Investigating Combo: A National Qualifier Report

After catching a few hours sleep while my friend drove me to the MN National Qualifier, I scarfed down a couple hot biscuit sandwiches and chugged an energy drink. I was ready to battle. My weapon of choice? The much-maligned Time Sieve combo.

My primer on the deck:

The list I ran at the National Qualifier:

I cut a Swamp for a Marsh Flats to bump up the number of white sources, increasing the reliability of Kor Firewalker and Day of Judgment. I also moved the new Jace to the sideboard, cutting the deck down to sixty cards. New Jace is really good against some decks, like Polymorph, but either useless or unnecessary against major decks like Jund, UW, and RDW.

R1: Seth with Spread'm.

Game one, he hit me down to fourteen with a Rhox War Monk, and I had plenty of time to combo out.

-4 Spreading Seas
+3 Negate, +1 Jace, the Mind Sculptor

I sensed he was boarding in Meddling Mage. He had the right colors, Polymorph was around, and he was playing a cascade deck. However, I doubted myself, and didn't bring in the second Day or the Executioner's Capsules, showing my weak spot for listening to hunches.

Game two, I kept a hand with a few cantrip spells and failed to find gas. He dropped a Meddling Mage on Open the Vaults (the correct play) and started beating down. I threw on a bored look as he scoured my face for tells. When I laid down a Time Sieve a few turns later, I smirked at him, despite the double Open the Vaults in my hand. He added a Bloodbraid Elf and I ran out of outs. I shook my head as I scooped up my cards, as if to say "just another fizzle."

-1 Negate, -2 Kaleidostone
+1 Day of Judgment, +2 Executioner's Capsule

Game three, he played a Meddling Mage, but named Time Sieve. I made a few Thopter tokens and started beating. A flurry of turns finished him. Playing with UW Thopter in extended really paid off that game, as I recognized when to make a move with Foundry and didn't hesitate.

It's worth noting that, while I mulliganed six times during this match, the hands I kept were still relatively strong. I dislike mulligans as much as the next guy, but in this deck, keeping a hand without either Howling Mine, Jace Beleren, or at least a couple baubles is akin to keeping a Mythic Conscription hand without an early accelerator, or a Vintage dredge hand without a Bazaar of Baghdad. For reference:

This hand is terrible.

This hand is insane.

At the end of the round, kspaeth123 showed up to say hi. It was nice to see MTGSalvation being represented, not to mention another Time Sieve player.

R2: Tyler with Jund

Game one, he led with an early leech, but I stalled him with Spreading Seas and Angelsong long enough to combo out at 4 life.

-2 Kaleidostone
+2 Negate

Game two, he failed to apply pressure. I dropped a Howling Mine and he cast Duress. I showed him a hand full of gas, including a second Mine, and he grabbed Open the Vaults. I hard cast a Borderpost, which he pointed a Maelstrom Pulse at, ignoring my active Mine. My gas drew me into a flurry of turns, and I comboed off.

After the game, I asked about the Duress, and he reasoned that he had double Maelstrom Pulse in hand at the time.
The right call in that situation is to make me discard one Mine and Pulse the other. Letting the Sieve player draw cards is rarely correct. He also over-valued the Borderpost. Sure, if the Sieve player runs out multiples of the same Borderpost, or starts returning lands to hand in the early turns, Pulsing makes a lot of sense. If the Sieve player starts ramping them, however, Jund needs to change tactics. I'm guessing Tyler's testing mate didn't realize he should be paying full for the 'posts when possible, and that seriously hurt Tyler's chances.


R3: Brandon with Jund

Brandon sat down, small talked a bit, flashed me a smile and wished me luck. Game one went long – my score pad extends onto the next page, but I managed to fizzle out with eighteen cards left in the library, lacking an essential Open the Vaults.

