Monday the 22nd of October, the day I stepped into my first MTG competitive play. As a relatively new player that had done a few kitchen tabletops games and grinding out Arena, I was in high spirits as to what my first “real” experience would be like.
After playing card games for well over a year now, I decided that electronically just wasn’t good enough anymore. Hearthstone had been kind, but the convenience of being able to play virtually anywhere with no agency was starting to become stale.
I packed my cards up, hopped on a bus and was welcomed by one of the staff, jokingly apologising for not coming down sooner due to work.
My deck had one clear objective: Go face, go fast and be Mono Red, don’t take your foot off the gas. I had played this deck on Arena and it had a stark reminder of Aggro from Hearthstone; decks that I often seem to find success with, and although linear I had no idea what I’d be up against.
The Core of the deck was built around hitting either Risk Factor, Experimental Frenzy or hitting phase three of The Flame of Keld; cards that once the board presence is found, can all cause the opponent to watch their life total drop fast.
Overall, these three finishers were fairly situational, with the core of the burn spells only really being useful once my opponent was tapped out and I could just sling spells and watch them figuratively burn in the flames. The gears of the deck were run by low-cost creatures, with the infamous Runaway Steam-Kin never really finding a presence I found the other creatures much more effective as who’s really going to deal with a 1/1 or 2/1?
After quick introductions, my first match began. We Shuffled, drew and my opening hand was a definite keeper. Three lands, two creatures and two spells (one The Flame of Kelds). I hit the ground running, opening with an explosive first few turns, my lava runners sticking and eventually being the man that pushed through. After sussing out I was up against a Selesnya token the Chainwhirler was able to clear anything too threatening even when Emmara, Soul of the Accord landed, the saga was hitting phase three and my opponent “Scooped it up”.
Games two and three did not quite go as planned. I kept a couple of risky hands that online I probably would have mulliganed. After seeing the power of Trostani Discordant come down, I had the panic of “you’re way out of your depth here.” The first match was over and I came out 1-2, I was happy about winning my first game but some misplays and forgetting to draw threw my balance off. Playing out board wipes early and not putting enough presence on due to land fixing could have been fixed at the start by evaluating a proper mulligan.
The second match was going to play out in a similar fashion. I knew how my deck would win but I also knew it’s shortcomings. If I didn’t have a strong start, fizzling out early was always a possibility. My second advesary seemed like a seasoned veteran. With his array of dice, mats, tokens and custom sleeves I must have looked like a real rookie when asked “should we high roll to start”, me looking back puzzled and mentioning “Erm, I’ve only got this big dice for my life”. We laughed it off and the first game commenced. I managed to once again get a decent early board presence, with virtually no answer minus a counter for my Chainwhirler, the bolts and shocks proved deadly. The second game had an eerily similar feel, keeping a risky opening hand, but this time the veteran was on lockdown. After getting a small board presence of 1/1’s I felt things were not going too badly until suddenly everything I was playing was getting countered. Chainwhirler couldn’t touch the board, risk factors were getting exiled and to round it off Nicol Bolas made an appearance to smack me in the face several times for defeat.
I had read about the infamous Grixis Control online, so I was under the impression that his only creatures would be Nicol Bolas and that if I could either stop him or just punch through I might still have a chance. The game started off well with an early presence that got them down to 11 life in the first few turns. The little voice in the back of my head saying, you’ve side boarded (swapping cards in between games) in your big removal, you should be fine if he puts out Bolas. Then it started to fall apart. Electrostatic field came down and I started to see my opponent may not have been control after all. This card is the aggro killer, dealing one damage to me every time my opponent casts a spell. Combined with the ionize counters that started to come through, my life was dwindling fast, with my answers being shut down even faster. I looked around and a few other contestants were watching, joking that the two aggro decks are taking the longest. My only hope was to go over the top (ignoring the board state and trying to hit the spells to do direct damage). Lone behold he returned, Nicol came down and I had the answer! I waited for my turn and threw down the lava coil, a card that deals four damage to the target. My opponent countered, I was convinced that playing the shock was the right idea at the time, trying to bait out another spell. The damage went through so another Lava Coil at Bolas would maybe seal the deal, buy me a little more time to get some card back and find the last damage. The third Ionize appears, I’m staring at a returning eight damage tapped out and no cards left, I let the damage come through and another 1-2 match with an explosive finish.
A couple of misplays in this one, forgetting to draw a card at the start set me back much further than I anticipated and if I hadn’t played the shock, I could have maybe paid the tax on syncopate to stop the counter going through. Overall a really fun game that gave me some ideas about playing Electrostatic field in my own decks alongside some other cards that deal damage on spell cast.
My third match I was feeling much more settled. After realising everyone was nice and putting my woes to the side I was much more focused. I had a risky opening hand again but decided that the first match it probably wasn’t the worst hand I could play. My opponent went down to six cards and my two lands, five creatures hand was too overwhelming. It was a bit of a shame as he got screwed over with land and couldn’t play anything to stop the onslaught of damage coming at him. The first game was over fast, and I felt confident that if I could replicate that, I’d bag my first win.
The second game had a lot more interaction. I got my creatures out and putting in steady damage of either one or two and my opponent had answers. He was playing a Dimir deck that focuses on control and making you discard cards. information is the name of the game for that deck and after making me discard some key burn spells, I was worried about burning out myself. Even with the big defenders in my way I had a plan, I wasn’t drawing well and ended up with six mountains in a row (note to shuffle better Tom), but Experimental Frenzy was about to come down. Forgetting my opponent’s lands were untapped, I brassily played it, to which he did not counter, a mistake that later he mentioned he could have answered. This card was built for fast decks, and being able to play cards off the top of your deck at instant speed was phenomenal. All I had to do was not draw two lands in a row. I drew for the turn, the first land, luckily it goes into my hand and I can’t play it. I was then able to draw creatures with haste, a spell to clear his defender and subsequently six other cards with the final two being a land and the shock. I had got him down to one life, my opponent started to make me discard everything but I knew that even if he clears everything, I just need one damage. I drew for the turn again, the board is full and luckily it is another land. I look at the top card and faithful Chainwhirler is there, I play it and he couldn’t answer the one damage sticks and we shake hands after my two fastest games yet.
It was a shame his deck couldn’t really answer mine but I was pretty pleased that my frenzy popped off, the card seems really strong when you can get it going and having six lands up made it very effective.
Overall it was a great learning experience but taking a deck that is so linear might not have been the best choice. I wanted to play my Izzet Counter Burn deck but was worried it might have been too strong (how wrong I was) or that I couldn’t have kept up with the pace was negative thinking on my part. It’s clear that Showdown people are there to play seriously, which is the environment I wanted to get into whilst being able to meet new people and try and improve my skills. I hope to attend this event regularly and will be sorting my Izzet deck to try and get up to the level everyone else is on. A great evening of cards though and for my first time coming fourth out of six players was a good finish.
My showdown Booster was a great pick up too, these packs are loaded with rares and foils which were given out to each contestant. Although not always the best cards, it was nice to get something for showing up and playing. I pulled: