On Mana Leak.

Wow. Considering the fact that for the past several hours, whenever I think about the fact that Mana Leak has been confirmed in M11 I’ve been pretty much speechless, I probably shouldn’t be attempting to write about it. Nevertheless, I’m going to tilt the pitcher and see what pours out.

First off, we haven’t seen Mana Leak in Standard since 9th Edition rotated out in 2007.

Three. Years. Ago.

Back then, it was often seen hanging around with cards like Compulsive Research, various blue Signets, Mystical Teachings, and the Pickle twins, Vesuvan Shapeshifter and Brine Elemental.

There was no such thing as a Planeswalker card. By the time Lorwyn hit the scene, Mana Leak had been gone for nearly three months.

Remember Faeries? No? Let me help you out:

   

See, Faeries didn’t have the help of Mana Leak. And anyone who played during Lorwyn’s time in Standard will tell you: Faeries didn’t NEED Mana Leak. Faeries had their own version of Mana Leak in Spellstutter Sprite, not to mention one of the best blue spells (and probably my favorite) ever printed, Cryptic Command. And that’s not all. Scion of Oona was around in case anyone tried anything funny, like attempting to somehow remove your Mistbind Clique or Bitterblossom. (Ah, yes…Bitterblossom. That’s a story for another day.)

But us, now, in 2010? We could really use a Mana Leak. Counterspells nowadays are either incredibly narrow, terribly situational, costed too highly, or some combination of the three. What used to be Scion of Oona is now Hindering Light.

Alongside Deprive, blue mages now have a realistic opportunity to play a GOOD counter-suite. In the early game, Mana Leak is essentially Counterspell; and in the late game, Deprive fills the same role.

The question now becomes whether it is worth it to counter a spell in the current Standard. We’ve become overrun with creatures and planeswalkers as of late. Generally, we’d rather deal with creatures in another way (Day of Judgment, instant-speed spot removal if necessary) since we have ways to remove them after they’ve hit the table, and summoning sickness gives us the opportunity to do so without giving the creature a chance to make an impact. The exceptions to this are creatures with haste and those with enter-the-battlefield abilities.

So, what creatures are we seeing in Standard that would fall into those categories? Wall of Omens, Sea Gate Oracle… Do you really want to spend a counter on those? Sphinx of Lost Truths, sure, that’s one I’d counter. Ranger of Eos, too. Bloodbraid Elf? No. And as much as Mike Flores wants me to “admit” it, I do not want to counter a Vengevine.

Okay, so that leaves Planeswalkers. I am perfectly happy spending a counterspell on a Planeswalker, as even though it seems like a one-for-one, we all know the card advantage that ‘walkers provide. But if the only spells worth countering in Standard are Planeswalkers, wouldn’t it be acceptable to just run Negate and take the risk of facing the occasional Sphinx or Ranger? Why do we “need” Mana Leak?

The truth is, permanents—creatures, specifically—have become so powerful that even “good” counterspells have lost a step. We need our counters to be versatile or they’re not worth running at all (see also: Standard). I’m beginning to wonder if that hasn’t been Wizards’ plan all along: Weaken the counterspells, then make creatures better and better until “classic” counterspells are balanced. Are we reaching a point where Counterspell itself would be a fair card to reprint? Think about it. No one expected Lightning Bolt to come back. (Hell, I remember being excited to see Incinerate come back in Tenth Edition!) Creatures were pushed to a degree that made Lightning Bolt no longer the powerhouse it once was, hence the return of the most classic burn spell ever printed.

Is it so crazy to think that perhaps Wizards is pushing the game to a level where Counterspell is balanced?



Be sure to check out the latest episode of Yo! MTG Taps! over on StarCityGames.com!

On Deprive

If you haven’t yet heard, the following is a card rumored to be in Rise of the Eldrazi (unconfirmed; rarity unknown):

EDIT: Confirmed.

Initial thoughts:

What makes this better than Cancel?

1) You can play it on turn 2.
2) You can play it late-game effectively as “Counterspell.”

In the first example, playing it on turn 2, you’re now behind; yes, you traded with their 2- or 3-drop, but now on turn 3 you need another counter to deal with their 3- or 4-drop, which is likely better than whatever card they played on turn 2. So do you play ANOTHER Deprive (assuming you have it)?

