Magic: the Gathering in the UK
Has it really been 2 years since my last article? I've been in Shanghai, China for the last 2 years doing my masters and have found time for fun limited. However, with stress rising and deadlines imminent I once again decided to come back to playing magic as a way to relax. With thesis defence finished and passed (and with something strange called a GPA obtained for the first time... these strange Chinese universities...) I could focus on playing a little more competitively. This fire was even stronger given the recent win of close friend Daniel Royde at GP London (allowing him to overtake me in lifetime pro point total... grr :P) and general relative success of long time MtG playing friends back home such as Richard Bland, the Orsini-Jones brothers and Daniel Gardner.
So, it's that time of the year already, nationals season. Once it became clear that UK nationals was going to be tricky due to travel commitments and timing (... also GP Shanghai is on the same weekend...) I began to look into other options. Luckily Chinese nationals is both on July 1st (before I come home for the summer, as summer holiday in China is mid-July to early September) and as someone who has lived here for 2 years I am qualified to play as a permanent resident. However, ratings in China are much higher than in England, and I was on the borderline for an invite (memories of not playing NQs 3 years ago and then coming 76th in the 75 invite program due to playing weekly drafts still haunt me). This would mean playing in nationals qualifiers...
In the current metagame there are only 2 decks I would consider, caw-blade and something that beats cawblade. In my opinion, now that blade has adopted large amounts of hate for twin and batterskull, there is only one deck that consistently beats blade and that deck is eldrazi green. It has a much superior late game, a better nut draw, and with reduced countermagic in blade lists a much better chance to topdeck out of even the worst scenarios. It is also far more redundant than RUG (which relies heavily on cobra) and much more flexible than valakut (which must run a large number of do nothing cards like explore and cultivate/harrow). The plan vs. twin is also better (titan into eye, fetching and playing spellskite/revoker every turn until the end of the game).
I personally like ramp decks (I am definitely a timmy, and not even really a timmy/spike), and because the mirror often goes long (and the Champions League final finished about 4 hours before the start of the tournament in China) it was not a difficult choice.
First a decklist:
4 Joraga Treespeaker
4 Overgrown Battlement
2 Wall of Tanglechord
1 Fauna Shaman
1 Viridian Corruptor
4 Primeval Titan
1 Avenger of Zendikar
1 Ulamog the Infinite Gyre
1 Emrakul the Aeons Torn
4 Green Sun's Zenith
2 Summoning Trap
3 Beast Within
2 Garruck Wildspeaker
2 Khalni Garden
4 Eldrazi Temple
2 Mystifying Maze
3 Tectonic Edge
1 Eye of Ugin
4 Obstinate Baloth
2 Nature's Claim
1 Fauna Shaman
1 Summoning Trap
1 Tumble Magnet
1 Beast Within
1 Wall of Tanglechord
2 Phyrexian Revoker
Some quick notes on the decklist:
Absolutely necessary in a deck that wants to be casting 15 mana spells. Also many of your lands do things. Note that drawing a khalni garden is often miserable in the early game as it can slow you down a turn, but you REALLY want to tutor 2 sometimes with titan vs an unfavourable board situation with titan. Edge is not really very good to draw either (sacrificing lands in a ramp deck...), although you do want defense vs manlands and valakuts, and sometimes it lets you play as an ld deck with beast withins. I would consider playing the 3rd maze md, and moving 1-2 edges to the sb, as maze is particularly useful vs sword of feast and famine, and makes untapped lands less suspicious for trap/beast within.
Fauna Shaman (+ Creatures)
Fauna Shaman is really a great card to play in this type of deck. It's a tutorable eye of ugin, with zenith, and lets you trade dead late game mana acceleration for titans every turn. The only disadvantage is that you must run creature based acceleration. Eldrazi green does this a lot better than RUG or Valakut.
Wall of Tanglechord
Tumble magnet is pretty miserable vs spellskite that many blade lists are running md. Wall does everything you want with magnet, and pumps battlements/discards to shamans.
4 Green Sun Zenith
Zenith is both an accelerator early and a bomb late. I would say that 60-70% of the time it fetches a second battlement or a turn 2 treespeaker. If you are holding them until later, consider not doing so. It makes the deck consistent where previous ramp decks sometimes just drew the wrong combination of spells (ramp decks have only been good when you have a card draw engine late game, such as snow lands + scrying sheets/mouth of ronam, or a something to make excess land drops worthwhile, such as terramorphic expanse + panglacial wurm). Zenith is that card. 4 is a necessity.
(Lack of) Summoning Traps
This card is really not very good. Cawblade lists have fewer countermagic this turn, and less willingness to leak an early accelerator and it costs 6 mana normally. Because we want 4 zeniths, playing too many traps will mean that they inconsistent. That said, I played 2 because sometimes you just win, off an eot titan/eldrazi, and the THREAT of trap can make your opponent interract differently with you in the early turns.
