Grand Prix Columbus took place last weekend, and I played UW Tron. Unfortunately, I just missed Day 2 with a record of 6-3. This was a pretty disappointing finish for me, considering the hours I put into playing Modern in preparation for this Grand Prix. For reference, here is the deck I played:
If you read my article discussing this deck from last week, you might notice that the list I ended up playing is almost identical to the list I was ready to play on the Thursday before the Grand Prix. The only change I made was to add two more Celestial Colonnades to the deck in place of the two Seachrome Coasts. On the morning of the GP, Luis finally convinced me to add more Celestial Colonnades to the deck, and since Seachrome Coast comes into play tapped more often than not, Celestial Colonnade took its place. Throughout the tournament, Celestial Colonnade performed way above my expectations, and I’m very glad I made the switch. My matchups for the Grand Prix were as follows:
Round 1: Bye
Round 2: Bye
Round 3: RG Tron (1-2)
Round 4: BR Burn (2-1)
Round 5: Bant Aggro (2-0)
Round 6: Naya Pod (2-1)
Round 7: Mono-Red Burn (2-1)
Round 8: Naya Pod (0-2)
Round 9: Mono-Blue Merfolk (0-2)
It goes without saying that it’s a bit disappointing to lose both the last rounds when you only need to win one of them to make the cut for Day Two. Nevertheless, at the end of any big tournament I try to look back and pinpoint specific things I did well, as well as any specific things I could have done differently. Although at first glance some of these may seem obvious, these are the lessons that were reinforced for me by my experience at GP Columbus.
1) Play a Deck you Enjoy Playing
I feel like I did a pretty good job following this lesson. Although I haven’t played UW Tron much in the past, I immensely enjoy playing the deck. Most of my matches were very close, and if it weren’t for the slight edge I gained by enjoying myself, I very well might have done even worse.
When you enjoy playing your deck, you’ll enjoy your matches during the tournament. When you enjoy your matches, you’ll naturally play better. My friend Standish “Dish” Choi is the best example of this philosophy. Although he doesn’t play much anymore, Dish is one of the best Constructed players I know.
He isn’t good at Constructed because he always plays the best deck however, or because he playtests a lot in order to find new tech for each tournament. He’s good at Constructed because he always plays aggressive decks. He knows that he enjoys playing aggressive decks and he refuses to play anything else. In fact, most of the time Dish will refuse to play a format if there isn’t a good aggressive strategy available. Although this strategy seems to work great for some people, I’m not advocating that everyone pick a single deck to always play in every format. But if you know what types of decks you enjoy playing, and if you stick to them, it will make your deck selection a lot easier.
At Pro Tour Berlin 2008, Dish was set on playing Zoo from the very beginning. On our plane flight to Berlin, he handily demolished every deck that I played against him until I decided to switch to his Zoo deck. We both really enjoyed playing the deck, and as a result it was the first Pro Tour where I made Day Two. Although, we both might have done better if Dish hadn’t convinced me to play four maindeck Burrenton Forge-Tenders in a tournament that ended up being dominated by Elves.
2) Play a Deck you Have Experience With
This is definitely a piece of advice I should have followed. Even though I did enjoy playing UW Tron very much, I hadn’t really had much experience with it prior to the Grand Prix. I played the deck a small amount in previous seasons, and I was able to get a handful of matches in during testing this time around, but I hadn’t played the deck enough to really know it inside and out. The only obvious play errors I made were in matches that I ended up winning anyway—but if I made misplays in those matches, I might have misplayed in matches I lost as well. Because I didn’t have a ton of experience with the deck, I didn’t play as optimally as I could have, and that might have cost me Day Two.
The deck I should have played at Grand Prix Columbus was actually the Zoo deck that Owen Turtenwald piloted. When Owen told me about his deck on Saturday morning of the Grand Prix, I was kicking myself for not trying out Zoo more during testing. I played Zoo to quite a bit of success during the Pro Tour Barcelona Qualifier Season earlier this year, and I’ve played Zoo in many tournaments in the past (such as Pro Tour Berlin). I enjoy the deck, and I have a ton of experience with it, but I dismissed it this time around because I wrongly assumed it couldn’t beat Naya Pod reliably. If I had actually stuck to what I have more experience with, I could have tuned the deck enough to beat Naya Pod, such as Owen did by adding Gaddock Teeg and Pillar of Flame.
