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Luck, Skill, Victory – 32 Hours in Richmond

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a Top 8 from anywhere but the commentator’s booth, so I felt compelled to write a report. People have been pretty persistent about writing Melira Pod articles (see anything by Jacob Wilson or Sam Pardee for more details), so I’ll just briefly mention the differences between the deck EFro and I played and the stock list. Likewise, a round-by-round recap doesn’t do anybody any favors, so I’ll mostly use this report to highlight the interesting situations that came up. If I’m not delving into the construction of the deck and not bringing you a comprehensive report of each round, what am I writing about? The answer to that, unsurprisingly, is “whatever I think is sweet.”

The Journey Begins

My initial plan for Richmond was to not attend. My flight qualifications (shamelessly stolen from Paul Rietzl) are the following:

1) Must be direct.

2) Must allow me to be back at work on Monday morning. I can take off a little early on Friday if need be.

3) Must cost $400 or less, though if we’re being honest, I break this rule fairly often, but not by an incredibly large margin.

It may seem like I am making it overly difficult to attend tournaments, but Denver is usually great for these, and I’ve gone to every GP I’ve desired even with these restrictions. There are just so many tournaments these days, and budgeting my time is something I’ve had to learn. Richmond looked like it was going to be the first one disqualified, since none of the flights from Denver to Richmond came close to meeting one of the parameters. Luckily, I complained about such (and more) to Pat Cox, who offered an interesting alternative.

If I could fly to Washington DC, he was driving, and it was only a 2-hour drive. DC has multiple large airports, and a 2-hour drive is short enough that it fulfills the spirit of the direct flight requirement (at least for me, and I’m the only one enforcing the rule). I found a cheap flight to Dulles Airport that got in “Friday night” (1 a.m. Saturday morning), and left at 10:30 p.m. on Sunday. Perfect!

Now that I had transportation settled, it was time to figure out what to play.

*insert Pro Tour Valencia trip, complete with soulcrushing losses and the like*

Well, at least I know I’m not playing Valakut.

Like Peas in a Pod

Given the timing involved, most of the people I knew going to Richmond didn’t have a ton of time to devote to testing. Many members of our team were staying in Barcelona to play in the GP, and those of us who went home weren’t plagued by an overabundance of time.

I spent the weekend of Barcelona doing commentary for the ChannelFireball 10K PTQ and Modern 5K , where I got to work with Paul Cheon on his first foray into commentary and with Greg Hatch for the second or third time. Trolling Paul on his stream is fun, but trolling him during live coverage is truly the pinnacle of value. The weekend went well, and should have us in good fighting shape for GP Phoenix next month, where I’ll be teaming up with Matt Sperling and self-proclaimed coverage guru William Jensen.

Enough of the shameless plugs, back to the Richmond report (though I did warn you that I’d talk about whatever I felt like). In summary, since nobody was going to break a new deck or anything like that, Josh and I felt that playing Melira Pod was our best bet. We’d both played it extensively, and it continues to prove that it’s one of the best if not the actual best decks. In fact, every Modern tournament in which I’ve not played Melira, I later regretted it. Let nobody accuse me of learning from my mistakes.

I started the now-traditional Google Doc, adding those who seemed interested (plus Web). That doesn’t always start auspiciously, as proven by what happened in our initial GP Cincinnati doc:

PCOXTWITTER

EFro had never really played Pod before, but was convinced of its greatness, and actually spent the most time testing it out of all of us, which was very useful.

I started with a core of cards I knew I wanted, which gave us the following:

(With 23 Lands)

I outlined the slots Sam/Jacob used at the Pro Tour, because they had a well-tuned list, and put in a bunch of potential options as well. We quickly decided that the second Redcap was not necessary given the field we expected (more combo than before the PT, and less Dark Confidants and other easy targets). Orzhov Pontiff was next, as we moved it to the sideboard, though in retrospect it would have been better maindeck. Lastly, the second Wall of Roots got cut entirely, because you have to make room for some 5-drops, and why not cut a ramp spell if you are doing that?

