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By: Kumagoro42, Gianluca Aicardi
Jan 23 2012 4:38am
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 The 2011 season of Tribal Apocalypse has recently ended, and when the dust settled, one player was at the top of the Hall of Fame. This is an interview with that man. (While I'm writing, I don't know who won the January 21 Top 16 Invitational yet. If it will turn up being another player, I'll do the same for him too).

 First of all, something about you: real name and profession (if you like), nationality, when/how do you started playing MTG and MTGO, psychographic profile.
 My name is Marcus Rehnberg, I’m a 32-year-old nerd with a lovely wife and a 3-year-old daughter. I have a degree in computer engineering and a math education teaching certificate, both of which I’m not currently using professionally. I started playing in seventh grade when my cousin introduced me to the game with a couple of Revised starter decks. I’ve been hooked ever since. I’m strictly a Johnny/Spike and much more of a deckbuilder than a tournament player. I love playing to win, but I don’t like playing in well-worn formats. That’s probably why I love drafting more than I should. It’s extremely uneconomical, even if you play the rich drafting formats. Drafting is a pure deckbuilding experience with no chance that a “Pro” has stolen your chance to build a truly magnificent deck. 

While Nemesis is wasting you with his Ulamog, just think of him as the dad of this little girl. You'll forgive him

 What's the Tribal Wars format for you? What pushes you into play it so much?
 It’s a Wild West frontier format. It hasn’t been explored by the Pros, there isn’t a well defined meta-game, and you can play funny tribes and concepts as well as strong tribes and concepts. It’s especially rewarding to me when you can champion funny under-used tribes and make them a force to be reckoned with. I play this format because it challenges not only my deck-building skills but also my deck-refining skills. Without sideboards, tweaking a deck is just as important as building the core of the deck. I don’t always get it right the first time, and it’s nice to see when one of my concepts comes together perfectly.  

 Your performance in this first Blippian year of Tribal Apocalypse has been truly amazing: you ended the season with 920 points, almost the double of the runner-up (myself, at 509) and more than the double of the second runner-up (Ranth, at 444). You had 15 results in the Top 4 (same as the runner-up, but with constantly better rankings). What's your secret?
 The biggest secret of my success is coming up with a deck that is naturally suited to beating the top performing decks, and running that deck consistently. Cats and Goblins were top performing decks for ages. Those decks are both hyper-aggressive decks that use very efficient creatures to win the game quickly. My Wall-Drazi deck is a natural foil to that decktype with Eldrazi, life-gain, and walls all working to slow down the weenie deck before sealing the game with an Eldrazi titan. That is the flattering answer. 
   The less flattering answer is that I play in the tournament a lot and I have a reasonably large collection of cards that allows me to consistently beat players with budgets decks and players that just “threw something together” at the last minute. My wife has graciously allowed me to put Tribal Apocalypse on the calendar on a weekly basis so that I can usually play in it 3/4 of the time, which is more than most players. 

 

 Of course, you're famous/notorious for a couple of decks/tribes especially: Thopter Foundry Artificers and Wall-Drazi (which were able to transform, when needed, into Vedalken and Plant respectively, for Endangered Week purposes). Can you describe them for us?
 Wall-Drazi is a tightly packed ramp deck that maximizes the power of (Green Sun’s Zenith), legendary lands, and 2+ mana-producing walls to get a Primeval Titan into play as early as turn 3 and then follow it up with an Eldrazi titan that can usually be protected by Karakas. This strategy is complemented by weenie-defensive walls, life-gain, and Swords to Plowshares.  

 

 During Endangered Weeks, most of my Walls double as Plants, and the deck can be morphed to a Plant deck relatively easily to meet the Endangered tribe requirement without losing much killing power. 

 

 Thopter Artificers is a deck that basically uses artificers to dig for the Thopter Foundry/Sword of the Meek combo. All of the artificers in the deck either search for the combo or enhance it in one way or another. This is one of the least adaptable decks I’ve built. It does one thing, and it does it well. I’ve tweaked it to rely on other combos and power cards such as Spine of Ish Sah and (Sharuum, the Hegemon) and that makes it playable, but it does limit the craziness of the deck.

 How was the deckbuilding process that lead you to play these tribes? Do you usually start by picking a tribe of by finding the right tribe for a concept?
 I usually start with how I want to win and work backwards. My philosophy is that if you can pick a way to win that is not easily countered, you have a pretty good chance of winning. Since this is a creature based format, I everybody expects their opponents to win with attacking creatures. Therefore wrath effects and spot removal are everywhere. However if you use creatures that are hard to kill, such as Vengevine, Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre, or Bloodghast your opponents removal is largely irrelevant. Second, I try to include a way to survive weenie decks, life gain and Maze of Ith are common solutions. Third, I pick a tribe that compliments my strategy for winning, and I purposely try to avoid elves and goblins because they’re too easy. I like ramp decks a lot because they win in ways other than a simple creature rush and they are constantly doing something.  

