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By: jamuraa, Michael Janssen
Jul 01 2008 9:29pm
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Well, Shadowmoor Release Events are in full swing, and I've gotten my full set of commons and have started picking my 'to-buy' list for the next month or so. For some reason, I don't seem to be able to ever catch up to the list of things that I want to get in order to have a standard-playable set. Of course it doesn't really help that they keep changing what I need to catch up to by releasing awesome new cards like Kitchen Finks and Reflecting Pool.

Because of the Release Events, we don't have any meta to analyze or ask people about. So this week I've decided to take a foray into what most everyone will be reading about for the next few months: Block. Pro Tour Berlin is coming up, qualifier season is upon us. It was my luck to play in one of the first PTQs of the season, in my home town of Minneapolis.

Unfortunately, my luck didn't last too long. My day job kept me away from Magic for the majority of the week, and I wasn't able to even think about deciding what to play until Friday afternoon. Now, the last time I bought and played with real cards in a constructed competitive tournament was.. never. People who are loyal readers might remember that I borrow my cards from my friend Duc when I get the opportunity. PTQs are one of the few times that we both get together and decide on decks so that we aren't overlapping. During the week I was debating between a couple of different decks, which was limited to one Cloudthresher based on the fact that Duc was going to play an Elementals deck. This significantly limited the choices, basically pushing me into Kithkin or Faeries, basically the only two viable decks in the format which don't include the anti-faeries card.

I'm not a huge fan of playing the Fae, mostly because I don't have practice with it and I completely hate playing the mirror match of it. Kithkin isn't a horrible position to be in playing, and I at least know how to play the deck quite well since I have played the Standard version for a very long time in the tournament room and in a couple of PEs and Queues as well. Of coursed the same cards that I can use in standard aren't really viable here. Late in the evening we decided to make up the deck which I would play the next day. The basic structure of the deck was easy: I knew I wanted to play a 26-land version because I totally hate being mana starved. It's still possible with almost half of your deck land, but much less likely. I also knew that I didn't want to play a ton of one-drops - it was fairly easy to determine after a couple quick play-testing sessions that the ideal open was to skip your one-drop by laying a Windbrisk Heights. At the same time, I couldn't deny that Goldmeadow Stalwart and Burrenton Forge-Tender are extremely useful creatures even after the first turn. After taking a look at the decks which had some top placings, we ended up building this deck:



This deck runs 26 lands and 4 Mutavaults, which can be a bit greedy, but with some testing I didn't have any problem playing Spectral Procession when I wanted to, so it was a go. The other difference in this deck and the other decks, is the inclusion of Wilt-Leaf Liege alongside the Thistledown Liege, upping the number of lords to 12. I was also in favor of using them because they stick around after a Firespout, which strangely actually makes it much easier to survive one, given you have enough lords out. Duc liked this deck too - so much, in fact, that he decided to switch to it from the previous five-color control deck that he was testing with. He wasn't a comfortable with the 5-color as much as he would have liked to been, mostly my fault.

This switch at near-last minute was actually a boon for me, because it freed up the Cloudthreshers that I wanted to use to play a deck that I was thrilled to build out:



This deck is similar to some other lists which have been floating around, and was basically a conglomeration and tweaking of the lists that I saw succeeding out there in PTQs. I love this deck so much. It's got a good curve, and the top of the curve has a ton of pumping and evasion. If you end up with 5 mana available and a Oversoul of Dusk available, playing it will usually solidify the board for you. There are precious few removal spells that work on the Dusk, basically Oblivion Ring and Crib Swap take them out of play. If you're lucky enough to put a Shield of the Oversoul on anything, again you have just the white removal to worry about. The other thing that I like about this deck is that it scoffs at the Firespout. Unfortunately, it has some big weaknesses which I found out the following day. After sleeving this up and playing a couple games, it was already late and we both headed home for some sleep before an early morning.

Waking up, I picked up Duc and we were on our way a little late. Driving down the highway, I was worried a little about getting there with time to register and resleeve our decks. Luckily we rolled into Misty Mountain North with about half an hour left, which was plenty of time. We got registered and did a little surveying of the room. We didn't see much Faeries, which we were expecting more of. This wasn't a great sign. Soon enough, they were announcing the staff and simple rules were being announced. 117 players. Last time there were 230+ players and it was really crazy. There were a lot less Iowans around this time, which was probably because half of the state was under water. Some of them also probably went to the Lincoln PTQ which was the same day.

