Monday, December 13, 2010

Your Standard Ponza Scheme

For all of you readers who are going to be dissapointed, no, this isn't a discussion of Multi-level marketing strategies (although...), this is going to be a discussion of my experiences with a Magic deck this past Friday, which happened to be in the Ponza archetype, in the Standard Format.

"Ponza" is a Red Deck Wins or Sligh deck hybridized with a land destruction deck. The intention is to keep your opponent off their land and therefor their game plan long enough to kill them with your red deck. It trades speed in the form of cheaper spells for disruption. Here's the list that I played:

4 Lightning Bolt
4 Flame Slash
4 Arc Trail
4 Pyroclasm
4 Melt Terrain
4 Demolish
4 Roiling Terrain
3 Koth of the Hammertime
3 Molten Phoenix
2 Wurmcoil Engine
22 Mountain
2 Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle

No sideboard. I attempted to put one together between round one and two out of the commons box; some sort of dream of a transformational sideboard into a more standard Red Deck Wins. Didn't play with it.

Actually, the deck didn't have the full number of Phoenix; it was running two Auriok Replicas as proxies. Throughout the tournament I ran them as gray ogres rather than the phoenixen they're supposed to represent. And it wasn't my deck. My deck was sitting on my kitchen table an hour away. This was a rough draft deck kindly lent to me by the store owner. So here's how I did with it.

Round one: Elves
Ready... Fight!

I win the die roll. I play a mountain, pass. He plays a forest, into Llanowar Elves. I think for a moment and bolt the elves. At this point I assume he's playing a ramp deck, in which case I want to be able to slow his ramp down while I still have a chance. He plays turn two Fauna Shaman. I can't deal with Fauna Shaman despite the answers in my deck. He puts a couple vengevine in his graveyard, I melt a couple lands and he swarms me.

Game two he gets down a turn zero Leyline of Vitality, which doesn't help me at all. I mean, the half dozen life points didn't trump my game plan, but it certainly didn't help me possibly kill him while I was keeping him low on mana. Inasmuch as I can against an elf deck anyway. He gets out a Nissa Revane, I have trouble killing Nissa's Chosen at 4 toughness, and I move on to round two.

Round Two: Metalcraft Goblins
Ready... Fight!

Game one he gets Quest for the Goblin Lord, Quest for the Goblin lord, Memnite into Kuthoda rebirth. Three counters on the quests, and I burn out his goblins. He has more goblins and suddenly I'm facing an army that's all +4+0, which I can't handle. Game two he only gets down one quest, but it plays out much the same.

These games were over quickly, so we played roughly eight more waiting for the round to end. I won two. The game really revolves around managing the swarm of goblins. If he got down an early quest, he had a lot of inevitability. If I held my pyroclasms in reserve, getting as much card advantage out of them as possible I could get a Koth down and kill him with it. This didn't happen as often as I would like. Moving on to round 3

Round 3: Elves
Ready... Fight!

I did better in this round; more experience with the deck meant I was using my pyroclasms and arc trails more effectively, and his deck wasn't expensive enough to include the Vengevines. I took down one game; he got me down to 5, but I got out a Wurmcoil Engine, which got me up to about 27 before I finished him off.

Game three was fun. I was getting beaten down; he got out Nissa Revane, I bolt it right away. He gets out another one, and I can't kill it. So I'm sort of screwed. With no board presence, at six life facing down a lethal amount of creatures I start to scoop and he says "I'm not going to kill you just yet", so I carefully separate out my hand, graveyard and land, and keep playing. He gets Nissa up to seven counters, uses the ultimate. He then proceeds to attack me with his army. He's got 21 elves, four Elvish Archdruids tapping, and channelling the mana through an Ezuri, Renegade Leader, who can overrun with every five mana. After quite a bit of arithmetic, he hit me for 960 damage.

Yeah, it was pretty awesome. Even though, if you're counting, I'm 0-3 in matches and 1-6 in games.

Round Four: White Metalcraft
Ready... Fight!

In game one he gets down some quick creatures and I start to melt his lands. I deal with most of them, but one of his memnites gets in for nine damage, before I finally hit it with a pyroclasm. I get down one of my finishers, and win from there.

Game two goes much the same, except he gets a late game Kor Firewalker which I'm unable to deal with. He wins off of his two damage.

