Title changed to protect the innocent from what was apparently an all-too common idea -LSV
Last time I took you through our Standard testing and GP San Diego, and today I get to the actual tournament. I do find it kind of funny that people think that Tempered Steel was a terrible choice because we lost in the Top 8, but I don’t really think I need to defend it.
In any case, we were set on Steel, and it was time to battle!
Once again, I’d rather highlight the interesting things that happened throughout the rounds, rather than give you a play-by-play. Plus, typing out “and then I played a turn two Tempered Steel” over and over will just give me carpal tunnel syndrome.
So, let’s see…awesome things that happened on Day 1:
- My opponent went turn one Gut Shot, turn two Snapcaster it, turn three Phantasmal Image and run it back for thirds. Yeah, that didn’t work out so well for him (and I won a super-close game as a result).
- My opponent conceded on turn two rather than show me what he was playing, seeing as how I had a Tempered Steel and three creatures in play.
- I got to play against the eventual World Champion, and get dismantled in what would be an unfortunate case of foreshadowing. I actually needed to hit any artifact in two draw steps to kill him with Etched Champion, but even that would have just sent us to game three.
- The aforementioned Mikaeus play got made (see part 1), and I got to pat myself on the back for it. Jokes aside, plays like that are what make me love Magic, since not only had I never seen it before, I figured it out on the spot, and it was actually relevant. The fact that I can continually discover cool interactions even among the most playtested decks is awesome, and gives me hope that Magic isn’t going anywhere. I’m sure not getting bored of it anytime soon.
- Etched Champion earned the name Champ many times over, as I thoroughly demolished GW and Illusions with it. It almost made me want Darksteel Axe, but even alone it blanked whole squads of attackers, and when the time came, it bashed in for unstoppable damage. If there is a reason to play this deck even after its gone “public”, the Champ is it. You could definitely build to take advantage of it, possibly with cards such as Axe, and shrug off Ancient Grudges and the like.
- Midway through the tournament I realized that our sideboard plans were off, and started siding in Spellskites against Illusions. Maybe it was just the lists I was facing, but they all had a million Gut Shots, and one even had Tumble Magnet. The matchup is favorable enough that getting blown out by Gut Shot is one of the few ways to lose, and Spellskite even blocks their random ground guys well enough. One thing I don’t like about pre-written sideboard plans is how they mentally lock you into bad plans. Sideboarding is something that changes based on small card differences and even how the opponent plays, so don’t be afraid to adjust it often. I try to re-evaluate each matchup based on what I’ve seen in the match, even if I do know what our plan is going in. The last thing you want to do is use a written plan instead of thinking things through, since you should be able to do both (plus, I would just lose any written plan anyway; there’s a reason I ask for paper every single round).
- Matt Nass and I both did the same trick, which was to play an artifact and cast Dispatch with the Glint Hawk Idol trigger on the stack. That way, we got to kill something without fear of a Doom Blade (since our other artifacts were Moxes and Spellbombs), and still get an attack in afterwards. Managing your Idol triggers is fairly relevant, and one game I had multiple in play that I kept not triggering. My opponent was RG, and he kept passing with mana up, so I just hit with Memnite and the Champ instead of getting greedy. Finally, when I had three Idols, I bashed with all three, and he even had triple Galvanic Blast, though that doesn’t make waiting wrong. There was no reason to let him use his mana earlier, especially if he just kept doing nothing.
- A few times, I drew Moorland than I wanted, but the 1/1 tokens were able to grind out a win. If I had drawn one as my fourth land in the Top 8, it would have come back to haunt me, but it didn’t.
After all was said and done, I was 5-1, along with Wrapter, with Conley at 6-0 and the rest of the team at varying records.
In the games where I didn’t nut draw, I actually played some good Magic. One thing that most people don’t realize about Tempered Steel is that the majority of games aren’t easy. For every game you dump your hand and play a Steel and just win, there are a couple games where you have to grind them out with Glint Hawk Idols and Memnites, and those games can be pretty tough. I’ve grown to enjoy attacking for two, as much as I may complain about it, and I have newfound respect for those who have been doing so forever.
