”So, Paulo, what would you say is the secret to your success in Pro Tours”? – Interview two days before the Pro Tour.
“It’s hard to say, it’s a combination of things… but if I have to answer one single thing, it’d be the fact that I am very good at choosing a deck to play – I very rarely play a bad deck”
My trip to Barcelona was pretty uneventful; I arrived on May 2nd and, after a somewhat confusing passage through immigration, met most of the remaining members of team Channelfireball. For that tournament, we were 13 playtesting together – Me, Luis, Eric Froelich, David Williams, Kibler, Web, Josh, Owen, Martin, Lucas, Shuhei, Ben and Conley. We stayed in a rather horrible part of town (as soon as we got there we were greeted by a book that had a list of “possible scams people will use on you”, which included things like spraying toothpaste on your shirt and then stealing your wallet as they move to clean it), and we didn’t do much for the days preceding the tournament other than eating and playing Magic (though when I say “eating” you might underestimate the amount of time it took us – group dinners were routinely 2+ hours, and included deep conversations about random stuff like the Split or Steal game). Since we were 13, we split into two apartments – 7 and 6. I got the Sofa Bed, which meant that, while I had a double bed all for myself, it was also sort of in the middle of the room, and I was easily woken up, which did not bode well for my sleeping schedule.
Despite the fact that playing Magic was all we did, we ended up doing a horrible job at that; we didn’t draft nearly as much as we should have, and our Constructed testing was abysmally bad. The one thing we were good for was finding Wolfir Silverheart – we quickly realized the card was very good, and sort of discarded the decks that could never beat it (i.e. RUG). Other than that, though, we didn’t really know what to do, since we had no idea what people were going to play. Soon enough, we established that Control was sort of unplayable, and then we started trying different versions of aggro decks – Mono Red, UR, Delver (all of those were not good enough because cheap removal was abundant and it was impossible to stick an early threat into play, therefore making all your burn a lot worse), Boros, Zombies, GW, RG. For a while we had Zombies as a real possibility, but it turned out to be too inconsistent for most of the players, and then we ended up with GW and RG as possible deck choices. Our gauntlet consisted mostly of those three decks plus Boros, so it’s safe to say we got extremely inbred from the start.
As the days passed, even our eating took less time, as we kept ordering from the same Kebab place nearby. The first time we did, Martin went to pay and a conversation similar to this happened: “how much is it?” “33 euros” “33?! Can I see the bill?” “oh, wait, it’s 24 euros”. Riiight. Still, he reported the food to be good (and it was cheap, if you don’t include the tax for being foreign), so we kept ordering. Since me and Luis were the only ones who spoke some Spanish, I did most of the ordering, and we’d routinely call three times a day, to the point where they already knew who we were and often brought us extra drinks as “gifts”. That left us with a lot of extra time, which we proceeded to use for absolutely nothing.
Two days before the tournament, we finally decided to test against other decks – the WUR control deck, for example. We didn’t expect it to be good, and it didn’t disappoint – we found out it only beat an aggro deck if it Miracled Terminus, as turn 6 was often way too late. The other “new” decks we tried, though, were a problem – they were beating my deck of choice, GW. Would people play those decks, though? It takes a lot to go into a tournament playing a deck with 20 removal spells, even if you don’t expect a ton of control. You see, it’s not really about your perception here, but people’s perception – we thought Control was unplayable, but when has that ever stopped anyone? I’m pretty sure Control was horrible last Worlds too, and people not only played it a lot but some even did very well with it. I didn’t really want to play a deck that scooped to a Dissipate, even if, logically, there should be no Dissipates. Besides, what if there was actually a good control deck that we were missing?
In the end, we misread the metagame badly – at least I did. We expected people to play Control, because that’s what people always do (and GW has a good game against the slow, Terminus decks, as well as RUG), and we expected them to play Boros, which we beat (not slaughtered or anything, but a favorable matchup overall). We did not expect them to play the midrange decks that seemingly everyone played. Thus, we played GW (or most of us did – Lucas and Kibler played RG and Conley played Zombies).