 I don’t always use this approach. Sometimes I start with an unloved tribe and try to capitalize on it. This usually involves trying to build a deck around that tribe’s best members. Kitchen Finks, Azusa, Lost but Seeking, and Necrotic Ooze are examples of creatures that you build strong decks around that belong to relatively unloved tribes.  

 At some point, you stopped playing Wall-Drazi after a streak of excellent results and some complains from a part of players. Do the complains influenced you in any way?
 I have to acknowledge that Tribal Apocalypse is a casual format. If players are easily discouraged by killer decks, they will stop coming and that will be the end of the format. For me there’s a delicate balance between trying to win and trying to avoid driving players away. Turn 2 combos don’t make happy opponents. In general winning doesn’t make for happy opponents as well, but I’m not trying for the quick unsatisfying victory. I generally try to avoid combos that outright win on turn 1 or 2 because they drive players away.  

 It looks like your presence in Tribal Apocalypse, which had a fame of being a somehow "experimental" PRE, triggered the endless debate about competitive play vs. casual play. While it seems to me that "casual tournament" is definitely an oxymoron, when the player with the dominating deck of a restricted, friendly meta should stop and reflect about his/her effect on the meta itself?
 Tribal Apocalypse is a free-to-enter tournament with real prizes. This type of format means that we usually have a large number of budget decks that use really well known inexpensive tribes such as elves, cats, and goblins. As much as I like to think that I’ve had an impact on the meta-game, my decks are only a simple reaction to that meta-game. Sure a few people have tried to build decks designed to beat me, but if you ignore the budget elves, cats, and goblins, you’re not going to be doing well overall regardless of how well you do against me.  

 I wouldn’t like to consider Tribal Apocalypse to be a casual format, but it does live and die based on attendance. This means that there are certain strategies I generally try to avoid to avoid alienating new players. This includes instant combo kills and turn 2-3 victories. (Examples include Storm, Painter/Grindstone, Goblin Charlbelcher/Mana Severance, etc.) These types of strategies benefit greatly from a lack of sideboards, and they discourage new players more than anything. It’s true that I use combos, but I generally use the ones that are disruptible and win over the course of a few turns (Eldrazi Ramp, Thopter/Swords, Punishing Fire/Grove of the Burnwillows, Life from the Loam/Seismic Assault, etc.) 

 I’d rather see strategies banned on an individual basis, but I would never say anything bad about another player using a strategy like this. If it’s legal, you should be able to play it without criticism.

 Your style of deckbuilding often shows a singleton approach (to the mana base, for instance), often also implementing some way to tutor the singleton cards where needed. This sounds very Commander-ish, and I assume you're a Commander player too. How does Commander influence your way to play Tribal?
 I play 100 Card Singleton, but I don’t play Commander. I simply don’t have the patience to wait for players in a 4 person game. My collection is geared towards a singleton collection because of my avid love of 100CS. The singleton approach to deckbuilding is nice in Tribal because of the lack of sideboards. If I’m worried about a burn deck, all I need to do is include a single Kitchen Finks or Obstinate Baloth and suddenly I’m prepared to deal with burn decks with (Green Sun’s Zenith) and/or Birthing Pod without including too many cards that are possibly useless against other decks. The singleton toolbox approach is a very effective way to be reactive to what your opponent is playing without a sideboard. 

 

 Let's talk about your most recent decks. You won the Halloween event with Vampires, and got two other Top 4 rankings with Shamans and Clerics.
 With Dark Ritual and Buried Alive floating around out there, Vampires are one of the strongest tribes around. I love the combination between (Kalistria Highborn), Bloodghast, and Goblin Bombardment. I would definitely play Vampires more often except for the fact that Dark Ritual into Buried Alive for 3 Bloodghasts is a very easy way to discourage an opponent from coming back again. 

 

 Shamans are not a particularly strong tribe. They are slow, and they don’t have an easy way of gaining life against aggressive decks. However they are very fun to play and are simply bursting with tricky decisions and card advantage Mania via Kiki-Jiki, Eternal Witness, and Lightning Crafter. When I play Shaman, I get to explore my inner Timmy with Lightning Crafter. I don’t have the best record with Shaman, but it’s a very fun deck to play. 


  Clerics, like Zombies, are strictly more powerful than their performances suggest. With a little recursion, Martyr of Sands can put aggressive decks and Valakut decks into a very serious deficit. I think that Clerics should be much more respected, and I intend to champion Clerics in the future like I championed Walls in the past. 

 Finally, in a vacuum, judging only for the fun of playing it and not out of competitive reasons, what's your favorite tribe? Would it still be Walls?
 Vampires. They are fun to play and they give you a lot of different options. I would have played them more, but I catch enough flak for playing Wall-Drazi too much. Once Dark Ascension comes out, I think Zombies will probably top Vampires because of Gravecrawler and Havengul Lich.