Help Yourself

“You know what? I used to have a Type 4 stack. You wanna know what I did with it? I threw it out because Type 4 fucking blows.”

Rootborn Defenses
There were three huge flat-screen TVs behind the bar all in a row, which was weird because the bar was a total dive; they didn’t take cards, and the first time I’d ever purchased a drink there (7&7 double, price tag: $4) and actually tipped, the bartender gave me a look that plainly said she hadn’t been tipped since the Reagan administration. The screen in the middle was on NFL RedZone, the one on the left was the Seahawks-versus-Bills game, and the screen on the right—which everyone else at the bar but Adam and I was looking at—was the Steelers-versus-Cowboys tilt that would forever settle the argument of which fan base is a bigger bunch of insufferable assholes.

Despite having just won a money Draft, Adam was in a naturally shitty mood, so I dragged my eyes away from the game of Return to Ravnica Type 4 that I’d suggested, just in time to watch ex-Buffalo Bill Marshawn Lynch score on a thirteen-yard touchdown run, making the score 37–17, Seattle. As a Bills fan, I turned my head back to my drink and saw the bartender walk over to us.

“Just so you guys know, there’s chili dogs and coleslaw and stuff over there for youse. Feel free to help yourself.”

After playing a bunch of Return to Ravnica Sealed, I can safely say that the guilds I like to be in are either Azorius or Selesnya. Both guilds are very deep at common, and both have a wide range of different tricks they can be representing at any time. The other three guilds just have removal, and in Golgari’s case, a very limited combat trick suite. In this format, at a Pro Tour Qualifier, I just like being able to develop my board early and then hold something like 4 mana up and just let my opponent walk into whatever I have, be it Rootborn Defenses or Swift Justice or Court Hussar or whatever. My thoughts on it are that I cringe when someone just attacks or blocks into my open mana (which happens quite a bit at PTQs) and that I’d like to be able to actually punish them for it—as opposed to showing them my one-for-one removal spell that I could’ve just played whenever.

At the PTQ last weekend in Johnson City, New York, I wound up playing Rakdos touching blue. I was not unhappy about it.

Bellows Lizard
That deck is not the type of tricksy deck I was just talking about. However, I will sacrifice having a deck like that in five seconds if it means I get to cast bombs like Cyclonic Rift and Mizzium Mortars. I met up with Adam, whom I drove to the venue with, and asked him about his deck.

“Mine’s miserable. I’m gonna be drinking pretty soon.” He was referring to the dive bar a half-block down the street.

“Dude, cut this Bellows Lizard.”

“No way! That card’s great; I need a mana sink.”

Adam justifiably rolled his eyes and knew to just drop the subject as he continued to look through the deck. “You really want these two Voidwielders? That’s so greedy. With a deck as powerful as this, I’d just want the consistency. I mean, I’d even cut the Thoughtflare and just go down to two Islands. What are your other cards like?”

I pulled out my sideboard, which had a few cards on top that I’d been considering for my twenty-third card before I settled on a 1/1 for 1:

Mind Rot
Rakdos Ragemutt
Terrus Wurm
Rakdos Shred-Freak

In retrospect, my deck should’ve been registered with the following changes:

−1 Island
−1 Swamp
−2 Voidwielder
+1 Mind Rot
+1 Rakdos Ragemutt
+1 Mountain
+1 Golgari Guildgate

I can cut the Voidwielders, but I know that I just don’t have the discipline to cut that Thoughtflare, especially when there are so many spicy cards in my deck. I also should’ve been playing a Golgari Guildgate over a Swamp. That pair of Ogre Jailbreakers really wants to attack, and I wouldn’t have been giving up too much to play the Golgari Guildgate over a Swamp. My curve’s not that aggressive. Also, there is no fucking way I’m ever playing Rakdos Shred-Freak over Bellows Lizard. I really don’t like Rakdos Shred-Freak, and I would rather have the mana sink.

Speaking of mana sinks, Adam was really pushing for me to play Rogue's Passage, which I think would’ve been a nightmare in my B/R/u deck. He was really convinced it was good, though, so who knows?

Nivix Guildmage
I walked up to the table to see a kid with a Grand Prix: Toronto ’12 play mat and an RIT sweater. I expected a pretty easy win . . . because I’m a judgmental ass. We exchanged pleasantries while shuffling: His name was Tim, mine was Jon, he was from Rochester, I was from Syracuse, and so on.

He was R/W/U, split fairly evenly across the three colors as far as I could tell. Game 1, he opened up with a bunch of flyers while I traded blows with him on the ground with a bunch of 2/2s. Eventually, he had a Nivix Guildmage and used it to Fork a non-overloaded Mizzium Mortars of his own, killing two of my dorks but leaving me with an unleashed Grim Roustabout. I cast my own Mizzium Mortars, overloaded, and killed his team. He ripped a Voidwielder and Faerie Impostor in successive turns, which didn’t do much against my team of Thrill-Kill Assassin, Bellows Lizard, and the aforementioned Grim Roustabout.

