Hello everyone and please allow me to welcome you all back to another edition of The Cardboard Witch. Before we get started I'd like to take a moment to give a big shout-out to local Magic organizer Mathew Harper. Mathew is a regular customer at the game store I work at and is currently working on growing a casual Magic league here in Toronto. You can find the league website here Magic League Toronto , email Mathew at email@example.com or even following along on Twitter (@magicleagueto)! Mathew has assured me that in particular the league will be a great place for new players to try their hand at Magic tournaments in a relaxed casual setting. I'm all for growing Magic in our fair city and since Mathew seems like the reliable sort I'm glad to get behind a project like this. If this league sounds like something that might interest you I urge you to check out the website and join the forums; the more the merrier is certainly a moto to live by when it comes to playing Magic the Gathering.
Okay with that out of the way lets dive right in and take a look at some post Mirrodin Besieged Standard action; after all tomorrow's Friday Night Magic events will mark the 4th week the new set has been legal for constructed play. As I mentioned in the last "Standard Deviations" article I published I've recently been playing in FNM events locally at the Hairy T North; a store that's about 1 hour from my house by combined subway/bus ride. While an hour may seem like a long way to travel for a Magic tournament I like the Hairy T North events for two major reasons: first they are run professionally by a tournament organizer who cares (Kelly) and additionally the playgroup there is both talented and EXTREMELY polite/easy to get along with. While I'm certainly prepared to play a match against a "Magic troll" or two during a long tournament the fact that I never *have* to when playing at the HTN makes all the difference in the world to me.
Friday February 11th:
After playing U/B Control to a 3-0-1 finish the prior week I went into this tournament expecting to run a re-tuned version of the same deck. While obviously I was still happy with the deck after drawing in the finals the week before I wasn't entirely confident in my matchup with either Kuldotha Goblins or Big Red Koth decks. This naturally put me on finding better answers and eventually I had settled on 3 maindeck Vampire Nighthawks and a Wurmcoil Engine. To help solve the Big Red Koth issue I'd upped my SB to a full 4 copies of Flashfreeze with the idea that they'd also be very strong in the Valakut match-up. A funny thing happened as I arrived at the store however; walking into the back room about a half hour before the tournament started I saw somewhere between 12-14 other players practicing on the card tables. This in itself was significant because I knew several more people would be coming that hadn't arrived yet making for a larger (and more interesting) tournament than we'd had the week before. Additionally I counted at least 5 players in the room running either U/W or U/B control decks and a couple of guys playing new Tezzeret variant builds. At this point I became suddenly disinterested in trying to win a tournament running a U/B control deck while facing off against numerous players I had never met before, multiple potential mirror matches and/or Tezzeret decks I was completely unprepared for (i.e. 4x Go For the Throat main). Somewhat dismayed I asked my friend, fellow competitor and world famous Eh Team Podcaster Scott MacCallum for advice and he wisely recommended a quick "audible" to Green Sun Valakut. Realizing that he was probably right I paid my entry fee and sat down to battle with the following list:
Green Sun Valakut - G/r Mana Ramp:
Creatures - 12
4x Overgrown Battlements
1x Thrun the Last Troll
4x Primeval Titan
3x Avenger of Zendikar
Spells - 21
4x Khalni Heart Expedition
2x Growth Spasm
4x Green Sun's Zenith
3x Evolving Wilds
3x Terramorphic Expanse
4x Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
3x Gaea's Revenge
4x Summoning Trap
4x Back to Nature
To be fair this version of the deck turned out to be something of a work in progress (more of that later) even though I considered it a finished product at the time. Going into the tournament however I'd already played literally a couple hundred test games with it around the shop and I felt extremely confident that I was running the "right' version of post-MBS Valakut. In particular I felt the design rested on four central principles that simply made it stronger than other post MBS Valakut decks:
- The inclusion of 4 copies of Green Sun Zenith and 0 copies of Summoning Trap in the main deck.
- The inclusion of 4 main-deck Slagstorms and 0 creatures with toughness less than 4.
