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So You've Found The Internet...Now What?
by Andrew Stokinger

     I played in an unsanctioned tournament the other day at my quiet little store in the middle of Massachusetts. A few kids showed up and I figured I'd play and have some fun and help these kids out. These kids are the ones that a little bit of Internet can go a long way to help. They are past the point of not being able to get the right cards for the deck, and are where their decks that they play exceed their skill level.
     For example, the first kid I played had a red/black control deck. It wasn't amazing, but since someone had made it for him, it had just the right mix of hand destruction, creature pressure, and 4x edict and innocent blood, so that it can handle a good Psychatog deck. I think, fine, he's a kid, I'll bring in my extra deep analysis, and some persecutes to level his hand since he has no card drawing. Well someone had also told him how to sideboard against Psychatog. He wasn't told how to board against any other deck mind you, just 11 cards against tog.
     So he brings in at least Skeletal Scrying, Ichorids, Engineered Plague and Boil. He begins the game with double duress, while I work my way up to a persecute, which knocks the 4 creatures out of his hand, Nantuko shade X2 and Phyrexian Rager x2, and another random black card. The next turn he tries to Skeletal Scrying during his main phase for 4 using a single black mana. I'm worried now and wondering, what the hell is this? He has 3 lands and can do it for two, but he obviously doesn't know the card, or even how good it is, he just added it to the deck and shuffled up. I tell him he actually has to pay the mana as well as remove the cards in his graveyard, so he holds onto it for later. The card is really good against my deck, so if it was sanctioned and something was on the line, like a PTQ or GP, I could have called him on it and made him use the Scrying for either 0 or for 2. But if I was the judge, I probably would have had a heart and let the kid take it back too at anything below REL 3.
     So a few turns later he drops an Ichorid and swings into my Psychatog . The next turn he tries to bring it back during his main phase. I inform him on how the card how works and when to use it. The following turn he uses the ability during his upkeep and tries to bring it back to his hand instead of to play. I tell him by "bring it back", I meant bring it back into play. Ichorid is impossible for tog to handle with an upheaval because it comes back without any mana cost, and doesn't return to hand. Tog can only stop it with Nightscape familiars or for a turn with repulse. The fact he played an engineered plague that turn to kill my Nightscape Familiars was rather significant. So, I eventually lose the match to Ichorid and Engineered Plague.
     The next round I play against a red-green burn deck. His deck contains the normal beat down creatures, some extra burn than normal (Fiery Temper), and then both Barbarian Rings and a Keldon Necropolis. "My deck is really anti-Psychatog," he says as he forgets to swing with his turn one rootwalla after playing a Wild Mongrel on turn 2. I drop a Turn 3 Psychatog to stop the beatings and start blocking rootwallas and Elves that are getting sent in while the Mongrel eats my life away. I don't draw enough card drawing and end up having to burn my graveyard to live though a Flametounge Kavu. The game ends with a Urza's Rage to the dome, maybe 2 turns after he could have had me dead (he had barbarian ring out). Ok, this kid isn't terrible, and his deck is pretty fast. I bring in 4 demises, and take out recoils and probes. Making him discard didn't sound like a great idea.
     Game 2 brings a new definition to the term "speed". Turn 3, he attacks with a mongrel I couldn't counter because I Force Spiked a rootwalla turn 1, and my next counter was a Circular Logic. During the attack he pitches 2 Fiery tempers to the mongrel to deal me 10 damage. I have nothing yet, so I take it, play a third land and say go. He attacks again and pitches Violent Eruption paying the madness. I counter this time, but I go to 7. I get down a tog, but he still has everything on his side, with me a 7, a barbarian ring in play, and plenty of uncounterable burn in his deck, never mind burn he can throw at me while I'm tapped out. Yet the game from that point goes on at least another 10-12 turns while he doesn't attack in with all the creatures he had out. His strategy wasn't bad, he had decided just to sit and wait until he had 7 points of uncounterable damage. The thing that perplexed me was when he talked to me afterwards about what he boarded in and why. The cards weren't that bad, Engulfing Flames and such, but his reason for what he did was because his friend told him to play them, and he really didn't know that the Nightscape familiars that I never drew are very integral to the match up.
     Now, I understand that there has been a very good reason for people just to try to memorize the way to beat the current Psychatog decks. They are very hard to beat, and the most played deck in the format. I also understand that players in constructed don't really need to realize why they are doing certain things to be able to play constructed. But let us consider the following situation. I saw the following deck last week at a tournament at Hammer's Comics in NH.

4 Nightscape Familiar
3 Blazing Specter
4 Duress
3 Shadowmage Infiltrator
4 Counterspell
4 Memory Lapse
4 Fact or Fiction
4 Flametounge Kavu
4 Urza's Rage
2 Obliterate
24 land, including some of the following:

Underground river
Shivan Reef
Shadowblood Ridge
Salt Marsh
Darkwater Catacombs

     Now it's not an amazing deck, but it did well considering the field had some decent players in it, and bares a lot of similarity to Psychatog although only in certain ways. Now if either player from above couldn't either identify that it was a Psychatog like deck, or assumed it was exactly like Psychatog they could be in trouble. If you are going to play a deck, or are giving a deck to someone, knowing something about the deck you are playing is very important.
In the above example, the first player might get wrecked if he brings in Boils and Engineer plagues, because there are very few islands, and with Flametounges the deck no longer has such serious issues with needing to keep a Familiar around. But Ichorid is still amazing in this match up, so not boarding would be bad. As for the second deck, He would want to leave in his Shivan Wurms because there is no bounce in the deck, and a 7/7 is hard to burn away, but still probably needs engulfing flames to get rid of the familiars. He might have other sideboard cards like Jade Leech or some other large creature that would make it a better match for him, which he would definitely never bring in against tog.
     The point is, besides to showcase the above mediocre deck, that sure we can all read online and grab a good deck, and hell, maybe even learn something about it. But to be a great player, to get up to the level where only a little luck stands between you and winning the tournament, requires an understanding of both what that cards do, and what you are trying to accomplish with them. So the next time you copy a deck, please read the article that goes along with it (and by the way, don't copy the above deck!) so that you can understand the deck better, and make a more informed decision on whether you actually want to play it. There is a lot to playing a deck besides just copying the list, and that difference may just be the distance you are from the Pro Tour.

Andrew Stokinger




Copyright 2001 Pojo.com


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