During the Pro Tour Hollywood Qualifier Season back in 2008, I got second place at the first PTQ with Doran. I lost in Top 8 at the next PTQ when I played Previous Level Blue. I gradually did worse and worse at every other PTQ and GP that season, because each time I chose to play a different deck. I made the common mistake of thinking that the deck I was playing wasn’t good enough, since I hadn’t gotten the results I wanted. As it turned out, almost every deck I played during that season could have been good enough to qualify me for the Pro Tour had I stuck with the deck for more than a single tournament. Because I kept switching decks trying to find the “right” one, I never allowed myself the time to get completely comfortable with any particular deck and learn how to play it as best as I possibly could.
What most people don’t understand about deck selection is that there are usually multiple decks that are capable of doing well if you can learn to play whatever deck you choose optimally. Of course some formats are more diverse than others, but in a wide-open format such as Modern I should have picked a deck that I had more experience with than UW Tron.
3) When Playtesting, Make Sure You Use Current Decklists
This is a hard lesson to implement properly, because there is a very thin line between playtesting against decklists that aren’t tuned enough and decklists that are tuned too much. At Grand Prix Columbus, I chose to play UW Tron because it had such a good matchup against Naya Pod during testing. Once I landed an [card elesh norn, grand cenobite]Elesh Norn[/card], it was extremely hard for the Pod deck to win. They had few ways to remove it, with the vulnerable Fiend Hunter usually being the option. At the Grand Prix, I beat Naya Pod once in an extremely close match, and I lost to Naya Pod once in a very one-sided match. Although this is a relatively small sample size, these two matches seem to indicate that the conclusions I reached about my Naya Pod matchup were slightly mistaken. So what went wrong?
The Naya Pod decklist I had been testing against was the one from the Top 4 of Grand Prix Yokohama last month. Although this decklist is still close to the one many people were playing at Grand Prix Columbus, it had yet to include one crucial card: Zealous Conscripts. Zealous Conscripts was added to the deck with the primary function of getting an edge in the mirror match by hijacking the opponent’s combo. As it turns out, Zealous Conscripts is also an excellent way to punch through an opposing [card elesh norn, grand cenobite]Elesh Norn[/card]. Alas, my strategy that had served me so well in testing now just made me vulnerable to 9+ damage, seemingly out of nowhere. This is exactly how I lost my games against Naya Pod at the Grand Prix.
When building a gauntlet to playtest against, you have to be very careful not to build decks that are too “inbred”. Inbred decklists usually come from too much testing, when you’ve tuned a deck beyond the point your opposition has, so that testing against it becomes pointless. But you also have to be careful not to build gauntlet decks that aren’t tuned enough. I had heard about Zealous Conscripts in Naya Pod before Grand Prix Columbus, and in fact many of my friends were playing it in their Naya Pod decks at the actual GP. However, I wrongly assumed this was a card that only people I knew had decided to play, when in fact most Pod lists seem to have adopted this change.
Although it can be detrimental to test against a deck that is altered too much, adding a single card like Zealous Conscripts to our Naya Pod deck in testing wouldn’t have changed the deck much, but it would have given me a chance to see if UW Tron could handle it. If I had been testing against this updated Pod deck, I might have learned before the Grand Prix that it directly interfered with my [card elesh norn, grand cenobite]Elesh Norn[/card] game plan, and I could have changed my deck to deal with it—or even switched decks completely.
4) Never Give Up on Your Goal
This lesson may in fact be the most cliché one out there, but nevertheless it’s the lesson that means the most to me moving forward from Grand Prix Columbus. I still have yet to qualify for Pro Tour Seattle, and I really hoped to do so at this Grand Prix. Although I cannot pretend my finish here wasn’t disappointing, I still have four chances left to qualify for the next Pro Tour. With one real life PTQ, two online PTQs, and GP Boston still to go, I am not giving up hope for this season. In the past, it’s taken me until the very last PTQ in the season to qualify, and I refuse to be discouraged if that happens again. I’ve learned what I can from my experience at Grand Prix Columbus, and I hope you’ve been able to learn something from my experience as well.
Thanks for reading,
greyknight7 on MTGO