Game three he gets down a turn two and a turn three Kor Firewalker. I trade a Auriok Replica with one of them while the other goes to town on my lifetotal and buffers his. I get another Replica when I'm on seven life and he stops attacking. He's trying to build up lands and I'm trying to melt them. I get my singleton actual phoenix into play and start hitting back with that. Also, Valakut goes active and I start tossing mountain bolts around. A testament to my play skill, I forget that Valakut is actually a colorless source of damage and could have killed his firewalker.

He gets out two Tempered Steel, I'm slowly whittling him down from about 30, He's desperately trying to find land. He finally gets his fifth, a plains, slams it down and activates his Dread Statuary. He swings it in as an eight six, and I'm on the point of conceding before I realize I can chump with my replica. I get him on the next turn.

Whoo! I finally took a match.

Partly I won that round because he mis sideboarded; he brought in four celestial purge despite the fact that my deck had exactly four targets for them (3 Koth, 1 Phoenix.) And he didn't think to sideboard out his Wurmcoil Engines and Eldrazi Monuments despite his difficulties at hitting five and six mana. Another lesson at not sticking to a mechanical sideboarding plan.

So how did the deck play? Poorly. In a large part this was due to the matchups; elf decks are bad news for any land destruction plan, and goblins aren't much better. Even the white metalcraft deck would have had a pretty good matchup if he had sideboarded better. The deck doesn't have many things that'll bring it back from behind; a pyroclasm, a timely Phoenix death or a Wurmcoil engine. Koth is a great win condition, but there were times when I used him as a fog effect, the best I could get out of him.

Oh yeah, and then there's the mana curve. Didja notice it? Let me spell it out for you:

1: 8
2: 8
3: 0
4: 15
5: 3
6: 2

Could use more threes, less fours. Stone Rain, where are you?

In general, there are a lot of decks that can get a decent part of their plan off in turns one through three, and the land destruction doesn't start until four. To a decent extent you can counter this by just burning out their early creatures, but then you're running up against the cards in hand limit. Your classic ramp deck needs some ramp stuff and some stuff to ramp into, if you get too much of either you lose because you don't have the other. The system here is analogous; you get too much melt terrain or too much flame slash you'll lose, because you won't be able to stop their game plan with just one or the other.

Oh yeah, about Flame slash. You notice something about the burn? Flame Slash and Pryoclasm, while being excellent cards for what they do, don't go to the face. Eight of the land destruction spells also deal incidental damage to the player, but it doesn't add up to much. Imagine you hit them with two melt terrain and two Roiling terrain. You get them down to nine, which isn't really within range bolt and arc trail as your burn. It isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it sets you up in the role of pure control rather than an aggro-control damage + disruption scheme like your classic Ponza deck. You're also pushed that way since you've got very few creatures that respond to traditional removal spells, sticking more cards in their hand. Again, being a control deck isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it sets you in a bad metagame position with respect to aggro decks, like elves or goblins.

So how would I fix it? With lots and lots of rambling, apparently.

Well, let's take a look at that mana curve. We need stuff in the three slot, or at least to bypass it. The first card that comes to my mind is Staggershock. It helps you fight off elf and goblin swarms, can be directed at the face if necessary, and fits nicely in at three mana. There aren't any land destruction spells at that cost, so our options are mostly to shore up the burn.

If we're looking to ramp, we've got a couple possibilities. Everflowing Chalice usually kicked at 1, Iron Myr or even Spawning breath, which would be a great card if the number of 1/1s I saw is consistent with the metagame. Iron Myr would make pyroclasm a much worse card; Spawning breath much less; you can either sac the spawn token or use it to chump block with very few regrets.

You could also ramp with Pilgrim's eye, which isn't a dead draw if you're running Valakut, or alternately scrap the valakut plan and run some Tectonic Edge as backup land destruction.

And while I'm talking land destruction, what land destruction spells to run? Out of the options given, Demolish seems the weakest since it doesn't deal any damage, but on the other hand sometimes you really need to hit an artifact, especially considering Mirrodin is back. At one point the White Metalcraft deck pulled a Sword of Body and Mind on me. I felt lucky to be able to demolish it. Goblin Ruinblaster is probably better than any of the listed options, assuming you've got some, which wasn't the case with this deck.

Talking about the ramp targets, well, I was underwhelmed by the Phoenix. It doesn't get me back from behind, seeing as I don't have a real good way to wipe the board with it, short of taking an alpha strike to the face. The Wurmcoil engine, on the other hand, provides a significant board presence, and I wouldn't mind keeping it in if it was easier to cast. It's hard to get to six mana if the only way you're doing it is drawing blind. Ramping is fine, drawing cards enough to get the mana is fine, but just waiting for your deck to produce means you're waiting a long time.