In particular, deciding whether to advance your board or hit with Nexus/Idol is big, as is deciding when to pull the trigger on Dispatch. It often comes down to whether it’s worth killing a weaker target in favor of some immediate damage, and there really is no right answer. I suggest that anyone interested in playing Tempered Steel actually take the time to practice it, since the hard games with the deck are just that, and I wouldn’t recommend playing it blind under the assumption that it’s easy.
We retreated to our classic team dinner at Chipotle (I think we went there at least four times on the weekend), and then had to test Modern. Honestly, having to test during the tournament was the absolute nut low, but we didn’t have a choice. In fact, this sort of last-minute prep was what I usually make fun of other people for, but at that point we had to make the best of things.
After another fruitless evening of discussion, we retreated into our rooms and got ready for day two.
Walking into day 2, all I wanted to do was stay on course. I knew what I had to do, so as long as I didn’t get greedy, I should be ok. Honestly, sometimes I surprise even myself with the decisions I make while drafting (Consume Spirit, anyone?), so my goal was to draft in a way Ben Stark would approve of. If that meant abandoning my first pick, so be it.
My first draft was interesting. After an easy first pick of Sever the Bloodline, I had to choose between Rage Thrower and Deranged Assistant. It might seem odd, especially given my normal tendencies, but I took Rage Thrower. The thing is, I’m actually not a huge fan of UB do-nothings anymore, and RB is an archetype I like. Rage Thrower is also awesome in aggressive RB, since you can often win the game the turn he comes out, and is just a more powerful card than Assistant. I’m certainly not saying the pick is right, but it’s what I made.
It soon became clear that Black was insanely open, what with a sixth-pick Victim of Night and all, which made Kibler opening Bloodline Keeper in pack two even more of a dagger. He was two seats to my right, so now Black wasn’t nearly as open, and he had a Bloodline Keeper I might have to play against. Still, the draft went pretty well, and besides one horrendous pick (Into the Maw of Hell over my second Geistflame), I was pretty happy with what I did.
My deck ended up awesome:
Building it wasn’t hard, and really the only fly in the ointment was the manabase. Triple Crossway Vamp led me to play 10 Mountains, even if that made me uncomfortable with a Diregraf Ghoul and a Victim of Night. Had I switched out the Maw for the Geistflame I should have taken, the deck would be even better. As is, it had a good curve, a ton of removal, and even a bomb or two in Sever the Bloodline and Heretic’s Punishment (which is obviously not a real bomb, but can be close).
After winning game one, when my opponent played the following cards, I thought I was in for an easy match:
Little did I know, but I was about to get taught a thing or two about mising.
He started with Delver again in game three, but luckily I had the Geistflame (if it had been Into the Maw, I wouldn’t have been happy), so crisis somewhat averted. Wait, there’s another Delver, and it’s showing me a Caravan Vigil. Awesome.
It wasn’t over yet, but a few hits from the Delver before I killed it meant that I had only two draw steps to find an answer to his Manor Gargoyle. By “answer”, I really just mean Sever the Bloodline, and it was nowhere to be found.
I was probably more frustrated after this loss than after any other in the tournament, since I had just lost to what seemed like 4 Delvers, a Manor Gargoyle, and 18 unplayables, but there was still plenty of Magic to be played. Luckily, my friend MattK showed up with a plate of Mexican food (which he brought each day, making the tournament infinitely better), and I was able to have lunch and get refocused. Little did I know, but this wasn’t to be my last run-in with this particular opponent.
I wasn’t too happy going into this round either, since Kibler had just beaten the guy I was going to play, and I knew he had double Slayer of the Wicked, Dearly Departed, and Fiend Hunter. It’s never easy, is it?
He opened with Deranged Assistant, and like in a story told by Owen, milled Dearly Departed as he went to play a human, giving it a +1/+1 counter like it was all part of the plan. Still, he played very oddly, at one point putting a Slayer of the Wicked on the table instead of the Feeling of Dread he announced. Since it was my turn, he obviously just picked up Slayer and cast Feeling, but I was perplexed as to why he hadn’t cast the Slayer and killed my Ironfang. To make matters more confusing, he just conceded rather than play the Slayer, even though I’d already seen it.
