By Pieter Tack
Most of you who frequent the League of New and Beginning Magic Players events at the Outpost Ghent have seen and/or met me: I’m the guy usually sitting somewhere in the centre of the room, listening to the name ‘Pieter’, having fun with my own wonky plays and truly enjoying the insane plays of my opponents.
I consider myself an average player, a statement I can back up with my average score of 2-2 during most tournaments. Despite this average score and skill, I do believe there are some interesting insights I can provide on the current Gentry format (or at least challenge you to correct me or discover my flaws) so I decided to write up my own experience during the first Gentry tournament including Shadows over Innistrad in the format.
Despite what the title suggests, this article is not about a movie from the nineties containing far too few wolf-containing dance scenes to be named after such events. I chose this title because, besides it allowing me to write down my complaints about the aforementioned movie, I played a GR (Were)Wolves deck during this event.
4 Evolving Wilds
The deck list is pretty straightforward and I imagine most of you brewing this archetype will come down with most of the same cards. A way in which my deck is somewhat more unique than others is that I do not play too many Werewolves. I agree: Werewolves are some funny hairy bastards, but in Standard play they are generally too slow to my liking. Unlike real wolves, who usually hunt by tiring down their opponent only to go for the easy kill at the end, wolves in magic (and in particular in this deck) want to go for the kill fast and clean. For this reason I chose 2-drop creatures such as Ember-Eye Wolf and Quilled Wolf as they enter the battlefield early game, and thanks to their buff abilities are still relevant in the late game as well. Howlpack Wolf is a right-on-curve 3/3 for 3 mana and Breakneck Rider can deliver a mean punch as well, especially if it manages to transform (Considering the art, anyone ever wondered what happened to the horse during transforming by the way? I have this nagging feeling horsey is not fond of his rider becoming extra fuzzy…). As far as removal goes we have some burn spells, of which Fiery Temper is probably the best one as it can also burn the opposing player, a tactic that has often won me the game when my wolves could not get through a wall of opposing creatures. As a sideboard, the most noteworthy cards are Aerial Volley, Caustic Caterpillar and Boiling Earth.
My first opponent of the evening was Bob, a talented player whom I knew from watching some test matches before the start of the tournament was playing a Zombie control deck. His main cards are Rise from the Tides and a whole bunch of draw cards. In order to stay alive the first few turns, Bob brought some other zombie-summoning cards to the table, as well as some basic removal such as Complete Disregard and the likes.
The first game went rather poor for me, in which Bob countered or removed most of my creatures, rendering it impossible for me to build a solid offense. By the time I started getting through his removal, Bob had more than enough instants and sorceries in game to summon a wave of Zombies (I believe there were 9 of them), which quickly concluded the match with my wolves having dealt barely 3 player damage.
The second game went more in my favor, with Bob suffering some unlucky draws and my wolves easily rolling from Quilled Wolf into Howlpack Resurgence into Howlpack Wolf, with a load of additional wolves in my hand. Bob could do little to nothing against this amount of feral teeth, thus concluding the second game.
The last game was more equal on both sides. Bob required some time until he could find his Rise from the Tides, giving me time to build out my board state. His occasional summoning of random zombies was just enough to slow down my attack sufficiently for him to find his Rise from the Tide, thus generating many, many zombies. Overall my main mistake during the last game probably was that I spent my Fiery Tempers to burn some of his zombies, whereas burn to the face would have been more effective as my wolves could take care of the zombies anyway. Other than that, my wolves should have been slightly more aggressive to make this a “sure thing” matchup.
After this narrow loss, I was paired with Stijn Van Damme, a newer player in our ranks, who is certainly not lacking in enthusiasm. It quickly became clear Stijn was playing a Vampire deck, resulting in the eternal battle between Vampires and Werewolves. Fortunately, us Planeswalkers don’t care very much about the emotional state of the ones we summon to fight our battles for us, so there was not much Twilight stuff going on, thank you very much. Just plain old hunger for each other’s throats and blood.
Much to my surprise, Stijn’s vampires were less aggressive than I know they can be, giving my wolves some time to gather their forces and attack in great numbers, dropping Stijn’s lifepoints at a steady pace. The second game started out very similar to the first one, taking turns in summoning a creature only to have it burned a few seconds after. Rather quickly however Stijn noticed he was unlucky in obtaining black mana, rendering him handicapped, a chance no self-respecting wolf pack passes by thus going for the easy kill. A straightforward 2-0 for my wolves, but not without giving Stijn some advice on how to improve his deck and play. As I understood it Stijn then continued that evening winning his next two matches, so I like to think I had some hand in that.
