Tournament report — Romper Room at PTQ Berlin 2008

I just returned early from the final PTQ I’ll be attending for the 2008 Berlin PTQ season. I brought my latest iteration of a Planeswalker-centric control deck. Overall, I think it performed as well as it could have, but I should have made some different design decisions and a few different play decisions as well. Click through to the extended for the decklist, some explanations about that decklist, five rounds of tournament report, and then a revised decklist that I’d use if I went again.


Romper Room

18 Creatures:
Kitchen Finks
Doran, the Siege Tower
Chameleon Colossus
Shriekmaw
Cloudthresher
18 Spells:
Thoughtseize
Nameless Inversion
Oblivion Ring
Hallowed Burial
Liliana Vess
Profane Command
27 Land:
Gilt-Leaf Palace
Murmuring Bosk
Reflecting Pool
Wooded Bastion
Fetid Heath
Mutavault
Plains
Swamp
Forest
15 Sideboard:
Runed Halo
Wispmare
Cold-Eyed Selkie
Fulminator Mage

One of the lessons I’m trying to incorporate into all things, from writing through work to gaming, is to not grow too attached to an idea, to the exclusion of success. In prior iterations of my Lorwyn-Shadowmoor block decks, I’ve had both Liliana Vess and Garruk Wildspeaker. In testing, however, I’ve figured out that Garruk just isn’t doing anything good in this kind of deck. As one of the people I played today said, “In Standard, he’s awesome. In Block, he sucks.” Thus, out the door for Garruk. I briefly toyed with the idea of having Bloom Tenders for mana acceleration, and having the Bloom King infinite combo pieces sitting in the sideboard. However, after really thinking about it, and despite loving the idea of hitting and infinite combo in the PTQ, I realized that any deck against which I could run out the combo successfully I would just beat anyway. It’s a win-more.
So it’s out.
Then on reflection, I decided that four mana acceleration pieces wasn’t going to be helpful at all, either. Out went the Bloom Tenders.
That left, then, the final build above. The hope was that I’d be able to deal with aggro — specifically, Kithkin — rushes by using eight one-for-one removal elements followed by the Hallowed Burials and playing out Dorans, Chameleons, and Finks. I had four Fulminators in the side against five-color control decks, and the Selkies and Wispmares in the side against Faeries. The Halos were a catchall, with a specific eye toward deflecting problematic red spells (e.g. Demigod of Revenge).
I’ll talk a little bit about the remaining flaws in this design after I go through my rounds.
Round 1, versus Earl playing mono-red
In game one, I mulliganed to five after drawing two different “all stuff, no lands” hands. The final hand was decent enough, with two lands and some removal spells. Early actually didn’t get off to a fast start himself, just playing out Mountains for several turns before playing out a Fiery Bombardment (I had to read it) and smacking me with a Flame Javelin at the end of one of my turns. He followed this up with a Ram Gang — I killed it, but he used the Bombardment to throw it at me. For the record, that had me down to 10 life. He followed that up with a Demigod of Revenge. By this point, I’d Obligion Ringed the Bombardment, and was able to then Burial away the Demigod. I played out a Colossus, which he Lashed out, winning the clash to take me to 2. He followed that with some random burn spell and I scooped.
I sided in three Runed Halo and took out the Threshers.
In game two, my hand felt solid, and I was able to play out a fast Doran to get in one hit. Unfortunately, a Demigod of Revenge flew overheard and took me to 15. Demigod hit me again, and Earl played out a Bombardment and threw the Demigod at my face, following it up with some burn spells for the win. Uck.
I realized, after losing game two, that I should have sided in the quartet of Wispmares for my Thoughtseizes. A ‘Seize can save some damage, but the Wispmares would have been able to kill the Bombardments and put bodies in the way of Stigma Lashers, Demigods, and other problem creatures. See also my general thoughts on deck design below.
Round 2, versus Yoshi playing Doran
I sat down for round 2 a little annoyed at having missed the obvious side-in of Wispmares, and hoping not to just hit a wall of burn again.
