To know my weekend, you should first know my teammates.
Jack Dobbin is recognized around the midwest as a sharp PTQ grinder and a primarily Limited player. I improved my drafting skills greatly after I started going to his weekly get-togethers. He’s vegetarian, lanky, and loves basketball. Stay back ladies, this one’s taken.
Ryan Carpenter used to play on the Pro Tour back in the day. I forget he’s old school sometimes, because we never talk about older cards, but every once in a while I’m reminded when he starts chatting with Steve OMS or David Williams. Any time I miss the train and am stranded in downtown Chicago, Ryan has a couch for me to crash on.
Both of these guys are strong picks to Day Two any given Limited event, and I was excited to team with them. It helped that we were winning the Team Sealeds/drafts we did in preparation.
The tournament itself was run well. The only part of that didn’t go smoothly was the passing of the Sealed pools, where actual chaos ensued. They sat us in an L shape, which makes more sense than sitting in a straight line for registering. When it came time to pass the pools, they announced that every B player pass to the right. Somehow, I was the only B player to sit on one side, which meant I had a large gap to both send and receive pools from.
After they announced every B player to pass, some didn’t. Over the course of 10 minutes or so, they had us raising our hand with product, without product, standing up, and so on. Since some people didn’t pass at first, they announced that those people should pass, and some groups thought that was a cue to pass again.
Eventually, we were allowed to build from the following pool:
This is a fantastic pool with entirely playable rares (and even an extra due to a foil Deathrite Shaman). Each of our decks ended up cutting good cards, which is a strong sign.
I saw that white was the strongest, with almost all playables, and green was the weakest. Green had lots of gold bombs, but no real reason to play it as a main color. Fortunately, we had fixing galore, which made a tri-color deck possible.
Seat A (Jack Dobbin)
I’m not sure if we messed up Jack’s deck. It looks solid on paper, but I know that, if I was in this seat, the Thought Flare would have been main deck, and probably the Utvara Hellkite and Izzet Guildmage too. As is, he has a powerful set of cards, but the deck doesn’t really have a plan besides playing some tricks and hoping to get there with flyers. The Thoughtflare into Hellkite plan would have given him a late game, a way to out-durdle the other Azorius decks, as well as another “I win” card on top of Rift for those inevitable board stalls.
Also, I insisted he main deck the Transguild Promenade, which probably should have been in his sideboard.
Seat B (Me)
My buddy Mani is convinced that the Crocodile is a maindeck card, but I don’t like it in my list. I lack scavenge or the +2/+2 enchantment to build my own Baneslayer Angel, and in general I want my 3/2s to cost two mana in this format. The main reason is that I don’t want my three-drop trading with a two-drop, or getting bricked by a four-drop (like a Giant Spider). As such, it’s a sideboard card for the more aggressive strategies, where a hit of lifelink can take away much of their late game reach.
Vs. Selesnya Mirror
They populate, I populate, and whoever plays something stupid wins first. Chorus of Might is a common, but it’s definitely something stupid.
Other relevant sideboard cards
Trestle Troll is so good that it probably should’ve been maindecked over one of the bird makers.
I love this deck. Against the Selesnya Mirror, I have a pile of rares to go over the top. Against the field, 4/4s are larger than average, and this deck has a lot of them coming down quickly. Meanwhile, my mana is excellent, which reduces mulligans and random losses.
I’ll almost never cut Korozda Monitor, but I have enough four-mana 4/4s in this deck that the card is underwhelming. Seller of Songbirds is a much worse card overall, but made the cut due to curve concerns.
We thought it was best to split up the Deathrite Shamans, because that way we’ll have more games with the card in play. The odds of seeing a one-of in the opener of a 40 card deck is around 18%, but a two-of only goes up to 32%. Instead of one deck drawing two of this sweet rare, both decks can draw one. It’s notable that Ryan’s deck wanted it for reach, while I valued the card as a source of lifegain against Rakdos or for racing a flyer.
Seat C (Ryan Carpenter)
While Ryan can play anything, he’s a RB aggro player at heart, and he qualified for PT Philadelphia off of Vampires (where he played Jund). As such, we were happy to see that our pool could support the archetype. After the tournament, he still liked his list, but he ended up boarding in Tenement Crasher most rounds and it should have been maindecked.
