Ah, tournament nights.

Those with electric sparkles in the air, with a pressure so strong it pushes everyone to their limits, aggravated by the strong winds outside? A shiver of survival where the tension is so dense it’s palpable? You don’t have to be in the hundreds for such a feeling. 6 players, a stormy night and an eerie house is all you need.

Preparing for the tournament, no cards showed up in the mail, or could anyone bring me what I needed. That means I sadly couldn’t try this miracle solution Echoing Truth was expected to be, nor could I sleeve Shattering Spree. Death & Taxes would still be a nightmare, and so I just had to move on and hope I wouldn’t be paired against it.

It’s at least the thought I had when I registered my deck list. The feedbacks from last week article were mostly pointing in the same direction; Abrupt Decay should be the only Death & Taxes / Chalice of the Void hate I should need. The call was close to unanimous, and while I admit I wouldn’t have respected it otherwise, I was forced to only play the Abrupt Decay, as I wasn’t boarding Dread of Night. Spoiler: I expected the Chalice of the Void, again, as the main threat, but you guys were right on one point: hate bears can actually feel stronger than the artifact.

As I look on the double elimination pairing, I see a favorited first match, but right after, it is there. Death & Taxes has a bye, and if I’m going to win that first round, it’s coming straight for me.

Round 1: Alexandra, Manaless Dredge

Alexandra and I have been playing together quite a lot, and we both know I should win this rather easily. She has beaten me in the past, but not enough for her to feel confident. I smile, feeling the victory already. However, I can’t win too hard: I don’t want to sleep on the couch after an exhausting tournament.

Game 1

I win the dice roll. As I know she plays Manaless Dredge, I let her start and thank her for the free turn. After 18 Goblins on my turn 1, she sighs. She’s really out of luck.

Sideboard: +3 Xantid Swarm, -3 Ponder

Game 2

This game is already much closer. Trying to combo by turn 3, my Ad Nauseam somehow fizzles despite the floating mana. Could be because I took a few hits early in the game. Twice in a row, my only play is to Burning Wish into Ponder, as I have no answers on anything, and no way to win. Finally, I do what I can to protect myself, and play Empty the Warrens for 4 mediocre Goblins. It seems enough, as I can hold my own long enough to cast Tendrils of Agony in the following turns.

1-0 (2-0)

Round 2: Pierre-Alexandre, Death & Taxes

It’s on, already. A bit of luck and I’m out of this nightmare ready to win the tournament. But even if I lose, I can recover and let someone else eliminate Death & Taxes for me. As an omen, I lose the dice roll.

Game 1

My first hand is 4 lands, 1 Infernal Tutor, and a pair of Chrome Mox. For a deck against which you need to go fast, I can’t win with such a hand. As I tell to myself I’ll mulligan, he chooses to do so too. At least. My new hand is the following:

Dark Ritual, Dark Ritual, Lion’s Eye Diamond, Lotus Petal, Brainstorm, Rite of Flame.

No lands. Yet, I choose to keep, as I believe in the night… and in statistics, to a certain extend. He passes after he puts a Karakas into play. Luckily, I draw a land. Intense decision. Do I Brainstorm right away, or do I wait in his turn to protect my land? At that moment, all I’m remembering is the strong discussion regarding fetch lands and how to play around Wasteland. I feel like I can’t just cast Brainstorm out of nothing, right? In my turn? No way.

So I pass. He plays Thalia, Guardian of Thraben on his turn. In response, of course, Brainstorm. I want to build some lands! What do I see? Land, Land, Infernal Tutor. And I hate myself.

Obviously it’s easy afterward to check on what could have been done, but I knew this match would be close to impossible, yet I didn’t feel like grabbing the chance I was given. I now know: winning against Pierre-Alexandre means going all in, and I mean all in, as soon as you can, despite the statistics, despite everything. You just need to go. Once his Thalia, Guardian of Thraben hits the field, it only opens more space for other hatebears like Phyrexian Revoker, or give him enough time to find a Batterskull to fight any Empty the Warrens attempt.

(For those wondering, the proper play, in my opinion, would have been to play the Brainstorm from the land, put back both new lands, and keep the Infernal Tutor. Play Lotus Petal, use it to cast the pair of Dark Ritual, leaving us at 5 black mana. Play Lion’s Eye Diamond, play Infernal Tutor, sacrifing the Lion’s Eye Diamond for 3 red mana, and find Ad Nauseam. Play it with still a floating red mana, and a Storm counter of 7 already.)

