Regionals 2009: Fifty-fifty

The Northern California Regionals was small this year, with 141 participants. It seemed to be running pretty smoothly, with no major complaints and our usual highly competent work from our excellent judges. My own performance was utterly middle of the road, with a drop after I hit 3-3 (and decided I wanted to go off and take care of some other stuff I could be doing, rather than cook and see if I could make two more wins in the remaining rounds).
I’ll discuss our metagame, my deck choice, and cover the round-by-round in the extended entry.

From glancing at adjacent tables and walking around during the latter portions of rounds, it was clear that B/W tokens was in abundance. Notably, Turbo Mill had another big showing, with many people running variants on this deck – although many did not successfully take Bill Stark’s advice and maintain a good pace of game play, leading to a number of matches going to time (and, presumably, a devastatingly dull raw bracket through the day). I also saw many instances of G/W Tokens, Jund and B/R Aggro (both featuring Anathemancer, naturally), Five-Color Control, and Faeries. I don’t really know what migrated to the top tables, so we’ll have to see how the top eight shook out.
Here’s my post describing the deck I meant to take to Regionals. The evening before and morning of Regionals, I was unhappy with the triple Primal Command in the main deck. More specifically, it’s not that I disliked the Primals, so much as disliking the deck’s apparent weakness against tokens decks. With this in mind, I moved one Austere and the two Needles into the main, choosing to have all four Primal Commands in the sideboard. Here’s the revised deck list I actually brought on the day:
Angel of Love

24 Creatures:
Noble Hierarch
Qasali Pridemage
Farhaven Elf
Kitchen Finks
Battlegrace Angel
12 Spells:
Path to Exile
Pithing Needle
Behemoth Sledge
Elspeth, Knight-Errant
Austere Command
24 Land:
Treetop Village
Wooded Bastion
15 Sideboard:
Guttural Response
Garruk Wildspeaker
Primal Command
Austere Command

Okay, so that’s the deck list. How did my rounds go?
Round 1 versus Ken, playing G/W Overrun
Ken was a little late and was actually finishing his deck list in front of me, so I knew what he was playing before we began. This didn’t impact my mulligan decision in game one, but it could well have.
In game one, I kept a hand of six lands and one Farhaven Elf, which sounds utterly sketchy until I explain that two of those lands were Treetop Villages. Ken mulliganed to six. I led with a Village, and he played a Windbrisk Heights. I drew a Pithing Needle on turn two and dropped it naming the Heights, shutting it and its buddies off for the remainder of the game. He matched my early Kitchen Finks with a Finks of his own. I happily traded it as I played out the Farhaven Elf to accelerate and thin. I managed some early hits with double Treetop Village. Ken responded with a Spectral Procession. He followed this with Ajani and a pump on the Procession tokens. When he tried a second pump, I played a Cloudthresher in response, killing the tokens and Ajani. I then played a Sledge, equipped the Thresher, and went to town. Ken conceded when he didn’t draw an answer on the following turn.
-2 Qasali Pridemage
+2 Austere Command
As this was a G/W Overrun deck, I didn’t have as much need for the Pridemages, and decided they were a reasonable cut for the Austeres.
In game two, I hit a turn one Hierarch that led to a turn three Elspeth. He Pathed the follow-up Kitchen Finks (when I tried to boost it with Elspeth) and I, in turn, Pathed his Treetop Village. After that little exchange, I played a Battlegrace and swung with an Elspeth-boosted Hierarch, starting the grim life swing in my favor. He played a Kitchen Finks and an Ajani on lifegain mode, but I simply played and equipped a Behemoth Sledge. A Sledged Grace is a double lifelinked trampling destroyer, and Ken had nothing he could do to stop it.
Incidentally, Ken mulliganed to five in this game, following an all-land seven and a no-land six. Very unfortunate for him.
This early and very complete win put me in a good mood, and highlighted how fun this deck can be to play.
Round 2 versus Joe, playing EsperLark
I started our first game out with an early Pridemage, who exalted up a Hierarch, and then hit itself the following turn, netting me an early six damage before the Pridemage was Pathed away. I played a Kitchen Finks and Joe played a Mirror Entity, which took me off guard, as I’d put him on Five-Color Control based on the pile of Vivid and filter lands he was playing. I played Elspeth and swung with an Elly-boosted Finks, taking Joe down to seven life. He Wrathed, which sort of helped. I played Pithing Needle naming Mirror Entity, then lost my persisted Finks to a Zealous Persecution. I followed this with another Pridemage, and, with Joe tapped out (I forget why), I killed him with an Elspeth-boosted Pridemage.
-2 Behemoth Sledge
-1 Austere Command
+3 Condemn
I feel that I did not have a good read on Joe’s deck here. For example, I had no idea it had Larks in it. Duh, in retrospect.