In game two, I slowrolled my werewolves something fierce, and he eventually had to run out the Slayer in the face of my Pitchburn Devils and Screeching Bat (that I was never flipping in a million years). Predictably, that didn’t go well for him, and I escaped what was probably a very tough matchup.
Again things went poorly, and Kibler lost to someone who wasn’t my first opponent, so we could potentially play. Luckily, we didn’t, and I instead got to battle against GWr (though I never saw the red splash).
Game one was blazing fast, and despite his guys being extremely prepared for travel, triple Crossway Vampires does in fact outrace Unholy Fiend. Once he had to stop attacking, I was pretty sure the game was mine, and my assumption wasn’t incorrect.
I did not in fact brick on drawing my second Swamp of the game, and he conceded about as fast as humanly possible. It wasn’t even wrong for him to put Bonds on his guy, since it gave him the best shot of winning, but just talking about it makes me grin. To take the guy you least want killed, pretty much ever, put a creature enchantment on him (one that doubles as removal, even), and to do so despite a SEVER THE BLOODLINE of all things lurking in the opponent’s graveyard…yeah. It wasn’t a good spot, and he unsurprisingly lost.
Ok, 7-2, doing it. I salvaged what I could out of the draft, and even had good enough breaks to make it into pod 2, along with both Kibler and the Delver guy (Ken Yukuhiro). If that weren’t enough, Levy and Jun’ya were also present, along with Kyle Stoll, who I played at 10-3 in two successive Pro Tours.
This draft even got covered, much to Ben Stark’s delight (one of his favorite pastimes is pulling up our draft viewers and seeing what exactly we do when he isn’t watching). Here is the draft, in all its glory:
As you can see, I moved into GW as quickly as possible, though that first pack wasn’t exceptional anyway. Taking Priest over Midnight Haunting was tough, especially given that I had a Travel Prep, but I like the removal option enough that I’d usually do that.
A very tense moment for me was when Kyle opened a Mayor of Avabruck to my left, in pack two, but after what seemed like forever he shipped me a pack with Mayor, and all was right in the world. I had even opened Mikaeus!
The one pick I’d probably do differently is in pack two, when I took Kessig Wolf Run over Spectral Rider. Even though I had Clifftop Retreat, my deck was looking good enough that I probably didn’t need to splash Wolf Run, and having another Rider would have been awesome.
As you can see, I also got passed Gavony Township in pack three, completing what was already a very solid deck.
I agonized during deckbuilding, but eventually cut the Retreat and the Wolf Run, deciding that my deck was too good to mess around with the mana.
Two Unruly Mob and a Selfless Cathar aren’t exactly my idea of good times, but I wasn’t complaining, what with Mikaeus, Township, and Mayor (plus double Prey Upon).
This was actually the closest of my three rounds, even after I won game one very easily. Curving out with Pilgrim into three, four, and five-drops plus a Township activation on turn six does that.
In game two, things were looking pretty good, up until he cast Rolling Temblor and followed it up with a Pitchburn Devils. I even peeled a 7/7 Mikaeus, but had to trade it for Devils plus the Temblor flashback, after which a Moan of the Unhallowed destroyed me.
I definitely got too clever for my own good in game three, as I made the somewhat unconventional play of chumping a Diregraf Ghoul with Mayor of Avabruck. Ok, when you put it that way, it sounds really bad, but I did have my reasons. I pretty much knew he had Rolling Temblor in hand, based on how he was playing, and by chumping, I would grow my Unruly Mob to the point where he was just dead if he Temblored. Still, it ended up being a bit ambitious, as his other card was Pitchburn Devils, and all of a sudden he wasn’t in such a bad spot. Once he played a Skirsdag Cultist and a second Devils, I was actually dead unless I peeled. Luckily, Prey Upon came when called, and after killing his Cultist, a giant Lumberknot killed him.
