Just like GP Vegas, I bubbled GP Oakland’s main event at 6-3 on day 1. While my friends that day 2’d had to get up early for 9am drafts after a grueling day that didn’t end until nearly 11pm, I got to sleep in! Feeling well-rested, yet disappointed that I wasn’t drafting stamped product, I wandered down to the tournament site to see what was going on. My friends were doing well in their drafts, each winning their first round. Watching other people play got boring pretty quickly, so I ventured the side events to find one to keep me busy. Drafts were a plenty, but I didn’t care to compete against a bunch of randos – my draft privilege got revoked as far as I’m concerned since I missed day 2. With standard pauper starting in 15 minutes, and the fact that I came prepared with 3 different decks, ya, that wasn’t a difficult decision.
I hadn’t played any standard pauper tournaments for a while since I don’t play online and since ChannelFireball stopped running weekly store events (low turnout, mostly to blame because of lower prize support compared to other constructed tournaments IMO). We managed to get 8-16 players every week for a while, so it was sweet while it lasted. It’s a tough spot for the store because they fear they are perceived as a ‘competitive only’ place to play, which is bad because they obviously don’t want to limit their market). Since standard pauper is all commons, they seemed to label it as ‘casual friendly,’ thus, hoping to invite a new segment of the market – you know, the players that only have commons and don’t do limited or real constructed. Quite frankly, even the 12 year olds are drafting and building decks these days – I just can’t see standard pauper as a casual crowd. I see it as a format for drafters that don’t like constructed in general that have the whole format lying around in bulk boxes. I don’t even like constructed but the puzzle of deckbuilding catches like a virus sometimes. Ultimately, I believe the competitiveness level comes down to the player, not the event, while the prize structure can obviously skew it one way or the other. Some people go to constructed FNM looking to 4-0 every time while others are looking to test a (Woo)brew.
Before the GP I only played a few games with my 3 deck gauntlet after M14 hit the streets: BUG Gatekeepers, Boros Aggro, and Izzet Aggro/Control. These decks are the only ones I would even consider playing before Theros was released.
Deck Updates Post-M14
BUG Gatekeepers: Doom Blade was an initial upgrade to Victim of Night, but the rarity shift to uncommon made it illegal for this tournament. As it turns out, Victim played out better since being able to kill Bloodhunter Bat was helpful. It also gained Shrivel in the sideboard to help against tokens and Elvish Visionaries and mana dorks that help protect hexproof beasts from being Devoured in Flesh.
Boros Aggro: Chandra’s Outrage is key removal that hits the dominant X/4s in the format, including Frost-Burn Weird, Nivix Cyclops, Seraph of Dawn, and the Gatekeepers. Master of Diversion is the sideboard addition that helps against anyone with pesky, large blockers.
Izzet Aggro/Control: Chandra’s Outrage is just an auto-include 4-of in red decks. If you don’t have that in your red decks your build is wrong. I’ve seen Gwyned’s PDCmagic or Hipsters of the Coast deck and it has numerous suboptimal cards in it. Time Ebb is an interesting card that I ultimately decided was not necessary. Many creatures have enter the battlefield effects that you don’t want them to gain value on, and cutting counters, removal, card draw, and creatures made the deck less flexible. Time Ebb answers a specific threat, and only temporarily, so if you are behind on board the card is not what you want really are looking to draw.
The last tournament I played at CFB I was testing a GW tokens list. I ran into BUG Gatekeepers every round and could never beat it. I brainstormed for forever trying to figure out a deck that could contend with it, but nothing was consistent. Some Christmasland draws from Boros Aggro or some unplayable mill deck could win, but I wanted to make the best control deck. So for the tournament at GP Oakland, I was prepared with a tuned BUG list that had an edge in the mirror. I think it was the best deck choice in the format and it’s not remotely close.
The event attracted 22 players, which was a surprisingly decent turnout since I didn’t expect anyone to sign up at all. After glancing around the tables during round 1 I concluded that almost half the field was BUG Gatekeepers. That was good news!
