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The letter N!ot sure what to play in this weekend's PTQ?

Why not try a beatdown strategy based around a super fun card that Jon Finkel once asked me to cut from my Limited deck? Of what do I speak?

... Why the best burn spell in Standard, of course!

At least that's what Bob Baker, who appeared in the Top 8 of last weekend's Wisconsin area PTQ, told me.

(The "burn" spell, of course, being Giantbaiting!)


As you've probably figured out by now, Bob chatted me up on Facebook regarding his recent Top 8 deck performance ... What he didn't know was that I was a magician already being enspelled by one Brian David-Marshall, with the same Giantbaiting agenda. The main thrust of Brian's argument being that the so-called Giantbaiting deck simply can not lose to Five-Color Control (at least in its most common incarnations); so if you expect a lot of Vivid Creeks powering out Broodmate Dragons, perhaps Bob's deck is for you.

So here is the Top 8 list:

Bob Barker's 'Baiting Beatdown
Standard


The deck certainly has some strange choices. I am not a huge fan of two-ofs in any deck, but particularly in a beatdown deck they make even less sense to me. As is often the case, these two-ofs were indicative of Bob's not having 100% a bearing on what he wanted to play in those slots (see also the updated list); Imperious Perfect was a late addition, which was quite strong for Bob throughout the tournament.

Nettle Sentinel is a card that we have seen quite a bit of over the end of last year and much of this year, but this is the first "regular" deck where I, at least, have seriously considered it. The Sentinel is actually an over-performer in this deck, though it can take a moment to understand exactly how it fits into the map of the deck and its game plan.

There are a fair number of two-mana green spells in this deck, but you don't always have one. What I found in testing the deck was that I would often have a Nettle Sentinel, but no further play until turn three. That is actually all right, even with a first-turn Nettle Sentinel. You attack on turn two, and then before your attack on turn three, you can untap it with a Boggart Ram-Gang, Imperious Perfect, or whatever, and you can keep going without slowing down. It's just a question of timing the opportunity.


Nettle Sentinel is also superb with the signature card of this deck, Giantbaiting. I pulled this off only once in the seven tournament matches I played preparing for this article: You can open up on Nettle Sentinel, get in on turn two, and then play another creature (untapping the Nettle Sentinel). On turn three, you can play Giantbaiting, tapping both creatures to double up the Giantbaiting, and in so doing, untap the Nettle Sentinel. This gives you a hefty 10 power for your turn-three attack, 12 with a Bramblewood Paragon on the battlefield.


Speaking of Bramblewood Paragon, that is one of the other somewhat unusual signature cards played in this deck. I wasn't really sure what to do with the Paragon, but when given the option, I typically played it on the second turn, over Wren's Run Vanquisher. The Paragon is an Elf, but also has considerable synergy with Boggart Ram-Gang, Giantbaiting, and sideboard cards like Chameleon Colossus. In general if no one bothers your Bramblewood Paragon it's pretty good ... But remember that it is fairly easy to kill; don't get overly attached.

The last specific card that I want to talk about is Rootbound Crag.


Magic 2010 is still pretty new to most of us, so you might not be down with the nuances of Rootbound Crag and its four fellows yet (I know I was screwing up to begin with). Usually you just want to play a Mountain or Forest on turn one. When you do that, all your Rootbound Crags are basically just Taigas. This might go against your first instinct, which would be to treat Rootbound Crag as a Shivan Oasis and play it on the first turn. The problem is that if you have a heavy nonbasic hand (especially with multiple Rootbound Crags), that play can slow you down instead of counterbalancing the fact that you applied the "comes into play tapped" limitation on the turn where it would have the least down side (theoretically). It is very non-intuitive for those of us who are used to playing with Invasion and Ravnica (and to a lesser degree Shards of Alara) multi-lands, but I'm sure you'll get the hang of it quickly.

Bob disliked his sideboard for the most part, saying Snakeform and Chameleon Colossus were the only great cards, though obviously there is a great deal of utility to Kitchen Finks and Volcanic Fallout. That said, when I took this strategy into the queues, I played an updated list Bob sent me:

Mike Flores's 'Baiting Beatdown
Standard


Before actually playing I would have said that I liked the two-of Twinblade Slasher no more than Wild Nacatl, but it was actually quite good. The fact that Twinblade Slasher is an Elf actually helps a lot of the other cards, and its ability to go 3/3 can push it past White Weenie creatures, which are typically more efficient combat creatures than green's at low mana. The element that really makes it worthwhile, though, is wither. With Putrid Leech the de facto best two-drop in the room, the ability to meet it with wither—right through the +2/+2 pump—is as compelling as it may be surprising.

