An IQ Report

                If you are going to seize thoughts, you might as well rot minds too, right?

Two weeks ago I won an SCG IQ at Wasteland Gaming with the following list:

Black Green

Main Deck: (60)
Pack Rat
Nightveil Specter
Desecration Demon
Gray Merchant of Asphodel
Thoughtseize
Abrupt Decay
Bile Blight
Devour Flesh
Underworld Connections
Hero's Downfall
Mind Rot
Mutavault
Overgrown Tomb
Temple of Malady
Temple of Silence
Temple of Deceit
11 Swamp
Sideboard (15)
Duress
Golgari Charm
Doom Blade
Ultimate Price
Underworld Connections
Staff of the Death Magus
Lifebane Zombie
Erebos, God of the Dead
Vraska the Unseen

The deck should not come as much of a surprise given my previous reports and discussion of Thoughtseize, though some of the card choices may. I’ll cover some of the more unique choices before discussing the event itself.

The first thing that likely jumps out is my preference for Nightveil Specter over Lifebane Zombie. For most of the last six months I have been on a split between the two, as one can see from my second place finish at SCG State Champs just two weeks before.  The change was spurred in part from my loss to Burn in the finals but also the relative lack of success of Monsters, at least locally. The matchups where you want Zombie the most are Monsters and the UWx control decks. Game one against the later is not particularly great, and having Lifebane game one does not do much to change that. It is against the big green creatures that Lifebane really shines. At States I did not play against Monsters at all and the closest thing to it in the Top 8 of that event was a Junk Midrange deck. As long as this is the case and Green rather than White is the go to splash color for Black midrange decks, I do not think Lifebane Zombie is necessary main.

As for the burn matchup, Specter is much better as it does not die to the most punishing burn spell they have at their disposal, Searing Blood, while also stone walling all of their creatures. Being able to block what few creatures they have is not trivial and should not be underestimated.  Forcing them to use Lightning Strike, the only single burn spell that can target and kill the Specter, or a Chained to the Rocks on the 2/3 either saves you some life or makes way for Desecration Demon.

Since, I was previously playing 3 Nightveil Specters, you may be wondering why all of the Zombie’s hit the bench. It was to make room for this old, but seldom played card:

 I wish I could take credit for this bit of tech, but Gerry Thompson suggested it a few weeks ago. I was skeptical at first, and was not sold on it after playing it in the FNM the night before the IQ. After playing seven more matches with it, I am convinced of its power. I will demonstrate Mind Rot’s utility when I go through some of the matches from the event, but there are a few more card choices I want to discuss first.

The first Bg deck to post a big finish was Andrew Tenjum’s. His list featured ten Green sources including two Golgari Guildgate. Having played with the Green splash for months before Temple of Malady made it so appealing, I had felt eight may not be enough but did not think ten was warranted.

I was unable to attend the SCG Standard Open in Knoxville the week after Tenjum’s finish, but I did provide my list to Kendall Burdette who took it to a top 8 finish. Kendall’s change to the main deck from the one I provided was to cut the ninth Green source, a lonely Golgari Guildgate, for an additional spell. I followed suit in part because of the deck manipulation provided by the off color Temples I had picked up from Jared Boetcher, who played seven temples in his GP Cincinnati Mono-Black list. The ability to scry into a land when needed lowers the need for as many lands. As for the total number of Green sources, the times when I had Green cards without Green mana before Temple of Malady where seldom, and I have not had much trouble with it since then. I figure eight are enough since at most I would have five Green cards in my deck, and when that is the case the games tend to go long enough to ensure I will see one.

The last card spot I want to mention is the placement of the Underworld Connections. I only played three Main with the fourth in the Side as there are plenty of matchups in which I don’t want all four. In fact the only decks that push me towards the full set are the mirror and UWx. While these archetypes are popular, they aren’t the only decks around. Against other decks I either want 0 or 2 Connections. The inclusion of the third Main is already a hedge towards the top decks.