2 Haunted Fengraf
4 Dimir Guildgate
4 Golgari Guildgate
4 Simic Guildgate
1 Ravenous Rats
2 Gatecreeper Vine
4 Saruli Gatekeepers
4 Ubul Sar Gatekeepers
1 Devour Flesh
1 Undying Evil
2 Amass the Components
2 Forbidden Alchemy
2 Victim of Night
3 Prophetic Prism
4 Dead Weight
4 Ghostly Flicker
1 Crypt Incursion
1 Devour Flesh
1 Mind Rot
2 Ray of Revelation
4 Curse of the Bloody Tome
My main was slightly different than everyone else’s. I have found Forbidden Alchemy to be the most high octane of gas. The deck runs zero 3-drops so it fits perfectly, and I am not about to add Borderland Ranger to fix my mana. First, it can’t find gates, and second, the 2/2 body isn’t relevant, and third, costing 3 mana comes at a cost while Gatekeeper Vine, it’s 2-mana equivalent, ensures you make an additional land drop sooner. Cremate main is fine against lots of decks, and is essential for the mirror. Without it, there’s no way to break up their Archaeomancer lock. Undying Evil acts as Ghostly Flicker #5, since the opponent will likely try to kill my Archaeomancer once I don’t have enough mana up for Ghostly Flicker. Landing a Gatekeeper on turn 5 with a black open led to a lot of discarded removal spells and a second coming of Disfigure or Angel’s Mercy.
I see quite a few lists playing Elvish Visionary, Mist Raven, Bloodhunter Bat, Borderland Ranger and even Smelt-Ward Gatekeeper. I ran that trick in an American control deck – and trust me, this deck doesn’t need it. The card is a blank until you are in position to win the game anyway. All of the other cards are completely pointless, as well. Run Prophetic Prism over Visionary and fix your mana while cycling cards – the 1/1 is irrelevant unless you’re against aggro and chump blocking saves you until you stabilize and get the Flicker lock. The aforementioned 4-drops don’t do anything that the Green and Black Gatekeepers can’t already deal with. The most glaring, truly inexcusable inclusion I see in the deck too often is Tragic Slip. Who cares if you can get it back with Flicker when it can’t even kill an X/2 on the early turns in the game? The early game is when this deck is vulnerable! What card does every list have missing that’s different from mine? Dead Weight. I would like to answer a flipped Delver or any 3/2 2-drop from Boros IMMEDIATELY! Without it your aggro match-up is guaranteed to be worse. My version digs for the combo harder, and gets to the late game faster by answering more threats in the early game, while consistently hitting turn 4 Gatekeeper with 2 gates already in play.
The sideboard is where my tech for the mirror really shines. The main is a control deck that boasts undeniable inevitability. The weakness of the deck is that it typically cannot kill anyone quickly. Winning game 1 is therefore a huge priority because it can be hard to finish all 3 games if both players don’t play really really fast. Crypt Incursion ruins their Gravepurge plan and can even be brought in against aggro to gain a huge amount of life. Mind Rot is great to strip key cards against other control decks, since they often have a hand that is better than their board position. Curse of the Bloody Tome is the new win-con. I even run 2 Ray of Revelation just in case my opponents were smart enough to have the Curses for me. I can cast the white half off Prophetic Prism and if they mill it I should have a green source in play. One additional level of “going deep” would be to add 1 Auramancer to get back my Curses that have been destroyed, but I didn’t think I would have to go that far, plus I felt like each other sideboard slot was being utilized well to cover my bases for other match-ups.
ROUND 1: ORZHOV EXTORT
Game 1: I get extorted down to 3 life since I failed to draw very much removal in the early game, but Saruli Gatekeepers finally brings me back to a comfortable life total. Every creature he has is an X/2 except for Basilica Guards, so they all die slowly once I start searching through my deck with Amass and Alchemy for Dead Weight and Ubul Sar Gatekeepers. Flicker combo assembles and he doesn’t snap concede. It takes me 10 more turns attacking with 2/4s to get it.
Game 2: I side in more removal, but even so, this match-up is not losable. I got low enough of life again from being extorted for 3 for 5 turns in a row, but I killed one creature a turn and fired off a Crypt Incursion to gain 18 life, which gave me time to kill all of his easy-to-kill team.
ROUND 2: MONO GREEN BEASTS
Game 1: I take a lot of damage from Battering Krasis and Slaughterhorn, but I kill her Advocate of the Beast before other critters get too big. Adaptive Lockjaw #1 and #2 bite the dust immediately to consecutive Dead Weights. We got into an argument over the timing of a Pit Fight that ended up not mattering. When I cast Archaeomancer, I did not ask for a response, I pointed to my target (Ghostly Flicker). She then said, in response to that I’ll Pit Fight my creature in order to eat your Gatekeeper. She meant to have done it in response to Archaeomancer coming into play so that I couldn’t use the Flicker to save my Gatekeeper AND get the Flicker back by targeting the Archaeomancer. I let her kill my Gatekeeper but with the lock in hand it just took drawing one more Gatekeeper to put it our of reach for her.
