February 22 2016 Monday at 02:32 PM

Duels Diaries Week 30 - From HAKI to Showdown

The End of the Hakumite, the start of the Showdown.

Lots of spoilers to come, so if you haven’t watched spoiler-free and want to go to these links and do it now!  Don’t scroll, don’t read another word.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-387TS8w-Ko - Hakeem vs CGB

http://www.twitch.tv/tibalttown95/v/48385119 - Peepy vs Barney

http://www.twitch.tv/hakeem928/v/48416030 - Finals

Ready?  Let’s go,

I want to be able to tell you that I am the Hakumite champion.  Magic is a cruel master/mistress.  Every time you are on a role, every time you convince yourself that your success is the result of your hard work, that skill at Magic is all internal, the game is always there to remind you that luck, good or bad, doesn’t care about you.  

What you see or heard on stream is carefully executed as far as how I win and how I lose.  Even the approach I take to playing the game has taken time to construct.  Singing pop songs keeps demons at bay.  There is a part of me, something I am grateful for and resentful of, that detests losing to a point that it would be considered unhealthy by most.  I have come a long way.  Instead of breaking things or starting fights with opponents that were once my friends, I can congratulate them and sing some Miley Cyrus.  I can talk to them afterwards without bleeding my guts out through my microphone.  This all takes more work than most realize.  

The ugly truth is what happens when the cameras are off and nobody else is around, except my poor wife who has given up on consoling me for a long time.  I don’t sleep after a loss, and I haven’t for the last two nights.  I obsess beyond what is rational.  I have played the Hakeem vs CGB match on paper over and over and over.  I still haven’t had a pair of games come up like they did in the HAKI.

And my results have held up.  I posted about winning 70% of games vs Thopters.  Things I know - I need to get a threat on the battlefield in a reasonable time, preferably before playing any removal spells.  Nissa’s Renewal is a trap, if I cast in in lieu of managing the board, the counterattack from Thopters is often for much more than seven thanks to Chiefs, haste from Engineer, burn, Pia/Kiran, ect.  The sequence you want is (a) ramp, (b) monster, ( c) removal.  I was well short of this in both of my games, even as I aggressively mulliganed for it in game one.

Among the things I try to console myself with - the best deck and player rarely win the tournament.  This is true.  Even the most hard work by the best technical player is rarely paid off with the trophy.  When I think of basketball, I think of Michael Jordan, who was clearly the best player of his time.  What makes him great is that he also won.  How many great players have come and gone, but rarely finished the job and held the top spot at the end of the year?  Plenty.  But it seemed like Michael always won after a certain point in his career.  He actually closed the deal, over and over.  In Magic this is mostly impossible.  One human can’t dominate the tour anymore like Kai Budde and Jon Finkel back in the day, and Brad Nelson about a decade ago.  One can be the best player, the hardest worker, and hold the best deck for the event, and you will likely be rewarded with a cash finish, but your event still ends with a loss.

If I had to write about why I gave Magic up multiple times, particularly competitive Magic, I would have to say it was the losing.  It is so rare to finish on top, and if you are wired like I am to take losing as a failure somewhere in your DNA and as a stamp of disapproval on your very existence than most your experiences with this game will end with long car rides or flights and a lot of lost sleep and mental self-torture.  Some amount of cash or product prize for top eight was never consolation, and likely never will be.

I do have an odd working relationship with this destructive side of my personality - it made me a killer in sales, where my efforts often directly translated to results and luck played a small role.  It also made me a very successful business owner, at first because I put myself in competition with my former employer, and then even more so when I surpassed that target and found new foes to drive insane.  It pays, in real dollars, at a price of real happiness.  No amount of success yet has given me peace with myself and my efforts, it is as if every event I enter or business endevor I pursue will reevaluate me and brand me as a winner or loser until I muster the conviction to try again.  While I have read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance three times, I fear I am still an “ego climber”.


As someone who has actually created a 4 Hour Workweek, I know it is not enough to read a book, you have to put what you learn into action to make change, and I have not cracked this particular code.

