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By: stsung, Ren Stefanek
Nov 07 2017 11:00am
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This week we have the Innistrad-era Standard Throwback Standard Gauntlet League (note that it can be found under Limited Events). If you never participated in one of these Gauntlets I'll recapitulate what it is. After you pay the entry which is 10 tix or 100PP, you will be given a phantom (meaning you don't keep the cards) random deck from the Gauntlet. You will be put into deck building screen where you can tweak your deck. You can do whatever you want with your 75 cards (you can even add basics if you want to), when ready you submit the deck and you can enter the League with your saved deck (you can change the deck configuration in between matches). You play 3 rounds of swiss and then receive prizes depending on your wins. 3 wins will earn you 150PP, 2 wins will earn you 100PP, 1 win equals to 40PP and if you don't win a match you'll still get 10PP.

The Gauntlets are very nice events letting players experience something they weren't part of - or that is what I think the Gauntlets are for. For others it may be a way how to reminisce. It seems that Innistrad Era Standard is one of the favorite Standard formats and I have to admit that it featured very nice decks. For me that would be Esper Control, Aristocrats, Pod and Junk Rites.

The decks that can be encountered in this Gauntlet are Birthing Pod, Tempered Steel, Wolf Run Red, Delver, BR Aggro, Bant Auras, Aristocrats, Esper Control, Junk Rites, Jund Midrange, UWR Flash (decklists can be found here, the link is also available in the client)

At the WMCQ this photo is from, we usually had to wait till all the Junk Reanimator and Esper Control players would end their additional turns, it usually involved Rhox Faithmender. The Junk player here boarded in 2 Rhox Faithmenders (and Deathrite Shamans) against his Jund Aggro opponent. He managed to get 2 in play and when time in the round was called he victoriously played Thragtusk gaining him 20 life crushing any hopes the Jund Aggro player had before since he could easily deal 20 damage in the additional turns before Thragtusk showed. That's what I call a life swing.

In this article I'll talk about Magic, but I will also talk about personal experiences - my memories and feelings from Innistrad era. Similarly to Combo Winter Gauntlet this Gauntlet unlocked many hidden memories and feelings inside me and since feelings are also something people talk about lately I decided to write something. When Combo Winter was around I wrote about 10,000 words on Magic at the time, my feelings about combo decks, the view on 'old school' Magic and nowadays Magic and also about events that I have linked with those decks and era. I'm not the only player that has a strange way of remembering things. Magic: The Gathering is a part of my life for over 23 years or so. If you ask me about certain event in my life I'll most probably be able to tell you what a new set was at the time but won't be able to recall the actual date or year.

I have very fond memories from the first half of the Innistrad era but very bad ones from the other half. Innistrad was part of two different Standard formats. Innistrad was one of the points in the history of Magic where the game took a very sharp turn in terms of design. I don't know what exactly happened but since Innistrad the game changed a lot. Also many players returned to Magic after a long time. For me certain cards changed the formats I played, not just Standard. Namely it was Delver of Secrets totally messing up Legacy and Vintage (after it messed up Standard and Modern, did that exist already?) in a way I couldn't come at peace with.

At the time of Innistrad I was in a relationship (I'm not anymore so I will refer to my partner as my ex). The reason why I mention it is that my partner was a competitive Standard player. The idea of playing Standard wouldn't come to my mind since I was happy playing other formats. Being together with someone, as I was told, comes with a price to be paid and part of that price was me not playing eternal formats during the whole period we were together (I regret it). It allowed me to explore a new format and gave me the room to brew a lot. I was good at deckbuilding and I usually came up with tier one decks quite soon making my ex rage after being beaten in 20 to 1 ratio. Through all that I learned way more about the format than just those players picking up their decks after Pro Tour. For all that brewing, playing and discovering a new format I can only say 'thank you' to my ex.

Since I am a blue mage in heart I was playing Esper Control/Solar Flare during that time period. I like permission, control and I also love to use the graveyard as a resource. Cards like Unburial Rites I just couldn't ignore! My ex though confiscated all my blue cards which resulted in me not playing my Esper decks mid-Innistrad and I started experimenting with all kinds of Wolf Run decks. I started with Iyanaga's (World Champion 2011) Wolf Run Red and tried replacing the red part with each other color to see if some other combination can't be viable and would suit me more (red is NOT my color).

How would you feel if you were at 16 life, your opponent without any facial expression plays Sphere of the Suns activating metalcraft, then plays Galvanic Blast hitting you for 4. Then casts another one, and another one. You ask the question 'Do you have the fourth one?' and your opponent shows it to you. Now imagine that you are playing finals of World Championship.

Each Wolf Run deck was different and had a different game plan. One thing though was still the same. One had to usually just find Inkmoth Nexus, Kessig Wolf Run and try to hit the opponent for ten with the pumped Nexus. I found out that the problem is rather in the pilot and not the deck. I wasn't particularly good at attacking and it cost me many games. I learned my lesson and started to be more aggressive. Since I couldn't find a deck I'd like I tried more or less everything from Br Zombies to UWR Flash. The only deck I avoided as much as I could was Delver.

When I entered my first League I was staring at Jund on my screen. This was the deck I brought to many PTQs. It brought very painful memories and they hit me hard. At the last two PTQs I played with this deck I went 1-5. The reason why? During the whole two events I did not see 3 colors but just two, be it either black-red or green-black and the deck wasn't able to function like that at all. After I shook off the unpleasant feeling I got when looking at the deck in front of me I wondered what the deck can do because I didn't really remember that. During that short while I was waiting to be matched my brain got flooded with many other memories that included a very good run with Jund at WMCQ, one loss to an unfortunate Rakdos's Return for 3, my opponent discarding 3 Loxodon Smiters (I thought my opponent was on Bant Control) and the second loss to Auras and its 'untargetable' creatures (Liliana of the Veil was nowhere to be seen). Soon my match began and stopped the flood of mainly negative experiences. My opponent started with Gravecrawler, go. I looked at my hand that could cast Huntmaster of the Fells on turn 4 and did not feature Tragic Slip for Falkenrath Aristocrat that I expected to kill me. After I faced few cheap creatures, my opponent played Falkenrath Aristocrat. Next turn I drew Tragic Slip to deal with the vampire, but to my horror my opponent also played another haste-y creature - Hellrider - which dealt the remaining damage with its ability.

I looked for Pillar of Flame, Tragic Slip and Grafdigger's Cage in my sideboard and actually found the cards there. When I played my second game I was wondering if Pillar of Flame was fixed and if that would actually remove a creature from the game after I would kill it with it (for some reason Magic Online had problems with the 'remove from the game part' of spells like Pillar of Flame or Magma Spray). I didn't find that out then (it works) since I didn't draw a single removal spell and my Huntmaster of the Fells, into Thragtusk, followed by another Thragtusk wasn't good enough to win me the game.

When playing my second match against the same deck I wondered if I could at least top deck Bonfire of the Damned once and deal with all the creatures at once. I did top deck it but managed not to play it due to an unfortunate misclick (do not auto-yield to spells with a Miracle cost). In the following game I drew Doom Blade. That was an odd card to top deck against a deck that was obviously more black than red and I still kept calling the deck BR Zombies. I started wondering what made me keep Doom Blade in my deck post-board. I also wondered why did I feel that putting Grafdigger's Cage in the deck was a good idea. My brain though was sending me a message that clearly read 'Thundermaw Hellkite and Geralf's Messenger'. I suddenly became rather confused. One part of me wanted to listen to what my mind was telling me which was probably based on my experience from few years ago and the other part urged me to actually check the decklist of the BR deck I was facing. I realized that Innistrad was featured in two Standards and I didn't even know if Black-Red Aggro was playing Thundermaw Hellkite or Geralf's Messenger! Thragtusk in my deck though suggested that Thundermaw Hellkite might be in the BR deck. My thoughts were interrupted by Thundermaw Hellkite on the stack. I cast the Doom Blade targeting it wondering what my opponent thought of me targeting it with obviously relatively dead spell till that moment. Was my opponent thinking that I was some totally lost player in the League? Should I trust my memory that just was throwing some random bits and pieces at me but not a whole explanation?

In the last match I discovered that Geralf's Messenger was indeed featured in the deck and I was glad to have played Grafdigger's Cage earlier which was followed by the same uncertainty I felt during the previous match also wondering what my opponent is thinking. My Bonfire sweeping the board of Geralf's Messenger and Gravecrawlers was what won me the last match.

The league was obviously a big failure for me and I didn't know how I should approach the following one which I wanted to enter that day too.

