Pattern Recognition #123 - Slow Grow Vol 2, Part 1
12 September 2019
12 September 2019
Hello everyone! Welcome back to Pattern Recognition! This is TappedOut.net's longest running article series. In it, I aim to bring to you each week a new article about some piece of Magic, be it a card, a mechanic, a deck, or something more fundamental or abstract. I am something of an Old Fogey and part-time Smart Ass, so I sometimes talk out my ass. Feel free to dissent or just plain old correct me! I also have a Patreon if you feel like helping out.
Anyway, today's article is the first in my retrospective of this years Slow Grow League being run by my FLGS. If you're interested in the details, you can read the details about the set up here. For those who want the quick version, I'm in a six week league, three rounds a week, where you start with a preconstructed Commander Deck. After each week, you may switch out five cards of your choice until you have, at the end of six weeks, 25 cards different in your deck.
As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, I chose to take into this league this year's Mystic Intellect deck. My choice in this matter was twofold. First, as it is one of the decks from this year, I support my local game store by purchasing product from them. Which is very important. SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL GAMING STORES. Anyway, the other reason is that, well, I'm a die-hard Aggro player. Put a creature deck in front of me that turns sideways, and I can intuitively understand it. But that's not what this deck does, so I was planning on going outside my comfort zone on this one.
And given that the Ghired, Conclave Exile deck was sold out going into the League, and the number that I faced over these first two weeks, I'm kinda glad for that.
Of note, after looking over the decklist, I decided to run with Elsha of the Infinite as my Commander over Sevinne, the Chronoclasm. I liked the ability to cast cards at Flash speeds, and had the idea of slowly changing the deck over into a Narset, Enlightened Master deck, only with less Auras, and more Instants and Sorceries. But that plan very quickly went out the window.
There were 17 people this week, so that meant 2 tables of 4 and three tables of 3. My first round put me up against an Aminatou, the Fateshifter deck, a Kadena, Slinking Sorcerer and finally one of the alternate commanders for Ghired, Atla Palani, Nest Tender
The game did not start well for the Atla player, having to mill down to FOUR before they kept their hand. In fact, they were pretty much out of it for the most part, their only real creature of note was a Scaretiller that I wound up casting Ray of Distortion on using Flashback for the synergy with Burning Vengeance.
The Aminatou deck also had a hard time gaining traction, as I and the Kadena player made sure she never spent more than two turns on the board. We all knew what would happen if she got her Ultimate off, so that was off the board in more ways that one. In fact, she even got the point for casting her Commander 4 times!
I got to cast Ral Zarek once, and he +1'd for me before being taken out because extra turns are not something to be allowed, right? I also put the Atla player into danger with Commander Damage because hey, I have a Prowess Commander, so I should swing, right?
However, it was the Kadena player who won. He dropped Vraska the Unseen and I realized that I had no way to kill it. Diplomacy failed to kill her, and she was able to be Ultimated. Seeing the writing on the wall, I held back, and prepared for the worst.
Vraska Ult'd, and I held up a Magmaquake with 5 mana open. I had three creatures, so all was good. I even had Gerrard, Weatherlight Hero in play. A 3/3 First Strike deals with a lot of combat tricks that Kadena can put out, I think, and I could safely boardwipe with him in play.
He swung at the other two players, seeing the Atla player with no defenders, and the Aminatou with one creature. My response was to cast Magmaquake for three. Not only would it take out the Assassins and Morphs, I would get the "SAVE!" League point.
He Moprhed Kheru Shapeshifter.
With it now just me and him, I had to proceed carefully. I had enough blockers for now, but I didn't have a boardwipe in hand, depending on Magmaquake to do the job. He then casts Hex on my three creatures, and three of his own, and then he Morphed Kadena's Silencer in response to Gerrard's trigger, and that was game.
Well, Second place isn't a bad start.
I was now up against a different Kadena deck, a Sevinne, the Chronoclasm deck, and a Ghired deck.
I was able to put my Backdraft Hellkite into play, and it did good work, though I had to admit that once Marisa, Breaker of the Coil hit the table, the game stalled out. Yes, being able to Goad your opponents is all well and good, but myself and Sevinne had reliable boardwipes the whole game through, meaning that it wasn't as useful as it could have been.
Of course, the fact this guys shuts down Mandate of Peace just annoyed me to no end.
