A couple of weeks ago, I booked my flight to Pro Tour: Nagoya, by way of Indianapolis, for the StarCityGames Invitational the weekend before. There was only one small problem: I wasn't yet qualified for the Invitational.
I went to Charlotte with the aim of solving that problem. Along for the ride were Corey and Brad Waugh, brothers from tornado-devastated Alabama, who play at The DeeP in Huntsville. Apparently a sizable chunk of Alabama (several hundred thousand people) has been without power or gas for approximately a week, so everyone's been finding places to bail out to. The Magic players went off to Indianapolis for the TCQ or Charlotte for the SCG Open.
We arrived in Charlotte Friday night, got up, found a local Waffle House for breakfast, and went to play some cards.
Corey took Caw-Blade, Brad took Valakut, and I took along a special brew, with Caw-Blade stashed in case I chickened out. Some last-minute changes resulted in me doing something I've been wanting to do for a few months now: play Leonin Arbiter maindeck. The result? Blue-White Venser tapout!
386 players led to an announcement of 10 rounds, which was corrected to 9 rounds later on.
Round One: Adrian Nestico, Br Vampires, 14th place
I crushed him game 1, got owned by 3 Bloodghasts in game 2, and got burned out from 7 life after stabilizing in game 3. It was unfortunate to start out with a loss, but 8 rounds of Magic were yet to come. The sideboard plan was something like "cut Leonin Arbiter for Oust, Day of Judgment, and Sunblast Angel". Unfortunately, Spell Pierce might have been a better choice.
Round Two: Steven Hesselbirg, Goblins, 324th place
He got a double Goblin Guide start, with Ember Hauler and Goblin Chieftain to slam down my life total further before I could stabilize. Staggershock knocked me to 2, but Jace, the Mind Sculptor began its job of Fatesealing him while my Celestial Colonnade began taking huge chunks off his life total. I left a Teetering Peaks on top since he didn't have anything relevant, then put Arc Trail on the bottom. His draw? Spikeshot Elder.
Game two, we had some back and forth on the board, but Garruk Wildspeaker left unchecked is impossible for the deck to handle. I noticed that, as long as the game went, he didn't play a single Squadron Hawk or Stoneforge Mystic.
I boarded out the Leonin Arbiters while watching him, and he didn't board enough cards for me to think he brought them back in. We had another planeswalker fight, but this time, Venser, the Sojourner went ultimate, drawing the concession in short order.
Round Four: Grayson Freas, UB Control, 229th place
Game one I couldn't get an actual threat or land a Jace since I was short on mana, so his Jace, the Mind Sculptor went ultimate.
Game two he couldn't stick a threat until it was too late, and my Venser went ultimate before his Jace did. I exiled Jace and Creeping Tar Pit while casting Day of Judgment twice to kill his Wurmcoil Engine.
Round Five: Lawrence Carroll, RUG, 82nd place
Turn 2 Leonin Arbiter on the play basically won the first game single-handedly.
Game two, I got beat by a fast Thrun, the Last Troll.
Game three, a fast Leonin Arbiter came down, but it didn't do quite as much as it did game 1. I won a very long game because of the simple fact that Sunblast Angel wins when Avenger of Zendikar isn't a one-hit kill.
Round Six: Jordan Heatherly, GW Emeria, 46th place
He took the play, mulliganed, and got manascrewed off Green by Spreading Seas and my Jace bouncing his Overgrown Battlement. Venser happened to go ultimate before Jace did, but I could have won that game a half-dozen different ways, as he did next to nothing. I noticed a Green Sun's Zenith during Fatesealing, so I knew he was up to something odd with his deck, just not sure what.
Game two I got one-shot killed by Avenger of Zendikar. Yeah, that explains it.
Game three, he sets up lethal with Avenger of Zendikar, but I have the sweeper. So he set up lethal with Avenger of Zendikar again. I set up blockers and so forth so that I could go to one and hope to draw another sweeper, and don't get there.
Round Seven: Keegan Gallick, Caw-Blade, 20th place
Ah, finally. Public Enemy Number One - and Venser has a good matchup here, which Leonin Arbiter can only make better. Game one, he didn't assemble a meaningful offense at all, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor went ultimate.
Game three, I mulliganed to 5 trying to get mana, and got crushed. Such variance.