Round 1

I found my table which was next to one of the big windows in the front of the store, so that was nice. Sitting down with the decklist in front of me, there was a little bit of idle chatter while I pile-shuffled my deck because we had an inordinate amount of time before the first round started. Everyone needed to get to their seats, which was understandable. I was just happy to be sitting in a room full of people who wanted to waste their Saturday the same way I did.

Shuffle up and draw 7, and I kept a hand with Elvish Hexhunter, Oblivion Ring, Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers and enough land to get by. I won the roll and went first, playing out the Hexhunter. Across the table a Forest came down, and a Treefolk Harbinger brought a Doran, The Siege Tower to the top of the deck. Well, there goes an early attack. I didn't have a second turn anything so I just went land go, in the hesitant way that I always say land-go when I am playing in paper. On the second turn, he plays out Gaddock Teeg off of his Murmuring Bosk and one other land, taking a damage.

One thing about Magic: The Gathering: Pants that distinguishes it for me is the amazing amount of stuff that you need to do on your own. You need to keep track of all the upkeep triggers, the times you need to shuffle your deck, your own life total and your opponent's life total, what each counter means on each creature, what cards have been played in the past so you don't look through your opponent's graveyard conspicuously. These are just a few of the things that you have to keep track of on your own without the program to keep track of it for you. It's one of the major things that keeps me playing the online game much more than the offline one.

Things are developing quite quickly though. On turn three he plays out his Doran, the Siege Tower and I am happy to play out a Oblivion Ring putting it in the removed-from-game zone. After that, I see another Treefolk Harbinger, fetching yet another Doran out of the stack. I take a couple from an aggressive Teeg because I don't really relish losing my Hexhunter, and I've been more happy with taking a little bit of damage when it's somewhat inconsequential lately. I'm probably going a bit too far in the other direction sometimes, but I can't really tell. At any rate, I play out the Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers in order to start laying the smack down, and get in a hit or two because he obviously doesn't want to lose Gaddock.

However, things weren't to go my way for very long. I got draws that weren't all that exciting. One play which does stand out is using the Elvish Hexhunter to take out my own Oblivion Ring, putting two Dorans in play and eliminating them both. However, his draws were a bit better. He drew into a Shriekmaw and killed off my Cavaliers, and then brought back his Doran with a Makeshift Mannequin. This made it a little hard to stay alive, as I take a couple of pretty big hits from the now-3 damage Harbingers. I got a Kitchen Finks into play, but it didn't save me from the death. By the time I was dead, I had a pretty good idea of what his deck was made up of.


Doran Treefolk
Block-Shadowmoor deck proposed by Michael Janssen
4 Treefolk Harbinger
4 Doran, the Siege Tower
3 Gaddock Teeg
4 Wilt-Leaf Liege
4 Kitchen Finks
4 Shriekmaw
2 Cloudthresher
1 Wispmare
26 cards

Other Spells
4 Makeshift Mannequin
4 Nameless Inversion
2 Profane Command
10 cards
4 Reflecting Pool
4 Murmuring Bosk
6 Swamp
5 Plains
5 Forest
24 cards

0 cards
Doran, the Siege Tower


Sideboarding - I brought in a couple of Chameleon Colossus and took out the Cloudthresher. Since I was playing against the same colors, I also took out the Oversoul of Dusk and put in my own set of Gaddock Teeg. As I was doing this, I took a second look at Gaddock Teeg, and I kicked myself something huge. It dawned on me that Teeg was in play almost the whole game, and no less than two times did my opponent cast Makeshift Mannequin. I made sure to take note of this for the next game.

Unfortunately, it didn't take much for my deck to fold to a better draw in general. I did get the little kithkin that could stop lots of things down pretty early and pointed out to my opponent when he tried to Makeshift Mannequin something from the grave that he couldn't really do that. Of course, the next turn he just used a Crib Swap to get the guy out of the game so he could bring back his Cloudthresher which did me in at the last moment. Kitchen Finks helped on both sides a couple of times, but it wasn't enough.