-2 Kaleidostone
+1 Day of Judgment
+1 Negate

In Game two he Duressed me early and grabbed Open the Vaults. He followed this up with a Blightning, and then a Bloodbraid Elf into Blightning. My field was a pile of artifacts. I had a Borderpost, Tezzeret, and Angelsong in hand. I didn't have cause to worry yet. Tezz was going to fetch Time Sieve, and I would go off in a turn or so. I played the Borderpost and passed the turn, playing around Maelstrom Pulse.

He dropped a second Bloodbraid Elf, cascading into Blightning. I didn't mind losing to Brandon, he was a gracious winner, humble, smiling and wishing me luck. In that situation, I could have played around Blightning (by casting Tezz and untapping two borderposts for Angelsong) or around the Pulse, like I did. Odds were, he would cascade into Pulse or a dork, but he hit the two-of he needed to win and congrats to him.

Now, my usual response to this sort of situation is to shrug and say "that's Magic," but in retrospect, cascade does take some skill out of the game. Proponents of Vintage argue that it's the most skill intensive format because you need to play with all sixty cards of the deck. The game might only last four turns (heck, some Standard games only last four turns), but the quantity of cards drawn and specific tutors leads to more decisions. In Vintage, I can cast Vampiric Tutor and struggle over what specific card gives me the most value. In Standard, I can cast Bloodbraid Elf and it does the thinking for me.


R4: Steve with RDW

Game one, my opponent sat down and started shuffling up his Swamp sleeves, rattling on about his fierce love for Vampires. He even mentioned Twilight, and his act was so over the top I almost burst out laughing. I won the roll and dropped three Spreading Seas on his Mountains. He tried to burn me out, but lacked a target for Searing Blaze, letting me combo off at 3 life.

-4 Howling Mine, -1 Spreading Seas
+1 Thopter Foundry, +4 Kor Firewalker

I drew an opener without any hate, but with an Angelsong and a fast win. I kept, hoping to draw into some lifegain. It didn't come, and he dropped a pair of Manabarbs. I failed to draw a Thopter Foundry to get out of the soft lock, and he eventually drew enough burn to put me away. I regretted not mulling. An early Kor Firewalker would have won the game for me, as Steve ended the game at 6 life.

-3 Spreading Seas
+1 Dispeller's Capsule, +2 Negate

Game three, I dropped a Kor Firewalker, followed by a Thopter Foundry. He answered the Foundry with a Pithing Needle. Eventually I drew the Dispeller's Capsule, and the Foundry won the game in short order.


R5: Steven with RDW

I was hoping to run into some good UW control players at the top of the standings, but cringed as my opponent led with a turn-one Goblin Guide. I don't remember how I won that game, but it involved Thopter Foundry because my score sheet shows me stabilizing at 1, going up to 2, back down to 1, then up to 2 again.

-4 Howling Mine, -1 Kaleidostone
+4 Kor Firewalker, +1 Thopter Foundry

For game two I kept a hand with Firewalker but only one source of white, and ended up not doing anything.

-1 Kaleidostone
+1 Day of Judgment

Game three, he had a turn-one Goblin Guide for the third game in a row, but this time I had double Kor Firewalker. I drew into some Time Warps and Angelsongs, and we started trading some pretty hefty blows. He had to go all in on a Desperate Summons to have any kind of chance, and I flashed the Angelsong at him. Next turn I swung in with one Firewalker, dropping him to 4, and held back the other to block. He ripped an Unstable Footing to put away the blocking Firewalker. I facepalmed. I had no reason to block, as he was dead on the board, and even if he had double burn the life gain triggers would have kept me alive. I dropped him to 2 and cast Day of Judgment to survive. He almost started pulling back into it before I chained some baubles and drew into Thopter Foundry.

A small crowd erupted into noise at the end of the game, asking questions and discussing the plays.

"On to game three?" a man asked his RDW friend.
"No, that was it," he said, scooping up his cards.
"Time Sieve won game one?!" the man asked. His look of incredulity reminded me why I play Magic. Nothing beats inspiring some measure of awe, respect, or plain old disbelief in another player.

R6: Stephen with Polymorph.

