Menu

Battling [personal] demons and heroes with Pack Rats – GP Brisbane Report

“I don’t feel a thing, and I stopped remembering,
These days are just like moments turned to hours,
Mother used to say, if you would you’d find a way,
But Mother never danced through fire showers…”

 

This is my Grand Prix Brisbane 2017 report. While I did not finish particularly well in the main event (133rd and no Pro Points), for many reasons the actual finish was unimportant and I consider the weekend an overwhelming personal success.

Approximately 980 wizards ventured to humid Brisbane for the main event, with many more there to participate in various side events. The locals were incredibly friendly, though I played precious few of them, seeing as the event was flooded with interstaters.

Preparation had begun even before my suspension ended last November. Before Aether Revolt I had been playing with a UR Moon list built around recent additions Thing in the Ice and Chandra, Torch of Defiance. I won a GPT (my first win in over two years!) and was initially very high on the deck. However, as the Grand Prix approached I grew increasingly anxious trying to predict the metagame, seeing as UR Moon is only as good as it is appropriately tuned to the field – make the wrong predictions and you will have a bad time. The deck’s passivity and low power level means you must play perfectly to be successful, which I was not confident I could do for two days given my ongoing health issues.

This all coalesced and approximately a week before the event, against the counsel of better players than myself, I elected to switch decks to something entirely new -a particularly reckless move because I could not test much due to work commitments. Effectively I would be learning as I played the event, which is not my strong suit (I have a notoriously limited archetype range). All I knew is that I still wanted to be playing Blood Moon, having found it excellent against most of the commonly played decks, but needed to find a more proactive home for it.

Good fortune meant I came across a BR Pack Rat & Blood Moon list from the SCG States events. While I did not like a great many choices made in the particular list, the combination of discard, Dark Confidant and Blood Moon, reinforced by one of my favourite cards – Pack Rat – was extremely appealing. Proactive cards are much better in an unknown field than reactive ones, and if nothing else, the thought of playing Pack Rat again did much to alleviate my increasingly manifest anxiety (thank you to Leanne and Chris for politely managing my panic attacks during this time).

Almost out of time but now settled on at least the core of a deck, I turned to my friend and midrange master Richard Owen. I always like building decks with Richard because we have a real clash of styles, with my preference for tempo plays conflicting directly with his love of overwhelming value – I always leave our chats with some new-found knowledge. Further, Richard is never afraid to tell me when my ideas are terrible (which they frequently are), so I was quite surprised when he thought the deck had real merit. A few lengthy Skype conversations later and we were ready to go.

The final version came together following a small number of practice games to test the mana base and some further theory crafting with friends, none of whom I believe really thought I would turn up to the Grand Prix and register Pack Rat.

Anyway, the final list was:

Rat Deck Wins by James Fazzolari & Richard Owen

Creatures: (12)
Grim Lavamancer
Dark Confidant
Pack Rat
Pia and Kiran Nalaar

Planeswalkers: (1)
Chandra, Pyromaster

Enchantments: (4)
Blood Moon

Spells: (19)
Fatal Push
Inquisition of Kozilek
Lightning Bolt
Thoughtseize
Collective Brutality
Terminate
Kolaghan's Command

Land: (24)
Mountain
Swamp
Blackcleave Cliffs
Blood Crypt
Bloodstained Mire
Dragonskull Summit
Mutavault
Polluted Delta
Verdant Catacomb
Sideboard: (15)
Duress
Grafdigger's Cage
Nihil Spellbomb
Vandalblast
Collective Brutality
Gifted Aetherborn
Fulminator Mage
Lost Legacy
Damnation

The idea was to win off an early Dark Confidant or Blood Moon or failing that, grind them out with Kolaghan’s Command and Pia and Kirin Nalaar. Pack Rat gave you options against big minion decks (Eldrazi) and a discard outlet. The deck functions similarly to Jund, with the added benefit of Blood Moon to fight big mana strategies which we expected would be common. Further, the simple two colour manabase meant Burn was a solid matchup, especially after sideboard.