Game two began with a Kitchen Finks from me that met a Path very quickly. I then lost two Noble Hierarchs to a Zealous Persecution, which is a pretty obnoxious setback (and why I prefer having four Farhavens to, say, four Lllanowars). I managed a Village hit, then a Farhaven Elf hit, then evoked a Thresher to kill a Mulldrifter. After one more Village hit, Joe managed to drop a Mirror Entity and some other randomness (maybe a Mulldrifter?) via an evoked Reveillark. When I couldn’t kill the Entity, I was killed a turn later by a couple of 10/10s. Ugh.
I felt like I’d seriously misdiagnosed the situation following the first name. For this game, I didn’t write the notes down, but I think I did this:
-3 Condemn
+2 Guttural Response
+1 Primal Command
I didn’t mention it above, but Joe’s deck ran Glen Elendra Archmages, which made me glad I was mainly trying to resolve creatures, but made me also want more creatures to cover key removal tasks.
For the third game, I managed one early hit with Qasali Pridemage, which then ate a Terror, and then another Terror for the following Pridemage. I dropped a Pithing Needle on Mirror Entity, then stalled on mana while Joe evoked a series of Mulldrifters. I ended up dropping a second Needle on Mirror Entity for lack of a relevant play, and basically died to Redcaps and other randomness backed by a Reveillark.
I feel I can blame my match loss here on my misunderstanding of what I was playing against, especially after seeing all but the lynchpin part in that first game. In game two, I blew a Path to Exile early on against something irrelevant; I didn’t note it, but I think I may have Pathed a Drifter. I should, instead, have held all my Paths for, whenever possible, Mirror Entities. Instead, I wasted a Path on an irrelevant creature when I was basically ahead on the damage race and could always rely on being ahead in that race.
So, the first clear error of the day probably cost me a match win. Lesson learned, we hope.
Round 3 versus Earl, playing R/B Aggro
I opened this game with a Noble Hierarch, while Earl went for his own one-drop in Figure of Destiny. I Pathed it, and he played a second Figure, which I Pathed as well. Earl, in turn, blew away my Hierarchs with a Volcanic Fallout. After this, he hit me with a Boggart Ram-Gang, and then a second Ram-Gang, and finally an Anathemancer. I was basically throwing creatures in the way of the Ram-Gangs and could not come out ahead, and Earl burned me out.
-2 Pithing Needle
-1 Austere Command
-4 Farhaven Elf
+4 Primal Command
+3 Condemn
Game two opened with some land from me. Earl made a misplay by playing a turn two Mountain (he’d wanted to play a Swamp). When he went to pick it up, I said, “I’m going to ask that you keep that in play.” He did with no obvious complaint, which was nice. I’m a good sport, but I’m also not a fan of takebacks in competitive play. I played a Finks, which ate a Terror (he had, of course, had a chance to play that Swamp at that point). Earl played a Figure, which I Condemned when it came in for a swing. In the mean time, I’d played an Elspeth. As the Finks and the soldier tokens ate removal from Earl, I simply kept ramping Elspeth up. I fired off Elspeth’s ultimate, and then played a Battlegrace Angel. After one turn, Earl realized he couldn’t win with me having an indestructible lifelinked critter in play and at 26 life, and conceded.
Going into game three, I realized I’d made a somewhat goofy choice in my sideboarding. With that in mind…
-4 Qasali Pridemage
+4 Farhaven Elf
The point here, of course, is to accelerate into those Primal Commands, and for this purpose, Farhavens are far more useful than Pridemages.
In this game, I played Finks, then Finks, then Finks, then took some Figure hits, then played Primal Command, then Primal Command, then Cloudthresher, and beat Earl down with that Thresher (as well as a cavalcade of earlier Finks hits). For the record, I gained 22 life in that game. There was no way the B/R deck was keeping up with that.
Also, I took a piddling two damage from a late-game Anathemancer in this game. Having half your lands be basics is pretty solid these days.
Round 4 versus Rafael, playing B/W Tokens
Ah, the first B/W Tokens deck on the day.
This game offers some “you make the play” opportunities for y’all. Rafael played an early Sculler that took a Kitchen Finks from me (incidentally, Sculler is the best card in B/W Tokens). He played a Bitterblossom after that, and tokens started to come out. Now, I had a Pridemage out and a Cloudthresher in hand, meaning I could potentially sweep the skies and clear the Blossom. Instead, I used Pridemage to kill the Sculler, retrieving my Finks, and swept the skies with evoked Thresher. Unfortunately, the B/W Tokens deck did its thing from here and started dropping such hits as Ajani Goldmane and a Cloudgoat. Although I was able to Needle Ajani, I was overwhelmed by enbiggened tokens.
What would you do here?
If it’s not clear, I think I made a horrible error here. I should have Pridemaged away the Bitterblossom to remove that line of card advantage, then swept the skies with the evoked Thresher, relying on my other plays (e.g. another Kitchen Finks that I drew later) to force the issue with the Sculler.
So, game loss due to dumb play. Check.
