Dear Rootbound Crag, I Hate You

Despite my regular musings on the format, I haven’t actually sat down to play any Standard in a couple of months. I don’t play Constructed online, and my work schedule prevents me from attending most local events. I also much prefer to draft given the choice. However, with the Mana Deprived Super Series rolling into town, I actually put some effort into preparing. Not a lot of effort mind you—I think it amounted to one playtesting session with my old roommate and a Friday Night Magic. But considering I often play the very first game with my deck in Round 1 of a tournament, that’s a lot for me.

I knew that I wasn’t going to have time to learn the intricacies of playing a control deck, so I went with Kibler’s Gruul deck with a few changes. I initially started out with a list bolov0 won a Premier Event with on Magic Online that had a two-and-two split of Bonfire of the Damned and Mizzium Mortars. I’ve been championing playing main-decked Bonfires since the World Championship, and this was one of the few lists I saw that actually came to the same conclusion. On the advice of one of my friends, I eventually decided to go up to a three-and-one split since Bonfire is so insane. I then cut the Mizzium Mortars entirely to go back up to twenty-four lands (bolov0 cut a Forest). The mana base is sketchy as it is, and if I’m play a bunch of X spells, I really want to make sure I hit my land drops. In a roundabout way, I actually came right back to Kibler’s list, swapping Mizzium Mortars for Bonfire of the Damned. The sideboard is where I made most changes. Here’s what I played:

Bonfire of the Damned
This list is obviously weaker against decks that Bonfire sucks against, but honestly, the free-win factor that Bonfire gives you against the rest of the field is well worth it. Any deck that is trying to win with a bunch of little creatures is laughably easy to beat if you ever miracle a Bonfire. Naya is among the tougher matchups for this deck, and Bonfire is among the ways you can beat it. Many games often develop into ground stalls, so you can bide your time until you can sweep the opponent’s board and deal a million damage. Even Game 1 against control decks it can sometimes randomly be good.

Wolfir Silverheart is another card that is really good in the mirror match and against Naya. Your opponent will often not be able to do anything about it, and depending on the board state, it will either allow you to attack profitably or completely deny your opponent the ability to do the same. In the latter case, that only further plays into the Bonfire plan. Your opponent is forced to commit more and more creatures to the board while you do the same and eventually miracle the crap out of him. The rest of the sideboard is pretty standard, so it’s not as though I reinvented the deck or anything.

Here’s a quick rundown of the matches.

Round 1

I played against a small child with a homebrew W/U control deck. He was under the impression that Innistrad block rotated out already despite the fact he was playing with Magic 2013 cards in his deck. The match was not remotely close, and I was the first match that finished. I know this because when I took up my match slip, they didn’t even have a box setup for it yet.


Round 2

Rootbound Crag
Earlier in the day, I was chatting with recent Grand Prix champion Alex Hayne, who said, “Sorry I couldn’t follow your advice and leave my Sphinx’s Revelations at home.” I was lucky enough to be paired against him early on in the tournament, but at least I knew what he was playing. Game 1, I mulliganed to six cards and kept the infamous Rootbound Crag–plus–Arbor Elf hand. The hand had a lot of gas if I ever drew a Forest or a Stomping Ground, so I didn’t really want to go to five. After missing my third land drop for a few turns, I lamented out loud about how much I hate Rootbound Crag. I then drew a second one, and without even thinking about it, I ran out a Hellrider. Alex pointed out I didn’t have 4 mana, to which I responded, “Shut up, I don’t have Hellrider. Go.”

That’s kind of embarrassing, but it’s not as though there was a film crew watching my every move or something. Oh wait, yes there was. I proceeded to draw two more Rootbound Crags and die to a pair of Restoration Angels.

Game 2 was also a blowout, but this time, Alex was on the receiving end. I resolved an early Burning Earth, which is almost impossible for R/W/U Flash to beat.

Game 3 was close despite what my score pad says. I was putting Alex under a ton of early pressure while taking care to play around Restoration Angel and not overcommitting into Supreme Verdict. Domri Rade did some good work this game, drawing me a couple cards and trading with a Detention Sphere. I brought Alex down to a low life total but was in danger of running out of gas. He had a Sphinx’s Revelation that I knew about from an Augur of Bolas, so I was under the gun to do something every turn so as to not let him use it. Fortunately, my deck served up a miraculous Thundermaw Hellkite followed by a miraculous Hellrider that I insisted on flipping off the top of my library for the now-large crowd surrounding our match. He had a Turn // Burn for the first one but was forced to use his Sphinx’s Revelation to dig for an answer to the second one. When he didn’t find one, he extended the hand.


Okay, I just beat the best player in the room—no big deal. It can only go downhill from here.

Round 3

Wolfir Silverheart
My opponent was on Naya, which, as I said before, is a bit of a hard matchup. Stuff like Loxodon Smiter and Boros Reckoner are hard to attack through, and they get much better use out of Domri Rade. My opponent punted the first game by attacking me and not realizing he was dead if I had Hellrider. I, in fact, had the Hellrider, so I did the math a couple times in my head to be absolutely sure he was dead on my turn before declaring no blocks. I took a ton of damage, and things went according to plan.

Game 2 went pretty much as I described when I was discussing my sideboard. Wolfir Silverheart made it so he could never attack, and I just bided my time until I drew Bonfire of the Damned. Because he had two Boros Reckoners out, I couldn’t quite go crazy when I did draw it, though. 4 damage was enough to wipe his board and leave him with three Voice of Resurgence tokens. He was able to take out my Wolfir Silverheart, so I could only really attack with a lone Flinthoof Boar, but otherwise, I was firmly ahead on board. I followed up with a Zealous Conscripts, which allowed me to start swinging with the rest of my team. There was no coming back from that.