The deck still suffers from the classic midrange issue of sometimes drawing the wrong half of the deck in Game 1, but sometimes Blood Moon means that does not matter.

Of all the various spice in the list, I was probably happiest with the single Grim Lavamancer main and the two sideboard Gifted Aetherborn. Opponents were very surprised to have Gifted Aetherborn played against them in Modern of all places but were all impressed by its performance.

Q&A

Throughout the event I had dozens of questions about the deck and while I promised I would address them in this article, my memory now makes a fool of me, so if I do not cover something, please articulate your inquiry in the comment section below and I will respond in kind.

Q: How good is Pack Rat really?
A: The Rat is very strong when games go long, but weak during the early turns, where its low stats and relatively high activation cost make it rather tempo-negative. Once a game stabilizes Pack Rat can typically take over nearly any board state, as pictured below.

More importantly, Pack Rat provides an outlet for excess Blood Moons (which sometimes is the first Blood Moon) and mana flood, ensuring past a certain point in the game you draw only action.

Q: Why Chandra, Pyromaster over Chandra, Torch of Defiance?
A: Basically, you would not play a Flame Slash in a Jund deck and when you have Pack Rat you value additional lands in play more than two damage. The ping on Chandra, Pyromaster is particularly valuable here, meaning you are not obliged to waste premium removal on tiny creatures.

Q: Why Lost Legacy and not Surgical Extraction?
A: We were not expecting a large Dredge showing (wrong!) but did correctly predict a reasonable amount of Cheerios and Ad Nauseum, where Lost Legacy is lights out. Archetype specific hate must be appropriate to the expected field and I would not be confidant in a sideboard strategy which required first hitting a critical card with ordinary discard and then following up with a Surgical Extraction; I would rather just have to draw one card which wins.

Day One Match Reports

I was fortunate enough to have two byes from winning a GPT, so I enjoyed a brief sleep in before venturing in to soak up the ambiance, say “hi” to friends and familiarize myself with the venue.

Round 3: Affinity / Raven Mackenzie – LOSS 1-2

My first opponent was a young pilot on Affinity who navigate some complicated board states expertly. All three games were very close seeing as I declined to draw any Kolaghan’s Command, Pia and Kiran Nalaar or sideboard cards throughout the match. Game 1 and 3 were decided by top decked Cranial Plating equipping to a Blinkmoth Nexus to overcome a lost ground battle, whereas Game 2 was all about Inquisition of Kozilek into Pack Rat. Not the start I was hoping for from what is otherwise a very good matchup.

Record: 2-1

Round 4: UW Revelation Control / Marcus Abbot – DRAW 1-1-1.

As luck would have it I was then selected for a feature match with one of my travel companions, piloting what is likely my worst possible matchup; UW plays plenty of basics to fight Blood Moon and you cannot beat either Gideon Jura or a moderate Sphinx’s Revelation.

Game 1 went exactly as predicted, with an early Blood Moon having no impact whatsoever. Gideon Jura and Supreme Verdict combined to decimate my board and eventually a Sphinx’s Revelation finished me off.

I felt completely terrible at this moment – fully expecting to start the day 0-2. I often place crushing pressure on myself to perform in events and I felt ready to self-destruct. Still, I had promised friends I would try and have fun for once, so I resolved to play as well as I could and salvage some pride; if nothing else its always fun playing against Marcus.

Game 2, while long and hard fought, was basically decided when Marcus cast Path to Exile an early Pack Rat after I took his Supreme Verdict with Thoughtseize. This meant Chandra came down unopposed, allowing me to power through the subsequent Gideon and Revelation and then finish the game with many Pack Rats, much to the amusement of the onlookers.

Game 3 started deep into the round and we were unable to finish. For a time I was somewhat ahead, managing to slowly grind Marcus out of resources with Kolaghan’s Command loops, but a top decked wrath cleared my board of Pack Rats and a freshly drawn Revelation soon after meant I could not win in the additional turns. Overall I was satisfied with a draw in what is a very poor matchup.

