Getting closer - Chris Brisky
Another day, another trip to a different city for a tournament of magical cards. This super IQ took place at Broadside Gaming in Katy, TX, about 2 hours south of where we reside. I have never been to the shop before, and will for sure go back given the chance. It was clean, well run, and had a decent amount of space. There were four of us in the car, and we ended up having a 50% conversion rate for top 8. I guess we did something right.
My deck choice shouldn’t really surprise anyone who knows me. I am a Mox Opal player, through and through. I’ve swapped back and forth between different prison strategies recently, but decided to be a part of the cool kids for GP Dallas and play Hogaak. The artifact gods did not like this, and I did not run well at the tournament. After losing my win-and-in for day 2, I sold the Hogaak staples while they were still inflated to pick up the remaining Urzas that I was missing. After experimenting with different Urza shells, I wasn’t too happy with anything. However, with Hogaak getting toned down with a ban, there would be a flood of fair decks back into the format, so a more prison-y style deck would be good choice starting off.
I haven’t been too happy with any specific Grixis Urza lists, but there are bits and pieces that intrigue me. The basic build is 4 Urza, 5 thopter sword pieces, 6-7 tutor effects, and a 4 astrolabe/mox/bauble package. From there, find utility singletons and flavor with graveyard hate to taste. Another point of interest is what do you want to do when you actually combo off. There are some metas where you probably don’t need to do anything else other than make infi thopters and gain infi life, but vs decks like infect, mill etc you sometimes need to just end the game on the spot. The choices to do this are Ghirapur Aether Grid (not an artifact), Time Sieve (only really good when you’re already ahead), Spine of Ish Sah (can’t be tutored for with engineer, expensive) and Scrap Trawler (is a dude, can be pathed). Of all the potential wincons, I like Scrappy the best since he can be rebought with engineer, and is really good outside of your combo turns to generate value with.
My list for the event
The event capped at 74 players, so 7 rounds swiss was in order. I recognized a lot of the grinders from the area, so this was going to be a good challenge.
Rd 1. Marc on Mono Red Phoenix.
Marc was sitting close to me at the players meeting, chatting with another fellow Austin grinder about choices for phoenix, so that’s what I put him on. I kept a hand with Nihil Spellbomb, foundry, gobbo, and no other business. Sure enough, he leads turn 1 prowess dork and I answer with spellbomb. He puts 2 phoenixes in the yard turn 2, forcing me to crack the spellbomb for no value and eating a big prowess attack. I curve thopter into sword, and need to spend one turn stabilizing before the lifegain coupled with infinite blockers does him in.
+2 Fatal Push, +2 Lightning bolt, +1 Sai
-1 Nihil Spellbomb, -1 Damping Sphere, -1 Pithing Needle, -1 Ichor Wellspring, -1 Mind Stone
This matchup is all about killing the enablers. Phoenix isn’t that great of a clock and requires a lot of setup, but if you get turns where you eat 10+ to the face, you will be forced into awkward spots. Kill the one drops on sight, and buy time for your lategame to take over. They bring in abrade, sometimes surgical and try to grind, but they are not set up for it
Marc leads game 2 with a Blistercoil Weird, while I play out some random 0s to play around potential eidolon. His turn 2 is attack, cast Light up the Stage for shrine/Abrade and pass. While that almost wins me the game on the spot, I do need to close. Luckily, I peel a whir, and play enough stuff to be able to whir for 2. Mac hits his 2nd land turn 2, and casts an abrade on my mox. I respond with a whir for foundry, peel an engineer for the turn and start making thopters. My life total never really gets in the danger area, and Mac scoops.
After this round, it starts to get a bit warm in the room, and someone mentions they need to turn up the AC. Imminent foreshadowing.
Rd 2. Sergio on UR Phoenix
Game starts off with me playing an astrolabe, and Sergio answering with a Serum Visions. I had multiple goblins in my hand at this point along with sword, so I needed to not get a Thopter Foundry with it until I can weld it back into play the same turn. I play a turn 2 engineer entombing a Grafdigger’s Cage (should have gotten bridge), and Sergio plays thing. I play my second goblin for foundry, and Sergio plays aria of flame. I tank for a bit and tunnel in on not letting the aria get counters over just waiting on the weld. I go for it with aria on the stack, and get blown out by surgical. I play a few more turns to get information, then scoop.