Honestly, there was nothing really important to say here. The boardstate stalled out, and we went to time with me coming in second (again) thanks to my lifetotal. I was able to play kingmaker thanks to Burning Vengeance, Devil's Play and Guttersnipe, but honestly, I'm going to echo one of the comments I heard from TheCommandZone when they reviewed these decks. They have great plays, but finishing the game can be hard.
This time I was at a table of 3, with the same Aminatou deck as Round 1, and a third Ghired Commander deck.
I had a bad hand to start with, poor mana, but I kept with only two lands, rather than risk going down to five. Fortunately, I drew into my missing Mana, so all was well.
My first nice play was Pramikon, Sky Rampart that forced the Ghired player to attack Aminatou and not me. Which was a nice change of pace. Anyway, I found out that Conundrum Sphinx synergizes really well with my Elsha, though when the Animatou player doesn't attack because the need the blockers, its usefulness is limited.
That same player wound up casting Serra Avatar, which as it turns out, can be pretty damned scary in Commander, so I was forced to use my Wall of Stolen Identity on it instead of my planned target, Ghired.
So in response, she casted Storm Herd.
I also discovered the single most inefficient board wipe in the deck. Step 1: Cast Mass Diminish. Step 2! Cast Increasing Vengeance to allow me to hit both players with Mass Diminish. Step 3! Realize that neither Magmaquake or Rolling Temblor HIT FLYING CREATURES!
In the end, I came in last due to life totals when time was called. But hey, not a bad start, right? Certainly better than last year, that's for sure!
The Deck Changes
My first thought was to double down on the Elsha plan. I mean, she has Prowess, so why not? A little Cyclonic Rift to clear the way, perhaps an Artful Dodge to stay on theme with the Flashback. Go for the totally-not-Narset plan! Add in The Mirari Conjecture for additional recursion and copying, Wrath of God and Inferno to help clear up the board state, and maybe a Disenchant to help supplement Ray of Distortion, and I figure I had a working plan that would mature over the coming weeks!
Then I talked to my co-worker Nathan about my plans and he agreed that Elsha was the best choice for the deck, but he would take it in a different approach. Yes, the Future Sight effect was all well and good, but Elsha is still worse than Narset. And as he couldn't participate in the League this year (he got a promotion, and can't get Friday's off this fall) he had no problems suggesting that I go a different route.
A route I would never think of because I'm not a Spike. I'm a Vorthos.
The idea, as he told me, was to cast the Top from the top (HAH!) of my library through Elsha, with the price reduced by the Inspector, draw my Library, cast the Maniac and laugh as I win.
I liked the idea! Except for two problems. I didn't have Maniac and I don't have a Top. I did have a Foundry Inspector though. So I shelved the idea until I got home and went back to sorting my card collection because it really needs it still.
While doing so, I was going through my Planeswalkers, and in doing so, I ran across Jace, Wielder of Mysteries. And I realized that he could be a viable substitute for Laboratory Maniac. In addition, he was a non-creature, which meant that while his casting cost was far harder, he could be Flashed in thanks to Elsha. I also went to Gatherer, and looked up artifact casting reductions.
Foundry Inspector, Jhoira's Familiar and Etherium Sculptor. These three became my options if I wanted to go down this path. After looking at the cards in my deck, it actually came down to Dusk / Dawn and, Sun Titan and Sevinne's Reclamation. In that they all look at cards that have a casting cost of 3 or less, and Power of three or more for the former. Which meant that Etherium Sculptor was the magic junction that could dodge one of my Boardwipes, and had the most chances of coming back with my other cards already in the deck.
Of course, I accepted that all three were good in their own ways, so I resolved to add them in, ne each week unless I needed to use all five slots for something else.
But that still left two slots for week two, and in the end, there were two factors that took up both spots.
The first was that I knew that there were other versions of this Precon in the league. That there were at least two other Flashback decks out there, and if I was going down this road, so could they.
And there was the other Spike in the League, another co-worker of mine. And he was playing Meren of Clan Nel Toth. Which is all about Graveyard recursion.
That meant five cards in - Jace, Wielder of Mysteries, Etherium Sculptor, Rest in Peace, Crook of Condemnation, and a Sensei's Divining Top borrowed from my brother. The question was now: "What to cut?"