If I can get past my own inner turmoil, perhaps I can write more objectively about the semifinals and finals.  My wife thinks it might be good for me, to, as The Script sings,

“Take that rage,

Put it on the page,

Take the page to the stage,

Blow the roof off the place”

So we have a champion, and it is Black Barney with his Izzet Thopters list -

4 x Fiery Impulse

3 x Runed Servitor

4 x Perilous Myr

1 x Jace, Vryn's Prodigy

2 x Abbot of Keral Keep

3 x Disperse

2 x Fiery Conclusion

3 x Chief of the Foundry

3 x Thopter Engineer

1 x Ghirapur Aether Grid

2 x Exquisite Firecraft

3 x Whirler Rogue

2 x Pia and Kiran Nalaar

1 x Reclusive Artificer

2 x Thopter Spy Network

5 x Island

6 x Mountain

2 x Sulfur Falls

3 x Foundry of the Consuls

4 x Izzet guildgate

4 x Evolving wilds

When I saw this deck on paper, I felt as if I had seen it before.  Oddly, I had to wait until I heard Gemini mention on his stream that this was my own deck!  That should be some consolation!  My deck won the tournament!  I had to dig pretty deep to find it.  


Duels Diaries Week 14, which tested forgoing decklists in the text and instead provided a link to a results-oriented spreadsheet -

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc ... sp=sharing

If you can bare with me, go to that, click the decklists tab, find the Thopters list.

So yeah.  Card for card.  The odd thing?  This was before Battle for Zendikar came out!  This is a 100% Origins Thopter list.  It does explain some of the card choices, as Disperse and Fiery conclusion kept Chandra’s Ignition from hitting Zendikar Incarnate or Outland Colossus and Aether Grid + Fiery Impulse for Chief was the mirror breaker.  Still, I don’t know if I deserve credit because I changed the list a lot once B4Z came out.  I’m a deck tweaker in general, and my lists change and change often, but it shows that once upon a time I built a pretty good Thopter list, and whether Barney likes it or not it gives my blog some credit - read this free blog, and you might find a list you can use to win $100 someday!

I need to pause and give some much deserved props to Peepy Squeeps.  You don’t have to like the guy, he can come off as both rude and immature.  Is it an act, part of a persona?  Maybe yes, maybe no.  The best acting comes from personally relating to a character in many cases, and the jackass act certainly has legs.  Still, this guy really cares about entertaining you, the viewers, the community.  If you watched his semi-final that is clear.  The dude picked up a Kinect to wear a suit that looks like half of Dumb and Dumber and, for some inexplicable reason, a horse mask!  Why does he even have one of those?  Does he leave it in the beds of his enemies with a bucket of beet juice?  Regardless, props for being the jackass, if this tournament is about creating content and generating press, it needs to have characters and it is great to have Peepy along for the ride.  You don’t have to like him, but you should love what he brings.

For all the work I do to be right, I am still wrong a lot more than I should be.  Let’s review my Thopters stance over the last few months shall we?

Week 22 - “While I think Thopters is not hard to beat if you want to, most players aren't preparing for it, and it gives decks based on synergistic aggro or spot removal fits.”

Week 23 - “The most interesting thing about Thopters is that Thopters is still a deck.  It reminds me of Abzan in the recent Standard rotation - many Pros who where also writers said Abzan wasn't good anymore, but Abzan won the Pro Tour.  The same writers said that was weird, but Abzan still wasn't the best deck, and they spent a lot of words on other decks.  In the weeks that followed, Abzan kept winning events and is still the number one played deck in the meta.  Thopters didn't gain much, but what it added was a few small improvements.  I used to have to run 26 lands to hit a turn four double-blue or double-red mana to cast Pia/Kiran or Whirler Rogue or Spy Network.  Pilgrim's Eye lets me run more artifacts, less lands, and more four drops, so more Reclusive Artificers make the cut.  The deck is good at consistent, evasive pressure that is resilient to 1-for-1 removal.  It is the best of the synergistic tribal aggro decks by far, and I think it could be a curveball in the tournament.”

An all Thopters final and the championship crown may make some believe Thopters is the best deck to play right now.  I don’t agree.  Hakeem has made his case for Thopters being top tier, and I can agree with that, but I think it should be remembered that both Thopters decks limped into top eight, and almost didn’t make the cut.  By contrast, Gemini and I had very high win percentages going into top eight, and Peepy finished 4-1.  While his Thopter matchup is bad, I believe Gemini and I both had reasonable matchups with rather unreasonable draws, and that happens.  I would be cautious labeling Thopters a ramp killer, or the best deck.  Ramp based in red and green is still the real condition of the format.  In my opinion the big mistake I made was not running Jaddi Offshoot.  While Nissa’s Renewal isn’t great against Thopters, Jaddi starts healing the little pecks and pokes from those pesky drones on turn one, and it really swings the match.  I took them out because I thought nobody would play aggro, but I did find I underestimated their impact on the Thopters matchup.