Game 2: I sided in more removal, especially the Devour Flesh, since I suspected she could have Primal Huntbeast since her deck was mono-beasts, and that’s the best one. Unfortunately for her, she did not have any, and my removal killed everything eventually. She got a Towering Indrik up to 7-power at one point, but I was able to chump it and find an answer in Victim of Night eventually.
ROUND 3: IZZET CYCLOPS COMBO
Game 1: I baited out all of his counters and eventually stuck a Saruli Gatekeepers. He got close to knocking me out with Artful Dodge on his Cyclops but I had the Victim of Night for it the turn he pulled the trigger. From there he drew no threats while I assembled Flicker + Archaeomancer, which he immediately scooped to.
Game 2: I boarded in my counterspells and Cremate #2 to interact with his Think Twice, Artful Dodge, and Faithless Looting. This game was ridiculous. I drew pretty poorly on the action front while he similarly drew all his filtering without many threats. By the time I started to gain traction in the game his exile zone included all 4 Think Twice and 3 Faithless Looting. That’s the problem with the combo version of Izzet – it runs so many low impact cards. If I kill every Cyclops on the spot he isn’t likely to win. I eventually get to resolving multiple Gatekeepers and combined with Ghostly Flicker they eat all his X/4s.
ROUND 4: BUG CONTROL
Game 1: Finally, I have a chance to duke it out in the mirror. I start by telling my opponent that we need to play really fast if we expect to get through 3 games. He starts making some excuse but I insist, “Dude, just play as fast as you can!” The game quickly turns into a staring contest once we each get 7+ lands in play, Borderland Ranger and Elvish Visionary for him, and Gatekeeper Vine and Amass the Components from me. We each land Gatekeepers and stall the board out some more. He has me at a lower life total as I took a bunch of hits from his Ranger but I get ahead after Cremating a Ghostly Flicker in response to it being targeted by his first Archaeomancer. From there I got Cremate back with my own Mancer and I proceeded to remove whatever he targeted with his successive Mancers. I drew my own Flickers and tested the waters on his end step and once he F6’d I just drew a ton from Prophetic Prism and wrathed his board before attacking him a bunch with Gatekeepers.
Game 2: I was not sure how he planned to beat the mirror. I didn’t think he had Curses, but I sided in the Rays of Revelation anyway. I figured that if he did have Curses and I didn’t bring them in, then I could lose. But if he didn’t have Curses and I did bring them in, there’s only a small chance that the dead draws would cause me to lose. My opening hand had one Ray, which ended up being a virtual mulligan for a while, that is until I shipped it to the bottom off Amass the Components. This game took longer than I wanted because I didn’t draw a Curse until pretty late, but once I did he knew he was a goner. His crew of friends laughed uncontrollably after every mill activation. I apparently milled a lot of action. I added a second Curse and had the Crypt Incursion in response to his Gravepurge. I even had the Mind Rot for his last 2 cards when he had the Flicker combo assembled. He didn’t scoop, he let me mill for 4 per turn until his deck was decked!
And with that, the tournament was won! I thought I earned 12 packs, but the prize was actually 6 packs for 12 points. Easy to mix up. Again, not the most rewarding experience, but it also only had a $5 entry fee. I feel like all of my opponents played well, but their deck and individual card choices just couldn’t match my 75.
I’m planning on reviewing the relevant cards in Theros, but I need to actually play with them first at the Prerelease this weekend to get a better understanding of what is actually good. With the format rotating, Ghostly Flicker is gone, which means control decks are essentially toast. That, or they will evolve into something different. Right now I like Boros Aggro, but I’ll have to find a way to play blue so I can draw cards.
Special Farewell to Ghostly Flicker – you will be missed.
TWOO Vlogs our sports treatment session on Friday night before the GP. I’ve been treating various ChannelFireball team members since Worlds 2011 in San Francisco. I work on them mainly for posture and traveling aches and pains but injuries involving sports and repetitive motion injuries are common, too.
Huey signs my playmat immediately after winning the GP. Basketball players grew up wanting to “Be Like Mike” – and aspiring Magic Players should learn a thing or two from the man and “Be Like Huey.”