Honestly, I don’t even think this is worth playing on turn 2.

Let’s say you don’t play it on turn 2, but you hit your first three land drops and then want to counter something. What’s better in this situation? Cancel or Deprive? Cancel, obviously. Deprive leaves you with 1 mana open which will likely go unused. In the meantime, now you’re set back a turn and you’ve likely wasted any advantage that Deprive provided you.

So, okay, late game then. This is where Deprive is at its strongest. But when is it really going to be that much better than Cancel? Really only when you’re returning something like Halimar Depths, as far as I can tell. It allows you to tap all but 2 land, unlike Cancel, but is that really such a huge deal?

For the moment, I’m going to predict that if Deprive sees play in Standard decks akin to UW Chapin Control, it’s going to be in numbers less than 4, as its early game drawback just seems like too much for a deck whose strengths lie in getting to Stage 3. However, I can see it being a possible staple in some sort of UG deck that can recover from the tempo loss using the myriad of mana accelerants available in Standard.

Chapin’s List (UW Control)

Pro-Tour San Diego: Patrick Chapin and his Blue-White Control deck were featured in a video deck tech late on Friday evening. See below:

So, sideboard notwithstanding, I wasn’t far off. Looks like Chapin ditched the Calcite Snappers (regrettably, considering the moniker I used for the deck in my last post), but otherwise a very similar list to what I have above. I’m actually surprised how close I was to getting the same manabase—I’m only off by +1 Scalding Tarn. Chapin does indeed run 2 copies each of Mind Spring and Martial Coup, along with maindeck Flashfreeze and Celestial Purge.

Notice also the FOUR copies of Cancel in Chapin’s deck.

FOUR!

CANCEL!!

AT THE PRO-TOUR!!!

     

     

At first, this seems a bit odd. Before now, the problem with most of the playable counterspells (Flashfreeze, Negate, Essence Scatter) was that they were narrow, which often made it difficult to have the correct counterspell for the situation. Enter Worldwake: along come Jace, the Mind Sculptor AND Halimar Depths—both of which help to correct this problem. With these cards, it is much, much easier to have the right counter at the right time. Still, Chapin & co. chose to run 4 copies of Cancel. Why?

The “problem” with Cancel has always been blatantly obvious. Counterspell=good. Cancel=bad. The only difference between the cards is the extra 1 mana. It might not seem like much, but imagine if the price of a staple such as gasoline increased by 33% (oh, wait…it has). Sucks, right? But Worldwake has also gifted us with a means of making up that difference: the mother-lovin’, Everflowing Chalice. As Chapin explains in the video, Chalice may be the “best signet ever,” due to its versatility.

For the curious, here are the differences from my original list:

-3 Calcite Snapper
-2 Negate
-2 Path to Exile
-1 Day of Judgment
-1 Scalding Tarn

+2 Cancel
+2 Flashfreeze
+2 Martial Coup
+2 Mind Spring
+1 Celestial Purge

Lastly, here’s Chapin’s maindeck (as he had it arranged in the deck tech):

Jace and friend

Photo by Alexander Shearer

[2] Essence Scatter
[2] Flashfreeze
[4] Cancel
[4] Jace, the Mind Sculptor
[2] Mind Spring
[2] Martial Coup
[4] Tectonic Edge
[4] Treasure Hunt
[3] Oblivion Ring
[1] Celestial Purge
[3] Day of Judgment
[1] Path to Exile
[2] Arid Mesa
[1] Negate
[1] Iona, Shield of Emeria
[4] Everflowing Chalice
[4] Celestial Colonnade
[4] Glacial Fortress
[4] Plains
[1] Scalding Tarn
[3] Island
[4] Halimar Depths

EDIT: Added Chapin’s sideboard:

[3]  Baneslayer Angel
[1]  Elspeth, Knight-Errant
[1]  Essence Scatter
[2]  Flashfreeze
[3]  Kor Firewalker
[1]  Mind Control
[2]  Negate
[1]  Perimeter Captain
[1]  Plains

Snapper Control for Standard

Just as a quick aside, I thought I’d post the list I’ve been working on for post-Worldwake Standard.