Round 2

So here I was, in the 0-1 bracket which was a worse start than the last time I had come to a PTQ. At least that time I drew with my first round oppoent in a matchup that I wasn't expecting to be able to even compete in. I wish I could say that it was a big deal that I wasn't actually doing that well, but my DCI rating easily shows that I am not in the upper eschelons of paper players. I quickly went below 1600 in my first PTQ, and this one might lower my rating even more. Here's hoping that it doesn't. Duc played against Elementals in the first round, and lost quickly after they stabilized the board in both games. He was also 0-1. I feel kindof bad for him because he doesn't get much time to play sanctioned matches anymore, and when he does, it seems to be that he has caught my bad luck. At any rate, we are going to stay in it until we are at least out of the money for the tournament, and one loss doesn't put us out by any stretch especially with the lower amount of players. I find my table and start shuffling again, and introduce myself to my next round opponent.

Now I think I'll take another aside again, because this is the round that people really don't like in the tournament. See, one of those other things that you need to do in paper magic tournaments is register your deck. Online it's as easy as opening a save file, and it checks to make sure that it's valid before you even get a chance to sit down. In paper you fill out a form with a list of all the cards in your maindeck and your sideboard. Of course, they can't instantly check the decks, so usually over round 1 they take a look at all the decks that are registered for any discrepancies. The start of Round 2 is when all the players who wrote something down wrong get their decks checked and losses handed out. I did it in my first ever competitive tournament, so I was careful this time. There were a couple people nearby at the table that weren't so lucky though, and they had a first game loss.

Luckily my opponent wasn't one of them, so we could get started right away. I lost the roll and he decided to go first. The first few turns weren't anything special, with some Swamps coming down and me playing out a couple of lands. I kept a more conservative hand of some land and a couple of larger fatties. Pretty soon, well, I guess it was turn two, he played a card that I didn't recognize. That was strange to me because I have a very good memory and I can pretty much identify any card in this relatively small format on sight - and there aren't that many proxies that you can use in Block. It turns out that it was DCI foil Oona's Blackguard, and I pretty much knew what his deck was going to look like after that, because I had built it in my head the night before as a pipe dream:


Mono-Black Rogues
Block-Shadowmoor deck proposed by Michael Janssen
4 Oona's Blackguard
4 Sygg, River Cutthroat
4 Stinkdrinker Bandit
4 Earwig Squad
4 Oona's Prowler
20 cards

Other Spells
4 Noggin Whack
4 Bitterblossom
4 Nameless Inversion
4 Thoughtseize
16 cards
24 Swamp
24 cards

0 cards
Sygg, River Cutthroat


I thought about making this deck, as it doesn't use any of the cards that Duc was going to use for his 5-color Elementals deck, but decided against it because it doesn't seem to have much late game gas, and I really loved the green-white that I wasn planning on playing. When on turn three, a Bitterblossom hit the table, it was decided. The gameplan was to get rid of the problems before they started. I played out a Ring in order to get rid of the impending tokens-with-counters on them threat, and was greeted with a Sygg, River Cutthroat. This is a bad thing, because when people get some of the damage going, Sygg can be a powerful set of card advantage. After I got hit, and then smacked with a Morsel Theft a couple of times prowled out of course, the engine started working against me. Fortunately my side of the board was starting to shape up as well, with a Liege and a couple of twin Cavaliers. Finks joined the force, and the other side scooped up soon enough when my large guys started putting him on the defensive.

For sideboarding in this matchup, I brought in a couple of Chameleon Colossus because it seems good enough against a completely mono-black deck, and I also brought in two Gaddock Teeg, because in the later stages of game one, I saw a Profane Command bring back something and I didn't want any more of those shenanigans going on anymore. In order to make room, I took out a couple Safehold Elite and Shield of the Oversoul. I don't like taking them out, but I didn't want to take out anything else. I didn't really have a sideboarding plan for this deck, so I was just winging it.

