Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Veil

Blows the dust off the tubes.

Boy, it's a been a while.

Well, it's been about two months. That's not that long, when you think about it. Hell, people disappear from blogs or podcasts or whatever for years, and then come back and pick up right where they left off. But to me it's seemed like forever.

When we last left our hero, he was struggling for topics.

My tastes in Magic change pretty rapidly. One week I'm aspiring to be a Pro Tour Champion, the next week I'm playing Burn at the Stake combo at FNM. For a while there, though, I was stuck on this whole competitive thing. Reading articles, playtesting constantly, checking the MTGO daily decklists multiple times a day. I couldn't get it out of my head that I wanted to get better and better and go pro and change the world of Magic forever.




It all came to a head when I went to a PTQ with my Merfolk deck. I wrote a detailed article about it that'll be going up on Legitmtg.com some time later this month, but the short version is, I just barely fell short of a 6-2 finish. Given my expectations going into the event, I was floored. It was an amazing experience, and I felt what it was like to play competitive Magic. As the day went on I learned a lot. Not just about the game itself, but about being a Magic player.

But I have this thing about success. I establish short-term goals for myself, and then I meet them. And then I move on. Not to the "next step"; I didn't pack up my deck and go home to playtest for the next big tournament. After an amazingly positive and incredibly fun experience, I went and sold the Mutavaults, Ă†ther Vials, and Remands to buy a Standard deck.

Why? I don't know. I had aspirations. You may have read about them a few months ago on this very blog. I believe it went something like:

"But maybe [the deck] just needs the right person at the helm to bring in just the right mixture of totally badass cards to make it work. I'd really like to be that guy, and I'm gonna try my best to do so."

I was gonna be the guy who built the deck to change the Modern metagame. The deck became my life for a while—to the point where it actually started to ruin relationships and turn me into a different person. I went deep (ha!). Too deep. But pathetically enough, that isn't even what pulled me out of it.

The fact is, in my head, I did well enough to feel moderately successful and I didn't really care to take it any farther. I think the list I ended up with was—in my opinion (and experience)—very, very good, though.

Here's the deck:

Merfolk

Creatures (12):
4 Silvergill Adept
4 Cursecatcher
4 Lord of Atlantis
4 Master of the Pearl Trident
3 Merrow Reejerey
3 Phantasmal Image
2 Sygg, River Cutthroat
Instants (9):
4 Remand
1 Cryptic Command
4 Vapor Snag
Artifacts/Enchantments (7):
4 Aether Vial
3 Spreading Seas
Lands (20):
4 Mutavault
2 Cavern of Souls
4 Wanderwine Hub
4 Seachrome Coast
6 Island
Sideboard:
1 Sygg, River Guide
1 Rest in Peace
2 Stony Silence
1 Threads of Disloyalty
2 Spellskite
2 Pithing Needle
2 Torpor Orb
2 Path to Exile
2 Spell Pierce

Man, Verdana is a nice font.

Anyway, that thing is my baby. Every copy of every card is thought-out and tested. It has a very specific plan and executes it in a very specific way. At a certain point I stopped taking advice from people who I knew were very good at Magic because they just didn't know the deck as well as me.

It's hard to explain, but I feel very emotionally attached to this 75. I worked hard and it payed off. I still have the whole thing built, complete with beautiful foil Lorwyn islands. But I sold the expensive cards because after the PTQ I stopped playing it. I just lost interest and went and did something else. I could've kept going; I could've continued to improve and to focus and I could've probably gotten somewhere. But over time I've begun to accept that that just isn't me. I'm not the guy who hones his craft and masters the smallest details. I do stuff that I think is fun, I either fail or accomplish enough to be satisfied, then I move on. I admire and respect the people who can stick with something. Those people are the ones who truly work, and the ones who are met with success. But even though I want it to be more, Magic is just a game for me. I'm just here to have fun.

I spent almost three months straight writing and publishing an article every single weekend. That's something I'm very proud of. I made a commitment and I stuck with it. And ultimately, I didn't get sick of it and stop writing and consider it a failure. It just stopped being fun.

I got so deep into being competitive that I was either writing articles about playing actual good Magic (which nobody wants to read; I'm not that good) or really crappy and uninspired brews that nobody wanted to hear about. I realized that it was one thing to create content every week, but another thing entirely to put your heart into that content and actually make stuff that's... you know, good.

But I'm back now! I have a full set of standard Grixis lands and a playset of Snapcaster Mages burning a hole in my binder. I started to feel the need to brew deep within my loins, and I'm ready to start pumping out the good stuff again. I won't promise a weekly schedule anymore. I'm gonna post when I have something worth posting. And boy do I, this week.


Welcome back to my desktop wallpaper.

...Okay well now it's somebody's backyard with Nick Cage's huge face showing subtly through the thick fog.

But it was Sphinx of the Chimes for a very long time. I love this card. The front page of my binder is 9 of them.