- Keeping 3 copies of Avenger of Zendikar and to a lesser degree 4 copies of Overgrown Battlements in the main-deck to fight "swarm" strategies.
- Running 11 sources of Green mana while simultaneously maintaining 12 Mountains in the build.
Lets be real here; 80% of the time the reason this deck wins is because of the way Valakut interacts with the basic land type "Mountain". Simply put you need Mountains and quite a few of them to make Valakut a real threat; there's no point in wasting 4-5 turns to set up your combo only to run out of gas because your opponent somehow crossed 30 life in the early game. This can naturally be quite a contentious issue in a deck with 29 Green spells; many of which actually have GG in their casting cost. While it may not seem like much the mana-base for this deck has survived two set updates and a couple hundred games worth of testing minimum. In my opinion you simply can NOT go below 12 Mountains without risking running out of ways to trigger your Valakuts against certain deck-types. Additionally the inclusion of 6 common "cracklands" and 5 basic Forests gives you 11 chances to find a turn 1 source of Green mana; an absolutely *must* for succeeding with this deck. Naturally of course this also works well with the 4 copies of Khalni Heart Expedition, allowing you to add extra counters to help fish out even more land as the game progresses.
Naturally of course I would end up changing this deck slightly over the next couple of tournaments but going into round 1 I felt pretty comfortable with my deck overall. Due to a late registration mixup we entered the tournament with 21 players and I found myself hoping I wouldn't be stuck with the round 1 bye as pairings were posted.
As luck would have it I did manage to avoid the round 1 bye but instead found myself paired against an opponent who may well have been the best Standard player in the room. I didn't know this at the time of course; I had just met Danny a half-hour or so earlier after being introduced by a mutual friend and longtime customer Brian Halls. We chatted briefly for a few moments before the round officially began and Danny's friendly/charming manner gave little hint to the game 1 pounding he was about to administer. I remember winning the die roll and keeping a somewhat mediocre hand only to watch Danny drop a Lotus Cobra and a Fauna Shaman onto the table in rapid succession. I naturally responded by setting him back to zero with a Slagstorm and was feeling pretty good about myself until he dropped another Cobra and a Vengevine. I don't actually remember very much else about this game; by the time I drew my 2nd Slagstorm he had already dropped a Fauna Shaman, cycled a 2nd Vengevine into the yard and had multiple Squadron Hawks in his hand. Even if I killed his entire side I would be dead to the 2 Vengevines in his graveyard on his next turn anyways so I scooped without dealing him a single point of damage. After boarding in all 4 copies of Pyroclasm I tried to settle down into game 2 but found myself mulling away my opening hand on the play for lack of a Green mana source. My next 6 were much better however; containing both colors of mana, an Explore a Slagstorm and a Pyroclasm. Unfortunately once again Danny came out like a ton of bricks and began putting pressure on me immediately with an early Sword of Body and Mind; his deck was starting to feel a lot like G/W Quest simply without the quest and for a little while there I thought I was going to lose round 1 in 2 very short/violent games. At one point I was forced to drop a Pyroclasm to clear out a Fauna Shaman and a Lotus Cobra only to have Danny reply with a 2nd Lotus Cobra and a Leatherback Baloth. Terrified of the potential Baloth/Sword combination I was forced to essentially skip my entire turn to cast a Pyroclasm and a Slagstorm; killing pretty much everything in play including Danny's Baloth and one of my Walls. This was somewhat fortunate as the game ended a couple turns later with me on 6 life and Danny capable of activating a Stirring Wildwood and equipping the Sword of Body and Mind for 5 damage before I would kill him on the next turn. Unfortunately game 3 was far less exciting and I managed to luck into one of Valakut's many "I just win" draws while once again Danny found himself short on Vengevines and Fauna Shamans to help steer the match-up heavily in his favor. When I thanked Danny for the games and expressed my feelings of having 'barely escaped" the match however he disagreed and told me that he felt his deck was the underdog in the match unless he hit a the nuts Vengevine draw.