-2 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
+2 Austere Command
I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to take out (this was an issue for me in my entire time practicing with this build), but I felt like Elspeth did the least to switch the matchup around. It’s possible I should have cut a Grace or two instead.
In game two, I kept a slow hand full of awesome cards. Which is to say that it was a terrible hand in reality, because the game will be over before you ever play those two Austere Commands or two Cloudthreshers. And you know what? It was. An early Sculler grabbed on Thresher, and then a pair of Kitchen Finks beat me to death.
I was in bad decision territory in this round. I mean, seriously – six drop, six drop, four drop, four drop, land, land, land is not a good hand in this matchup.
Also, I’ll repeat here that Tidehollow Sculler is the best card in B/W Tokens. If you’re not playing it in your build, I think you’re doing something wrong.
Round 5 versus Peter, playing Jund Aggro
Game one was brief. Borderpost into Jund Hackblade into Bloodbraid Elf cascading up some other beater into me being dead in short order. Fair enough. I knew my sideboard would bring it for this matchup.
-4 Qasali Pridemage
-2 Pithing Needle
-1 Austere Command
+4 Primal Command
+3 Condemn
My opening seven had Path, Condemn, and Primal Command. That felt right, so I kept. I took an early Hellspark Elemental hit while I had a Treetop Village as my first land drop. I Pathed it thereafter, and then hit a Primal Command, choosing to do the miniature Plow Under and to gain seven life. I followed with a Farhaven Elf hit, and then played a Cloudthresher to crushed Peter with it.
In game three, after an early Tarfire to the face, I played Kitchen Finks, Primal Command, a second Primal Command, and then started swinging with a Sledge-wielding Battlegrace. Given that I had various exalted critters in play, a single Sledged Grace swing bought me twenty life and left Paul at nine. He drew nothing of note next turn, and that was that.
Clearly, I had the sideboarded R/x matchup down.
Round 6 versus Josh, playing EsperLark
By way of excusing my first game here, let me explain that the venue was very, very hot. We’ve had a bit of a heat wave this week, and unfortunately, Superstars was caught off guard – they haven’t updated their newest space to have air conditioning yet. The combined effect of 141 players inside and 90 degree weather outside was to make the inside sort of broil, so I was feeling a little loopy by this round.
In the first game, I managed some Hierarch beats, and then attempted to kill a not-currently-flying Stillmoon Cavalier by evoking a Cloudthresher. Josh was so confused by this play that he paused for a solid ten seconds to try and see what he might be missing. But no, it was just a horrid misplay on my part. Somewhere along the line, I’d gone from “Stillmoon could fly” to “Stillmoon flies” and decided Cloudthresher would get rid of this otherwise quite problematic card. Oops. This was a pretty chunky mistake because I could have used the Thresher later to kill some Archmages. Ouch. A few turns later, I tapped my mana for a play such that all I had left was three Wooded Bastions. I conceded at that point, wanting to collect myself and play more fruitful games two and three.
I’m not actually sure. I know I brought in a bunch of Garruks, though.
In this game, the deck curved out entirely correctly. Pridemages and Farhaven Elves proceeded Elspeth. When Fallout ate all of the little guys, Elspeth was joined by Garruk, and Josh packed it in for game three.
Game three was epic, and a great deal of fun. One highlight play was Josh dropping a Runed Halo naming Kitchen Finks, only to have me Pridemage away the Halo and keep on swinging. Eventually, he managed to hit a Wrath to clear the board (the Finks were both persisted at that point), and immediately follow with a Stillmoon. Although I had a Pridemage of my own to race, I didn’t hit anything to speed up my clock or to stop the Stillmoon, and Josh came back from a significant life deficit to kill me in extra turns. After the game, Josh revealed that he’d been sandbagging a Cryptic Command to stop any game-changing plays I might have. I had the opportunity to draw some good runner-runner plays, but I don’t know if I could have drawn enough to win in extra turns, rather than to simply not lose.
Summary and parting thoughts
Overall, I think the deck has fundamentally solid basic design, as well as being a great deal of fun to play. I think I clearly lost one match to a pure play error (that would be Round 2), and likely could have done better in both my other Match losses with better heads-up play as well. Hopefully, those errors will be a lesson to me for the PTQ next week, and they may help other players as well (and hey, if you think you see any other play errors here, let me know). As a deckbuilder, it’s satisfying to see that the design itself works well, and that better technical play on my part could easily have improved my record.
On the deck side, I am actively looking for ways to improve the Tokens and Lark matchups. The Austeres were a ‘clever’ idea that didn’t work in practice (the idea being that I could sweep tokens and enchantments while leaving my big dudes intact). Similarly, I’m unconvinced of the utility of the Guttural Responses. I plan on tweaking this deck and taking it to next week’s PTQ, so I appreciate any input concerning suggested changes to address these issues.
I had a good time at Regionals, with universally pleasant opponents and a fun deck. I expect next week’s PTQ will be just as fun, and hopefully I can update my play and my deck to earn those extra wins and a better record.