Indianapolis is a ways from Michigan. When I first heard that there would be a Star City Games 5K within driving distance of Michigan, I must admit I was at least mildly excited. The murmurings about these 5Ks being nothing more than "glorified FNMs" may be true, certainly, but the fact is that that might have more to do with their usual location as opposed to the actual level of potential competition. With Luis Scott-Vargas having played in the last 5K event just two weeks ago, it made sense that the skill level of players attending these events might have increased since the tournaments held in 2008. With that in mind, I decided to make my way towards Indianapolis to try my hand at the prize money.
In one of my articles a month or so back I mentioned that I was considering playing Blightning at the 5K in Indy, as I felt it had a strong presence in the metagame. Over time this confidence I had in the deck obviously wavered, and I directed my attention toward other decks in playtesting. BW Tokens bores me, and I despise the play style of RW Lark. That being said, that left me with the choice to play Islands at the 5K, and that was an idea I could easily get behind. While Five Color control is certainly a strong deck, tapping out for powerful creatures and sorceries isn't really my style at all, so I of course began testing extensively with Faeries once again.
Now let's be honest—by now you've probably read enough of my articles to know that I play Faeries in pretty much any format I can, and Standard is definitely no exception. It's quite honestly just the best deck in this format, despite whatever debate may arise from such a comment. The presence of Volcanic Fallout and Banefire is just not enough to stop the ridiculousness that is the Fae. A second-turn Bitterblossom off of a Secluded Glen (rather than a Caves of Koilos, etc) still draws forth just as many groans as it used to, and the much-feared fourth-turn quip "I have a response during your upkeep" is no less devastating than it was pre-Conflux. That isn't to say that no adjustments need to be made to Faeries in order to prosper, however. I covered a few changes in my article a few weeks ago (which can be found here), but that isn't the meat and potatoes of this story.
So basically, this is how things started - a conversation between my roommate Ben and I:
Ben: "So, what deck should I play at the 5K?"
Me: "Whichever you feel the most comfortable with, obviously."
Ben: "I guess that's BW..."
Me: "Sure, that seems fine."
Ben: "What about you? What deck are you playing?"
Me: "Faeries, obviously."
Ben: "...I thought you were going to play Blightning?"
Me: "Faeries is ridiculous. And besides, I should be playing Islands."
Me: "I like Islands."
And with that, our story begins. Myself, my roommate, our friend Jon, and my good friend Travis Ladouceur all packed into a piece-of-crap car and headed off for Indianapolis in the middle of the afternoon. We arrived just after nightfall, and checked into our hotel. I got a call from Dale DeWood asking if I was up for some Denny's with him, Rueben Bresler, and Evan Erwin. The idea of cubing while having a feast at Denny's seemed too good to pass up, so I obviously gave the green light and abandoned my plans to playtest in the hotel room for the evening. Dale called back minutes later, however, and informed me that Evan had not brought his cube. Now, I like Evan, but doesn't it strike anyone else as odd that Evan Erwin, the Cube master, did not bring his cube? Needless to say, I was extremely displeased. Regardless, though, I endured.
When we got back to the room, Travis mentioned that he still needed a deck to play in the 5K in the morning. All I had extra at the time was Five Color, so we decided to run with it. We began brewing a sick list, and came up with some interesting card choices. I suggested that he play Kitchen Finks in the maindeck, as what we really wanted to do was improve the Faerie match-up as best we could. Kitchen Finks also seemed strong in the expected meta because it applied pressure while also surviving not only all of our maindecked sweepers but also gaining back the life lost from cards like Volcanic Fallout. Furthermore, it would be quite potent in the mirror since it is immune to Celestial Purge and could not be answered so easily with a sweeper. It's one inherent weakness was that it died to the defenders that Five Color plays (Wall of Reverence and Plumeveil), but at least it was relevant for Cryptic Command tap-downs and applying some early pressure. Kitchen Finks is also a little loose when ran up against the first striking knights (Knight of the White Orchid and Knight of Meadowgrain), but Five Color already beats the decks that play those anyway. Also, since Blightning isn't playing Magma Spray anymore, Kitchen Finks is at least worth a revisiting (Path to Exile is mildly annoying, but the fact is that giving Five Color a land is incredibly awkward in the first place). And, well, since we didn't have time to properly test it...we obviously just sleeved it up and rolled with it.