1-0 (2-1) MVP Slagstorm - This match was a perfect example of how I think Valakut has to adapt to the post-MBS Standard environment and I definitely wouldn't have won without running multiple board-sweepers in games 2 and 3. That's not to say I was right in taking out Lightning Bolt for it but the obvious truth is that there's a place for 3-4 Slagstorms in the main 60 cards of this deck.
Round 2 - Scott MacCallum - U/B Forgemaster Tezzeret:
Naturally of course round 2 would find me paired against the man who recommended I play Valakut that night. As it turns out Scott was rocking some new "experimental" tech in the form of a Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas deck designed by Martin Juza right before Pro Tour Paris. This version of the deck varied significantly from the "Chapin/Grixis" edition and after playing a practice game against it before the tournament began I felt it was both faster and more consistent than other Tezzy decks I had seen. Unfortunately I don't remember as much about the play-by-play for this match as I usually do; Scott and I are good friends and because both of our decks required so little interaction we actually had time to finish 5 games in one sitting. I managed to win 2 out of the 3 games that actually counted primarily because I won the initial die roll and thus ended up on the play for both of my victories. I would go on to lose the last 2 games rather soundly and end up 3-3 against the deck overall on the night. After 6 games however I feel I have a pretty good read on the match-up between these two deck-types and I have to say the results are fascinating simply because the decks are so similar. Like Valakut, the Forgemaster Tezzeret deck ignores it's opponent in the early game and spends it's first 3-4 turns establishing a mana base and playing out combo pieces (Tezzeret, Inkmoth Nexus, Forgemaster) before suddenly exploding out of the gates with a 1-2 turn "I just win" interaction. Additionally the deck also has multiple ways to win the game once it's established the combo with Inkmoth Nexus + Tezzy X2, Forgemaster + Blightsteel Colossus or Tezzeret's -4 "Drain Life" ability comparing well to Valakut, Primeval Titan and Avenger of Zendikar with his armies of ever-growing Plant tokens. Finally of course the sheer size of the threats the Tezzeret deck plays (Collossus, 5/5 Flying Infect Monsters, etc) makes it pretty easy for the deck to "go right over-top" most aggro strategies despite surrendering the first 3 turns of the match; just like Valakut. Even playing *against* the deck is a similar experience to playing against Valakut as you constantly find yourself trying to steal the game before your opponent untaps and "just wins" through some ridiculous interaction you no longer have a way of stopping.
In terms of actual games I recall winning the first game at 5 poison because I top-decked a timely Slagstorm to kill Scott's Tezzeret the turn after he cast and used it. I then walked into back to back Primeval Titans and domed him for about a million. Game 2 however was not even close as Scotty put me on the poison clock turn 4 and even after I killed his Planeswalker had no real problem finding another. I quit with him capable of choosing to poison me out with either an active Nexus or a Blightsteel Colossus. Game 3 was more "back and forth" but I eventually won because Scott attempted to "slow-roll" his Colossus into play rather than going for the quick poison victory. At one point he said "so long as you don't have 2 more Primeval Titans I'm okay" while I had one already in play; a 2nd Titan and a Green Sun Zenith later I was "doming" Scott for 36ish damage the turn before he would kill me with a psuedo-hasted Colossus. I walked away from this match with two very strong feelings; first that I had been rather lucky to survive that round and second that while Slagstorm was a necessity in the post MBS-environment removing Lightning Bolt from the deck to make room for it had been a mistake.
2-0 (4-2) MVP - Green Sun's Zenith - While it's true that I only cast this spell twice in our 3 game match it's also true that in both cases it immediately won me a game I was about to lose if my opponent got even a single additional turn. What's more in both cases I was OUT of other legitimate options to play meaning without the Zenith I probably lose this match; maybe in 2 games. This card is the real deal.
