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Dragon’s Lair Winter Championship 2013 – A report

March 5, 2013

So…Facepalm

If you have seen some of my tweets recently you probably have figured out I was playing in a Magic tournament last weekend, and judging from the picture above you have probably guessed how it went. But I’m getting ahead of myself, I will come to that picture in a bit.

As you might recall, my local game store in Stockholm (often abbreviated LGS around the web), Dragon’s Lair,  hosted last summer a big local two day event that ended up being a very well appreciated event and thus opted to, not surprisingly, host another tournament of the same scale already this winter; the Dragon’s Lair Winter Championship. The structure of the tournament was on day 1 X number of rounds of Standard Swiss (with X being the usual number of rounds given the number of players), and then top16 got to continue to play on the following day with a Gatecrash draft (3 rounds of Swiss) and then after that a top8 where Standard is once again the format of choice.

As I had just a couple of weeks ago been preparing for and then played in Grand Prix London, I felt fairly good about Gatecrash Limited and thus most of my prep work for the Winter Championship was focused on Standard, which I had not played much since Gatecrash was released. My deck selecting process for this event was somewhat weird and a bit different than usually because the settings for me for this event was to. By playing and doing rather well in a couple of earlier trials that were hosted to feed the Winter Championship, I had managed to gather 2 byes for the final event. In addition to the byes, since mostly local players would show and play I had a fairly good read on what decks to expect to be played at the event rather than the normal approach of relying on trying to get a good read about the current state of the format.

Because of the byes and knowing that most of the local ringer prefers playing Glacial Fortress decks and various midrangey decks as well as Humanimator being reasonably popular, I instinctively felt like I would want to be attacking for this tournament. Right after the Pro Tour the Aristocrats deck caught my eye as something that would be interesting for me to play. Not primarily because it won the Pro Tour, but more so because I thought Falkenrath Aristocrat and Knight of Infamy, and to certain extent Boros Reckoner, felt like cards that were well positioned in the format at the time.

So I picked the deck up and fooled around with for a while until I came to conclusion that, yes, Falkenrath Arisocrat and Knight of Infamy were indeed awesome and as long as you were playing against other creatures, Boros Reckoner was to. However, I wasn’t sold on the 3 color manabase. Always having the colors you need to play all your spells isn’t a given and the manabase is somewhat painful (12 shocklands), which depending on the matchup is a potential lethal problem. Having a bunch of Cavern of Souls in the deck together with 4 copies of Boros Reckoner is also challenging. In reality the manabase is probably fine but I’m personally very conservative when it comes to manabases and I usually like to keep things as simple as possible.

In addition to the issues I had with the manabase, I wasn’t exactly thrilled over the idea of having my Champion of the Parish or Boros Reckoner Azorius Charmed a lot since I expected to play against a fair number of those types of decks in the tournament. To combat these issues I tried to switch the Human core out along with Boros Reckoner for a Zombie core, much along the lines of what Sam Black described in his article about building the Aristocrat. I’m actually a bit reluctant to unveil the list as I didn’t end up bringing it to the Winter Championship for to be named reasons but it might be a deck I will revisit moving forward as the Standard PTQ season is drawing closer and the WMCQ season as well. Therefore I’d like to keep that list close to heart for the time being, but if you read Sam’s article I linked you will get a pretty good idea of what a Zombie version of the Aristocrat could look like.

Anyhow, I was liking how the Zombie version of the Aristocrats was shaping up and how it preformed in early testing. The manabase was slightly leaner and certainly not as painful, and I was much more happy with having Geralf’s Messenger in my deck than Boros Reckoner when facing down various Azorius Charm equipped opponents. But after a while it dawned on me that while the tricks you could do with the Aristocrats were cute and all, were they actually necessary? After all, it was the Falkenrath Aristocrats and Knight of Infamys that had drawn me to the archetype in the first place. So I tried to make an even simpler list:

BR Zombies

4 Diregraf Ghoul
4 Gravecrawler
4 Rakdos Cackler
4 Knight of Infamy
4 Thrill-Kill Assassin
4 Geralf’s Messenger
2 Thundermaw Hellkite
4 Falkenrath Aristocrat

3 Victim of Night
3 Searing Spear
1 Murder

4 Blood Crypt
4 Dragonskull Summit
4 Rakdos Guildgate
2 Cavern of Souls
9 Swamp

SB: 3 Duress
SB: 3 Rakdos Charm
SB: 3 Vampire Nighthawk
SB: 1 Tormod’s Crypt
SB: 2 Olivia Voldaren
SB: 1 Dead Weight
SB: 2 Liliana of the Veil

Basically a deck of the previous format, not even containing a single card from Gatecrash, but is very much updated to handle the adversaries of today. The removal suite is made up to keep opposing Boros Reckoners, which is one of the greatest hurdles aggressive decks these days needs to get over, off the field. But even if an opponent gets a Reckoner to stick, it’s not that big of a deal. Knight of Infamy, Falkenrath Aristocrat and the hasty dragons swings by it at all times and in the early game even something as lowly as Thrill-Kill Assassin and Geralf’s Messenger can often swing into a Reckoner (assuming no mana is being held up for first strike-activation) without suffering too heavy casualties.

