Welcome to “We Play Too,” a new Wednesday feature here at ChannelFireball. For those of you who don’t know already me, my name is Sheldon Menery. I’m a Level 5 Judge from Tampa, Florida. I’ve been playing and judging since nearly the beginning (the first booster pack I ever opened had a Time Walk in it, but it was Veteran Bodyguard that really got me hooked). You might also know me as the guy who brought the EDH format to the masses. It’s still what I play most and I’ll occasionally be bringing you reports from playing the 100 card decks, but I’ve recently rekindled my interest in Standard.

One of the things I’m going to try to do is to explode the” judges are bad players” myth. To do so, I’m going to bring you a series of reports on judges playing. They’ll be mostly from my own experience, plus reports that I encourage other folks to do. I’m not going to suggest that all judges are ready to win a Pro Tour (although Rashad Miller Top 8ing doesn’t hurt my argument), but I want people to see that we’re probably better players than you might think–and I’m talking mostly about judges who also play (like Rashad or Kevin Desprez), rather than players who are also judges (like LSV or Bram Snepvangers).

I actually don’t consider judges and players all that different. We’re all part of the big DCI family, and we generally have the same thing in mind when we go to a tournament: a clean, fair, well-run event . The only real differentiation in calling someone a judge or player is which they do most.

The place I’ve started playing, Armada Games in Tampa, is a perfect example of a game shop. The owners are gamers, one of whom is always there. They draw 25-30 for FNM constructed each week (as well as doing drafts), and the quality of play is very high. Making Top 8 is hardly a given.

FNM, Armada Games Tampa, Friday 4/17/09

DECK: B/R Spiteful Visions

(homebrew with improvements suggested by T1 master Shane Stoots)

 

The whole idea was to bring suffering to the 5-Color Control decks that I’ve seen dominate the shop since I’ve been going there. I’m not a fan of seeing one deck being “the deck to beat,’ all the time, so I wanted to focus on letting people know that making that choice was going to bring consequences.

My first effort featured Blightning, Murderous Redcap, and Fulminator Mage, which then morphed into adding White for Reveillark, but the design got a little watered down. After a couple of 2-2s, with mediocre results against 5cc, I went back to tightening up things, dropping White for the time being.

Spiteful Visions‘ combination of Howling Mine and Underworld Dreams seemed to be a nice start. Adding Sudden Impact was Shane’s idea. Most of the rest of it fell right into place. Siege-Gang Commander was a late replacement for Demigod of Revenge, since I didn’t have any and couldn’t borrow any in time. Siege-Gangs helped once or twice with Hovels, and if they can stay online, they’re pretty dangerous. Fallout after you’ve just played one will hurt, though. I’ve been unhappy with the Gougers since the beginning; I was considering replacing them with Ram-gangs, but the RRR gives me a little pause. What to put in that slot is probably going to be the only significant change before the new rotation.

ROUND 1: Mark, Mono-white Kithkin

Mark tells me he’s been playing for 14 years, with a break before 6th Edition rules–when he came back he basically had to relearn the game. His style of play tells me obviously knows his stuff. Game 1 is a bloodbath, as I start with Fanatic and Parasite. He follows my turn 4 Visions with his Wrath, but he just can’t get any rhythm going and dies to Outlander, Incinerate, and accumulated Spiteful damage.

SB Out Gougers and Sudden Impact, in Torment and Infest

Game 2, he drops first turn Forge-Tender and looks happy. He looks very happy when he drops turn 3 Story Circle. I mentally question his choice of Red instead of Black, but it’s a moot point when I lay down Everlasting Torment. He reads the card twice.

“Does that mean”

“Yep.”

“I’m screwed.”

“Yep.”

(Rules Tip: When “can” and “can’t” argue in Magic, “can’t” always wins. See Rule 103.2)

I sandbag two turns to Infest away his board, then drop an Outlander. We’re de-sideboarding shortly thereafter.

1-0

ROUND 2: Robert, Turbo Grinding

Robert is a very good local player who always has something interesting built. I ask him if he’s going to take it easy on me since I’m a beginner, but he knows better. He even says “Even if you were a beginner, I wouldn’t take it easy on you.” I don’t know what he’s playing, and I keep a weak hand with no one-drops but plenty of land and a few things to get rolling. I know there are shenanigans afoot when he plays first turn Shelldock Isle. After a couple of turns, I get some damage in, but Plumeveil slows me down a bit, and gives him time to Traumatize and rip off a pair of Sanity Grindings, the second followed by Twincast.