As I was wandering up to the front counter to report my round 2 match I happened to bump into Shai on his way back from reporting his match. I inquired if he had won or not and Shai stated that he had before adding "you don't want to play me next round Nina, I'm apparently very lucky tonight". Naturally of course I couldn't resist the temptation to mess with a friend and potential round 3 opponent so without missing a beat I responded "that's okay Shai, I'm lucky all the time so it'll work out". This exchange of course would then seal both of our fates as naturally the DCI Reporter found a way to pair us together in round 3. Sitting down I suddenly felt a little bit light headed; while I'm certainly feeling better than I have been for most of the winter it's not entirely fair to say I'm completely well yet and at this point I was running a mild fever. Thankfully Shai was pretty understanding and after waiting a few minutes for the round to start we agreed to roll 2D6 to see who would go first. When I grabbed the dice and immediately spilled out boxcars I suddenly felt way better about the upcoming match. Game 1 went pretty much according to plan as I spilled out an early Overgrown Battlements and a Khalni Heart Expendition in rapid succession. This naturally forced Shai to overextend in an effort to regain tempo and he played out a Lotus Cobra and a "crackland" for an Oracle of Mul Daya before shipping the turn back. Unfortunately for him I had the Slagstorm in hand and a couple of turns later was able to "dome" him out with Valakut Triggers. As a side note it was early on during this game that both Shai and I noticed that one of my Khalni Heart Expenditions had a severely split sleeve. I'd been playing with the deck all night and hadn't noticed it before so it's likely what started out as a small tear turned into a sizable rip sometime while I was shuffling up for round 3. Thankfully Shai was pretty cool about it and we simply switched the sleeved for one in my sideboard but I mentally decided to buy some new sleeves for the deck before I played it in another tournament anyways.
Game 2 saw Shai go on the play and for the most part I mentally started preparing for game 3. Typically it's very hard for a Valakut player to win the mirror going 2nd unless his/her draw significantly outclasses their opponent's. While my opening hand was certainly promising with 2 copies of Overgrown Battlements and a Khalni Heart Expedition, I really had no reason to believe that was going to be enough to swing momentum back in my favor. After both played out our early mana ramp spells Shai proceeded to drop a turn 4 (5?) Titan and load up with 2 copies of Valakut before shipping the turn back to me. Naturally I had both of my Walls in play at this point and a Titan in hand but the ebb and flow of our game meant I could only fish out 1 Valakut if I wanted to kill his Titan this turn; something I considered an absolute necessity at this point. What's more to accomplish this I was going to have to not only cast the Titan but blow up BOTH of my Khalni Heart Expeditions just to get the prerequisite number of mountains into play and all I would get out of the arrangement is 3 damage at Shai and a dead Titan. With little choice however I proceeded to do exactly that and shipped the turn back with a Green Sun's Zenith and a random Cultivate in my hand. Shai responded by casting another Primeval Titan and after optimizing his Valakut triggers proceeded to not only kill my Titan but to wipe my entire board by doing 6 damage each to both of my Overgrown Battlements. While I considered this play curious I figured that Shai probably didn't have another Titan/way to fish Mountains in his hand so he was clearing out my potential blockers to go for the win on his next turn. I proceeded to untap, drew a random Forest and cast Green Sun Zenith naming "Primeval Titan" but unfortunately due to my poor initial set up could only use it for 12 damage total on my turn; killing Shai's Titan and setting him up for lethal on my next turn. Unfortunately Shai's decision to murder my Battlements on his previous turn would come back to haunt him as he topped either a 3rd Titan or a Green Sun's Zenith to go get a Titan; if he had simply directed the 12 Damage at me last turn this would be lethal but instead he was forced to split 18 damage between me and my active Titan. I untapped and drew another copy of Green Sun Zenith and after showing both it and the Cultivate in my hand to Shai accepted his concession.
3-0 (6-2) - Slagstorm/Overgrown Battlements - This is a tie simply because I don't win game 1 without killing Shai's weenie mana ramp creatures and I don't win game 2 without cheating out a Prime Titan a turn early and stealing my opponent's momentum in the process. Frankly you could also argue that a timely topdecked Green Sun's Zenith deserved mention as an MVP candidate as well.