If I started another event tomorrow, I would likely register a different deck entirely because I am sick of playing ramp, but if I were truly playing to win I would register this -

3 Jaddi Offshoot

3 Fiery Impulse

3 Gatecreeper Vine

3 Rolling Thunder

1 Nissa, Vastwood Seer

1 Reclamation Sage

2 Radiant Flames

4 Nissa’s Pilgrimage

2 From Beyond

4 Mwonvuli Acid-Moss

2 Outland Colossus

1 Greenwarden of Murasa

1 Woodland Bellower

2 Nissa’s Renewal

2 Gaea’s Revenge

1 Omnath, Locus of Revenge

1 Ulamog, The Ceaseless Hunger

1 Plains

6 Mountain

12 Forest

2 Cinder Glade

1 Canopy Vista

2 Rootbound Crag

Mobius pointed out to me before and after my match that having one Plains in the deck would increase my likelihood of casting Radiant Flames for three.  I never considered this observation as wrong, just irrelevant.  I so rarely cast Flames for three, and so rarely needed to cast it for three, that I found the inclusion unnecessary.  Of course, after playing over five hundred games with the deck, the one time I truly needed that ability was in the Haki semis in a losing effort.  So yeah, in goes a Plains, and I eat some crow.

I look forward to seeing if the Steam Showdown can avenge me and put Gruul ramp on top where it belongs.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t LOVE the deck, I don’t get giddy over casting Acid-Moss, but I recognize power when I see it.  When a deck is the best, like Eldrazi has been in Modern recently, it commands respect from others in deck design and preparation.  That is what Duels needs to be a more competitive game.  My honest opinion is that most of the HAKI registrants didn’t respect ramp to the level it deserves, and it made my stomp to the top of the swiss standings a lopsided one.  For the Steam Showdown, I hope we see a field that has taken preparation for the ramp matchup seriously, and if someone has prepared well and beats the ramp decks, good for them, they have my vote for champion (wait, we don’t vote for champions do we?  I get confused in an election year).

So let us fully transition to Steam mode.  We had a late drop out and we have a new entry -

Spaunshadie - Jund Crats

4 x Blisterpod

1 x Vampiric Rites

4 x Perilous Myr

3 x Carrier Thrall

3 x Gatecreeper Vine

4 x Elvish Visionary

2 x Shadows of the Past

2 x Evolutionary Leap

1 x Liliana, Heretical Healer

4 x Nantuko Husk

1 x Nissa, Vastwood Seer

4 x Act of Treason

2 x Smothering Abomination

1 x Ob Nixilis Reignited

4 x Swamp

2 x Mountain

4 x Forest

2 x Smoldering Marsh

2 x Cinder Glade

2 x Woodland Cemetery

2 x Rootbound Crag

2 x Dragonskull Summit

4 x Evolving Wilds

I wonder if this is a Duels Diaries reader?  The deck looks really familiar.  How to judge it in the field?  I’ll go with a B+ for now.  It is tricky to pilot, so I hope Spaun has played it a lot.  I also know from experience that it can beat ramp when all is running right.  I really wish that the Shadows of the Past were From Beyond instead.  That card is pretty underrated in Crats lists, a free scion every turn has never been more appreciated and the ability to tutor up Smothering Abom when you have a scion army ready is like turning your enchantment into a draw seven!

j.larew is the identity of the drop-out, but I don’t see that name anywhere so I have no idea which deck has dropped out of the event.

