Full disclosure: I didn't do well at this past weekend's KMC in Southbridge, MA (hosted by LJ Sportscards). That being said, there were a number of notable, talented players in attendance, so the trip wasn't a total bust. I learned a lot about the current competitive environment from playing, observing, and talking to other players. The pool of viable decks at the moment may seem somewhat stagnant, but there are noticeable trends that transcend the specifics of the deck lists. Picking up on these trends will be very important as we inch closer toward the National Championship.
Here's the list I sleeved up:
3 [ccProd]King Tritonus[/ccProd] 3 [ccProd]Andromeda of the Citadel[/ccProd] 2 [ccProd]Squillace Scourge[/ccProd] 1 [ccProd]Orion, Radiant Fury[/ccProd] 2 [ccProd]Skull Shatter[/ccProd] 3 [ccProd]Terror Pit[/ccProd] 3 [ccProd]Root Trap[/ccProd] 3 [ccProd]Lyra, the Blazing Sun[/ccProd] 3 [ccProd]Stormspark Blast[/ccProd] 3 [ccProd]Bottle of Wishes[/ccProd] 3 [ccProd]Mana Storm[/ccProd] 2 [ccProd]Grip of Despair[/ccProd] 1 [ccProd]Keeper of Dawn[/ccProd] 3 [ccProd]Keeper of Laws[/ccProd] 3 [ccProd]Crystal Memory[/ccProd] 3 [ccProd]Reap and Sow[/ccProd] 2 [ccProd]Piercing Judgment[/ccProd] 3 [ccProd]Mesmerize[/ccProd] 2 [ccProd]Scaradorable of Gloom Hollow[/ccProd] 2 [ccProd]Fullmetal Lemon[/ccProd]
Our team had been playing rapidly changing variants of this deck for a few weeks leading up to the KMC, so I stuck it out and went with the hive mind. I strongly believed that Greed Dragons was the best deck going into KMC Poughkeepsie, but Clash of the Duel Masters really made me doubt it going forward. You'll notice that this deck plays all the WDL/Keeper Control "must plays," and then squeezes in the smallest Nature package it can manage with pure ramp in the form of [ccProd]Reap and Sow[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Mana Storm[/ccProd].
As it turns out, the shell of the deck is very similar to Matt Robinson's "No Lemon Law," which he piloted to a 3rd place finish.
Findings Through Testing
The thinking was this: the WDL/Keeper Control/whatever-you-wanna-call-it mirror match can be downright miserable. It's like both players just have a gentlemen's agreement to not be aggressive until they've played at least 2 Andromedas and 2 [ccProd]Keeper of Laws[/ccProd], with a steady stream of redundancy in [ccProd]Keeper of Dawn[/ccProd] to make the battle zones completely locked down. Then just sit behind your mountain of board presence and wait for the opponent to deck out. Or wait for a hardcasted [ccProd]Stormspark Blast[/ccProd] so you can banish their whole team. But don't let them untap with a [ccProd]King Tritonus[/ccProd]! It becomes such a grind, and the worst part of it is that it's a complete crapshoot. Now, I don't mean to say that it doesn't take any skill to pilot the standard WDL Control shell; quite the opposite in fact. When there are two players who both know what they're doing, it's just a race to see who can accomplish their goals first.
- You really want to be able to [ccProd]Mesmerize[/ccProd] your opponent before they can do the same to you.
- You really want to summon your [ccProd]Keeper of Laws [/ccProd]first.
- You really want to see more copies of [ccProd]Crystal Memory[/ccProd] than they do.
- You really want to [ccProd]Skull Shatter[/ccProd] them first.
- You really want to untap with [ccProd]King Tritonus[/ccProd] at 12+ mana so that you can start going: [ccProd]Keeper of Dawn[/ccProd], get back [ccProd]Mesmerize[/ccProd] (or [ccProd]Piercing Judgment[/ccProd]), cast it, Constrict, [ccProd]Piercing Judgment[/ccProd], bounce your Dawn and tap their threat that you want to attack (or a blocker), Constrict a remaining threat or blocker, swing Tritonus over their tapped guy (usually Andromeda).
- If they have their own Tritonus, just start a Constrict war and hope you draw better off your [ccProd]Keeper of Laws[/ccProd] triggers than they do.
Or, in other words:
- You really want to win the dice roll.
Now, of course winning the dice roll doesn't mean you win the mirror match. There are ample opportunities for interaction and for getting the upper hand back from your opponent if you're on the draw. But it's just such a "feel-bad" to lose the roll, because you know that your opponent has the potential for an unbeatable progression.
Enter: Nature ramp.
Rob Wolinsky demonstrated how deadly [ccProd]Mana Storm[/ccProd] could be in Poughkeepsie, and we went ahead with that thinking in trying to incorporate a minimalist Nature ramp package. If it's going to be a race to certain "checkpoints," fine -- let's take some of the randomness out of it and try to go over the top of the other WDL decks regardless of whether we went first or second. [ccProd]Reap and Sow[/ccProd] is your pseudo-[ccProd]Logos Scan[/ccProd] that you don't mind hardcasting if you already have Nature unlocked through [ccProd]Root Trap[/ccProd] or [ccProd]Fullmetal Lemon[/ccProd]. [ccProd]Mana Storm[/ccProd] is the realness, though. Even if you don't have a [ccProd]Skull Shatter[/ccProd] in sight, just being able to Andromeda first can be huge. The opponent is forced to deal with Andromeda immediately, and then you follow right up with one of your three [ccProd]King Tritonus[/ccProd]. Playing the [ccProd]Mana Storm[/ccProd] ultimately makes you get light on cards, but Tritonus is there to juice you right back up. Deploy a [ccProd]Keeper of Laws[/ccProd] or three before the opponent can stabilize, and it's game over.
If this all seems like best-case scenario theorizing, it's because it absolutely is.
If the "standard" WDL/Keeper Control deck draws well, and our deck draws well, the thinking was that we'd have a few more tools to be able to get an edge. The corner cases mean everything in the control matchups. The most grueling thing about it is that you know when something happens that is going to make you lose, but you might not actually lose for another five to ten turns or so! So you're sitting there, twiddling your thumbs, thinking about how many outs you have to the current situation. You have 7+ shields, so you don't know if you can draw into your answers or not. So you make a few plays to try to stop the bleeding, but then your opponent just puts you into the abyss. Or you start counting your deck, and you know you're going to deck out first. Or....wait....is he double sleeving? How many cards are actually left in his deck? 19? How can that be?!
We figured that we didn't want to find ourselves in these extremely complex board states if we could help it, so we leaned on the Nature to help us power toward our "checkpoints" quicker.
We also were pretty adamant about playing 3 [ccProd]King Tritonus[/ccProd]. I know Rob Wolinsky and Ryan Valentino cut him down to 2 copies at the last minute, so it remains to be seen if 3 is absolutely necessary, but you can certainly get away with it. The 15000 power is enormous and Constrict ability is very important for finding a way to actually win the game. Remember, if your deck is getting thin, you don't have to draw all 5 cards. Make sure you announce how many you want to draw before you draw any cards, though!
Findings Through Losing
Like I said, the necessity of [ccProd]Scaradorable of Gloom Hollow[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Fullmetal Lemon[/ccProd] was in doubt for me, but I decided to stick with them because I knew I'd be seeing some aggressive decks. Sean McCabe was having positive results with a deck spotlighting [ccProd]Steamtank Kryon[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Tatsurion the Champion[/ccProd], and I knew Steve Silverman was playing rush, so I didn't want to get caught with my pants down like I did in Poughkeepsie.
Sure enough, my first round opponent was Jason Morosky, running a Mono Red rush deck with teched [ccProd]Soul Vortex[/ccProd]es. I won the die roll -- half the battle! Gloom Hollow really proved his worth in this one. I was worried about the fact that he can't revenge over tapped creatures, but he was an all-star. Locking down [ccProd]Laser-Arm Drakon[/ccProd] more than allowed him to prove his worth. I was able to get a [ccProd]Crystal Memory[/ccProd] in shields, which got me Lyra, which allowed me to hold on and summon Andromeda. Game 2, he played a [ccProd]Blaze Belcher[/ccProd] on 1 and just blew me out of the building. I had blockers, but he had [ccProd]Comet Missile[/ccProd]. Game 3 was a real nailbiter, but Scaradorable on 3, and then another Scaradorable and a Lemon on turn 6 helped me grind it down until I could drop 2 Andromedas successfully. Phew! Barely made it out of that one alive.
Round 2 was against Jacob Leonard, running an aggressive Blurple list. I felt confident in the matchup, but knew that the blockers wouldn't really due anything here, since [ccProd]Emperor Neuron[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Freakish Test Subject[/ccProd] are unblockable. [ccProd]Mesmerize[/ccProd] put in a lot of work for me during these games -- I was able to play around his Rusalkas and disrupt his Evo plays. Consecutive Andromeda summons proved to be too much in game 1. Game 2 I got rushed down by [ccProd]Aqua Seneschal[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Rusalka, Aqua Chaser[/ccProd] and my shield blasts left a lot to be desired. I had a chance to come back, but [ccProd]General Finbarr[/ccProd] sealed the deal for him. Game 3 was very by-the-numbers, with Lyra being Lyra and Andromeda and Tritonus doing what they do best. The deck was drawing pretty consistently, so I couldn't complain.