I actually know Stephen, as he runs a shop in Duluth, MN. He's a great guy, and his place, Dragon Port, is strongly recommended. My friends and I used to make a two-hour drive to play FNM there every other week, until Fun and Games opened in Ashland, WI (also highly recommended!).

Game one began with me cursing in my head after he led with a Khalni Garden. How many bad matchups could I get in one day? Fortunately, he tapped low to Polymorph into Emrakul, the Aeons Torn and I, hardly believing my good luck, took the window to combo out.

-4 Spreading Seas, -4 Angelsong, -1 Thopter Foundry
+3 Executioner's Capsule, +1 Jace, the Mind Sculptor, +1 Day of Judgment, +4 Negate

Game two ended fast. He lured out a Negate and milled me with Telemin Performance. I had no reason to Negate there, as I had a Capsule and Day of Judgment in hand, but Steve did a great job of making it seem like the right play.

-1 Kaleidostone
+1 Kor Firewalkers (mad anti-Telemin tech)

Game three, I led with an early Capsule, putting me in a strong control role, and Howling Mine and baubles drew me into more threats and countermagic despite him having an active Jace on the table and repeated shuffle effects.

Stephen wished me luck and vowed to try and keep my breakers up.


R7: Derek with UW control

Shuffling up for round seven, I realized that whoever won could probably draw into top eight with fifteen packs, and whoever lost would likely get six packs. It seemed a bit lopsided, so I offered to split regardless of the match's outcome. My opponent shook his head and started talking to a guy across from him about how he hoped he "got paired against him next round so that he could dream-crush him." Perhaps he meant it in good humor, but I got a mean feeling from his tone.

I breathed easier after he led with Celestial Colonnade. Finally, here was the matchup I'd been playing all day for. He tapped out a lot, and I had plenty of time to combo off.

-4 Spreading Seas, -1 Thopter Foundry
+4 Negate, +1 Dispeller's Capsule

Game two started out as another easy win. I had a poor draw, but he only had a Baneslayer Angel to apply pressure. I looked over his board position, triple-checking to make sure he was tapped out, when a land fell out of the end of my hand and onto the board. I glanced down, saw that it wasn't the land I wanted to play for the turn, shook my head, and picked it up. My opponent interjected.

"Excuse me, you played a land," he said.
"I dropped a land on accident. How about we call a judge?" I asked.

He agreed, and a lot of tension left the situation. The younger judges shrugged and called the head judge over, and after hearing both sides of the story he asked my opponent if it was possible I was telling the truth.

"Well, in a very convenient way..." he admitted.
"And can any witnesses attest to that as well?" the judge asked.
"Pretty convenient, but possible..." a guy behind the UW player said.

The judge ruled in my favor, and Derek took the tone that the judge was letting me get away with murder.

"Look, I'm guessing he plays a Swamp now," Derek said.

I did play a swamp and a Time Sieve. The judge shrugged and noted that he couldn't make rulings based on hunches, just the facts. My opponent's logic here was a bit off. If a person accidentally drops a land that he wants to play anyway, would he have reason to call a judge? Perhaps Derek realized this, and was just trying to fast talk the judge into reversing his ruling. Regardless, I took a couple turns, fizzled out, but had spare Angelsongs for his pressure and eventually took the game with a healthy life buffer. We packed up our decks in silence. Even though I held no ill will, I knew better than to wish him luck in future events.

With the ebbing of the control decks and the growing popularity of Bant, Time Sieve is becoming a worse and worse deck choice. Still, if your metagame has a lot of control, it can be a decent "glass cannon" deck where you put up with an abysmal Bant matchup to be compensated with a cushy game against control. A UW player at my FNM runs four maindeck counters, three maindeck Oblivion Rings, three sideboard Kor Sanctifiers, the fourth Oblivion Ring in the sideboard, two sideboard Relic of Progenitus, and two more sideboard counters. While he gives me a good match, it's still heavily in my favor. Control decks are the reason to be running this deck, and if your metagame lacks them in large numbers you should seriously consider a different deck.