Round one is in progress, and already some results are in -

Qasim (Gruul Ramp) vs Randomname (B/W Control):


Watch if you want to before you read, I am going to spoil spoil spoil -

Gruul Ramp takes B/W Control to the Stomping Ground.  Even the great Gideon, Ally of Zendikar couldn’t save random in this 2-0 route.  The one-life stand in game two is a real sweater, and while Gruul Ramp won the match I think that Qasim needs to give away less lifepoints in the future and close faster as Shadows off the top could have been lethal.  Interesting to note that the Orzhov Control list came close to victory as a beatdown deck.  Random wrote some analysis on NGA and seems to think that Rec Sage on Shadows is a big key to the match.  If Shadows is the deck’s primary card selection engine, then he got pretty unfortunate to face down the Rec Sages in each game.  Really the issue I found with the B/W Control match is that it couldn’t muster together enough good five mana plays to contend with Ramp’s ten mana plays.  You can have all the removal you want, but you have to hope/pray your opponent floods, and while the threat density appears low, it gets higher with every ramp spell cast.  I have won plenty of games from the Ramp side and lost plenty from the Orzhov side to oversized Rolling Thunders in situations where I thought Orzhov had finally found control.

BounceBurnBuff (Abzan Control) vs Darkshock (Jund Crats):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jvnCYNM ... e=youtu.be

The Crats vs control-oriented deck, of which BBB’s Abzan list is, is very favorable for Crats lists because they can be so grindy.  Game one certainly fit that bill, a serious grind fest that ended with most of Shock’s deck in his hand and just three cards in the library.

Game one - At 13:00, the search with From Beyond for Smothering Abomination to gas back up shows exactly what I love about From Beyond in this deck.   Celestial Flare plays out as awkwardly in this game as it did in my testing games.  Of course the targeting disaster with Flare near the end of the game didn’t help.  Simplified targeting, it solves a lot of problems!  BBB also missed a lot of opportunities with Shambling Vents that didn’t help his cause.   While BBB is right about not drawing wincons, it is hard to see how any of them would help his game after a certain point, Ignition combo destroys walkers and Ulamog gets Act of Treasoned, once the game reaches a double-Smothering point there is not much that will change anything.

Game two - Flameshadow Conjuring - I love Evo Leap and From Beyond, and can’t picture removing them.  Is there room for one more enchantment that does little on its own?  The test case is in this game.  Check out the Fleshbag at 38:00, the card draw is nuts and Shock didn’t even clone it!  Once again, the value is a nightmare for the controlish Abzan deck, and Crats loves to battle control.  2-0 for Dark Shock.

LionhearT (Temur Ramp) vs Yondar (Simic Tempo):


Game one - What a hot start for Simic!  This game would have been very interesting if play/draw had switched, and I always watch those games with a could-of-been curiousity.  Did you really win because of the play-draw coinflip?  Lionheart made some poor combat choices and got rolled on pretty hard.

Game two - The start from Simic is much more cooled down, but Gnarlid still puts in beats and Guardian makes a great appearance.  I don’t understand Lionheart’s refusal to Radiant Flames earlier, if you play against tempo you should never, EVER count on being able to block as a strategy, and Yondar punished him appropriately.  Gnarlid never should have dealt that much damage.  The sum up?  Yondar is a more polished player, and he took care of business.  Yondar 2-0.

Nighthawk233 (Temur midrange) vs Marnel.estrada (4 Color Control):


Game one - Wow, a misplay gone so right!  It is hard to believe the Gatecreeper misfetch worked out in Hawk’s favor.  Why is that deck so bad at drawing lands?  If you watched my playtesting with Hawk’s deck you know what I am talking about.  The midrange deck applied great pressure in this game and the four color control deck seemed to struggle with colors, the game was lost with a lot of cards in hand and it is hard to guess what they could be if not some kind of color screw.

Game two - Hawk plays it pretty aggressive, and not quite horribly.  Marnel also appeared to play well and had the right mix of burn and creatures to close things out.  Chandra’s Ignition made a BIG appearance, and left Hawk wishing he had a way to cope with a five-eight Eldrazi.  Still, Hawk almost got there!

Game three - Hawk keeps what I can only describe as a pitifully slow hand, and he doesn’t draw out of it.  It reminds me of my sad game one vs Hakeem in the semis, just a helpless steamrolling.  It happens.  I really enjoyed games one and two, pretty tense, closer than I expected.  Marnel wins 2-1.

Kryder (Gruul Ramp) vs Tsh1rt (Red Aggro):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0V57eFS ... e=youtu.be

I think I can summarize this one quickly - a pair of awkward hands by red aggro met a pair of pretty good hands from ramp.  Even in tough matchups, ramp has such powerful cards that it can take wins, and I don’t think the Red/Ramp match is particularly favored in one direction or the other.  I played a lot of games with both and the results consistently fell around fifty-fifty.  Kryder wins 2-0.

StepUp (Gruul Ramp) vs PACT (Abzan Ramp):


Game one was a total one-sided Moss fest.  The deck with more ramp often wins these types of games, very very often.  StepUp’s deck didn’t cough up the ramp and he went down hard.  Painful to watch.  Game two saw the Moss relocate to the other side of the match and StepUp took a one-sided victory that I am sure was equally sufferable for PACT as game one was for StepUp.  If there is a complaint about watching a bunch of ramp on ramp, it is that many more games that normal will be one-sided, and it makes Moss look really important.

Game three - A tough keep leads to the best top-deck so far - Nissa’s Renewal with an Omnath in play.  Gideon is just left doing a golf clap, “gee gee, gee gee”.  StepUp wins with Gruul Ramp, 2-1, with game three being the game to watch.

Terezin (Simic Control) vs Grimric (Jund Ramp):


Game one - I watched a Spell Shrivel rot in Terezin’s hand for so long, and we all know if you let Nissa’s Renewal resolve while holding Shrivel that you will probably never get to Shrivel anything ever again.  I didn’t like the play or sequencing, and I think Terezin punted the early and midgame.  

Game two - Both players amassed the mana to do anything, and all we saw was Vile Aggregates and Perilous Myrs picking away at Terezin.  Oh, and Rolling Thunder off the top.  That tends to work.  2-0 for Jund.

Legend (Red Aggro) vs Beard (Naya Ramp):


The Beard deck is slow like dirt.  Somewhere along the way he surrendered the red matchup entirely, because he has no Fiery Impulse, no Twin Bolt, no Jaddi, and probably no game against Red Aggro.  Easily the most lopsided tourney match I’ve watched since Dieverse1 kicked Steely Danno’s slow Sultai deck out of round one of the HAKI.  Legend wins 2-0.

boh (Red Aggro) vs Light (Sultai Control):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mToNVvd ... e=youtu.be

I looked forward to this match, because I do want to see if Light can control a quick red deck.  My own results didn’t favor Sultai here.  In game one boh moves all in very quickly, sweeper or bust is on early for Light.  The second black never shows up so if Languish was there, it wasn’t castable.  Fleshbags make some ugly appearances and trade poorly with boh’s one drops.

Light has Languish in game two but the Bloodlust’s leave a lot of damage done.  From there it is just mop-up duty for the red aggro player, a point here and a point there eventually finished Sultai off.

If my memory serves, both Legend and boh had the play in all four of their games.  Magic sure can be a cruel mistress sometimes.

WrightJustice (Sultai Crats) vs Babassoonist (Golgari Ramp):


Babs says this is her worst matchup and I believe it looking at the decks, but she has a more proactive game than many of her fellow rampers.  I’m a big fan of both decks and players, so let’s see what happens.

Game one - Even the Babs topend including Breaker of Armies couldn’t help her, and as we know, Crats is a hard deck to control.  From Beyond, like in a different match, eventually helped Wright grind out the game.

Game two - Yo Justice, you do have a limit on how many times you can pause per turn!  If you are a Crats player, run your Husk up to lethal during your main phase.  All this, and Wright still closes the deal with two cards left in his deck.  2-0 for crats.

So that is what has finished so far, I am really happy so see so many links to video coverage.  It makes my writing a lot better when I can watch the games, and I hope that the trend continues.

For fun and sillies, let’s look at how my grades translated into round one results -

B defeats B

A- defeats B+

B- defeats C+

B+ defeats B+

B+ defeats B-

B+ defeats B

A- defeats B-

B defeats B-

C defeats B- in a match without footage

D+ defeats C

B defeats C

So I had a few blemishes thanks to some of what I consider the oddball decks in the room, with Jund and Sultai ramp.  They could still prove to be better than I expect, because they are pretty unique decks and the pilots are also unknown to me.  If they are readers, then my message is to by all means, prove me wrong, I would love nothing more!

Moss vs not moss for fun and silliness.

Simic defeats Temur Moss

Gruul Moss defeats Red Aggro

Gruul Moss defeats Orzhov Control

Red aggro defeats Naya Moss

Jund crats defeats BBB two-moss

That is three wins for not-Moss, two wins for Moss in the Moss vs Not Moss matchups.  

As always, this is fun, I hope you enjoyed reading, and I’ll be back next Sunday with more on the Steam Showdown.