Record: 2-1-1

Round 5: RG Ponza / Matthew Page – WIN 2-1.

Playing against Matthew was awesome! His list was pretty stock, preferring Huntmaster of the Fells over the other options at four.

Game 1 featured an unopposed Dark Confidant drawing more lands than Mathew could destroy with two Stone Rain and two Mwonvuli Acid-Moss. A Terminate removed his lone follow-up threat and eventually I got in enough chip damage to burn him out.

Game 2 was a discard into Pack Rat which looked rather promising, until a miracle Bonfire of the Damned swept my entire board. The follow up Inferno Titan was too much to recover from.

Game 3 featured yet more large scale land destruction versus an unopposed Dark Confidant. This time I had not yet drawn the land I needed to recover. Thankfully discard left Matt without threats and I was able to get a second Dark Confidant going just in time to beat the inevitable Inferno Titan.

Record: 3-1-1

Round 6: WB Hatebears / Joshua Lye – WIN 2-0.

I feel conflicted as I write about this match; Joshua was a lovely opponent whom I mercilessly crushed with Thoughtseize into Pack Rat in back to back games, while all the time grinning inanely. His small creatures could not battle with Pack Rat so despite Joshua mostly curving out each game he was overrun in two quick games.

Record: 4-1-1

Round 7: Sun and Moon / Terry Wex – WIN 2-1.

Another Blood Moon semi-mirror!

Sun and Moon proved an awful matchup in testing, seeing as they have sweepers for your small minions and plenty of Planeswalkers to blank your removal. Thankfully their lock pieces, such as Chalice of Void and Ensnaring Bridge are quite ineffectual, so games can be won if you maintain a board sufficient to threaten Planeswalkers.

Game 1 was a very one-sided affair wherein Terry assembled a triumvirate of Planeswalkers: Nahiri, Koth & Chandra, Torch of Defiance. I played out the game for a little while, before conceding to ensure I had sufficient time for two post-board games. While sideboarding, Terry inquired whether the Blood Moon he resolved meant I could not cast any of my double black spells, seeing as I had conceded with a great many cards in hand. Hoping he would take the bait and keep in his own Blood Moons, I confirmed his suspicions while siding out my own copies.

In Game 2, I started strong with Inquisition of Kozilek into Dark Confidant after taking an answering Anger of the Gods. I was then met with a Simian Spirit Guide accelerated Blood Moo, which after I played two more Swamps from hand looked a little silly. The Dark Confidant survived the entire game leading to a quick win.

Game 3 was similar, wherein a duo of Dark Confidant and Gifted Aetherborn went unopposed thanks to discard. Terry was stuck on only a single red source, which I then removed with Fulminator Mage, meaning neither his Chandra or Anger of the Gods could contest my board. Ever the good sport, Terry had me wait while he called his friends over to watch me finish him off with Pack Rat.

Record: 5-1-1

Round: Grixis Control / Tomoharu Saito – WIN 2-1.

Whelp.

Though now controversial figure in the Magic community, most would agree Saito is one of the better players to register a 60 card deck. Like many others, I admire his creativity and it is fair to say he is one of the players I like the most, perhaps second only to Shota Yasooka.

With mixed feelings I approached the table, in part excited to meet one of my heroes, while also feeling as though I had already lost –could I really beat one of the greats with my silly Pack Rat deck? What would Saito think of me when I played this trash against him?

The matchup with Grixis Control is decided almost entirely by whether you can resolve a Blood Moon early – cutting them off either Blue or Black mana means you are heavily favoured; if not the games are almost unwinnable.