Round 4 - Yvon Julie - Mono B Infect:
Going into round 4 I knew that I was one of only 2 undefeated players and assuming my opponent was agreeable there would be little need to play out the finals; we could both draw into the top 2 and walk away happily until next week without risking losing prize money on tiebreakers in the event of a loss. As it turns out my round 4 opponent would be another friend of Brian Halls who I had just met earlier today. Yvon seemed like a solid fellow and happily agreed to draw in the finals when I offered but we decided to play out the match for fun anyways. All day I had been hearing about this "awesome mono Black Infect" deck that had been tearing up the other side of the room and no way was I going to miss my opportunity to finally see it in action.
Unfortunately all 3 of our games were pretty much duds; despite running all kinds of cool black infect creatures (Vat Mother and Crusader at a minimum) Yvon mostly saw weenie artifacts (Plague Myr, Necropede) and an Inkmoth Nexus in game 1. He got me to about 6 poison before I dropped back to back Primeval Titans for the win. Game 2 wasn't much better although at least this time Yvon got to play a Crusader. I ended up conceding on turn 5 after he hit me with back to back Memoricides naming Primeval Titan and Avenger of Zendikar respectively. I missed a single land drop that game which in turn prevented me from casting both the Titan and then the Avenger the turn before he ripped them out of my hand and deck. Unfortunately I don't remember much about game 3 except that I chose to side in all 3 copies of Gaea's Revenge simply to give me more threats in the face of Memoricide. This apparently worked out well as I won the game on the back of an Avenger and a Revenge the turn after my opponent successfully ripped all 4 Primeval Titans out of my deck. After our games I thanked Yvon for accepting my offer to draw anyways; he was clearly a very good player playing an interesting deck and I was grateful for the chance to play against it in a pressure free environment.
3-0-1 (6-2-2) - MVP Drawing in the Finals. Even though I won the "for fun" match after the tournament I was still happy to forgo the final round of Swiss in favor of a draw. There's really no reason risk a loss in that position when a simple draw will give you either 1st or 2nd place and reasonable prize support. I suppose if forced to name an actual card I'd have to go with Gaea's Revenge simply because I probably would have lost game 3 without them.
Naturally after the tournament a number of players hung around the back room to trade cards, talk deck theory and generally "nerd it up" with other Magic players; including myself. I was particularly happy to finally meet all of Brian's friends from Brampton and after playing 2 of them in my 4 rounds found out that we have a lot in common as Magic players. Eventually however we had to depart and I started the long bus/subway ride home with my friends and fellow competitors Kelly, Tommy and Beau. As a group we'd done pretty well; both Beau and Tommy were 3-1 and Kelly wasn't far behind at 2-2 as far as I can remember. Once I finally did make it home the sheer excitement of the day finally caught up to me; I probably fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.
Creatures - 11:
4x Overgrown Battlements
1x Thrun the Last Troll
4x Primeval Titan
2x Avenger of Zendikar
Spells - 22:
3x Lightning Bolt
4x Khalni Heart Expedition
4x Green Sun's Zenith
Land - 27:
3x Evolving Wilds
3x Terramorphic Expanse
4x Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
Sideboard - 15:
4x Nature's Claim
4x Summoning Trap
1x Avenger of Zendikar
1x Pelakka Wurm
2x Gaea's Revenge
You can switch Thrun for the Avenger in the SB pretty easily if you want to be stronger against aggro swarm. At one point I tried 2x Bolt, 2x Pyro and 2x Slagstorm as my burn suite with decent although inconsistent results. The 4 copies of Natures Claim give you an easy/cheap way to win the "Sword" war with decks like Caw-Blade or Boros if necessary.
Well folks that's about all my fingers can take for now; hopefully the next time I get the idea to write a combination Tournament Report/Valakut Play-Guide and Primer I'll remember the burning sensation I'm feeling in them right now. Jokes aside I hope you've found this article useful and as always thanks for reading. Personally I think it's safe to say that the early cries of "Valakut is dead" that rang across the internet after Pro Tour Paris may have been a little hasty; there are certainly new contenders on the block but by no means do they push Valakut out of the top tier. Until next time always remember to shuffle your Green Sun Zenith back into your deck after resolving and otherwise keep it weird gang.