Three losses meant I was dead even to the possibility of making top 32, but we didn't know that at the time. X-3 has made top 32 in these Opens before, but not this weekend.
Round Eight: Stefan Eversoll, Br Vampires, 140th place
Early sweepers followed by Walls and Gideon trading with Vampire Hexmage let me go ultimate with Venser and exile things until he scooped.
I don't remember whether Venser or Jace won the second game - I didn't write it down.
Round Nine: Davey Dees, Red Deck Wins, 81st place
Turn one Spikeshot Elder is nowhere near as intimidating as turn one Goblin Guide. He chickened out (playing around Condemn?) on dealing 5 with Geopede on the second turn, and he ended up not doing anything of real relevance for the rest of the game, burning me down to 7 while I smacked him out of the game in two swings.
Game two he mulliganed to 5, but got a turn 2 Perilous Myr, which I dutifully played around. He got me all the way to 2 life with a Staggershock, and on my turn I Ousted my own Wall of Omens to avoid dying to the Rebound. Jace kept him from getting a winning burn spell, and I squeaked out a win.
Final tally: 6-3, 15-9 in games, 55th place. My carmates both got top 32.
Thoughts on the event:
- "Tap out for Jace, bounce [card Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre]Ulamog[/card]" is not actually a solution to the problem.
- Casting Mana Leak on Overgrown Battlement is the height of idiocy.
- Venser is amazing against control, mediocre against aggro. It might be worth going up to 3
- Sea Gate Oracle is ridiculously underrated. It's a 1/3 Preordain that plays well with Venser. Does nobody remember Court Hussar?
- Wall of Omens is not as good as I would like.
- If you can proliferate multiple Everflowing Chalices, the mana advantage is usually game-ending.
- Contagion Clasp is just absurdly good.
- Venser outraces Jace. This is a really big deal.
- The Venser deck really wants Preordain. The problem is finding slots for it. Sea Gate Oracle is a fine card but doesn't help you hit your land drops early.
- Caw-Blade is still nuts. Obviously.
- People play around counterspells even if you don't have them. This is a really nice bonus to have.
We got some Arby's since everything else was apparently closed, and headed back to the hotel.
We woke up Sunday morning and went to IHOP, where I got pancakes. You know, since it's IHOP and that's sort of the whole point. Not 1100 calories of Chicken & Waffles, because eating that is clearly the first thing a person should do in the morning.
From there, to the tournament site, where I bought the one card I needed for my deck: a fourth Turnabout. Spiral Tide!
This deck is so much fun to play. It has a lot in common with ANT, which I've had some success with, but is a lot more resilient to hate. In exchange, it's a bit slower. Typically you want to win on turn 4 or 5, but you can wait as long as needed if your opponent is giving you time. The main thing to remember is that much like Ad Nauseam, Time Spiral is not the primary path to victory. If you can win without casting it, you should, because it can fizzle. It can win on turn 3, but that is extremely difficult and prone to fizzling.
Merchant Scroll, notable for being the only playable card from Homelands, usually searches up High Tide, Turnabout, or Force of Will/Pact of Negation. It's almost always Tide or Pact before comboing off, Turnabout while comboing, or Blue Sun's Zenith when you're ready to win.
Note that Intuition is in the deck primarily as a tutor for Candelabra of Tawnos or Time Spiral, which can't be tutored via other means. You can chain Merchant Scroll or Cunning Wish into it. This doesn't come up a lot, so it may be better to play something else here. I sided out Intuition a lot.
Mind Over Matter is similarly questionable. It's almost a win-more card, but there are games you can't win without it. I didn't get paired against Battle of Wits, so this didn't matter very much. It is a real time-saver, though, to be able to just say "every card I discard gets me 20 (or 30, whatever) mana", toss ten cards in the bin, then cast Blue Sun's Zenith at the opponent. I sided it out a couple of times, and it may be better to play something else.
Mana Severance is something I tried in testing. It's awful as a 1-of, but it might be serviceable as a 2-of since it makes Meditate way better and basically puts Time Spiral into God Mode card. It's dead on its own, though, which is awful. If it cantripped, was an Instant, or had Cycling... then we'd be talking.
The sideboard is pretty much spot on. Some people are running Rebuild over Hurkyl's Recall, but I think the Recall is the better choice there since it's cheaper. You can cut the sideboard Intuition if you want to run both.