+3 Thoughtseize, 2 Teferi, 2 Fatal Push
-2 Engineers, -1 Nihil Spellbomb (draw, crypt play), -1 Pithing Needle, -1 Sword of the Meek, -1 Damping Sphere
Game 2 starts off slow, with both of us cantripping and setting up. I Thoughtseize and see a hand with not much going on, and take a Surgical Extraction. He plays a turn 2 thing, I answer with turn 3 Teferi, minus on thing. This was incorrect, since I still have bridge in my deck to blank thing, and his hand was relatively weak. He punishes this with a turn 3 aria, then ends up controlling my Teferi. The follow up Teferi gets forced, and thanks to a few good peels from my opponent, I am on the back foot. Luckily, I am able to stick a foundry, as well as an Urza with a whir in my hand. I could go for the mainphase win, but his thing is on 2 counter and he has mana open so I pass with whir up. On his turn, he goes for a flame slash on my Urza. I let the trigger from thing resolve, then go to whir. He attempts to cantrip to countermagic, but in doing so he triggers the thing and bounces my Urza. Had Sergio been pointing the aria counters at Urza instead of me, he would have been in a much better spot. My whir resolves and I assemble thopter sword. On my turn I cast Urza and go infinite.
We start game 3 with about 10 minutes on the clock, and have a decently long judge call early in the game. I thoughtseize on the draw off a fetch shock, so I am in trouble if aria ever hits. My opponent kept 7, then serum visioned keeping one on top. My thoughtseize revealed a hand of spells, indicating to me he kept a land on top. His hand is on the slower side, so I take the surgical and try to set up a fast combo. My opponent kept a serum visions on top, and missed on a 2nd land for a turn so I feel even more confident. However, he draws land land and plays turn 3 aria. However, I am set up enough with thopter sword to start pressuring his life total, and I race the aria to deliver lethal on turn 5 of turns. My opponent kept dredging shenanigans to try and answer my thopter foundry, but I think he should have been just digging to set up a multispell turn to end the game with aria.
By the end of this round, it was getting remarkably warm in the room. Come to find out, the AC had gone out and was in the process of being repaired.
Rd. 3 Gabe on Humans
I know Gabe from previous encounters at tournaments and know he’s a solid player. The last time we met, he was playing UR phoenix, and the rest of his team looked like they were on phoenix, so I put him on it too. Game 1 I kept a hand with a cage and multiple engineers but when he leads on cavern into vial, it’s pretty clear what he’s playing. I draw my 3rd engineer, and play one. I put a sword in the graveyard, but I think this was incorrect. If I get bridge, I can put it into play next turn while playing another goblin to block as needed. I didn’t, and needed to run out an Urza to block since I couldn’t slow him down fast enough. The last card in Gabe’s hand was a reflector mage, into a drawn meddling mage sealed the game.
+2 Fatal Push, +2 Lightning Bolt, +1 Sai, +1 Dead of Winter
-1 Gradigger’s cage, -1 Crypt, -1 Nihil Spellbomb, -1 Damping Sphere, -1 Ichor Wellspring, -1 Goblin (not sure if it should be this or mind stone, I revisit this later).
This game I have the perfect curve of t2 thopter, turn 3 goblin with bridge and multiple removal spells in hand. I set up thopter sword plus bridge, and take a few beats while this happens. Luckily, humans isn’t playing any of the reach cards that it did in the past, so as long as you survive at one life you can lock them out. Gabe got me down to 4, but then thopters started spawning left and right. One heads up play to always keep in mind if you have locked down the board where all his creatures have no text, make sure to keep the utility creatures under control. I had a fatal push sitting in my hand, and I could have killed a noble hierarch but instead pointed it at deputy. If he draws image, he now can’t image any good targets.
Game 3 I lose on turn 1, sadly. My opponent plays turn 1 vial, I lead turn 1 astrolabe with mox and Pyrite Spellbomb in hand. I didn’t play the mox, which you should always do vs Thalia. He goes turn 2 champion into Thalia, and I die with spells in my hand that I couldn’t get out fast enough. I only had 2 lands in play and couldn’t get my hand empty enough to whir for bridge in time.
Rd. 4 Nathaniel on Esper Death Shadow
Open up this game with Thopter Foundry, Urza, bauble, astrolabe, and lands on the play. I play out my stuff and get Thoughtseized turn 1 taking the foundry. Skillfully, I peel a 2nd and run it out. My opponent plays an inquisition and tries to take my Urza. Man, I wish that card was a 3 drop. I bauble, and draw goblin into another Urza for my 2 draws, run out the goblin for a sword, and rebuy it with foundry. My opponent Thoughtseizes me, takes an Urza then dies when I get the turn back.
+1 Sai, +2 Thoughtseize, +2 Teferi +2 Tezzeret
-1 1 Nihil Spellbomb, -1 Pyrite Spellbomb, -1 Tormod’s Crypt, -1 Sword of the meek, -1 Damping Sphere, -1 Pithing Needle, -1 Mind Stone
Usually in these matchups, they have some numbers of Rest in Peace/Leyline to go along with their discard and countermagic. The games tend to come down to topdecks so you want as many real hits in your deck as you can.