In game two, my opponent brought the pain early with a turn two Bitterblossom. This was followed by.. well, nothing mostly. The Blossom tokens started pounding on me, but there were only a small amount so I wasn't really all that concerned about them. I also kept a hand with some land and a Cloudthresher so I wasn't worried about critical mass. I made a couple of little guys, and he started holding back chump blockers for the offence, but was slowly pinging me down. Then he did something surprising - he put down two more Bitterblossom on the table. This is something that I don't really expect, and I was happy to see because of the impending loss of all the flying baddies. Soon after the thresher made short work of everything that was on his side of the board, he scooped it up.


I went to see how my friend was doing, and his game was going a little long. He was playing the dreaded Kithkin mirror match, which his entire sideboard was basically set up for. I only saw a little bit of the last game of the match, so I don't know if any play mistakes were made, but it seemed like he was doing pretty good with himself. He got what he needed for game three, and he was also sitting at the same record.

Round 3

So at this point I am pretty happy with my performance so far. I made a play mistake or two in the first match that I played that day, but I did well in round two and was happy to make my way to the table for the next round. At the same time I was getting somewhat hungry. Pleasantries were exchanged and then round three was called to start, and I happily shuffled my deck and cut the opponent's deck. So much shuffling in real-life magic, I find it highly annoying.

At any rate, the shuffling gets done and we do our mulligans. One thing that I learned from mulliganing online that transferred to real life is that you don't get to decide whether to mulligan or not until the person playing first has decided and is done. My opponent won the roll and decided to go first, but needed to mulligan. My seven cards sat waiting for me on the table. I don't even look at the cards until the other side is done with mulliganing anymore.

Turn one: vivid land. Uh oh. I don't like the looks of this already. I put down a Reflecting Pool which isn't doing much in the way of.. anything without a buddy on the field and pass the turn. Turn two: Land, Smokebraider. This isn't looking good for me at all. Smokebraiders mean that I am playing against something bad (for me) that has a lot of weird manabase: it's probably Elementals.



The Smokebraiders themselves push me towards believing that this is the deck which I want to show here instead of some of the more recent Ten/Eight/Four/Six Commandments decks which just play a lot of the choose twos. The turn three Mulldrifter also pushes me in that direction. I don't really have anything that I can point to that I did on my side of the board. I know that eventually he started playing Incandescent Soulstoke, which he used in order to cheaply and easily get Reveillark into play, bash for four, and then out to the graveyard so it could reanimate more things. When the Horde of Notions came out onto the table, I was basically toast for game one.

For sideboarding in this matchup, the idea was to bring in the Oversoul of Dusk because there really isn't a way that they can get rid of the guys, and it puts a clock on that you can't really ignore. I also brought in Chameleon Colossus because I wanted to put some of the pressure on, and the Cloudthresher just because it is a big beater that can block Reveillark all day long. Trading for these was the full set of Elvish Hexhunters and a couple Safehold Elite.

In the second game, I keep a hand that has a Oversoul and one of the two remaining Safehold Elites. I played the Elite on the second turn, but by that time my opponent was ramping into a really early (Incandecent Soulstoke) and doing the Red and one, play a 'lark, bash you for 4, get back Mulldrifter routine. I didn't have a chance at all, as in less than 10 turns my deck was felled in combat.


I'm really interested in how I am supposed to beat this matchup. One thing that was thought of after the entire tournament is the possibility of removing the little mana producer that could with some of the white removal, like Last Breath or Crib Swap. I'm partial to these because they will remove the creatures from the game and they can't get brought back by say the Horde or Reveillark.

Well, I was beat soundly by my opponent quickly, there was still at least half an hour remaining in the match. Duc had also finished, so it was time to get some lunch before the next round. Of course, now I get to the other reason that I love to play at Misty Mountain North - it's situated in a minimall with perhaps one of best taquieras I have ever eaten at. You can go over between rounds and get excellent burritos and tortas, with some Jarritos to drink as well as a bunch of other yummy stuff in a small shop which is attached. As we headed over we talked about how our decks were doing. I was still convinced that my deck would do well in a field which was mostly made up of Kithkin, which is what I was expecting to come up against mostly at this match. The food came and we watched the Euro cup which was playing at the time. Duc tried to explain to me how it worked, apparently it's some kind of Swiss-like system, but I couldn't really understand it. All I knew was that the Netherlands were still in it and that the game which was on just finished at the last minute in something like sudden death.