Sideboard: +3 Abrupt Decay, +1 Pyroclasm, + 2 Chain of Vapor, -2 Duress, -4 Ponder

Game 2

I’m already doubtful on my sideboard choice. I know Pierre-Alexandre runs Leyline of Sanctity and that he will most likely mulligan for those, meaning Cabal Therapy might be a better choice to take out instead of Ponder. Also, I know by all means I need to drop any 0 mana artifacts on my turn 1, as I start. A Chalice of the Void for 0 comes so fast.

I choose to keep a Lotus Petal, Infernal Tutor, Rite of Flame, Polluted DeltaBrainstorm, Gitaxian Probe, and Burning Wish.

What ever, the game starts… with a Leyline of Sanctity.

My notes are blurry, but it says I had 16 Goblins by turn 0, and he scooped. Was it a Brainstorm or some lucky Gitaxian Probe chains, I don’t know, but my notes also mention an important question: when given the choice to Empty the Warrens, is it better to go with Infernal Tutor, or Burning Wish?

I recall choosing Infernal Tutor for two reasons: first, in case of a later Ad Nauseam, not having the 4 converted mana cost helps a lot. Second, discard by a Lion’s Eye Diamond, Burning Wish becomes a future Past in Flames target. I hope this was a correct call.

Game 3

Typical, typical game.

I keep a hand of 3 fetch lands, an Underground Sea, an Infernal Tutor, a Dark Ritual, and a Chrome Mox. He mulligans down to 5. On his turn, of course, Wasteland and Chalice of the Void. On my turn, luckily, I draw a Chain of Vapor, but I still can’t go to business without a proper Hellbent. I pass, he goes for Ethersworn Canonist. I draw a Cabal Therapy and let go, I don’t want to expose a land for a blind Cabal Therapy. By all means, if he had a Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, he would have played it already. Was going for a basic Swamp and blind Cabal Therapy the good play? Maybe. He plays a Mother of Runes on his turn, I draw an Abrupt Decay, just in time for Ethersworn Canonist, before he can protect it with Mother of Runes. I remember the need for an Abrupt Decay and not a Chain of Vapor, because he could still have played the hatebear on his following turn, as I couldn’t go. With a smile, I announce the move I think will win me the game. However, a Chalice of the Void, at 1 counter this time cuts my dream short. I draw a Cabal Therapy, he plays an other Ethersworn Canonist. Two Ethersworn Canonist, and two Chalice of the Void, too much for me.

My notes are harsh after that, but clearly, I felt Abrupt Decay was far from being enough, both in its utilization and its mana cost. A single Bayou against 4 Wasteland will leave you open as soon as you need a first Abrupt Decay, like I needed in my case. For instance, Echoing Truth would have saved me here: Echoing Truth on his Chalice of the Void by the end of his turn, and Chain of Vapor on Ethersworn Canonist by mine.

The only alternative I had? A lucky Pyroclasm draw. It’s impossible to expect a lucky draw for a Pyroclasm before Death & Taxes wins the game. I kept thinking but couldn’t have expected more even with some Dread of Night. Sure, two would have helped, but that would have required I had two before he got a Chalice of the Void, if anything. I don’t think clearing the Mother of Runes and save an Abrupt Decay would have made such a difference in that game either.

Thirdly, the discard felt awful against Leyline of Sanctity. I might revist my sideboard strategy according to that, but if I’m going to play Echoing Truth, the possibility of bounching Chalice of the Void or pesky hatebears then discard them seems too good. Any help on that?

1-1 (3-2)

Round 3: Alexis, Deadguy Ale

A bit like Alexandra, Alexis knows I have the upper hand in this match. Most of the time due to incredible luck, surely, but it seems to be enough to affect him (and myself) in our mutual confidence. It however doesn’t show on the dice roll that I lose.

Game 1

I choose to keep Burning Wish, Burning Wish, Infernal Tutor, Rite of Flame, a land, and a pair of Lotus Petal. Usually, Goblins are fast enough, as he only runs a single Zealous Persecution maindeck.

I manage to get 12 Goblins on my turn 1. He drops a Stoneforge Mystic on his turn, goes for Batterskull, and an epic race begins. Of course, as I read the Mathematical Data on Empty the Warrens vs. Batterskull available on www.theepicstorm.com, I knew I would lose on the long term.

