By Shawn Massak

This is the second week of what I hope to be a 52-week process. Every week, Ensnaring Cambridge will focus on my experiences playing in local tournaments in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with a new deck every two weeks. So this time next year I will have played 26 different decks, some of them tier one strategies and some of them janky rogue brews. While I’m excited to begin this process, there is a downside; this will be the last week of me playing my beloved Azorius Midrange deck. While I expect to be doing some cool things in Standard over the next year, I suspect that I will really miss casting Restoration Angel, to blink Snapcaster Mage, to flashback Sphinx’s Revelation, to draw all the cards, and gain all of the life. Oh well, all good things must end.

With this being my last week playing Azorius Midrange, I was hoping to crush Wednesday Night Standard—to 4-0 with a combination of tight plays and counterspells—but this was not to be. Don’t get me wrong, I had plenty of memorable moments which I will recount, but throughout the event I found myself preoccupied with another magical conundrum—I’d had a deck stolen from me and I was just realizing this as the night began.

A few weeks ago I lent out a Junk Reanimator deck to a friend before an SCG Open in Worcester. He needed a deck to play and I was happy to oblige since I was on Azorius Midrange and the deck was just sitting around anyway; Angel of Serenity and Thragtusks collecting dust inside an Ultra Pro deck box. I didn’t get the deck back from him before leaving the event but figured that I’d get it from him later; I had his phone number, we were friends on Facebook, and he was at Pandemonium a few nights a week anyway. No big deal.

After I didn’t see him over the next few weeks I tried texting him, but he never texted me back. I called and it went straight to voicemail. I tried to message him on Facebook and found out that he unfriended me. I contacted some mutual friends to see if they knew what the deal was, and it turns out that he had left town, got orders from the military to ship out, and never bothered to return my deck.

Fast forward to Wednesday night: I found myself calculating the value of the cards I’d lost instead of doing the math on attacking creatures. Twelve shock lands is about $120 and—“I’m taking how much from your Yeva?” Three Angel of Serenity, four Thragtusk, (one foil), three Deathrites in the sideboard is roughly—“Oh, is that lethal? Yeah that’s game.”

In between rounds, I was able to stop thinking about the value of the cards lost and just thought about how shitty it is to have someone take advantage of your trust. One of the best things about Magic is the community and it is unfortunate when you are punished when trying to help someone else. Regardless, I didn’t set out to write about theft in the Magic community and I have a tournament report to write up.

For reference this is what I played this week:

Azorius Midrange

Creatures (12)
Augur of Bolas
Restoration Angel
Snapcaster Mage

Spells (22)
Azorius Charm
Renounce the Guilds
Runechanter's Pike
Sphinx's Revelation
Supreme Verdict
Think Twice
Thought Scour
Lands (25)
Azorius Guildgate
Ghost Quarter
Glacial Fortress
Hallowed Fountain
Moorland Haunt

Sideboard (15)
Celestial Flare
Jace, Memory Adept
Oblivion Ring
Purify the Grave
Renounce the Guilds
Riot Control
Tamiyo, Moon Sage

Round 1—Austin with U/G Counters (2-0)

Austin Round 1Before the round, Austin awkwardly attempted to manage his many Magical supplies without the aid of a backpack. A holiday gift box, two cardboard thousand-count boxes, a gallon-sized Ziplock bag of dice, and one plastic deck box were precariously arranged on the table as we began to shuffle up for our game. Austin seemed a bit jittery when pile shuffling and confided in me that he had been playing Magic for only eight days and that this was his first tournament. While it has become second nature for me to carry around dice, a playmat, and a notepad, I can remember how unwieldy all these items felt when I first started playing in a competitive environment.

Austin started on the draw with an Experiment One, curving into Gyre Sage, to Renegade Krasis, and even managed a turn-four Kalonian Hydra. I followed up this aggressive series of plays with a Supreme Verdict. Sometimes that’s all it takes. I controlled the rest of the game with counters and needled away at his life total with Augur of Bolas and Snapcaster Mage. Austin wasn’t tilted by the loss but throughout the game looked on inquisitively as I countered spells, drew cards, and left mana open on his turn.

He asked, “So do you just counter everything and then draw cards?”

“That’s pretty much the plan. You try to gain card advantage while disrupting your opponents.”

“What should I do about that while playing this deck?”