Here are the cards EFro and I added, with Josh dissenting slightly:

Thrun was a concession to the UWR matchup, where he dodges counters and survives just about every removal spell possible. Unfortunately, he lived up to his name, and I felt trolled every time I drew him. This should just be the Orzhov Pontiff, and Thrun should be banished to the sideboard where he belongs. He really is great against UWR, which can be a tough matchup, but the main deck is not the place for him.

This is a funny combo to have in the deck. At the base level, it’s a two-card combo that gains infinite life and makes your team infinitely large, which seems reasonable. It’s nice to have such a compact combo, especially since it doesn’t care about the graveyard at all. On the other hand, it is much more expensive than the Melira combo, and Spike Feeder is no Kitchen Finks when it comes to just casting it. Where this combo really shines, and the reason it’s in the deck, is that you get to play a “free” Baneslayer Angel.

What I see when I look at Archangel.

Of course, not everyone shares my opinion…

PardeeTwitter

 

What Sam Pardee sees when he looks at Archangel.

Now, I’m not going to claim that Sam doesn’t know his way around a Birthing Pod, but Archangel was excellent for both EFro and I. The combination of Feeder and Archangel won me two games where I wouldn’t have been able to assemble a three-card combo, and Archangel being in my deck won me three games. Twice I just cast it, and it was glorious, and once I Podded it up to have a large flying blocker with lifelink, where Reveillark would not have let me survive. Archangel also has the mini-combo of making Kitchen Finks into Overrun, which is some nice bonus synergy. I would definitely play Archangel and Spike Feeder again, especially if the field remains more creature-based than combo based (again, which was the experience EFro and I had at the GP).

Lastly, we added a Burrenton Forge-Tender to the sideboard to stop Anger of the Gods, and an Ethersworn Canonist to stop Affinity’s nut draw. I’d like to see them kill you on turn three when they can only play one Memnite per turn.

The final list we played was the following:

I got my cards figured out, everything packed, and headed to Richmond (with a brief detour back at home so I could grab Tarmogoyfs for Brock Parker, who messaged me 30 minutes before I was going to leave from work asking if I was still bringing him a Zoo deck).

As is only just, my flight landed at 2:30 am instead of 1:00 am. The great (read: not great) part about that was that we boarded on time, and apparently were delayed while on the runway. The reason that mattered is that I fell asleep instantly upon boarding, as I am wont to do, and neglected to inform Pat Cox that I was landing a full hour and a half late. I’m sure he had nothing better to do than sit at the Dulles airport for 90 minutes, anyway. Sometimes my superpower, as BenS calls it, has drawbacks.

4300 Enter, 443 Leave

RICHMONDHALL

Image courtesy Wizards of the Coast

It doesn’t sound as impressive as “one leaves,” but a lot of people made Day 2.

After a leisurely drive south, Pat and I took a tour of Richmond’s parking garages, before finally finding one that had a) open spaces and b) didn’t close for the night at 5pm. Richmond truly was a Magic convention more than a tournament, and there were no shortage of people there for the spectacle.

I had a robotic first couple rounds, as I faced Affinity in back-to-back matches. Plays of note:

Melira stopped me from dying to poison, as an Inkmoth Nexus was threatening to cut my life short. It’s always awesome when Melira does something outside the combo, and definitely an angle you should consider when you play the deck.

• I had a very close game where I put myself dead to Galvanic Blast (which my opponent was keeping a Mox Opal untapped for at all times). Luckily, my opponent didn’t have it, but even if I was sure that he did, I would have played the same. If I had more of a cushion to play around Blast, that’d be one thing, but the game was so tight that I resigned myself to losing to Blast fairly early on. Given that, taking the apparently riskier line made a ton of sense.

