When they first started spoiling the set, my immediate reaction was that it seemed great. The more they spoiled, the more I liked it, to the point where I was more excited for this tournament than for any other in recent memory, and actually getting to play with the set at the prerelease did nothing to change that. Of course, having such big expectations only made it hurt a lot more when I crashed and burned at the tournament, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves here.
Normally I’d say that “my trip wasn’t very eventful.” This wasn’t really the case here. One day before I traveled, I randomly read on Twitter about, “a number of American Airlines flights canceled because seats were falling out in the middle of the flights,” (yeah…), and, after a quick check, it turned out my flight was one of those.
After calling them and spending a very long time on the phone, I managed to get on to a different flight—one that left nine hours earlier. That meant I couldn’t do a lot of the things I was supposed to do before I left, and also that I’d be spending around eight hours in a layover. On top of that, I could no longer have my previous seat, and was instead moved to the worst seat on the airplane—the last row. It’s not that big of a deal, unless you’re going to face US immigration soon. If you are, then being in the last row can easily add half an hour of waiting time in a line. To add insult to injury, my personal TV was not working properly—oh well, guess I’ll just read then… By the time the food got to me, they were also out of chicken, which actively got me wondering why bad things happen to good people.
The rest of my trip, however, was pretty uneventful! I got to San Jose on Saturday, which gave us almost a full week before the team GP and then three more days after that—more than enough to break the format—especially since it wasn’t much of a new format. Most of us had already played it at the Player’s Championship.
Our team roster was slightly changed for this event, with minus an Owen Turtenwald and a Lukas Blohon and plus a Patrick Chapin. The others were me, Luis, Web, Josh, Martin, Efro, Shuhei, Conley, Kibler, and Ben, so 11 people total. Josh had found an inexpensive house, and we quickly randomized to see who would have first picks of beds. After all the “single doubles” were taken, Web had his pick of one of the gigantic King beds before me (though those would end up being shared).
After about half an hour of analyzing both options in a very Sheldon Cooper fashion, Web decided for one and I took the other. His bed turned out to be broken, which meant he ended up having to sleep on the couch for the first two days. I ended up sharing a King bed with Martin, and though the bed was about the size of the universe we still argued like an old married couple. “CAN YOU STOP INVADING MY HALF OF THE BED WITH YOUR KNEES,” “WELL IF ONLY YOU DIDN’T TAKE ALL THE BLANKET,” etc.
Most of our early days were focused on drafting. You know, “play for 15 minutes,” followed by, “man I really think we earned ourselves a break here,” *drafts for three hours*. The rest remained the usual, including things like, “I kept a one-lander with Jund and lost,” “Jundstice.” And, “Do you like Finks more than Messenger?” “I think so,” “You mean you Finks so?” At first, my draft results were sort of mediocre, but I was doing well for myself by the time the GP came. I believe I did around 15 drafts, as well as a Team Sealed. That is not to say we didn’t play Constructed, but we knew we had more time and so we neglected it, which ended up being very unfortunate.
My first instinct about the format was that the combo decks would be very good. As such, I built a storm deck with Goblin Electromancer, which quickly proved to be an all-star. My version was slightly different than the one the SCG guys played, and quite a bit slower—with Remands, for example. I liked the deck, and stored it for later use.
Next came UG Scapeshift, a deck I had already played to a GP Top 8 before. Though it was still decent, it felt like it had too much of a target on its head. Before, people were too busy trying to fight Dark Depths to pay attention to you, but we figured that everyone would have access to some form of Slaughter Games or Aven Mindcensor now and beating those was difficult. It was also a fine deck, though, so it was stored as well.
After that, I decided to work on infinite variations of Shouta’s deck—the deck seemed sweet and it already had some results to back it up. At first, I tried his URG version, but Kibler kept beating me with Knight of the Reliquary and Loxodon Smiters, so I decided I’d play white over green—that’d give me access to Restoration Angel, a very powerful card in the deck, as well as Path to Exile, an answer to big creatures.
Though the deck was actually not bad, [card aether vial]Vial[/card] was just not impressive enough when you didn’t have Eternal Witness, and without Vial the deck didn’t work very well. I then did the next sensible thing and made it UGWR, but the mana proved to be way too awkward and the deck not good enough to justify your troubles.