Standings went up, and it looked like one 6-1 player wouldn't be able to draw in based on bad tiebreakers. Me.

R8: Tyler with Jund.

My Jund opponent from R3, Brandon, sat down in the first seat, and we noted that he was five of the top table's losses on the day, congratulating him on his sick run.

I asked Tyler if he wanted to split, and he happily agreed. He won the roll and led with an early Putrid Leech. I started comboing but the deck stalled, and I had to keep passing the turn back to him with a Howling Mine, Thopter Foundry, and pile of lands/artifacts. I kept making a couple guys, chump blocking down to one, and drawing more blanks. Any slight mismanagement would have led to instant death. I had to burn through both Tezzerets to keep the stall going. My opponent, for his part, couldn't stop drawing lands and non-cascading creatures. Finally, after surviving seven very intense turns in the low single digits, I drew Open the Vaults and killed him with Thopter Foundry. Unlike my earlier win with Thopter Foundry against Spread'm, this one went down to the wire, and I had a mere two cards in my library at the end of the game.

Thopter Foundry wins can be difficult, and if RDW doesn't have a presence in your meta then the card should be cut for Glassdusk Hulk, especially if you expect any amount of Vampires. The vampire deck tends to shut off the Tezzeret win with an early Vampire Hexmage, and winning off Thopter tokens can be further complicated if they leave up some Vampire Nighthawks, forcing the Sieve player to sacrifice the right tokens before damage is dealt and other such tricks in order to win. Hulk, in comparison, finishes things in a couple of turns, very similar to Tezzeret.

The good news was that I had pulled out a close one, and onlookers were murmuring about how well-played the game was. The bad news was that that first game had taken thirty five minutes and completely exhausted me.

-1 Kaleidostone, +1 Thopter Foundry

In all honesty, I considered stalling. It would have been easy to take my time sideboarding, maybe bringing in the Kor Firewalkers to soak some early damage. Between whether or not to lay a Borderpost turn one or to sack my Howling Mine on my turn or his, I could have easily made my stalls look reasonable and had the second game go to time. I'm guessing a lot of players would have made that play. But what other people would or wouldn't do has never influenced my own decision making much, and I played it out at a normal pace.

As much as I like winning, the integrity of the game matters to me, and whenever I get in a situation where I'm tempted to ignore a rule out of convenience, I ask myself why I'm playing the game and this mindset makes the right decision easier.

I kept a hand with some baubles and a Thopter Foundry, but fizzled out at six mana while he had a strong draw, leaving me with four minutes to win game three.

Yeah, that didn't happen.

6-1-1 (9th Place)

On my way over to collect my fifteen packs, I overheard a group of guys talking about me.

"One 6-1-1 didn't make it. ID'd out," they said.
"No," I said, "we played it and drew naturally."
"Was that you?"

They shared a glance, not sure how to react to me. I collected my packs and sat down, absolutely exhausted. My friends gave me their condolences and, while it hurt to get that close to qualifying, I felt happy with my play overall.

I didn't learn too much from this tournament, but reaffirmed some things I've believed for a while.

1 - Call a judge.
2 - Bring a deck you love to play.
3 - Stay in shape. I'm used to five to six round online single elimination tournaments, usually at home where I can relax in between rounds. At live tournaments there is no relaxing, but instead the constant stimuli of talking, dealers, scouting, and trades.
4 - Call a judge, call a judge, call a judge! They're there to help.

Whew. I feel exhausted just thinking about that tournament. I have another deck tech planned for my next article, but it might take me a bit as I'm moving to Chicago this weekend. Any Chicagoans reading this should let me know where the best tournaments are at!

As an aside, congrats to PV and Kromos (Andrea Giarola) for winning and T4ing Pro Tour—San Juan, respectively! I'm always happy to see fellow Magic-League players doing well. I owe a lot to the site, and testing there has brought my real life rating up noticeably. Plus, nothing beats the surreal feeling from getting a judge ruling from a level eight pro.


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