In our defense, there were a couple of external factors that led to this – the first of them being that half the team got sick at one point or another. I spent a little more than a day feeling badly, throwing up and sleeping for hours in the middle of the day (aka siesta) – and I know what you are thinking, but that was before I ever ate from the Kebab place. Other people had it a lot worse than me (and lasting a lot longer), and some were still feeling horribly by the day of the tournament, which definitely hindered our mood and our testing. There is also the fact that this was the last tournament of the season and, for most of us, that made it less important than all the others, because we were already Platinum and almost locked to our national teams or the Player’s Championship. Again, not really a good excuse, but it’s harder to dedicate much when you don’t care much, and we definitely didn’t care as much for this tournament as we did for others.
For me, there was another problem – a couple weeks before I left, I had Tendinitis in both wrists. That meant it hurt for me to write, type and shuffle – no big deal, really, that’s only my entire life right there. I saw doctors and did exams, but there isn’t much you can do other than exercises, and that takes a long time. If you don’t watch it, though, it might become permanent. As such, I was terrified – it didn’t really hurt that much, but I wasn’t even pushing it, what would happen during the tournament? Would I be unable to shuffle? To handle the cards? Forever?! That led me to abstain from playing much – in many of the drafts, for example, I sat out because handling the cards was hurting my hands, and I wanted to be in good shape for the Pro Tour. Every day, I put ice on both wrists and did exercises, but I was still scared of playing much and in many occasions I passed on playing, deciding to watch instead or, if no one wanted to play, to do nothing.
In the end, this is what we played:
I can’t say I recommend this deck; the concept was interesting, and it does have a decent matchup against random control decks, Boros and I imagine the Spirits deck that got second (though I don’t actually know if you beat the Miracle decks, because of Evacuation – I imagine that you do but did not test the particular matchup), but that’s such a small percentage of the metagame that it’s not worth having a bad matchup against everything else. More than that, the mana is just not good – many many games I died with WGG in play and Paladins and Fiend Hunters in my hand. In fact, I’m surprised how it is that anyone else in their tournament cast their spells – the mana in GW seems better than most, with 3 Ranger, 4 Pilgrim, 4 Dual lands and only 2 colors, but that didn’t stop my opponents from casting t3 Fiend Hunter, t4 Falkenrath Aristocrat out of their four color decks as I sat uselessly with Paladins in my hand. Overall, we were 10 players, and I suspect we went just above 50% with it, which is horrible since none of us are particularly bad players – I believe Shuhei had the best record at 7-2-1.
The day before the Pro Tour, we left our apartments and moved into the hotel, which happened to be in a much nicer part of Barcelona. I’m not usually too fond of Spain, truth be told, but the area in which we stayed was very awesome, and made me change my opinion, at least partially – if it were not for the language, which I do not like, I could see myself living happily in Barcelona. I’m actually surprised the tournament was held in such a high profile location; on Sunday, we went sightseeing and found out that one of the biggest tourist attractions was a five minute walk from the tournament, the “Magic Fountain of Montjuic”, which is a big fountain with music, lights in different colors and “water show” that they turn on at night, very close to a building that looks like a castle and is apparently an art museum (and also has multiple fountains and light rays coming from it). The singing fountain and the surroundings are very beautiful, and it’s just very cool that something like this is casually available every day. The songs were actually very good too (at least I liked them), and ranged from “Barcelona” to the Star Wars theme song to songs from Disney movies (Pocahontas, Aladin, Beauty and the Beast, the Sleeping Beauty. Unfortunately no “When you Believe”, from Prince of Egypt, which would have been very fitting).
(As a side note, we also visited the Basilica “Sagrada Familia”, which was, sadly, not as cool. It was very impressive from the outside, but once we got inside most of the way was blocked to the public and we were basically confined into two rooms that are just like every other church in the world, except the ceiling was a bit higher up. Maybe I’m just not much into architecture as I’m into Disney songs…)
Anyway, I digress… we went to the site on Thursday, but didn’t find out anything interesting. We got back, ate (Gelato ) and then discussed our sideboarding choices for about 5 hours, in which a lot of people had opinions that they couldn’t really justify. I, for example, didn’t like Garruk in the main, but I won’t really be able to tell you why – the deck just looks better without it. I could tell you that it doesn’t work well with Thalia, or that the other four drops have more impact on the board, and you could tell me that it’s a powerful card, provides a different effect for the deck (removal) and gives resiliency to mass removal, and then where would we stand? We’re both correct, but which of those is more important? In the end, it’s not that stupid to go with instinct in those situations, since we didn’t have time to play as many games as it would take to decide that (which, of course, we should have done days before). Playing three games and finding out if the card was good in those games is better than nothing, but still worse than instinct that you’ve acquired from playing the deck, and we basically clashed instincts on thursday night.
