GP New Jersey Tournament Reports
Last weekend was GP New Jersey - I traveled with Ron Mackenzie, Ryan Prager and Adam Benn, and although the GP didnt go too well for any of us, we all (minus Adam so far) have a few interesting stories to tell! Here they are:
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Despite not making day two, I would consider my run at Grand Prix New Jersey a reasonable success. Without any byes I finished with a 5-3 record and felt pretty happy with my play.
Deathblade - Ryan Prager
The obvious deck to beat heading in to the GP was UR Delver. This is the deck which makes the best use of Treasure Cruise and has been putting up consistent results since KTK became legal in the format. The most dangerous aspect of the deck, however, is that Treasure Cruise gives it the second wind it needs if you are able to stop the initial burst of spells.
In testing before the event, one of the conclusions that team Beep Beep I'm a GP (TEDitors note: Team named post-event) came to is that you must interact early if you want to beat UR Delver. As such, I skewed my more traditional Deathblade list more towards the early game spells. The new additions I made where a fourth Swords to Plowshares and a set of Dazes: my cuts were Lingering Souls and a couple Thoughtseizes. In order to find the pieces I needed, I went up to a full four Ponders and added the fourth Treasure Cruise as well.
While these changes made my UR Delver matchup much more stable, there were also drawbacks as we will soon see.
Playing round one of a GP will always be a toss up. This effect was amplified greatly by the popularity of the playmat and sleeves received for simply registering for this GP: many people dropped from the event immediately and there were stories of players sleeving up 59 Forests and Lost In The Woods for round one.
Having no idea what I was up against, I kept a reasonable hand of some cantrips, a Swords to Plowshares, and a Stoneforge Mystic. All mystery of my opponent's deck, however, was removed when he played Karakas into AEther Vial turn one. Having no Force of Will, the Vial resolved and I played a fetchland and passed. A Cavern of Souls naming Artificer was the next land drop from my opponent and it cast an uncounterable Stoneforge Mystic. On my opponents end step I exiled his Stoneforge before untapping and getting my own. A Mother of Runes was Vialed in on my endstep and then my Stoneforge was also Swordsed on my opponents' turn three leaving us both with lonely Batterskulls in hand. My third turn consisted of a Ponder finding a True-Name Nemesis and making my plan clear for the following turn.
My opponent attempted to answer the True-Name by casting a Sword of Fire and Ice. This hard cast equipment, however, finally gave me a target for my Force of Will and I countered the Sword for free. This was the turning point in the game as I untapped and Cruised into a Stoneforge and more lands. In short order I was able to cheat in my Batterskull and slam it on True-Name for the win.
Game two was the first game of what would become a theme for the day: I mulliganned into a better hand than a sketchy keep from my opponent. My six card hand was nothing super exciting but it contained a True-Name and my sideboarded Pithing Needle. Plains into Vial was the open from my opponent. Pithing Needle proved to be the allstar in this game as it left my opponent with no other play on turn two other than missing a land drop and casting another blank Vial. While the game leveled out slightly due to my mana flood and my opponent's ability to answer Batterskull and the first True-Name, a Cruise and a second True-Name put the match away in short order.
An Underground Sea into Deathrite Shaman openning made me quickly realize that I was playing another real deck in round two and that this would likely be a grindy affair. On turn two, my opponent did something I was not expecting from a post-Cruise format: he cast Hymn to Tourach on me. Initially I was pleased with this because one of my six cards in hand was a Treasure Cruise. After the Hymn, however, my Cruise was gone and I was a touch annoyed. After all, Hymns weren't expected because of how easily they fuel Cruise! Regardless, I was able to Swords my opponent's Deathrite to put me ahead on board.
A second Hymn on turn three left my hand completely decimated. My only card left was a Wasteland at this point and I used it to put my opponent on only a Bayou in play as I Pondered. The Ponder was a good one as it found me a Cruise and more cantrips. My oppenent ran out a Tarmogoyf that got in for a couple hits but a True-Name and eventual Batterskull put me well ahead and I won the race.