Or at least it was! Now there's only seven, because the other two are in this deck:

The Veil

Creatures (12):
2 Augur of Bolas
4 Snapcaster Mage
2 Sphinx of the Chimes
4 Veilborn Ghoul
Instants (9):
3 Dissipate
3 Far // Away
3 Izzet Charm
4 Thought Scour
Planeswalkers (2):
2 Liliana of the Veil
Lands (20):
4 Blood Crypt
3 Dragonskull Summit
3 Drowned Catacomb
2 Nephalia Drownyard
4 Steam Vents
4 Sulfur Falls
2 Swamp
4 Watery Grave
Sorceries (7):
2 Faithless Looting
2 Mizzium Mortars
3 Rolling Temblor

Sideboard:
2 Evil Twin
3 Izzet Staticaster
2 Olivia Voldaren
1 Essence Scatter
1 Negate
1 Appetite for Brains
1 Breaking // Entering
2 Duress
2 Slaughter Games

The Plan


Grixis Control is something that basically everybody in the entire world wants to have happen. It's just cool. Red, black, and blue are the badass colors. They're the cynical colors. The evil ones. You have to respect that.

Problem is, Wizards has very, very heavily favored blue and white as the colors of choice for control. Sphinx's Revelation, Supreme Verdict, and Detention Sphere basically define Esper Control. As Grixis players, the one we feel the most is Sphinx's Revelation. There is no card in the format like Sphinx's Revelation. There's no card in the game like Sphinx's Revelation.

It gives you two things that control wants more than anything else: Answers, and time.

How do we compete with their draw power? We have an engine. It even has a Sphinx!



I mean, I could add more cards to this picture. Izzet Charm is usually just better than Faithless Looting, but Faithless Looting drives the point home a little better visually. Liliana is also incredibly important in terms of card advantage. Even Nephalia Drownyard has strong synergies. In a lot of matchups you'll spend the whole game milling yourself with excess mana. They're all part of the engine.

So as you can imagine, we're quite vulnerable to graveyard hate. It's not like we're playing Burn at the Stake Combo and we actually just can't win against it, but we lost a lot of our draw power and we end up with some dead cards. It's not good. So the deck is obviously gonna need some way to handle that, perhaps by just taking out Ghoul against certain decks.

But we're looking mostly at the concept here; a sketch. Basically, Veilborn Ghoul is our Sphinx's Revelation. But we can find him a lot faster, because we don't care whether he winds up in our hand or our graveyard. As long as he's out of the deck, you're ready to draw some cards.

If it's not obvious, basically the plan is to play cards that make you pitch cards as a downside, but have an endless supply of cards to pitch. And it's not like you need a Sphinx and two copies of Ghoul to function. Simply drawing one Ghoul turns our Faithless Looting into a better Desperate  Ravings. Sphinx of the Chimes is also a conveniently-sized flyer with or without anything to discard. He blocks Thragtusk!

The part of Sphinx's Revelation that I can't recreate, though, is time. I can stabilize against a couple Burning Tree Emissaries on turn two, but just barely. After that, it's just a matter of time before they can get me with a couple burn spells. The format is full of reach, and I have very limited tools to handle that. But that's something we can figure out.

What I'm not playing



If she was gonna go anywhere, it'd be here. But I don't think she does.

Liliana of the Dark Realms, despite making some sense here, is just not that good of a card. She can't come down and affect the board without killing herself. Basically, you need to already have the better board to actually get her to do anything. So yeah, if you're ahead, she's great. She gets us our swamps so we can get more value out of Veilborn Ghoul, she provides removal, and blah blah blah. But she just sucks.



If I were playing Middle-Lilly, I'd put this guy in in a heartbeat. Pumping him for 5 with her -3 and swinging in is a pretty big deal. But neither card is very good on its own. Vampire Nighthawk has very good abilities, but he's just an awkward size. So many of the aggro creatures swing in for three that he's just not gonna be much more than a Murder+gain two life. Not mention how many Searing Spears are floating around. Lifegain would definitely be nice in this deck, as stated, but he isn't quite there. I'm very excited to see how the Vampire deck Sam Black wrote about last week ends up though. I do love this guy.



Again, potential life gain. What's holding this card back should be pretty obvious, though. Far // Away is really an amazing card, in my opinion. I'm very happy to cast all three modes, and the versatility makes it a lot easier to play multiples. I suppose I should address that, by the way...


Using Sphinx of the Chimes


Yes, I know. I'm only playing two four-ofs in a deck with Sphinx of the Chimes. Here are two reasons.

1. Control decks just want a lot of different cards. We could probably stand to push a little harder for full playsets of cards like Izzet Charm or Far // Away, but the problem is even though these cards are versatile and lend themselves well to playing four, they don't do everything we need. We have Snapcaster Mage. Some control decks run twice this many unique cards. The reason for that is we're trying to control our opponents, and our opponents do a lot of different stuff. Playing four Far // Away four Izzet Charm four Dissipate four Mizzium Mortars etc. would leave us very weak to certain strategies, and too strong against others. Control is all about hedging your bets.

2. Veilborn Ghoul! Sphinx comes down pretty late, and by that time we've usually hit two Veilborn Ghouls. Sphinx of the Chimes' ability is so strong that that's all it takes to make it worthwhile. Drawing four cards a turn is INSANE. We're not trying to pull some Laboratory Maniac combo shenaniganry, we just want cards so we can kill their stuff and win. Veilborn Ghoul is reason enough to play Sphinx of the Chimes.

I took the deck to Friday Night magic a few days ago. I'm very optimistic despite dropping at 1-2. I haven't put nearly enough time into actually figuring out what control cards I actually need but the core of the deck has something going for it, and boy is it fucking fun.

And that's what matters! Let me know what you think.

P.S. The Breaking // Entering is just for fun :P

Plus I have a sweet foil promo one from FNM!

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