CREATURES (4):
[3] Calcite Snapper
[1] Iona, Shield of Emeria

COUNTERSPELLS (7):
[3] Negate
[2] Essence Scatter
[2] Cancel

REMOVAL (10):
[3] Oblivion Ring
[3] Path to Exile
[4] Day of Judgment

OTHER (12)
[4] Jace, the Mind Sculptor
[4] Everflowing Chalice
[4] Treasure Hunt

LANDS (27):
[4] Halimar Depths
[4] Tectonic Edge
[4] Celestial Colonnade
[4] Glacial Fortress
[3] Island
[4] Plains
[2] Scalding Tarn
[2] Arid Mesa

This list is inspired by a deck I watched Patrick Chapin play on the Magic Cruise last week. I didn’t get the list from him or anything, but I watched a couple of games and I liked what I saw.

UPDATE: Based on the coverage of PT San Diego, Chapin & crew (including Gabriel Nassif and possibly Mark Herberholz) may also be running maindeck Martial Coup and Mind Spring. I’ll update with the official list(s) sometime this weekend (as soon as I can get ’em)!

I don’t have an exact sideboard as of yet, but I’m thinking 4 Spreading Seas, 3-4 Flashfreeze, some amount of Celestial Purges, maybe a Luminarch Ascension or two. Into the Roil seems to be a great catch-all, especially for when a planeswalker slides past your Negates/Cancels; then again, a 4th copy of Oblivion Ring should do the trick (but I sure do love the cantrip option on Into the Roil). I need to test the maindeck some more to find the weak spots before I get a good idea of how the sideboard is going to end up.

     

So far, with no sideboard, I’ve been loving this deck. Originally I was thinking Esper was the way to go, but the Jace/Halimar Depths/Treasure Hunt engine makes Esper Charm a lot less necessary—and let’s not kid ourselves, Esper Charm is the best reason to play UWB. Cutting the black from the deck takes a lot of pressure off the manabase, freeing up space for Tectonic Edge. Having now actually played with Celestial Colonnade, it’s better than I expected. Vigilance on a manland in a control deck is just SO. GOOD.

     

To be honest, I’ve got mixed feelings about blue right now. Don’t get me wrong; it’s good. Really good. I love it. But the problem is, so does everyone else. While that won’t stop me from playing the decks I want to play, it’s never as much fun to play a deck when everyone else is playing it, too. On the other hand, maybe I should look at this as an opportunity to focus my efforts on how to edge out the pseudo-mirror match; that’s a skill I’ve always avoided, simply because it was not as enjoyable to play against a deck similar to my own.

Nevertheless, I’m really excited to see what the pro players have been brewing up for Pro Tour San Diego this weekend. Keep up with the coverage over at the mothership!

Yo! MTG Taps! Exclusive Interview with Patrick Chapin, & More!

Yo! MTG Taps! MC2 Coverage Part 2 – Patrick Chapin, the Mind Sculptor is now available for download!


Check it out over on MTGCast!

The second installment of our coverage of the Magic Cruise: An EXCLUSIVE interview with the Innovator himself, Patrick Chapin!

Also includes bonus audio coverage of Patrick’s monologue from the Magic Cruise on the impact of Worldwake!

***EXTRA! EXTRA! DOUBLE-FEATURE FRIDAY!!***

Yo! MTG Taps! Episode 11 – The REAL Episode 11 is also now available for download!

It’s been three weeks since our last “official” episode, and we’ve got a lot to talk about! A bit about the Magic Cruise, BigHeadJoe goes over GP Oakland, and we discuss a little Standard and Worldwake. Also, we have some listener emails and our first listener voicemails!

Be sure to check out the MC3, coming up in February 2011!

Contact info:
Email: yomtgtaps [at] gmail [dot] com
Voice Mail Line: 1-331-MTG-TAPS
Twitter: twitter.com/yomtgtaps
Joey Pasco’s Twitter: twitter.com/affinityforblue
YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/yomtgtaps
Facebook: Become a fan of “Yo! MTG Taps!”
Bigheadjoe’s Blog: http://otherworldlyjourney.blogspot.com
Joey Pasco’s Blog: http://www.affinityforislands.com

Thanks for listening!

It Gets By With A Little Help From Its Friends

A pre-Worldwake look back at post-Zendikar blue.