Round 4

After lunch, I was feeling pretty good. I was also happy about my chances because the last time I was sitting on the "losing" side of the room I soundly beat my opponent. I was fed and happy, and I was one match loss away from walking away from the whole thing and happily going home to watch some TV and get some MTGO played before the end of the day. I am told that we're going to do some block stuff soon, and I want to see if I can build the deck and play some queues.

My opponent sits down and pronounces his name, but I don't really know how it goes. It doesn't matter because I haven't told you the names of any of my other opponents anyway. He shuffles up and we roll for initiative.. I mean to decide. I forget who won the roll. I keep a hand which has all the gas that I need to win after beating down a couple times, including a Wilt-Leaf Liege and a Kitchen Finks.

The other side of the table sees a Plains and a Windbrisk Heights come down, and I know that I'm playing a Kithkin deck, because there's nothing else around that's playing that much white and not losing and dropping out before now. I keep playing out my creatures, and attack a couple times. The other side doesn't develop much at all, except for a couple tokens from a spectral procession. I get rid of one of the tokens before he can attack with all of them somehow, activating his heights.

I kindof start feeling for the guy as it comes to turn seven and eight and there is little on the opponent's side but a bunch of lands that he can't really do anything with. He plays out some defensive Mirrorweave in order to keep himself alinve for a bit longer, but I bring out a Liege and soon after he's done. I don't really like winning by land flood, but there's not much you can do to prevent it, and hell if I'm going to throw the game because of it.

We go to sideboarding, and I bring in my secret tech against the Kithkins - the full set of Firespout and a couple of Primal Command. I have a plan, you see, to use my Reflecting Pool or Vivid Grove in order to wipe out the other side something fierce. As we begin sideboarding, he tells me about his bad beats from the match before. Apparently he dropped one of his cards on the floor as he was sideboarding, and someone noticed it and tipped off his opponent. He got called for an illegal deck after he couldn't say for certain that his card wasn't on the floor since the beginning of the game. So maybe his deck is better than it's first game made it out to be.

In the second game, it looks like he has a bit better hand to start off with, as he plays out a couple of litte guys, that are amazingly efficient like a Goldmeadow Stalwart and a Wizened Cenn. I keep a hand that has the aforementioned Firespout and the lands to play it fully powered up like I want to. I get a Kitchen Finks from the top and play it out in a couple turns. I'm waiting in order to get the maximum out of my power play, and my opponent obliges. Soon enough he has an empty hand, and I've drawn one of the two Primal Commands. I put a Windbrisk Heights on top of his library and get ready to live the dream. A couple turns down I play the 'spout off a Reflecting Pool and a couple of other lands, and my opponent can see it coming a mile away as soon as I start casting it deliberately: "Reflecting Pool for red..." "Firespout?", and the other side of the board is emptied. We play a couple more turns and a couple more guys come out on the field against mine. I continue attacking with my guys. Soon enough he has a Mirrorweave in hand, but he is confused about the interaction with Kitchen Finks if he makes everything have persist. Time to call a judge. The friendly judge explains that everything will have persist as it dies, but only the Kitchen Finks will come back and give life to it's owner, everything else will come back with a counter as itself. I also chime in, noting that his tokens won't come back at all because they will dissapear once they are in any other zone. The judge seems slightly annoyed and says that "tokens were next". After a couple of other questions, he makes everything a finks in order to save a bunch of his guys. I still have everything on the board basically, making it much easier to beat down against his much emptier board. Another Mirrorweave with an almost empty board. I'd activated my Mutavault this time and am under the impression that if it is the target, the other creatures will be activated Mutas instead of deactivated ones. It doesn't really matter though because he only has one creature on the other side, and he's at two life from my repeated beatings.


Time to check in on Duc again, he played the mirror for the second time today, but lost this time. He was still playing the end of the game when I walked over and checked it out, and chatted with a couple of guys who play online. It's nice to meet people in real life that I know from MTGO. The Pollen Lullaby comes down on Duc one too many times, and he decides to drop out as we had agreed over lunch. Once we were out of the money, which is at 3 losses this time, we will both leave. I still have at least one more match.

