Hello, loyal readers, and welcome to GDC.  Just as a quick FYI, I’m giving thought to moving the regular Wednesday update to Thursday in order to be able to better leverage reporting on my regular mid-week games.  (I *could* save the reports for Friday, but I’m old, and if I don’t type up results as soon as they happen, I’ll end up leaving out about 90% of what happened.  No bueno.)  What say you all?  Let me know in the comments if you absolutely can’t go without a regular Wednesday fix.

Anyway, the coffee has kicked in, so let’s do this!

THRAXIMUNDAR – 1, AVENGER OF ZENDIKAR – 0

Ahhh…man, that feels good to say!  Avenger is rapidly approaching a place for me that rivals Bennie Smith’s hatred for Seedborn Muse; I recognize how good the card is, and I play the card in multiple decks, but I’d be raising a glass to the RC if they axed it this month.  It’s no different than Insurrection; it costs a bunch, but when it comes down, the game always seems to end on the spot, or at the very least, break badly in that direction.  Case in point – Last night, one of our regulars went from an empty board to attacking with over 400 power worth of creatures in the space of a single turn.  That’s just back-breaking to have to deal with. 

…unless you’re sitting on Thrax’s Little Helper, anyway:

“Sweat plus sacrifice equals success.”
-Charles Finley

Just after 7PM, we seated a table of five last night at our local LGS (Worlds Apart Games in Amherst, MA) for the first of two fantastic games.  I shuffled up Imshan’s Thraximundar list for the inaugural test run, set to face down Garza Zol (tribal vampires), Ulasht (a fairly strong tokens list), Atogatog (cycling!), and Hazezon Tamar. (A straight-up ‘Dune’ theme deck; the general is a mock-up from Magic Work Station with a picture of Paul Atreides, and it makes Shai Hulud tokens…so awesome.) 

Things got off to a relatively normal start.  I didn’t have a ton of early gas, but Solemn Simulacrum found me the gas I needed to build into an early Consecrated Sphinx.  AtogAtog hit an early Fluxuator and began drawing through his deck at a blinding pace, while Ulasht immediately hit Garruk and began pumping out tokens.  Garza wasted no time on a Decree Of Pain to wipe the board and draw a bunch of cards from the rampant tokens, but my Sphinx had filled my hand with gas by then.  I dropped Blatant Thievery, forcing Hazezon to sacrifice a freshly-minted Fires Of Yavimaya and netting myself a Volcanic Island, Ulasht’s Garruk, and a pair of Greaves.  Various small attacks were interspersed throughout, and life totals steadily and evenly dropped.

Ulash rebuilt around a frightening board position featuring Moldgraf Monstrosity and Sword of Feast and Famine, forcing me into my own Decree Of Pain before long.  The Sword was causing Ulasht to explode out into a serious lead, using the land untap to create a boatload of tokens each turn through various channels.  By now, Garza had tabled, along with Falkenrath Noble,  so I pointed Consuming Vapors in that direction, Recall-ed Decree and Blatant Thievery, and took the troublesome Sword, a minty-fresh Phyrexian Reclamation, and a *very* threatening Invigorating Boon.  (Ladies and gentlemen, please take this moment to verify that your sarcasm detectors are functioning properly.  Thank you!)  Ulasht tabled what could have been a game-ending Beastmaster Ascension, but was not quite able to attack with enough creatures to immediately activate it.  Hazezon tabled Hazezon, and Garza decided enough was enough, tutoring up and popping O-Stone to reset the board.

I had tabled Liliana Vess prior to the Stone, and had tutored up Steel Hellkite, figuring on a quick way to deal with the tokens from the two decks leveraging them.  Banking on the fact that Hazezon wouldn’t find a way to make his incoming horde of sand warriors hasty, I played the dragon and passed.  Ulasht played In The Web Of War after looking at his hand thoughtfully for a minute, and passed.  Hazezon untapped, tapped the top of his deck and pleaded, “C’mon Urabrask!”, but was forced to settle for eleven lazy sand warriors and a 6/6 sand wurm that gained +1/+1 from Oran-Rief.  Atogatog cycled a bunch of stuff.  Garza Zol hit the table again.