This card is SO good in a deck full of 0/x walls, and I would argue the single most important reason why ramp decks are now good again. Killing sword/jace or even the threat that you might at an inconvenient time do so is a very powerful shift in the matchup. Consider ths following situation: Your have a jace in hand, it's turn 4, you have 4 mana untapped. You opponent has 3 lands untapped and a plant token or overgrown battlement. Do you play the jace now, or wait until you can hold up countermagic? If you make it, do you brainstorm/bounce and risk it dying to beast within eot on a land/plant token + attack, do you +2 and gain minimal advantage when they instant speed vindicate it. This card is also secretly instant speed stone rain for 3 mana which is an effect that we have not seen in t2 for a long time. I would argue that this, spellskite and exarch are the 3 most important cards in t2 from NP, not batterskull/sword/whatever.
The SB is pretty self explanatory, although consider adding 2 karns and 1 viridian corruptor and/or 3 vengevine for 1 tumble magnet, 1 baloth, 1 beast within, 1 nature's claim, 1 summoning trap (in that order of importance). Tumble magnet was the 5th beast within vs. titans and not for playing vs cawblade. Not ideal, but I didn't like the alternatives such as effigy.
So, onto the tournament itself, 57 players, 4 invites, 6 rounds, cut to top 8, then single elimination. I can't remember any names sadly... but that's not a Chinese thing, I have a problem remembering names for any nationality. It is also worth saying that because MtG is relatively so much more expensive/competitive in China than in US/Europe people will make sure they have the best list available for a tournament like this rather than showing up with homebrews. I saw only one non-tier list in the whole tournament (unless you consider vampires non tier ;) ) and almost every list was optimised (although whether you run 3-4 jaces or 0-1 sb batterskull can be justified strategicially so I'm not even sure here). My opponents play was also generally tight, although I can think of 2 minor strategic mistakes which helped me.
Sadly, I have no real stories for this tournament in part because I can't speak fluent Chinese, and in part because I was too tired/weary to try to overcome this barrier except for the obvious. After getting a judge to confirm that I had remembered all the card names correctly for my list (all cards were in Chinese) and some research for names of cards to call with revoker (Deciever Exarch, Jace the Mindsculptor, Stoneforge Mystic, Sword of Feast and Famine) I was off.
WUB Cawblade (1-1-1)
My opponent played this match SLOWLY. On any other day I would have called a judge over, but it almost felt impolite given that I knew noone else there and they all didn't really speak Chinese very well (maybe this is how many newer players feel when they go to a ptq for the first time). The matches were generally unexciting. G1 I resolved a titan and it got me there defended by eye of ugin'ed walls + mystifying maze vs his GB sword. G2 I mulled to 6, keeping a turn 4 titan hand with a zenith. My opponent duressed my zenith, and on turn 4 memoricided me for titan, by which time I had drawn a second. As I had sided out my avenger of zendikar, the game was pretty academic from then, as my summoning trap missed due to lack of targets, and I was beaten by assorted squires and flying men. G3 ended with my opponent on 1 permanent and 2 life taking the 5th turn of extra turns and facing down emrakul, a beast token and a fauna shaman. I'm sure there is a lesson to learn here somewhere.... On a serious note, this game highlighted the power of beast within vs a 3 colour deck, as I was able to limit his blue (and for the first few turns black too) through edges and beast withins long enough to stop jace and pre-ordains (almost all the blue sources in this deck come into play tapped once you have 3 lands) to buy enough time to resolve a titan whilst wall of tanglechord held off sword.
G2: -2 Spellskite, -2 Garruk, -1 Avenger of Zendikar, +1 Fauna Shaman, +1 Wall of Tanglechord, +1 Beast Within, +1 Tumble Magnet, +1 Summoning Trap
G3 (and for other WUx decks on the play): -2 Spellskite -1 Garruck, +1 Wall of Tanglechord + 1 Fauna Shaman, + 1 Beast Within (on draw, -2 Garruck for +2 Revoker)
WU Cawblade (2-0)Not much to say. G1 was a long ground out game. G2 he mulled to 5 on the play I made turn 3 titan, he countered, I trapped into emrakul.... and my opponent was still gracious enough to smile, shrug and shake my hand. I've experienced similar in Japan... maybe it's a cultural difference but it makes the tournament experience a lot more pleasent...
WU Cawblade (2-1)
Being in the draw bracket was a good thing for this tournament as it meant that I got to play vs WUx decks. This matchup was no exception. G1, a turn 3 titan was enough to win. However in G2 my opponenent was smart enough to leave IN his day of judgements and side in extras (a strange play vs a mono-Green eldrazi deck, but definitely correct vs a build such as mine). In G3 I sided into the Garruck plan, and was able to win by overloading his countermagic and later days with Fauna Shaman into titans. This game had a slight misplay from my opponent which ended up benefitting me. I corruptored his first sword + mystic, and was able to beast within batterskull (essentially turning off his sword based offence vs wall of tanglechord (which I tutored for with shaman against an assumed hand of flashfreezes). However my opponent has a second sword GB sword and a WR sword, and this was tying down my mana, as I had to maze one attacker to avoid losing life. At this point I attacked with corruptor into a GB sworded mystic and my opponent snap blocked. With corruptor in gy, and emrakul in library, I was able to tutor up the eldrazi eot, and shuffle my library over the next few turns, eventually trumping sword with a resolved corruptor through countermagic. Whilst something similar could have been achieved with ulamog, I would have been forced to not leave up maze mana each turn, which could have been crucial. In any case, emrakul evenutally came down and ended the game after some titans were countered.