Volatile Rig was an interesting card to evaluate, but I thought it looked best in an aggressive Rakdos deck that wants to be Launch Partying and such anyway. Over the course of the day, Ryan got frustrated when flips didn’t go his way, but he liked how it caused his opponents to play strangely.
I was more than happy with our decks, and partway through the first round I was already populating my Pack Rats. While we faced a ton of great opponents, I’m going to summarize a bit to get to the two last matches of the day.
After the byes (thank you Planeswalker Points), we picked up two losses in seven rounds. When we won, I overpowered my opponent in the middle while either Jack or Ryan would win a favorable matchup on the side. Our first loss came up when both of them caught bad matchups, and our second loss came from me mulling low and dropping a game three in the Selesnya mirror. Every time Jack and I gave the other advice, we’d somehow manage to sabotage the other’s game, and we started focusing more and more on our own matches. In one game, Ryan asked my advice, but frowned when I told him to make the conservative play. He had a sick read and took an unintuitive line, leaving himself dead to a burn spell, but ended up winning the game because of it.
Another interesting thing that happened was that after one of our rounds I found out an opponent was performing a shuffle cheat. I’ve been cheated in the past, once shuffling, but this was the first guy I’d actually caught, though it was a bit late. When cutting my deck, the guy would pause and look down, and then separate a few cards and set them aside. After a bit he’d stick those cards on top, and hand me my deck.
At the time I noticed the weirdness, but I didn’t see any harm at looking at the tops of my cards (say he’s clumsy and doesn’t want to spray my deck across the room). And I’ve seen some interesting cuts in my day. Both hands after the cut were good, if land-heavy, which was reassuring.
After the match, though, I asked my teammates if they’d seen his cut. When they said “no,” I demonstrated it for them. It was at this point that I noticed you could see the cards in my deck, clear as day, in the reflection of the sleeves. I told a judge, and he recommended I use less shiny sleeves in the future, which is sound advice and I will certainly follow it.
If you notice someone’s eyes shifting around a ton while they shuffle, or if they’re looking down, or if the cards are perpendicular to the table during the shuffle, or if they only pile their own deck, then call a judge and ask them to check the randomization. That is the only way to catch cheaters, or at least have anything done about it.
For the record, I’ve played in a multitude of tournaments, and the ratio of cheaters to non is very large. But yeah, trying not to be a Debby Downer here. In general, Magic tournaments (and players) are sweet, and the last two rounds, while exhausting, were suitably awesome.
Vs. Team Chris Pikula, Josh Ravitz, and Andrew Cuneo
In the tenth round, we got called up for a camera feature match. I wasn’t expecting a feature match on Day One, as there were a lot of dream teams with platinum members and Hall of Famers, but I guess being on the edge of elimination is exciting. Plus, we were paired against Pikula, Ravitz, and Cuneo. Legends in the flesh. Also—the guys who registered our pool.
Of the team, I know Ravitz the best, as I see him at larger events from time to time. I’ve also talked with Pikula, due to our mutual love of the older formats. Cuneo, however, was something of a mystery to me. I watched his match against Bronson in the Top 8 of GP Hoth, but that was about it. After watching him play Ryan, I’d describe his play as robotic. Every time I glanced over at their match, Cuneo’s face was fixed in a state of pure stoicism, calculation.
Midway through the match, I turned to ask Jack for advice. It had to do with Ravitz’s ability to make an 8/8 vigilant token, and whether I should spend my turn advancing my board state (with the intent of chumping) and Trostani’s Judgment the giant creature away next turn, or to leave mana up to answer the 8/8 right then.
“What do you think?” I asked Jack.
“I mean, I don’t know. Play what you want.” Jack said, with some mumbling and gibberish mixed in.
“I don’t think he’s going to be much help,” Ravitz said.
At this point, I would’ve been worried about Jack’s mental fortitude, but every time I looked over Pikula was in some stage of hair-tearing anguish, which was comforting.
Selesnya’s ability to populate tipped the scales in leaving up mana, and Ravitz didn’t have much of a follow up after I exiled his token. Over the course of the match, we both played a Collective Blessing. When mine came up, he had a Keening Apparition in play. Still, I did the math like he was going to take a pile of damage, pointed at potential blockers, and jammed it anyway. It’s a bush league tactic, but people get tired, and many will believe your confidence and take the damage without realizing they had an answer on board. Ravitz, however, has played the game before, and he snap-destroyed it.
His Blessing was equally worthless.
