PTQ Philidelphia: The Darkest Blade...

A PTQ Philadelphia report

By Henry Moore         4/6/11        

Hello and welcome to my first article for Cantrip Games! I think most people know me, either as Henry P Moore or The Worst Player at Vagabonds, and if not, you’ll see me around at all the Cantrip Games events (since until the next North Island Champs tournament I get them for free :P). Anyway, for my first article I thought I’d do a recap of the most recent tournament, the Auckland PTQ for Pro Tour Philadelphia.

The Unlikely hero of our story...The worst player at Vagabonds

I decided to play Darkblade for this tournament. (For those how don’t know standard at all, that’s the UW Cawblade with black for removal and discard spells). I knew I wanted to play a Jace deck, and I hadn’t really tested any other Jace decks apart from UB control (which I played the week before) and I knew I didn’t want to play that again. The reason for this sentiment was that it’s not a proactive Jace deck. You don’t have any 2 drop that gives you a board presence to fight a Jace that resolve past your counter-magic. While I thought UB was consistent, I didn’t feel like it was powerful enough. Stoneforge Mystic on turn 2 or equipping a Deceiver Exarch with a Splinter Twin are the two most powerful things you can do in standard at the moment, and I’m always a fan of doing something powerful.

There are a few Darkblade lists out there, but they’re all very similar. My list is a little different, so I’ll go through my card choices and the reasoning behind them. Firstly, the list:

 

Maindeck

4 Preordain

4 Inquisition of Kozilek

2 Duress

2 Mana Leak

2 Go for the Throat

1 Doom Blade

1 Into the Roil

1 Dismember

4 Jace, the Mind Scupltor

 

4 Squadron Hawk

4 Stoneforge Mystic

2 Hero of Bladehold

 

1 Sword of Feast and Famine

1 Sword of War and Peace

1 Batterskull

 

4 Darkslick Shores

4 Creeping Tar Pit

4 Seachrome Coast

4 Marsh Flats

4 Plains

3 Glacial Fortress

2 Swamp

1 Arid Mesa

 

Sideboard

3 Divine Offering

3 Spellskite

3 Disfigure

1 Sun Titan

1 Batterskull

1 Hero of Bladehold

1 Jace Beleren

1 Sword of Feast and Famine

1 Duress


4 Preordain: This is standard. I’ll play four in every standard deck that I can cast them in.

4 Inquisition of Kozilek: This is the reason to play black. This card is so good at dealing with some of the best cards in the format. Stoneforge Mystic, the swords, Deceiver Exarch, the list goes on. Never play less than four in this deck.

2 Duress: This is probably the first thing that a lot of people would question. Let me explain: if I wasn’t playing two Duress, I would be playing two Despise. Despise is quite good. If you’re playing against Cawblade you get to hit Stoneforge Mystic AND Jace, which the other two discard spells can’t do (Duress or Inquisition). It also snags Deceiver out of the Splinter Twin decks, and is fine as a one-for-one against the aggro decks.

However, against Cawblade, I’m not convinced that you need two more discard spells to target their mystics. With Duress, you get to cast it AFTER they mystic, and hit the most important card in the equation: the equipment. Duress does something that neither Despise nor Inquisition do, which is target Batterskull. In addition, when you’re on the draw you can’t even Despise their mystic unless you have one of the untapped black sources. That’s not very consistent, and Despise gets a lot worse when they’ve already resolved their mystic.

Against the deceiver decks, I’ve found that Despise misses a lot. Some of the versions only have four creatures and maybe three Jaces, so you only have seven targets in their entire deck. Moreover, in testing I have seen people flash their Deceiver into play in response to a Despise far too many times for my liking. They can’t flash in a Splinter Twin, so Duress is always going to hit (unless their hand is lands+exarch, in which case I like my chances anyway).