I went to round one without many expectations – I thought our deck was fine, but I knew it was never going to be the best deck in the tournament.
Round 1 – RUG
He had real problems beating Wolfir Silverheart game 1 and then Sigarda, Host of Herons game 3. A lot of the people on our team liked RUG but chose not to play it exactly because of those two cards, so there you go… Game two I made a timing mistake – I played a Thalia, Guardian of Thraben turn two and then he Pillar of Flame’d it and followed it up with a turn four Garruk, killing my three drop. I had a Mayor in my hand, so I should just have played that one instead – then a turn three Thalia would have stopped a turn four Garruk.
Round 2: RW
Round 3: URW
My opponent was playing a Geist deck, not very different from the one I had tried before. The main difference was that he had Galvanic Juggernaut, which seemed a little interesting (though it’d have seemed a lot more interesting if it interacted with Pillar of Flame). In the end, Wolfir Silverheart was too much for him.
Round 4: RG
Game 1 I was stuck on lands and he got to flip Huntmaster of the Fells before I was able to do much; Game two he was stuck on lands and I got to kill him before he could do much, though not before I got to see a Tree of Redemption, which made me swap Wolves for Sigardas. By the end of game two, I had a choice to make – either I showed him Riders of Gavony, or I showed him Divine Deflection. I opted to show him Divine Deflection, despite it being the “trickier” card, because we only had one – in all likelihood, I’d not even draw it, and it’d be great if he lived the entire game in mortal fear of it (since he didn’t know I only played one). Normally, I’m not for giving the opponent free information, but in this case it seemed like knowing it would do him more harm than good. If it ever came to the point where I did draw the card, well, then there is always the chance that he either can’t afford to play around it or that he doesn’t know how to, since the card works a little different than previous versions. For example, if three 3/3s clash in combat with opposing 3/3s, you can Deflection for 3 and save all of them, preventing one point each – with cards like Shining Shoal this was not possible, since you had to choose a source, so it’s certainly not intuitive that this is how the card would work if you’ve never played with it.
Game three we both had much slower starts, and I dropped a Sigarda on turn five. On turn six I attacked and passed, and it got Bonfired for 6 on his draw step. I had Restoration Angel to continue attacking, but that soon got Fiend Huntered; I then dropped Riders of Gavony and that killed him.
Round 5: WRBG Humans/Vampires/Angels/Reanimator
My opponent this round was playing an interesting deck not unlike the reanimator version from the top 8, except I did not see any reanimating components game 1. I stalled on lands and again couldn’t stop his Huntmaster from flipping, so I died pretty quickly, but I got to see Swamp, Falkenrath Aristocrat and the 1/1 that gainst three life, so I assumed some sort of Angel of Glory’s Rise had to be involved and boarded in Grafdigger’s Cage. I’m not a fan of those reactive cards in matches where you have to be fast (since he can just overpower you with creatures, after all), but it seemed like it’d do enough if it stopped Angel, Unburial Rites and Faithless Looting, and it was only a two of.
Game two I did draw cage, which was good against the Angel he drew, but Angel was still pretty good as a body, which he had time to play since I slowed my deck with the likes of Grafdigger’s Cage. Still, it would have been Faith’s Shield in that spot, so it would have been slow anyway. The game went on for a long while with both of us flooding horribly but in the end I managed to draw one more creature than he had blockers and that was it.
Game three I mulliganed to five (with Grafdigger’s Cage present in all my three hands – why did I board it in?) and didn’t offer much in the way of resistance.
This was a very important round for me – the difference between going into the draft with a 4-1 or 3-2 record is absurd. Still, what can you do?
