May 26, 2024

School’s Out Report Card – Growing a Dryad in Middle School

Middle School has long been one of my favorite expressions of nostalgic Magic. As it spans the time from 1995 to 2003, it gives me space to play with cards I ran–or wished I could have afforded–in my old playing days. Here in Nashville we don’t do regular Middle School events (which we should correct!), but luckily the Romancing the Stones club in Texas do. Their online events routinely draw 30+ players from around the world (!!) for the 6-week long webcam-hosted event. I had taken part many times before but had recently been on a hiatus. Feeling the itch, I decided to jump back in.

Last Stones event (chronicled here: https://stonesmtg.com/results/2024-02-29/) I played a take on my favorite Tradewind Rider deck that leaned more into Opposition (you can find my list pretty close to the bottom). Unfortunately it was an experiment that didn’t work. I’ve since retooled that and will likely write more on that archetype in the future. I wanted a better play experience in the most recent School’s Out Forever event, so I chose my other favorite deck, Gro-a-Tog.

List recreated in text below:

Main:
4 Quirion Dryad
4 Meddling Mage
2 Sea Drake (spicy!)
4 Opt
3 Sleight of Hand
4 Portent
4 Daze
4 Force of Will
2 Counterspell
4 Fire/Ice
4 Gush
1 Winter Orb (Frostbringer as 61st card)
4 Mox Diamond
4 Flooded Strand
4 City of Brass
1 Plains
8 Island (with the best art of all the “mana symbol” basics)
Sideboard:
3 Chill
2 Pyroclasm
4 Swords to Plowshares
2 Annul
2 Disenchant
1 Armageddon
1 Winter Orb

Before getting into the rounds, I want to note that the deck isn’t very good. It’s a tempo deck (aggro-control I suppose) that uses all 5 colors typically and relies on Mox Diamonds and City of Brass since dual lands aren’t available. An early Dryad is key, and that doesn’t happen often. Similarly, the current metagame is tough for Dryad to thrive. I mentioned to my buddies that this deck is typically a 3-3 deck, with a swing either way to the worst result being 2-4 and the best being 4-2. I had no intention of making the cut to Top 8. I just love the cards and the stamped/signed/unique copies of the cards I have in the deck.

Round 1 – Mackerel Guy on Slivers

My first match paired me with Mackerel Guy, one of the Middle School players in Japan. The Japanese crew love Middle School and I’m not sure how it caught on there. But I’m glad it did, because they’re cool guys that love the game and format and really do some cool stuff. Mackerel exemplified this by building a Xerox style counter-sliver list. As the match played out I saw similarities between both our decks and I couldn’t tell him enough how much I loved his deck.

G1 – He plays out Plated, Muscle Slivers, I grow a Dryad to a 3/3, but he is able to get 1 more toughness on his slivers than I can deal with. He lands a Winged Sliver and flies over for the win.

G2 – I board out Sleights, a Daze, and Counterspells to bring in 4 Swords and 2 Pyroclasm. I regret removing Engineered Plague from my board prior to the tournament, but I hope this is enough removal. I look at my first seven and see Mox, Mox, Island, Portent, Daze, Mage, and another card I can’t remember. In hindsight, I should have kept this for Island Portent with Daze backup. I am a bad Magic player, so I chose to mull this. The next hand has no lands. So I go to 5. The next 5 has a plains and all blue cards. Oh no. I finally find and keep 4: Island, Opt, Pyroclasm, Swords. Basically where I was before, but down 3 cards.

Mackerel plays 3 (!) Plated Slivers and a few other things that overrun me. I can’t say I lost to my own deckbuilding/mulligan choices, though those played a part. MG’s deck had the juice.

0-2 games
0-1 matches

Round 2 – Masa on Replenish

Masa is another one of the Japan guys! I thought I wouldn’t get to play this match. This round happened during the Old School Kumite tournament weekend, which would put me on the road from Fri-Sun, which is the best time for playing with folks in Japan. Luckily, Masa was gracious and decided to end a long day of Old School and partying by going back home to jam MS on webcam with me. It was midnight for him and about 10am for me, so it worked out. Masa’s deck is terrifying to me since it has tons of creature removal and a big combo finish.

G1 – I mull to 6 and go on the draw. I land a Meddling Mage naming Replenish. He uses Attunement and yards 8 cards looking for something. He casts Parallax Wave, which I Daze and he cannot pay for. I land a Drake which is promptly removed with a Seal. With the help of his pain lands, I chew him down and mark my first win.