As for the matchups where Duress is bad, which matchups are those? All the good decks at the moment get hit pretty hard by Duress. Even Tempered Steel, probably the best aggro deck in the format, gets hit by a well-timed Duress on their namesake enchantment. I will make a concession for Vampires and Fauna Shaman decks. But I already knew from testing that I would have to take out the Despise for better cards in those matchups, so why not play cards in my maindeck that would be far better than Despise in the matchups where it counts?

 In the end, I was very happy with the change, and I won’t be going back to Despise any time soon.

2 Mana Leak: Some people playing Darkblade aren’t fans of Mana Leak. They prefer to get there with various removal spells and discard. While I can see where they’re coming from, I find it hard to leave home without a couple of counterspells. Sometimes you just need a counterspell, and I have meticulously calculated that you need one counterspell in every thirty cards you draw.

…Ok, fine. To be honest, I couldn’t fault you for playing removal instead of Mana Leak, but it lets you play a game differently to a removal spell would, which can sometimes be important.

5 Removal spells: Five is about the right number, depending on what you’re playing. If you wanted less counterspells, you probably play another Into the Roil and another Go for the Throat. The reason I have it spread over four different spells is because it’s cool, but I also like to have a range of answers in my deck, especially when they do similarly effective but slightly different things. In this case Go for the Throat is the best removal spell, but it doesn’t kill creatures played by Tempered Steel. Doom Blade is good, but it doesn’t kill anything in the vampires deck (except Hero of Oxid Ridge, I guess). Dismember is probably the worst in a black deck, but I really like having the ability to play it for 1 colourless mana. I think being able to surprise your opponent with it, or just to be efficient with your mana, is good. Into the Roil is a nice generic answer to various threats, and while it’s not that powerful the fact that it is so versatile makes me happy to have one. Into the Roil end of turn into a discard spell the next turn is also nice. It makes late-game discard spells that would otherwise be blanks a little better.

                                                                                                                                                                    Still better than all...

4 Jace, the Mind Sculptor: Is this card even good? I’m not really sure, but they cost me a lot of money and cards so I’m getting as much value out of them as possible.

The 8 non-negotiable creatures: To be honest, I hate playing with Squadron Hawk. It seems so dumb. But, it’s just really good in this deck. Being able to search up three more dudes so that you can keep equipping and bashing is just so key. Obviously you play four Stoneforge Mystic.

2 Hero of Bladehold: This card is probably not on everyone’s list of playables at the moment, but I think it’s pretty good. Up until the night before the tournament, I had one Spellskite and one Gideon Jura in place of these. However, I really wasn’t sure how good they would be. I knew Gideon was pretty good against creature decks, and that Spellskite was great against red and Deceiver. However, I expected a lot of Cawblade decks, and one of the best ways for Darkblade to beat Cawblade is to kill them quickly. The longer the game goes, the more time they have to leverage cards like Tectonic Edge, Celestial Colonnade and Gideon Jura. You really don’t want that to happen. Hero of Bladehold gets the beats going FAST. I know a lot of lists have had Emeria Angel in its place, but I just don’t see how that’s better. I understand that your hero doesn’t do anything if they just go Jace, bounce your guy, but with the angel that’s going to happen anyway unless you play it on turn 5 with a fetchland. I don’t like that you NEED a land for Emeria Angel to be good. Hero always attacks for 7 the turn after you play it, which is a huge chunk. Emeria Angel also dies to bolt (though the relevance of that dwindles as fewer and fewer people play cards that can’t kill a Deceiver Exarch or equipped Stoneforge Mystic).

I honestly didn’t test Hero, but the last time I played Cawblade (the GPTs for Singapore pre-New Phyrexia) it was the nuts, so I assumed it still would be. At the tournament Hero was quite good. It put on a lot of pressure and won me games that I easily could have lost if they had gone longer.

3 Divine Offering: This card is really good at the moment. I can’t believe I didn’t listen to Aaron when he told me to play three about a month ago. In the mirror this card is one of your most potent weapons, since killing their equipment will win you the game. It also has some nice splash damage in the Tempered Steel matchup. Go for the Throat is a blank, so it’s nice to have some efficient replacements.