G3: -2 Spellskite, +1 Fauna Shaman, +1 Beast Within (Siding in +2 Garruck for -1 Wall of Tanglechord, -1 Revoker)
GW Tokens (2-1)
Game 1 He played turn 1 birds, turn 2 nest invader, turn 3 hero, turn 4 hero. I lost pretty quickly.
Game 2 I kept a hand of forest, 2 treepeaker, battlement, zenith, wall of tanglechord, ravenous baloth. My reasoning for this is threefold. Firstly, I know my opponent is WG, so the chances of him having a removal spell are relatively low, especially as this is the second game. Secondly, I play 28 lands, which means that my chance of drawing a land is a little under 50% each turn. Also, missing my first land drop isn't actually that bad, as I can just make treespeaker number 2, and explode the next turn. Thirdly, even if I miss my first 3 land drops I have ways to get back into the game in 2 walls, zenith and a baloth. I missed on turn 2, but hit my land drop on turn 3, and turn 4 titan was enough to win the game.
Game 3 I play turn 3 baloth of battlement, turn 4 baloth. He basically had another nut draw with lotus cobra and double hero of bladehold and alpha struck me for 22 damage through blockers, threating a further 6 damage the next turn, but I am able to fight back long enough to get a titan into play and ulamog his garruck the turn before it can go lethal, however in the process I lose my titan to a beast within token/hero of bladehold double block and I was only on 2 life. He also has a lot of token to chump with as necessary. 2 attacks later and my opponent is down to 4, with 5 land, 1 card in hand and a birds of paradise in play. Here there was an interesting situation. I have 9 lands, one of which is eye of ugin, and another which is a tectonic edge as well as an untapped overgrown battlement and joraga treespeaker. By using eye for wall of tanglecord, and playing it, but waiting until his turn to use edge as well as give my wall of tanglechord reach (due to +1 mana from battlement) I was able to play around both sword + land, and an artifact removal spell eot + some sort of pump ability off the top.
G2: +3 Baloth, +1 Revoker, +1 Fauna Shaman, -2 Spellskite, -2 Summoning Trap, -1 Garruck Wildspeaker
WB Cawblade (0-2)
Not a lot to say here. This deck was a cawblade deck with better mana and a faster curve including md mirran crusader. G1 on a solid board, but needed an answer to either crusader or a recently played WR sword (I had tanglechord in play), I trapped eot, hit another battlement, and shuffled my library in frustration because I forgot how the card work and couldn't read my chinese card (also because I had cast a zenith a few turns earlier maybe). This was a gl, even though I called the judge on myself (I think I would have appealed in England, but I was too tired here). G2 he got me with emeria angel and multiple crusaders (a problem the deck might need to solve as it becomes more popular).
WUB Cawblade (2-0)
As in round 1, except that this time in g2 I played very much as if I had a trap (always do this anyway...). Asking very clearly if each spell resolved as I played it into open mana. As a result my opponent didn't counter a turn 3 revoker, which named jace, and this was crucial to grinding out the game as he drew a jace on the following turn. This was only the second (possible) misplay I saw all day.
WUB Cawblade (2-0)
Ramping, titan, eldrazi yada yada... I know, these games are pretty repetitive. In G2, he was actually in a position to memoricide titan, but expecting this play, I already had zenithed a fauna shaman on the board, which made it pointless as I could tutor for ulamog in a couple of turns even through countermagic. If he memoricided ulamog, I would get titan, and emrakul in 2 turns. As a result he played jace in search of an answer, but didn't find it on that turn or the next and I was q'ed for Chinese nats!
All in all a very pleasant experience. Some quick props and slops:
1) The general pleasantness and good understanding of my opponents (especially in r2).
2) The deck. This really is one of the best anti-cawblade decks out there... and yet everyone seems to have forgotten it exists.
3) The judging staff for being fluent in enough languages to help me get by.
4) Caffeine. How would people ever win tournaments on 2 hours sleep without you.
5) Daniel Royde, for winning GP London, just because :)
1) My round 3 opponent for trying to get me a gl for answering my mobile phone.
2) Barcelona FC for making it such an unpleasent evening for an honorary Man. Utd fan... (seriously though... it's amazing how bad 22 men chasing a piece of leather around a field of grass can make you feel in the morning... from a Tottenham Hotspurs/England fan...)
3) Not being able to play in UK nats this year... stupid school calender :(
See you in Beijing on the 1-3rd July if you are in town.
Enjoyed it very much. Thank you. Are you back in the UK for good in August?
@ray: one more year, I've got my masters, but now need to get my chinese up to scratch to be a China specialist. will be back late july and most of august (probably for nats, but times are a little flexible as I will be working next year)
@dan: I'll see what I can do :P
Nice work Pete. I have a friend who plays at Channel Fireball in San Jose where I go these days and she has been on this deck for a long time now, and her results have got better lately ...