SB out Gougers, in Guttural Response

I have a good opening hand, with Parasite, Fanatic, and Guttural Response. The Parasite, Fanatic, Spiteful Visions, and a well-timed Sudden Impact (in response to him tapping out for Traumatize), which he hadn’t seen in game 1, go all the way rather quickly. This is aided by some cards and damage from his own Jace, which I clearly decide to not kill. I figured that the mill of 20 wouldn’t be as harmful to me as the damage to him and the benefit of the cards he was putting in my hand. I cheer Jace every time we draw cards, he shakes his head. I believe he sided out Jace for game 3.

Game 3 he looks at his hand for a long time, and I realize that he’s calculating, not deciding whether to mulligan. He decides to go for it, so I assume that he’s figuring that on the play he might have the gas to do it. Turn 2 Remove Soul on the Outander slows my charge. Turns 3 and 4 Sanity Grindings (the Turn 3 one was a little light, like only 8 cards or so, but the Turn 4 one was stupid, getting like 23) put two Hellsparks into the yard, which come out on my turn. I’m a little worried when he plays turn 5 Traumatize, but since I’ve knocked him down to 9, I figure I’m OK, since I have five power in dudes in play. I then make a mistake by getting too aggressive. With a Response in hand, I tap out to play Visions and another Outlander (I also had the choice to Unearth two more Hellsparks, but with no burn in hand, I figured that the Outlander with the next turn Hellspark is the better chance of being a winner). His turn, he plays a third Sanity Grinding and Twincasts it to mill me out. If I hold back mana for the Response, I at least give myself another turn–but two Sanity Grindings in six turns seemed like the math was on my side. Guess I was wrong. Props to Robert for playing extremely well.

I tell him that I’ll see him in the T8, and I look forward to winning the matchup. He smiles that “yeah, right” smile but says nothing.

ROUND 3: Kevin, 5-Color Control

Kevin is a good guy, always talkative between rounds, and frequently makes Top 8 at FNM. We make a little small talk about the (officially-spoiled) ARB cards, and then get to it.

Game 1 I mulligan to 6, then start with 3 Ghitu Encampments and three red spells. “How bad could it be?” I ask myself. The next land I draw is the fourth Encampment. His three Fulminator Mages (well, two and one brought back by Reveillark) and three Cryptic Commands seal my fate.

I SB in the Responses but completely brain fart on the Torments. Clearly he’s siding in Forge-Tenders.

Game 2 I start with Parasite and Fanatic, but he ends up with three Forge-Tenders, then plays Celestial Purge on my Visions. Still, I’m whittling him down, bit by bit. When I draw another Parasite, I send in the one in play, which he doesn’t bite on the first time, but he does the next turn, taking out a Tender. I then throw two Incinerates at his skull to get rid of the other two Tenders, drop a Siege-Gang, and have plenty of steam that he can’t deal with.

Game 3 I obviously remember to side in the Torments. He mulligans to 6 and then I can see that he keeps a hand he’s not particularly happy with, so it’s aggression all the way. Turn 3 I play the Torment, which I think it less important at this point, hoping to bait a Celestial Purge or O-ring out of him. I get the Purge. He then has no answer to turn 4 Visions with two Parasites in play and dies quickly.

ROUND 4: Christian, Naya

I get paired down against Christian, who is a regular EDHer at the shop, and plays most FNMs. I know he likes to do things his own way, as evidenced by some of the card choices in his favorite EDH deck, Jhoira. Anyway, he’s playing a collection of monsters with some white removal backup. There is some suggestion from the table next to us that he should scoop to me on the pairdown. He says “Given my deck, I probably will,” seeming to imply that he thinks he’s going to lose anyway. I tell him that I can get in and he can’t, but I won’t go any further suggesting he scoop, and he says “Let’s play anyway and see what happens.” I’m really unclear whether or not he’ll eventually give it to me, but I’m a firm believer that you should earn your way in. I *should* have to beat him instead of getting the gift.

I understand the social contract that most competitive players believe in, but I wouldn’t hold it against someone for not scooping. I know this is a significant conversation among players, and I had it with a few regulars after the match. Everyone told me in no uncertain terms that they would have *expected* him to scoop. There’s a clear division on this issue between competitive and casual players; the competitive see it as a given that the paired-up player should scoop. The casual players tend to see it the other way, with the frequent response “I came to play.” YMMV.