Blue was never bad. Just not as good as we’re accustomed to.
A 450-lb man who loses 150 lbs—a full 33% of his body weight—would certainly not be considered “skinny” by any means.

This, I feel, sums up the current state of blue in Standard. While blue may have been worse between October and January than it ever has been, in hindsight I think it was a mistake to say it was “bad.” Counterspells were narrow and card-drawing was much less effective, true, but the color still had its strengths.

To wit: There was a time when many considered Morphling to be the best creature ever printed. With a wealth of abilities previously unheard of, Morphling could pump itself to 5/1, stack damage, and then become a 1/5; it could gain Flying; it could gain Shroud. It could untap itself, doing a passable impression of Vigilance.

Now compare Morphling to Sphinx of Jwar Isle:

     

For 1 additional mana, the Sphinx enters the battlefield with Flying. It enters the battlefield with Shroud. It enters the battlefield as a 5/5, and for all of these Morphling-esque characteristics it requires no more mana than the inital investment. It trades faux-Vigilance for an ability that—in a format with fetchlands, cascades, and soon Treasure Hunts—may be even more relevant. (Not to mention “Knowledge is Power” is the unofficial mantra of the blue mage, right?)

Could the Sphinx actually be better than Morphling?! Well, yes and no. It’s all about context, and when Morphling ruled the skies, blue spells were at their best. (And as much as I would’ve loved to see it, if Morphling were to have been reprinted it would likely occupy the slot in your trade binder right next to Meddling Mage.)

Still, the Sphinx exemplifies the quintessential blue finisher quite nicely: difficult to block, and easy to protect.

No, blue was not bad. Rather, it simply could not stand on its own. Yet, with another color or two along for support, blue found a way to stay strong. With a bit of persistence, blue-based control strategies started showing up as early as six weeks into the post-Zendikar format! At Worlds (late November), a Standard RWU Control deck was in the Team Finals, and Gerry Thompson unveiled his “Spread ‘Em” deck. As Conley Woods put it:

Typically, control decks are only able to emerge as “good” decks once a metagame as been firmly established. This is because the deck needs to know exactly what problems exist in order to determine which answers it must run. (Blue Uprising)

The difference between pre-Zendikar blue decks and those we’ve seen of late, as Conley goes on to point out, is that usually the counterspells are more versatile. This allows them to appear a bit earlier, as their answers don’t have to be so specifically tailored for the metagame. It is this loss of versatility, coupled with the loss of Instant-speed library manipulation, that fueled the perception of blue’s demise.

So, now we have Worldwake. Now we have the Mind Sculptor himself to help sculpt our hands into the ideal mix of answers and threats. We can dig for Treasure in the Halimar Depths, and accelerate our mana by drinking from the motherlovin’ cup. BLUE IS BACK!!!1!!

     

Not so fast. Let’s take a step back.

Blue mages—like starving children in a frenzy over a hunk of stale bread—have managed to drive the price of Jace, the Mind Sculptor to near-Baneslayer levels. I’m not exactly saying the price is unwarranted, because the card is certainly a piece of beauty, and I hope it’s every bit as good as people are expecting. But it has yet to prove itself. Had JtMS been released while Lorwyn was Standard-legal, I’d have been surprised to see it reach a pre-sale price half as high as it’s seeing now.

But, but…we’re SO HUNGRY!!

Worldwake is certainly giving blue a nice shot in the arm, don’t get me wrong. But I think we’re putting the cart before the horse, here. Blue mages are feeling so under-nourished from Zendikar that what may turn out to be a Happy Meal is looking like Thanksgiving Dinner.

So yes, go test your blue-based control decks. Play your Jaces, and your Treasure Hunts (I know I will be). But don’t set your expectations so highly that anything less than “bah-ro-ken” is a disappointment. I don’t think Mono Blue Control will be a reality, but pair it with a pal and I think blue control decks will be just fine.

BONUS:

A Yo! MTG Taps! Video Supplement – Coverage of the Worldwake Prerelease!

Recorded at Dream Wizards Games in Rockville, MD.

Apologies for low audio. We recorded with an iPhone, and I did my best to try to clean it up, but it’s still a bit iffy.