I played a couple of games in the Tournament Practice room on Magic Online but quickly moved onto actual tournaments. Following is a quick chronicle of my first seven tournament matches with the deck:


In the first match, my opponent's first play was an Elsewhere Flask. I was very happy to see this because that meant he was the Time Sieve combo deck. This deck has been—to my mind, anyway—disproportionately represented in the one-on-one queues on Magic Online. Time Sieve is actually a horrendous matchup for a lot of the decks I like to play in the queues ... but I assumed this deck would be a fine one against the hated Howling Mines.

I was right.

In Game 1 I got a nice Nettle Sentinel curve and did a little damage with creatures before my opponent could set up; meanwhile I sandbagged my burn spells ... for when he played Time Warp. When most of his mana was tapped, I tried to kill him with Lightning Bolt, and succeeded.

I didn't sideboard between games. I thought a long time about siding in Volcanic Fallout as a closer (and because I knew I could get it to resolve), and I wasn't sure about Giantbaiting against a Pollen Lullaby–based defense, but in the end, I kept the core 60 unchanged.

In the second he played two early Howling Mines, which just set up my Lightning Bolts. Incidentally I have found that a lot of decks that are not fundamentally good against Time Sieve are capable of stealing sideboarded games by bringing in their Lightning Bolts (games being close but no longer unwinnable, essentially). It worked the same way in this case, only the Giantbaiting deck didn't have to do any stealing.



At the outset of my second match, the opponent started with a Gilt-Leaf Palace, showing Llanowar Elves, then playing that most classic of Elf one-drops. Second turn was Bitterblossom.

We went back and forth a bit, and I was surprised at the presence of Murderous Redcap. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised ... the card is pretty good, especially with his having multiple Profane Commands. When the Commands first appeared in Lorwyn it looked like Profane Command was going to be a close second to Cryptic Command ... but that hasn't really panned out over 2009. Right now, I'd say Cryptic is most closely challenged by Primal Command, and even Incendiary Command was making some noise a couple of months back. Anyway, my opponent's Profane Commands were powerful in the first. I kept dealing with his Redcap, and it kept coming back to kill my Perfect or whatever, and he won the attrition war.

I sided out Giantbaiting, Twinblade Slasher, and one Flame Javelin for Volcanic Fallout and Chameleon Colossus.

Unfortunately I had to mulligan to start the secondgame , but came out strong with Wren's Run Vanquisher showing Chameleon Colossus, then a Boggart Ram-Gang. My opponent played Mark of Asylum, which made my swap of a Flame Javelin for any number of Volcanic Fallouts quite inefficient.

Anyway, as I swung for 6, I felt like there was no way I couldn't win ... which is a dangerous thought. He came back with a pair of Kitchen Finks, which really stole back the initiative. I attacked only with Boggart Ram-Gang the next turn, because I didn't want him blocking my Vanquisher to get a trade plus life; he bit and I played Chameleon Colossus. More than anything else I wanted his Finks off the board because it is really good at chump-blocking Chameleon Colossus.

His second Finks, though, made the battlefield thoroughly annoying, and he followed up with a Profane Command for even more Kitchen Finks (killing Boggart Ram-Gang in the processs). The game got all messy at that point, and I eventually succumbed under a two-Imperious Perfects-to-one disadvantage.



I lost the next match to a white-blue deck with Meddling Mage, Knight of the White Orchid, and what revealed itself to be the bane of this deck ... Baneslayer Angel! If there is one thing that the Giantbaiting deck doesn't like, it's a Baneslayer. In the first game I pulled a miracle land to double Flame Javelin a Baneslayer. In the second, I sent everyone from mere battlefield to red zone, got a block, and used Snakeform for exactly what it is there for ... and in both games he just played another Baneslayer Angel.

If it is any "consolation" I actually misclicked to miss an attack and would have certainly won instead of giving him a turn to play an additional Baneslayer Angel, but I would have had to win in the third (not that a missed attack stings any less).


At this point I almost stopped playing because the initial performance was pretty disappointing. However especially since losing to the white-blue deck was in great measure my own fault, I decided to keep playing to a total of seven matches... and I am glad I did.


