Divine Comedy – A Worlds Week Report (Part 1)

Disclaimer: This text doesn’t have any religious intent and the references and interpretations of the Dante Alighieri epic poem Divine Comedy (Divina Commedia) may not be 100% accurate and are my own.

Worlds week has come and gone, and in my humble opinion was the greatest week in the 20 years of Magic’s history. Unfortunately, things didn’t end very well for me in the World Championship—pretty much due to my own mistakes. Two days later, I had a chance at redemption, leading the Brazilian team in the most awesome tournament I’ve ever played—the World Magic Cup. The result wasn’t great (again), but I grew a lot as a player and a person, and had some unique experiences I would like to share.

Part One – Preparation

I would have to play 7 formats in four days, 5 of them brand new because of the release of M14. My preparation for these tournaments was atrocious on a lot of levels, as I will get into more detail later.

a) Standard

Having only two days to test with M14 on Magic Online made it impossible to brew a deck from scratch. Instead, I decided to use my (limited) time to test the other formats and just stick with the deck I’ve been playing all year—Domri Naya. Despite not playing much Standard in the last month, I was helping some friends prepare for PTQs and GP Calgary, but aside from knowing that [card]Scavenging Ooze[/card] would be awesome in the main deck and that the new [card chandra, pyromaster]Chandra[/card] and [card]Burning Earth[/card] were fine sideboard options, everything else was a blur. I knew [card]Lifebane Zombie[/card] would hurt the deck A LOT and after checking the SCG Invitational and GP Calgary’s deck lists, I was sure about it.

I expected a lot of Jund and UWR. Jund used to be a good matchup before [card]Lifebane Zombie[/card], and I wasn’t sure how the Zombie would turn the matchup in their favor (it does a lot). The UWR matchup can be pretty good if you devote enough sideboard slots. In the past, I usually “ignored” this matchup since I needed my sideboard ready to fight aggro decks, Aristocrats, Reanimator, etc. This time, I didn’t expect aggro decks (besided Wescoe and maybe Kibler) and a minimal number of Aristocrats, Reanimator, and Hexproof. That said, I brought the following deck:

[deck]Main Deck
3 Clifftop Retreat
1 Forest
1 Kessig Wolf Run
4 Rootbound Crag
4 Sacred Foundry
4 Stomping Ground
3 Sunpetal Grove
4 Temple Garden
1 Arbor Elf
4 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
4 Boros Reckoner
2 Ghor-Clan Rampager
1 Huntmaster of the Fells
3 Loxodon Smiter
3 Scavenging Ooze
4 Thundermaw Hellkite
4 Voice of Resurgence
3 Bonfire of the Damned
1 Mizzium Mortars
2 Selesnya Charm
4 Domri Rade
Sideboard
2 Boros Charm
2 Burning Earth
1 Celestial Flare
1 Mizzium Mortars
2 Oblivion Ring
1 Pillar of Flame
1 Ray of Revelation
1 Rest in Peace
2 Ruric Thar, the Unbowed
2 Unflinching Courage[/deck]

I wrote about this deck several times, so I guess there’s no need to go into detail. I like the main deck a lot, but I really missed [card]Restoration Angel[/card]s. Even without anything worth blinking, a flash threat + the possibility of saving a creature was worth the slot in the field I was expecting.

In the sideboard, I would replace [card]Pillar of Flame[/card] and [card]Rest in Peace[/card] (again, for the field I was expecting, in general it is pretty good) with an extra utility land (for the matchups where I board in [card ruric thar, the unbowed]Ruric[/card], and to give me flexibility if I want to cut some mana creatures against decks with several sweepers), and probably a third [card]Oblivion Ring[/card] (to fight Olivia and serve as a catchall against random creature decks). There’s a lot of hate for the UWR matchup attacking from multiple angles, and I even board the [card]Ray of Revelation[/card] against them to nullify their [card]Oblivion Ring[/card]/[card]Detention Sphere[/card]s. Overall, even if I was a little bit annoyed that I didn’t have enough time to test, I was confidant in Standard.

b) Modern

This was the format I tested more since I didn’t think it would change much with M14. The first problem I ran into was the 2-man queue metagame. It’s safe to say that my Standard mono-red deck would beat 80% of them. So, I gave up on 2-mans and started trying the 8-man queues, which took a whopping 30 minutes on average to fill—Dailies weren’t an option at that time, since I was trying new decks and the last thing I wanted was my deck list on mtgonline.com.

