Curve Low or Die Tryin'
Izzet at Westfalen Masters #4

By Marcel S. on 27 December 2018

The last tournament of the year was hosted in Dortmund, throne to the best football club of the world. It always feels like a home coming because I was born in the Ruhr area and it was my first time at the Auenland games store after they moved to the new facility. That’s where the tournament took place this time and the location is pretty nice, I must say: solid, big tables with lots of room for your playmat and stuff and—even more important—proper chairs. With 15 people attending, the young and growing Westfalen Masters series met the expectations two days before Christmas, I think. My opponents and the rest of the folks are cool guys and mainly come from the communities of the cities Bielefeld, Muenster, Dueren and Cologne. Since everybody’s coming home for Christmas, there was no doubt the DD3 squad was going to show up, too.

Feel the Low Blow

My mind hasn’t changed since the MGM Continental Cup: Izzet is still in a solid state and I will probably stick to it for the next months, I really like fine-tuning a deck according to my playstyle. I have only done smaller changes since then. To sum the most important changes up: I ditched Spell Pierce and Negate (not countering creatures feels pretty bad) to add more burn (Mizzium Mortars) and another beater (Enigma Drake). I also cut two CMC4 spells, Chandra, Torch of Defiance and—yikes!—Fact or Fiction in favor of Deprive and Thought Scour.

The cut of Fact or Fiction felt like heresy for me at first, because as a blue mage I ran this for ages in my U/x control builds. However, our format has become very fast (read: more and more competitive, which I like a lot by the way) and with Hieroglyphic Illumination, Treasure Cruise, Dig Through Time and Gush I feel like I have enough raw drawing power already. Especially with all the digging (12+ cards) to find them.

So for this tournament I reached a new personal low for my control deck’s mana curve: 1,85 on average (counting free stuff like Daze, Force of Will, Gush and Phyrexian mana as zero CMC). I definitely think this is the way to go for my future developments.

Toughness > 3? Fuck!

Round 1: vs. Teammate Florian on Reanimator

Yeah, when your team makes up for 20 percent of the participants, chances are high you’ll meet each other. It’s even more annoying in round one, but that’s tournament life in a small format like ours.

So Game one takes ages although this match-up usually tends to play out rather fast. We both can’t find any creatures so I can’t pressure him while he doesn’t have anything to bring back from the graveyard. UR can play the long game, but I’d rather not versus Reanimator since any draw of theirs can end the game in an instant. Also, my burn is pretty much useless against whatever he can revive from his graveyard. So what happens is that I finally get to resolve a True-Name Nemesis while he is able to hardcast a Carnage Tyrant. I finally find Blood Moon that cripples his mana and add another creature so I can race his Tyrant with the help of a little burn.

Game two starts well for him with double discard spells in turns one and two, stripping me off my Serum Visions and Force of Will. In the next turn, he uses Dance of the Dead to bring back Ashen Rider that exiles my Island, leaving me with only a Mountain and Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy in play. I counter some follow-up stuff and a flipped Jace continues to shrink the Ashen Rider to a 2/5 that can be blocked by my Enigma Drake. His Bazaar of Bagdad makes him run out of gas over a few turns and I can finally stabilize with some counters in hand and another flying threat, Nimble Obstructionist. Once I feel confident enough, I bounce his Rider with a Chain of Vapor and start swinging for the win.

Score: 1-0

Round 2: vs. Sebastian on Naya Beats

A friendly guy that has to mull to six in Game one but has an aggressive start. Unfortunately for him, a Skyshroud Elite is not a good one-drop against a deck with 20 basic lands so it’s beating for only one damage several turns in a row while I can handle his other threats with my cheap burn spells. I finally drop Blood Moon followed up by a Vendilion Clique that takes his only castable spell at that time (Chandra, Torch of Defiance). That’s game.

Game two is the fastest of this tournament and ends in under five minutes although we both mull to six. He goes Wild Nacatl into some other 3/3 two-drop. After sculpting my hand during the first turns via cantripping, I can finally start to interact and want to Searing Spear his Nacatl. He responds with Atarka’s Command, making his guys 4/4 and dealing three to my face. I concede with no hope left to ever come back from that blow-out.