As a third opponent I was paired to Peter, my good friend in all things Magic and beyond. Peter was playing a deck which according to him is officially called “superfriends”. In short, his GB deck plays many creatures to summon Eldrazi Scions and other cards to summon tokens (Nissa,…) which he then uses to generally chump block and/or sacrifice until he eventually draws and can play a Plated Crusher, which he then uses to pummel you to death. Besides these cards, he also splashes to play a small army of planeswalkers such as Sorin (Grim Nemesis), Arlinn (Kord) and Nissa (Voice of Zendikar). The last card from Peter’s deck which I will reveal here is the Catacomb Sifter. Not because it is a surprising choice, but because I should point out this is the main axes of his deck. Without this card, his chances are greatly reduced to find his Plated Crushers, thus significantly increasing the chances for a win. Problem is, Peter does not particularly need the Crushers to win either…
The first game was fairly intense with both life points dropping steadily as Peter’s deck went wide and my wolves organised a mediocre offense. At some point Peter decides to tap out, summoning a Plated Crusher which then attacks the turn after, only to be blocked by my flashed-in Pack Guardian and his 2/2 wolfy friend. Result: dead Crusher (and sure, 2 dead wolves, but they sacrificed themselves for the pack. Noble death and all that stuff). Unfortunately, Peter by this time mangaged to go wide enough (and my wolves not numerous enough) resulting in a fast win for him.
The second game was one in the advantage of my wolves, although I kept a fairly weak hand I was lucky on the following draws, allowing me to play Arlinn on turn 4. Peter then responds with a Corpseweft of his own, creating a 4/4 Zombie Horror. By this time however my Wolf army was big enough, quickly leading to Peter resting on 4 life (against the 20 of my own) with his 4/4 Zombie Horror and an Heir of Falkenrath against my (Arlinn generated) 2/2 wolf and Ember-Eye Wolf, as well as a Fiery Temper in my hand. Peter decices to let the wolf go through, eating the Ember-Eye with his Horror. Of course, I am happy with this play, as my Fiery Temper to the face quickly brings us to game 3.
The third game was all about Peter, with me not finding any 2-drops or green mana. Peter instead goes wide and even plays both a Nissa and Arlinn before I can die. I respond to this by burning Arlinn with my Fiery Temper, and attacking Nissa with a silly Ember-Eye Wolf in order to stall a turn before Peter can induce her -2 ability, thus placing a +1/+1 counter on each of his numerous (creature) tokens. As soon as he activates this ability, he can start swinging for 7 damage each turn, quickly wrapping up the game. A very deserved win in all, and at this point I start to feel my wolves are not quite as aggressive as I had hoped.
As a last opponent of the evening I encountered Stijn Bogaert, a rather experienced and talented player in our League, who that evening was playing a RU Eldrazi deck. This deck should be very aggressive, a true race against the clock with my wolves which I was very interested to see the outcome of.
Unfortunately, in the first game Stijn forgot to remove his sideboard from a previous game, thus making sure Stijn had plenty of useless counter spells against my deck. As expected, our life totals dropped gradually, with me staying just ahead in the race. However, at some point Stijn plays his Vile Aggregate, it becoming a very strong blocker and putting Stijn ahead of the race. Two turns or so later Stijn has his first win, and can remove his silly sideboard from his deck to something more suitable to our current matchup.
In the second game I first had to mulligan down to 5, whereas Stijn had a perfect hand from the start. My opening hand: Evolving Wilds, Duskwatch Recruiter, Pack Guardian, Howlpack Resurgence and Geier Reach Bandit. Despite these nice creatures and flash enchantment, the mana was not on my side and Stijn had the clear advantage of having a great opening hand. In no time Stijn beats down my wolves and wins the game.
In the end, for those who did not bother to keep count, I went 1-3 with my wolves. Nevertheless, I was very pleased to have played the wolves as they were matched to all the stereotype decks which I expect to be a big part of the Gentry metagame. In the end it appears my wolves were often not aggressive enough to be a truly aggro deck. As I don’t quite see how I can further improve the deck’s speed (while sticking fully to the wolves theme), I feel the way to go is to give my wolves a bigger punch. One way to do so is to somehow bring in the Somberwald Alpha, however this could come at a big cost given it’s an uncommon at 4CMC, significantly slowing down my wolf pack. The future will tell us what is the best choice. Or will you?
Pieter has been a mainstay in the League since the induction of the Gentry format and usually is more than happy to sling some games before or in btween rounds of any League event. He tends to stay away from tried and true decks in order to build something he likes himself. There is probably no one looking forward to Nantuko Husk rotating out of the format more than him.