Going Rogue for States Pt II: The RL Effect

In my last article, I said that, in order to win a tournament, you need two things (in a vacuum): deck building and play skill. Once you leave that vacuum, however, and apply that theory to the real world, you'll find that playing in a tournament is a tad more difficult. This is due to something called "The Real Life Effect" (shortened to "The RL Effect").

The RL Effect is, as you've probably deduced, what happens when you take something that's great on paper or in your head and apply it to real life.

His belt buckle is a subtle allusion to Mercadian
Masques... or not.
As with most Spike-y Magic players (or at least any who read Flores' column on magicthegathering.com this week, the best non-blatant plug that I've ever seen), I was looking forward to States. I had built a deck, tweaked it, and playtested it enough to know what it was strong against and also what it was weak to. I was ready.

I tested online a few games and won the first one against a Green / Red good stuff list. I played a second game against a Black / White Haakon list that, for some reason, was not packing Thoughtseize, Korlash, Heir to Blackblade (though he ran Lord of the Undead and Urborg), or Oona's Prowler (all three of which I kindly recommended after the game).

About Haakon lists... they're not necessarily rogue. Most pros have figured out what has been obvious to some for a little while now, and that is that the deck is amazing, but wildly inconsistent. For this reason, most pros have given up on building a deck around our beloved Legendary Zombie Knight. Not I, says the rogue!

Admittedly, Haakon has shown up in some Blue/Black Cryptic Teachings lists, but most of the deck lists have dropped the White splash in favor of Blue for a long control game.

This list, however, stays true to the Haakon deck's original roots in Black/White, and is based off of my opponent's Haakon list:

B/W HaakonMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
4 Oona's Prowler
4 Stromgald Crusader
3 Mirror Entity
3 Lord of the Undead
3 Haakon, Stromgald Scourge
4 Korlash, Heir to Blackblade

4 Thoughtseize
4 Smallpox
3 Nameless Inversion
4 Oblivion Ring

4 Caves of Koilos
2 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
4 Flagstones of Trokair
9 Swamp
5 Plains

Practically an identical list, but I opted to take out Hidden Horror for Oona's Prowler (as it's usually at least as good in this list and never a dead card). Haakon shouldn't be a four-of for the same reason - if you draw two, one is automatically dead unless they Crypt only one of them away, and they're dead cards anyways if you can't discard them. Korlash came in over a Mirror Entity, a Haakon, a Crib Swap, and a land. Thoughtseize replaced the more versatile but not as powerful Funeral Charm, giving the deck a much needed answer to the Kavu Predator deck as well (getting rid of Stonecloaker is very important). Against decks with graveyard hate, you should have a fourth Haakon in the board, but since I've never played against anything with this updated list, I'm not going to suggest a sideboard (though it probably consists of the obvious answers, such as Pithing Needle for things like Treetop Village and Withered Wretch for Tarmogoyf, who is still remarkably popular). I personally dislike Crib Swap, although I understand its importance in beating creatures like Akroma and Tarmogoyf, so assume there's a play set (and a fourth Nameless Inversion) in the board.

Now, as I pointed out in my last article (and earlier in this one), Haakon is a great deck for beating aggro, but wildly inconsistent. You need to mulligan aggressively - not as bad as you would have had to if you were playing with NarcoBridge, but going down to five cards for a good starting hand is generally acceptable unless you might get Thoughtseized early by your opponent. After all, the point of playing Haakon + Knights / Changelings is to generate immense card advantage, so losing a few cards from the beginning in order to make sure you get at least a decent hand isn't as punishing as one might think.

I suspect that if this deck takes off to tier-one status, many decks will start packing Stonecloakers in the board (decks such as Kithkin, Predator and DDTrees) or just Tormod's Crypt if they're in colors with awful hate for the graveyard (decks such as Greater Goyf). Of course, seeing decks run Extirpate and Withered Wretch wouldn't be a leap either.

I later adapted some of his cards to my Zombie list (from my last article) for two reasons.

A) Mirror Entity is good. No, better. I mean really good. Opponents will either kill it the turn it comes down, or they will take a ton of damage. They have to plan around it... and even if you launch an alpha strike and they calculate (as you already have) that they won't die from said attack... you just don't pump. It's not as hyped as Thoughtseize or Gaddock Teeg, and with reason, as it's not quite that good. This card will see a lot of play, and many tribal decks will splash for it since it's also a Changeling. Not a four-of, but three of them will go in most decks that can support them.

B) Green was not worth splashing for Krosan Grip alone. I tried Eyes of the Wisent, and I still couldn't win against Teachings. I considered adding Tarmogoyf or using Call of the Herd, but nothing worked. Adding Treetop Village was the only sure-fire way to have an advantage against Teachings... but I just can't play a land that doesn't make Black mana without Urborg's help in this list, as it's very Black-mana-oriented.

So Green came out and White came in.