Game three is a heavy attrition war. We trade creatures for Lightning Bolt, Lightning Strike and Flame slash. A Jace, the Mind Sculptor fatesealing him and brainstorming once buys me two turns until we finally both run out of gas. He has a Goblin Guide on the board, though. The little devil reveals his and Sebastian’s doom, though: Bedlam Reveler on top of my library that I draw and play next turn. That’s the point where I win the game with the built-in card advantage: I handle his Gideon, Ally of Zendikar that he plays next turn, keep the Reveler for blocking while a fat Enigma Drake starts beating. I finish the game with a random three damage burn spell to his face followed by a lit 10 damage for 1R (Price of Progress).

Score: 2-0

Two Blasts from the Past

Round 3: vs. Sören on Jeskai Control

That guy is really chill and I like how he took the beatings with the necessary humor: The Izzet match-up really is no fun for slower UWx based control decks.

Game one starts with him doing literally nothing while I start sculpting my hand with Preordain into Impulse into Supreme Will for a pseudo-Impulse. The game plays out accordingly: I get to resolve a hardcast Hieroglyphic Illumation and Dig Through Time. After all that card advantage and selection, the chip-damage of an unanswered Vendilion Clique slowly starts adding up. He also deals significant damage to himself via fetching and playing shocklands untapped. That’s when I start a counterwar on the end of his turn and when he’s tapped out during my next, I resolve Price of Progress for the win.

Game two was my personal game of the day because it was so hilarious. Fast forward: We trade cards until I can stick a Jace, the Mind Sculptor on one loyalty facing his Elspeth’s, Knight-Errant that’s slowly ticking up, producing a 1/1 Soldier Token each turn. I brainstormed with Jace like eight times which usually spells victory in control match-ups, but not in this one. First of all, I don’t find any shuffle effect so I don’t really get to see that many new cards. In addition, all the card advantage gained I have to use on the newly produced token each turn and Elspeth to keep Jace alive and prevent Elspeth from overtaking the game. That’s how bad UR is at dealing with high loyalty Planeswalkers.

Since I got to sculpt my hand through all these Jace activations, I go for some combo-like all-in at his end of turn: I Chain of Vapor his Elspeth, take my turn and with one card in hand, resolve Bedlam Reveler into Treasure Cruise into one final Jace activation. He uses Swords to Plowshares on my Bedlam Reveler, but the damage is done. Two turns later he dies to a 17/4 Crackling Drake after a safety Back to Basics takes out six of his eleven lands in total. Quick note on why I call this game a blast from the past: This match-up reminded me of how I felt a year ago playing slow UWx versions of control. The format just got too fast to rely on powerful high CMC spells to take over the game. Threats got too cheap and too diverse, in my experience. So even though the Jace versus Elspeth battle was close, I think my low curve made all the difference because I could cast way more spells than him while he was always a step behind. You know you’re winning the control match-up if your opponent has to cast Fact or Fiction in his main phase with very little mana left or an end of turn Nimble Obstructionist deals nine damage, causing a lot of headache.

Score: 3-0

Round 4: vs. Patrick Richter on Academy Combo

This is my second blast from the past because I remember Patrick from twelve (or even more) years ago. At that time, European Highlander was widely played in the Ruhr area and there were one or two regular Highlander tournaments with 40+ people each month. Patrick is known for innovating the infamous five color goodstuff pile that heavily abused the spoils mulligan to curve out perfectly with the strongest of cards available in our format. He apparently found back to magic which is really nice.

Not so cool is that he’s playing Academy Combo, a deck I don’t really have experience playing against. I know that many people want Academy to be gone and after this match-up, I can somewhat understand why (not saying it needs bannings): The deck not only makes you sit and wait for the Academy player to finally end their ten to 15 minute turn which is not just very enjoyable. It also attacks from several angles and is so explosive and resilient that a win against it doesn’t seem to rely on how well you play but rather how bad or good his draws are. Since the deck’s price is very hefty and we don’t see a lot of it in bigger tournaments (doing well), I probably need to spam a lot more games against it to get a feeling for the match-up.