It wasn’t a perfect list by any stretch but I felt really comfortable with the archetype and was quite certain that I would be playing something about ~4 cards off the list above at the Winter Championship.

Then Grand Prix Quebéc happended.

Seeing the Naya Blitz deck taking it home and watching Nico Christiansen playing with the deck on camera for several rounds left me with a knot in my stomach.

Is this deck going to be a real force in Standard? Is this deck going to catch on? Will many of the local ringers suddenly pick this deck up? Will people now suddenly start playing a lot of cheap removal that previously had become out of fashion, like Pillar of Flame? And how on earth am I suppose to beat this deck with Zombies!?

These thoughts along with the usual post-tournament hype on various Magic sites left me feeling downright sick for a day or 2 directly after the GP. Even if aggressive decks overall wouldn’t suddenly become super popular, it was bound to be at least a handful of Naya Blitz decks at the tournament given the outstanding performance at the Grand Prix. Also it didn’t take long before realizing that playing 2/2s for B and 3/2s for BBB that came into play tapped and 2/1s for B that can’t block had no reasonable chance of beating that deck. So I thought that I had to throw the plan of playing Zombies into the garbage can and make new plans.

I still cared very much for the hasty vampire and the infamous knight so I conjured up, with some testing, the following list:

Rakdos Aggro

4 Rakdos Cackler
4 Stromkirk Noble
1 Stonewright
4 Ash Zealot
4 Knight of Infamy
4 Boros Reckoner
4 Falkenrath Aristocrat
2 Thundermaw Hellkite

1 Pillar of Flame
4 Dreadbore
4 Searing Spear
1 Brimstone Volley

4 Blood Crypt
4 Dragonskull Summit
4 Rakdos Guildgate
11 Mountain

SB: 1 Tormod’s Crypt
SB: 2 Rakdos Charm
SB: 4 Reckless Waif
SB: 1 Hellrider
SB: 3 Pillar of Flame
SB: 3 Olivia Voldaren
SB: 1 Electrickery

Out went the Zombies and back in came Boros Reckoner to hold the fort. With this list I felt much more suited tackling any blitzing opponent while still remaining aggressive overall, which was something I wanted to remain doing for the Winter Championship.

It turned out that I was indeed correct with the assessment that Azorius Charm decks were the most represented group of decks at the tournament by far. There were a couple of Naya Blitz decks but most of rest of the field was fairly diverse. After realizing the what the meta at the tournament consisted of I felt sort of bad for panicking earlier in the week and abandoning my BR Zombie deck. Even though there were a couple of unwinnable matchup in the form of Naya Blitz in the field, a clear majority of the field was made out of decks that I was happy or at least fine with playing against wielding Zombies. To leave me even sourer about my deck decision a friend of mine ended up going 6-0 with no byes playing Jund Zombies. Kudos to Victor (said Zombie-playing friend) and shame on me.

After I had enjoyed lunch and my 2 byes I was ready to enter the fray along with the other 50 people who had showed up to game. I lost round 3 against Naya Blitz after losing the die roll (the first of many in this tournament) and died by a Searing Spear while I was about to stabilize in game 1. I then lost a fairly remarkable game 2 where I drew and played all 4 copies of Boros Reckoner in my deck…along with 9 lands. Even though my opponent couldn’t for the longest time attack me, eventually Howlpack Alpha created enough wolves to kill me in one attack. Even though I felt let down by my deck, I still felt fairly good about the matchup. Replace any of the card I drew that game with a Olivia and I’m 90+% sure I win that game.

In the next round I was up against what I assumed was Froehlich Naya. I flooded out game 1, he was manascrew game 2 and then in the decider I baited out enough of his removal so that when I finally dropped Olivia on the board he had no means of dealing with her. In the following round I was up against Jund Aggro. The match started out great with me winning what would turn out to be my only die roll of the tournament and then cruising in the for the win in game 1 with an unanswered Thundermaw Hellkite. Game 2 was equally lopsided the other way with him sealing the deal with Ghorclan Rampager, and then in the decider I once again flooded badly and simply couldn’t capitalize of my early advantage in the game. I did win the last round of the Swiss portion in Standard though against Mono Red after my deck finally showing me a little love along with my opponent bricking on drawing Searing Spear for 3 turns in the second game.