Haak and 'Lash v 2.0Magic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
2 Undead Warchief
3 Lord of the Undead
4 Korlash, Heir to Blackblade
4 Stromgald Crusader
4 Withered Wretch
2 Graveborn Muse
3 Shriekmaw
2 Mirror Entity

4 Thoughtseize
4 Nameless Inversion
2 Tendrils of Corruption
2 Damnation

2 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
1 Urza's Factory
16 Swamp
3 Caves of Koilos
2 Vivid Marsh

As you may notice, I adopted many of your kind suggestions, adding Graveborn Muse and Shriekmaw to the main and a set of Pithing Needle to the board.

Graveborn Muse comes out against aggro due to it having this tendency to hit you for 5 life per game on average. The reason I feared playing it main was due to an aggro-heavy metagame. Since that went out the window with the advent of the new Teachings deck, so did my concern.

I'm still back and forth between Terror and Maw, but in testing I seem to be able to shut down Treetop Village anyways - and that was my number one incentive to play Terror over Shriekmaw. The Maw is, of course, amazing, but the sorcery speed drawback can hurt sometimes. Since that wasn't an issue, I happily swapped out my Terrors for three Shriekmaws (as the Terror count had gone down to three at this point also).

A true Terror.
Now, at this point, you may be thinking, "Well, it seems like you were prepared. What happened?"

Real life.... real life happened all over the place.

First, the deck had been tested online, and thus was only in proxy form. I could not get the Lord of the Undeads or their kin Warchiefs, making the point of playing a Zombie deck rather moot. I also couldn't beat the best deck in the format (which in my metagame, at the time, was U/B/g/w Teachings), so I had to scrap the deck at the last minute and continue onwards (I wasn't going to miss States over not having cards).

Now, in case you didn't read my last column, I mentioned that if you have less than four or five days left to prepare for a "big tournament" (States fits that bill) that you need to netdeck if you want to try and win - after all, these decks have already been tested and proven, which saves you a ton of time and work. You'll still need to figure out how to play them, but it's a lot better than having to make the whole deck from scratch with only a few days left and having to test it.

Me? I had three hours until I had to go to sleep... the night before the tournament. So I had to pick something fast. I knew it had to have a great game against Kithkin (as this was the most viable aggro deck in my neck of the woods) and Teachings, since that deck was a large part of the metagame and the only reason I didn't want to continue with Zombies.

So I threw on my netdecking cap and stumbled around, until I settled on the Predator list from Flores' column. He suggested a few changes (as his list was just the Time Spiral Block list of the same deck without any other Standard cards). Condemn was mentioned, as was Gaddock Teeg. I was torn on some suggestions, so I adopted most of his list and tweaked it just a tad, resulting in:

Predator.netdecMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
4 Kavu Predator
1 Riftsweeper
3 Gaddock Teeg
4 Stonecloaker
4 Calciderm
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Serra Avenger

4 Dead // Gone
4 Edge of Autumn
4 Fiery Justice

4 Flagstones of Trokair
4 Grove of the Burnwillows
4 Horizon Canopy
4 Terramorphic Expanse
2 Llanowar Reborn
1 Vesuva
3 Plains
1 Forest
1 Mountain

The only change to the mainboard (from Flores' deck) was taking out three Riftsweeper for Gaddock Teeg. Gaddock Teeg does not necessarily hose Teachings decks, but it definitely helps (and it will draw spot removal every time). Also remember that since both halves of Dead // Gone are considered separate as you play them, they work with Teeg just fine. This may become Incinerate or Tarfire (since you are playing Tarmogoyf, after all), but as it is, it's just really efficient. If you ever end up in top deck mode, Tarfire won't save you from Tarmogoyf - it might actually make the situation worse. At least Dead // Gone can buy you a few turns.

I took the liberty of tweaking his board to fit the metagame just a little better. Riftsweeper was moved to the board instead of being taken out altogether because Greater Gargadon is still floating around. Riftsweeper is simply not as prevalent as it was during Time Spiral block (given the lack of suspend, for example). Also, without Aeon Chronicler and Detritivore packed into every possible deck, it's not as vital to game one - but still important enough to warrant the rest of the play set in the board.

The three Ancient Grudge became Condemns, as a friend of his suggested should go in somewhere. Artifacts are not as prevalent in Standard for the moment (the best ones coming to mind are Loxodon Warhammer and Coalition Relic), so I cut the Grudge. The two Disenchant became Seal of Primordiums, but only time and testing will tell if this little tweak made to enhance Goyf (and subsequently free up your later mana) will help or hurt the deck.

He had one Vesuva main and one board, and suggested cutting it for Treetop Village... which I agree with for the board, though not because it smoothes the mana. Treetop Village is simply good enough to warrant attempting to play if you can.

Plaguing every tournament article since 2007.
As a last note on Predator (the deck), you may be able to notice upon speculation that it appears as though the mana base would benefit from Painlands... but Flores made the right call by not changing this. The drawback of losing life isn't worth the plus side of smoothing your mana - which the deck isn't necessarily lacking anyways.

You want to use Grove of the Burnwillows for Kavu Predator, and Horizon Canopy for obvious reasons (card advantage, namely). Since the deck has no real turn one play, it plays a lot of comes-into-play-tapped lands, including Vesuva, Treetop Village (board) and Terramorphic Expanse - with one of each non-Plains basic lands needed to supplement using it. The extra two Plains? For Flagstones, of course.