G2 – I board in my extra Worb and my Geddon along with all my enchantment hate. Luckily, I see the nut opener: Island, Mox, cantrip, Mage, Drake, Gush, Force. After some cantripping setup, on turn 3 I play a second island, tap both islands for UU, which I hope to use to play with the Drake after discarding the island to a Mox, I return them to Gush, draw into Mox Diamond and Annul. The Mox changes my plan. I play both Moxen, discarding both lands, and then tapping the Moxen for Meddling Mage (on replenish) and using UU for Winter Orb vs. his three tapped lands. He made a noise that told me he was just as excited to see me pull that off as I was. Next I land a drake off a single plains and start beating. Despite Sealing my Worb, the rest of his cards are still cold and I run in for the win.

I feel that in my first round, I made a mistake pulling cantrips from the deck. I don’t have a ton of reps with this (which is because I have too many MS decks that I don’t regularly play) so it was a tough lesson to learn. But I rectified that in the second round. This time, I pull Fire/Ice and a 4th Dryad from the main for my removal. It worked out much better since my cantrips were still available to help me dig for the cards I needed.

2-2 games
1-1 matches

Round 3 – Matt on Terrageddon

Terrageddon is the modern boogeyman of Premodern but is just as good in Middle School, where Land Tax is still legal. Matt wasn’t on the Oath plan, but he still had Terravores (the original good Goyf), spicy Anurid creatures, and a trio of Armageddons, all backed up by the incredibly strong Tax/Rack engine.

G1 – I keep a hand of Mox, Opt, Plains, 4 spells. I Mox pitching Plains into Opt… into Opt… into Portent… into Opt… and whiff on lands for 3 turns. Two Terravores are on the table at this point and I concede to Armageddon.

G2 – Things work out. I land an early Dryad and pour on the Miracle-Gro. I have the removal to keep him off his threats. He concedes and we go to G3.

G3 – His first play is to Duress me to steal an Opt. The rest of my hand is Meddling Mage, Drake, and 4 lands. He plays a Tax, I hit back with Mage naming Scroll Rack. This ties him up the rest of the game. Reinforcements for my Mage arrive as my Drake and a growing Dryad are on the table. He lands a Sylvan to dig for more answers, but can’t find them. I FoW a Zuran Orb to prevent his last ditch effort.

4-3 games
2-1 matches

Round 4 – Ty on UR Stasis

This was perhaps some of the best Middle School I’ve played in a long time.

G1 – I’m on the play with another nut draw. City of Brass into Island for a Dryad with Daze backup. He casts Fire on the Dryad, which I Daze. Things are going well. He plays a Forsaken City (uh-oh) and then a Gush. A Stasis hits the board as my Big/Big Dryad is tapped out. I concede and we go to G2.

G2 – My early Dryad is given a pink slip once again, which takes. I follow up with a Sea Drake and start beating. Then he plays one too! We’re at a standstill for a while until I find a Mage naming Stasis with him at 1 life. Many turns of Gushes and FoWs later, I finally get the last damage in.

G3 – Drake is the first creature I play, and it is Forced. More Gushing happens and he lands his own Drake and beats up on me. I find my second (and last) and resolve it. The rest of this blow-by-blow is from my notes and recounts one of the best back and forths I’ve had.

I resolve a meddling mage naming stasis, which may have been a misplay. I have a disenchant in hand. I use it later on against a black vise which allows me to Gush. I play a second mage. And and make my biggest mistake naming Pyroclasm. He has four Drakes in the deck and I only have two, both of which I have seen. I have only seen two of his Drake’s and I should have named Drake. None of this matters because he had the Pyroclasm in hand anyway, so it was the right call for information I didn’t know but probably the wrong call overall. These are always funny decisions. Not wanting to continue to stand off I attack in and he blocks my Pyroclasm Mage. Next turn he cast Pyroclasm. He attacks for four and takes me to four. I continue digging. My Drake does not attack. I pass the turn and he casts Stasis. Then he casts Chain of Vapor on my Drake. He had the counter backup for if I wanted to copy the Chain. The last 4 damage comes in to close one of the best MS matches I’ve ever had.

Oh, and I boarded in Chill instead of Swords because I didn’t expect him to have FOUR Sea Drakes. Silly me.