Well, some answers to that were easy, and others hard. And the easiest cut was Zetalpa, Primal Dawn. This card has no synergy with the deck, save perhaps if I ripped out and made Gerrard, Weatherlight Hero my Commander, which obviously isn't going to happen. I mean, he doesn't even have Lifelink to feed into Storm Herd, which is a far more useful card!
Armillary Sphere was also an easy cut as it just didn't work out that well when I was playing with it. Yes, it's acceleration, but when I had it in play, I had more important uses for my mana. And as I go forward, I think I will have better ideas for my mana fixing. Like Signets.
What wasn't so easy was another card that I could see being used, especially with the large casting costs I might incur with my Flashback costs, and that is Empowered Autogenerator. Much like Scaretiller, this is a combo piece, but for a different Commander. In this case, I really want to see how this one would work out in a Teferi, Temporal Archmage. Because it gains mana and charge counters when it taps, you can use this as a go-Infinite option with The Chain Veil. And that's something so obvious that even I didn't need a Spike to tell me about it!
Now, to get my hands on a The Chain Veil. For experimentation purposes.
Lastly, Burning Vengeance. This one was both easy and hard at the same time, but in the end the decision to accept the fact that casting cards from my Graveyard was an option, not Plan A. And in Commander, 2 damage to someone's face might add up over time, but I was keeping Guttersnipe because it would keep the damage both coming and going for my Instants and Sorceries.
So, with ins and outs decided, it was time to go into Week 2!
So, you know how I mentioned the other Spike at my FLGS? With Meren of Clan Nel Toth as his "Casual" Commander of choice? Well, guess who was sitting to my left!
There was also an Atraxa, Praetors' Voice as the third person at the table, but they promptly milled down to 5, and was mana-screwed until it was far too late.
But here's the thing. I have something of a Reputation at my FLGS. I'm the guy who eschews the "Meta" and goes for the Jank builds, the weird decks that are led by Fumiko the Lowblood or by Temmet, Vizier of Naktamun. So when I come to the table with Elsha of the Infinite, I am, by default, a less threat than the guy running the Proliferate deck that's in a bad position.
I depended on this even as I started to put my pieces into play. First was the Etherium Sculptor itself, which did not raise an eyebrow - and the Atraxa player was mana screwed.
Then came River Kelpie, which was an amazing way to piggyback some value off of Meren's recursion. Alas though, the free ride was over when I cast Dusk with many humans from Increasing Devotion and ... GODDAMNIT!
I thought Phyrexian Plaguelord handed out -1/-1 counters! Argh! I would have been able to keep the River Kelpie after the board wipe! And Meren's deck state would have been wiped out thanks to Mazirek, Kraul Death Priest! Which it was!
Then I blew up his graveyard with my Crook of Condemnation, which was allowable because I had cast it on an earlier turn, and he accepted that it was a valid choice for the reasons I stated earlier. After all, one of the signs of a good Spike is that people will prepare for them, right?
But we were in an equilibrium after he took out the poor Atraxa player who never got his feet under him. And he was slowly building up his forces again, and I was hanging out behind my Storm Herd and Increasing Devotion, neither of us going at the other when I went off.
I had Elsha. I had Etherium Sculptor. I drew Sensei's Diving Top. I had enough mana. So I looked at his board state. "You're tapped out, right?" "Yeah." I checked his creatures, making sure he didn't have a "Sac a creature, cast Naturalize" card in play. Nope!
I cast Sensei's Diving Top. The Spike approved of such a powerful card. Then frowned.
berryjon: "You see this, right? I win."
Spike, Tournament Grinder: "No? Show me."
Spike, Tournament Grinder "Huh. I got greedy. Good game."
berryjon "Thanks! You can thank Nathan when you see him next. He pointed this out to me."
Spike, Tournament Grinder "Yeah, I'll punch him in the face or something."
(Note, he did not do any actual punching. They're both mechanics, and blood on the shop floor is bad. Instead, when I talked to them on Monday, I was told that Nathan was no longer allowed to talk to me or 'suggest' things. He then started doing just that in front of the other Spike, and I just grinned and had fun with it.)
So, I came in first! I beat the boogeyman of the league! I was shaking with excitement!
You know that feeling you get when you realize that you're sitting at a table with a control deck against two Aggro decks? Well, that's what I felt when I sat across the table from two Ghired decks. Literally, as they were on the opposite side of the table from me.