Tim attacked me down to 6 to make our life totals even and cast Voidwielder on his second main phase, which sent him into the tank. I had two untapped lands, a Swamp and a Mountain. After some deliberation, he decided to bounce the Thrill-Kill Assassin, which left me free to kill the Voidwielder he tapped out for and get him for exactsies . . . by feeding all my mana into my Bellows Lizard. I’m telling you: The card is the real deal.

Game 2, I never hit my fourth land, which would’ve been fine had he not assembled a team of all flyers, including an Isperia, Supreme Judge. If only the Street Spasm in my hand had been Mizzium Mortars.

Game 3 came down to him with four cards in his hand, me with an unleashed Grim Roustabout, and him with a Vassal Soul. I had Annihilating Fire mana available, and he went for an Ethereal Armor on his Vassal Soul. I let it resolve, and then Tim tried another Ethereal Armor, on the same Vassal Soul. While Ethereal Armor was on the stack, Tim had two cards in his hand . . . and an Island up.

“Fade the Dispel, fade the Dispel,” I told myself . . . 

And he had the Dispel.

I regained my composure quickly; in all actuality, I was drawing live as shit. Sure, I had a pretty terrible Ultimate Price in-hand, but I also had both an Assassin's Strike and Cyclonic Rift in my hand as well as four lands in play, the fifth in my hand (none of which produced blue, however), and a pair of Voidwielders in my deck.

Tapped out, Tim attacked me for 6 and passed the turn.

I drew a blank and just attacked with my Grim Roustabout and shipped the turn back to Tim, who drew the card off the top of his deck, plopped it directly into play—it was a land—and attacked me down to 8 life.

I really needed that sixth land.

Guess what I didn’t draw. I dutifully sent my 2/2 into the red zone again and said go to Tim for the last time; he subsequently peeled Knightly Valor off the top, and that was it. I checked my top card just to see if I would’ve lived, which is truly the last refuge of a loser.

It was an Izzet Guildgate, but before I could become pissed about hitting one of the two lands in my deck that comes into play tapped, Tim stuck his sweaty hand in my face and said, “Good game.”

Izzet Guildgate
I’ve been fairly studious about being well-documented as hating that shit. What exactly was good about that game, Tim? That you won it? That I had a full grip, yet couldn’t deal with a fucking Vassal Soul with two goddamn Ethereal Armors on it? Or was it good because you ripped the Knightly Valor off the top to kill me a turn early just because?

Look, I don’t think Tim’s a bad guy. I really don’t. I just feel that he was conditioned to say it, and I guess one of my little hang-ups is that I dig it when people mean what they say. It doesn’t help that obliviousness is one of those qualities in people that really pisses me off—for whatever reason. I don’t honestly know what the deal with that is.

Tim would go on to Top 8.

My second-round opponent, Nick, was a nice enough kid, but he played pretty slowly and declared all his modes on everything, making him the second overly vocal opponent on the day. I have no clue why, but when my opponent says, “I will cast Rootborn Defenses during declare blockers, making all of my creatures indestructible, and I will populate my 3/3 Centaur token,” and not simply, “Rootborn Defenses,” pointing the card at a Centaur, it makes me want to lose my shit. Again, I have no idea why this is. Maybe I’m just the worst.

Nick beat me pretty soundly in two games with a solid Selesnya deck that I had no hope of ever beating without drawing both Cyclonic Rift and Mizzium Mortars as well as the mana to use them. His creatures very quickly outclassed mine, and I was soon forced to play into the tricks I knew he had simply because if I continued to play around them, I’d just be dead, so my only option was to just hope he didn’t have them. Our second game in particular was pretty frustrating. I was stuck on four lands, none of which produced blue, with two Ogre Jailbreakers and three blue cards in hand.

For the record, he also offered the hand after beating me, which was nice.

0–2 drop was not how I saw that pool performing, if I’m being honest. I didn’t make any glaring mistakes during the games, but I certainly was greedy and misbuilt my deck.

Cyclonic Rift
“Just so you guys know, there’s chili dogs and coleslaw and stuff over there for youse. Feel free to help yourself.”

The first time Adam and I came to this bar after scrubbing out of an event, they had free pulled pork and macaroni salad out for the patrons. Apparently, this weekend was chili dogs. They were really good, in case you were wondering.

Given recent events, I felt very lucky to be sitting there, alive, eating free chili dogs and feeling disappointed in my performance. There are certainly worse things to have to worry about. I do worry about that kind of mindset, though. When you’re just grateful to be alive, it doesn’t instill much desire to actually do better and want more for yourself. What’s the right amount of greed to temper your gratefulness with? At what point do we feel guilty about wanting more? I firmly believe that not only is this balance different for everyone, but that it’s integral to healthy self-improvement.

And if you do find it, let me know.

Jon Corpora
Pronounced ca-pora