3 Spellskite: This card is nuts versus red. With a Spellskite in play they can’t hit you with a giant Shrine of Burning Rage or kill your guys in response to equipping the RW sword. Once you get that sword on one of your men I don’t think it’s possible to lose, so that strategy is pretty good. Unfortunately red’s card versus your equipment is Crush, not Shatter, so you don’t get to redirect their destroy effects to your artifact creature. It’s also good versus Deceivertwin, but you already knew that. Spellskite is also a great card to have in the sideboard to replace your hawks in matchups where hawk is terrible, like Valakut or RUG, for example.

3 Disfigure: You want this card versus red, since even though they only have twelve creatures, you can’t really keep in Dismember or Into the Roil, and you need to kill Goblin Guide as soon as possible. It’s also a very nice card versus Vampires, where all of their guys are X/2s or X/1s.

1 Sun Titan: For the Darkblade mirror and UB control.

1 Batterskull: For aggressive matchups.

1 Hero of Bladehold: for UW Cawblade.

1 Jace Beleren: To compliment the Sun Titan when you bring it in.

1 Sword of Feast and Famine: You want a second one of these when you’re taking out one of the other equipments. Sword of War and Peace doesn’t really do anything vs UB, whereas Feast and Famine is very hard for them to win through. Batterskull isn’t great versus deceiver, since the lifegain is irrelevant, but making them discard a card every turn ensures that they have less resources and are unlikely to assemble Deceiver Exarch + Splinter Twin + counterspells

1 Duress: For matchups where their spells are insane (UB, Deceiver)

 

Ok, so that’s the deck list. I know that was a lot to read through, but I hope it gave you something to think about. Let’s move on to the tournament! (Just as an FYI, I am completely terrible with names, so I apologise to all in advance; I’m sure Alan will fill in the blanks for me though, right Alan!?) (Editor: Done!!)

The Tournament...

Round 1 vs. Vampires (Marcus Wong)

This round I played a really nice guy who used to play a lot in Mark Simpson’s day. Unfortunately he wasn’t that familiar with standard, and I had good hands with Stoneforge Mystics and Jaces to put this round away.

Sideboarding:

+3 Disfigure

+1 Batterskull

+1 Sword of Feast and Famine

-2 Duress

-1 Into the Roil

-1 Doom Blade

-1 Jace, the Mind Scupltor

 

Taking out the Jace might have been bad, since beyond Bolt vampires don’t have much reach, and you can leverage Jace quite well. I probably should have sideboarded out one of the Hero of Bladehold and I did so later in the day.

1-0

 

Elves, Elves, Elves!

Round 2 vs. Elves! (Connor Bear)

Unfortunately for Connor, he had been hit by the deck-list error stick, and had a game loss for this round. I believe he mulliganed, and I had a really good hand versus elves with a whole bunch of removal. Eventually I assembled Batterskull attached to Sword of Feast and Famine, and by the time Connor drew the Lead the Stampede (for 5!) into Sylvok Replica, it was too late.

There was no sideboarding for this round, since we only played one game. However it would have been something like:

+3 Disfigure

+1 Batterskull

-2 Duress

-1 Into the Roil

-1 Hero of Bladehold

 2-0

 

              Not your Twilight variety.

Round 3 vs. Vampires (Dilip  Jayasimhan)

This was a tight round versus Vampires. Game 1 I didn’t draw any white sources, and it didn’t matter that I drew all the 2 mana removal spells in my deck, I couldn’t kill everything and he eventually got me.

Games 2 and 3 I was able to mystic into an unanswered Batterskull, which eventually got me there.  Game 3 it was frustratingly close because my opponent was able to use Viscera Seer very well by sacrificing his blockers before damage, keeping my Batterskull from putting me at a safe life total. Thankfully he eventually ran out of gas and I drew a bunch more Stoneforge Mystic.