5-5 games
2-2 matches

Round 5 – Ocksrock on Rock

I took very bad notes this time. Ocks is super cool (as everyone has been) and we had a great time chatting in our games. His junk rock build is great and grinds very well.

G1 – Lots of back and forth trades, Nether Spirit providing a vital recurring blocker to my Dryad. Necro seals the deal.

G2 – Swords, Worb, Geddon come in. Worb is my opener and I’m on the play. Ocks T1 Duresses me for the Worb, which he was very afraid of. From there, Sea Drake hits a couple of times, but gets removed. His Treetop Village lives up to its name and Beats on Blue. Meddling Mage is a puny runt compared to a pair of Call of the Herd tokens. I’ve really been sleeping on that card and I feel like I might explore CotH in the future. I take the L, but it was a pleasure nevertheless.

5-7 games
2-3 matches

Round 6 – Joseph on Terrageddon

Another Terrageddon deck! It is a popular and powerful choice. Joseph was a Premodern refugee fleeing the Land Tax ban.

G1 – I keep a good opener, but only lack green mana for the Dryad (my kingdom for dual lands!). I land Mage on Scroll Rack, which is promptly sent to the farm. I durdle until Gushing into a CoB to play the Dryad. He casts Ravages of War (!!) and Terravore with open mana to fade my Daze. This is really where maindeck Swords would have been preferred. I concede and we go to game 2.

G2 – Daze a Werebear. Durdle. Annul a Defense Grid. Get a Drake plowed. He casts Zorb and Terravore. I plow the goyf. I take him from 25 to 14 with a Meddling Mage, then land my Dryad, which takes it home.

G3 – Another mull to 5 on the draw. He T1 Land Taxes and I draw the other card I need to T1 a Dryad. I’m hitting with a 5/5 Dryad a turn later with the Mage on Terravore (my most feared card here). He lands a bear which doesn’t have threshold. I take him to 2. He casts Abolish on my Mox Diamond, taking me off non-blue. I desperately want red mana and a Fire. He gets thresh and hits at me with his 4/4 after plowing my Dryad. For multiple turns he tax/racks into lots of good stuff and I draw complete air.

I have one final draw step… On my upkeep he casts Orim’s Chant (!!)… But wait! He has a Defense Grid out, which requires him to pay 3 extra (pesky symmetrical cards). This taps him out, allowing me to return and Island and Daze the Chant. My out here is that I draw Gush on my draw step, then Gush into Mox and Fire to win the game.

Would you believe, none of that happened.

6-9 games
2-4 matches

Thoughts on the Deck

It stayed true to my expectations at being pretty mid. Daze did a lot of good work for me, but I think I would have benefitted more from Swords main deck. Likewise, Engineered Plague would have helped me in the Slivers matchup. Overall, I think the mana is just bad. Without dual lands, early Dryads just aren’t consistent enough. One of the cards I was surprised with the most was Sea Drake. It is a great beater, but there were more times times it hurt me by bouncing lands than I got to benefit from Gushing those lands back. Evasion is wonderful, but sometimes I wanted a Psychatog to just get big and eat an opposing attacker. I don’t think it mattered materially and statistically, but I’m also coming back down to 60 cards. Playing 61 is a nasty habit and in a deck with such specific opening hand needs, I don’t want to go above the minimum. I do really like Counterspell here, but often wish I had more mana to cast it. That could be partly due to the Sea Drake tax. I’m sticking with 2 for now, with a single Daze for mind games.

I’m retooling the deck slightly for further play:
-3 Daze
-1 Fire/Ice
-1 Sea Drake
-1 Winter Orb
+3 Swords (replacing 3 of the 4 Dazes)
+1 Armageddon (replacing the Worb, just to try it out)
+1 Psychatog (replacing a Drake)

This also frees up slots in the sideboard for 3 Engineered Plagues. I dropped the Pyroclasm and replaced them with a Smother (to add one more blanket removal piece vs. elephant tokens, goyfs, etc) and a Misdirection (which could be a good way of saving a Dryad).

Overall, another great event that I had a blast in. Best of luck to all the Top 8 contenders!

Props:
The Stones for being gracious hosts putting on a great online event.
The guys in Japan for being very accommodating when it comes to scheduling with people half way across the planet
All my opponents for giving me great matches and vital data
MCOS fellows for discussing the performance and helping retool things for the future

Slops:
Me, mainly for bad deckbuilding, sideboarding, and misplays
WOTC for talking themselves out of printing dual lands into Ice Age

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