I won’t go in much detail over drafting, since my last article was about that, but my draft started OK, with Trusted Forcemage over Into the Void, which is I think a close pick that depends on color preferences. After that I took a bunch of White and Green cards in both directions, but ended up short on playables, the result of me picking a lot of playable Black cards. In retrospect, I should have been Black, but the cards I was passed were never good enough – a couple Shades, a Bone Splinters, nothing that really told me “you should be black”. My deck ended up GW with hits such as Call to Serve, Scroll of Avacyn and Leap of Faith.
My first round opponent mulliganed to five game one, and then game two I drew about
10 extra cards with Triumph of Ferocity, so that one I won. Round two I got paired against Jeremy Neeman, in my only feature match of the tournament. Game one I got overran, but game two I had a great draw – by turn two, my hand consisted of a Thraben Valiant, which I played, two Gloomwidows, a Nearheath Paladin, a Joint Assault and another land. He started with Kruin Striker into Tandem Lookout, and then I took the damage rather than blocking with the Valiant. My reasoning was that I was going to play a second Gloomwidow turn four, so I’d have no blocker for the Lookout anyway, and I imagined he’d just play another creature and draw his card anyway. By not blocking, we arrive at the same scenario (he is going to draw a card next turn with his trampler, but only one, since the Lookout is not going to attack), except I get to deal two more damage by attacking this turn. I ended up drawing a Cathedral Sanctifier, which I also played on turn four, but then he went Guise of Fire + Fervent Cathar, and things weren’t looking so good anymore. They were still fine, but since my only blockers were Gloomwidows, I was unable to stop him from drawing extra cards every turn, and he found chump blockers, and eventually double-blockers, and I was unable to push through the extra damage. At some point I kind of panicked and attacked with everything, but he had the correct blocks and my Joint Assault didn’t do much, though at that point it’s debatable whether I should wait or hope he makes a mistake in blocking, since he had like six cards in hand to my one.
The third match was very frustrating, and it’s hard to describe how horribly I played. I was winning for most of game one, and then we got to a point where he had two 2/2s, one of them a Stern Mentor, and I declined to attack with my Gloomwidow, since I didn’t want to trade and the mill guy wasn’t doing much. He then played the 3/3 angel that makes a 1/1 soldier, and a Goldnight Redeemer, and suddenly I couldn’t profitably attack and ended up dying to the Mill guy. It’s also possible that I lost the game when I attacked with a 2/1 and a 1/1 Deathtouch – he blocked the Deathtouch guy with his 2/2, and then later on I was unable to force through damage.
Game two was also drown out, but I won, and for game three I boarded in Black, since I had so many cards that didn’t do anything given how absurdly slow his deck was. The cards I boarded in weren’t actually good (Killing Wave, Bone Splinters and Mental Agony), but they were certainly better than Cathedral Sanctifiers. I again felt like I was on the lead from the beginning, but he signalized Zealous Strike with his plays. At some point he tapped out, and I Bone Splintered his Goldnight Redeemer and attacked with everything, with Joint Assault in my hand. Again, I attacked with the Deathtouch guy, when there was no real need to. He ended up blocking well, and the result of the combat was a board state that favored me, but not by much (which was not thaat great since it favored me to begin with). I drew all lands after that, though, and ended up dying to his 2/1 flier a couple turns later. I don’t know if I should have attacked or not (certainly not with the 1/1), it’s hard to say.
So I finished the day at 4-4, a horrible record that would not even have qualified me if they hadn’t changed the rule. It sucks a lot to play when you can’t top 8, but top 16 is still a big game, so you have to keep trying your best, which is a lot easier said than done. I left the tournament very disappointed with how I had played, and I promised to myself that I would play better on day 2 – if the tournament itself wasn’t enough motivation, then maybe the fact that I don’t like playing badly would be, or even the small rivalry between the multiple teams.
My second deck was RW, and a lot better than the first, though not great – it was a 2-1 deck. It did feature three of the Swampwalker, so if the good deck I played against happened to be one with Black, then I’d be able to beat it too.
Round 1 I got paired against a Black deck, and the Swampwalkers did short work of him game one, with fliers finishing him game two.
Round 2 I played against UW, and we split the first two games. In the third game I mulliganed to five and died on turn 17 with three lands in play.