“Has that been good for you?” I asked.
“I’ve only played it twice,” Ravitz said.
“Did they Golgari Charm it too?”
Eventually I won the match the same way I’d won my Selesnya mirrors all day: Having larger creatures, a better pool, and drawing better.
Ryan and Jack both had good matchups, and we won one of our few 3-0s on the day.
Vs. Team Louis Deltour, Lucas Florent, and Raphael Levy
The eleventh round, the final hour, and we were faced against Levy, a Hall of Famer. We all shook hands and introduced ourselves. I remembered Lucas as a French pro, but it had been a long day and it took me until we were drawing our openers before I remembered our previous interaction.
“Say, did you ever call me an evil snake?” I asked.
“Yes, that sounds like something I would have said,” he said.
My team, myself included, burst out laughing. Lucas can be a controversial figure, due to his online presence, but for what it’s worth he was a pleasant opponent and I wouldn’t mind playing him again.
My eyes lit up. I could see their life totals, glowing in front of me. Ryan’s was at 20, his opponent’s 8.
“I like that,” I said.
Ryan heard my confidence, and nodded. His Splatter Thug hit twice before it had to answer an invitation, and he drew another creature and another Launch Party in the meantime. His creature got answered, he sacrificed it in response, and he got to untap with six land and double Explosive Impact in hand. Both players were at 10, and Louis had 9 power worth of creatures in play. He could only put Ryan to 1, and I couldn’t help smiling. Ryan cast the first Explosive, and the other team started talking speedy French. The second came down on his upkeep, and his opponent extended the hand. Ryan shouted “Yes!” standing up.
Usually Ryan isn’t the type to show that much excitement over a win, but I understand exactly how he felt because I was right there feeling it too. Eleven rounds of tension were coming down to this last match of the day.
Jack’s match was a long, drawn out Azorius-type mirror that went mana screw, flood, flood, with the mana working out in favor of the French team.
That meant it all came down to my match in the middle. I lost the die roll, and Lucas opened with a Dryad Militant into Deviant Glee into Civic Saber. I tried to trade my Loxodon Smiter, but he had Golgari Charm to regenerate. I had an Ogre Jailbreaker to slow down the game, but a Korozda Guildmage on his side helped him push through the final points of damage with intimidate.
It was a close game, and I’m pretty sure I would’ve stabilized if I’d been on the play.
In game two I played some large creatures and they did their job.
Game three started with another aggressive opener on his part, until we’d reached the following board state:
Note that he missed a land drop the turn previous. Also, I saw Savage Surge out of him in games one and two.
Jack leaned over and whispered in my ear that I shouldn’t play around the pump spell, that dropping to 2 and making a Rat token would give me enough dudes to win through the GB Guildmage ability to generate Saprolings.
“I need to think,” I said.
A judge came over and told me to make a play. There was about 10 minutes on the clock, and my Day Two was riding on the line; I nodded and kept tanking. I could afford a slow play warning. I had played fast all day to get to this moment, and I was going to give the play the time it needed.
Finally, I moved. My blood was pumping, and my hand shook a little for the first time in years. Eleven rounds, and the fate of my team, hung in that moment. I made a Rat and put one Rat in front of the Guildmage and one in front of a Grim Roustabout. He activated the Guildmage to save it, as expected, but had a Slitherhead in his second main phase. A one-mana blocker, gumming up the board and ending our chances for Day Two.
On my next turn, we discussed before making a bad attack, and that was the game.
We’ve wracked our brains a bit since. How could we not? A few people have asked why I attacked the turn previous, but I still like that line. It takes advantage of my hidden information (Lucas hasn’t seen Collective Blessing yet) and it plays around cards that make Dark Revenant a two-turn clock, like Deviant Glee. Also, the more turns my opponent has with the Guildmage, the more gummed up the ground becomes.
We took a walk in the California night and had a drink at an empty pub. The brandy took the edge off the tilt, and we had a good time talking about the plays, the sweet moments, and the intensity of it all. We looked up our final standing, 39th, which didn’t seem bad in a field of 571 teams.
Over the course of the day, I saw a few teams break down and blame each other for random crap. We didn’t do that at all. Even though Jack told me to take the other line, which would have won, he defended my line afterward.
I could write another ten pages on the strategy involved in building decks in this complicated format, but the bright California sun is calling me, and I intend to enjoy it a bit.