I then stumbled upon the deck I focused the most on throughout our testing sessions—a Griselbrand, Goryo’s Vengeance build. The deck had good game one matchups, and could kill on turn two a remarkable number of times (though “one” is already a remarkable number where turn-two kills are concerned).
No one really cared about it, though, and I’m not sure why—it seemed very good to me. All the while, Chapin was working on a dredge deck, Shuhei had Infect, Efro and Luis liked RG Valakut, and most everyone else was trying versions of UW(b).
It then came time to try random things. We built a Nivmagus Elemental/Kiln Fiend deck, not at all unlike the one Brad and Gerry played, and we even built Eggs. The problem with Eggs was that our deck was all proxies, which made it very annoying to play with and against. I played three games with the deck. In the first game, I drew 15 extra cards and fizzled. In the second and third games, I killed on turn three. Then I had to leave to get food, and someone else tagged in. By the time I came back, I was told, “the deck couldn’t really handle the Jund disruption,” and we forgot about it.
So, I went back to the Goryo’s Vengeance deck, and the more I played the better it looked—until I played post-sideboard games, that is, and my world fell apart. Jund was particularly tough, because pressure plus disruption plus cards that you had to deal with before you won was just too much. By the time you did combo, you’d be at a low life total and that wouldn’t be enough to win with Griselbrand, so you’d just get it into play, bash, draw seven and then lose. Even the easier matchups got very hard after board, and since I was the only person who actually seemed to think the deck was good, I reluctantly let it go.
By this time, everyone else liked Jund, except for Kibler, who liked Junk (obviously), and Chapin, who liked Dredge. It might seem like everyone liked Jund out of nowhere—I assure you, that’s exactly how it felt to me. We built and played a bunch of decks, and ended up playing Jund, and I am not exactly sure why. I played some games with Jund against Chapin’s Dredge deck and though it was very favored game 1 and we actually split the games after sideboard, it felt much better from the Jund perspective.
It also felt very good from UG Scapeshift’s perspective after board. I think that when you play a small amount of games, perception is much more valuable than actual results—especially when it’s my perception we’re talking about, so even though the deck was posting good results I wasn’t comfortable playing it, especially with the Top 8 being best three out of five. So that left Jund…
Once we were on to Jund, we knew we liked Deathrite Shaman (which ended up being more popular than we expected, which would have been worse for both the Griselbrand and the Dredge deck). Mostly everyone liked [card geralf's messenger]Messenger[/card], though I wasn’t convinced it was better than [card kitchen finks]Finks[/card]. In fact, I liked Finks significantly more, but everyone else said Messenger was better, which gave me serious doubts.
The day before the tournament we went to dinner and I expressed my frustration that I thought we were only playing Jund because, “it was there,” rather than because we had actually found it to be great. Even inside Jund we didn’t know which was better, the card that gained life or the one that dealt damage—but my concerns weren’t really shared by the rest of the team. Since everyone thought Jund was great, and more importantly, I didn’t have any alternatives, I decided I was just going to play that as well. My deck:
We really liked Shaman, since Jund is somewhat of a clunky deck that can use the acceleration, but can’t generally afford it. Shaman is not only acceleration but a key player against any deck that uses the graveyard, even if it’s just Snapcaster Mage, and it’s a solid role player in most other matches, helping you control Finks/Messengers/Goyfs and letting you kill them through Cryptic Commands. It has definitely earned its place. Other than that, I imagine the list is pretty straightforward, but if you have any questions feel free to ask.
We got to Seattle on Thursday, and some final considerations on our list, I left the team to go have dinner with my mother and her friend, who were there for the Hall of Fame ceremony (more like were there to do shopping in New York, but also attended the Hall of Fame).
The Hall of Fame ceremony ended up being pretty awesome, at least for me. I’ve seen more glamorous places than a pier for sure, but that was not what it was about anyway, and getting to hear all the things people said about me was amazing. Once it was done, though, I didn’t feel any different—this was a PT like any other and I wanted to crush it.
Round 1: Mirror
Round 1 quickly put a stop to my ambitions, as I lost the Jund mirror in the feature match. We split the first two games, and in the deciding game I kept a hand that was decent but had only two lands (as well as a [card bloodbraid elf]BBE[/card] and a [card obstinate baloth]Baloth[/card]).