Hmm... Crystal Ball? I'm inclined to say no. If you hit it on turn three you don't get to use it on turn four because you'd rather be blowing up someone's land. And then it never actually draws you cards, it just filters them. I've never been a fan of the card that others have, so maybe I'm biased.

So let's get down to the metaphorical brass tacks. How would I rebuild the deck? Well, let's say I'm sticking with mono red. I can either move more to the traditional Ponza route or the control route. If I go Ponza I want to take out the higher mana cost things and put in more ways to damage the opponent:

4 Goblin Guide
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Arc Trail
4 Ember Hauler
4 Staggershock
1 Cunning Sparkmage
4 Goblin Ruinblaster
4 Melt Terrain
4 Roiling Terrain
3 Koth of the Hammertime
2 Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
22 Mountain

Hmm... Maybe putting Goblin Guide in a deck with 12 land destruction spells is a bit greedy. On the other hand, I do love goblin guide. Ember hauler works as a 2/2 for 2 that also can occasionally add a little damage to the face or take care of a problem creature. Cunning Sparkmage likewise, in the three drop slot. Maybe some Lust for War would be good there too.

Now if I were to make it more of a control deck...

4 Flame Slash
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Everflowing Chalice
4 Iron Myr
4 Pilgrim's Eye
4 Staggershock
3 Koth of the Hammer
4 Demolish
4 Chain Reaction
1 Comet Storm
2 Valakut
22 Mountain

This one preserves the creatureless deck advantage, to an extend. Oh noes! He doom bladed my pilgrim's eye. You've still got the excellent creature kill, but now you can ramp more easily into your more awesome stuff. I especially like Iron Myr into Chain Reaction; it lets you make sure the kill all creatures effect is larger, so you're not wasting your card investment. The one of comet storm also gives you an out for killing everything or using it to toss at people's faces. Pilgrim's eye makes sure you're drawing your land cards for your Valakut kill while also providing a chump blocker. This deck uses demolish as an answer to problem cards rather than as a strategy.

I'm not saying either deck would be perfect, but they'd make a decent second draft. That's what I'd put in and why.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Legacy Goblins Tournament Report

Today Fountain of Youth games gave away a Timetwister and a Badlands in a legacy tournament. This is the tournament for which I've been preparing my goblins. Here's the final decklist:

4 Goblin Guide
3 Tattermunge Maniac
4 Mogg War Marshal
3 Stingscourger
4 Warren Instigator
4 Goblin Chieftan
2 Siege-Gang Commander
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Goblin Grenade
4 Goblin Incinerator
2 Warren Weirding
4 Wasteland
4 Auntie's Hovel
2 Wooded Foothills
2 Blood Crypt
2 Teetering Peaks
2 Smoldering Spires
1 Bojuka Bog
5 Mountain
2 Leyline of the Void
2 Relic of Progenitus
4 Cabal Therapy
2 Umezawa's Jitte
4 Earwig Squad
1 Fodder Launch

Ok, so the Incinerators are creatures and not kill spells, but it's very rare that they act like actual creatures.

If you're looking at that list closely, you'll notice some odd numbers. 2 teetering peaks, 2 smoldering spires, 1 bojuka bog? I never got any actual playtesting games in. When I went into the store the wednesday previous I found out it was actually D&D night (which is also cool), and FNM was much more about EDH games. What I ended up running was actually my playtest list. Partly because I didn't know what was worth cutting and partly because I thought the tournament was starting an hour later than it did so I only got to sign up at the last minute. But anyway, let's get on with the tournament.

Round one: Cheyenna with Squirrel Nest combo

In the first game I get a goblin guide to her wind zendikon. She makes a couple squirrel tokens, forgets a number of guide triggers, and generally gets run over by goblins. In a last ditch effort she drops an intruder alarm to hopefully keep me tapped down, but my deck is providing me with plenty of goblins. Game two goes much the same. No sideboarding, I figured I was at enough of an advantage already.

I feel sort of bad about this match, because plainly she's here with a boyfriend, not really that great at the game (Goblin Guide is much worse when it's faced with brainstorm, unless you horribly misplay brainstorm. Which she did.) and just looking to have fun. Not bad enough to intentionally drop a game or anything, but I do try to make things pleasent for her. Reminding her of guide triggers and so forth.