Game two was fairly similar. My opponent opened with a Delver of Secrets that quickly returned to the farm. Knowing that my Stoneforge would likely not survive, I used it to fetch out an Umezawa's Jitte. Turn three was a True-Name and turn four put a Jitte onto it for an attack. From this point on I made sure to always have a counter on Jitte to pump out of Golgari Charm range. I was rewarded for this play as my opponent made the mistake of playing Charm in to this trap. A Tarmogoyf made the race close, but a Misdirected Abrubt Decay -- trying to hit the Jitte -- ended the game in an instant.
Overall I felt this match went well. True-Name does not care how big your Goyfs are and Cruise matches favourably against Hymn.
Not much could be done for this one. In game one I kept a decent if slightly land heavy hand: four lands, Swords, Ponder, Stoneforge. A first turn Delver, a couple land draws, and a Decay on my Mystic put me very far behind and I lost shortly after.
Game two was even worse. I mulled with no lands down to four where I kept: fetch, Ponder, Stoneforge, True-Name. This was as good a four as I could imagine. A shuffle off Ponder and a turn one Wasteland from my opponent was all it took to send me down to the X-1 bracket.
The mulligan train continued rolling against another BUG Delver opponent and I went to five against his six. My turn one Thoughtseize proved rather tilting as I saw a hand of four lands, Force of Will, and Hymn. This abysmal opening draw was enough to take game one, however, since I drew very poorly and my opponent drew mono-goyfs and Abrupt Decays.
Game two provided some justice as I took a tempo lead with Dazes on the play and did significant damage with Swords to Plowshares and a Batterskull. A Liliana was eventually able to answer my threat but fueled a Cruise while doing so and a True-Name picked up the trusty 'skull for the win.
Game three was close on time and life totals. We traded threats in the midgame and both found ourselves at very low life totals. A Liliana answered my lonely True-Name and left me to run out an army of 1/2s into the empty board. At eight life with a Stoneforge and two Deathrite Shaman, I was staring down an opponent at five life and a Liliana. On his turn, my opponent Brainstormed and fetched down to four: lethal range with my two Shaman. He then proceeded to Cruise and concede.
After the match he mentioned that my slow rolling the second Deathrite made him think I had counter magic so he opted not to Daze. I'm not positive what the read there was but the second Deathrite resolving allowed me to win the match with 50 seconds on the clock.
This was an interesting round as I found myself against a Miracles player with the Rest in Peace-Energy Field combo in the main deck. Game one was not much of a contest. I Thoughtseized away the Energy Field on turn one and a topless Counterbalance failed to generate any advantage. My opponent was able to stave off my aggression for a few turns with two blind Terminii but a True-Name follow up took him from twelve to zero.
Game two was not much closer but much longer. I kept a one lander on the draw with multiple cantrips and missed my second land drop regardless. My opponent was able to get Counterbalance-Top going early but failed to counter many of my spells. During the time my land stumble bought, however, my opponent didn't do very much and I was able to eventually Cruise into my fifth land and hardcast a Batterskull for the win.
This round is where my deckbuilding choices bit me. I was paired up against Omni-Tell: a mono blue combo deck. My lack of a quick clock before a turn three True-Name and the slimming of some counter magic made for an easy Emrakul kill in game one.
After sideboarding, I was able to bring in more counters and a third Thoughtseize. On the play I was able to bring my opponent to three with a True-Name before the counter war began. My opponent cast a Show and Tell which I Forced. Then he Forced, then I Forced, then he cast Pact of Negation, then I Dazed, then he paid one and resolved his spell. He brought an Omniscience to class and cast an Emrakul off of it.
I knew that counter heavy combo decks would be problematic heading in to the event and this match solidified that. I feel like I got slightly unlucky in game two; but regardless, I am now playing for my life.
Volcanic Island into Preordain let me know right away that I was up against Sneak and Show. While lighter on counter magic than Omni-Tell I knew this matchup wouldn't be easy. Due perhaps to some rough draws on my opponent's end, I was able to steal game one off the back of a Deathrite, True-Name, and some Wastelands.
Game two opened with what was probably my play of the weekend. My opponent went fetch-pass and I Thoughtseized turn one. My opponent attempted to Brainstorm in response and I Dazed. This left me with free reign over my opponent's hand. Revealed to me was two lands, two Griselbrands, a Sneak Attack and a Through the Breach. With a Wasteland in my hand I opted to take the Sneak Attack with the goal of keeping my opponent off five mana.
