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By: spg, spg
Dec 27 2008 4:22pm
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Explorations #13 - Fishing For Tempest Packs

Steve Gargolinski

The snow last weekend was ridiculous!  It snowed from Friday at about noon straight through until Sunday night.  Of course I had plans pretty much all weekend that I needed to cancel, but to be honest it was kind of nice to be snowed in without anything to do - other than play MTGO and watch Netflex "Watch Instantly" documentaries with my girlfriend!  I decided to play in the Classic tournament on Sunday night.  I was really excited abouth this.  Not only does the Classic format seem like a blast, and definitely something that I could really get into, but I haven't written a tournament report in a while - I wonder if I still remember how?  I guess we'll find out.

This was my first Classic tournament (other than one eight-man and a couple of four-mans).  The last one that I tried to enter, unfortunately, came two people short of firing.  I guess that all of the Tempest release events and general holiday madness prevent people from sitting down to sling their Classic cards.  Hopefully the snow will convince a few players in the northeast to shuffle up and we make the required twenty-four player minimum.

As mentioned last time (here) I've been messing around with the NecroSpike combo deck in four-mans and the tournament practice room, but I decided not to play this deck in the daily event.  I'm still trying to learn about the Classic format (I know nothing!), and playing a combo deck doesn't seem to give me the best exposure to the metagame.  I wanted to play something that could give and take across ten or so turns, not something that aims to put everything it has into turn one Necropotence.  Obviously NecroSpike isn't as simple as that, and has many backup plans, but I just didn't want to play combo.  I wanted a little interaction, know what I mean?

Soul Spike
Tendrils of Agony
 Very strong, but not what I wanted to play...

One quick note before we start: Last time I wrote a bit about running into major jerks playing in the four-man/eight-man queues.  Well, I'm happy to say that this time around I had the exact opposite experience.  Everyone that I played was a solid player, cool, and balanced!  All in all a great experience.  Just wanted to get that out there right off the bat.

I was going to play something like LSV's Dreadstill deck from the World Championships (check out the deck tech video here) - but I couldn't get the Phyrexian Dreadnoughts in time.  I knew I wanted to play something with Stifle, Brainstorm, Swords to Plowshares, and Daze - so here's what I decided to play:

This deck is similar to something that I mess around with occasionally in Legacy, and should certainly look somewhat familiar to people experienced with Fish style decks through the years.  I decided to play this list expecting to see a metagame heavy with aggro-control and combo, since these are the decks that I was mainly playing against in the tournament practice room.  I needed plans to fight these strong archetypes.

For the aggro-control (or control) decks like fish, Landstill, or Counterbalance/Top I really wanted to play Dark Confidant and Bitterblossom.  The main goal here was to do my best to out-card advantage decks built on gaining card advantage.  My plan in these matchups was to fight like hell over an early Bitterblossom or Dark Confidant in order to counteract their respective soft locks (Standstill + Mishra's Factory or Counterbalance + Sensei's Divining Top) with Dark Confidant card advantage or the do-nothing creature creation of Bitterblossom.  The Landstill decks' Mishra's Factory plus Standstill combination goes mostly out the window with Bitterblossom in play, since chances are my deck's going to be able to race them.

One problem with this plan is that there's a significant amount of life loss involved.  In order to counter this I maindecked two copies of Umezawa's Jitte, which not only recover lost life - but also provide a serious path towards victory.  My life total also benefits from the fact that I don't need to run Breeding Pool (or other shock lands) like Threshold does, so instead of taking damage from my manabase (other than the fetch lands) I take damage to draw cards or put evasive threats into play.

I was definitely worried about the Threshold matchup.  They may take damage from their lands, but obviously this allows them to play some ridiculously powerful cards.  I was worried about turn one Nimble Mongoose, which isn't nearly as easy to take out as a 1/1 should be.  Personally I'm much more worried about Nimble Mongoose than Tarmogoyf; the big guy can be taken out with Swords to Plowshares.  The playset of Jotun Grunts in the deck are the best weapon against Threshold, if you can manage to keep one in play, which is no small task.