 

On to the Matches:

Round 1 – Carter Norris – Junk Midrange

This is one matchup where I prefer Lifebane Zombie as not only is it able to threaten the various Planeswalkers, but it gets to snag Blood Baron of Vizkopa and Obzedat Ghost Council from his hand, two creatures that threaten to end games quickly. In the second game I chose not to take a Blood Baron with a Thoughtseize as I knew the following turn I would be casting the Zombie. He proceeded to draw a second as well as an Obzedat forcing a third game. Thoughtseize and company sometimes cannot beat the top of the opponent’s deck.

I was still able to take the match by racing an Obzedat in game three with two Desecration Demons backed by Gray Merchant of Asphodel. The game did contain an interesting play when I was at 14, he attacked the Ghost Council into an untapped Demon. The attack seemed strange. I thought a moment on what it meant. One possibility was that he had a second Obzedat that he wanted to cast to get a second drain in on that turn. Another possibility was that he had Bile Blight. He had cast one on a Pack Rat earlier in the match so I knew it was in his list. Since I was holding the Gray Merchant, I figured I could afford the hit. It turns out he had Golgari Charm that turn so was looking to trade the instant and 5/5 for the Demon. I would probably have been fine with such a trade, but I had to play around the worse case scenario of Bile Blight.

Round 2 – Mike Mahaffey – Bant Pillow Fort

Mike does not get to play that often, but I knew that he favors Sphinx’s Revelation decks. I evaluated my opening hand with this in mind. I was slightly surprised by the combination of Temple of Plenty and Mystery that he led with since when we played two weeks prior he was on a straight UW version. I soon realized he was on the Sphere of Safety/Eidolon of Blossoms deck I had seen some people toy around with.

In the first game, Mike stalled on five lands for an unreasonable amount of time while he had Courser of Kruphix in play and an Elspeth in hand. Still, he drew six or seven enchantment removal spells and thus managed to draw the game out long enough to land the mighty Planeswalker.

While sideboarding, I realized how awkward it is to prepare for his deck. He has Sphinx’s Revelations and Detention Spheres like other UW decks, but against the more traditional builds I can safely take out my removal spells. However Mike had Coursers, Eidolons, and Sylvan Carytids. I knew I needed ways to kill those, particularly the Eidolon. Thus, I would need to leave in some amount of removal. He likely did not have Supreme Verdict as a consequence, but I want Golgari Charm anyways to kill his enchantments. Additionally, I tend to thin Gray Merchants against UW decks. They are not particularly good threats, so you really only want them for their Drain Life impersonation. Given the length of a typical game against control, you can expect to see one even with fewer in the deck, which is often good enough. Still, Mike has Sphere of Safety to potentially prevent me attacking. Should he accomplish that feat, Gray Merchant is exactly what I want to be in my deck. Considering the amount of life gain his deck is capable of, one or two Gray Merchants may not be enough. I was torn. What needed to give in order to make room for cards I knew I needed? I ultimately settled on thinning the Gray Merchants and hoping the combination of extra discard, enchantment removal, and Erebos could keep him in check. I also cut the Devour Fleshes, but for game three left in Bile Blight as an answer to Eidolon of Blossoms.

In the next game, Mike suffered some mana issues and I was able to run away with it. In the third, he landed a Sphere of Safety but only had one other enchantment to support it. As a result I was able to power through the Propaganda with a Desecration Demon and eventually a few others to take the match.

Round 3 – Talon Carrin – Brave Naya

Talon won the roll and immediately put me on the back foot with a turn one Soldier of the Pantheon. I answered with a Thoughtseize that revealed a hand of Fleecemane Lion, Boros Reckoner, Voice of Resurgence, and two Temples. I had a Devour Flesh in hand and did not want him to upgrade his two drop through my removal spell, so I took the Voice. I needed him to miss on an untapped land in order to develop a defensive position. It was not to be as a Sacred Foundry off the top allowed him to turn two the Fleecemane Lion. The tempo was too much. I quickly surrendered to his men.