On the draw, I played a Grafdigger’s Cage with not much else going on. My thopter foundry was discarded, but skillfully I drew another when my opponent tapped out to cast a gurmag plus threat. My follow up Urza brought a 3 power guy, who traded with a death shadow. This let my opponent fatal push my Urza, but he is still missing his 3rd land. I had baubled my opponent and knew about a spell queller in hand, so when he tapped his one blue mana to thought scour himself, I whirred for bridge and my opponent scooped.
By the end of this round, the room is almost unbearably warm (Houston in the summer is almost 100% humidity). Luckily, the AC finally got fixed, but it took a while for things to start cooling down. After round 5 the judge staff spaced out the tables more, which helped quite a bit. Still, I needed to slog through one more round in the apocalyptic heat.
Rd. 5 Rachel on Humans
Time for some revenge. I knew what Rachel was playing as she lost to my car-mate John in the previous round. I kept a hand with engineer, thopter, pyrite, and lands on the draw. My opponent led with noble but luckily did not have a super explosive draw. I landed a turn 1 spellbomb (and remembered to play the mox I drew) before Thalia arrived to make my life difficult. Rachel didn’t have much more going on, so when she played a Thalia’s lieutenant and swung with just Thalia for the exalted, I got to time walk Rachel by killing Thalia with the exalted trigger on the stack. I untapped, played goblin and thopter foundry, and the game ground down from there. I stuck an Urza, who started casting cards from my deck looking for the sword. The game started getting close, with a Mantis Rider needing to be chumped every turn. Neither of us could really shove, since I could make enough blockers to survive and my 8/8 constructs were bigger than everything in play. I finally found sword and went infinite. We did both get a really dumb GRV, as I had been casting spells for free from Urza with a Thalia in play. The heat was defiantly getting to us.
+2 Fatal Push, +2 Lightning Bolt, +1 Sai, +1 Dead of Winter
-1 Gradigger’s cage, -1 Crypt, -1 Nihil Spellbomb, -1 Damping Sphere, -1 Ichor Wellspring, -Mind Stone
Game 2 Rachel leads on Aether Vial while I play a bunch of artifacts including mox. Her turn 3 is good, beating in with a Mantis Rider and champion. I get a goblin online, finding a bridge along with a Thopter Foundry to make some blockers. Rachel plays a knight of autumn to kill my bridge, but it not being a human doesn’t trigger the lieutenant. This proves costly, as I survive at one life and Goblin Engineer starts to take over. I am able to protect the bridge at all times with the engineer and eventually set up thopter sword. The lock is in place as I draw, attack with a swarm of thopters, then play the card I draw to close the bridge again.
Rd 6. Princess on Mono Red Phoenix
Friendly fire. Its always nice to avoid local friends as long as you can, but it is inevitable. We talked about drawing briefly, but it would mess up tiebreaks too much. We both know what each other are on, so this should be a tight match. I lose the die roll, and mull to an unexciting 5 with a graveyard hate card. My opponent pressures with a one drop, and keeps me from really being able to crack artifacts to draw since I need them to make blockers and gain life. I establish a Thopter Foundy, but with no ensuing sword I get burned out in short order.
+2 Fatal Push, +2 Lightning bolt, +1 Sai
-1 Nihil Spellbomb, -1 Damping Sphere, -1 Pithing Needle, -1 Ichor Wellspring, -1 Mind Stone
Same thing as last time, kill the enabler and buy yourself as much time as you can. They can only shatter you so many times before they lose steam and you take over.
Game 2 I keep the nuts: cage, thopter, sword, Urza, lands. However, my opponent misses land 2 for about 3 turns so this game was over almost as fast as it started. Princess got my life below 20 twice, and never lower than 18.
Game 3 is a bit scarier, especially being on the draw. I keep a hand with spellbomb, removal, and goblin, so it seems good enough. I kill the first enabler, but she follows up with 2 more, so I am under pressure early. She shenanigans(es?) my first Thopter Foundry after killing my goblin, and my life total is in single digits. I peel a second and make a few thopters to buffer my life total. At this point, she needs to decide between dredging shenanigans to keep me from untapping with thopter sword or trying to draw action. She chooses to dredge and has not hit that much off of the dredges. I peel a third foundry, and Princess needs to start trying to find real action to just end the game. She only finds lands however, and my thopter army starts crashing in.
Rd. 7 Juan on Mono Red Phoenix
We draw into top 8, and the AC is finally cranking comfortably. I will give Broadside props; they decided to up the payout down to 32. This meant a lot of Modern Horizons packs.