On turn one, he [card inquisition of kozilek]Inquisition[/card]s me and leaves Dark Confidant, so I reason that it’s going to die if I play it on turn two. Since playing it turn two would require me to take two damage from a dual and I have no turn three play anyway, I just pass the turn—this might come in handy if his removal is sorcery speed (I know he has Pillar of Flame) and he has a three-drop he wants to play, and it also works somewhat if he plays a two-drop and I kill it EOT, because that stops him from playing Messenger t3 if he wants to kill Bob. But the main reason was just that I felt that I had a late game hand and didn’t want to take the 2 damage.
It ended up being very bad because he had turn two Bob (which I killed EOT, therefore taking the 2 damage anyway) and then turn three a second Bob plus Lightning Bolt, so I did not disrupt his curve in any way, whereas playing it on turn two would have. My play is also bad if I draw a second Bob or a ‘[card tarmogoyf]Goyf[/card], so I think it was definitely the wrong choice. Oh well. It ended up not mattering much, as my next draws were Bloodbraid Elf #2, Baloth #2, and Bloodbraid Elf #3, and I died with three lands in play and a full house of my four-drops in hand.
I honestly don’t remember round two at all. I assume it was the mirror and I know that I won.
Round 3: Affinity
Round 3 I played against Affinity, and I was very outclassed. It always sucks to lose to Affinity, even if it’s a bad matchup (which it is), because you know that they have all those bad cards that they don’t draw. Game one he destroyed me, but game two I discard his hand to the point where he has like a 1/1, a couple lands, and a Mox Opal in play, and a Mox Opal in his hand as his only card.
Now you know he has all those Moxes, Welding Jars, Ornithopters, Memnites, and Springleaf Drums that he can draw, which makes you feel pretty good about yourself. Instead he drew Thoughtcast into Thoughtcast into Etched Champion and [card arcbound ravager]Ravager[/card], and I didn’t stand a chance.
Round 4: Mirror
I won game 1, and game 2 I think I made a pretty decent play by not running out [card olivia voldaren]Olivia[/card] on turn four, when my opponent already had an active Dark Confidant and was way ahead. I think most people would think they were behind enough in the situation that they couldn’t afford to play around [card lightning bolt]Bolt[/card], but I waited until turn six when he tapped out, so I could slam Olivia and kill the Bob. It then took over despite him having drawn three or so extra cards.
Round 5: Doran
Game two was very interesting. I looked at his hand with a discard spell and saw Loxodon Smiter, so I never +1′d my Liliana. Since I had a Liliana in play, he never played his Loxodon Smiter, which would have let me +1 her. That ended up working very well for me, since my Liliana effectively killed two creatures, and at some point Batterskull took over.
Game three was pretty luck-based. We both had [card dark confidant]Bobs[/card] in play and no hand, and I kept revealing lands and drawing Batterskulls, whereas he kept revealing Batterskulls and drawing lands, to the point where his Bob eventually killed him.
My draft started well, with a Jace, Architect of Thought. I followed it up with Thoughtflare, even though I think Izzet is the worst combination by a significant amount. The problem with Izzet is that it has all the trouble of being bad (i.e. bad cards), with none of the upside (the abundance of your few good cards). Normally, drafting is self-correcting in a way that, if a color is bad, few people will play it, and you will get more of the good cards.
With Izzet, that doesn’t happen, because people will still pick the good blue and red cards even if they aren’t Izzet, and the Izzet cards themselves aren’t good—sure, you’ll get many Goblin Electromancers, but that is not great.
As an aside, here are my thoughts on Return to Ravnica drafting:
Izzet: Worst guild. You can build Izzet aggro or Izzet control. I prefer Izzet aggro, which is better than it looks, but it’s still a very all-in deck. Frostburn Weird is insane for you, while being only “very good” for a player who is not both colors, so you might get those a little later than you would if Izzet was a good guild. Izzet Staticaster is surprisingly mediocre.
Azorius: Second worst. Can also be aggressive or controllish, but neither version is great. Detain as a mechanic is overrated, and I now take the [card azorius arrester]2/1 detain[/card] and the [card azorius justiciar]2/2 detain[/card] a lot lower than I did when I started drafting the format.