See, I already played in few Gauntlets. The first one I participated in was a Legacy one. Since I owned all the decks with the exception of Elves I had the upper hand - or rather I can play Legacy any time I want against people that play Legacy on regular basis. Playing in that Gauntlet did not feel like Legacy at all, it poorly reflected how games of Legacy are played. Many players never saw ANT in action or had no idea what to do with Elves and we all could observe people dropping after they entered the event. Another Gauntlet I participated was a Modern PT one so there again, it was a format I could play anytime. People entering the Gauntlet were terribly lost though, most probably because they weren't Modern players. Later I joined Mirage-Tempest Gauntlet that felt like I knew what is going on and others not so much. This time it was different. Obviously I ran into some players that never even saw some of the cards featured in the decks. The decks were relatively straightforward though with few exceptions. I played with familiar decks, familiar cards and something that was very close to me (with the exception of Pros-Bloom which was obviously bugged). Many players were just exploring and trying it out, similarly to the previous Gauntlets I played in. The similar could be told about the following Standard Gauntlet. Combo Winter was also something I have fond memories of and I played some very cool games in those times (very unfair ones). During that week I had many people asking me what their decks are supposed to do and how they board against something that plays card x, y and z (not knowing how the decks are called, or sometimes even not knowing the names of the cards, just effects). While I was explaining what Accelerated Blue does to one player another was asking me how does a Memory Jar deck win. In the end I wrote a primer for the format and it felt very strangely doing that. When I played in the aforementioned Gauntlets I didn't need to step out of my comfort zone. I wondered how the players that were introduced to those decks for the first time felt and if they actually liked it. I just played to reminisce and to enjoy the games since I already went through all that. I thought that the Innistrad Era Standard Gauntlet would be similar for me. It wasn't. Something was different and I couldn't quite grasp it. On the other hand the Leagues were a blast!

My second League I was given UWR Flash. That's the deck with which the games felt completely endless or you just pretended to be a three-color burn deck. Here's a funny screenshot!

Honestly I do not remember playing against Wurmcoil Engine at the time! This game did not go well for me...

Wolf Run Red

I entered a third League and hoped for Esper Control. What I was staring at was far from being blue though. It was the first deck I sleeved after I put Esper Control away - Iyanaga's Wolf Run Red. Once again it brought memories from several PTQs I participated in, especially from the first one. I traveled several hundred kilometers to participate in it. My round one was against RDW. A game in which I played 2 Spheres, 4 Huntmasters and lost. It went similarly 'well' for me for the rest of the event and I was very sad I didn't have my Esper deck on me. It was a total failure since I was used to ending up in top8. After this fiasco and a rather long period of playing with all kinds of Wolf Run decks we became friends though. Back to the present though. Since I didn't get to play with Esper Control I at least hoped to be able to play against it. I was lucky in that regard because my first and second opponent were both on Esper (I was jealous!).

Round 1 - Esper Control
I kept a hand with Forest, Mountain, Rampant Growth, Galvanic Blast, Huntmaster of the Fells, Slagstorm and Copperline Gorge. My opponent started with Hallowed Fountain so they could be on UWR Flash, Delver or Esper Control. I searched for a land next turn and waited for my opponent's second land to reveal what deck their were on. It was Drowned Catacomb. They played Augur of Bolas and missed which was actually pretty common. Especially early game one usually wanted to find lands and not instant or sorceries. So unless a player needed a blocker against RDW or Br Aggro it was often better not to play the card. I drew Inkmoth Nexus which I was very glad to see knowing my opponent was on Esper Control. I played Huntmaster of the Fells. My opponent played Lingering Souls. I decided to run into my opponent's creatures with my Wolf token knowing that at best I'd kill Augur of Bolas but I hoped for taking down a Spirit token. My opponent blocked just with Augur of Bolas. I pumped my token with Kessig Wolf Run to kill the Augur. I had Slagstorm in my hand but I wanted to cast it in a way so it would get at least rid of both Lingering Souls 'halves'. What I hoped for was 1.5 of Lingering Souls cards. Pumping the token also meant I didn't play anything that turn (my opponent either since they were tapped out) and thus Huntmaster of the Fells transformed and killed one of the Spirit tokens. In my next attack my opponent double blocked my token with their tokens. I pumped it and my opponent decided to play Azorius Charm on it dissipating it to nothingness. They followed with another Lingering Souls which I was glad to see since that meant I could finally play Slagstorm and feel that casting Slagstorm was worth it. I attacked with my Ravager and it got bounced. I just hoped my opponent would tap out playing a Planeswalker so I could play Green Sun's Zenith looking for Primeval Titan. They didn't, they just played Lingering Souls keeping mana open for possible Dissipate. I played the Zenith anyway so next turn I could deal with Lingering Souls and attack with my Nexus. The Zenith didn't resolve and on their turn they played Jace, Memory Adept but didn't mill me. I was a bit surprised to see the card game 1 since I usually just boarded this card when playing Esper Control. They drew a card with Jace which I was happy to see. I hit my opponent with Nexus, thinking that I'd deal with Jace the moment my opponent starts targeting me with its 'mill ten cards' ability. Honestly that wasn't a good idea if I wanted to win but I just wanted to have some fun. My opponent got 6 poison counters thanks to my Nexus. On their turn they played Lingering Souls, milled 10 of my cards and let me play. I top decked Inferno Titan which I was very glad to see. I hit a Soul and Jace and finished Jace off with Galvanic Blast. Next turn my Inkmoth Nexus was capable of lethal. My opponent played Supreme Verdict destroying my red titan. On my turn, I animated my land and expected it to end up on top of my library. My opponent had the Charm for it but on their turn didn't mill my land away. Again that worked for me. I happily drew it next turn and cast Huntmaster of the Fells expecting it to get countered. To my surprise it resolved. My opponent used all their mana for Sphinx's Revelation. I sent my team in and wondered what would end up bounced. My opponent though surprised me with Snapcaster Mage. Fortunately for me I was clutching Galvanic Blast in my hand for the whole game so I finally cast it targeting Snapcaster Mage. Azorius Charm put Inkmoth Nexus on the top of my library again (that would have been lethal). My opponent still didn't mill it nor tried to mill me while I had 16 cards in my library. They played Detention Sphere on my Huntmaster of the Fells and passed. Later they produced Tamiyo, the Moon Sage and Lingering Souls. I top decked Acidic Slime which I was glad to see, it got countered. My Inkmoth Nexus was kept tapped down by Tamiyo and I needed to find another one soon. My opponent kind of woke then and started using Nephalia Drownyard so I conceded. It was time to board in some Planeswalkers and Autumn's Veil, the anti-control card of that time (I also put in Beast Within to deal with Curse of Death's Hold, Nephalia Drownyard or some annoying planeswalker).

