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Chris takes U.S. Nationals by storm with a downpour of innovative decks!

O'Hareraising Adventures

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The letter W!elcome to Enemy Color Week, and what a week it is and/or has been! It started off, if you consider Sunday the start of the week, well enough. It was the last day of U.S. Nationals in Chicago. The national team was determined, the Vintage champion crowned, and I managed to deck a mono-red aggro player with Scalpelexis. I'm not sure which the greater feat is.

I finished my final two rounds of gunslinging with some very memorable games of Magic (more on that in a bit). Starting at 10 a.m., I took my place at one of the tables and was soon joined by none other than Richard Garfield, the creator of our favorite game. Earlier in the weekend, I lamely chickened out while Richard was chatting with players and signing cards (apologies to my signature-free Llanowar Elves). "He seems kind of busy right now," I rationalized to myself, "but I'll catch up with him later." Part of the problem was that I had no idea what I was going to say to him. I can't think of anything else that has had more impact on my life than Magic. I've since started playing a variety of other games and reading Richard's recently reprinted Duelist articles gave me a lot of insight into why I like what I like about games the I play.

Sadly, "I like Magic" was pretty much all I could come up with at the time. Sigh. Now that he was sitting right beside me, I figured that it was a good time to finally introduce myself and say something intelligent and witty like "Magic is awesome, eh?" Emboldened by the discovery of these bon mots, I turned to Richard and we had the following exchange:

Me: How's it going?
Richard: Good.

End of conversation. Derf. Ah, well. Next time.

Later that evening, I was lucky enough to attend the staff party at Café Ba-Ba-Reeba!, a tapas bar where we drank pitchers of sangria and ate delicious animal chunks that were often hanging from a dangerous apparatus. It was nice to have some real food for a change, after my streak of McDonald's meals during the weekend was interrupted only by a bowl of pizza and a trip to White Castle, a restaurant that seems to cater to the demographic of people who love fast food, but wish it came with more garbage. At White Castle, I enjoyed the redundantly titled "Bag a Sack Meal" containing six chicken rings, fries, and a Coke. If you're not familiar with poultry anatomy, the ring is located directly above the McNugget. In Canada, you can rarely order food by the sack (or crate), so I was happy to do so while I had the chance.

Kithkin Zealot
You're a fan of Mountains, you say?
After dinner, I joined half of the coverage team and a handful of judges to play a four-on-four, four-pack team draft that lasted until nearly 4:00 in the morning. Using one pack each of Lorwyn, Morningtide, Shadowmoor, and Eventide, I drafted an exciting mono-red deck, but due to some superhuman game-punting and Bill Stark's sideboarded Kithkin Zealots (take that, Tattermunge Maniac!), I only managed a 2-2 record. Things rapidly went downhill from there.

As I type this, I'm on hour sixteen of my petit séjour chez O'Hare International Airport (final tally of time spent in O'Hare: 26.5 hours!). You see, because I am slightly dumb, I missed my morning flight back to Toronto. Apparently you are supposed to give yourself more than fifteen minutes to check in, get through security, and board the plane. Who knew? Since the next two flights to Toronto were completely sold out, I was put on standby. This wasn't the worst thing in the world, because I could still conceivably get home by suppertime. The downside was that I couldn't check my bag, which, because it lacked wheels, meant that I had to lug around approximately a thousand pounds worth of Magic cards all day. Even this wouldn't have been so bad, but unlike similar bags, which have a canvas shoulder strap, the strap on my bag is made of razor wire. At least, that's what it felt like.

The next two flights were delayed and I couldn't get on either of them. I had no chance to be on the first one, but the second one seemed like a real possibility. Once the plane was boarded, and a number of people on the standby list made it on, the customer service representative announced, "I think there might be a few seats left," a statement that in the future I will interpret to mean, "Only one more person is getting on this plane." Before disappearing briefly to do a head count, he called out the next three names on the standby list. My name was third. The three of us stood there side by side, weary and expectant. When the customer service guy finally returned, he said, chagrined, that there was only one seat available and that it would go to a Monsieur Brunet, the man at the top of the list. What a beating. It felt like a cross between finishing ninth on tiebreakers and getting voted off American Idol.