Unfortunately for Talon, his deck did not cooperate with him for the proceeding games. He only had one land in game 2 and was missing a color in the third when his hand depended on hitting that color. It is possible he needed to mulligan more aggressively to try and avoid such issues, but it’s hard to do with an aggro deck against a deck looking to attrition you out. These mana problems are the reason I avoid decks like Brave Naya and also likely why we have not seen many high finishes from it. Three color aggro decks need too much to go right for them to succeed. It is a little different in Modern where the combination of Fetch Lands with Shock Lands allows you to nearly guarantee whatever color you need to start the game. Unless M15 gives us Christmas in July with some form of Fetch Land, I would continue to stay away from such strategies.

Round 4 – Lance Gunnin – White Deck Wins

Lance got things started with a few small white creatures. An early Thoughtseize let me know there was an Ajani, Caller of the Pride coming at some point. I worried about dying to the jump and double strike ability, but drew Mind Rot when it was the only card left in his hand. I’m not saying Mind Rot is particularly good in this matchup, in fact I sided it out, but this was the first taste of how good Mind Rot could be. Had I not been able to answer the Ajani, there was a very good chance it would have won him the game. Perhaps I should have taken it with the Thoughtseize, but at the time I thought I was on the Pack Rat plan and his Boros Reckoner looked to make that difficult.

The second game was uneventful.  After dealing with his early aggression, Lance flooded out.

The match next to us was Samir Black playing Esper versus Derrick Roeper playing Rw Burn. During the round before, I had seen Samir get annoyed by his friends blowing up his phone while he was in the middle of the match. Before the fourth round started Samir was once again on his phone. As he put it away I asked if he was going to shut it off like he had threatened to earlier. He waffled a moment before deciding to keep it on since his friend was supposed to be bringing him food.

I stayed at the table to watch Samir and Derrick’s match after Lance and I’s was over. In the middle of game two it was clear that his friends were texting or calling him a ton again. He was visibly frustrated and attacked with a Nightveil Specter when he needed it back to block an army of Mutavaults. After the attack, he realized the mistake and quickly conceded. Once again he complained about the amount of attention his phone was getting while he was trying to play. I guess he got everything worked out as he was able to win the next round to draw into the top 8 in the final round of swiss.

At this point in the event there were three undefeated players. The two who got paired against each other would be able to draw both of the remaining rounds into the top 8, while the person who was paired down would need to play, though would still be a lock for the elimination rounds.

As it happened, I was one of the two to get paired with another undefeated player. Derrick and I drew and looked to see what else might make it. Since I knew I would be able to draw the last round as well I called my friend Michael who lives in the area to see if he wanted to hang out some.  We spent most of the next two hours playing the DC Deckbuilding Game. While fun, I wish we had been able to get another person or two to play as well.

Top 8 – Derrick Roeper – Rw Burn

The top 8 ended up a clean cut, but some players had to play their last round in order to make it in. As such my double draw record placed me fifth after the swiss, whilst Derrick was fourth. That put me on the draw for game one, since we were using the modified play-draw rule that Wizards implemented about a year ago, which I am a fan of.

I know it seems weird and requires more evidence, but I like being on the draw against Burn. Yes it can put you behind in terms of tempo, but their general lack of creatures means they aren’t using the initiative to develop the board. The relevant factors are life totals and cards in hand. As such, depriving them of a card and having an extra chance at a turn one discard spell seems advantageous.

In game one Derrick started with Eidolon of the Great Revel, which can be annoying. I was able to power through it with a Desecration Demon, to which the Eidolon was eventually sacrificed. At one point Derrick had four cards in hand; I cast Mind Rot. He discarded two Chandra’s Phoenixes. While these were likely the two best cards he could have to discard, it still cost him time to rebuy them. That was time that he did not have due to the Demon. It also meant that Derrick had to remember the birds’ triggered ability when he cast Magma Jet, which he did not.