Round 5

I'm back on the "win" side of the room, but it's really the losing side because the amount of players has gone way down, there are barely anyone playing at the tables I was playing at before. We all chat a bit in our litle constructed pod-table, making idle chatter about the fact that we're all just holding on for the packs that we would get if we went and won all the rest of the games that we played. We're statistically out of the top 8 for sure already. There's a little talk with players who have obviously dropped already and are waiting for their buddies to get out of there - must be their rides. Duc decides to buy a card game called Bang! which he assures me is a lot of fun. We have a little game night where we play Catan and other random games like Chez Geek and Fluxx so I'm sure I'll get to play it sooner or later.

We roll and I lose. The first couple of turns are quick - Island, Sunken Ruins, Bitterblossom. This doesn't look good for me. I know I'm pretty much cold against Faeries in game one, and I kept a hand with not a lot which I can play against the craziness which is the midrange control of the Fae. I get a couple of small beaters down like Safehold Elite, but lose pretty quickly once a Scion of Oonacomes down and starts making the beating much worse. When a second Scion of Oona comes out, making it impossible for me to win basically, I scoop.


Block-Shadowmoor deck played by lots
4 Mistbind Clique
4 Scion of Oona
2 Sower of Temptation
3 Spellstutter Sprite
2 Vendilion Clique
15 cards

Other Spells
4 Broken Ambitions
4 Cryptic Command
3 Nameless Inversion
3 Ponder
3 Thoughtseize
4 Bitterblossom
21 cards
8 Island
4 Mutavault
4 Secluded Glen
4 Sunken Ruins
4 Swamp
24 cards

0 cards
Vendilion Clique


This deck is being played by pretty much everyone. My sideboard has a couple of cards against it. Actually I could bring in almost every sideboard card against the deck and it would serve a purpose. I stew for a while and decide to bring in the Cloudthresher and Vexing Shusher. Shusher is there in order to make all the control cards useless, which is really the only way I have to beat the little fliers. The thresher serves it's normal purpose. I take out Safehold Elite and two Chameleon Colossus. You might think that the bug protection from black guy is good in this matchup, but I saw a Sower of Temptation in the first game, and I don't want him to get stolen.

In game two, I keep the hand of god against the Faerie deck: Vexing Shusher, Elvish Hexhunter, Cloudthresher and the lands to make it work. Turn one hexhunter, turn two Shusher shows the opposition who's boss, doesn't it. "Someone drew their sideboard" comes a comment from the other side. The game goes a little bit longer, with some stuff going down on the other side, and eventually me getting enough of a army on the board to take over and attack for the win.

Same sideboarding for game three, but I wasn't as lucky on the first draw. I saw a couple of turns of casting what I wanted before Spellstutter Sprite and the best command ever printed made my day a shorter one. I got cliqued a couple times, being careful to tap some lands just in case I draw an instant that I can actually cast in the draw step before not doing so and dumping all the mana into a Mutavault to get rid of it. I don't draw my sideboard this time and I am soon very much dead.


It's time to drop. Duc gets his cards back and we head for the drive home. As we're discussing on the way back, I still think it's just the luck of the draw that made Duc's deck not work quite well, and we both agree that our sideboards might be a bit better against the Elementals matchup with some of them replaced with Last Breath. I relay my problem with sideboarding, which is that I can never figure out what I want to remove for the cards that will win the game for me. We also talk about the problem with ratings that we both have from going to PTQs mostly, and that they are moving in the downward direction. I actually gained a couple of points today, but that was because I was in the dumps to begin with. We need to take some time and play some lower-competition rated events like the ones at FNM.

Well, if you're still here, I applaud you for your persistence. Next week I will take on the Standard format again, hopefully playing a couple of the queues to pass the time while the Shadowmoor events wind down. I also might talk a little bit about out common brothers in arms who make powerful decks from the cheapest of cards, the winners of SPDC, which I'm now the host for. Until next week, good luck in the queues!


Great read... by MechtaK at Thu, 07/03/2008 - 02:17
MechtaK's picture

I enjoyed this article very much.  Very informative as well as entertaining.  Kudos.