I just returned from the first of two Sacramento PTQs in the current season. This was my first time at the venue, Great Escape Games. The space is cavernous, spreading well out behind the store proper. The tournament was run smoothly and crisply by our excellent judging staff, lead by Riki Hayashi and ably assisted by other great judges from our local community, including Eric Levine, and an assist from the already qualified Kenneth Ellis (you can check out his winning list here; it was good to see him up and around).
Clearly, I didn’t top eight, or I’d still be there. That said, the tournament started soon after 10am, and I left at 7:30pm, which is excellent for an eight-round event where multiple matches went to time each round. I did that a couple of times.
That’s foreshadowing. I’ll talk more about it later.
The top tables featured an abundance of Faeries and Zoo; I also noticed some Loam and “Junk” (WBG good stuff) style decks.
Click through to the extended entry for my deck list, my round-by-round tournament report, and some after-action analysis on my deck’s issues.
(I’m just being silly and naming it “gifts” in different languages each time I run it.)
It’s important to note that I’ve clearly been consistently drinking the Johnny Kool-Aid. Deck design is one of the big joys of Magic for me. When I go through deck lists, I’m not primarily looking for optimal versions of stock decks (although I need those for testing), but for concepts and ideas I can incorporate or riff on when I go after my own designs. The potential downside here is that time spent building a new design is time not spent optimizing play with a known design, resulting in more uncertain matchups. The upside, beyond the fun of playing something I put together, is consistently having my opponents not know what I’m playing or what I’m doing.
For this event, I primarily playtested this build against Faeries and Zoo. Notice how I played Faeries, once, in the final round. Hm. Such are the consequences of losing in an early round. Here’s how it went:
Round 1, versus Tim playing Big Domain
I’m calling this deck “Big Domain” because that seems to fit it. You can see an example of the build in Ryan Reynolds’ top eighting deck from the first San Jose PTQ of this season. The basic idea is to get maximum value out of a trio of domain cards (Tribal Flames, Might, Matca Rioters) as well as a pile of other giant creatures, including Doran, Thoctars, and Knights.
I don’t really like this deck. I get the concept, but it feels like it should fold to other major players such as Loam and Faeries, and it’s not as explosive as a straight-up Zoo deck. I know Ryan did well with it, but it seems like a lot of other folks running it just crash and burn.
In game one, Tim went to 15 playing out fetches, duals and a Hierarch and Bird combo, leading into a Doran. In the meantime, I’d played out a Finks, then swept the board with Explosives, catching both Doran and a newly played Monk. I cleared out a Reliquary and the accelerators with a Damnation, then played a Garruk. Tim didn’t recover from there.
In game two, I kept a hand with some lands, double Finks, and Damnation, which seemed solid. Tim lead with turn two and three Thoctar, smacking me for some damage (and some correlated Finks life gain) before he overextended a little by playing a War Monk, at which point I swept the board. From there, I was able to keep playing out Finks, then a Primal Command, then Witness for Command, then Command again, etc, etc. Won in two.
Round 2, versus Robert playing All-In Red
When Robert opened with Mountain, Martyr of Ashes, I immediately put him on AIR, which was genuinely surprising — I would have imagined Path scaring people away from the deck. An early Deus wasn’t really an issue, but the follow-up Blood Moon had me a little concerned, so I cleared it with Engineered Explosives, only to have an Empty the Warrens dump six Goblins in play with no more sweepers on my horizon. The little men killed me.
Game two opened with me fetching all manner of basic lands (well, the handful I have in the deck) to avoid Blood Moon issues. From there, I Putrefied a Deus, then Witnesses back Putrefy and did in a second Deus, then started the Finks & Trinks beatdown. I Pathed away a final Deus and that was that.
I went to five cards in game three. I should have mulliganed even more, given that the five-card hand didn’t have a lot of action. Turn two Deus with turn three Blood Moon wasn’t so healthy for me.
One of our local crowd called a judge on me in this game (as he should have) because he thought maybe I’d sacrificed a Windswept Heath with Blood Moon in play. When the judge came by, I immediately realized what was up and said, “In response! In response!” We thanked the player for getting the judge – he did it exactly the right way, quietly grabbing a judge and not trying to talk to us or alter how we were playing the game. If you ever read columns by Riki or other judges, this is the preferred behavior. When in doubt, grab a judge rather than intervene.