With my win in the last round I had locked up a slot for me in the draft portion the following day. Being 4-2 and in the second draft pod though didn’t leave me much room for error, as only 1 or 2 players depending on how the lone 4-2er in the first pod fared could conceivably make the top8.

I started the draft up with taking Mugging in the first pack with expecting to wheel either Aerial Maneuver or Ivy Lane Denizen and thus setting myself up for drafting either red guild. The next pick was tricky though where I had to decide between Skinbrand Goblin and Grisly Spectacle. The black card is significantly more powerful but this means potentially completely abandoning my first pick and the setup wheel, as red and black doesn’t interact all that well in this format. I also knew that the 2 players to my right in the draft have a preference for Orzhov, and there was a rare missing in the pack, so I ended up sticking with red and took the Skinbrand Goblin. That pick ended up being the defining pick of my whole draft.

After that I took mostly red cards to stay open for both the possibility of Gruul and Boros but I eventually slided into Boros when I got a late Debtor’s Pulpit in the first pack and then got 4th and 5th pick Wojek Halberdiers in the second pack. However, after that I didn’t get much besides a second pick Assemble the Legion in the last pack and I was left with following masterpiece:

 Garbage Boros

2 Wojek Halbardier
1 Burning-Tree Emissary
1 Skinbrand Golbin
1 Hellraiser Goblin
1 Warmind Infantry
1 Skyknight Legionnaire
1 Millennial Gargoyle
1 Knight of Obligation
2 Zarichi Tiger
1 Ordruun Veteran
1 Towering Thunderfist

1 Beckon Apparition
2 Mugging
1 Madcap Skills
1 Martial Glory
1 Aerial Maneuver
1 Arrows of Justice
1 Act of Treason
1 Assemble the Legion
1 Debtor’s Pulpit

1 Boros Guildgate
9 Mountain
7 Plains

Notable cards in the sideboard:

1 Dutiful Thrull
1 Smite
1 Righteous Charge
1 Vizkopa Confessor

Boros with a grand total of 7 creatures that cost 3 or less? 5 4-drops? Yeah, that’s not how a good Boros deck looks like. I’m not completely sure what happened in the draft, but I knew that the guy two seats to the right of me was drafting Naya and soaked up among other things a late Foundry Champion and a Assemble the Legions in the last pack and I’m pretty sure judging by how I got fairly late Boros-only cards in the second pack but little white overall that at least one of the 2 to me left was in Orzhov. I also think the packs wasn’t very deep either for Boros as for much of the second and third pack there was just nothing for me in the packs and then suddenly there could be two quality picks 4 or 5 picks in all of a sudden. On the other hand black was flowing and there was even a Balustrade Spy that wheeled in the last pack. If I had picked that Grizly Spectacle in the second pack my deck would have been a whole lot better, but I digress.

Regarding deck construction I mostly registered what I had because I was very short on playables as you can see. The only real decision I had was to maindeck Smite or not. I thought about for a while but decided not to, as Smite seemed horrible to have in the same deck with cards such as Hellraiser Goblin and Act of Aggression.

As you probably have figured by now I wasn’t very keen about my chances of going 2-1 or better with this deck, but I off course was certainly going to try to.

It started out well with a win in the first round against Dimir, where I mulled to 6 in game 1 and ended up being manascrewed and subsequently lost that game. My luck changed though and in the second game my opponent couldn’t deal with Assemble the Legion and then he went down to 6 and was stuck on 3 lands too long in game 3.

Supported by the little confidence granted by that win I went into round 2 of the draft against another longtime friend of mine and former National team member, Per Rönnkvist. He had been to the direct right of me in the draft and had manage to assemble a quite impressive Simic deck. This match was recorded on camera and you can watch the match here, starting from ~44 minutes in. I’m going to make a couple of comments more in-depth of the match, so to understand what I’m referring to, please watch the match or at least skim through the relevant parts.

In game 1 I was absolutely aware that the Aerial Maneuver play I made could end horribly in approximately a 1000 ways, but even if we just ended up trading trick for a trick and me basically chumping his Metropolis Sprite with my Wojek Halbardier, that seemed and still seem like a fine play to me. I have Assemble the Legion in my hand so I just want to try to make the game go as long as possible and thus preserving my lifetotal and/or potentially forcing him to use his mana on a trick instead of developing his board is in my best interest.

In the second game the commentators are absolutely right about the Skinbrand Goblin play on turn 3. There is no reason for me to not bloodrush there and have a 2/2 in play instead of a 2/1. Damn you, autopilot! Thankfully it didn’t end up mattering.