My biggest issue with Modern was that all my decks lost to Pod, and I thought it would be a big player at the WC. After I started moving toward non-conventional decks, my win rate against Pod increased (and so my win rate overall), and I had sweet dreams of casting [card]Glimpse the Unthinkable[/card], reanimating [card]Griselbrand[/card], or suspending [card]Rift Bolt[/card] in the most important tournament of the year.

The decks were unstable, but I had good lists of them all. In the last week, the mill deck became a “real deck” on Magic Online, Top 8’ing a couple Premiers. I didn’t really care since I doubt anyone at the WC would play it or have any hate to beat it. My backup plan was Reanimator, similar to the one Todd Anderson played to Top 16 at GP Kansas. I didn’t have problems beating control, but beating the Ooze/Deathrite/discard decks I was facing proved problematic. Burn was option #3 if I felt that the other players would move away from Pod.

I tried to borrow cards from several people, but when I arrived at Amsterdam, I realized I only had cards for green midrange decks (Jund, Naya, or Junk). I tried to assemble my burn deck, but I was missing several key cards. In all honesty, I panicked for a good 10 minutes, as I didn’t find all the cards to build a single deck (not even the green ones). I resigned myself to play Jund, and when I was pulling the cards and talking with my friends we realized that the discard spells weren’t good for the field I expected. At the same time, the white cards were really good. It took less than 5 seconds for us to realize that there was no point in splashing white in Jund. It would be much better be in Naya, and considering the big strength of Naya is to rely on creatures and I didn’t want much spot removal anyway, I moved my build to one similar to my Standard deck, maximizing [card]Domri Rade[/card]. That’s the list I submitted:

[deck]Main Deck
4 Arid Mesa
1 Blood Crypt
1 Copperline Gorge
3 Forest
1 Grove of the Burnwillows
1 Horizon Canopy
1 Kessig Wolf Run
1 Marsh Flats
1 Misty Rainforest
1 Plains
1 Raging Ravine
1 Sacred Foundry
1 Stirring Wildwood
1 Stomping Ground
1 Temple Garden
4 Verdant Catacombs
2 Aven Mindcensor
3 Deathrite Shaman
2 Linvala, Keeper of Silence
3 Loxodon Smiter
3 Noble Hierarch
2 Scavenging Ooze
4 Tarmogoyf
2 Thrun, the Last Troll
2 Thundermaw Hellkite
3 Voice of Resurgence
4 Lightning Bolt
2 Path to Exile
4 Domri Rade
Sideboard
1 Ancient Grudge
1 Aven Mindcensor
3 Blood Moon
2 Bonfire of the Damned
2 Combust
1 Linvala, Keeper of Silence
1 Oblivion Ring
1 Path to Exile
1 Scavenging Ooze
1 Spellskite
1 Torpor Orb[/deck]

I like the concept of the deck a lot, but this particular deck list needs a lot of work. The mana is really bad. [card]Grove of the Burnwillows[/card] was much better than [card]Copperline Gorge[/card]. 23 lands may be too much with one less utility land. I’m not sure if this is the right configuration of utility lands, either—I missed red mana a lot. [card]Bonfire of the Damned[/card] from the sideboard was part of my plan against Pod, and it was nice. [card]Oblivion Ring[/card] never disappoints me and performed well.

Another thing to keep in mind is that I totally ignored aggressive decks (for example, your chances of beating Affinity with this list are close to zero), Storm, and Reanimator. Even though I focused on beating Pod/Twin/Scapeshift, I was lucky enough to have an awesome matchup against UWR, which was the most popular deck at Worlds. If I were to play a Modern tournament tomorrow, I would strongly consider Naya as one of my main options, but I would need to rebuild the whole sideboard and maybe the creature mix in the main deck.

c) Unified Standard

It may look the same as regular Standard, but it’s not at all. The limitation of having 4 of a card among 3 decks isn’t restrictive only, it makes it simpler to predict the field. It also helps a lot knowing some decks you are NOT facing, such as any sort of Naya deck, since it uses the best cards and lands in only one deck.

We expected that every team would have one control deck (UW or UWR mostly), one midrange (mostly Jund), and one aggro deck with whatever the other colors allow (such as mono-red, mono-green, mono-white, etc.). From the beginning, my plan with our team was to allow my teammates to play whatever deck they are comfortable with, and then I would build a deck with whatever was still available (this was sort of the same strategy we had back at PT Charleston in 2006, but at that time my teammates just jumped into the two decks we had and left me to build something at 10 p.m. on the even of the Pro Tour).