Game 1, he’s on the draw and doesn’t play anything until Turn 4. I’ve already done a fair amount of damage to him with Parasite, Fanatic, and Outlander, so I don’t even bother killing his Knight of the Reliquary. I Incinerate him EOT then Sudden Impact on mine for the win.

SB out Gougers, in Executioner’s Capsule

The Capsules are specifically for dudes like the Knight that are tough for burn to deal with. I initially liked them better than Terror, because they come out early and sit there, waiting to waste their best guy. I had thought they were better because I could drop one then get down the beats, and if I really need to drop one and activate it on the same turn, it only costs one more than Terror. Sure, the surprise factor is gone, but it’s not much of a surprise if instead of dropping another guy, I’m holding back mana (but more on this later). I don’t bring in the Torments since I don’t expect him to have Forge-Tenders.

Game 2 he’s on the play again but doesn’t drop anything until the turn 3 Knight, while I’ve played Parasite, Fanatic, Parasite. His Knight gets roasted by Incinerate with only one land card in the yard. A turn after I play an Outlander, he consents to trade a dude for my Hellspark, then I draw three Incinerates in a row, which eventually all go at his head.

I actually considered keeping the Gougers in and siding out the Visions instead. I’m still not sure which is the right way to go in this particular matchup. The Gougers will pound the ground, and I can’t imagine the Sudden Impacts regularly going more than 3-4 damage, so having the dudes to turn sideways might have been a better choice. This would have been any easier choice with the Ram-Gangs, since Wither does bad things to his guys (and they’re Hasty–it’s like having another Incinerate).

T8: Yocaliz, playing Bant Rock(?)

Yocaliz is another good local player, who sometimes has his own interesting deck ideas. This time, he’s playing something relatively normal.

I know this is a horrendous matchup for me, and it’s over in about 15 minutes.

In Game 1, I’m on the play. I drop Parasite, he drops Hierarch. I quickly Incinerate it, but he has another. Then Elspeth ruins me. I have Spiteful Visions and Parasite in play, and think about doing the damage to her, but think that I need to just go straight to his dome quickly before Rhox War Monk comes online. It comes in multiples and I’m sunk. He tells me afterward that he had another Elspeth in hand anyway.

Game 2 is pretty much a repeat of the first, with multiple War Monks. I hold him off for a bit with double Outlander, but he uses Elspeth’s second ability to have the War Monks fly over for the win.

Brennan, a very good local player and newly-minted L1 Judge who happened to be watching the match (and could see my hand) suggests that I might have made a mistake in game 2 by playing a Fanatic and not a Siege-Gang on Turn 5, but I don’t recall the play. I’ll confess that while it might be possible, since Brennan ID’d himself out of the T8, I’ll hold his judgment suspect for the time being (okay, I respect Brennan’s high-1800s rating, but I couldn’t resist the urge to mention drawing himself out). Even if he was right, I was cooked.

Ups:

The deck performed relatively well. Mana seemed right except for that Ghitu Encampment debacle. I just wish it was a little more aggressive. Sulfurous Springs was never part of the plan, and it didn’t seem to hurt not having them. I don’t recall another situation where I wanted for the right color mana.

I was happy with the way I played around the three Forge-Tenders in round 3, game 2. My idea was to get them out of the way as quickly as possible, giving him fewer options later. Seems to have worked out.

Downs:

The round 2 mistake was one of hoping (that he doesn’t have 3rd Grinding) and doing bad math instead of thinking it all the way through. Thinking about it, if I bring the Hellsparks out to bring him to 3, then keep the Response for the Twincast, I have the extra turn to draw anything–and I probably get more turns anyway, since he would have needed another Sanity Grinding or Traumatize to hurt me. Ring up the bad play counter.

I realize forgetting the Torments didn’t cost me game 2 in Round 3, but it could have, so mental note made.

Celestial Purge hurts very, very badly.

Summary:

I’m still not sure about Spiteful Visions. As much as I’d like to punish opponents for drawing cards, it also gives them, well, more cards. I probably wouldn’t play it without the Sudden Impact. Parasite is definitely worthwhile even without Visions.

I’m coming around to Terror instead of the Capsule. The hidden information factor is swinging it for me, since most of the deck is comprised of low-cost stuff.

I doubt the deck will survive anywhere near its current form once ARB becomes legal. The new mechanics, such as Cascade, will lead to a MUCH more aggressive style deck for me. I already love the Cascade Elf, and wonder what kind of goodies he’ll bring up for me. I’ll have to think more on what Cascade means to the Terror v. Capsule argument.

I’ll tell you about it more in the next installment of “We Play Too.”