The other matchup I had in mind specifically was combo, either Goblin Charbelcher, NecroSpike, or Burning Wish.  I'm running eight free counterspells maindeck (Force of Will and Daze) along with a maindeck playset of Stifle and three copies each of Meddling Mage and Spell Snare.  This is a decent amount of firepower to fight an early combo, and after sideboarding you can bring in Pithing Needle and an additional Meddling Mage. 

The enemy

I cut one copy of Umezawa's Jitte at the last second for the third Spell Snare, and I'm pretty sure that is the correct decision.  Jitte isn't completely necessary to win, although it certainly helps, and there are so many strong cards in the format for Spell Snare to counter.

Speaking of the sideboard, I'm pretty sure that mine is terrible.  After the tournament I'll need to think some more about how to build one properly.  I tried to throw in cards for the matchups that I didn't focus on for the maindeck.  Disenchant and Hurkyl's Recall for Affinity, and Hydroblast for Goblins (or other red aggro) and Burn.  Like I said, this definitely needs some work.

The deck is rounded out with staples like Brainstorm and Swords to Plowshares, and also runs a full playset of Spellstutter Sprite.  I was excited about running the Sprites, since they can counterspell Brainstorm, Ponder, Dark Ritual, or Swords to Plowshares easily - and combo with Bitterblossom to counterspell all sorts of powerful spells.  Their ability to take out Brainstorm and Ponder helps to further the fight over card advantage.  Spellstutter Sprites also fly through with a Jitte as a finisher.

Between the main deck and the sideboard, this deck also runs a playset of Meddling Mage - which is one of my personal favorite cards.  Whenever I'm trying to gain (or regain) knowledge of an eternal metagame, I love to play the Meddling Mage.  Chris Pikula's Invitational card is obviously very powerful, and it also really forces me to pay attention to the matchup (even more so than usual) and which cards are the key to winning and losing.

Alright that pretty much covers the deck.  I entered the Classic daily event on Sunday, and it fired - so here we go...

Round 1 vs wearelegion with UBWG Countertop

Game 1

My opponent Thoughtseizes away a Spellstutter Sprite and then casts Tarmogoyf, which I counter with Jotun Grunt.  We each cast Swords to Plowshares to remove any immediate threats, and I lay down a second Jotun Grunt.  My opponent tries to take it out with another Swords to Plowshares, but I have Spellstutter Sprite.

I untap and cast Bitterblossom while wearelegion plays out Mishra's Factory, and starts to beatdown.  He tries to resolve Counterbalance, but I have another Spellstutter Sprite who is able to counterspell thanks to Bitterblossom.  I swing for a few turns and win.

In:  3x Disenchent, 1x Meddling Mage
Out:  4x Stifle

I was pretty scared of getting stuck under Counterbalance/Top, so I brought in some Disenchants and another proactive beater.  I couldn't figure out anything better than the Stifles to take out for room.

Game 2

wearelegion starts off with Tundra and Sensei's Divining Top and then Dark Confidant.  I play out Meddling Mage, naming Counterbalance, and then take his Dark Confidant out with Swords to Plowshares.  I cast Umezawa's Jitte and he plays Brainstorm, Ponder, activates Top, and then Swords to Plowshares away my Meddling Mage - but I use Daze to save the Mage.

I cast Dark Confidant and start swinging with the the Confidant, Meddling Mage and Umezawa's Jitte.  wearelegion uses Top, plays Brainstorm, activates Top again, and then concedes.  I guess he didn't find the Swords?

Win 2-0.  1-0 (2-0)

Round 2 vs s1mple with Burning Wish Combo

Game 1

s1mple leads with Thoughtsize, grabbing Daze, and then plays double Brainstorm on his second turn.  I draw Daze (leaving me with two in hand in addition to the one in my graveyard), so I play out Bitterblossom and pass the turn.  My opponent plays a bunch of acceleration and uses Lion's Eye Diamond to get blue mana into Diminishing Returns.  I let it resolve, and draw into an awesome control hand with double Spellstutter Sprite, Daze, Force of Will, and Dark Confidant.

I cast out Confidant and s1mple uses Duress to grab Force of Will.  I beat down with Bitterblossom tokens and the Dark Confidant, and then cast Meddling Mage naming Rite of Flame.  s1mple casts Ponder and I grab it with Spellstutter Sprite, untap, and swing for the last nine damage.