Anyway, the Open had 211 players and would run for 9 rounds. Corey and Brad didn't want to play even though I had a deck I could have loaned them, and they ended up deciding not to draft in favor of railbirding all day.
Round One: Michael Fricks, Stoneforge Bant, 126th place
A poor clock paired with minimal disruption (a single Force of Will) meant I readily crushed him in the first game. He dug up Umezawa's Jitte with Stoneforge Mystic so I think he had put me on Merfolk- but that was probably not reasonable given that I had played 2 turns without dropping a threat or Aether Vial.
The second game required me to search up a bounce spell for Gaddock Teeg and fight through a Force of Will. I got to 30 mana, cast Blue Sun's Zenith on myself to draw 17 cards, and easily won from there.
Round Two: Joseph Greer, Affinity, 156th place
No disruption game one made it quite trivial.
I punted game 2. He played Master of Etherium and I didn't burn my only Force of Will on it for fear of Ethersworn Canonist. The next turn I was dead. I should have countered it and made him have the Canonist since I could have dug for an answer to that.
Round Three: Nicholas Boylan, Merfolk, 64th place
I lost game 1 because of the same mistake - I was keeping Force to protect my combo, but his clock was too fast for me because I let Coralhelm Commander resolve. Buying 2-3 turns probably would have protected my combo just as well.
Game three was a race where he didn't have any hard counters, so I claimed victory in the end.
Boylan boarded in Tormod's Crypt for me. How pointless.
Round Four: Joey Page, Aggro Loam?, 85th place
Game one was awkward because he had Chalice of the Void on 1, which led me to Cunning Wish for Echoing Truth. He got Countryside Crusher to go all the way up to 8/8 in one turn before he hit a nonland card, then dropped Chalice on 2 - I responded with Echoing Truth on the 1-counter Chalice, took a hit, then went off on my turn to the tune of over 100 mana without playing a single 2-mana spell.
Game two was a little closer despite his double mulligan - I had to play around the possibility of Time Spiral giving him a ton of lands for his Seismic Assault, so I set up to Repeal it at the end of his turn before going off. I took 6 for my trouble, Forcing a Red Elemental Blast along the way. That put me at 4, and it turned out to be an unnecessary precaution as Spiral was never necessary.
(Note: I don't know exactly what he was playing. All I really saw were Dark Confidants, Countryside Crusher, Seismic Assault, and lands. I never saw Life from the Loam- but he may have boarded them out.)
Continuing the theme of people boarding in useless graveyard hate: Page boarded in Leyline of the Void.
Round Five: Drew Levin, Countertop Thopter Tezz, 6th place
This was in the Feature Match area, and when the video goes up, I'll post a link.
Game 1: I got to Meditate into a Spiral, and Spiraled into 4 lands, a cantrip, Turnabout, and Force. The cantrip found a cantrip, which found another cantrip, which found absolutely nothing and I died to his double turns.
Game 2: I got owned by a bunch of hate cards and I couldn't set up my bounce to do what I needed to do because I couldn't get to 5 lands before he got a second Counterbalance down. I wanted to Wipe Away the Counterbalance and Echoing Truth the Canonist, but had to do both. People watching were probably calling me an idiot for running the Ponder into the Counterbalance, but I had good reasons for that:
1 - I was going to have to discard at the end of my turn anyway, and the Ponder would have been my choice.
2 - Levin had missed a blind flip on the Cunning Wish earlier. What I didn't know (he told me later) was that he had boarded out all his 3's, so he knew he couldn't hit on that flip and didn't bother.
The final turn, I was basically playing to a rather pitifully small out which required him to misplay, but the alternative was to just get slowly ground out with even worse chances of ever getting there.
Round Six, Edgar Flores, Team America, 3rd place
Game 1 I mulligan to 4 just to get a hand that can do anything other than sit around on 1 land doing nothing, and lose as expected.
Game 2, I got hit with a double Hymn to Tourach and lost. I set up my out by Wishing for Echoing Truth for his pair of Tombstalkers, then drew Merchant Scroll into High Tide. I had one turn to draw Time Spiral and didn't.