Round two: Katie with Affinity
Katie, on the other hand, makes a fearsome opponent. She wins the die roll, lays a first turn Great Furnace, memnite and mox opal, into frogmite and springleaf drum, if I remember correctly. Yeah, Scars of Mirroden printed some stuff that powers up Affinity; who would have thought? I start with a goblin guide to stay in the race, and finish off her creatures. She doesn't have enough gas to say in the race, and I win the first game.

I sideboard in two Umezawa's Jitte for two Siege-gang commanders. I figure Jitte will take over the game only it won't have to wait for five mana to do it. I want to keep in all my removal, since affinity very definetly works with a critical mass of artifact creatures. This was never relevant in the match.

The second game goes similarly, except she's got double myr enforcer. I'm handling it just fine, getting damage in, using smoldering spires to make sure I can still race past. I go for an alpha strike, knowing she doesn't have enough creatures to kill me off and that I'll be able to finish her next turn. The goblin guide flip reveals Shrapnel blast. I go to -1.

Game three ends after she gets Engineered plague on turn three and Engineered plague on turn four. I suggested she name elves, but despite a mutual disdain for them she persisted in locking me out of the game.


Looking around after the game, I see Enchantress playing Doomsday combo. Enchantress is sitting behind two sterling groves and an enchantress's presence and doomsday combo is resolving it's namesake card. I flit back and forth between this game and Aluren combo facing Merfolk across the way. Doomsday makes his stack. Enchantress spends a turn cantripping wild growths. Doomsday combo plays out Shelldock Isle, looks through the remaining four cards of it's stack and puts Emrakul underneath it. Enchantress sacs a sterling grove to get Runed Halo, naming Emrakul. Ermakul comes out, Aeons are torn, an extra turn is taken, and the swing comes in. Enchantress sacs six permanents, but doesn't take any damage. Doomsday can't make enchantress sac runed halo before running out of cards in library, and concedes. Doomsday indeed.

Across the way Merfolk succumbs to cavern harpy bouncing Parasitic Strix. That card did real good things for the Aluren deck.

Round three: Jonathan with Lightning Rift

Jonathan is going for the mad control route, with all sorts of fun things like humilty and engineered explosives and eventually cycling lands into burning out whatever goblins I get. Unfortunately, my goblins are fast enough to keep him off that eventuality. Again, I get goblin guides on turn one both games (my deck loves me almost as much as I love it.) While he had answers, they didn't come down quick enough, and weren't enough to fight past my burn. I finish him with Goblin Grenade and say "Goblin Grenade! Nobody even remembers that card exists!", at which point the store owner walks by and says "Goblin Grenade? I love that card!"

I sideboarded in the cabal therapies, figuring that I might be able to stop a moat or a humility if I see it early with a Goblin Guide flip. I do get the option to use therapy out the second game, and I have a useful target, but for the life of me I can't remember the target's name. I could describe it, but the last time I wasn't precisely accurate in naming the card there was a judge call and an appeal to the head judge and a whole mess and so forth. So I took the other line of play, which still won me the game. Not the best reason, I really need to practice my therapy.


I look over and get to see Katie's Affinity sacrifice seven permanents with double Disciple of the Vault in play, finishing off her opponent. Half an hour for lunch. You know what else is good about Fountain of Youth? Convenient access to cheap tacos. Taco Johns it is!

Round four: Other Jonathan with Eva Green.

Eva Green is a green black deck with lots of discard, land destruction and tarmogoyfs and such. Game one he wins the die roll and makes a decent hand into a pretty bad one by getting both my turn two plays with a Hymn to Tourach. We spend some time trading resources back and forth, with me trying to bolt his Hypnotic Specters before they get my last cards in hand and him sinkholing me and so forth. He eventually drops a Tombstalker, I fail to draw any of my outs, and we go on into game two. Game two I keep a sketchy hand which he turns into a nigh unplayable one when his turn one thoughtseize takes my mogg war marshal. I end the game with three goblin grenades in hand, never getting enough board presence to use them.


After round four I wander towards the back of the store where I find Cheyenna matched up with her boyfriend. Apparently they misunderstood the time allotted for lunch, arriving back about six or seven minutes late. Oh, and they had a couple shots under their belt,which didn't make for tight play. They weren't going to make the finals, but on the other hand they were having a great time.

In the back I spotted a new section of the commons box. Very exciting. You see, they sell the commons for a penny apiece, whcih means that a lot of marginal cards are still worth that coin. And they aren't terribly discriminate about which cards go into it, so you can frequently find good uncommons and jank rares in there. Over the past month or so I think I've spent about $7.00 on penny cards. And I've pulled some decent stuff; A Zuran Orb, two Engineered Plagues, A double playset of Kird Ape, a set of Fyndhorn Elves, A couple Goblin Matrons, and stacks and stacks of decent, interesting, and maybe playable cards. On Wednesday, when everybody else was playing D&D (and not being associated with either of the groups myself), I dug through the penny box, sorting through roughly eight thousand commons, dumping it all back in and making sure it was well mixed.