Saito led Game 1 with an Ancestral Visions which was immediately a huge threat. I tried sticking some early threats, which were removed or countered by Mana Leak. The Ancestral Visions resolved and I continued to slog through a mix of Commands, of both the Kolaghan’s and Cryptic variety. Thankfully he mostly milled his own Snapcaster Mages so could not easily assemble the loop with Kolaghan’s Command. The game went on and on and eventually a Pia and Kiran Nalaar stuck which dealt him enormous damage. Saito tried to race with Tasigur, but after trading Pia and Kiran plus a Lightning Bolt for the banana king and then playing a replacement copy Saito threw in the towel.

I honestly could not believe I had won a game, and while certain I would still lose the match, was now excited to tell my friends I had at least made it a fight.

Game 2 was similarly grindy, but this time Saito assembled the Snapcaster and Kolaghan’s Command lock in the midgame, grinding me down to nothing and finishing me off with some Lightning Bolts.

Game 3 and I was on the play, leading with an Inquisiton of Kozilek and seeing a hand of cantrips, Tasigur, Lightning Bolt, Mana Leak and an Izzet Staticaster. Suddenly my hand with two Dark Confidant did not look too hot. I took the Thought Scour, to prevent the presently unanswerable Turn 2 Tasigur, then running my first Dark Confidant into a sorcery speed Lightning Bolt.

With Saito tapped low, I saw an opportunity to win the match by offering up my second Dark Confidant to a follow-up sorcery speed Izzet Staticaster – if Saito snapped off the free card I would resolve Blood Moon and cut him off Cryptic Command and any black spells (he had a single Island). Saito went for it and the remainder of the game was him digging for his singleton Swamp (which was eventually milled by Thought Scour) while managing to draw enough Snapcaster Mages and Lightning Bolts to stop me from piling on too much pressure.

With precious time left in the round, we begun to draw-go at frantic pace, each hoping to draw something relevant to close out the game and take the match. With a bunch of blanks in hand, I drew for turn and….

…drew Pack Rat. I deployed the Rat, causing Saito to laugh, pick up the card and opine “good card”. Though the first rat was quickly dispatched, it called for two friends, who quickly finished off the Japanese Pro.

And with that, I had the most meaningful win of my career; with the deck’s signature silly card too. Saito complimented me on my tight play and even agreed to sign the winning Pack Rat.

Record: 6-1-1

At this point I was feeling completely overwhelmed. Not only was I locked for Day 2, but I had beaten one of my heroes. Friends surrounded me and heaped praise upon me. I might have shed a tear. The contrast to how I felt during round 4 was like night and day. It was about now I realised I had been smiling the entire day, playing my silly deck and just seeing how far I could go. I do not recall ever enjoying a tournament this much, typically finding them dreadfully stressful and onerous due to self-imposed expectations. More than one person opined this was the happiest they had seen me throughout all the years we had known each other.

Round 9: Scapeshift / Joon Soo Lee – LOSS 1-2.

Scapeshift is a difficult matchup, but in theory, Blood Moon gives you an advantage, or at least it would have, were I ever to draw it. In Game 1 I drew most of my removal and might have dealt Joon Soo two damage before he dealt me 21.

Game 2 saw an early Dark Confidant stick while a pair of Fulminator Mages kept his land count low and relevant spells such as Obstinate Baloth and Cryptic Command stuck in hand. Eventually damage from a variety of sources were sufficient to finish him off.

Game 3 was much slower, with my early discard dismantling his draw while a Lightning Bolt stopped Dark Confidant. Pack Rat was my follow up and the pressure quickly mounted. A Collective Brutality ensured his hand was clear of Scapeshift and the drain set up lethal for the next turn. In good humour Joon Soo acknowledged he didn’t have it before drawing for what would be the final turn either way; revealing one of the three remaining Scapeshift in his deck.

Record: 6-2-1.

Overall I was fairly happy with how Day 1 went. I had experienced many events wherein you start 2-0 only to fall to 2-2 and was glad to have calmed myself and avoided that fate. Further, I had Day 2’d a Grand Prix with a novelty deck, having a tremendous time along the way. I felt oddly different as I reflected on the day with friends over dinner; not stressed, smiling, relaxed. I did not feel pressure to put up a big finish the next day – what I had accomplished so far was enough. Besides, everyone seemed to enjoy my various Pack Rat stories, so many laughs (and a few beers) were had.