No footage of actual games, but hosts BigHeadJoe and Joey talk a bit about their experiences at the Magic: The Gathering – Worldwake prerelease.

Conley Did It!

Since Conley Woods essentially wrote the article that I’ve been mulling around in my head, instead of posting a rehash here I’m just going to go ahead and point you to his article over on Channel Fireball:

Blue Uprising!

Chins up, blue mages! Have confidence! While we may not have gotten the versatile counterspell that we wanted in Worldwake, as Conley points out, we did get a plethora of options for library manipulation and card draw. This should help to bolster blue-based control strategies a good deal. For those of us who bravely weathered the storm, it’s an exciting time to be playing blue!

Considering the Mind Sculptor

Forgive me for posting this after about 15 seconds of actual thought, but I just wanted to throw the ideas out there for all you innovators.

Firstly, I guess I should mention this guy:

This is what we have so far from The Planeswalker Chase, the newest buzz-generating scheme cooked up by WotC marketing. Obviously I’m pretty excited, not only because it’s blue (IT’S BLUE!) but this is also the first planeswalker with four abilities instead of the usual three. I don’t know about anyone else, but I never even considered more than three a possibility. Nevertheless, here it is.

Currently, based on what we have, the speculation for the abilities is the following:

+2: Look at the top card of target player’s library. You may put that card on the bottom of that player’s library.
+/- ?: Draw three cards, then put two cards from your hand on top of your library in any order.
+/- ?: Return target creature to its owner’s hand.
+/- ?: Exile all cards in target player’s library. Then he or she shuffles all cards from his or her hand into his or her library.

Yes, that second ability is Brainstorm. From what we can see, it also appears to be a “minus” ability rather than a “plus” ability (the shield does not appear to have an upward slope); however, there is speculation that perhaps the second ability is neither a minus nor a plus, and is simply “0.” This would be another new feature on a planeswalker, and I wouldn’t put it past Wizards to do something like this.

In any case, we’ll know the full card in a matter of hours—the final two pieces are in Canada and California, and should be spoiled later today.

UPDATE!: Here’s the full card!

Back when Alara Reborn hit the internets, Lorescale Coatl was spoiled, and one of the cards that immediately started popping up in discussion was Brainstorm. Unfortunately, while we don’t actually get Brainstorm itself, a Coatl in play alongside Mr. Mind Sculptor here will tend to get really big, really QUICK. +4/+4 per turn quick. Might we see the return of a Miracle Grow style deck? We’ve already got Scute Mob, who fits the theme quite nicely.

     

Earlier, I was going through some of the images I had saved back when Zendikar was being spoiled (images that I’d planned on using in posts to discuss the new cards), when I noticed Archmage Ascension. The new Jace’s Brainstorm ability could help get the Ascension online—perhaps in an Esper deck with Courier’s Capsules and Esper Charms to add counters to the Ascension during your opponent’s turns. As I said, I haven’t given it much thought, but I’m throwing it out there as something to consider.

The Other Sphinx

As I mentioned on Yo! MTG Taps!, I have been thinking quite a bit about the “other” Zendikar sphinx, Sphinx of Lost Truths. While I think this was the first sphinx to get any love (Gavin Verhey included it in a Sphinx Control list just after Zendikar’s release, and it was in a deck that made the top 8 of a Last Chance Qualifier for Pro Tour Austin), it seemed to quickly be overshadowed by its bigger untouchable brother, Sphinx of Jwar Isle.

True, it did see the light of day in a few Dredge lists at Pro Tour Austin, but I can’t help but think there’s great potential for this guy in Standard.

First, let’s take a look at Gavin’s deck:
Maindeck:

Artifacts
4 Courier’s Capsule

Creatures
3 Sphinx Of Lost Truths

Instants
4 Lightning Bolt
3 Negate
2 Terminate

Planeswalkers
3 Chandra Nalaar
4 Jace Beleren

Sorceries
3 Cruel Ultimatum
4 Pyroclasm
4 Wretched Banquet

Basic Lands
4 Island
5 Mountain
4 Swamp

Lands
4 Crumbling Necropolis
1 Dragonskull Summit
4 Drowned Catacomb
1 Magosi, The Waterveil
4 Scalding Tarn

Sideboard:
4 Countersquall
3 Essence Scatter
1 Negate
2 Terminate
2 Liliana Vess
2 Haunting Echoes
1 Magosi, The Waterveil

This was the list I originally planned on running when Zendikar first hit the stores. However, Richard Feldman presented such a great argument for his URW “Rembrandt” deck that I switched to his list before I even got a chance to try Gavin’s. After feeling like the Feldman list was lackluster, I switched to a Kyle Sanchez version of Izzet Control (UR), cutting the white for more mana consistency. Of course, as I stated a few weeks ago, that version seemed to be a bit deficient as well. I never felt like I had the right answers in my hand.