Deck A, well, his opening play was spectacular. Deck B, who went first, was able to cast his Commander on Curve. So far, so good. On his turn, Deck A cast Hate Mirage on Deck B's Ghired and Rhino Token. Deck A then got a Ghired token, a Rhino Token, and another Rhino Token from Ghired coming into play. He then attacked me with his Tokens, and with his Ghired copy, populated.
He Populated his Ghired Token. Making another Rhino, and creating a token that wouldn't go away at the end of the turn thanks to Hate Mirage.
End result - three Two Rhinos and a Ghired.
I was... worried. Badly. Here's the thing. It was easier for the two of them to attack me than it was to attack each other because I couldn't properly defend myself (I could, but the cards weren't coming) and so it was effectively free Populate triggers.
Then Player A dropped Doubling Season. When he attacked with his Ghired token, he could generate two new Tokens (which would be sacrificed due to the Legendary Rule), and each of those would make two Rhinos.
Magmaquake for 4. Because I didn't have the seventh mana to go to five and take out Ghired. I took out Six Rhinos this way, and set both players back.
Then Player A cast Anointed Procession and things got worse. I was able to stabilize at 15 when I flashbacked Ignite the Future to cast Dusk and Storm Herd for 15 for free. Yeah, I was at 15 life, and they hadn't attacked each other yet. Don't ask me how lucky I was, because I was very lucky.
Thankfully, Player B finally realized what was going on, and while I was able to Ray of Distortion the Doubling Season, he took out the Procession. In response, on his turn, Player A swung at me for lethal, and I shut him down with Mandate of Peace. Then Player A swung into the open Player B, and took him out.
I swung with my horde of Pegasus tokens, and put Player B on the clock. A clock that had two more turns assuming I kept enough Humans back to block. Which I did. The Geistcaller's Lifelink brought me up to 5, then to 8, when I screwed up.
I cast Cackling Drake. It was huge. Like, 16 power huge. I would win with it!
Oh well, second place wasn't bad. good solid game where I kept myself in through sheer dumb luck.
This was odd though, when I sat down at the same table as the same two from the previous game. We all raised concerns, but the Judge pointed out that our Round 1 and Round 2 results left us effectively tied again, so we were back at the same table.
Literally. The same one. My seat hadn't even gotten cold yet.
I got in a League point when I swung my Etherium Sculptor at a defenseless Player A. He had the token doublers. He was going down. And Player B agreed. I was able to cast an ahead-of-curve Storm Herd for 29 tokens thanks to Jace's Sanctum and Sol Ring, and that made be un-attackble because I could drown the attackers in tokens.
Player B got Desolation Twin and Trostani, Selesnya's Voice. He could Populate the Desolation Twin token, and gain 10 life at a time. Player A failed to gain any traction as he couldn't attack with Ghired into me or Player B.
I had the Sculptor. I had Elsha in play. I had Jace in hand. I just needed my Top to win, and that meant desperate measures as I knew that once Player B took out Player A, I was next. I only had finite tokens to block with, and while I could hold him off for a bit with Prismatic Strands and Mandate of Peace, I needed something more.
In my hand, I had Desperate Ravings which I couldn't cast at the risk of losing Jace. I had Jace. I had Clever Impersonator and I had mana. So I did the hilariously smart and brilliant thing, if I do say so myself, and cast Clever Impersonator on Jace's Sanctum.
You may now bask in my glory.
Confused? Well, now all my Instants and Sorceries cost less, and every time I cast one, I got to Scry 1, then Scry 1. So I started casting like a mad man. Faithless Looting. Tossed Refuse / Cooperate. Ray of Distortion on Player B's Scaretiller got copied thanks to Cooperate to take out some other artifact. Mystic Retrieval to grab Faithless Looting! All to scry and dig through my library for the damned Top!
From last game, both players thought I was digging for a board wipe. Even as I Scried those to the bottom of the Library.
Then it happened. On my second turn of digging, I got the Top to the Top of my Library, and I breathed a sigh of relief. I then made absolutely sure everything was in order, and I cast Top from the top of my Library. "Does this resolve?" I asked. They thought it was just more deck digging, and hey, it was a free card, right? So it resolved. "This is now on the board. I activate it to draw a card and put it back on my library. Any responses?"
Confusion, but none. "I do that then, drawing a card, and putting the Top on my Library again." I put the drawn card into my hand without looking. "I cast Top again. Responses?"