I untapped, drew, and looked at a hand of Grab The Reins and the Recall-ed Decree Of Pain.  At this point, I knew Ulasht was up to something.  Seeing the deck in action last week, I knew it was capable of an explosive combo finish on the back of Mana Geyser into Spontaneous Generation, with a smattering of Eternal Witness thrown in for overwhelming measure.  With the Hellkite and a hasty Thraximundar, I could swing in for twelve damage, but he was one point out of reach at thirteen, and the Hazezon counterattack would wipe me out.  I decided to bank on the cycled Decree to cover me, sent the Hellkite at Hazezon to clear out the denizens of Arrakis, and passed to Ulasht.

Ulasht untapped.  “Well, I guess this is my all-in play.”, he proclaimed.  Green Sun’s Zenith for seven brought in Avenger Of Zendikar.  I breathed in.

Shared Animosity?”

He was tapped out with no sacrifice outlets.  I smiled. 

“Seems good.”, I said.

He attacked with the team. 

“How big are those things each?”, I asked. 

“Like 20 or 21 power each.”, he replied.

“What are you at?”, I asked, grinning and tapping seven red mana.

.  .  .  .  .
Overall, this build is what I was hoping to see in a mid-range Thrax deck.  I did make a few concessions for the build I ran last night; Recall is a card I’m tossing into many of my non-green builds these days for obvious reasons, and Blatant Thievery was a nod to the fact that while the deck is good at forcing people to sacrifice creatures, it is a bit weak in dealing with problem enchantments, and I wanted to have an out in the deck there.  For the most part, though, I kept with the list as presented, and I really enjoy it.
WHAT IT DID WELL
-Finding answers
-Maintaining a steady flow of card draw
-Flexibility
These were the weakest points of my original list, so this was a fantastic change.
 WHERE IT COULD SEE IMPROVEMENT
-Mana acceleration/fixing
-Heavier sacrifice theme/leverage
As is typical in this color combination, you have to shuffle, draw and pray that you get about four mana sources in your opening hand, which should carry you long enough to draw into more.  If not, it can be a coin flip, and you might end up stuck on three lands for enough turns to end up hopelessly behind.  I might consider finding a few more mana rocks of some sort to add in to smooth things out and make it easier to hit general mana in a reasonable amount of time.
The sacrifice theme is really enjoyable to play.  Part of the issue last night was that I spent most of the time playing defense instead of being a proactive threat and turning Thrax sideways, and I was facing multiple token decks.  That tends to force you into tutoring up Decree Of Pain instead of leveraging Smallpox or Innocent Blood.  I think more seat time will show me if this is strong enough as is, or if more sacrifice will make it a better all-around deck. 
All in all, I really enjoy this list.  I’ve got some tinkering to do to fit it to my metagame, and there are some solid includes that have been suggested that I’d like to give a whirl as well, (How’d I miss Slithermuse the first time around?) but for the most part, this is a very enjoyable deck to play that also maintains a nice competitive edge and can stand up to the field.  I’ll update as I play it some more.  
I think I’ll be giving Tribal Zombies another shot at my next testing session.  Next up here, however, we’ll be looking at the Sisters Of Stone Death list I’ve been threatening to reveal, as well as some accumulated play results. 
Thanks again for reading!
—>DJ 

POSTSCRIPT:  No…I didn’t come anywhere near winning that game.  The funny thing about letting a deck cycle creatures for two hours is that Twilight’s Call becomes a pretty massive beating when it finally comes down.  Garza Zol was also doing a much better job than the rest of us managing both life and resources; in the end, Hazezon and I bowed out quickly, while tribal vampires finally overwhelmed Atogatog with flyers.  Great game all around!