One thing to note is that just because you choose to play around or not play around a card doesn’t mean you have to stick to that the entire game. If, through some sequence of draws, I had started to pull ahead, it could become correct to start playing around a Blast, or a Dismember, or whatever. You have to adapt to circumstances, and just because you didn’t block on turn 3 because you feared a Giant Growth doesn’t mean you are locked into playing around Giant Growth the whole game. Some might think that’s inconsistent, but as long as you are adjusting for the other factors in the game, it isn’t inconsistent at all to stop or start playing around cards (even if you are pretty sure the opponent has or doesn’t have them).

Meanwhile, Pat and Brock, who played Zoo, had a combined record of 0-2-1 against a Pyxthis of Pandemonium deck, Skred Red, and Soul Sisters. As it so happens, predicting the field at large tournaments is often difficult, and a 4300-person even more than most. That is, by the way, a big part of the reason I played Pod. It’s a very powerful deck, doesn’t much care what it’s playing against, and is great against most niche decks (having an infinite combo that doesn’t require attacking gets you out of a lot of situations).

Next up, my opponent was none other than the current Champion of the entire Magic World, Shahar Shenhar. I knew he was on BG Rock because he borrowed Phyrexian Obliterators from me (which you still have, Shahar). When I was getting cards for the tournament, I found a red/black deck that Brian Kibler built for PT Nagoya, still sleeved and everything. The deck was pretty rancid, which is why nobody has ever heard of it, but it did have Phyrexian Obliterator for Shahar and Entomber Exarch for our Pod deck. I scanned through the rest of the deck to see if there were any more Modern hits, but Oxidda Scrapmelter, Grasp of Darkness, and Despise didn’t seem particularly well-positioned.

An interesting situation came up in game one of our match. Shahar had out a Dark Confidant, a Liliana on two, and a 2/2 Scavenging Ooze, with one green mana up. I had just a Voice of Resurgence and a Birthing Pod, with four mana.

I attacked Liliana with Voice, hoping Shahar would block with Ooze. That would let him pump it to 3/3, but I’d then play Eternal Witness, get back Voice, and Pod Witness into Murderous Redcap to kill Ooze, which was by far the biggest threat he had. Shahar anticipated that plan, and chose to block with Dark Confidant rather than lose Liliana.

Luckily, I had a plan B. I played Witness, targeted Verdant Catacomb, and Shahar responded by exiling it with Ooze. I had to target a non-creature, because I needed Ooze to stay at 2/2. I then Podded away Witness for Redcap, killed Ooze, and won the game when Shahar scooped in disgust on his next turn.

I got quickly run over the other two games, keeping Finks, Thrun, five land game two (which is debatable but I think keepable), and was unable to kill Shahar’s Ooze in game three.

Being 5-1 in a tournament where I assumed 13-1-1 was the worst record guaranteed to Top 8 was not a great feeling. I knew that some 13-2’s would make it, but it certainly wouldn’t be many.

My next opponent said that she hadn’t been playing Modern for very long, and didn’t know many of the cards. Given that we were 5-1 at the time (and taking her statement at face value), clearly she wasn’t hurt very much by her lack of format knowledge, so I figured she was playing a deck that wasn’t very interactive. I can’t imagine going 5-1 with UWR Control, for example, but RG Tron, Zoo, or Affinity are all decks that don’t really need to do much reacting. While my mulligan decision wasn’t affected in this case, that information could have been valuable, and even if I was wrong in this particular case, I think the odds are in my favor that an opponent in this spot is running something on the less interactive side of the spectrum.

A turn one Glistener Elf meant that I wasn’t far off. Infect is one of the best possible decks to play if you haven’t had time to build up an exhaustive knowledge of Modern, and it was a smart choice on my opponent’s part (and her 12-3 finish seems to back that up).

Unfortunately for her, Melira Pod is one of the best decks against Infect, especially now that Spellskite is in the main deck. I tutored up a Spellskite, putting the game almost out of reach, and followed it up with a Melira, which is another amazing hate card in the matchup. For those counting, Melira is at 2 games won via preventing infect death and 3 games won via combo. Powerful.