I was on the play this time around, and opened with a Palace into a Thoughtseize, seeing double Doran, Nameless Inversion, Scarblade Elite, Wren’s Run Vanquisher, Reflecting Pool, and Murmuring Bosk. I took the Elite, denying him the Assassin engine for later. Yoshi returned the favor with a Thoughtseize of his own (“What a topdeck” — his quote), taking a Chameleon Colossus out of my hand. He followed that up with a Doran, who knocked me down to 13. I played out a Kitchen Finks to chump and rack up some life, returning me to 17. As he finally plowed through the Finks, Doran hit me again and I went to 12. At this point, I stalled Doran with a Colossus, then played out Liliana and began to grind away Yoshi’s hand. I played a second Colossus and began sending with the free one, crunching through Yoshi’s life. He wasn’t able to recover in time to do anything about Liliana, and I hit her ultimate ability, ending up with a bonus Doran, Kitchen Finks, Chameleon Colossus, and an assortment of other things. I swung for the win on the following turn.
Any tournament in which I get to use Liliana’s ultimate power is very satisfying. I think it’s one of my checkpoints.
For game two, I removed the Cloudthreshers and stuck in triple Halo.
Yoshi chose to play, and mulliganed to six.
Then five.
Then four.
He kept at four, and said “Go.” When I blinked at this, he repeated it and we both shook our heads. As he struggled to get any lands at all in play, I played out Doran, then a Colossus, then a second Colussus. As the game ended, he had a Vivid Marsh and a Murmuring Bosk in play and nothing else.
Afterward, he remarked that he should have kept his six-card hand — all land. Basically, he went from seven nonland cards to six lands, then down to five nonland cards, and finally four nonland cards. With such a bad four-card hand, I might have even gone down to three, but no matter what, it was pretty terrible for him. I do think his six-card mulligan was probably correct.
As Mike Flores says, you don’t learn as much from winning. Most of my plays seemed fine in this match, and I don’t think I would have done anything too different.
Round 3, versus Jonathan playing Faeries
Jonathan was a nice guy, and pleasantly conversational throughout. I appreciate that, as it’s sort of the optimal place in between “sullen silence” and “trying to throw you off your game with conversation.”
In game one, he led with a Thoughtseize for Colossus followed by a hit to the face with Mutavault, putting us even at 18. A second Thoughtseize revealed a hand of Liliana and an ugly assortment of black removal. I played out a Chameleon Colossus and rode it all the way to the win.
In game two, Jonathan got a fast Faeries start, Thoughtseizing away a Wispmare from my hand then playing out Bitterblossom. I’d sided in my four Selkies (for the Finks) and four Wispmares (for the Profanes, O-Ring, and a Shriekmaw). He backed the Blossom with countermagic, knocking down my early attemps to play out Selkies or do pretty much anything. Mistbind Clique stole a late turn for me, and Faerie Rogues killed me. Just like that.
For game three, I believe I made a mistaken keep. My opening hand was double Wispmare, Shriekmaw, Cloudthresher, Hallowed Burial, Gilt-Leaf Palace, and Wooded Bastion. Hey, that’s three sideboard cards!
Oh, and two lands. Bad keep.
I lost the Thresher to an early Thoughtseize, then stumbled on my mana, drawing Selkies instead of lands. I was able to Seize away a Clique in the midgame, but he was able to counter my Selkies. I eventually stuck a Liliana, then foolishly made Jonathan discard — after which he dropped an end of turn Pestermite and swung for six with her and two Vaults to kill Lily. I followed that up with a Burial to sweep his board…except those two Mutavaults, that came over to kill me afterward. Unfortunate.
I definitely think I made an incorrect keep for the third game. The second game was out of my hands, but the third game could have gone much better if I’d gone to six cards. Also…I really, really should have tutored something functional up with Liliana as my first use of her, rather than going for the grinding play. Although I didn’t know he had Pestermite in hand, any number of cards from his deck could have made Liliana vulnerable to a kill on his next turn. Rather than start the grind when I had so few solutions in hand, I should have tutored something, accepted the loss, and started protecting myself better.
So, lessons learned this time? Don’t be taken in by a poor hand with some sideboard cards in it, and don’t automatically go for the grind plan on Liliana.
Round 4, versus Tristan playing five-color control (AKA Justice Toast)
I dropped to 17 on the play to kick out an untapped Bosk and Thoughseize away one of Tristan’s Makeshift Mannequins. His hand was clearly five-color control, featuring a Reflecting Pool, a Cascade Bluffs, a Firespout, an Archon, and both Austere and Cryptic Command. Eesh, and all that. I followed the Seize with a Finks as Jonathan missed a land drop. I started hitting him with the finks, then played out Liliana after he tapped out for some reason or another. With many solutions in hand, I did a bit of grinding with Liliana, forcing him to discard even as he was evoking Mulldrifter to try and maintain card advantage and plumb for solutions. He played out Archon, and I enacted my clever anti-archon plan. I used Liliana to tutor another Liliana to the top of my deck, then played Shriekmaw to kill the Archon. He made the proper decision and RFGed my Liliana — so I simply played out the backup on the following turn and continued the grinding even as the Kitchen Finks made it in. He eventually brought out a Cloudthresher by way of attempting to stop the bleeding, killing off Liliana (who I’d gone back to tutoring with)…but it was to no avail, as that knocked him down to a perilous 3 life and I Profaned him for the win.
When I played out Liliana the first time in this game, the guy sitting beside me said, “Liliana?” People still aren’t playing her very much, and she is an excellent, excellent control card. She’s a multi-option Vampiric Tutor / Hypnotic Specter / Patriarch’s Bidding that just hangs around and does her thing, eventually soaking up some harm that would otherwise go your way.
For game two, I yanked my Finks and swapped in my anti-Toast technology — Fulminator Mage.
In game two, I had the first play in the form of Bosk into Thoughtseize for Tristan’s Runed Halo. One of the nice things about playing my brand of big-critter control is that I was able to simply not worry about the Firespout I saw in Tristan’s opening hand.
Tristan played a Kitchen Finks (22), and I moved my life in the other direction with another Bosk-fueled Thoughtseize, grabbing…well, some card that I scribbled so horribly I can’t tell what it is. I also played a Chameleon Colossus, ramming it into the Finks (24), and then into Jonathan (20). My notes here are not super clear, but I played out another Chameleon Colossus. A little sadly, Jonathan played out a Shriekmaw killing nothing, and took some Colossus hits on the way back, putting him to 8. He then swung with Shriekmaw, and played his Colossus. I swung back with two Chameleons and room to pump one of them. He blocked one with two mana open, and I paused for moment, thinking, “What possible outs could he have for two mana that would make it a bad plan for me to just pump the free Colossus?”
After my memory told me that the only possibly relevant card was Pollen Lullaby, I decided that was crazy talk, pumped the Colossus, and killed him.
Afterward, he said he’d been hoping I’d just stall out for a turn based on doubt about his possible plays there, and he could draw into a solution.
I, in turn, explained that I’d used Liliana to tutor her own replacement the turn that I killed the Archon. I gathered from his response that Jonathan thought I’d just had another in hand — the self replacement play hadn’t really occurred to him.
Round 5, versus Roger playing Kithkin
Kithkin were abundantly present at the PTQ, but Roger was the first Kithkin player I ran into on the day (obviously). He was on the play in game one. I Seized away a Stillmoon, and he led the violence with a Knight of Meadowgrain. I played out some Kitchen Finks, chump blocking the Knight and regaining some life even as his started to skyrocket. He played out another Stillmoon about which I could do very little, until I finally hit Liliana mana, played her out, and tutored up a Burial. I swept his board and preemptively tutored another Burial. He played out some more creatures and I swept again, being down at an exceedingly precarious 1 life from all the Stillmoon harm (he, on the other hand, was at 30). Finally, he played out a Cloudgoat Ranger that I couldn’t do anything about, and I had to pack it in.
For the second game, I sided in three Halos and a Fulminator mage for the Thoughtseizes, the Halos to stop the Stillmoons, and the mage as a warm body that might kill a Windbrisk Heights. I led with some Kitchen Finks as he led with a Windbrisk Heights (there it is) and a Spectral Procession. I played my removal very aggressively, evoking two Shriekmaws to kill Procession spirits and keep him off Heights activation. He played a Cloudgoat Ranger and I reflected on just how much four lands wasn’t good enough to get the Liliana in my hand out on the field. I was able to deflect his Stillmoons with my Chameleons, but he just kept playing things out, ending up with double Wizened Cenn and a host of Kithkin and Spirits. At a crucial moment, I was able to sweep his air team — including a flying Stillmoon — with a Cloudthresher, dropping to 3 life (to his 12 — I’d managed some early hits with Finks) but still having double Chameleon Colosuss to serve as able blockers until some more action arrived.