Rakdos: I like Rakdos, though I think a bunch of [card rakdos shred-freak]2/1 hasters[/card] don’t cut it. The big guys are decent, like the unleash 5/3 for 3RW. Both auras, [card deviant glee]Unholy Strength[/card] and Pursuit of Flight, are playable in a Rakdos deck, and you can splash Izzet for something like Teleportal.
Golgari: Usually a very defensive deck, I like the “walls and bombs” strategy. Axebane Guardian is very good, and the [card trestle troll]1/4 Troll[/card] is very hard for some decks to get through. That, coupled with Vine and Ogre Gatecrasher means your Guardian will generally tap for more than one mana. With Golgari, you can usually splash any card if it’s good enough.
Selesnya: The best archetype. It can be either aggro with pump spells, or control with populate. I know there are people who think the aggro archetype sucks and that control is much better, but I do not mind playing a deck with a bunch of solid creatures, one removal, and five pump effects.
I opened Mizzium Mortars pack two, which I took. With two Guardians and two more Walls already, there was no way I wasn’t going to overload that. That remained my plan until pack three, when I realized I didn’t have a whole lot of green cards after all, though Azorius kept coming. I got a late Archon of the Triumvirate, and had a pack four choice of Isperia, Supreme Judge or Skymark Roc (I took the Roc in an incredible show of restraint). I also got a very late Grove of the Guardian.
When the time came to build, I didn’t really know what colors I’d be, which is never a good sign. I almost played green for the Axebane Guardians and a Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage since my deck was super slow and could really use the acceleration, but the mana would have been too ungainly. This is what I came up with:
My last card was a struggle between Electrickery and Swift Justice. I had very few creatures to use Justice on, but very few Mountains to play Electrickery, so Justice won it out. It ended up being pretty good even with a low creature count.
My deck had some very bad cards, but it also had some very powerful ones—I figured that, if I didn’t get overrun very quickly, then I’d be able to beat most people.
Game 1 was very long. My first play was a Jace that got Detention Sphered, and I flooded horribly after that, but then fate made up for it by giving me a sequence of awesome topdecks. At some point, my opponent had [card isperia, supreme judge]Isperia[/card] out, among other things, and I had a Roc. It was my last turn before dying, and I drew Thoughtflare. Off that, I drew the Swift Justice to kill his Isperia and gain four, and the 0/6 Wall to survive the attack. Then I drew a creature while he drew land, and eventually stabilized and killed him.
Game two was shorter. My opponent had a Roc, two 1/1 tokens and a 2/4 reach, and I had a couple walls. I had Mizzium Mortars and the ability to kick it, but that would leave me with no way to kill Isperia, and since I was only taking 2 damage a turn I decided I could wait for a more juicy board. When I played my third Mountain but didn’t play Mortars, my opponent decided I didn’t have it, and played the Isperia he was sandbagging. I killed his entire board and then won the game.
Round 7: Golgari
I was able to race him and finish him off with the 5-damage spell in the first game. Game two he had a turn two Pack Rat, but I had a hand that I felt could actually race them, with Dramatic Rescue, Vassal Soul, Voidwielder, Armory Guard, and Archon of the Triumvirate. I paused for a while turn two, pondering if I should just bounce it on my turn.
I certainly want to bounce it on turn two, since I have a three-, a four-, and a five-drop—but it’s obviously much better if I bounce a copy, since he loses a card. The problem is that I took so long to do it that that I figured he had to think I had the bounce spell, so if he just attacks and does not make a Rat (which would be the usual play, to get in for 2), that is disastrous. I have to bounce it EOT, and then he can make a copy, which means he gets another Rat on t4 and then two Rats on t5 (a copy plus replaying the one I bounced).
To avoid this horrible scenario, I shrug and just bounce it on my turn. This ended up being the worst play of all time when he replayed Rats turn two and passed without a third land, but thankfully he took an extra turn to find it, and my hand was so good against his that it ended up not mattering.
Round 8: Rakdos Aggro
This was the match I feared the most. Game one I keep a sketchy hand of Guildmage, Jace and five lands, which might sound like a clear keep until you learn that I only had one Island. I drew three Plains in a row and promptly died to t2 unleash t3 unleash t4 Desecration Demon.