I did make a terrible mistake in game two, where I started to go off, but resolved a Viscera Seer trigger before my Eternal Witness trigger (after sacrificing Reveillark to the Seer). I called myself on the mistake, and probably could have asked a judge if out-of-order sequencing was allowed there, but I felt pretty dumb about it, and decided to just play on. That was probably also dumb, and since this happened all in one instant sequence of events, I wasn’t gaining an advantage, so my feeling dumb shouldn’t have stopped me from at least asking if I could do what I intended. The lesson here: don’t double down on stupid mistakes, regardless of how embarrassed you are.

I faced GB Rock again, then Merfolk, and was able to vanquish them both.

Against GB Rock, my opponent was stuck on one land until turn 7, but managed to cast a card every turn until then. As it turned out, Thoughtseize, Thoughtseize, Inquisition of Kozilek, Grafdigger’s Cage, Grafdigger’s Cage, Inquisition of Kozilek is not a winning sequence of plays. It did stop me from doing anything but playing Birds and useless Pods, but I eventually drew Gavony Township and went to town.

I finished the day 8-1, as did EFro, with Brock on 7-1-1. I’m not sure if Pat Cox dealt lethal damage during the tournament, and if he did, it wasn’t very many times. At least he could just drive home in the morning, since I was able to bum a ride from EFro and Brock. In the stretch of four GP’s last year, I managed to make it home on Sunday morning for brunch from all but one of them, which is not a streak I’m particularly happy with (the one where I did get to play on Day 2, I got 66th).

GP Richmond Day 2: Attendance 443

It was time to play a Day 2 which was almost twice as large as the first Grand Prix I played at (for which I even wrote a very belated report). I expected to need a 5-0-1 to make Top 8, which *foreshadowing* wasn’t entirely accurate.

Interesting occurrences from Day 2:

• I played against Affinity twice, winning both times. I’d have to get pretty unlucky to lose to Affinity, apparently.

• In my second match against Affinity, I played a turn three Linvala in game one, which shut off my opponent’s Arcbound Ravager and Steel Overseer. Had the Ravager devoured my opponent’s whole board in response to Linvala, I probably would have lost, and my opponent regretted not doing so almost immediately. In game three, I was in a similar situation, and sacrificed a 3-drop to Birthing Pod. My opponent didn’t respond, but once I got Linvala, it was too late. While normally you’d want to wait to see what your opponent gets off Pod before doing anything, there are definitely situations where that isn’t correct, and you should be aware of them as best you can.

• I got paired down against someone with two draws. It’s exceedingly hard to get two unintentional draws, so I came into the match ready to watch out for slow play. Nothing against my opponent, but having two draws is a red flag, and I was certainly not interested in picking one up. As it turned out, my opponent was playing RG Tron, which is not a slow deck, so I can only assume that he was not aggressive enough in calling his opponents on slow play. It’s both players’ responsibility to make sure the match finishes, and if that takes calling a judge, don’t be afraid to do so. As for the actual match, it was closer than I expected, but I still got demolished. Karn betrayed me, after all the loyalty I’ve shown him.

• One of my opponents played three Snow-covered Mountains in a row, which led me to guess that he was not only playing Skred Red, but was likely the same person who beat Pat Cox on Day 1. My assumption was correct, and I was lucky enough to run him out of Skreds before attacking with Archangel many times. I even had the Burrenton Forge-Tender to stop the Blasphemous Act he had in hand. Modern is an interesting format.

• While playing against Edgar Flores with UW Control in Round 14, I had a very interesting situation come up in game three. He was on the play, looked like he was about to play a land tapped, then decided to play a Moorland Haunt instead. That immediately sent up red flags, because I knew he had Dismember in his deck. My hand was the following:

The “normal” play is to play Birds, then cast Thoughtseize into Voice on turn two. Because he basically played face up, I instead Thoughtseized turn one, taking Spell Snare (and seeing Dismember), after which I resolved Voice on turn two. He had to Path it, I drew the Thrunfather, and eventually killed him with a 10/10 Thrun. Gavony Township went fairly deep that game.