Below is yet another example of our ingenious testing method:
Me: "So I'm thinking I might want to play Persuasion in my sideboard instead of Sower of Temptation since I'm not playing Scion of Oona."
Travis: "Dude, I want to play Persuasion!"
Me: "Run it in the sideboard!"
Travis: "Forget that, I'll maindeck it!"
Me: "Should we test it first?"
Travis: "Nah, it'll be fine."
And, with that, we came to this:
|Five Color ControlMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards|
2 Cascade Bluffs
1 Exotic Orchard
3 Mystic Gate
4 Reflecting Pool
3 Sunken Ruins
2 Vivid Crag
4 Vivid Creek
3 Vivid Marsh
2 Vivid Meadow
2 Broodmate Dragon
3 Kitchen Finks
2 Wall of Reverence
1 Pithing Needle
3 Broken Ambitions
4 Cryptic Command
4 Esper Charm
3 Volcanic Fallout
2 Cruel Ultimatum
2 Wrath of God
1 Pithing Needle
3 Scepter of Fugue
2 Runed Halo
2 Celestial Purge
1 Wrath of God
Now, obviously there isn't a ton of new content here to see, but we both felt like this was a pretty strong list. It had a lot going for it, and we especially liked the sideboard. With clear, decisive boarding plans for each match-up, it became clear that we had a real winner on our hands. I may hate the "tap out and do stuff" style of Five Color, but this is certainly the type of list I'd have played if it had been me in Travis's shoes.
In the morning we headed to the Indiana Convention Center (of GenCon fame) to start the day-long battle for prize money. Travis registered his deck as "Chris Jobin is my hero," which I found especially hilarious. Obviously the guy had to Top 8 with a deck title like that (if only for the "lulz"), right?
I, on the other hand, registered this:
|FaeriesMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards|
4 Underground River
4 Secluded Glen
4 Sunken Ruins
2 Faerie Conclave
4 Spellstutter Spite
4 Mistbind Clique
4 Vendilion Clique
1 Sygg, River Cutthroat
4 Cryptic Command
4 Broken Ambitions
2 Agony Warp
2 Jace Beleren
1 Sygg, River Cutthroat
3 Scepter of Fugue
2 Puppeteer Clique
I was pretty much as happy as I could be with this list, as it did most everything that I wanted it to do. I hadn't had much playtime with Sygg, River Cutthroat, but I liked the idea of him against the field, and so I gave him a shot. Maybe it wasn't the brightest idea, but I had a number of people supporting his inclusion so it made the decision quite a bit easier for me. I played Vendilion Clique over Scion of Oona because of the red hate cards, and I feel like no ill came of it. They were amazing for me all day, so I suppose that's encouraging.
Earlier I mentioned that the 5Ks were gradually attracting better players, and this one was no exception. Here is a sample of the talent that made an appearance: Patrick Chapin, Adrian Sullivan, Gerry Thompson, Cedric Phillips, Owen Turtenwald, Brian Kowal, and Sam Black. Now, that's a good number of strong players, so, as one would expect, the stakes were substantially higher than were previously assumed. All-in-all, however, I think the presence of such good players only made the event that much more enjoyable, sort of like a mini-Grand Prix.
But I don't want to bore you, so on to the match-ups!
Round One: Faeries
My first opponent ended up being a familiar face - the Quillspike player that had beat me at States! We exchanged niceties, and then we began our match. He won the die roll, and led off with Secluded Glen. I matched his, and passed. He had no Bitterblossom, and shipped it my way again. I looked across the table at his two open man, frowned, and played a Bitterblossom. Much to my surprise, it resolved. The game went on for quite a while from there, but I got there with the initial turn-two play (and the help of Sygg, River Cutthroat).
In game two things got a bit rougher. I attempted a turn-two Sceper of Fugue, only to have it thwarted. He resolved a Bitterblossom shortly thereafter, and the game became awkward for me. I tried digging myself out, but to no avail.
This one decides games, folks.
This one decides games, folks.
Game three, however, was quite epic. He led off with a turn-one Thoughtseize (which he was probably pretty pleased about), and I flashed him a hand that contained three Bitterblossoms. I can only imagine how awkward that must've been, really. He groaned, and then shipped a Vendilion Clique to my bin. I played a Bitterblossom on my next turn, and the second on the following. As he amassed his own board, I decided to play the third Bitterblossom as bait for his newly-resolved Glen Elendra Archmage. I was at only ten life, but if the third enchantment resolved I knew I would win the race. He must've realized this as well, for he paid a blue and countered it (I had already Agony Warped the persist critter the turn previous) with the mage's ability. Turns later I had sealed the deal.