I wasn’t sure what to tell him. Not because I didn’t want to give him information that would lead to him beating me, but because it’s hard to explain how to play around Wraths, or say definitively when you should play into counterspells and when you shouldn’t, or how to sideboard without watering down your threat density.

“Maybe bring in some planeswalkers out of the sideboard. I can’t deal that well with non-creature threats,” I said, shrugging. I wanted to tell him that knowing how to play against certain decks comes with experience, but Austin seemed like a smart guy and I don’t know whether this kind of comment is actually helpful or just kind of obvious. I wasn’t sure how to recommend sideboarding when, to be honest, I wasn’t even entirely sure how I wanted to sideboard for this match. I eventually settled on:

-1 Think Twice
-1 Thought Scour
-1 Runechanter’s Pike
+2 Terminus
+1 Celestial Flare

During game two, I miracled two Terminus, he tried to Negate it both times, and both times I had counter back up. From that point he topdecked a bunch of lands while a lone Restoration Angel dealt lethal damage over seven turns.

Round 2—Ben with Esper Midrange (1-1)

Ben Round 2

Instead of a high roll, we decided who would play first like this:

Rock Paper Scissors

I am a big fan of alternative ways to decide turn order, as dice get a little boring after a thousand rolls or so. I also appreciate the irony of being able to use Rock Lobster, Paper Tiger, and Scissors Lizard to randomly determine a winner, whereas you cannot use actual rock–paper–scissors to determine who plays or draws because of its not-quite-random nature.

After I won the unglued mini-game, Ben and I proceeded to have a very strange game of Magic. After mulliganing to six, Ben played a turn-two Precinct Captain. While the little captain that could did its best impression of a Hero of Bladehold, I held back and drew cards, trying to dig into a Supreme Verdict.

For most of the game I couldn’t find one, but I did manage to cast Sphinx’s Revelation three times and then flash it back three times throughout the game to stay alive, while attempting to block his threats with a Restoration Angel and multiple Snapcaster Mages. While I don’t want to recount all the details in a long and convoluted game, I do want to discuss an interesting board state. I was at four life, nine mana in play, with only a Restoration Angel and a spirit token in play as nonland permanents. My opponent cast a Detention Sphere targeting my angel, and went to attack with his own Restoration Angel, a Precinct Captain, one spirit token, and three soldier tokens. I thought about my play for minute, made sure I counted my mana correctly, and then played Snapcaster Mage, flashbacked a Renounce the Guilds to destroy Detention Sphere, whereupon my Restoration Angel came back into play and blinked Snapcaster Mage, allowing me to flashback a Sphinx’s Revelation for two—which drew me into the Supreme Verdict I had been searching for all game. It was awesome. I finally closed out the game with some spirits wearing a Runechanter’s Pike.

Life Totals Round 2

I gained 21 life off of Sphinx’s Revelation (circled on the left).

I sideboarded:

-2 Azorius Charm
-1 Runechanter’s Pike
-2 Thought Scour
+2 Dispel
+1 Negate
+1 Jace, Memory Adept
+1 Oblivion Ring

Game two was another drawn-out affair that came down to him casting three Sin Collectors and having an active Moorland Haunt to punish me for casting Supreme Verdict.

We shuffled up for game three just as time was called in the round. Neither of us could win this one and we settled for the draw.

Round 3—Meritt with Bant Midrange (0-2)

Meritt Round 3

I like Meritt. He’s a friendly guy, albeit a soft-spoken one, and we’ve had some pretty good games in the past. I know Meritt is on Bant Midrange and feel pretty good about the match-up, as the deck is a little bit clunky and is usually disrupted fairly easily with countermagic, Renounce the Guilds, and Supreme Verdict. This particular match, however, didn’t pan out how I had hoped.

Game one, I was stuck on three lands—and anyone familiar with this deck knows how unforgiving it is of missing land drops. I thought about scooping up my cards after missing my fourth land for the fourth turn in a row, but decided to play it out. I managed to Unsummon an Advent of the Wurm token and counter a Restoration Angel while he bashed me with a Centaur Healer.

I eventually drew into a Renounce the Guilds to deal with the Healer, though he followed up with a Yeva, Nature’s Herald, which threatened to throw creatures in play whenever I tapped out. Though I was starting to hit my land drops, I was worried that the Yeva would kill me pretty quickly, especially when granted unblockability from a Rogue’s Passage.

