Grand Prix San Antonio this weekend was a mixed, shaken bag full of cats and monkeys, too little sleep, and a bunch of werewolves. In the feverish throes the night before, I’d settled on finishing and playing a werewolves deck sarcastically titled “Team Jacob.” I can only hope it ruined some official’s day by having to file it into a database somewhere.
A first Grand Prix is a thing to behold. Nearly a thousand magic players (re: cats and monkeys in a bag), and fairly little direction. Match-ups being posted is equivalent to throwing said bag over the bridge and into the river. Enough said on that.
The wolves deck I brought was a scruffy mess hoping to surprise my opponents. Werewolves can pack a punch in numbers, and 5th turn victory/decapitations are common. But having played very little competitive standard, I wondered where the power level and pacing would stack up, especially since pacing is so important in getting the wolves to flip into the nasties they really are. The general idea is Reckless Waif, Mayor of Avabruck, Kruin Outlaw, Immerwolf, Huntmaster, Wolfrir (paired with Kruin Outlaw ideally), and some Moonmists, Rancors, and Flings to get the job started and finished.
The first game matched me against a Thragtusk build. As an inexperienced Standard player, I was in for a quick lesson in the majestic beauty of the wild tusked boar-cow thingy. My second turn Mayor of Avabruck atop an unflipped Reckless Waif was no good against my opponent’s third turn ramped Thragtusk (affectionately referred to as “Swagtusk” by my opponent). As I discovered throughout the tournament, Mayor of Avabruck is just a bit too slow. Better in the sideboard against controlling decks since once he’s going he will continue to pump out wolves every turn.
Oddly, I ended up with a first round win. This was rather to my opponent’s surprise since no one (NO ONE) was or has been running wolves in any recent top 8. I thought this would be a bigger advantage than it turned out to be. Most decks meant to handle aggro at least have some built in coping mechanisms. However, the oddity of the wolves did put most players a bit off their game as an unexpected matchup—the cats and monkeys in the bag thinking, who the hell put a wolf in here, and why’s that vampire sparkly?
About 25% of my games end with my flinging a wolf for the last bits of damage. I win about the same amount with a flipped (and thus double-striking) Kruin Outlaw attached to a Rancor and paired with Wolfrir Silverheart to swing for 20-ish trampling damage in one hit. That’s really why I love this build, and how I won the first matchup. Games tend to go from 17 or 20 life down to 0 in one swing once everything flips.
The next matchup had me playing against a heavy control deck with Terminus and Supreme Verdict, Jaces, Lillianas, Sorins and Tamiyos. My path to victory in game two was my downfall when we went to turns in game three. The night before (perhaps it was the moon?), I put Faithless Looting into my sideboard so as not to loose so helplessly to board wipe scenarios. I needed some diging and rolling in the dirt in order to get the wolves back on their feet. It made sense in this matchup, but I got greedy. At the last moment on my turn, I decided I wanted more options than just the Fling in my hand and my opponent at 3 life. All I needed to do was say go and my wolves would transform into their bigger, badder, smellier selves and I could fling one for three damage and finish it. For some reason, I decided to loot and not flip my wolves, therefor having to fling a wolf at a spirit token to go for a tie but being run over in the end anyway. My wolves were flung under the control bus and left for roadkill—a punchline in the horror flick instead of the lunatic thrashing at the door of the top 8 they so wanted to be.
These are the tough lessons tougher competition is there to teach you though! You only get better by playing better opponents, and there’s a lot to be said about learning to think things through under pressure. Having a judge sitting there watching me and counting time was more pressure than I was used to, and it was hard to focus. You don’t get that learning under pressure anywhere but with the excitement of a big tournament environment.
Final thoughts and final match: The third match was the most educational as far as learning about the meta right now, even though the match only lasted 5 minutes! I’m not joking—mono red aggro into fourth turn Hellrider both times. I was dead on turn four both games. The whole time I just sat there, waiting to hit that sweet spot on turn four where my wolves usually flip and then finish on turn 5. I couldn’t block his more powerful / first striking creatures with my puny unflipped wolves. Moonmist sometimes helps to match pace with very fast decks, and the collective power of the wolves often enables them to beat my opponent’s creatures when they’ve flipped. However, pure red aggression with Hellrider is too fast for wolves to handle alone. I sided in some Pillar of Flames hoping to slow the bleeding but it wasn’t enough.
In the end, the wolves need to be faster, and perhaps ramp is the way to do it. From what I hear, the word on the meta right now is “get fast or go home.“ Now that the cat’s out of the bag, I’m just as eager for the next big event, and hoping I can bring the pain back with more precision and experience behind the wolf pack, even if it’s likely to stay a wolf pack of one player.
EDIT: Deck List: http://tappedout.net/mtg-decks/team-jacob-28-11-12-1/