I still manage to get him down to a single life point, but with the help of Batterskull, he goes straight back up to 19 in a few turns. Helped with a Deathrite Shaman, he becomes a real threat, but a Past in Flames kill saves me from an imminent death.

Sideboard: +2 Chain of Vapor, +1 Pyroclasm, -2 Duress, -1 Ponder

Game 2

We both know I was lucky to win game one. I choose to board in the Chain of Vapor mostly against Leyline of Sanctity, but I’m also expecting Ethersworn Canonist, or at the very worst, a Batterskull germ. My game 2 hand consists of 2 fetch lands, a Burning Wish, Chrome Mox, Cabal Therapy, Ponder and Dark Ritual. He leads with an Inquisition of Kozilek, taking out my Ponder. On my turn, I draw a Chain of Vapor, then pass. He plays a Cabal Therapy, we exchange a bit of discard as I Cabal Therapy too. I see a pair of Stoneforge Mystic, an Ethersworn Canonist, Hymn to Tourach, and an Engineered Plague. Luckily, his Hymn to Tourach doesn’t prevent me from taking out his Ethersworn Canonist, and somehow again, I manage to win through the hate.

By looking at this face, I can’t help but share Alexis’ pain. It seems that despite what ever he does, the win always escapes. Remembers me of a certain match… but he’s a strong guy, I know he will do great against others. Or should, at the very least.

2-1 (5-2)

Round 4: Bruno, Elves

If I want to take my revenge, I first must beat Bruno and Elves. This match is also special because we both have a decent tournament so far, and we’re the two head figure in the league itself. Most likely, the one winning the match will get the first spot until next week. Stressed, I roll the dice, and lose.

Game 1

Gitaxian Probe, Ponder, Cabal Therapy, Volcanic Island, Chrome Mox, Burning Wish and Bayou. I feel confident enough with this rather slow hand, I know I can disrupt his early turns, and grab Pyroclasm as I need it. Cantrips should help with recovering easier than him. Soon enough, I have an army of Elves before me. As prepared, I grab a Pyroclasm that clears the board. However, the cantrips let me down and don’t allow me to do anything useful. Turns after turns, I see a series of Ponder, Brainstorm and Gitaxian Probe fail on me, everytime bringing me back what I shuffled, and I for sure played two Ponder that I needed to shuffle. I was very disappointed and angry at the situation because I knew Pyroclasm wasn’t an unanimous choice, and just lost the game when I could play it. Despite the doubts, I still think it didn’t do anything wrong, or at least much more less than the cantrips I required.

Sideboard: -1 Empty the Warrens, -1 Ponder, +1 Pyroclasm, +1 Past in Flames

Game 2

Back to even with a clear turn 0 win.

Game 3

The stress catches back to me as I feel my hand: Rite of Flame, Polluted Delta, Underground Sea, Lotus Petal, Gitaxian Probe, Past in Flames, Lion’s Eye Diamond. I’m lucky enough to draw a Burning Wish. After his first turn, I somehow take the decision to go right now and race an Elves deck with Goblins. To be honest, I think the loss against Death & Taxes had some influence in that regards. A Gitaxian Probe shows me some business spells in his hand, but nothing too scary to prevent me from going.

And I race, and he plays Glimpse of Nature, and finds nothing. And I race again, and I run, and race, and win. What ever they ate, these Goblins were epic and lead me to victory. An other beautiful game.

3-1 (7-3)

Round 5: Pierre-Alexandre, Death & Taxes, take II

Pierre-Alexandre managed to have a nice record tonight, who usually goes even in our regular events. I’m surprised to see him again, but double elimination tournaments being what they are, I feel ok about it. We don’t talk much and go straight to the first game.

The dice roll is the only thing I’ll win in the match.

Game 1

Luckily I have an excellent hand. I keep Empty the Warrens, Underground Sea, Dark Ritual, Ponder, Brainstorm, Rite of Flame, Lion’s Eye Diamond. Learning from my previous experience, I try to create a chance for a turn 1 Empty the Warrens and cast Brainstorm. It works, I manage to have 10 Goblins before he has anything in play.

He drops a land and pass, I attack, and then it happens: at the end of my turn, he plays Enlightened Tutor, search for Engineered Explosives and shatter my game. I draw a Brainstorm, dig for business spell, and he plays Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. I scoop.