The next few turns were cantrips back and forth as we both set up our hands. On turn four, with three lands, I had to make the scary play of tapping out for a True-Name with only Force of Will back up. Tapping out in a combo matchup is never fun but must happen at some point to establish a clock.
I was able to survive the turn, thankfully, and Pondered into Force of Will and Misdirection the following turn. With an essentially perfect hand I was able to win the counter war a few turns later and Daze for the win.
Not much could've been done here either sadly. I kept a reasonable seven card hand with cantrips, lands, Swords to Plowshares, and a Stoneforge Mystic. The draw of an extra Swords -- and nothing in the form of counter magic -- put up little resistance agaist an opponent who Stormed out on turn three.
Despite knowing what I was up against game two, tapping out for a Stoneforge Mystic on turn two was my undoing. I thought I was safe for the turn and had counter magic in hand, but my opponent had an exceptional draw and Stormed me out of the tournament on turn two.
As I said earlier, I think I played well on day one. I liked my deck choice going in and lost to some poor draws and a matchup I slanted my deck away from. While it was slightly annoying that I dodged the matchup I was most prepared for, I think I would still run this deck again in similar circumstances.
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Genghis Ron Mackenzie:
Miracles - Genghis Ron
Looking at this list, the first thing to note is that I did not want to lose to UR delver. I’ve moved up to 4 Swords to Plowshares in the main, 1 maindeck Relic of Progenitus, 2 Kor Firewalkers, Hydroblast, and 2 Pyroclasms in the board. I tried to trim in a way that wouldn’t leave me defenseless to combo, but would give me an edge over the UR matchup which I expected to play a few times. Incidentally the deck is also much better against Burn, which was a deck I played twice throughout the event.
Match 1: Bye
An interesting note from this match: I spent the time watching my friend play, and learned a lot about magic by watching the other games going on. Some of the things I learned include:
Leyline of Sanctity doesn’t have any text
Chalice of the Void is just a decoration
Faithless Looting is an Instant
Flusterstorm counts itself when determining the number of spells already cast this turn
We ended up having to call a judge over to fix the Leyline situation, and the Dredge player with the Lion’s Eye Diamonds masquerading as Black Lotuses had a judge over at his table at least 5 times. It was an enlightening start to the event.
Match 2: Burn
A quick and uneventful match. Interestingly, the Burn players I saw this week were mainboarding Grim Lavamancers which is something I haven’t seen for a while, and it seems a bit worse against Miracles (but surely better against the Delver decks). My opponent conceded game 1 quickly after I resolved a Jace, the Mind Sculptor with Sensei’s Divining Top and Counterbalance in play.
In Game 2 I had an interesting situation come up. After Brainstorming and putting a Jace back on top of my deck, I Vendilion Clique him during his draw step to see if the Jace is safe to play when I untap. He thinks for a moment, then lets it resolve to show me a Fireblast and Red Elemental Blast. I have no idea why he didn’t choose to instead counter the Clique, but I bottom the Fireblast and attack him until he uses the Red Elemental Blast on the Clique, and I ride Jace to victory
Match 3: UR Delver
This was actually the only time I played against UR during the event, and this was another uneventful match. I quickly assembled the Sensei’s Divining Top + Counterbalance lock with both a 1 CMC and 2 CMC on the top of my deck, then let him resolve all the Treasure Cruises he wanted until he conceded.
In game 2 he cast Gitaxian Probe on turn one to see a hand of: 2 lands, Kor Firewalker, Hydroblast, Pyroclasm, and Swords to Plowshares. He told me “Well, that’s a good hand, ” and I had to agree. The game continued on for a long time, but eventually I blindly found an Entreat the Angels to miracle and close the game out immediately.
Match 4: Merfolk
This is a terrible matchup for Miracles, despite the 4 copies of Red Elemental Blast. Cavern of Souls and AEther Vial make Counterbalance nearly useless, and removing a resolved True-Name Nemesis can be tricky.
Game 1 my opponent sticks an early True-Name Nemesis and I’m stuck digging for a wrath to take care of it. My opponent also has two Mutavaults that he has wisely held back in case of an instant speed Terminus, but I also held on to my Swords to Plowshares for when he finally attacked with them. I managed to get rid of the True-Name Nemesis and exile the two Mutavaults, but then die to two more True-Names on the next two turns.