In:  3x Pithing Needle, 1x Meddling Mage
Out:  4x Swords to Plowshares

Swords to Plowshares isn't very useful agaisnt Empty the Warrens tokens, and Pithing Needle and Mage can shut down the core components of most combo decks.  Cue the foreshadowing...

Game 2

I mulligan down to five without seeing Force of Will to a strong hand with Polluted Delta, double Stifle, Daze, and Brainstorm.  If he doesn't kill me on the first turn, then I should be in good shape.  s1mple plays Chrome Mox, Ponder, a bunch of acceleration, and then makes 16 goblins with Empty the Warrens.  I obviously can't handle that.

Burning Wish

Game 3

Notice above how I sideboarded in Pithing Needle?  Total stupidity, I know!  For some reason I didn't figure out that my opponent is not playing Goblin Charbelcher, or anything else really to use Pithing Needle on, which should have been totally obvious.  I should have known this after game one, and I guess I was a little shaken from game two's mulligan plus first turn functional death.  There's really no excuse here, it was just a donkey move.  Anyway, I play turn one Pithing Needle and name Lion's Eye Diamond.  I know that this doesn't work, but there's a small chance that my opponent doesn't.

s1mple Ponders on turn one, and then I cast Dark Confidant on turn two.  He untaps and casts Rite of Flame into Cabal Ritual which I Force of Will, forcing him to pass the turn.  I cast Meddling Mage naming Burning Wish and then bring Umezawa's Jitte into play, beating down for the win.

Win 2-1.  2-0 (4-1 games)

These games went pretty quick so before round four I had some time to finish up the last story in Stephen King's newest book Just After Sunset.  If you have any interest at all in something like this, then I'd recommend it quite highly.  One of Stephen King's best attributes as a writer is his ability to make the reader quickly care about pretty much every character he introduces, no matter how minor.  It seems that within one or two paragraphs I'm totally invested in every new character.  This translates very well into the short story format.

This is also why Stephen King is so good at scaring people.  Other horror authors may be able to one up him when it comes to suspense or gore, but King is one of the best that I've ever read about actually forcing you to CARE about these people.  Every made-to-scare 'business line' that he writes is amplified that much more when you're so emotionally invested.

Back to the tournament!

Round 3 vs whiffy penguin with WU Control

Game 1

I have the first action of the game with Dark Confidant on turn two.  whiffy penguin tries to Counterspell, but I have Daze in response.  He untaps and tries to use Swords to Plowshares on my Dark Confidant, but I have Force of Will.  Remember above when I said you should fight like hell to stick Dark Confidant in this sort of matchup?  This is pretty much what I had in mind.

I bring down Meddling Mage and name Standstill.  whiffy penguin casts Engineered Explosives, which was a real surprise to me.  Maybe I should have known, but I wasn't expecting to deal with the Explosives in this matchup.  I use Daze to tap him down to one mana, so that I keep my two creatures for another turn at least, and whiffy penguin casts Brainstorm in response and passes the turn.

I'm thankful that I used the Daze for his Engineered Explosives, since Confidant drew me into a much needed third land and Force of Will.  He fires off his Engineered Explosives, and I come back with another Dark Confidant.  He tries to Spell Snare, but I have the aforementioned Force of Will to counter.  whiffy pengiun lays down another Engineered Explosives and fires it off, but I have Stifle to save my Confidant.  I untap and draw a fourth land and second Meddling Mage.  I play out both Mages and name Standstill and Engineered Explosives.  From here I beat down for the win.

In:  1x Meddling Mage
Out:  1x Spellstutter Sprite
Engineered Explosives

Engineered Explosives is an absolute beating aginst my deck, and Spellstutter Sprite has a really hard time keeping it off of the table without Bitterblossom in play.  I swapped in one Meddling Mage for some additional protection.

Game 2

We have the exact same opening as game one:  I cast turn two Dark Confidant, whiffy penguin tries to Counterspell, and I use Daze to resolve my creature.  He plays out Mishra's Factory and then Stifles my fetchland activation.  I swing with Dark Confidant and try to cast Bitterblossom, but it is nailed by Counterspell.  whiffy penguin cycles Eternal Dragon, and then I Stifle a Mishra's Factory defensive pump to trade with Dark Confidant.