Last week I asked Gavin whether he felt his Sphinx Control deck was still a viable choice for Standard, and he pointed me to Patrick Chapin’s Wafo-Grixis build (it’s technically Guillaume Wafo-Tapa’s Grixis list, with a few modifications by Chapin).

While the list is from a StarCityGames Premium article (and I encourage everyone to sign up for SCG Premium, it’s well worth it), I am going to justify posting it here because I just found the list easily without even visiting the StarCity site (thanks Google!):

Wafo-Grixis (as modified by Patrick Chapin)
Maindeck:

Creatures
3 Sphinx Of Lost Truths

Instants
2 Countersquall
2 Essence Scatter
3 Flashfreeze
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Terminate

Planeswalkers
2 Sorin Markov

Sorceries
3 Cruel Ultimatum
4 Divination
3 Earthquake
4 Sign In Blood

Basic Lands
2 Island
2 Mountain
6 Swamp

Lands
4 Crumbling Necropolis
4 Drowned Catacomb
4 Dragonskull Summit
4 Scalding Tarn

Sideboard:
1 Pithing Needle
1 Relic Of Progenitus
3 Malakir Bloodwitch
2 Siege-gang Commander
1 Sphinx Of Jwar Isle
2 Countersquall
1 Flashfreeze
1 Negate
2 Deathmark
1 Thought Hemorrhage

If you read Lloyd Frias’ tournament report, you might recall that this was the list that he used as the basis for his States-winning deck.

In the meantime, I’ve been working on my own build of Cruel Control, which—after suggestions and playtesting—has slowly evolved to be quite similar to the lists above.

Here it is, Super Sphinx Bros.:
Maindeck:

Artifacts
3 Courier’s Capsule

Creatures
1 Sphinx of Jwar Isle
2 Sphinx Of Lost Truths

Instants
4 Lightning Bolt
2 Flashfreeze
2 Essence Scatter
2 Countersquall
4 Terminate
3 Double Negative

Sorceries
3 Cruel Ultimatum
2 Earthquake

Planeswalkers
3 Jace Beleren
1 Sorin Markov
1 Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker

Basic Lands
6 Island
3 Mountain
4 Swamp

Lands
2 Crumbling Necropolis
4 Dragonskull Summit
4 Drowned Catacomb
4 Scalding Tarn

Sideboard:
4 Spreading Seas
1 Sphinx of Jwar Isle
1 Telemin Performance
2 Malakir Bloodwitch
2 Flashfreeze
2 Chandra Nalaar
1 Earthquake
2 Pithing Needle

As you might expect, the deck is constantly evolving. The most recent changes were cutting Sign in Blood for Courier’s Capsule, and shaving a Countersquall and a Double Negative to fit Sorin and Bolas. (These changes came after talking to Lloyd about his card choices on Yo! Ep 6). So far, so good. I’m liking Sorin and Bolas, but I haven’t played Capsule enough to notice a big difference between it and Sign in Blood.

On the Top8Magic podcast, Mike Flores mentioned that when he designed Naya Lightsaber, he made sure not to run any lands that didn’t at least have a good chance of coming into play untapped (ie., the M10 duals). The more I thought about this strategy, the more I wondered: Why couldn’t this work for a control deck? The resulting manabase I’ve come up with has only two lands that enter the battlefield tapped (Crumbling Necropolis). For me, this—along with running a sizable amount of instants—has worked WONDERS. Being able to interact in the early game has been crucial. By allowing me to have an impact before my big spells are online, this mana configuration forces my opponents to keep applying pressure in order to have any chance of winning, and helps set me up for the late game, where the deck shines. There is even the possibility of a turn 5 Sphinx of Lost Truths, turn 6 Sorin (drop them to 10, swing for 3), turn 7 Cruel Ultimatum + swing or ping with Sorin for the win. Obviously, with only 1 copy of Sorin in the deck, it’s not going to happen regularly, but the potential is there.