Sideboard: +3 Abrupt Decay, +2 Chain of Vapor, +1Pyroclasm, +1 Void Snare, -4 Cabal Therapy, -2 Duress, -1 Ponder

Game 2

I’m just trying to find something that works. Leyline of Sanctity shows up as I confirm my hand: Polluted Delta, Underground Sea, Infernal Tutor, Rite of Flame, Ponder, Pyroclasm, Lion’s Eye Diamond. I tell myself that I have no choice and go for 8 small Goblins. And they do work.

Until he plays Enlightened Tutor into Engineered Explosives again.

3-2 (7-5)

And of course, Pierre-Alexandre manages to lose against the undefeated winner on Punishing Maverick, which I could never play against because my archnemesis prevents me from doing so. What a shame.

Conclusions, experiences, and feedback

The taste of defeat is bitter.

As I’m writing these lines, I slowly caress my new playset of Shattering Spree, which came by this morning. Will it be the biggest flop in my MTG history, maybe, but the results so far are screaming for a change. Or at least, in that single Death & Taxes match up.

And that’s a valid point; as I was discussing with others, I should consider myself with more esteem if I’m only lose to a single deck. I made no friends around the table, no one to share my pain from Chalice of the Void. If I’m having difficulties against D&T, my comrades are having a nightmare with TES too. And that’s all thanks to your feedback, to every single one of you helping me learn and grow.

But I can’t stop there. While still first in our standing, winning the tournament brought a new challenger too close to my liking, and I must make sure to win every single game to keep my spot at the top.

More or less by choice, I still had to try your proposed strategies to counter the Hate deck. Whether it was my skill or the cards, something clearly was not good enough. I need solutions, as the ”win can win before they drop the hate” makes no sense here.

Dread of Night will let us cast Chain of Vapor or Void Snare on Ethersworn Canonist, as it prevents the Mother of Runes, and most importantly, it kills the Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. Once settled, it doesn’t require a mana upkeep and can stall the game long enough. However, it does barely anything to Ethersworn Canonist, doesn’t hit Phyrexian Revoker, and does’t do anything if it’s Chalice of the Void we’re worrying about. Or, if it comes too late, can’t be casted at all due to this exact Chalice of the Void presence.

Echoing Truth becomes the main tool against Chalice of the Void. As an instant, not countered by the Chalice of the Void, it’s easy to bounce by the end of the enemy turn, get rid of both Chalice of the Void, and the move on in our turn. However, 3 mana can become a bit sketchy from times to times, and it’s an all-in strategy, as their hate will dro down next turn would you fail your combo.

Shattering Spree can get rid of many Chalice of the Void at the same time, but sadly doesn’t help against Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. At this point I guess I would prefer more versatile cards, but as it does hit Batterskull, Aether Vial, and Ethersworn Canonist, it seems like a decent choice. However, the biggest issue with Shattering Spree is most likely its cost: to play around Chalice of the Void, 3 red mana are essential, and with only two Volcanic Island, you can only remove one Chalice of the Void at a time, except if you use Lotus Petal or Chrome Mox. Rite of Flame? Don’t be silly, if you want to get rid of a Chalice of the Void at 1, you can’t cast those.

Abrupt Decay was supposed to be a star that never lit in my games. While it got rid of some hate, I don’t feel like I’ll manage to win a game only once after I cast it, before a Miracle deck joins us, that is. The exposure of a single green mana to Wasteland when you need multiple Abrupt Decay just makes everything even worse. It’s versatile, yes, but has very limited firepower against non-blue decks.

And then Pyroclasm proved itself many times, but feels clumsy in hand. This could be because I board it too often or play it somehow wrong. Very strong against D&T but also against Elves and other decks in our special meta, I would rather keep a spot for it, while maybe take a few classes on how to play it properly.

These are the options on the table for the moment. Again, I’m more than open to new suggestions, but either I couldn’t apply what was previously suggested properly, either it doesn’t fit quite well in this metagame. So what’s the best call? This seems too hard to make, but due to the lack of results, I feel like something new is primordial. Playing the same deck list over and over expecting to have different results every time is no good; I really wish it was as simple as a proper number of Abrupt Decay. According to this, the next (and last!) weekly event should be a play test for Shattering Spree, before the August tournament practice, and the August tournament a few days later.

The days to secure a win are becoming scarce…