With an empty board I cast and resolve Meddling Mage, naming Engineered Explosives.  That Stifle on my fetchland earlier really hurt; I'm only on two mana and can't cast the business spells fast enough that are clogging up my hand.  whiffy penguin cycles Decree of Justice to chump block the Mage, and I take the tapped out opportunity to cast a second Meddling Mage naming Standstill.  I'm way down on mana and can't really afford to fall behind on card advantage also.

whiffy penguin untaps and casts Wrath of God, which takes out both of my Meddling Mages.  I had Daze and Spell Snare, not enough to stop the Wrath of God.  I cast Jotun Grunt to get going again and he gets taken out with Force of Will.  I'm still stuck on two land, but I do manage to resolve Jotun Grunt and then Umezawa's Jitte.  Another Wrath of God takes out the Grunt, and then Standstill sticks.

With whiffy penguin low on life, I decide to break Standstill with Spellstutter Sprite.  I can start swinging immediately with Jitte (that already has two counters), and besides I've got a Stifle to counter the Standstill ability - so I won't give him the three cards.  Except of course, that's not how it works - Stifle just triggers the Standstill again, and I'm stuck again feeling like a donkey.  Thankfully he didn't draw anything to stop the Sprite or Jitte and I won within a few turns.

Win 2-0.  3-0 (6-1 games)

Round 4 vs MtgCollector with GWUr Threshold

Game 1

MtgCollector starts off with Nimble Mongoose on turn one, and there's nothing I can do about it.  I play out Jotun Grunt, which can battle the Nimble Mongoose quite well, but he gets taken out with Swords to Plowshares.  I cast out another Jotun Grunt, and MtgCollector casts Force of Will - but I have my own Force by this point and the 4/4 sticks.

Jotun Grunt
My key to victory, if I can keep him in play for more than a turn...

I get Bitterblossom into play and beat down with the Grunt for a few turns, but he eventually starves.  MtgCollector attacks with the Mongoose and then plays Brainstorm and double Lightning Bolt to me in order to get back to threshold.  He tries to cast Tarmogoyf, but I take it out with Force of Will.  I'm able to race him sucessfully with my Bitterblossom versus his Nimble Mongoose.

In: 1x Umezawa's Jitte, 1x Meddling Mage
Out:  2x Stifle

Stifle is mainly land destruction against Threshold, which is obviously very good, but I figured that to win this match I would need to battle with creatures - so I brought in the only one in my sideboard along with a Jitte to make fights easier.

Game 2

MtgCollector starts off with Nimble Mongoose, Brainstorm, and Ponder.  I cast out Dark Confidant, who gets taken out with Lightning Bolt.  I am not exactly winning the war on cards in the early going!  He casts out Tarmogoyf, and I remove it with Swords to Plowshares.  I try a second Confidant, but MtgCollector uses swords to take out my creatures and also get himself up to threshold in one fell swoop.

I try to come back with Jotun Grunt, but he Brainstorms into Echoing Truth and bounces the Grunt.  He gets through with Nimble Mongoose and then lays down Tarmogoyf.  I untap and cast out double Jotun Grunt, who double up to take out Tarmogoyf.  I cast out Jitte on the Grunt, but MtgCollector has Swords to Plowshares.  Despite my Grunt, he's still at threshold and I'm on a fairly short clock.

I draw and cast Dark Confidant, but MtgCollector has Force of Will.  I Force his Force and equip Confidant with my Jitte.  I'm down to one life after the Force and the Mongoose attack, so I use the Jitte counters to go up to five life.  What do you think I flipped with Dark Confidant?  What is the only card in my deck that costs more than two?  Force of Will, of course.  This seems like a bad beat, but I was fighting a serious uphill battle anyway.