The game would eventually come down to one pivotal turn. I was at four life, facing down a Yeva and a Wurm token. Meritt made the token unblockable and attacked me with both creatures. He had four mana untapped. I had a Snapcaster Mage and a Restoration Angel in play, and during attacks I played a second Restoration Angel, blinking Snapcaster Mage and flashbacking an Azorius Charm to send his Wurm into oblivion. I blocked Yeva with two Restoration Angels, expecting a Selesyna Charm on the flashy legend. Meritt taps two mana and plays … Cyclonic Rift. He kills my Angel and is able to make Yeva unblockable on the following turn to kill me for exactsies. If I had also blocked with Snapcaster Mage, I could have quite possibly won that game.

I sideboarded:

-3 Thought Scour
-1 Runechanter’s Pike
-1 Think Twice
+1 Jace, Memory Adept
+1 Oblivion Ring
+1 Renounce the Guilds
+1 Negate
+1 Tamiyo, Moon Sage

This game was a rather rushed affair, as the first game had lasted the better part of 40 minutes. I tried to play as fast as possible to get a game win but it was not to be. My Jace, Memory Adept milled 20 cards before being the target of an Oblivion Ring, and I watched the clock as I tried desperately to mount an offense with spirit tokens. Meritt closed out the game with a Sigarda, Host of Herons which, incidentally, was very good against the Renounce the Guilds I had in hand.

Round 4—Kenyah with Dimir Control (2-0)

Kenyah Round 4

Judging by his mat, Kenyah was a Yugioh duelist reformed into a Magic player. When we were chatting before game one, I gathered that he was mostly a kitchen-table duelist, as well as a man who liked to build his own decks after citing a disdain for netdecking. Well, his take on Dimir control certainly went pretty deep and played quite a few unorthodox cards, including a set of Dark Favors, a card which I have only experienced in the sideboard of my Limited decks.

Game one, Kenyah started out on the play and cast a Thought Scour, targeting me; I felt like I won a small victory as I milled two cards from the top of my library and put a Think Twice into the graveyard. The game ended up being a bit strange, as Kenyah played an Augur of Bolas and a Vampire Nighthawk, and then proceeded to put a Dark Favor on each of them. I then played a Supreme Verdict, demonstrating why creature enchantments have been historically bad and resulting in a four-for-one.

I sideboarded:

-2 Azorius Charm
-1 Renounce the Guilds
-1 Thought Scour
-1 Runechanter’s Pike
+1 Aetherling
+1 Tamiyo, Moon Sage
+1 Jace, Memory Adept
+1 Negate
+1 Oblivion Ring

Game two, Kenyah was stuck on four mana but had an active Underworld Connections. I felt a little bad when I plopped down a Tamiyo and tapped down the enchanted Swamp. I felt even worse when he didn’t play anything and I was able to resolve an Aetherling two turns later and end the game in short order. I thought about not ending the game in order to live the dream of a Tamiyo emblem but contained myself, and swung in for lethal with the nimble shapeshifter.

With my final record at 2-1-1, I was awarded six dollars in store credit—which means that I netted one dollar. At this rate, I’ll be going infinite in no time!

As I hang up the jersey of Azorius Midrange in the rafters of my personal Magic history, I am impressed with the way the deck performed over the past few weeks. Though I certainly played a few non-tier one strategies, I felt that the deck has some game against most decks in the format. To those who are looking to pick it up, I would recommend testing the current Jund matchup as this seems like the deck to beat moving forward. Also, after getting blown out by Cyclonic Rift in round three, I would consider trying to play one in the 75. Cyclonic Rift is a reasonable tempo play in the early game that can be flashbacked by Snapcaster Mage or retrieved by Augur of Bolas—and in the late game, resetting your opponent’s board on their end step is, well, bananas.

Next week, I’ll be piloting a Patrick Chapin brew in the vein of Travis Woo’s Pillow Fort deck from a while back. I am not sure whether I am excited or disappointed in myself for playing a deck with four maindeck Ajani’s Chosen. Only time will tell.

At age 15, while standing in a record store with his high school bandmates, Shawn Massak made the uncool decision to spend the last of his money on a Seventh Edition starter deck (the one with foil Thorn Elemental). Since that fateful day 10 years ago, Shawn has decorated rooms of his apartment with MTG posters, cosplayed as Jace, the Mind Sculptor at PAX, and competes with LSV for the record of most lifetime Islands played. When he’s not playing Magic, Shawn works as a job coach for people with disabilities, plays guitar in an indie-pop band, and keeps a blog about pro wrestling.

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