Then he played a Figure of Destiny. I drew, had no removal for it, and he pumped it to a 4/4. On his turn, it went to 8/8 and flying, and that was game and match.
At this point, I dropped from the tournament.
Lessons Learned
Although I successfully ditched the underperforming Garruk and did not include the silly infinite mana sideboard action, I was still too attached to the idea of remaining in three color, having lands that didn’t come into play tapped, and relying on big-mana spells to really keep me alive. Based on my first and last matches, I feel confident in saying that I didn’t have the kind of removal I needed to live through the early game against the kind of highly, highly aggressive decks that are present in Lorwyn-Shadowmoor block play. See the updated decklist below for what I’d do about this.
Game-play-wise, I was mostly happy with my decisions, but there is, as always, room for improvement. I had a couple suspect keeps, most notably the third game keep against Faeries in which I was tempted by a hand with poor mana but a host of sideboard cards. I also made a mistake in not sideboarding in my Wispmares for the second game against the red deck in round one. Certainly, Fiery Bombardment is an unexpected card choice, but I should have made the decision on the fly to drop in the Wispmares, as they served multiple good purposes in keeping me alive in that matchup (or they would have, at any rate). The other major play issue for me was not just defaulting to discard with Liliana. There were at least two instances when I should have tutored immediately for a viable solution, rather than going for the discard. Too often, I’ll be taken off guard by some unexpected harm heading her way that means that she becomes a five-mana discard-and-damage-soak spell, which is much less favorable than a five-mana tutor-and-damage-soak spell.
Romper Room Revisited
Incidentally, in my naming scheme here, Liliana Vess is Miss Soco (a reference that may not make any sense at all to you if you weren’t watching the Southern California version of the show in the early 80s).
The revised decklist:

18 Creatures:
Kitchen Finks
Doran, the Siege Tower
Chameleon Colossus
Shriekmaw
Cloudthresher
18 Spells:
Thoughtseize
Nameless Inversion
Firespout
Hallowed Burial
Liliana Vess
24 Land:
Murmuring Bosk
Gilt-Leaf Palace
Vivid Grove
Vivid Marsh
Reflecting Pool
Graven Cairns
Fire-Lit Thicket
Wooded Bastion
Fetid Heath
15 Sideboard:
Runed Halo
Wispmare
Fulminator Mage
Hallowed Burial
Cloudthresher
Chandra Nalaar

So, what have we gone for here?
Well, Firespouts. The four maindeck Firespouts help against early rushes and against those damn pesky Faeries. It’s nice to have bucketloads of removal to sweep things from the sky, or to draw out counterspells so you can Thresh them away. To make room for the current mass removal package, I’ve cut the two Profanes (which are good, but there’s just no room) and the random, one-of Oblivion Ring. The mana base is provisional, as the actual final balance is the kind of thing that I need to evaluate to understand, rather than the kind of thing I think I can figure out ahead of time. Over in the sideboard, I’ve dropped the Selkies. They actually are a magnificent beating against Faeries, but I needed the room for the fourth Burial, and I decided to go for an extra Thresher and an extra Halo for their appropriate matchups. I filled the last sideboard slot with Chandra. I’m not sure if that should ever come up, but hey — extra Planeswalker! Finally, I ditched my Mutavaults. They just never did anything, despite their increasing price tag (now more than double what I paid for them…how did people not figure out in advance that Mishra’s Factory is good?).
At the end of the day, I think I was still too attached to the idea of not having to use Vivids, and in this format, that’s a really big liability to saddle yourself with. I should have bit the bullet, followed the lead of the recent GP-Trial successful builds that used Spouts for early mass removal to avoid being overrun by Kithkin and mono-red. If I had one more event to attend (sadly, there won’t be one in New York when I’m there next week), I’d play a tested version of the above build.
I have no idea if Miss Soco would approve.