Nothing. "I repeat this until I draw my library. Do you guys want to interrupt me at any time?"
"I cast Jace, Wielder of Mysteries. I draw a card. I win."
Oh man, did Player B HATE that. He was sitting at over 150 life, had tokens for days, and was set to coast to victory when I comboed out from under him. He accepted that I had won the game, but then went to the Judge to complain on League standings. He first argued that I should take the point penalty for 'killing' both players on the same turn. The Judge called me up, and I showed him exactly what I did, and how it worked. I pointed out that me winning is distinct from them losing - I even wrote an article on that! And I didn't kill them either. I barely touched their life totals. He and Player A were sitting on Rootborn Defenses to deal with the Boardwipe they thought I was going for.
The Judge sided with me.
Player B then complained that I had won through the use of an Infinite Combo, and should be penalized for that. The Judge shut him down hard, pointing out that what I was doing wasn't Infinite. It wasn't self-generating passive effects, that fed off each other until I won, it was an active series of spells that I gave every player the opportunity to interact with. Second, the combo drew my library. There is, by definition, a hard cap on that combo - which is to say, the number of cards left in my library when I go off. I can't go infinite, because there aren't infinite cards in my library. Player B griped that Other Store would have a house rule to say that it was an Infinite Combo, and the Judge got mad.
Side note. There are three FLGS in town. One is Spike Central. The guys who bring their Tier 1/1.5 decks to play. Where I go, which is a middle ground in terms of serious deck types, and Other Store with caters to the casual player. Each has Commander on a different night, and everyone avoids stepping on other store's toes.
And a more important note:
DO NOT ANGER THE JUDGE.
Anyway, I came out with a record of 1/2/1 for this week, and second place overall on the week with the winner getting 1/1/1. I was in good position League Point wise, thanks to solid showings all around, and my prize packs of Core 2020 gave me my first copy of Chandra, Awakened Inferno, whom I shall now refer to as "Chandra, the Towering Inferno" until the end of days.
Join me next week when I talk about a card I think should get banned in Commander (no, it's not Cyclonic Rift) and why it's part of a larger problem in the game, then in two weeks when I cover weeks 3 and 4 of the League.
Until then, please consider donating to my Pattern Recognition Patreon. Yeah, I have a job, but more income is always better. I still have plans to do a audio Pattern Recognition at some point, or perhaps a Twitch stream. And you can bribe your way to the front of the line to have your questions, comments and observations answered!
Oh man, I know this is bad but I absolutely love hearing stories of salty player like Player B in that last game. Did anything happen to him for making the judge mad? Or is he just kind of on the shit list for now?
September 14, 2019 12:46 a.m.
I didn't stick around to find out. He was here this week, and in my game I shared with him, he spent all his time pointing out how I was going to win from nowhere because of my Combo.
I lost that game to Infect. Because fck Triumph of the Hordes .
September 14, 2019 1:24 a.m.
While I've read all of your articles, I cannot recall if you've addressed this particular subject (whether directly or indirectly) in magic. Can you talk about the evolution of power in creatures? For example, Legends has creatures like Adun Oakenshield , Angus Mackenzie , and Axelrod Gunnarson (not to exclude the others). While Throne of Elderaine (a standard set) is producing a card called Kenrith, the Returned King which is a creature with much more utility than most. Deathrite Shaman is even (jokingly) considered to be a "planeswalker" for all intents and purposes because of the utility. While not creatures per se, Theros gave us the legendary artifacts that have multiple purposes such as Bow of Nylea . There are multiple patterns of cards that Wizards is pushing that seem to be more utility based than just brute power. If this makes sense, is it worth considering an article?
September 14, 2019 5:26 a.m.
September 14, 2019 9:59 a.m.
My group hasn't started our league games yet... but in my tinkering with this same deck, I don't think the deck itself was made for Elsha, which might be why you and they both ran into issues closing out games?
Getting 40 tokens is a lot of power when it comes to the precons. Hard to answer, especially with the reduced number of sweeper effects. I feel like out of the box, it's still hard, but Sevinne has more ability to close out a game than Elsha does.
September 18, 2019 4:33 p.m.
wereotter: That's why I'm aiming for Combo pieces moreso than anything else. Week 3 and 4 are basically me getting redundancy into place, and some protection. I just have to survive long enough to go off.