3-0

 

Round 4 vs. UW Cawblade (Nicholas Rawcliffe)

This round didn’t really play out the way I envisioned the matchup going: it was more about who drew more of the most powerful cards. My discard allowed me to play around all the correct cards in game 1, and Creeping Tar Pit was stellar as I knew it would be. I was able to set up with all of my equipment and a bunch of hawks, which drew a concession from Nicholas who knew how long the mirror could go. Game 2 was very tight, and hinged on one turn. My opponent had the Mental Misstep to counterspell my discard spells, but he had mulliganed this game and wasn’t able to land the turn 4 land into Jace he had intended to. I didn’t have the same problems however, and I was able to land a Jace which he had to vindicate with his own on his next turn. My second Jace stuck though, and that was game.

 

Sideboarding:

 -1 Into the Roil

-1 Dismember

-2 Mana Leak (on the draw only)

-2 Duress (on the play only)

 

+3 Divine Offering

+1 Hero of Bladehold

Sideboarding for this matchup is hard, since you really want all of your cards. I’m not even sure that what I’m taking out is correct. Maybe you just take Mana Leak out altogether and leave in Duress, since it probably fits into your curve better, which is what you really care about in this matchup.

4-0

 

Round 5 and 6

I ID’ed these rounds with Jacques Van Eden and Matt Griffin. Matt really wanted to play, since he always just comes to game, but I managed to convince him to take the draw.

4-0-2 and Top 8!

 

Round 7 vs. UW Cawblade (Matt Griffin)

Zen told you Cawblade was terrible, Matt. Why didn’t you listen?

Game 1 Matt had to mulligan to 5 on the play, so he was behind on resources the whole game. I was able to leverage this and eventually land a Jace and keep Matt out of the game.

Game 2 was very tight, and came down to one mistake on Matt’s part on a key turn which let me attack through for exact damage. Pretty gutting for Matt, but I was glad to make it out of the quarters without having to try and kill Wispmares with Magma Spray (Editor: Maybe a story for another article Henry).

5-0-2

 

Round 8 vs. RUG Deceivertwin (Chris Gehring)

Chris Gehring is a pretty bad player, so I was surprised that he made top 8. He’s pretty lucky though, so I guess I can understand.

Game 1 Chris crushed me, and there’s no other word for it. He was able to get off two Explore into a Lotus Cobra, so that his board ended up as 6 lands (3 of which were fetchlands) and a Cobra to my 4 lands. He was able to go over the top with his abundance of mana and cast a Consecrated Sphinx with enough spare to pay for my Mana Leak. I didn’t have a removal spell, so Chris drew a LOT of cards off it. That was enough for me and I scooped them up.

Game 2 I had to mulligan but was able to land an unanswered man with a Sword of Feast and Famine on it. I had removal for the few threats that he drew, and was able to bounce his Jace and make him discard it with the sword. It wasn’t the most interesting of games, since Chris drew a lot of lands.

Game 3 I don’t really remember that well, except that I was blown out. I was pretty behind the entire game, since Chris had Jace and I was fighting to contain them. He landed an Inferno Titan and had lethal damage on board, and I decided to play my last turn as if he didn’t have bolt because I was dead anyway if he did have it. I equipped up a Creeping Tar Pit with a sword and attacked. It turns out that he had Nature’s Claim instead, and I could have played slightly differently if I had thought about that. It probably wouldn’t have made a difference though.

I don’t remember my sideboarding for this match, since I was a bit tilted that I lost.

I walked away with 18 packs for my troubles, which I cracked of course. It’s nice to get a Sword of War and Peace for free, I highly recommend winning the North Island Champs tournament. I was pretty happy with the deck that I played, but I would suggest to anyone serious about standard to take a good look at the RUG deck that Chris played. The whole time I felt like I didn’t have a chance, which is weird since Cawblade is supposed to be the best deck in the format right?

Thank you to Alan for another great tournament, and thank you to everyone who made it this far into my article, and congrats on the PTQ win Jason.

 

Until next time,

Henry.

Editor: Currently Henry Moore is part of the NZ contingent duking it out at GP Singapore, check here for his and the rest of the teams progress

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