For game three, I decided that I wanted Trained Caracal in my deck, the reason being that I was on the draw and every guy I had seen from him was either a 2/1, an unleasher, or Desecration Demon. The Cat is good against the 2/1, and will gain some 6-7 life against an unleasher by hitting them for a few points and then chump blocking, and I thought I’d need the time. I took out Explosive Impact for it, since that seemed too slow and I had great late game anyway. This is not an easy decision—the Impact is obviously the much better card, and it could be a trap.
We all want to be different, we all want to make the “pro play” that no one would. Did I really think the Caracal was better than the 5-damage spell in the matchup, or did I just want a story? In the end, I trusted that I was making a decision because I honestly thought it was better, not because I wanted to be “a super pro,” but I could still be wrong.
My thought process paid off when I started with the powerful curve of Trained Caracal into Doorkeeper. The opponents at the other table actually laughed at me, and one of them remarked, “it’s good you’re already in the Hall of Fame…” My opponent unleashed a 2/2 regenerator on turn two, but that couldn’t stop the Cat, who got in for a point of damage for four turns in a row.
My opponent played Stab Wound on my Doorkeeper, but I played Dramatic Rescue and replayed it, and he actually had to play a 2/3 and keep it leashed just to stop the Cat from getting in. I was stuck on four lands, but I played a Jace and +1’d it. He played [card deviant glee]Unholy Strength[/card] on his 2/3 and attacked Jace, but I blocked with the Wall—he forgot he hadn’t unleashed it.
I had Mizzium Mortars in my hand, but his 4/4 was not exactly a threat, so I played Runewing after attacking for a fifth point of life swing. That plan backfired when he played Pursuit of Flight on his 4/4 and activated Rogue’s Passage to kill my Jace, which meant I could not use it to find lands number five and six and I was unable to kill his creature anymore, since it was now a 6/6 unblockable. In the end, I was able to race him with Inaction Injunction, though, so it all worked out well.
I was happy about finishing 6-2, but I was also sad about my deck choice. Whenever I start out badly, people always talk about how I ran an 0-2 into winning in San Juan, but there was a key difference there—our deck was awesome. When I started 0-2 there, I felt like I had been incredibly unlucky to lose games at all, let alone matches. I made it into the second part of Constructed having to 5-0 Block, but I knew that was possible.
With Jund, I didn’t feel like I had run badly at all. I’d lost a mirror (while winning two and a half of them), and then lost to a very bad matchup. Re-run those five rounds a thousand times and my record is probably going to be between two and three wins. How was I supposed to 5-0 with this? The three most popular decks were the mirror, a bad matchup (UW), and a very bad matchup (Affinity)!
You can easily say that I did not love our deck choice, though I do not know what else I wish I had played. Affinity and Eggs had awesome records, but I really hate the fact that you’re so vulnerable to sideboards. I suppose Eggs would be my choice, had I the option to replay the tournament (though that is easy to say after it wins it). I think the biggest problem we had was that our first good decks were graveyard decks, which distorted our views on sideboards.
We played sideboarded games, but we did not actually build a sideboard—that led us to having a lot of sideboard options against everyone with Jund, which led to Jund beating everything post-board, which led to us liking it a lot. When people played Jund versus my Reanimator deck, for example, the deck had eight discard spells, two Jund Charms, two Grafdigger’s Cages and a Nihil Spellbomb after board—of course it felt easy. When I played versus Patrick’s Dredge, it was the same.
Then we’d play against Affinity and think, “well, the matchup gets pretty easy with two Ancient Grudges, two Pyroclasms, two Jund Charms and two Shatterstorms”. When the time came, though, we cut it down to five discard spells, no Spellbomb, no Shatterstorm, one Ancient Grudge, and two or three of Jund Charm/Cage. Maybe if we had played this configuration against our Affinity and combo decks, we would have liked them more (though, granted, we did play without Shaman in all those matchups, and Shaman does make it less likely that you’ll need graveyard disruption—perhaps we wouldn’t like those decks anyway if we had played them against Shaman, but maybe Affinity would have looked even better).
Still, there was another draft to play before I even had to worry about that—maybe I’d only need a 3-1-1 record after all, and that I could certainly manage!
See you next week, with a continuation of my PT tale and some more Jund.