Round Two: Faeries
Much to my dismay, I was once again shoved into a mirror match in the second round. My opponent wasn't too talkative, though I managed to get some conversation out of him during shuffling. He began the game in much the same way I did, and we matched Bitterblossoms on the second turn. His draws were superior to mine in the first game, and so I scooped them up when things got out of hand.
In game two I resolved a Scepter of Fugue and attempted to "get there," and a Jace Beleren helped to secure my win. My Bitterblossom worked overtime and I eventually got him into a situation where a single swing from a Mistbind Clique would take him out. He drew his last card and conceded.
Game three was pretty rough. I lost my Bitterblossom to a Thoughtseize, but I resolved a Scepter of Fugue. I forced him to pitch some really relevant cards with it, but a resolved Jace Beleren on his side effectively negated my efforts and I was left in the wake of an army of Bitterblossom tokens. Bad beats.
Round Three: Five Color
I really hate being 1-1, as it means that you simply cannot get careless. With ten rounds in the event, it was unlikely that a loss this early would allow me to Top 8 if my second loss (should it occur) was anytime before round eight, and that's an awful feeling. Still, I was rather pleased when my opponent, in the third round, led off with Vivid Creek as opposed to Secluded Glen. Five Color is generally a strong match-up, so I was totally fine with facing another control deck (just as long as it didn't have Faeries in it). I smashed the guy pretty bad game one with a strong opener of Thoughtseize into Bitterblossom, finishing up with a string of Vendilion Cliques. He never saw Volcanic Fallout.
"During your upkeep..."
"During your upkeep..."
In game two, I Thoughtseized him on the first turn and saw that he had no counterspell in his hand. After taking an Esper Charm, I threw out a Bitterblossom on the next turn. Naturally, though, he'd drawn the Broken Ambitions right off the top to thwart my plans. Shortly after, however, I resolved a Vendilion Clique on his draw step and shipped a Wall of Reverence. The next turn I championed it with Mistbind Clique, and then championed that Mistbidn Clique with a second Mistbind Clique on the following turn (thus allowing Vendilion Clique to return to play). Needless to say, it was a blowout.
Round Four: Vengeant Kithkin
I'm pretty sure this guy was playing Cedric's seventy-five from Kyoto, and that wasn't good for me. I got crushed pretty badly game one - there isn't much use in talking about it.
Game two saw me finally putting Plumeveil to good use, as I surprise-blocked his Figure of Destiny and allowed myself to set up for the win. Mistbind Clique got there.
Game three was epic. I kept his guys off the board for a while, but at one point he got two Wizened Cenns into play. He swung with them both, and I animated Mutavault and flashed in a Spellstutter Sprite to block one of them. Taking advantage of the fact that I'm tapped out, he emptied his hand by playing Knight of Meadowgrain and Goldmeadow Stalwart. On my next turn I played the best Infest ever and proceeded to win based on sheer card advantage.
Round Five: Faeries
I kid you not - another mirror match. Things began alright, as I got a turn-one Thoughtseize and grabbed a Bitterblossom. I played my own the next turn, and the game proceeded from there as one would expect. Nothing of much note.
Game two, we both had Scepter of Fugue in play, though mine was more effective because I had more cards in hand than he did. I eventually used Mistbind Clique to win the game and match.
Round Six: Ranger Aggro
Can this card be good in Standard?
Can this card be good in Standard?
I played next to this guy in round five, and I saw that he had basic lands, Ranger of Eos, and Wild Nacatl. I explain to him as we're shuffling that I knew what he was playing from sitting next to him the round before, and tell him that I think his deck is really sick. He shakes my hand and thanks me, as apparently most people laughed at him for building it. I held a different opinion, as he smashed me with it twice in a row. His early drops in both games consisted of Figure of Destiny and Wild Nacatl, and the later he had Sarkhan Vol and Ajani Vengeant. In the second game he also happened to have Volcanic Fallout, Banefire, and Woolly Thoctar, so I cut my losses and gave the match to him. It was rough beats to say the least, but at least his deck was interesting.