Game 2 is a very long and drawn out game. My opponent’s draws weren’t great, and I managed to find all 4 wraths to deal with the True-Name Nemeses he managed to assemble. Eventually I locked him out with Jace and we went to game 3.
In Game 3 I had possibly the most brutal mana flood I can remember. I drew 8 lands in a row and died to a single True-Name Nemesis. At some point I cast Pyroclasm just to kill a Cursecatcher and buy myself one extra turn, and I had to tell my opponent that his True-Name didn’t die to it. That True-Name finished me off in two more turns.
Match 5: Burn
This was a frustrating match for me. My opponent was very methodical, but very slow. I should have called a judge on him earlier on the match, and that is definitely my fault. But when my opponent tanked for over a minute in game three with his upkeep Rift Bolt suspend trigger on the stack, I started to get very frustrated.
Game 1 my opponent kills me very quickly with a combination of Rift Bolts and Grim Lavamancer. Fortunately, my sideboard is excellent versus Burn at this event, and the next game is a breeze. Kor Firewalker allowed me to stabilize and assemble the Top + Counterbalance combo, and then fateseal him out of the game with Jace. Game 3 was essentially the same. Not counting the several missed triggers, I would estimate I gained over 15 life from Kor Firewalkers in this match.
Match 6: Reanimator
This was a great match. My opponent was very friendly, and we had a bit of banter throughout. In game 1 I managed to find a Karakas early on and my opponent severely overestimated the strength of Karakas versus his deck. He refused to try to reanimate a Griselbrand with the Karakas in play, and instead tried to lock me out of the game with Tidespout Tyrant – difficult when I have Swords to Plowshares in hand, and he has to cast Lotus Petals just to bounce any of my permanents. I win fairly comfortably and we move on to game 2.
In game 2 I keep: Island, Grafdigger’s Cage, Relic of Progenitus, Jace, Force of Will, Venser, Jace. My first draw step is another Force of Will. On turn 3 he sees my hand with Thoughtseize and takes the Venser, hoping he can get me with a Show and Tell. I manage to miss my second land drop for 5 turns, but draw enough Force of Wills and a clutch Flusterstorm to keep him from putting anything into play, and the game continues for a very long time while I try to find a win condition. Then something great happens. After 10 turns of “Draw, go” my opponent sighs, then laughs, then sighs, then casts Lotus Petal, Lotus Petal, Inkwell Leviathan. Hardcast. I burst out laughing at how the game got to this point, then use Red Elemental Blast to counter it. As if the game couldn’t get any weirder, three turns later he does the same to hardcast Ashen Rider! Again, I have the answer, and we finish the match up in my favour.
Match 7: Reanimator
After coming off a win against the same deck, I felt pretty good when I saw what my opponent was playing. Which didn’t help at all, and I got completely crushed. In game 1 I managed to find my maindeck Relic of Progenitus, but had a total lapse in judgement when using it. My opponent has a Griselbrand in the graveyard and casts Exhume. I think for a minute with Swords to Plowshares in hand and my opponent at 1 life, then forget how Magic works and decide to crack the Relic to exile his graveyard in response. He lets the Relic activation resolve, then casts Entomb to get Iona. She quickly destroys me.
In game 2 I did manage to find graveyard hate in my opening hand, but my opponent had Abrupt Decay to deal with it. He also had two Force of Will and even Daze backup to win the fight over reanimating a Griselbrand on turn 3. I try to fight through it but couldn’t beat my opponent’s perpetually loaded hand.
Match 8: Affinity
Affinity is a match I haven’t played against much in the past, and I wish I had. In game 1 I was totally unprepared for my opponent finding all four Force of Wills for every wrath, and I also couldn’t keep his Thopter Foundry from resolving. From there, it was easy to kill me with 1/1 tokens and Cranial Plating.
In game 2, my opponent manages to cast back to back to back Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas on turns 4, 5, and 6, and I was unable to stop the last one. His 5/5 artifact land finished me off and ended my run at the GP.
I felt a bit disappointed with how I ended up in the tournament. I could’ve played much tighter against my Round 7 Reanimator opponent and likely forced a Game 3, where hopefully I can take the match. I also could have played around my opponent’ s permission suite better in the final round against Affinity, despite not having a great idea what version of the deck he’s playing.