Finding the decks wouldn’t be complicated since we all play regularly. Allison Abe was a control player at heart, so when he asked for UWR there was no discussion about it. Enzo Real was playing Junk Reanimator on MTGO, but it wasn’t a viable deck since the [card]Restoration Angel[/card]s were in UWR. The other deck he liked was Jund, which was fine with me. That way I would just play mono-red and we would all be happy. His other option was the BG midrange deck which would be even better, since it would free the [card]Stomping Grounds[/card] for me if I wanted a green splash in my mono-red.


Everything changed when Brian Kibler brought his RG agro deck to the WC. First of all, it was a great deck. Second, with 4x [card]Burning Earth[/card] in the sideboard, it would really threaten all the tri-color decks we expected to face. Third, it combos really well with our backup plan of BG control. Suddenly, the best “combo” for the WMC become BG/UWR/RG, and since we expected a lot of mirror matches, we needed something to give us an edge. So we started to build our deck and sideboard against these three decks only, with a small concession tomono-green (if someone favors it over RG) and Jund (if people go mono-red/mono-green in the aggro seat and don’t need to play BG).

When I came back from Day 2 of the WC, they had a really good BG deck list that they told me was from Brad Nelson. The big technology was [card]Demonic Rising[/card] in the sideboard to beat the control decks (and the [card]Mutavault[/card] to turn it on easily). Unfortunately, we couldn’t find a second one and played a [card]Deadbridge Chant[/card] over the other. The original list had 3 [card]Scavenging Ooze[/card]s, but since we wanted at least 2 in the RG deck, we agreed to split them.

To improve the hideous control matchup, we moved one [card]Underworld Connections[/card] to the main deck and threw in an extra [card]Duress[/card] in the sideboard. [card]Gaze of Granite[/card] was an all-star the whole week. [card]Pithing Needle[/card] and the 4th [card liliana of the veil]Liliana[/card] in the sideboard underperformed.

Overall, I really liked the deck, but its big problem was the mana. Only 10 sources of green weren’t enough. We mulliganed several hands with [card]Putrefy[/card]/[card]Abrupt Decay[/card] as removal and no green mana. If I were to play this deck again, I would up it to at least 12, probably sacrificing a [card]Mutavault[/card], a Swamp, and a Guildgate for 2 [card]Evolving Wilds[/card] and a Forest.

Our UWR was pretty stock. I asked only that Allison have 4 [card]Supreme Verdict[/card]s in the 75 and several weapons for the mirror match, including at least one in the main deck (he chose [card]Runechanter’s Pike[/card]).

As for the RG deck, I needed to replace the [card]Scavenging Ooze[/card] I couldn’t use in the main deck. I also wanted to play [card bonfire of the damned]Bonfires[/card] maindeck, and I think 3 [card]Mizzium Mortars[/card] main could be too much so I cut one Mortar and the Ooze to accommodate 2 Bonfires.

As for the sideboard, I changed it a lot. Kibler told me that the best way to win the mirror was with more [card]Volcanic Strength[/card]s, since there’s no out in the deck to a 5/5 mountainwalk. Initially, I had four in my sideboard, but I wanted to have answers to other aggro decks and eventually went with the [card]Wolfir Silverheart[/card]+[card]Tree of Redemption[/card] package and they really overperformed.

Another card that was really good (even better for a “normal” field) was [card]Fog[/card]. Beating a faster mono-red or Bant Hexproof without them is nearly impossible. [card]Chandra, Pyromaster[/card] underperformed, but in a field with some Naya she can be really good. I didn’t face any control deck, but I guess Domri #5 isn’t bad.

This deck is probably the best “[card]Burning Earth[/card] deck,” and it is very good, but if you want to play it in a tournament, you need to remember that Naya is a very played deck, as is Bant Hexproof, so you need some answers from the sideboard (I strongly advise [card]Fog[/card], and if you know of a way to beat [card]Unflinching Courage[/card]s, let me know). Also be aware that mirror matches will be fairly common from now on.