In game 3 there were 2 major points where I could have played differently and could have made decisions that would have altered the outcome of the match. First there is the Madcap Skills play on turn 4. My reasoning with putting Madcap Skill on Wojek Halbardier instead of the Skyknight Legionnaire was to play for the Assemble the Legion (and my sideboarded Smite) in my hand. By putting it on the Skyknight, I increase my chances of winning short term but it does in some sense put all of my eggs in the same basket. If he does come up with an answer to the Skyknight or even just draws and plays another flier, I’m in serious problems as the Assemble the Legion would probably not have been able to race his Elusive Krasis. A Halbardier with Madcap Skills is way easier for him to deal with but on the other hand, if he does, it’s not that big of a deal. In fact, even though I 1-for-2:ed myself trading the Halbardier on the following turn for his Elusive Krasis, that was fine in my world as Elusive Krasis is one of his best bets of beating a resolved Assemble the Legion from my perspective. Now it turned out that he didn’t draw a second flier or an answer to the Skyknight until way later in the game, so putting the Madcap Skills on my flier would have most likely won me this particular game.

Then we have the situation later on where I’m finally forced to block his Rust Scarab, which was a turn I certainly could have played better. It simply boils down to me not giving Per enough respect of him drawing Pit Fight that turn (as I was pretty sure his other card in hand was an Island given how he had played the game). Instead of putting a single soldier token in front of the scarab, I should have blocked with all of my soldiers. By doing this, I’m offering him to trade 4 tokens for his scarab (and the Assemble the Legion, off course) and if he wants to use his Pit Fight, he needs to blink first.

If I had blocked this way what probably would have happened was that he would blink first by playing the Pit Fight to take out my Towering Thunderfist and then try to kill 4 of my tokens in combat. If he does this, I could just have blowed him out by using Smite in response. In that case I would have been left with 5 tokens and my Towering Thunderfist versus his lone Zameck Guildmage, untapped and attacked for 8 and then pass the turn with lethal in play. Given the topdecks that followed, that would have been enough to win me the game. In either case, I think it’s correct to cast Smite that turn no matter how you block since having a Smite left in your hand is not something that seems ideal when you only have 1 flier left in your deck versus his plenty, but I should for sure allowed him the opportunity to walk down this trap I just described. Instead I was justifiably punished by not seeing this line of play and lost a couple of turns later to a Zameck Guildmage fueled Metropolis Sprite.

Magic is a hard game. :/

Even though I was technically dead in the tournament I decided to play out the last round to see if I could 2-1 with this heap of garbage. To make it really hard I was paired against Grand Prix Malmö runner-up Oscar Almgren, who probably had the best deck in the entire draft playing Naya and sporting cards such as Assemble the Legion, Foundry Champion, Rubblehulk and Clan Defiance.

I lost game 1 in one of the most astonishing fashions I have yet to lose to: resolving my Assemble the Legion after his. Technically I died off his Foundry Champion doming me for 13 but I was pretty much drawing dead as soon as he resolved his enchantment, as I had no real way of getting ahead in the Assemble the Legion arms race.

I then lost game 2 playing one of the worst games of Magic I have played in a long time and I just actually threw away a game I potentially still could have won,  hence the facepalm-picture in the beginning. I don’t even want to talk about what happened and/or what I did…I find it frankly too embarrassing to talk about. 😦

The fact that we weren’t really playing for anything and I was pretty tired and hungry by that point certainly had an affect on my plays and to be fair, I don’t think I had a shot in hell to win another game against Oscar’s deck so the end result felt fair; nevertheless I felt mentally crushed by how poorly I played that game. I haven’t felt that pissed about myself after a game of Magic in a long time.

I have written many a word at this point about the tournament and it’s time for me to round off. Big kudos to the people who did well at the event and to Dragon’s Lair for continuing to organize awesome events and continuing to look how to improve both as a store and at organizing events! ❤

As for comments on the Rakdos deck I played, I’m not sure if it’s a deck I will continue to play with and work on moving forward. As I mentioned, the settings for me coming into the Winter Championships was somewhat extraordinary and it very much affected my choice of deck. If you are interested in picking up the Rakdos deck I would recommend cutting Brimstone Volley for a Hellrider in the maindeck, as I feel the deck needs a little more “umph” compared to the number of lands that are in the deck. I flooded quite a bit in the tournament, so having a little more late game action seems necessary to make flooding not hurt so much. In addition to that, I would cut a Rakdos Charm for another card to bring in against other aggro decks. I’m not sure what exactly, but something like an Electrickery could do it.

That said, after playing this weekend and doing some more soul searching, I think you probably have to play Burning-Tree Emissary in your red aggro deck these days, if for no other reason just to simply keep up with the other aggro decks in the format! If that is indeed the case, then the Rakdos shell is most likely not where you want to be as Burning-Tree Emissary doesn’t interact as well with Knight of Infamy as it does with Flinthoof Boar.

That was what I had to say about the Winter Championship and about my run in the event. I hope you enjoyed it!

Until next time,

Bernhard

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