As I mentioned above, I made several changes to my deck as a concession to the Delver matchup. I tested a lot of cards, including the hyped Dig Through Time. I saw other players playing Dig at the GP but it seemed too awkward for me to use, and I don’t feel like I missed it. I cut Snapcaster Mages to make room for the Swords to Plowshares and Relic, and cut a Spell Pierce for a 23rd land. Both of these decisions I regret to some degree – Snapcaster has so much utility, especially when you are playing with many one-of catch-all sideboard cards like Wear / Tear. Even casting Brainstorm with flashback feels great. Additionally, cutting Snapcaster reduced the density of 2 CMC cards in my deck which decreases the overall effectiveness of Counterbalance.
I will be tweaking my list somewhat in the next week or two and trying out a few borrowed ideas from other well performing Miracles decks (and a few new ideas too) to see what can be improved.
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My GP New Jersey experience was... to put it bluntly... abysmal. In the weeks coming up to the event, myself, Ron, Ryan, Adam Benn and Ben Moir play-tested quite a few games (at Dennys). Basically, I started with UR Delver, and found the deck to out-perform everything else I could come up with. With the addition of Treasure Cruise and, in my opinion most importantly, Monastery Taylor Swiftspear, the deck has a ton of early-game pressure and late game reach. Here's the list I decided on and I am confident that the deck itself performed as expected, but the player piloting it did not.
UR Delver - Ted McCluskie
It was a fairly stock list with the only “spice” coming in the form of Vapor Snag and, to an extent, the one maindeck Wasteland. I also elected to throw in a Spell Pierce, possibly because I have an unhealthy love affair with that card – or possibly that since most lists were not playing it, I'd have a small chance of “getting” an opponent who was only playing around Daze.
I went 5-3 with 1-bye before dropping and can attribute all of my losses to poor playing on my part. Many of the wins I had were also simply due to the inherent power of the deck giving me some breathing room to make mistakes. Rather than mope about the mistakes I made (protip: you CAN Pithing Needle a Metalworker, but it does literally nothing, and Trinisphere is probably a card you DO want to counter), I'd like to talk about the power level of a deck like this.
UR Delver has something many of the other Delver decks in the format lack, which is a way to win the mid-to-late game after the opponent has stabilized. This is largely due to the impact Treasure Cruise has which allows you to have a much more robust end game and giving you a way to push through the last few points of damage.
With Delver decks of the past, you almost always boarded out your Force of Wills in the attrition based match-ups as card advantage was much more important. With Treasure Cruise you're actually rewarded for dumping cards in your graveyard quickly and having a “free” counterspell to protect your early threat is exactly what you want. This leads me to believe it is rarely correct to board out more than 1 Force of Will in any given matchup. Daze is similar, but I am more likely to cut them on the draw as they become much worse when you do not have the tempo advantage of going first.
My fun-of Vapor Snag single-handedly won me several games vs. Reanimator and one game due to bouncing a Batterskull germ-token before it could gain him any life. The idea behind the card was originally to have an answer to Kor Firewalker (as was the Dismember in the sideboard), but the fact that it could handle a germ-token (at least for a turn or two) and bounce the otherwise soft-lock of Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite or Iona, Shield of Emeria sold me on the card. It does have a few corner-case uses of bouncing your own threat in response to a removal spell. This is particularly sweet if it's a Young Pyromancer, as you'll still get the elemental from it.
The lone Wasteland was due to my thinking that 16-lands were actually too many, but I was too afraid to actually cut it down to 15 so the solution was turning one of my lands in to a pseudo-spell. I'm not sure cutting a Volcanic Island over a Fetchland was correct, though.
Despite UR Delver being the deck that everyone and their Grandmother was prepared for, I don't think it was a bad choice. There are many draws that are simply unbeatable regardless of what your opponent is doing and you can win games you had no right winning backed by the power of Treasure Cruise.
I'll finish with some thoughts on the mental aspect of the game. I'm not entirely sure why I played so poorly (besides being a poor player, obviously), but like any other activity, you are going to have your on-days and your off-days. I rested well the night before and kept hydrated throughout the day, but my focus was off and I made loose plays based on poor reasoning. I think the most important aspect of scrubbing out at a tournament is to reflect on it and not allow the mistakes made to transfer to your next event. There will always be more Magic to play!
Thanks for reading!
Ted, Ron and Ryan