These are the three decks we registered:

BG Midrange

[deck]Main Deck
2 Golgari Guildgate
3 Mutavault
4 Overgrown Tomb
13 Swamp
4 Woodland Cemetery
4 Desecration Demon
2 Disciple of Bolas
4 Lifebane Zombie
2 Scavenging Ooze
4 Thragtusk
2 Abrupt Decay
2 Doom Blade
3 Mutilate
2 Putrefy
2 Sign in Blood
2 Tragic Slip
1 Underworld Connections
3 Liliana of the Veil
1 Vraska the Unseen
Sideboard
1 Abrupt Decay
1 Barter in Blood
1 Deadbridge Chant
1 Demonic Rising
3 Duress
1 Gaze of Granite
2 Golgari Charm
1 Liliana of the Veil
1 Pithing Needle
1 Underworld Connections
2 Vampire Nighthawk[/deck]

RG Aggro

[deck]9 Forest
1 Kessig Wolf Run
6 Mountain
4 Rootbound Crag
4 Stomping Ground
4 Arbor Elf
2 Elvish Mystic
4 Flinthoof Boar
4 Ghor-Clan Rampager
4 Hellrider
2 Scavenging Ooze
4 Strangleroot Geist
4 Thundermaw Hellkite
2 Bonfire of the Damned
2 Mizzium Mortars
4 Domri Rade
Sideboard
4 Burning Earth
1 Chandra, Pyromaster
2 Fog
1 Mizzium Mortars
2 Tree of Redemption
2 Volcanic Strength
2 Wolfir Silverheart
1 Zealous Conscripts[/deck]

UWR Control

[deck]3 Clifftop Retreat
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Hallowed Fountain
2 Island
1 Moorland Haunt
1 Mutavault
3 Sacred Foundry
4 Steam Vents
4 Sulfur Falls
3 Augur of Bolas
4 Restoration Angel
3 Snapcaster Mage
4 Azorius Charm
1 Counterflux
1 Dissipate
2 Pillar of Flame
1 Runechanter’s Pike
3 Sphinx’s Revelation
3 Supreme Verdict
2 Syncopate
3 Think Twice
2 Turn Burn
2 Warleader’s Helix
Sideboard
1 Assemble the Legion
2 Celestial Flare
1 Counterflux
1 Detention Sphere
1 Dispel
1 Izzet Staticaster
1 Jace, Memory Adept
2 Negate
1 Oblivion Ring
1 Pillar of Flame
2 Ratchet Bomb
1 Supreme Verdict[/deck]

d) M14 Draft

No testing at all (see the 7 Deadly Sins section).

e) Modern Masters Draft

I was most confident in this format by far. It’s unlikely someone played it more than me on MTGO, and I even did well at GP Woodstock (err Vegas), finishing Top 32 with an X-2-1 record, which would be good enough to Top 8 a “normal” GP. Of all the known archetypes in MMA, the only ones I really don’t like are 5-color and Storm. Other than that, I’d be open for anything.

My favorite deck in this format is the severely underrated and underdrafted UG suspend (at least, that’s what I call it). I think this is the most aggressive deck in the format with several suspend 1 and 2 spells, creating really big and hasty creatures by turn 4-5. Add to that some disruption, combat tricks, and some good ground defense and you have a really good deck. I know some people dislike this deck, but it has been serving me well since Time Spiral block when I Top 8’d back-to-back PTs with the strategy of first-picking suspend 1 creatures.

f) Return to Ravnica block Team Sealed

While I played my fair share of (the terrible) DGR Sealed, Team Sealed is an entirely different animal. First, with 12 packs you will usually have enough playables and fixers to build your decks. Then, your decks usually look like powerful draft decks with only 2 colors, so the format is much faster. Of course, bombs still make a difference, but here you don’t feel so miserable to lose to a [card]Pack Rat[/card] (actually this is a lie, you will feel bad, but at least you usually have a good deck).

To cover some specifics of this Team Sealed, I looked for articles, read the whole coverage of the SCG Sealed Opens and GP Utretch, and sought advice from friends that played the format. The general consensus was that you are looking for two powerful 2-color decks, and the third one would be either an X-color-bomb-Gate-control or a weak 2-3 color deck with the guilds not played in the other two.

In the end, we didn’t do a single practice Sealed for this, but I don’t think it was necessary. We knew all the archetypes and interactions, and all we needed was organization and good leadership while building the decks to do everything on time (which I am used to).

g) M14 Team Sealed

Before the tournament, I asked my teammates to play as much Sealed on MTGO as possible and they did. Unlike DGR, for this one they bought a booster box in Amsterdam and did three live practice Sealeds. It was very helpful since we didn’t know about the archetypes of the format (which Carrie Oliver covers here). In my opinion, M14 Sealed is the most miserable core set format in the recent history, but pretty much like DGR, when you have 12 packs to work with, things aren’t that ugly. Overall, Team Sealed is a great format. Not only do you have the chance to work with your friends, but it also makes Sealed less miserable. I hope WotC keeps doing Team Sealed GPs, and maybe someday we can have another Team PT.