This was a little bit disappointing, but I’d basically judged that AIR would be a dead deck, and that I wouldn’t need to worry too much about Blood Moon. I also think I misplayed games one and three. In game one, I shouldn’t have bothered to Explosives the Blood Moon. In game three, I should have pushed down to four cards in search of Path or some other relevant play.
Round 3, versus Scott playing Burn
First turn Mountain into Mogg Fanatic told me what Scott was playing, and I sighed again. This is also not a great matchup for the current configuration of my deck. Game one was burn to my face, burn to my face, etc, etc, Sulfuric Vortex, dead. Ugh.
In game two, I kept a hand with Terashi’s Grasp to kill Vortex and Eternal Witness. I really should have gone down to five cards (this was a mulligan to six) to get an even better hand. Again, burn just took me out.
Scott was in position to top eight by the end of the tournament. It looked like he was playing smart burn all day.
Clearly, I need a better early game against burn.
Round 4, versus Lucas playing Elves
In game one, I Pathed away Lucas’s first turn Nettle Sentinel, but two turns later he exploded, littering the field with Elves. I had a second Path in hand, which would have been nice against a MIrror Entity or Dragon kill, but against a big Elf turn, I needed to draw a sweeper (really, any of mine would have done). It didn’t happen, and two turns of ten elves did me in.
I boarded in my anti-storm/Elves suite for the second game (Canonist, Rule of Law, Thoughtseize, Betrayal). Lucas Thoughtseized me three times in the game, grabbing Witness, Trinket Mage, and Night of Souls’ Betrayal. Meanwhile, I kept sweeping his guys, eventually killing him off with random beaters.
In this game, I also attempted to play two spells in a turn with my own Rule of Law out. Oops. Got a caution for that one, and a reminder to pay attention to my cards.
The third game ran long, as I kept killing guys and he kept playing them. We went to time on this one. In extra turns, I was able to Crime back his Regal Force, but I couldn’t get in the 10 damage I needed to kill him in time. I noticed in my last turn that my Engineered Explosives was still in my graveyard and I’d had Academy Ruins in play for a little while, which made me wonder if I could have been recurring that to clear his blockers and actually kill him in time. I don’t recall the timing well enough to know if I could or not, but I consider the fact that I’d forgotten about this available resource as a clear play error.
Round 5, versus Jose playing Beasts
I like Jose, and often end up chatting with him at PTQs. I think this is the first time we’ve actually played, though.
Game one was looooong. Jose’s deck spits out beasts like mad, including Taurean Maulers, Chameleon Colossi, and Baloths. I responded with waves of removal, as well as some Kitchen Finks to keep me going. Eventually, with two giant beasts out, I pulled up a Gifts package that made sure I could play Damnation. For whatever reason, this felt like my ‘best’ Gifts of the event:
In general, I feel I’m very smooth with Gifts choices at this point. It’s almost always a matter of pulling out four cards, bang-bang-bang-bang, rather than hunting around and trying to figure out what the heck my deck is supposed to be doing. As people often say, if you have to think about what you’re searching for when you play a card like Gifts, then you don’t know what you’re deck is supposed to be doing.
I took game one after 28 minutes. This meant that, in theory, I could play to not finish game two and win the round. Note that I am explicitly not talking about stalling here, but I am also aware that even with fast play, my deck can make often make sure a game goes nowhere. With that in mind, I played as fast as I could and tried to keep Jose from killing me. This game was all about how good Jitte is, as I kept having to work to knock creatures out from under it, to try and avoid extra damage from the card. Jose Extirpated me twice, effectively missing both times as he Extirpated cards that were one-ofs (Engineered Explosives and Damnation). The weight of Jitte and beasts eventually overran me in extra turns, as I couldn’t Quarter away two copies of Contested Cliffs, which meant that Colossus could kill my blocker, and then Colossus and a Jitted up Stomphowler could kill me. This forced the draw, and I was 1-2-2.
Round 6, versus Travis playing Kithkin with Jitte
In case it seems like Travis was high when he made his deck choice, you can see that Kithkin + Jitte top eighted a PTQ.
In game one, Travis got in some early damage with Goldmeadow Stalwart and Mutavault before I played out a Kitchen Finks, followed by a Gifts for Crime//Punishment, Engineered Explosives, Life from the Loam, Academy Ruins. Garruk came into play after that, followed by sweeping with Crime//Punishment, then a Crime to grab a Wilt-Leaf Liege from Travis’s graveyard. After one big swing with double Finks and Eternal Witness backed by Liege and Garruk’s ultimate (leaving him with two counters – does that make it less ultimate?) Travis was basically done.