Game 3

Nimble Mongoose comes down on turn one, and I take it out with Force of Will.  MtgCollector casts Ponder, and I try to grab it with Spellstutter Sprite - but he has a Force of Will of his own.  I cast Jotun Grunt and then use Daze to counter my opponent's Tarmogoyf.  MtgCollector uses Brainstorm into Swords to Plowshares on my Grunt.  I have Force of Will, but nothing to pitch to it.  He resolves Nimble Mongoose.  This last exchange gives MtgCollector threshold.

I topdeck Jotun Grunt, and he Brainstorms into another Swords to Plowshares to take it out.  He casts Tarmogoyf and I topdeck a Swords of my own.  I topdeck ANOTHER Jotun Grunt and he casts ANOTHER Brainstorm into ANOTHER Swords to Plowshares.  I draw Dark Confidant, but Counterspell stops him before he hits the table.  I use this opportunity to get Umezawa's Jitte in play.  I draw and resolve Meddling Mage, naming Lightning Bolt, so naturally MtgCollector takes the Mage out with Pyroblast as I try to equip the Jitte.

From here I can't do anything else and just get beat down by Nimble Mongoose.

Nimble Mongoose

Loss 1-2.  3-1 (7-3 games)

That last matchup was really awesome Magic, and reminds me of why I play the game in the first place.  It was a bummer that I lost, sure, but all three of the games were exciting and I fluctuated constantly from guaranteed victory to certain defeat and back.  I thought for sure in game three I was going to pull it off, I was topdecking like an absolutely champion, but in the end his topdecks were even better than mine.  It didn't help that I had zero Brainstorms and he had plenty, but hey - those are the breaks.

The good news is that he was the number one, and after the loss I'm in third place.  This guarantees me top eight no matter what happens in round five.

Round 5 vs rinazina with Affinity

As mentioned above, we're both guaranteed top 8 at this point.  I end up winning a match that argues strongly for allowing intentional draws on MTGO - but that's the subject of another article!

Win 2-1.  4-1 (9-4 games)

Top 8 vs War.MasterR. with BUr Spiked Necro

Game 1

War.MasteR. plays turn one Dark Ritual and Necropotence, Soul Spiking me twice.  Too bad I didn't have Force of Will.  I try to fight back over the next few turns with Jotun Grunt and Daze, but he takes out my clock with Chain of Vapor and eventually gets me with a Tendrils kill.

In:  3x Pithing Needle, 1x Meddling Mage
Out:  2x Swords to Plowshares, 2x Jotun Grunt

This is a similar plan to the combo deck I played above, except instead of siding out all four copies of Swords I left two in for the Tombstalker plan.  I wanted to keep all of my counterspells Jotun Grunt seemed like the least disruptive creature against NecroSpike.  I can definitely be convinced otherwise!

Also, in this combo matchup the Pithing Needles are actually useful!

Game 2

I cast Pithing Needle on turn one and successfully fight through Force of Will with Daze, and name Necropotence.  I get turn two Meddling Mage and name Tombstalker.  War.Master. uses Duress to take away Bitterblossom, and I cast out a topdecked Umezawa's Jitte.  He plays Demonic Consultation, but I counter it with Spellstutter Sprite.  My Sprite, Meddling Mage, and Umezawa's Jitte go all the way.

Game 3

I mulligan down to six and keep a really solid hand without Force of Will.  War.MasteR. gets Ritual and Necro through my Daze thanks to Lotus Petal, and then uses Duress to take away my Stifle.  I cast Meddling Mage naming Soul Spike, and unfortunately the Mage goes down to Pyroblast.  I Daze his attempt at a Brainstorm, and start to think I might actually win this thing.  He's down to five life from Necropotence and has a hand full of cards.  He starts to go off with Dark Ritual, and if I can stall him out this turn - then I might bleed him dry of cards.  He follows up his Dark Ritual with Cabal Ritual and I cast Force of Will...  but he has his own Force of Will and manages to resolve Tendrils for the win.

So close!

Loss 1-2.

I ended up in fifth place with six packs of Tempest.  Not too bad for my first go at a Classic tournament!  The two matches that I lost were very close, and definitely winnable with a slightly different shuffle of the deck (either mine or theirs).  And I only made TWO totally obvious hand-meet-forehead mistakes, although I'm sure I made about one hundred smaller ones.