Round 3 was where it all started going downhill. I was paired up with Carl Miciotto (EarthP0w3R from YouTube), playing WDL/Keeper Control. It was great to finally meet the guys from Virginia Beach, but after we exchanged pleasantries, we were all business. Carl won the die roll and really stuck it to me in game one. Back to back [ccProd]Mesmerize[/ccProd]s ripped [ccProd]Mana Storm[/ccProd] out of my hand, and I recall his [ccProd]Keeper of Laws[/ccProd] hitting the board first. My mana was a mess -- I couldn't find green or blue to save my life -- so it just became a death march toward the inevitable [ccProd]Skull Shatter[/ccProd]. Carl even dropped a [ccProd]Hydrobot Crab[/ccProd] into his mana zone for the style points. I was eager to avoid the 2-0 creaming, and I was elated to find [ccProd]Mesmerize[/ccProd] in my opening hand. I did it right back to him on my turn 3, snatching away his [ccProd]Crystal Memory[/ccProd], I believe. Sure enough, Carl topdecked his own [ccProd]Mesmerize[/ccProd] on his turn 4, and ran it right back at me. He was apologetic for being lucky, but it was no big deal -- it's part of the game. Knowing how far behind I was, I tried to press the advantage with my [ccProd]Lyra, the Blazing Sun[/ccProd] by attacking two shields early. I was able to avoid a shield blast, and just committed myself to dumping all my cards on the table so that I couldn't be [ccProd]Skull Shatter[/ccProd]ed. Carl was way up on cards (and specifically Andromedas), though, so it was very difficult to turn things around. A late game [ccProd]Bottle of Wishes[/ccProd] in shields got me a Tritonus, which drew me into an Andromeda. It's pretty absurd that I even had a chance in this game, but hey, that's why you play Bottle. I tried to incrementally get myself back into it, but almost ended up missing Tritonus' Constrict trigger! Carl was thankfully cool about this, since I realized before the gamestate had changed, but it's still an important lesson learned; I can't let that happen again. His 2 [ccProd]Keeper of Laws[/ccProd] made a beeline for my shields, and eventually I ran out of answers. I mistakenly mana'd a [ccProd]Reap and Sow[/ccProd] on my final turn, when I could have cast it to lock down an additional blocker and then attack over one of the Keepers. I felt pretty bad about this error, but I wouldn't have been able to deal with both Keepers and my last shield was a creature, so I was done for anyway. Still, another lesson learned.
I was on tilt after that swift 2-0 creaming, and Round 4 found me playing Vu Nguyen, the eventual tournament champion. He was playing another WDL/Keeper Control build, and these games went very similar to the previous round. Two straight losses to a common meta deck when losing the dice roll made me feel pretty bad about my testing, but there are some things about the matchup that you simply can't control. These games are a blur, but I remember Vu's [ccProd]Cyber Lord Corile[/ccProd]s and [ccProd]Aqua Strider[/ccProd]s put in a lot of work. These were two cards that I liked, but deemed unnecessary. I might have to re-evaluate that one. Game two I made sure to be as aggressive as possible. Gloom Hollow was going in for shields whenever possible. I wanted to make the hardcasted [ccProd]Skull Shatter[/ccProd] extremely difficult for Vu. Of course, because of all the cards I gave him for free, he was able to get a few extra shields with Andromeda and get back into the game, but I was able to negate a lot of his progress through a timely [ccProd]Squillace Scourge[/ccProd] that I had been planning. Now we were in topdeck mode and I had all my shields, but Vu was able to consistently find an answer to my singular threats -- either in the form of removal or a blocker. I was in a race that I was about to lose. As I counted my deck of 6 cards remaining, Vu's still looked like a mountain. Was he playing 65-70 cards? Was he double sleeving? I should have simply asked him before we got to this point, but now it didn't matter. I had 3 cards left in my deck and an [ccProd]Orion, Radiant Fury[/ccProd] in play to his 4 creatures (including one Gloom Hollow) and no shields. I had plenty of shields, and two [ccProd]Root Trap[/ccProd]s and a [ccProd]Grip of Despair[/ccProd] were unaccounted for, but I couldn't be sure if they were left in my deck or not. Of course, I didn't draw removal, so I ended up decking myself out. I was disgusted with the non-interaction that took place in this match, and knew I should have just swung in recklessly with Orion instead of playing what proved to be a fatal [ccProd]Reap and Sow[/ccProd] a few turns before. Knowing that I didn't have the right build to succeed, I dropped from the tournament after this loss.
After the game, I was talking to CVH about decking out against Vu, and he asked me "well did you pile shuffle his deck and count it?" I pile shuffled my own, of course, but didn't even think to count his. Another lesson learned -- if your opponent appears to have a hefty deck and you think it might come down to a deck out war, there's no reason not to pile them and count it out!
I think there's a lot of validity to the ideas behind the deck I ran, but the results left something to be desired. There's certainly a more polished build of this deck that can be made, but no matter what, there's an element of luck to the control matchup that I can't quite figure out how to mitigate. I'll certainly be "in the lab" attempting to brew up some counters in the weeks to come!
Until next time, Play Hard or Go Home!