Game two went faster, as the Kithkin deck properly did its thing and played out a series of many-for-one creatures faster than I could remove them.
The first game had taken quite a while and gave us little time for game three, despite the speed of game two. I kept a hand that basically meant Travis would never kill me, but in the time remaining, I couldn’t take him down either, and we timed out in extra turns.
Interestingly, I think the correct play for Travis in game one would have been to concede much earlier when I clearly had control and inevitability (Ruins + Explosives!), so his much faster deck could hope to sweep games two and three. I say “interestingly” because even though I think this is the correct play, in this instance it would have given me the match win, as a faster game one would have given me time to win game three (in which I also had inevitability pretty quickly). I talked about this with Travis after the game, while trying to emphasize (repeatedly!) that he had in no way played slowly, but that I think perhaps he may have been doing himself a disservice in general by holding on in losing games. At this point, we both had multiple draws already on the day, which seems reasonable for my apparently too-slow deck, but is honestly weird for a Kithkin deck. Holding on to early unwinnable games might have caused that.
I feel I should say again that Travis was a cool guy, and he, like all my opponents today, played at a nice, brisk pace.
Round 7, versus Mike playing Big Domain
Hey, this deck again. Mike was unhappy when he saw me leading in with black-green, as that is, according to him, a terrible matchup for the Big Domain deck. I can see that, since it’s basically all dudes, and B/G decks are chock-a-block with removal. My notes are getting sketchier at this point, but I know Mike played an early Doran that I blocked for a while with Finks before killing. He knocked me to four with various beats and Tribal Flames, but I recovered with Finks and had enough removal to ice the game.
The second game started with an early Thoctar, but I was able to remove, remove, and remove again, and start attacking with Witness and then Mage. I played Etched Oracle, and Mike tapped out at 7 life to play Doran and a War Monk. In what was perhaps my most gigglingly pleasing kill of the day, I played Elspeth, made Oracle a 7/7 flier, and swung in the for the win.
Or, as Mike’s friend said, “You got Type 2ed!”
Round 8, versus Corey playing Faeries
The first Faeries matchup the day. That’s what that second-round loss will do to you (especially if you follow it up with a third-round loss). Corey’s a nice guy, and we had an epic game one that was finally, finally won by him on the back of a Jitted-up Vendilion Clique (which is pretty much how Faeries ever wins). Game two didn’t finish, as we had 14 minutes left on the round by the time game one ended. I’m not going to try and recount this game, as it was huge fun, but I almost managed to set up a nice recurring Engineered Explosives to ice things. Almost. 🙂
My deck doesn’t have a good kill condition. That’s the big one. In many games, I was able to take enough control to start dropping threats, but the threats weren’t all that solid, so I had to shift back to removal mode more than once. Or, put another way, I kept dropping back from stage three to stage two. Even though the deck has solid topdecks, it doesn’t really have amazing finishers. I’m still loathe to add things like Tarmogoyf, inasmuch as that’s often a godawful topdeck, but I’m not sure what the best finisher option is. Block and Standard Gifts decks went with giant monsters, and I’ve toyed with that idea – Gifts for Kokusho and some pals is just funny (but also expensive at six mana).
I’ve toyed with, and have not been alone in thinking of, adding in a Lark combo of some kind to this deck, since one can imagine Gifts for all the combo pieces, and Lark itself interacts well with many creatures in the deck. Still, this combo felt kind of clunky in testing, and was making me mutilate the deck in ways that made it much worse.
Other than the lack of a kill condition, I think the deck as I played it today was also a little too clever. I like searching, sometimes too much. Trinket Mage is a great little guy, but I rarely needed to use him to pull Engineered Explosives or Needle, and if I’d had a Loam matchup, I think I’d rather just side in three graveyard hate cards and rely on draw + Gifts to get me one of them. Without any pressure to go hunting these things up that way, the Mage is merely a three-mana 2/2, which is hardly a decent finisher.
I’m considering a redesign, as I think I’d like to stick with Gifts for now. The main considerations are going to be cutting even more cruft, maintaining a better early game against burn, and finishing more decisively. Suggestions are, naturally, welcome.
Now, a picture from the event:
People playing at table one (in round six or so, I think).