Sarge, who owns the store, has a philosophy about his penny commons. He'll keep the box, but if you're going to look through it you're going to have to work for it. So he doesn't let anyone sort his box for him. I wanted to get through this new box before he digs it deep into the other one, just to spite me. (He says "I would, too."). The first card I pull out is an Ascendant Evnicar. The second one I pull is a Lin Sivvi. I say "Are you sure this is a penny box?", and point out that these cards are very playable in casual decks. After he checks the price online (about a buck fifty each) he says he'll have to take them out, and he'll sell them to me for .50 each since I found them in the penny box. I accept; they're worth it. I get another .82 cents worth of cards out of that box, finishing it before round 5 starts.

Round 5: ??? with Eva Green

This guy, whos name I can't remember, came from Michigan. Apparently they had no plans for the weekend and a friend in town, so they drove down from the UP for the event. Game one I steamroll him with goblins, he doesn't get much of a chance to do anything. I figure I'm out of contention anyways, so I sideboard in everything that might be useful; two Relics, four Cabal Therapy and that one Fodder Launch.

Game two he kills me with a Tarmogoyf and a Putrid leech that I'm unable to deal with. I spend some time holding up the bolt and trying to force him to pump so I can kill it in response, but I don't manage it. In this game he forced me to discard a cabal therapy. I play a mogg war marshal and flash it back, not knowing what is in his hand. I'm not sure what to guess, so I eventually guess tarmogoyf, even though he would have cast it that turn if he had it. I was considering naming Tombstalker, even though I hadn't yet seen it in his deck. I figured he might have it, and it'd be a problem for me if he did. But no, I play like an idiot, and I get to see the tombstalker in his hand. And the double Sinkhole. Did I mention how I didn't have the mana to play much this game?

Game three is a knock down, drag out affair. We trade resources until neither of us has anything, and I'm leading on board advantage with a relic of progenitus in play. I play a goblin guide, he smothers it. He topdecks a Hypnotic Specter and I topdeck a bolt for it. We both land flood, and I'm removing his graveyard one card at a time, which has little more effect than annoying him. Eventually, I topdeck a goblin and he doesn't have an answer, and I take him down. It didn't take that long; all his free smothers and fetch lands and such had him down to eight life.


At this point there was a cut to the finals, with Goblins, Goblins, Katie with Affinity, and I believe another green black deck getting in. Katie and her boyfriend (playing goblins) split in the finals, for a badlands and a timetwister between them.

You know what I love about legacy? How you can't at all properly predict the metagame. Remember that neat chart I stole from Starcitygames? Yeah; I didn't face a single deck on it all day. There was a large presence of goblins, and a large presence of green black, which means that my metagame call of more aggressive goblins didn't play out that well. Also a lot of combo, but largely creature based combo so less threatening. The guy playing Ad Nauseum went 0-2 drop. I think, for the next tournament in January, I should bring some other deck, better positioned against the actual metagame and not a supposed metagame.

As for the deck itself, well, it needs more goblins. Most decks do. And possibly some Ninja. No; I think more goblins will do it. Specifically, I think I should kick Warren Weirding to the board. While it's good to have options against Natural Order Progenitus, I think i'd do better leaving it in the side (in place of Fodder launch and... I don't know.) This sort of deck really runs off of a critical mass of goblins; I'm not sure what I want to put in it's place but two more goblins might make the difference between running out of gas and having enough carriers for Goblin Grenades.

As for mana, I could use another black source or two; I need more support for early Cabal Therapy after boarding. The singleton Bojuka bog never kicked me in the teeth, but on the other hand I never got a surprise win out of it either. The taplands didn't give me much trouble, but I still don't know if they're justified. I'm thinking of cutting out wasteland too, actually. On the one hand, you can steal wins with it. On the other hand, I don't have the ports, Aether vials or lackeys to back it up, so those wins aren't that common. I'm already being greedy on land only running 22, and legacy tends to have a lot of wastelands and sinkholes to punish low lands. Still, I never ran up against a Maze of Ith or a Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale.

All in all, it was all kinds of fun, and I'd do it again tomorrow if they were holding it. I'm definetly excited for the next one.