     

This deck just feels so much more powerful than the Rembrandt and Izzet versions. I no longer have to rely on attacking with Sphinxes to win games; I have Sphinxes, Planeswalkers, and oh, that’s right, Cruel Ultimatum. Before, I was playing my ‘walkers out of necessity, because there was a threat that needed to be answered. Chandra was there to kill a Baneslayer and then die to any Llanowar Elf that was in the mood for a tussle. Ajani Vengeant (while still awesome), was difficult to protect when my own life total was in danger. But in this deck, the ‘walkers are threats in and of themselves.

Now, just a few stories from tonight.

Iona, Shield of Emeria is REALLY frustrating to play against. My opponent was playing a GW Summoning Trap deck, which would ramp up into Summoning Trap or, more often, Iona herself. It seemed like every time I tapped out for something, he would have the Iona or the Trap. With so much mana, hardcasting either spell was not a problem. In one game, I tapped out for Nicol Bolas and stole his tapped Rhox Meditant (my other choice was Birds of Paradise). At the end of my turn he plays Summoning Trap and gets a Rhox Meditant. On his turn he hardcasts Iona (naming black) and then attacks with Meditant into my Bolas, putting him on 1 loyalty and leaving me unable to deal with Iona. In two separate games I managed to destroy his Iona, only to see another one hit the board on his subsequent turn. I kept wishing for Into the Roil (which I had just removed from the sideboard because I had yet to use it). It’s likely I’ll remove the Spreading Seas from the ‘board to make room, because so far it hasn’t impressed me.

Also, tonight I had the opportunity to play against the Jacerator (TurboFog) deck that’s been seeing a lot of play. In game one, he rolled me. I tried to put up a fight, but I just had too many dead cards against that strategy (Flashfreeze, Terminate). In game two, however, I won on turn 5. You see, I had noticed the 1 copy of Telemin Performance in Lloyd’s sideboard, and I thought it was a decent card to try out. I sided it in for this matchup expecting to steal a Sphinx of Jwar Isle, which I knew my opponent was running. But lucky for me, he had sided it out. On his turn 4 he tapped out for Font of Mythos and passed the turn; I untapped and played Telemin Performance, and that was game. He had zero creatures in his library. Very exciting. It’s rare that one single spell wins the game on its own in one turn. WOW.

     

In game 3, he sided in Quest for Ancient Secrets to deal with the possibility of another loss to Telemin Performance. We battled back and forth a bit, and in the end, I was able to come up with enough burn to end the game before he could put together his combo. Because I hadn’t played any creatures thus far in the match, he sided out his removal and most of his fogs. I got there with Sphinx of Lost Truths + 2x Lightning Bolt + Earthquake (and a few timely counterspells, including a Double Negative for his Negate when he tried to counter my game-winning Earthquake).

     

Overall, a really fun evening of Magic. For the first time since Zendikar’s release, I feel like I have a deck that both fits my play style and has cards that I enjoy playing. Here’s to hoping Worldwake has some goodies in store for us island-lovers.

On one final note, I just wanted to mention the upcoming Baltimore Open, hosted by GoneToPlaid Games. I won’t be able to make it as I’ll be out of town, but this looks like a great option for anyone who can attend. Here’s the info:

$1,000 Standard Tournament
Followed by
$1,000 Extended Tournament

Saturday, December 19th 2009 at the Sheraton Inn Harbor Hotel
In the Inner Harbor of Baltimore

Entry fee for each tournament is $25

Prize structure:
1st – $400
2nd – $200
3rd-4th – $100
5th-8th – $50
$1,000 purse is guaranteed, additional prizes will be awarded based on attendance.
Doors open at 9:00 a.m.
The Standard Tournament will start at 10:00 am
The Extended Tournament will start at 1:00 pm

For more information, visit BaltimoreMTG.com.

CURRENTLY READING: Jonny Magic & The Card Shark Kids: How a Gang of Geeks Beat the Odds and Stormed Las Vegas.