Round 4

Liliana of the Veil
I was playing against Ben Moir, one of the better players in the room. Jeez, I just can’t catch a break. He was on the B/G Mutilate deck. I feel that this matchup slightly favors the R/G deck, but it’s very draw-dependent. Strangleroot Geist is among your best cards, as it makes Desecration Demon look pretty silly. I kept a mediocre hand Game 1, and Ben had enough removal to deal with my early threats. He stabilized at around 6 life before he finished me off with a Desecration Demon and a Geralf’s Messenger.

In Game 2, I perhaps played a bit too aggressively. I had both of my Zealous Conscripts in hand, so I wanted to get in as much early damage as possible. That meant I didn’t try protect my Domri Rade and intentionally left it open so that he wouldn’t have any blockers. However, I was blown out when Ben played three Liliana of the Veils, forcing me to discard my hand. The line of play I had chosen was not at all setup to play the long game, and I very soon found myself staring down a gigantic Scavenging Ooze.


Round 5

Both my opponent and I started out the match by going down to five cards. I offered to intentionally draw the game while we were shuffling so that we could both go to seven. He seemed confused by this, so I explained that, this way, we could play a real game and not have it decided by who has a keepable five-card hand. I was no-sir’d, which is fine, but his reasons for turning it down didn’t make any sense. I looked at my five-card hand and instantly went to four, keeping two lands, an Elf, and a Strangleroot Geist. My opponent was playing Grixis control, and I won easily.

If winning on four cards was easy, winning on seven would be a cakewalk, and that’s exactly what happened in Game 2.


Round 6

Thundermaw Hellkite
I was playing the mirror match this time—something I was specifically planning for. My opponent was from Montreal and was affectionately called “Babadabouchi,” although I don’t know what his actual name is. I lost the die roll, and my opponent nut-drew me Game 1 with multiple Thundermaw Hellkites, so I never had the time to Bonfire him out. I flooded out in Game 2, which isn’t that bad of a thing when you have four Bonfires in your deck. However, everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong. With nothing in my hand, I offered to trade Ghor-Clan Rampagers, which my opponent took me up on. My next draw was Volcanic Strength with no creatures in play or in hand. My opponent then played a Hellrider, which I was fine with, as I had a Bonfire in my hand and was only 1 mana away from casting it for 7. I even had the land (remember that I was flooded), but I would need to take a second hit from it. His next draw was Volcanic Strength. Mine was Rootbound Crag.


At this point, Top 8 was a pipe dream, but if I won my next two rounds, I’d win a box of Magic 2014 for my trouble at least, so I stayed in.

Round 7

I was paired against William Blondon, another decent player from Montreal. He was playing Jund, and I steamrolled him in less than ten minutes. He even played a turn-three Olivia Voldaren Game 2, and it didn’t even matter. The free-win factor from this deck is insane.


Round 8

Rootbound Crag
Before the round started, I saw that I was in fifteenth place, so the odds of my squeaking into Top 8 were pretty close to zero. I also saw that my good friend Nick LeBlanc was in sixteenth and would be my opponent (in the last round, DCI Reporter will pair according to standings, so first plays second, third plays fourth, and so on). I discussed splitting the box with him, but as he already had a prize split going into the tournament, we were going to play it out for real.

Remember what I said about the free-win factor? Well, this deck also has a free-loss factor that comes up from time to time due to the sketchy mana base. I would punch a baby in the face for the ability to play Birds of Paradise in this deck. There are 387.33 million Magic cards in existence. If the word “hate” were engraved on every nanoangstrom of those millions of cards, it would not equal the one billionth of the hate I feel for Rootbound Crag. Bonus Internet points for identifying the reference without using Google.

I mulliganed a lot, drew the old Arbor Elf–plus–Rootbound Crag combo, and played a total of maybe two spells in both games. I think I actually should win a majority of sideboarded games due to the Wolfir Silverhearts and full boat of Bonfires, but, well, a wiser feller than I once said, "Sometimes, you eat the bar . . . and sometimes, well, the bar, he eats you."


I finished in twenty-fifth place, which is okay, I guess. I checked the standings afterward to see if it was possible for me to make Top 8, and while an 18-pointer did make it in, I most likely would have finished ninth. I do really like the list I played and would recommend it for future Standard tournaments. Here’s how I generally sideboarded in case you do want to pick this deck up:

Against the Mirror or Naya

Huntmaster of the Fells
−4 Hellrider
−4 Domri Rade
−1 Thundermaw Hellkite
+1 Bonfire of the Damned
+2 Huntmaster of the Fells
+1 Mizzium Mortars
+3 Volcanic Strength
+2 Wolfir Silverheart

On the play against the mirror, you can leave in two Domris and not bring in the Huntmasters. Against Naya, you can also bring in Zealous Conscripts and cut some number of Thundermaws or Strangleroot Geists.

Against Jund

−3 Bonfire of the Damned
−1 Thundermaw Hellkite
−3 Ghor-Clan Rampager
+4 Burning Earth
+1 Mizzium Mortars
+2 Zealous Conscripts

Against B/G Mutilate

−3 Bonfire of the Damned
−1 Thundermaw Hellkite
+2 Huntmaster of the Fells
+2 Zealous Conscripts

Against Flash

Zealous Conscripts
−3 Bonfire of the Damned
−2 Ghor-Clan Rampager
+4 Burning Earth
+1 Mizzium Mortars

I hope you guys enjoyed the report, good luck if you do play this deck, and I’ll see you again next week.

Nassim Ketita
arcticninja on Magic Online