For game two, Derrick once again had an early Eidolon of the Great Revel. I danced around it the best I could before I was able to kill it. From a spectators perspective the lines I took may have looked strange. I had the opportunity to play Staff of the Death Magus on turn three, though I did not cast it until turn five or six. I didn’t want it to be destroyed the turn I cast it if he had Wear//Tear, since Staff is a card that I need to have generate virtual card advantage by negating some of his spells. If it dies immediately, then I was only able to get a one for one out of it. If I can cast it and also gain two life before it is destroyed, then I am up close to a full card. I may have been able to play it on turn four, but I believe my fourth land was a Temple or an Overgrown Tomb and would thus need to come into play tapped. The single additional life I would have gained if it was Tomb was not large enough to chance him having Wear//Tear. Also he may still have had Eidolon of Revels in play, so I would have net lost a life from the play.

On what I believe was turn five, I still had Staff in hand but once again chose not to play it. Instead, I was able to clear his hand with the combination of Duress and the powerful Mind Rot. I then had plenty of time to deploy the Staff and recuperate the life loss from the early turns. His draws proceeded to be lands and Wild Guesses into more lands while I found a threat.

They say Burn is a bad matchup but a quick 2-0 against it while on the draw both games may suggest otherwise.

At some point while waiting for my next match, my friend Vincent noticed the sticky not inside a clear sleeve the staff had used to mark which deck was whose during deck checks before the top 8. He decided I should wear it as a name tag and proceeded to pin it on me with the States Top 8 pin I still had in my bag. You can see it in the picture on the Wasteland’s Facebook page.

Top 4 – Joseph Anderson – Bg Midrange

I talked with Joe about BG a little before the event and knew he did not have Nightveil Specter while I did, which should be a huge advantage for me. Joe was a higher seed than me, so once again I was on the draw. As the match is full of trading cards at a one for one ratio, being up a card is nice. I briefly experimented with choosing to draw first in this type of matchup and may go back to it. I think the extra card is that strong.
Joe played an Overgrown Tomb tapped while I had a Thoughtseize. This is what I saw:

 

I had a Bile Blight, so I knew I could answer one Rat, but I did not have an answer to the second one unless Joe was greedy and played both of them. I also did not have an answer to the Underworld Connections. I decided to take the Underworld Connections as I figured Joe would slow play the Rats to play around Bile Blight, which would give me time to find an answer to the second. If I take one of the Rats, I leave him with a way to recover from losing both of his threats in the Underworld Connections.

Joe decided to go for it by playing the second Rat and a Temple on turn 3. I blew him out with the Bile Blight and the turn after snagged a second Mutavault and a Swamp out of his hand with a Mind Rot. He was left with only one card in hand, the Devour Flesh the Thoughtseize had allowed me to see, and I was now up three cards on him. I waited to cast a sizable threat until I could get the Devour Flesh out of his hand. Another Thoughtseize cleared the way and a Demon quickly finished him off.

In the second game, Joe had me on the ropes with a turn four Demon, but a timely topdecked Ultimate Price bailed me out. As for why I had brought in Ultimate Price, the only Planeswalker at play in the Match is Vraska. While she is worth killing, she is better fought with a Duress or Thoughtseize than Hero’s Downfall. Downfall is also too slow on the draw against a turn two Pack Rat. As such, I think every other removal spell does a better job at doing what you need Hero’s Downfall to do, so I side most of them out for cheaper spells like Ultimate Price, especially when on the draw. You still want one, maybe two, but only if you know they still have Desecration Demon in the deck after boards, which I generally do not.

After answering his threat, Joe was left searching for answers while I gained an Underworld Connections advantage in addition to an active Erebos. The pressure was too much. Joe quickly succumbed to the God of the Underworld and some of his minions.

In the other bracket were two UW control decks. Neither was interested in the win itself since we had split the top 4 prizes. As such I was given the win.

I’ll be heading to Columbus, Ohio this weekend to play in my third SCG Invitational. I will most certainly be playing this deck in the Standard portion. I will let everyone know how I did once I get back. Thanks to everyone for reading and your support.

 

– Grant Christopher