Top 8. David on Grixis Urza
Top 8 time. There is one unknown deck, and of course, the two nonsense decks in the top 8 face off in the quarters. The mirror is very weird game one, especially if each player knows how to navigate the matchup. While it can be a drag race, there is a bit of interaction between the graveyard hate cards and the one of needle. The problem is knowing which card to needle, since you don’t want to cut off your own access to Thopter Foundry to reset your own needle.
Being lower seed, I am on the draw. I keep a speculative hand with multiple goblins. While this hand is a bit slower, it gives me the opportunity to interact with my opponent. I end the game with all four goblins in my hand or play, and my opponent combos me through my crypt activation.
+3 Thoughtseize, +2 Teferi, +1 Fatal Push
-1 Grafdigger’s Cage, -1 Nihil Spellbomb, -1 Pyrite Spellbomb, -1 Mind Stone, -1 Ensnaring Bridge, -1 Damping Sphere
Game 2 I keep a pretty decent hand, with foundry, whir, spellbomb, mox and Thoughtseize. I take his relevant interaction, he needles my pyrite spellbomb that I draw then plays a Tezzeret. I have enough mana to whir for sword, make a dude, and kill Tezz. My drawstep yields the scrap trawler, which enables backdoor infinite my opponent with scrap trawler, 2x mox opal, and combo for infinite thopters and life. My opponent takes his turn, thinks for a bit, then scoops.
+1 Fatal Push
-1 Mind Stone
On the draw, I want to be able to disrupt Urza a bit more. This game, my knowledge of the matchup shows a bit more, as my opponent drew Tezzeret as well as a ceremonious rejection that really did not have any targets. I think on my hand for a bit, as it is the full combo, crypt, and astrolabe but no real interaction while my opponent mulls to 6. My first draw was mox, and the card I drew from astrolabe was a land so I get to land foundry with a mana up. All I need is hit my 4th land for the Urza in my hand and the game ends. My opponent plays Tezz, upticks and whiffs, then passes the turn with a known Ceremonious Rejection in hand. I peel the 4th land, play Urza, play sword, and demonstrate infinite.
Semis. John on Hogaakvine
Well now this is unfortunate. John is a playtesting partner, drove down to the event with me, and the deck is one I helped design. Sadly, we both wanted the invite so time to battle.
When we first put this Hogaak list together post ban, I tested it a bit against my Urza build and the results were….not great. It’s mostly 50/50 pre-board, revolving a lot around bridge and hitting mainboard graveyard cards. Game 1 I mull to 5, trying to hit either a fast bridge hand or graveyard hate card and find neither. I put a Pyrite Spellbomb into play and crack a bauble on turn 1 John puts 8 power into play. These are the same things right? I die before doing much of anything.
+1 Sai, +1 Dead of Winter, +3 Thoughtseize
-1 Ichor Wellspring, -1 Pyrite Spellbomb, -2 Mind Stone, -1 Goblin Engineer
On the play, I am just trying to combo as fast as possible. Thoughtseize might slow him down a turn, so the 2 damage gets better exponentially the more turns it buys me. Game 2 on the play, I keep a 7 with Thoughtseize, Urza, and a bunch of cantrips. I Thoughtseize turn 1 and see a 7 of Stitcher’s Supplier, Hollow One, Vengevine, Insolent Neonate, Thoughtseize, Blood Crypt, Street Wraith. I tank for a while and take the neonate, with the plan to slow things down a bit. John takes his turn and hits me back with Thoughtseize, taking my Urza. I draw a pyrite and cast a few cantrip artifacts and a crypt. John plays the stitcher—doesn’t hit much of anything—and a carrion feeder. Response to the feeder, I nuke his yard to keep him off of Hogaak. This is one thing players don’t do enough: aggressively keep the Hogaak player off of casting their guy. If you let the second black creature resolve, they get priority to cast the Hogaak, regardless of your hate card. I play a pyrite, spellbomb his feeder to force the sack of the stitcher, then nuke his graveyard again. Scoop them up, “I’ll just win game 3.”
+1 Mind Stone
Well, let’s run back game one, just with slightly better cards in my deck. I mull to 5 again while John keeps 7, but this time I can put a goblin into play turn 1. This doesn’t happen, as John has the turn 1 Thoughtseize to take my action. I want to say I put up a heroic fight with lots of micro decisions that mattered. In reality, he put 6 power into play turn 2, and I failed to find a payoff spell before dying. Oh well, if I had to lose might as well be to him.
This deck is very sweet. The core of the deck is pretty solid, but there is a lot of flex in the artifact hate you can play. I will be playing this deck at Vegas for sure (unless of course we break paradox engine). Thanks to Broadside Gaming for running a clean tournament, and the judge staff for doing your thing. Slops to the AC unit that dies at the beginning of round 2 (do your damn job, AC).