“What do you say? I’ve never felt this way before. It’s not what they say – it’s a different feeling in my core…”

Day Two Match Reports

I came in cautiously optimistic – the deck handled itself remarkably well on Day 1, despite only getting a favourable matchup (which I of course lost). I was hoping for a 4-2 finish, meaning a Top 64 finish and a Pro Point.

Round 10: Skred Red / Abe McKinnon – LOSS 1-2.

Seriously, where are the decks weak to Blood Moon?

Skred Red is a poor matchup for the same reasons as Sun and Moon; they play maindeck sweepers and many Planeswalkers. Game 1 was very lopsided, though Abe made it thoroughly enjoyable with his table talk – he is very funny. I held back early from overcommitting into Anger of the Gods, but once Koth came down I was out of luck I needed more pressure and Anger meant we went to sideboarding.

In Game 2, discard into Dark Confidant again provided significant early advantage which warranted an Anger of the Gods. I drew out the second Anger of the Gods with another Dark Confidant, before moving in on Pack Rat to finish Abe off, who laughed through every minute of it.

Game 3 was close, with removal dispatching threats on either side. I was marginally up on cards, though Abe battled back with some Planeswalkers. Eventually the game crystalized into my Mutavault needing to deal 10 damage while I held a with a pair of Terminates. Unfortunately, Abe drew his singleton Sarkhan, Dragonspeaker, who does not fear Terminate. I had three draw steps to draw an answer or another threat with which to race, or a bolt to finish of Sarkhan following a Mutavault hit, but sadly I drew nothing. Great match, great opponent.

Record: 6-3-1.

Round 11: Abzan Midrange / Ye Hua – LOSS 1-2.

Ye has quickly become one of my favourite opponents in recent months; young and full of passion, he is eager to learn and plays very well. We were disappointed to be paired this late in the tournament.

Knowing what Ye was on, I kept a relatively weak hand in Game 1 containing Blood Moon. However Ye drew sufficient fetches to obtain his basics before the Blood Moon meaning I was easily routed.

In Game 2 a turn one Grim Lavamancer caused Ye significant issues, eliminating his early threats (Tarmogoyf and Grim Flayer) while before Pia and Kiran Nalaar put the game away.

Game 3 was over before it started really; on the play Ye had discard into double Tarmogoyf, placing me under enormous pressure. While I drew a single Gifted Aetherborn to slow Ye’s advance I could not draw further interaction to answer the board and was defeated.

Ye was extremely excited to score his first match win against me (it was only a matter of time, he plays exceptionally well) and I would like to congratulate him strongly on his first Day 2 finish.

Record: 6-4-1.

Round 12: Ad Nauseum / Izaak Mason – LOSS 1-2

Finally, someone from Queensland!

I opened our match with a mulligan to five, finding a hand with two removal and three land. When Izaak suspended two Lotus Bloom on Turn 1 I conceded rather than reveal what I was playing, estimating my chance of winning this game at virtually zero percent.

Siding into pure anti-combo is quite fun; you get to go up to the full 10 discard effects with some Lost Legacy and other relevant interaction, eg: land and artifact kill spells. Accordingly your draws are now all super live and your route to victory is straining their need for resources across multiple axis.

I opened with discard into Dark Confidant in Game 2. The steady stream of card draw allowed me trade 1-for-1 repeatedly; I won without Izaak ever really coming close to combing. Importantly, while I did draw a Lost Legacy, I never cast it to conceal information for Game 3.

In Game 3 Izaak opened on a six card hand containing Leyline of Sanctity. I had a quick clock from Pack Rat and basically needed to draw any mana disruption to win: Blood Moon or Fulminator Mage would have bought me enough additional combat steps to put him away. Sadly it was not to be and Izaak drew the right mix of land and spells the exact turn before Pack Rat finished him off.