My hand contained Inkmoth Nexus, Kessig Wolf Run, lands and ramp. 'Snap keep' against control. I played Nexus on turn 1 and hoped to deal some damage before the first Lingering Souls. I kept swinging with Inkmoth Nexus. After my opponent played Lingering Souls it was time to start casting my spells, Solemn Simulacrum and later Primeval Titan. Both cards resolved and I had enough lands to later deal lethal in one attack with Inkmoth Nexus (I had Autumn's Veil in hand). I drew Thrun, the Last Troll though so I changed my plans a bit. Thrun dealt with large number of Spirit tokens but later was put on the bottom of my library thanks to my opponent's (I suppose one-of) Terminus. I went back to my original plan, I animated my little blinkmoth creature, made it big and attacked for the win. My opponent conceded.

Slagstorm, Slagstorm, Thrun, the Last Troll, Forest, Sphere of the Suns, Mountain, Solemn Simulacrum seemed like a little sketchy keep. On turn 2 though I drew Rampant Growth and everything was fine! On turn 4 I had 6 mana sources which seemed nice. I just needed my opponent to tap out so I could play Primeval Titan. They played Curse of the Death's Hold on turn 5 so I could play the Titan next turn. Inkmoth Nexus was a bit useless card at that moment so I went for Kessig Wolf Run and Copperline Gorge so I would have enough green mana to cast Thrun, the Last Troll (but I was tempted to go for 2 Wolf Runs) and use its ability. My opponent played Supreme Verdict on my titan so I played Green Sun's Zenith looking for Acidic Slime so I could deal with the enchantment. Next turn I played Thrun and also swung with my Nexi. My opponent destroyed my Wolf Run with Ghost Quarter which I was fine with, at least I could regenerate the troll twice! Then I was just attacking with both the troll and Nexi while my opponent was casting Lingering Souls and Planeswalkers. I had two Slagstorms in my hand so I knew that I could deal with the Spirit tokens later. To my surprise neither of my global removals resolved. I managed to sneak in a Primeval Titan which brought me Kessig Wolf Run that I needed and the game ended with my victory (see screenshot above).

Round 2 - Esper Control
My following match was a bit chaotic because after I entered my match my client crashed. This happened few more times so I did not even know what hand I kept (I clicked on keep while I was already staring at MainNavigation has stopped working error, the click registered though). After Magic Online reconnected with blistering speed I saw a hand full of land and Galvanic Blast. Luckily for me my opponent started with Isolated Chapel which meant a very high chance of Esper Control (or Aristocrats, or very low chance for Junk Rites that sometimes used to play that land too) against which I had all I needed - three Inkmoth Nexi. All I did during the game was swinging with my 3 Nexi. One of them got put on top of my library, but again my opponent let me drew it instead of milling it away. It seemed to me that I played Inkmoth Nexus like 10 times during that game.

In game two my hand featured Slagstorm, Green Sun's Zenith, Karn Liberated, Thrun, the Last Troll, Sphere of the Suns and 2 lands. I managed to draw a third land so I sent Thrun into play when I also had 2 mana open for the regeneration ability (I didn't want to lose it immediately since it was one of the best cards against control). My opponent was color screwed though and couldn't do much so died to the Last Troll a bit later (I was glad the deck did not feature Tribute to Hunger).

Round 3 - Delver
I kept Primeval Titan, Galvanic Blast, Thrun, the Last Troll, Solemn Simulacrum, Forest, Mountain, Birds of Paradise. I was on the play so I played Birds of Paradise on my turn 1. My opponent played Seachrome Coast (suggesting Delver) and also the card I suspected to show up - Delver of Secrets. I didn't have Rampant Growth nor Sphere of the Suns so I just destroyed Delver with Galvanic Blast. My opponent got mana screwed and I had enough mana to cast anything starting with Primeval Titan. It was a pity because I wanted to play an interesting game even against this deck I seriously loathed at the time it was played.

In game 2 I kept a hand I didn't like. It featured Sphere of the Suns, Huntmaster of the Fells and Primeval Titan. Not an awesome hand against a fast aggressive deck with some disruption. I feared that my Sphere would get countered and I wouldn't have the possibility to have a creature in play trying to block a possible Geist of Saint Traft. I was unfortunately right about this scenario. My Sphere got Mana Leak'ed and my opponent followed with Geist of Saint Traft. I cast Thrun into my opponent's open mana a turn later than needed and hoped to be able to block the Geist. Geist of Saint Traft is too big of a clock. The game went even worse for me then. My opponent played Runechanter's Pike and equipped it. Geist was a 4/2 First Striker then and my only chance of having more chances to block it and kill it was to wait a turn and let my opponent deal a lot of damage to me. I hoped that 'a lot' would equal to just 8 because then I could still survive one more Angel token hit. Next turn I blocked the hexproof spirit wielding Runechanter's Pike. My opponent cast Vapor Snag targeting it which I was totally fine with. If my opponent would replay the Geist and would miss a land drop I could cast Slagstorm next turn getting rid of the Geist. In that combat I also killed the Angel token since it could possibly kill me and I wasn't sure if I would have the time (or rather mana) to deal with it next time. My opponent replayed Geist of Saint Traft and that card was joined by Delver of Secrets. I dealt with both creatures with Slagstorm and hit my opponent for 4. Since my opponent probably didn't have any other creature to play they created a Spirit with Moorland Haunt and equipped it with the Pike. I attacked into it with Thrun not expecting my opponent to block it. After the attack I played Whipflare because the token would kill me. I played Huntmaster of the Fells gaining me two life and presenting lethal times 2. My opponent still didn't concede. They played Dungeon Geists tapping my Huntmaster down. I simply attacked with everything and pumped Thrun for the win.

After I finished the League I spent some time just reminiscing. Many of the feelings and memories that surfaced when I entered the first League weren't nice - they were memories of my failures mostly - but with time my brain also started to produced other ones that weren't linked to actual games. Some memories where rather strange but also strong memories. For example, during the top 8 of one WMCQ (the one I mentioned when I was on Jund) floods reached Prague. The water started to rise very quickly, the site was close to the river. The reminder of the Magic players still in the building learned what it means to be moving around sandbags trying to stop the water. Not an easy task. The people in the building were obviously prepared for this situation and were telling us what to do. I remember myself standing there in the rain with a 20kg sandbag watching the brown water slowly flooding the whole area wondering how severe the floods would be (last time I was cut off from civilization for few months due to floods). I remember that now as if it were just yesterday but without this Gauntlet I wouldn't even know when the floods hit Prague if someone asked me.

The good memories were also powerful but mostly those were comprised of little things that meant a lot to me though. I played many cool games that I remember to this day. I met many cool people both in the Czech Republic and abroad. I met several couples that seemed very happy and full of positiveness (which is very rare here) through Magic. I watched players be happy at events, especially at Innistrad prerelease where many former Magic players decided to start playing again, the set simply lured them back into the game. I traveled around to events like PTQs, GPs and a PT and I had a really great time. One of important moments in Magic for me was that I was also praised by local pros for playing Esper Control well. I was caught by surprise when I was told this because that is something I totally didn't expect after I was under a harsh scrutiny from the whole team. All these experiences helped me a lot, motivated me and gave me energy to do something. All this just because of Magic.

Thank you for reading
S'Tsung (stsung on MODO, stsungjp on Twitter).