So what would I do differently next time?  Well, one tournament isn't enough data to completely inform me of how to change the deck, so I'll need to hit the tournament practice room with this list for a bit - but there are some things that I feel somewhat strongly about.  In general, I was very happy with the maindeck - but the sideboard definitely needs some love.

As mentioned above, at the last minute I cut a maindeck Umezawa's Jitte for a third copy of Spell Snare.  I'm pretty sure this was the correct move, but I really want to find a way to get the fourth Spell Snare into the deck - at least in the sideboard, if not maindecked.  The Jotun Grunts were absolutely fantastic every time that I drew them.  Bitterblossom made the transition over to Classic very well, and had a huge impact on every game where I managed to resolve it.  Bitterblossom in play with Spellstutter Sprite in hand and two open mana is some beating - and even more brutal if there's a Jitte involved!

In addition to this, I think that this deck needs 4x AEther Vial to side in against decks resembling control or aggro-control.  This one change, I think, can improve my matchup with Threshold a great deal.  I'm not running anything like Isamaru in this deck, and Aether Vial would give me a solid turn one drop - something at least somewhat parallel to Nimble Mongoose in threshold decks.  All of my threats are at two mana, so there's no worry about where to set the Vial.

Also as mentioned above, the sideboard is definitely not optimal with this deck.  I'll have to do some experimentation to see which fifteen cards I need the most.  I didn't see anything resembling Goblins or Burn, so my four Hydroblasts sat there unused all day.  Disenchant and Hurkyl's Recall were there for Affinity, which I feel is another weak matchup for this deck.  Hurkyl's Recall is strong, but there's gotta be something better than Disenchant, right?

AEther Vial

That's about it for today.  I'd love to hear feedback on this deck and tournament from all of the Classic masters out there.  Did I screw up with my maindeck?  Did I name things incorrectly with Meddling Mage?  Did I make any other play mistakes?  What should my sideboard look like?  Let me know!

Steve Gargolinski


Good but ... no dredge MU by Anonymous(Unregistered) (not verified) at Fri, 01/09/2009 - 05:22
Anonymous(Unregistered)'s picture

this deck is really good (i relaly like fish archetype) : grea, nice build!

however, i saw 1 major lack in sb : nothing against Dredge deck, and this is a real problem because counter doent do enough the job imo, and meddling that could be useful in many case, is almost useless vs dredge decks...

Stifle is interesting to avoid some effects but in a traditionnal dredge deck you could find many many effect to counter (icho, cephalid, narco, ....), and i am almost sure that you will need much more than 4x stifle if it is your only defense without any tormod or relic.

It doesnt mean you cannot win : everything is possible, and a good management of the countes could help, however I think to put 1-2 echoing truth would be a good idea, but i have to test.

To optimize this deck, it could be interesting to try to integrate true believer (helpful vs tendrils/burn/discard) and/or maybe 1-2 serra avenger.

Last thing : Aether vial is interesting too as you mentionned vs standstil/counterdeck but make you more sensitive to needle that lots of player are actually running... and there is a problem with vial imo : to be really effecient, it has to be played in more than 2xto get it early in the game without tutor needed (if you have a late vial, i am not sure it really help you more than many other cards).

But great article, great results so => gg 




by spg at Sun, 12/28/2008 - 08:53
spg's picture

I think you're right about Meddling Mage for Standstill.  I was so crazy paranoid about winning the card advantage war, that I think it clouded my judgement a bit.

niceness by whiffy at Sat, 12/27/2008 - 16:54
whiffy's picture

so i think the deck is well built and has a way to get over on most of the decks youll see. as far as meddling mage. against me you named standstill twice when you were ahead. a better spell would have been stp. the sb looks good except for disenchant.

you maye wanna make a lil more hate for dredge or affinaty in your board.


just my humble opoinion.

and good job on top 8


Good Job by Katastrophe at Sat, 12/27/2008 - 18:21
Katastrophe's picture

You're very humble about your success. So basically: "Last week I played the top combo deck. But this week I'm playing my own build of Fish because I actually want to play Magic and see some decks, not just win for free." hehehe.

Your round 4 game was awesome! So was your top 8. I know nothing about the format so I have nothing to contribute.