Game two, he took the play again and led off with Chain Lightning. I played Candelabra of Tawnos and he played Smash to Smithereens. Force of Will dealt with that, and Magma Jet was his next play. A suspended Rift Bolt and another Smash to Smithereens put me down to 8, and a fetchland plus Fireblast dropped me to 3. My opponent suspended a Rift Bolt and passed the turn. I tossed Pact of Negation at a Red Elemental Blast while comboing off, and cast Blue Sun's Zenith for lethal. My opponent picked up his deck and said "okay". I informed him that he was dead, and he told me that he would die in his draw step. He realized his mistake when I pointed out that I didn't Brain Freeze him.
Round Eight, Matt Presnell, White Weenie, 31st place
Phyrexian Revoker was the only disruption he presented. I simply proceeded to bounce it before laying my Candelabra, then winning easily from there.
Game two, Ethersworn Canonist paired with Mother of Runes to make my life miserable. I stupidly decided to fetch out Echoing Truth rather than Hurkyl's Recall, and died to Jotun Grunt speeding up the clock before I could correct my mistake.
Round Nine, Hunter Obrikat, 28th place
Game one I made the same mistake I'd made twice earlier of not Forcing a threat, for fear of protecting the combo, and lost as a result.
Game two is a game that I won't be forgetting any time soon. His first play was "Wasteland, go", and he didn't do anything on his second turn. I realize that he kept a hand with lots of countermagic and no action. We get into a counter war over Time Spiral, which he wins by pitching a bunch of random Merfolk to Force of Wills and playing some taxing counters. I cast Meditate in response, hoping to get another land. If I could make my land drop for the turn, I'd know it's worth it to cast Pact of Negation on the last Force, but I missed, and let him counter the Spiral. On his double turn he promptly did... nothing. Awesome. I looked at my hand: no High Tides, no cantrips, and no way to combo off - but my opponent had no action at all. What's a player to do?
His double turn once again yielded complete failure on his part, and I was able to set up the win a couple of turns later.
The stack went crazy with taxing counters when I started to go off with 5 lands:
His response was to Daze the topmost High Tide. I paid the 1 mana for it, leaving 2 lands untapped. The Pact countered his Pierce and my topmost Tide resolved. I tapped the 2 lands for 4 mana and cast Turnabout. I then tapped one land to pay for the Pierce, allowing my original Tide to resolve. I then tapped the remaining 4 Islands for 12 mana and cast Time Spiral.
My Spiral looked a lot like my Spiral against Drew Levin, with only one cantrip to draw cards, but this time the cantrip action actually hit Blue Sun's Zenith. I cast the Zenith for enough to take me down to exactly 6 mana, and he responded with Spell Pierce, which I paid. He responded with Daze, which I paid. Oops. That took me to 3 mana- now I had to get [cardCandelabra of Tawnos]Candelabra[/card] because I wouldn't be able to cast Turnabout. When I drew the cards I was so excited that I had the win that I picked up a Warning from the judge for playing the Candelabra without shuffling in the Zenith. Oops. While shuffling I calmed down a bit, then proceeded to win from there.
Apparently I wasn't quite as calm as I could have been, as I was informed afterwards by Corey the railbird that I should have cast Turnabout to untap my Candelabras instead of my lands to get more mana. A bit sloppy, but irrelevant.
Final tally: 7-2, 14-8 in games, 13th place, taking me to 14 Open Points. Not technically qualified for the Invitational, but when all I have to do is show up for a single tournament, I don't think I have anything to worry about.
The deck could very well have been 16-6, as two of the losses were directly attributable to my punts (the loss versus Affinity and the loss versus White Weenie), and it's possible that playing correctly against Merfolk the first time would have made it 17-5 in games. That's a really good record, and an encouraging sign for the deck.
Having gained a lot more experience with the deck, I really don't think Mental Misstep is that big of a concern. It's just a random counterspell and people are just going to trade other counterspells for it in deckbuilding. It's on the level of Red Elemental Blast or Mindbreak Trap in that it can come from non-blue decks.
The metagame may be a bit hostile early as I expect that there'll be a spike in Counterbalance-based strategies, but Spiral Tide will be well worth playing in a few months. There's little reason to panic and sell your Candelabras. Just set them aside for now (or buy them from one of the panic sellers), play a different deck for a few months, then go back to playing Spiral Tide once the metagame shifts away from Counterbalance again.