Believe it or not, things took a turn for the worse at that point. Because of the sudden onset of dangerous weather, featuring such card-themed perils as Lightning Bolts, Thunderheads, and rumored Tornadoes, the next flight to Toronto was delayed, then cancelled, as was the subsequent flight. The sad thing is that my original flight actually left on time. I am seriously bruised from kicking myself.

At around 1:30 in the morning, I discovered that the next several flights to Toronto were sold out, but I managed to get a flight with a brief stopover in Washington, D.C. I camped out in the airport lounge with hundreds of other weary travelers. After that, it was smooth sailing. The weather cleared up by the time my flight to Dulles was supposed to leave, so I got home safe and sound a few hours later. So, um, yay!

Anyway, it's Enemy Color Week, so perhaps I should talk about some decks featuring enemy color pairs at this point. How about that?

Tales of a Gunslinger

Spawnwrithe
Oh the Spawnmanity!
As many of you know, I planned to play some decks built around Spawnwrithe at the gunslinging tables. And I did. We were gunslinging for two to three hours at a time, one or two times a day, so I tried to switch things up for each stint. I started off with a slightly tweaked version of the Ashling's Prerogative deck I wrote about last week (I cut some cards for a single copy of Primal Command and Squall Line), and then moved on to an altered version of the mono-green Spawnwrithe deck featured in that same article. I didn't play the deck that paired Spawnwrithe with Cephalid Constable, but luckily, R&D member and fellow gunslinger Kenneth Nagle brought this deck with him:



Like Cephalid Constable, both Needle Specter and Cold-Eyed Selkie do awesome things related to their power when they deal combat damage to a player. Murderous Redcap will also benefit from the pump effects. Event photographer Craig Gibson borrowed the deck for a quick game in between photographs, and managed to play a turn-three Needle Specter, followed by a turn-four Monstrify to make me discard my entire hand. The turn-five, -six, and -seven Monstrifys killed me. The best part about playing this deck is that Kenneth had provided actual Spawnwrithe cards to use as tokens. Talk about decadent!

Warriors on the Road

I knew I wasn't going to be playing Spawnwrithe decks the entire time. For starters, I have a short attention span and get bored with decks rather quickly. Furthermore, many of the people who stopped by the gunslinging tables were people who were in between rounds of other Standard tournaments (including U.S. Nationals itself) and came bearing top-tier tournament decks like Faeries, Merfolk, Kithkin, and Elves. I quickly learned that Spawnwrithe.dec is not so fun to play against Mistbind Clique and company, so I decided to build another deck right then and there.

Furystoke Giant
Pew pew, pew, pew pew!
Ever since a handful of players made Day 2 of Pro Tour–Hollywood piloting black-red Furystoke Giant decks, I have wanted to use the card alongside some of the Elf-token makers in Standard. Then I read Nate Heiss's recent feature article which proved that I wasn't the only one thinking along these lines.

Based on the cards I had with me, I whipped up this red-green Warrior deck which basically beats down with Elves (and a Goblin) and can use Furystoke Giant to win out of nowhere (which it did on a regular basis) against players who weren't expecting it (which was just about everyone). Yes, it involves the exciting, yet not exactly groundbreaking, combo between Wren's Run Vanquisher and other Elves, so it's not the Johnniest deck ever made. It sure was fun, though, and, besides the dual lands, pretty cheap to build.



Of course, red and green aren't enemy colors, so here's a red-white version of a Furystoke Giant deck. Patrol Signaler and Stonybrook Schoolmaster both produce tokens and benefit from having cards that tap your creatures (or give them tap abilities) like Springleaf Drum, Revelsong Horn, Power of Fire, and Furystoke Giant itself. Cloudgoat Ranger and Rise of the Hobgoblins are efficient token makers as well; the only thing more exciting than activating Cloudgoat Ranger with multiple Patrol Signalers is enchanting Hateflayer with Power of Fire. There's a lot going on in here, so feel free to tweak it and tune it as you see fit.


Noggling the Mind

The next deck comes from the mind of mad genius, gunslinger, and Pro Tour Hall of Famer Alan Comer. Looking to build some wacky decks to use at the gunslinging tables, Alan trawled through the 50 cent rares at the dealer tables and put together, among other things, the following (I contributed the Firespouts):

Alan Comer's Red Deck Decks

Scalpelexis
It's a bird! It's a plane! It's...PUTTING THAT THING IN MY EAR???
The deck is pretty straightforward: burn away creatures while you take chunks out of your opponent's library with Scalpelexis and Knacksaw Clique. The Elsewhere Flasks help you play any Cliqued spells. The first time I played the deck I was facing a mono-red opponent. As with almost every mono-red aggro deck ever made, it was full of four-ofs and had a mana base made up almost entirely of Mountains; Scalpelexis likes nothing more. My opponent was slightly manascrewed, stalling on three lands, and I was lucky enough to be able to Shock, Incinerate, and Firespout the Mogg Fanatics and Blood Knights that he was able to play. Eventually I got a Scalpelexis in play and the combination of its five toughness and my opponent's lack of land meant that there were very few ways for him to get it off the table. The Gone half of Dead//Gone bought him a turn, but by then I had a second Scalpelexis and enough land to play them both. The game didn't last much longer after that.

Black and White and Dead All Over

I didn't see too many black-white decks over the weekend, but the ones I did see were all "Turbo Fog" variants. Using the critical mass of Fog effects in Standard, like Holy Day, Dawn Charm, Darkness, Pollen Lullaby, and Eventide's Batwing Brume, these decks aimed to stall the game until their pilot could draw the deck's (often solitary) win condition, which didn't happen as soon as you'd think considering the number of Howling Mines these decks played. Some decks added green for Primal Command and Rites of Flourishing, to prevent decking themselves and to accelerate the decking of their opponents.

Howling Mine
COULD YOU LOWER YOUR VOICE PLEASE?
One of the best games of the weekend for me came against David Rockstar (possibly not his real name), who might have had the most energy of any Magic player I have ever seen (possibly due to Dayquil). With five Howling Mine effects on the table, an Imperial Mask in play, and enough lands to "Beseech the Queen for Gleemax," David had me on the ropes. My Tarfires, Incinerates, and Primal Commands were Extirpated even before the burn spells were made useless because of Imperial Mask. I couldn't get through for combat damage because of a steady diet of Pollen Lullabys and Wrath effects. At this point, my only out was a single Squall Line and his only out to my out was a single Seht's Tiger. On the last possible turn, I drew six cards, one of which was the Squall Line. I was still at 20 life, so I fired it off for the full 19. I wasn't taking any chances, because, and I quote, "There's too much at stake!" Lacking the Seht's Tiger, David had to scoop us his cards. Hurray for mono-green burn!

Reaching the Pinnacle

If you read the U.S. Nationals coverage blog, you might have heard this story already. Early Sunday, I was sitting beside fellow gunslinger and Eventide Lead Designer Matt Place, when I overheard his opponent, Jason, ask him a question no one wants to hear from the pilot of a combo deck: "You're tapped out?"

At this point, I looked at the board, saw a Bloom Tender, Scuttlemutt, Chameleon Colossus, and Oversoul of Dusk on Jason's side of the board. I laughed and said, "Umbral Mantle?" Jason dropped the Mantle on to the table, equipped it to Bloom Tender and used Scuttlemutt to make itself all five colors. The Bloom Tender tapped for White ManaBlue ManaBlack ManaRed ManaGreen Mana and untapped for 3 Mana, making it an easily repeated loop. Jason generated tons of mana, played Mind Spring to draw his entire deck before playing Helix Pinnacle and immediately adding 100 tower counters to it. Instead of waiting until his next upkeep, Jason just made his Colossus arbitrarily large, played Tower Above on it to give it trample, and bashed for a million. After the game was over, Matt pointed out that Jason could have also used the infinite mana to move Umbral Mantle over to Scuttlemutt, turned all of Matt's creatures black and then attacked with the infinitely large Bloom Tender or Colossus. The deck could also go infinite with the Quillspike + Devoted Druid combo or the Seedcradle Witch + Bloom Tender + Scuttlemutt combo.

It was awesome to see because I was thinking of building a similar deck earlier that day. My deck was mono-green and also used Gilder Bairn and storage lands to generate infinite mana, but I had overlooked Mind Spring as a way to draw your entire deck and eliminate the need to play multiple Helix Pinnacles. A couple of readers (Gareth A. and Elliott from New York) had already alerted me to some of these combos, so here they are in one deck:


Until next time, have fun with your enemies.

Chris Millar

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