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Why I Hate Apocalypse and Dallas Drivers (and other stuff).

Or, If you read only TWO articles this week, make this the second.

Yes, there was no column last week.  I know.  You can stop reminding me.  Thank you.  I have a good excuse though!  Really. 

     Last Thursday night I was all prepared to head to Rama Llama Comics and do some drafting and get some more ideas for my adoring fan to check out.  (If two people e-mail me at once, I’ll be able to say “fans”).  So about 7:30 or so we finally get a draft going, and we sit down and break open the Invasion pack.  I first pick an Agonizing Demise.  I second pick a Faerie Squadron.  I third pick a Distorting Wake.  I fourth pick…well, I fourth pick nothing.  As I pick up the fourth pack and start trying to decide between the Fertile Ground and the Stormscape Apprentice, the rain and thunder outside pick up and POOF.  Out go the lights.  Yep.  We’re drafting in the dark.  Everyone sits there for about five minutes all happy and dandy, expecting the lights to come back on.  They don’t.  This is just wonderful.

     Pop quiz hotshot!  (Or at least for those of you old enough to drive.)  You’re driving in a torrential downpour.  You are coming up upon a traffic light that is out because of the electric in the area going out.  Do you:

A. Stop at the light, look both ways, then slowly proceed.

B. Slow down a bit heading towards the light, looking around, but ultimately never stopping.

C. Speed up, joyous in the fact that today, and only today, this one time, you get to go through this light without having to deal with an annoying red light.

     I’ll give you a minute.  Think about it.  Go on.

     The correct answer is A.  Easy enough, right?  Well, apparently in Dallas, people think the correct answer is C, so the patrons of Rama Llama comics were treated to a good thirty minutes of squealing brakes and cars smashing into each other, right out front of the store.  Anyone who dared to make a left hand turn at the intersection of Parker and Premier was immediately given five to one odds that they would get plowed into by an SUV.

     At about 8:45, the owner of Rama Llama finally gave up and sent everyone home as the lights were still not back on.  He told me over the weekend that the lights came on five minutes after he kicked everyone out.  By the way, props to Sam for giving everyone involved in the aborted draft a fourth pack for free to make up for the draft falling apart.

     So my big tip for drafting with Apocalypse this week?  Make sure you are drafting in a well-lit area.  Being able to SEE the cards comes in handy when trying to figure out what colors you are drafting. 

      So that said, I’ve had to come up with plenty of stuff to keep you guys happy this week.  Let’s hope I succeeded.    

     Did I say I hate Apocalypse?  Oh yeah, I guess I did.  For those of you unaware of the real world, oftentimes magazines, newspapers, and yes, even websites, will have headlines designed to grab your attention and make you read the rest of the article, trying to justify the hype of the headline, only to leave you severely disappointed when you get to the end of the article and realize the headline was pretty much fabricated.  This is one of those cases.  Sorry.

     While I don’t HATE Apocalypse, I am kind of disappointed in it.  Wizards of the Coast, in the last two sets, Planeshift and Invasion, had shown an amazing amount of self-control in balancing the availability of the better cards in the sets.  Even going back to Nemesis they’ve done this.  I’ve often wondered what the impact would be if they had made Blastoderm rare.  In Invasion, they could have easily added many more chase rares by making cards like the “dual” lands, Recoil, and Fires of Yavimaya rare.  In Planeshift the same could be said for Terminate, the Battlemages, and Flametongue Kavu.  Instead both of these sets feature a good mix of chase rares and strong common and uncommon cards that are playable in the current environment.

     Apocalypse takes a noted step in the opposite direction.  This weekend I was playing Apocalypse W/B/g (an exact decklist is coming up below) and couldn’t help but notice that it seemed like every card I played in the deck had a little gold symbol on it, outside of the basic land.  As I looked around, I noticed that seemed to be the trend in most decks, even ones that did have some commons still featured Apocalypse rares as their stars.  My point is, look at Apocalypse, how many of its commons will we see in Standard play?  This weekend I saw Standard Bearer brought in as a sideboard card, and I saw a Red/White deck that ran Goblin Legionnaire and Squee’s Embrace, but still featured multiple rares including Goblin Trenches.  The problem I have isn’t with good rares, it’s with a set where virtually all of the good cards are rare.  Now I may be mistaken, and someone will come up with a use for Strength of Night in Standard play, but somehow, I doubt it.

     What?  I was playing Apocalypse in a tournament this weekend?  Yep.  My local store runs Standard tournaments on Saturday nights, and went ahead and made Apocalypse legal since the Saturday night event isn’t sanctioned, giving everyone a chance to try out these new cards.  I’ve been playing this new environment for a couple weeks now, focusing on black/white.  B/W as a deck type has one major weakness right now, and that is that there are so many directions you can take with it, it hard to choose one, much less one that will be effective and have good synergy.

     You can play straight B/W and go with a control scheme, since black is the best way to kill creatures, and white is the best way to kill just about everything else.  You can try to be aggressive and mix Dark Ritual with fast critters like Phyrexian Scuta.  Do you try Rebels?  Do you mix in green and get Spiritmongers and Overgrown Estate and Ebony Treefolk and Pernicious Deed?  And exactly how the heck to you abuse Phyrexian Arena anyway?  And where does Vindicate mix in with all of this? 

     I agonized over this, saw other people’s builds of this style of deck and have been focusing on a B/W/g deck primarily over the last few weeks.  The most intriguing concept I saw was a deck based on land denial and fast creatures, with Rain of Tears and Putrid Warrior mixed in with Vindicate, Death Grasp, Arena, and Rishadan Port.