Record: 6-5-1.

Normally I would have felt horrendous starting a day of magic 0-3, yet strangely, I felt fantastic. I was having a blast. The mix of interesting and close games, friendly opponents and overwhelming interest in my deck culminated in one of the more fun days of gaming I have had. While I briefly entertained dropping now that I could not cash, I resolved to play out the day for the experience.

Round 13: UNKNOWN / UNKNOWN.

My round 13 opponent elected not to attend our match, presumably having decided to drop between rounds to pursue other interests. Nothing wrong with that.

Record: 7-5-1.

Round 14: Bant Collected Company / Rick Lee – WIN 2-0

This match started terrifically with Rick asking me to concede so he could cash. The topic was quickly dropped when I demonstrated an understanding neither of us could cash.

I lost the die roll and Rick opened on Noble Hierach, but Inquisition of Kozilek removed his next play, leaving him with a hand of land and a single Collected Company. My next play was Collective Brutality, killing the Hierarch and removing the Collected Company. Pia and Kiran Nalaar soon closed out the game.

In Game 2 I had removal for Birds of Paradise and then Dark Confidant stuck to the field. A few removal spells put me very far ahead and Rick eventually flooded out before succumbing to Pack Rats.

Record: 8-5-1.

Round 15: Restore Balance / Harry Flynn – WIN 2-0.

I knew what Harry was on, having watched one of his epic matches earlier in the day. This allowed me to mulligan a solid opening hand which was not relevant in the matchup, into a hand of discard and Dark Confidant. Restore Balance is much slower than Living End to go off and while Harry Flynn did suspend three Greater Gargadon I was able to get in sufficient chip damage and burn spells to close out the game when the first Restore Balance went on the stack.

Game 2 I sided in all my anti-combo cards and a Turn 3 Lost Legacy naming Restore Balance left Harry with four cascaders in hand. While he battled on valiantly, without the deck’s namesake little resistance could be offered.

Overall Record: 9-5-1 and 133rd place

I was happy to have turned 0-3 into 3-3.

Thoughts

Looking back, I am tremendously proud of my performance; I ran significantly below expectation in terms of pairings, with many 40% matchups rather than the more popular decks against which we had metagamed and lost many close best of 3 which could have gone either way. I feel I played some really, really great Magic.

More importantly, ever since we left Brisbane, I have felt better about the game and myself than I ever have. I do not recall ever enjoying an event this much; having done much better previously but hating the experience the entire time.

This time, I felt like I was part of something, and I was now there with a great many friends who wanted me to have a good time. It made all the difference. I would particularly like to thank Matt Rogers, Matt Anderson, Justin Robb and Anthony Lee who amongst others, took the time to come and check on me and see how I was doing throughout the event. It might not seem like much but I am awfully jittery and self-conscious when attending events and those little moments of kindness help.

I feel great about where I am going with Magic now, finally feeling some satisfaction with my ability and results. It is awesome the community has overwhelmingly welcomed me back and even embraced me. I am much healthier and am very excited to play some more high level magic soon.

Again, happy to answer any questions concerning the deck in the comment section below.

Thank you everyone.

  • Ian Wohlgemuth

    Thanks for writting this, it was a really nice read as someone who gets really nervous in tournaments and sets high expectations

  • PJ Mizzle

    Thanks Fazz! Seems like Gifted Aetherborn did some work for you, are they specifically there to help you out vs burn / similarly aggressive ground creature decks or is it also good as a catch-all whenever you need to bring in more pressure? Cheers!

    • James Nicolas Fazzolari

      Hi there! They were mostly in the deck for Burn & aggressive strategies like Revolt Zoo or 8-whack, seeing as cycling them over and over with Kolaghan’s Command is a winning recipe. We found them coming in versus all the un-interactive combo decks and midrange decks (like Sun & Moon) too; they’re just better than terrors insofar as they are at least applying pressure. Future lists would very likely include 3 copies.

%d bloggers like this: