the deck was excellent in turns 1-3 (when not getting blown out by Affinity), but rapidly ran out of steam. You have very little hope of coming back from behind, and resolved equipment is nearly impossible to beat. I think despite my initial hesitation to play a deck running [card]Lightning Bolt[/card] as its main removal spell, the fact that Bolt can close the games where you’re stalled may be enough of a reason to play red in the deck. Where once, the three damage spell was a liability when compared to a more traditional kill spell like Swords or [card]Demise[/card], the fact that it now represents six damage with Snapcaster is a serious amount of reach – and that was a very real problem for this build. More than a few games were lost when the board was stabilized with an opponent at five or less life. On the other hand, [card]Demise[/card] was a very very good card in the deck, and performed admirably. I was absolutely never disappointed to see it in hand, and would have preferred the fourth to the second [card]Dismember[/card] in nearly all situations I faced.

At first, we considered sticking with the deck to try and gain some insight into where our weaknesses were, gaining a better understanding of the deck and how to win with it, but after the abysmal performance, I’m perfectly willing to go back to the drawing board and try again. I think this deck does a lot of interesting things, but it’s a worse tempo deck than the RUG decks, and a worse Snapcaster deck than the control decks. It’s time to find another angle.

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