It turned out that he did have Temblor the whole game, so it’s very possible that my Mayor play was still passable, but it isn’t a line for the faint of heart. I had to be really sure he had Temblor (which I was), and it had to be his best option. It’s that second part I’m not sure about, since Pitchburn Devils was a solid play that turn too. If he didn’t have Devils, my play was very good, but the presence of them made it much more suspect. I’m still not sure what the best play was, given the circumstances, but letting him kill Mayor and Unruly Mob didn’t seem great to me, especially since his Diregraf Ghoul was basically irrelevant.
Either way, I peeled out, so I must have done something right…
It was time for a rematch with Ken Yukuhiro, and this time I resolved not to get Delved.
Of course, I knew he wasn’t on Delvers this time, but a completely different style of mising. This time, he was on Invisible Stalkers, Bloodcrazed Neonates, and Auras/equipment. The cards I saw game one:
Unfortunately for him, this time I actually had a beatdown deck, and curving out with Township outraced even the mighty Invisible Stalker.
In game two, he tried to Traitorous Blood my Grizzled Outcasts with Skirsdag Cultist in play, but I put my 12th pick to use, and Ranger’s Guiled him right out of the game. Score one for an underrated card!
After I beat Ken, he proceeded to demolish Kibler with a bunch of triple-enchanted/equipped Invisible Stalkers, much to Kibler’s chagrin. Lest you think I’m making fun of Mr. Yukuhiro here, I actually think his draft strategies aren’t too bad. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume he spent less time preparing for draft than Constructed, and given that, drafting high-variance strategies can often be the correct move. It doesn’t matter how much your opponent knows about the format, Dagger on an Invisible Stalker is gonna get ‘em good. I still maintain that his first deck was a bit suspect, but this UR deck is more than fine. If the cards are there to build it, you might as well go for it, and he ended up with a respectable 4-2 in Limited.
One round left, after which I’d either be very happy or, well, not as happy? I guess x-3 would be passable, but I would have been pretty disappointed to not 3-0 with this particular GW deck.
Round 12 vs Raphael Levy
I knew I was playing either Raph or Kyle, and wasn’t unhappy to get to dodge the [card grimgrin, corpse-born]Grimgrin[/card] I had passed Kyle, though I knew nothing about Raph’s deck.
I had pretty awesome draws both games, and game one really ended on about turn six. I had out the following:
I was facing down a Scourge of Geier Reach, but Levy chose to attack, and passed with all his mana up. I obviously suspected tricks, but I had the trump card in my hand:
Raph, ever the tricky one, let me attack, but before blockers used Feeling of Dread to tap Mikaeus. I of course used it, to which he responded by casting Brimstone Volley on my Fiend Hunter, which was hiding a Makeshift Mauler. Enter Ranger’s Guile, followed by a Smite the Monstrous on his Scourge. All of a sudden, he took 9 damage and had no board. A concession followed shortly thereafter.
My opener game two was actually perfect (well, maybe one land too many):
I had an Elf, a Counterspell, and Tom goes to the Mayor. What could go wrong? The game actually went way longer than I thought it would, since even though I made a few Wolves, he put out a bunch of blockers, and started chaining flashback spells to unflip Mayor (and make sure it never flipped again). Unfortunately for him, I drew the bane of control decks everywhere:
Also known as:
And the list goes on.
Sure enough, I made some bad trades in order to grow the ‘Knot, and once it got up to speed it became unstoppable. A few turns later, and that was that!
Not only was this the best I’d ever done at Worlds, Conley was 12-0, Paulo was 10-2, and BenS, Owen, and Wrapter were 9-3! It looked like we might have a legitimate shot of putting multiple people into the Top 8, as long as we figured out SOMETHING for Modern.
Alas, that is a tale for another day (later this week), though I’m sure you will hear a few different versions. In fact, even I’m interested in hearing how other team members interpreted our testing, since we probably have slightly different viewpoints about all that.
Sample Hand: Conley’s Cruel Control deck from our Gauntlet