At this point, I was 4-2. I could still easily make money by getting Top 16, but I had little energy left and honestly wasn't crazy about playing another four rounds. Instead, I headed over to the dealers to sell cards until Brian Arnoldy was finished playing in the main event and could playtest for the PTQ with me. I ran Sam Black's Faeries list against my Ranger Zoo list (piloted by Arnoldy) for a good while, and lots of other players surrounded us to do the same. Dale DeWood made an appearance with a new burn-heavy Zoo list, and we all brewed some ideas for the PTQ in the morning. All the while, Travis was still battling it out in the Swiss of the 5K. When he came over and told me that he was locked for Top 16, I couldn't help but smile: that hilarious deck title was going to be seen by the masses! Score!
When Travis was called back to the tournament, I mentioned to him that he might not be able to play Faeries in the PTQ, and he asked me why. I smiled sheepishly and told him that I had decided to play it myself, and he offered an eyeroll before walking away. I know my last article stated that I would be battling with Zoo (I even told my roommate to make sure to stop me if I tried to switch decks), but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. It isn't so much that I think that Zoo isn't correct in Extended right now, but more so that I just like playing with Islands. They're always the right choice it seems, especially for me.
An hour later, Travis returned to inform us that he had just defeated Kowal and took his place in the Top 8. After getting our congrats, he headed over and began preparations for his matches ahead. He was unfortunate enough to be paired with DJ Kastner in the first round of the Top 8, which was a tad depressing. DJ has been on fire these past few months, and he dispatched Travis after a pretty exciting match. DJ didn't go on to win, but nevertheless it was a strong showing for Team RIW.
Travis said that Kitchen Finks was his absolute all-star, so at least we did that much right. Our biggest beef with the whole ordeal? The sweet name for his decklist wasn't used on Star City's website. Color me angry.
The next morning it was time to rock Extended. My roommate Ben registered the Ranger Zoo list that I had built (with the help of Ryan Wall), and Travis sleeved up TEPS. I registered the following:
This list is heavily based on Sam Black's list for Faeries, and I must say I think he has it right. I know I always seem to say that about new Faerie lists, but this is by far my favorite yet. Vedalken Shackles is so much better now than it was a month ago, and I think it's definitely high time that card stepped into the spotlight again. I'm incredibly pleased with the sideboard, too, and I would easily recommend this list to anyone who is seeking to end the Extended season with a bang. In fact, I'll likely pilot the same seventy-five this coming weekend.
I won't go into a whole lot of detail about the match-ups I faced (I've spoken enough about this archetype in Extended, I feel), but here's a brief overview of how it went:
Rd. One: Bant (win, 2-0)
Rd. Two: Suspend.dec (win, 2-1)
Rd. Three: Slide (loss, 1-2)
Rd. Four: Loam (win, 2-0)
Rd. Five: Naya Zoo (loss, 0-2)
In the first round, my opponent was late, giving me a game win. I proceeded to smash him.
And so it goes...
And so it goes...
In the second round, my opponent had a registration error. I was convinced at that point that I had some luck on my side. I received many "must be nice" comments from my group, obviously.
In round three, however, karma struck. I smashed the Slide player in the first game, and then was stuck on two lands in the second game while staring down a Vexing Shusher on his side. In the third game, I was stuck on a land and a Chrome Mox (albeit with a nuts hand otherwise), but eventually was forced to concede when he had an Ancient Grudge for me "land."
And, alas, you read that right: I lost to Naya Zoo once again...and even in the same manner as the week prior: Volcanic Fallout. At first I played through a "what if" scenario, considering the outcome had I chosen to stick with my original plan and play Naya Zoo over Faeries for this PTQ. However, I quickly realized that this logic was flawed, since I never would have been able to beat the Slide player with the Naya Zoo deck let alone the Bant, Suspend, and Loam deck. I mean, I suppose it would have been possible, but it was less likely than my chances with Faeries had turned out to be. Still when my opponent showed me the Volcanic Fallout when I was stabilized at two life, my insides writhed. There's just no justice...
Now that I'm back in Michigan, I've begun preparations for one last PTQ adventure. If all goes as planned, I will be heading over to Niles for a PTQ on Saturday, and then to Columbus for the Sunday PTQ. The season will then be over for me, and that saddens me quite a bit. I've really enjoyed this Extended season, and it pains me to see so many good cards go. But if my experience in Standard has taught me anything over the course of the weekend, it's that no matter what rotates or what decks are available to play, I'll always play with Islands.
I really like Islands.
Until next time,
Chris "Shinjutsei" Jobin