Round 3 was more interesting; we again split the first two games, and then in the third I was on the offense pretty quickly. He had a Wandering Wolf with the [card tormentor's trident]Greatsword[/card] (+3/+0 has to attack), but I had Defang for that. A turn later he drew his Mountain, though, and he played Vigilante Justice plus a human, killing my 2/1 flier. A turn later he killed my other 2/1 flier, and my offense was halted at that point. I didn’t draw many relevant spells after that, and ended up losing to his big guys.
At this point I was pretty dead – needed a 5-0 record to cash, with luck on tiebreakers.
Round 12: GW
My opponent was playing an almost identical version, except he had Gather the Townsfolk. Game one he had Riders of Gavony on Humans, and me extremely dead next turn, but his attack left me at five and I had Faith’s Shield to give my guys pro-him and attack for like fourteen. Game two he got kinda stuck on mana and I was crushing him, but then I misstapped my lands (tapped my Forest for Pilgrim rather than Cavern, so couldn’t use Township), which gave him a window to topdeck multiple cards in a row and beat me. He didn’t, though, so I won.
Round 13: RW
This was a very interesting match. Game one I overwhelmed him with dudes, and game two we played a very long game, with me having multiple Mayors to stop his Riders of Gavony. At some point he stole my Restoration Angel with Zealous Conscripts and then Cloudshifted it, keeping it forever and resetting his Riders mid combat. I had a Fiend Hunter in my hand, so I knew I was at least going to get rid of the Angel, which would leave him with the upper hand still (since he had his own Angel). But then I drew a second Fiend Hunter that turn, so I played Fiend Hunter on my Angel and then Fiend Hunter on my Fiend Hunter; that made the Angel come back to me (and not to him, since it’s owner), and when that happened I got to flicker the Fiend Hunter, returning the original Fiend Hunter to play and giving me two new triggers, which removed his Angel and another dude. A turn later, he died.
Round 14: UR burn
My opponent started with t1 Vexing Devil, t2 Desperate Ravings discarding Blasphemous Act. I played a Wolfir Silverheart and, since he didn’t have any creatures himself, he never got close to enough mana to Act my two guys away. Game two he mulliganed to five and I had a hand of Ranger into Angel into Silverheart, which I doubt he could have beaten even if he had started with 8.
Round 15: Bant Spirits or whatever it’s called
For the first time in the constructed rounds I won the die roll! I was kinda hoping to lose all 10, so I could complain about how unlucky I had been, but it was not to be (though I guess I still get to complain a bit anyway). It was lucky that I won the roll, since I ended up killing him turn five when he very likely had me dead on turn 5 as well. He went turn 2 Invisible Stalker, t3 Geist, t4 Spectral Flight and attacked me down to 10, with 9 power in play – by doing that, he left himself exactly dead to my Silverblade Paladin. Since there is no +1/+1 pump, he could have comfortably left the Stalker back to block, which means I then die to Silverheart or Savagery anyway (and if he doesn’t have to block I still die to a second Flight).
Game two was also a race, and I had a choice between Fiend Huntering his Garruk token to kill the Garruk or holding it. He had one other dude in play, and I figured that I could beat Savagery somewhat easily, but would have trouble with Spectral Flight. I thought Fiend Hunter was the right play anyway, and he ended up having Flight and Savagery, which gave me only a turn to topdeck something.
Game three I mulliganed to 5 and drew one land and four Mayor of Avabrucks.
Since I couldn’t t75 anymore, the tournament was effectively over for me. I dropped, watched the end of Paul Rietzl’s match and then went out to eat. The following day we went to the site, I drafted once (our first official practice for the Team GP – we have a looot to learn about team drafting) and, shortly after the tournament ended (with Miracle guy winning – I guess Control was viable after all!), I decide to leave to go sightseeing.
As far as the format, well, it’s hard to say where it’ll go from here (and useless for me, since there are no more tournaments) – the best decks lose to Boros, but the most popular decks beat it. The Miracle deck definitely looks beatable (as in if you want to beat it, you probably can), but the Spirits deck poses a bigger problem – if something gets slaughtered by it, then there is probably not much that you can do to change that. The deck that seems better to me is the reanimator with Falkenrath Aristocrat, which is a card we completely missed (though it was in Kibler’s and Lucas’ sideboard), so I’d start there.
Next week I’m going to Malmo, and a new season begins, so this time I have no excuses. I hope to see you there,