In order for me to build and play this deck the next day, I would have to borrow four Serra Avenger and four Tarmogoyf the day of the tournament (not the easiest cards in the world to mooch for eight hours, especially Tarmogoyf). I had connections, however, and was set on playing this deck.

Then my ride cancelled.

So my deck didn't pan out, and I made a new one. My ride cancels, so I get another person to willingly drive me out to the tournament at 7AM...

Then I accidentally sleep in until 9AM. Through an alarm clock.

No, I'm not even joking. I'm furious that I missed States, but... it happens. Thus, the RL Effect (or Syndrome, depending on your luck) strikes again.

Now, my biggest concern became my readers (honestly). I had promised I would take Zombies to States, and if I didn't, how could I be one to recommend a deck?

At this point, I did the best thing I could do: I sent out a message on my old thread calling for anyone who played this deck at States to PM me with a list.

Unfortunately for me, little response came. However, there was one reader (I would assume, anyways), who goes by "ertai, wizard adept" here at MTGSalvation who managed to win a Friday Night Magic tournament with a similar list. His decklist may appear a little... lacking, but this was only due to his available card pool (and I'm sure many of us can relate to not having 20 Thoughtseizes lying around in our rooms).

Anyways, the following is an excerpt from the PM:

Hello... I just wanted to say thank you for the deck concept. I tweaked it to fit the cards I had available and then I ran it for our FNM and won out undefeated. I was going to run it at Minnesota's States, but unfortunately enough I had to accompany my wife to her friend's wedding... however, the player I beat to win at FNM ended up placing second at States, so since I man-handled him with the deck, I have faith that the deck must be somewhat good. Here's what I went with:

Ertai's UndeadMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
4x Korlash, Heir to Blackblade
2x Nightmare
2x Tombstalker
2x Lord of the Undead
2x Undead Warchief
2x Twisted Abomination
1x Stromgald Crusader
1x Graveborn Muse
2x Tarmogoyf

4x Nameless Inversion
3x Sudden Death
2x Tendrils of Corruption
3x Damnation
1x Thoughtseize
2x Distress
2x Profane Command
2x Funeral Charm
2x Eyeblight's Ending

16x Swamp
2x Llanowar Wastes
1x Gilt Leaf Palace
2x Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

I originally intended to use more Zombies like you wrote about, but I found that the massive amount of creature destruction that I had would buy me enough time to save up mana and throw down Korlash, Nightmare, and Tombstalker for damn near free! For the creature-based decks, I just killed their fliers and flew in for the kill, and as for the other decks, such as Blink or Rack, I just ran them over with creatures while popping off their creatures. I found the Abomination helped a lot when I was left stranded with two or three Swamps and a Korlash in hand, and even helped later on to just help bolster up Korlash and Nightmare. The only problem I ran in to all day was in the finals when I went against a Black/Green Elf deck, in which case his Eyeblight's Endings seemed to target my Nightmare and Tombstalker, but I ended up pulling off a 2-1 victory.

Anyways, I'm one Cabal Coffers richer thanks to your idea and for that I am grateful, not to mention I have a solid Standard deck to get me through this month!

Thanks, and here's to missing out on States!

I hear you man.... loud and clear. Match results would have been killer, but it was donated content, so I'm not complaining.

About Tombstalker - I really like it, and even without Dredge floating around, it's still incredibly good... the problem with it is that it isn't a Zombie. This thought process I used regarding it was a little too narrow-minded... and that isn't necessarily the best thought process to have, even regarding tribal decks.

My biggest concern when adding Tombstalker was that I couldn't find anything to cut. Well, ertai here sure did, so he gets to use them. Yay!

His list is a little less Zombie-heavy, so he gets to do a few tricks I couldn't pull off, such as running Tarmogoyf over Withered Wretch, or using quite a smaller number of creatures because he was a little less dependent on the "tribal" theme.

A final note on Zombies: Snow Red is still a tough match. You're going to win this via "being the beatdown", so it's important to make them discard their Molten Disasters if you can get to them. This one's still tough, so keep that deck in mind when building. This is a link to MTGSal's thread on the deck, "Mono-Red Snow Control".

Ironically, after States results have been posted, you can see that Kithkin is practically dead. Faeries, Elves, and Doran lists are the preferred "aggro" decks (even though the Faerie lists are more like aggro-control). A link to Flores' article on the metagame can be found here, and individual States top 8 deck lists can be found here.

To bring this article full-circle, back to the RL Effect for just a moment.

If you plan to run a deck, test it first. Most decks seem great in your head, so it's vital to test them and make sure that they are just as amazing during actual play. And for Pete's sake, if you're going to play in a big tournament, hammer out a ride first.

To quote an overused cliché, "expect the unexpected". Or at least be prepared, as much as you can be... because you never know when something completely out-of-the-blue will come around and try to ruin your day.

Until next time, hope for the best... but don't take it for granted.


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