In game one he starts with Academy and nothing else, passing the turn. I don’t have a Wasteland and look for any kind of interaction with a Serum Visions. In my turn three I play Dack Fayden (don’t have any kind of countermagic to leave up) and have the option to steal his Lion’s Eye Diamond and do so. No idea if this was good or not, but I think that didn’t really matter anyway as he is developing his board with even more mana before going infinite while the Mana Leak I later drew was as useless as the rest of my hand.

Game two is a little different. I drop a turn three Blood Moon followed by a Back to Basics. I add a Young Pyromancer and create a token with it in my turn by aiming Burst Lightning to his face; reason being that he’s dropped Defense Grid the turn before. So now I’m just sitting there, attacking for three per turn before I pass. This continues until he’s at seven life and finds Crumbling Sanctuary, so the game pretty much freezes. A few turns later, he takes four loss of life from his Sylvan Library though and I can Chain of Vapor the Sanctuary at the end of his turn to swing for the win in my next attack step.

In Game three I keep what I would say is a solid hand, including a Counterspell that doesn’t become obsolete due to his masses of mana and a Vendilion Clique which is both disruptive and a clock. I have to counterspell his Demonic Tutor and when Clique’s trigger shows me his hand, he can’t hide a little smirk because it has too much stuff to get rid off. So he finds Tolarian Academy with Expedition Map in his next turn and from there shit’s going down for me. I add Grim Lavamancer to speed up the clock, but his Zuran Orb fueled by a Crucible of Worlds slows the game down so much that a big Upheaval followed by several extra turns and Draw Sevens makes me concede after he gains himself a bazillion life (he found Fastbond in the meantime) so I can have a drink and refresh for the last match-up.

Score: 3-1

Round 5: vs. Dirk on RDW

Another chill guy from the region of Muenster. I know what he’s playing so I take my free mulligan to load up on as much cheap interaction as possible. The Mental Misstep I keep on the draw already saves the game when it catches his turn one Black Vise. He goes for turn 2 Ankh of Mishra and I’m pretty sure he kept a hand because of these two artifacts. Ankh resolves and I respond with a Thing in the Ice. I allow myself to go up to four lands despite the Ankh and control the game from that point on, eventually flipping Thing in the Ice.

Two 7/8 Horror attacks and one burn spell to the face later the game is over since he took some damage from his Barbarian Ring.

Game two I lose to a single card: Shrine of the Burning Rage, it slips through on turn two. I control the board and start racing with Clique, hoping to find Nimble Obstructionist or Stifle in the meantime. I don’t so I die to the shrine’s activation at nine life. #nolifegaindeck

In Game three I keep a hand without a blue source but two Mountains and a Magma Jet that finds me the needed Island to drop an early Thing in the Ice. That one instantly eats his Char, though. So we keep trading cards back and forth until I deploy a turn five Cryptic Serpent that immediately stalls the ground. Once I untap, I have all the mana to handle potential blockers and send the big blue snake three times into the attack zone to finish the game. That’s second place (no Top 8) and a nice Auenland voucher (really need new sleeves).

Score: 4-1

It’s the small things

I know this was a small tournament, but I like how the deck feels although there is still room left for improvement I think. It runs pretty smooth and allows you to keep somewhat shaky hands with all the cantripping and card selection. I’d like to try out another beater (Sulfur Elemental) and even more burn (Staggershock) but am not sure yet what I’d cut. MVPs of this tournament were the inconspicuous Ash Barrens (I played this instead of Cascade Bluffs), Magma Jet (Scry 2 is just so good), Chain of Vapor (bouncing problematic permanents, saving your threats and making plays for U is amazing) and Bedlam Reveler (the game-swinging potential is just so good).

Regarding the Westfalen Masters, I really appreciate the community engagement and enjoyed both the people and location very much. I can also understand that it’s too early to get a real Judge for such a small playgroup, but I would very much recommend having someone who’s looking for the proper procedure of the tournament (calling time, getting those result slips in and informing the store owner that the round has ended and that we need new pairings). We could have easily saved an hour or even more time if someone was watching.

Overall, I liked this year of Highlander better than 2017. It feels like the format is at least not dying and I got to know a lot of new people that I hope to see again at tournaments in 2019. Have a nice New Year’s Eve everyone.