My opponent was also playing a deck with Bramblewood Paragon, Boggart Ram-Gang, and so on. In the first we got the same draw, but I went first. I sent a lethal Flame Javelin to close a game that was basically two players throwing haymakers at each other.

I sided out Giantbaiting and Nettle Sentinels for Kitchen Finks and Chameleon Colossus.

In the second I drew all lands and he finished it with a Flame Javelin.

In the third, I got the opposite mana draw—a stall on three—and never was able to play the two Chameleon Colossuses and Bloodbraid Elf in my hand. However with two Bramblewood Paragons drawing fire, one Boggart Ram-Gang was able to go all the way, essentially. I drew three Flame Javelins to finish it off (over several turns, obviously, on account of being stuck on three).



The next fight opened with a frustrating opening hand. I had three lands but they were all Mountains ... and my every spell was green. I ended up mulliganing to four cards—a Lightning Bolt and three lands.

My first play in the first game was not until turn five, a Bloodbraid Elf for Nettle Sentinel. This wasn't enough (not surprisingly), and we quickly went to boards.

I sided out Giantbaiting for three copies of Volcanic Fallout and one Chameleon Colossus (I didn't want to overcommit on the big Green fella, which is actually slow a lot of games, because I knew my opponent was playing Sower of Temptation).

Game 2 was pretty easy to win. Tricky blocks with Scion of Oona are no match for Lightning Bolt!

The third was another quickie; I flipped Volcanic Fallout with Bloodbraid Elf to get a huge advantage. My opponent was forced to later tap down to Cryptic Command my growing squad. I seized the opportunity to land a Flame Javelin, and Bitterblossom eventually finished my opponent off for me even though my attacks were not going to do it.



After the previous match, I joined another queue and was immediately paired with another Faeries deck. Huzzah! The Giantbaiting deck is quite good against the little blue and black flyers, and without a mulligan to four, there wasn't a lot of resistance to my Game 1 dream draw:

I opened up with Wren's Run Vanquisher, then Imperious Perfect. My opponent was forced into trying to play "Forcefield" with Bitterblossom, but with Imperious Perfect producing a 2/2 every turn, this was no kind of strategy. Lightning Bolts ended it.

I sided Volcanic Fallouts and one Chameleon for Giantbaiting again.

I flipped Fallout on a turn four Bloodbraid Elf .... My opponent conceded before anything interesting actually happened.



For my last match I got to finally run the biggest incentive to the deck (for the first time).

Turn one Twinblade Slasher (met with Elite Vanguard).

I attacked (no block); turn two Bramblewood Paragon.

Turn three I attacked for 10 with two 5/5 Giantbaiting tokens!

My opponent conceded right after that.

Despite the Giantbaiting's cool factor in the first, I still sided it and Nettle Sentinel out for a faux mana ramp package of Kitchen Finks and Chameleon Colossus. My theory was that the White Weenie deck would not be impressed with a 2/2 for one, and if he had any board presence at all, Giantbaiting would not be good enough to get through. On the other hand, Kitchen Finks is a great blocker, even against first strikers, to buy time.

In Game 2 I just one-for-one'd his creatures and kept getting in with a Paragon. I was actually surprised at this win but my opponent's draw did look a little awkward.


So after seven matches (and remember, these tournament match-ups were not progressive like they would be in a PTQ Swiss but essentially a new Round 1 every time), we turned it around a bit to finish 20 ratings points up, which is not bad at all. And if not for missing that attack .... Who knows?

If you want to try playing this deck, after a dozen or so matches, I can say that the most difficult tension is whether to play Bramblewood Paragon or Wren's Run Vanquisher on the second turn. There are many reasons you might play either card. If you don't have another Elf, you usually have to play the Vanquisher (also at issue is the potential to having to pay more mana later). Aside from short term damage, Bramblewood Paragon certainly has the greater potential. It makes Imperious Perfect and Boggart Ram-Gang and Chameleon Colossus shine in subsequent turns (more than these great cards already do, that is).

I currently have Bob's deck on my very short list (along with the Conley Woods Jund Mannequin deck and Grixis Mannequin) for PTQ play this weekend. The only reservation I have is Baneslayer Angel ... How am I supposed to beat that gal again? Please! Give me a Broodmate Dragon. :)

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