     I decided I needed to figure out what I wanted to with the deck. I remember my own advice to build a deck that fits my play style, and that has always been control.  I liked the idea of land destruction and mana control, and I decided that I wanted to be able to deal with opposing Spiritmongers, as opposed to playing my own, so I decided that Wrath of God would be a good idea for the deck.  The first time I played it, the deck fell apart, I only had five or six green mana sources, and drew sparse land draws constantly.  So I reworked it, and then the deck went 4-0-1 (intentional draw) and barely lost to a blue/black deck on Saturday night, and did excellent in some testing on Sunday.  Maybe I’m onto something.  Here’s the current decklist for your perusal:

4 Phyrexian Arena
4 Wrath of God
4 Death Grasp
4 Spectral Lynx
4 Rain of Tears
4 Dark Ritual
4 Vindicate
3 Pernicious Deed
3 Necravolver
2 Desolation Angel

4 Rishadan Port
4 Caves of Koilos
3 Llanowar Wastes
4 Elfhame Palace
2 Darigaaz’s Caldera
2 Plains
5 Swamp

     I’m sure some cards in there will raise some eyebrows, so let me explain.  Necravolver was an addition that seemed like it would have synergy with Phyrexian Arena, even if it was a less-than-optimal costed creature.  It has turned out to work exceptionally well.  I’ve played it with only the white kicker several times, and even that has proven advantageous when I have an Arena on the board.  Against controllish decks, it gives you more fuel to feed the Arena, because against control decks you’ll sometimes drop a second Arena.  Against aggressive decks like Fires, the Necravolver provides a huge life swing, even when simply blocking a Blastoderm or Spiritmonger for one turn.  Instead of going down five or six life, you go up three or five points, and that swing combined with an Arena can be massive, giving you time to draw into Wrath or a Spectral Lynx or Death Grasp to hit your opponent in the head.

     Spectral Lynx comes in handy both as an early beatdown critter, and a form of control, acting functionally as an Icy Manipulator of sorts versus Spiritmongers and Blastoderms, and often hitting for a few points of its own in the process.  Desolation Angel was originally a one-card throw-in in the first version of this deck, as I thought it would likely be way too situational to really be worthwhile.  Little did I know this critter would become the backbreaker of the deck.  Angel is too finicky to play four copies, but two seems to be working extremely well.  Between Rain of Tears, Ports, and Vindicates which usually target lands, the opponent often has to play out every land the draw, and when the Angel arrives, they are stuck for a recovery from the “Armageddon” and the Angel often goes the distance.

     The strategy of this deck depends on what you’re playing against.  If they play a first turn island, a response of first turn Swamp, Ritual, Arena can be brutal.  But if they are playing fires, you’ll want to focus on keeping things under control until Wrath of God cleans the board up and allows you to sit back for a bit.  Vindicates are used early on as land destruction, trying to keep colors shut off for the opponent, and picking off opposing Ports.  Mid to late game, Vindicate becomes old-fashioned spot removal, or becomes a land destruction card after a Desolation Angel has hit the board.  The deck is all about just keeping control of the board until you can pound on your opponent with a critter or hit them with the Death Grasps. 

     The biggest weakness of this deck is that against heavy blue control decks, every single card is played during my main phase, which is something I’m working on.  Tsabo’s Decree is quite good, but not main-deck worthy, in my opinion.  Cards like Dark Banishing just don’t seem powerful enough on the whole to make the ranks in this deck.  I’m going to give the instant-speed land destruction ability of Rith’s Charm a try in the near future, as Darigaaz’s Caldera and some Urborg Volcanos would give me all the red mana I need for three to four copies of this card.

     I don’t know if this is the optimal build for these colors, it may not be, and it probably isn’t considering the amount of options available in this environment, however, I feel I’m off to a strong start, and I’d love to hear any comments you guys have on this deck as well.

Tim Stoltzfus




Name: Tim Stoltzfus

I'm a genetic mutant, spawned from government experiments on monkeys and blowfish that resulted in a new form of human being that can climb trees and breathe underwater. Sadly, I also have a paralyzing phobia of being wet and I can't stand heights, so I was sent out into society to attempt to live a normal life. Your tax dollars hard at work.

Unfortunately, the attempt at a normal life was thwarted when I was introduced to the game of Magic:The Gathering in the spring of 1994. From the first day I got my head bashed in by a Force of Nature that trampled over my Ironroot Treefolk who I played third turn by tapping the Dark Ritual I had played on the first turn, I was hooked on this goofy game. (Don't ask, we had no idea what the rules were, and I suspect neither did WotC at the time.)

I've played almost continuously since then, taking a six month hiatus from the game to move from Pennsylvania down here to Dallas, Texas in January of 1996.

I've played in way too many PTQs to count, been lucky enough to attend Origins for a few years when Nationals was held there, and I've even qualified for two Pro Tours, finishing 136th at PT Dallas with the first (and only) NecroHaups deck, and finishing 46th at PT Secaucus (Aka PTNY 99).

Over the past year or so I've regressed a little as a competitive player, not being quite as eager to travel to PTQ's, but still being very active in my local tournament scene.

I enjoy the card interactions in Magic, and love to build odd decks that try to captialize on those unique interactions. I'm not always successful, but I always have fun, and enjoy meeting people involved with the game.

I've been writing about Magic for a few years now, getting my start doing a column about rules for The Dojo back when Fank Kusumoto was the Sensei there. Later on I started Techsas under the watchful eye of Chris Senhouse, with the name of the column coined by the brilliant Al Tran. After The Dojo went the way of the dodo, Scott Gerhardt contacted me in a panic, desperately pleading with me to write for the new Pojo Magic site. I think his exact words were something like, "If you don't suck, I'll let you do it once a week."

Apparently I don't suck, although that could change at any moment.

Techsas. Enjoy it while it doesn't suck.




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