The 7 Deadly Sins

(Or the avoidable mistakes I made)

1 – I predicted the wrong field in Modern. Pod was clearly the best deck, so it was natural to expect some. Combo decks (Scapeshift, Storm, and Twin) are Pod’s natural predators, so I expected some of these. Considering the control bias of some players, I expected some UWR, and finally some green midrange decks.

In the end, we had 5 green midrange decks (4 BG and one 4-color Gifts), 7 UWR, 2 creature decks (hatebears and BW tokens), and one Scapeshift. My [card]Linvala, Keeper of Silence[/card]s, [card]Aven Mindcensor[/card]s, and [card]Torpor Orb[/card] were certainly awkward.

2 – I didn’t have all the cards I wanted for Modern. This is something I really couldn’t fix since I don’t own all the Modern cards as I do in Standard. I asked friends, but couldn’t really borrow everything I wanted so I asked mostly for green midrange cards to try to build something I was comfortable with at least. In the last week of testing I found three decks that I thought could be good for the field: UB Mill, Burn, and Reanimator.

Yes, all three are the kind of 3-0 or 0-3 decks, but that’s how I usually roll. UB cards were impossible to find so I asked one of my WMC teammates to bring the Burn and Reanimator cards for me. Well, by the time I asked this, he was already at the airport. I could asked the other WC players for these cards and there was a good chance they could have some, but as soon as I asked someone for a [card]Goryo’s Vengeance[/card], a [card]Glimpse the Unthinkable[/card], or a [card]Shard Volley[/card], my deck would be obvious and since they are so easy to hate, they wouldn’t be a good option anymore.

3I relied too much on MTGO. Usually I start testing Limited for PTs the Friday before playing the (extremely pricey) prerelease events on MTGO—and I did again this time. I played some Sealeds Friday and Saturday to get familiar with the cards and I was expecting to fire some drafts from Monday on. I usually can figure out Limited formats really fast for PTs, but playing against the best was completely different. Another thing I didn’t take in account was that WC would start at Wednesday (with a media day on Tuesday), so I would have two less days to prepare comparing to a Pro Tour.

Well, after a sequence of delayed flights I arrive at the hotel around 9 p.m. on Monday after almost 20 hours in transit, so I was really tired. When I realized that the hotel’s Wi-Fi didn’t support MTGO, I knew that I was screwed.

4 – I underestimated jet lag. I’m used to traveling to the U.S., and 2-3 days are usually enough to get me used to their time zone which is 1-3 hours behind Brazilian time. I hadn’t gone to Europe for more than a year, and completely overlooked the fact that I was traveling somewhere that was 5 hours AHEAD of my local time. Things weren’t pretty. I couldn’t sleep in the first four days, had some fever, and lost my appetite. This will never happen again—for PT Dublin, I plan to get there at least five days before.

5 – I took medicine I wasn’t used to. This was a kind of desperate measure since I couldn’t sleep. I have some insomnia problems but when I took my pills and they didn’t work for two days in a row, I took a really strong one from a friend to try to sleep on the eve of the World Championship. It didn’t work. I slept less than two hours and I was looking like someone coming straight from a Walking Dead episode during the two days of the WC. I don’t like to play without proper sleep but sometimes I have to. Playing without any sleep and with an overdose of painkillers, sedatives, sleeping pills, and energy drinks is MUCH worse.

6 – I built decks at the last minute. This happened to me in Modern, but could happen in Standard as well. Since I was looking for cards the whole day, I wasn’t sure what I would be playing, so at 8:50 p.m. (needed to turn in the deck list by 9 p.m.) I started a facebook chat with two friends to finish building my deck. We settled on Naya, and the first thing I said was that I wanted some [card elspeth, knight-errant]Elspeths[/card] and [card]Sword of War and Peace[/card] in my 75. After some debating with my friends, I filled out the deck list WITHOUT them. To add insult to the injury, I based my mana base on an old Naya list I saw. My deck was completely different and the mana just didn’t work the whole day.

7 – I didn’t have a real playtest group. I’m used to preparing for tournaments by myself, and I thought this would be an advantage for me in WC. Well, it would be if everyone else was alone as well. I don’t think a large group is healthy for a 16-people tournament, but maybe 2-3 is the ideal number. When you play against the greatest, a second opinion is really useful. I tried to approach some of the WC players to test together. I started a little too late, because all the testing groups were already formed. I did share a little bit of information with the Shenhar/Martell duo, and it showed me how much better things would be if I had had a formal group.

Next Week: Part Two – The Divine Comedy

Willy

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