I went into round 15 expecting to be playing for 9th, since both my opponent and I were over 3% behind the next match. That’s normally an insurmountable number in a 15-round tournament, but little did I (and many of the other people in the room) know, but tiebreakers for this event were based solely on the six rounds of Day 2. I expected tiebreakers to reset after Day 1, but I didn’t realize that a 9-0 and a 7-2 were counted as having the same record on Day 2, because everything got reset. Given that for tiebreaker purposes we were just playing a six round tournament, things worked a little differently.

That made one of my previous assumptions not quite accurate (something Owen was glad to remind me of when he retweeted me after I made Top 8):

KNOCKEDOUT

First, though, I had to play against Michael Majors playing Storm. The last time we played, he knocked me out of Grand Prix Charleston, and played quite well while doing so. Plus, it isn’t a stretch to say that anyone who is 12-2 with Storm probably knows what they are doing.

The match went mostly as planned. He combo’d off quickly in game one, even through a Chord for Qasali Pridemage. Here’s where that maindeck Canonist would have come in handy (and still been incorrect). In game two, he tried to go off a turn sooner than would have been very safe because of my early Birthing Pod, and I was able to kill both his Electromancers and then him before he recovered from fizzling.

In game three, he mulled to five, and this was my hand after my first draw step:

So yeah, the best hand possible against a mull to 5.

I finished 13-2, one of 12 players with that record. My tiebreakers went down 0.3%, but unfortunately for Alex Rochette, his tiebreakers went down almost a full 8%. That’s one of the results of a six-round event, which I doubt is what’s intended for GPs going forward. Even if your tiebreakers reset after Day 1 as a result of combining multiple events, you should still be rewarded for playing against a 9-0 on Day 2, and tiebreakers swinging by this amount is pretty wild.

Hopefully this:

Is about to become this:

At least when it comes to Top 8s. It’s certainly heading that direction for PV, and I’d like to sign up for it as well.

Escape from Richmond

Unfortunately, the Top 8 didn’t go nearly so well as the rest of the tournament. Mike Sigrist demolished me in two lopsided games, where I was a combo piece or a mana short of doing cool stuff in either. It wasn’t really a bad beat of any kind, as my draws were good too, but his were just a step ahead. It would have been nice to pick up a few extra points on top of the 4, but I’m certainly not complaining.

Plus, losing so rapidly meant that EFro, Brock, and I got to drive back to DC, meet up with the actual Fro Father, and have dinner at Texas de Brazil. Meat seemed like a good way to celebrating meeting my goal, and I was somehow able to sleep on my flight back to Denver (where I didn’t get home until 1am). While normally I wouldn’t advocate the “arrive at 2am Saturday morning, get back at 1am Monday morning” plan, I guess I was rewarded in this particular case.

Richmond Retrospective

Some interesting takeaways from the largest Constructed tournament in history (that part isn’t relevant to all of them, but it makes it sound more impressive):

• In an unknown or hard-to-predict field, playing a powerful proactive deck is a good idea. Storm, Affinity, Pod, or Twin all seemed like better choices than UW(r) Control, Jund, or any other reactive deck.

• There are a lot of moving pieces in Modern. If you aren’t familiar with them, don’t play a deck that requires you to be, and be very clear about what’s happening at any given moment. Jamie Parke made Top 8 because his opponent got a game loss for accumulated gameplay warnings, which is not a fun way to have your tournament end.

Archangel of Thune is great.

• Even though the large size of recent events makes it pretty tough to win Pro Points, if qualifying for the Pro Tour is your goal, going 13-2 is actually not as unreachable as it sounds. Unfortunate for a very small number of people, fortunate for a much larger number.

• Winning again is kind of nice. I hope it continues (and was happy with how I played, which is definitely important).

Hopefully I can improve on my finish in Cincinnati, though I’m not overjoyed at the deck choices I’m looking at so far.

LSV

Since I haven’t done a sample hand in a while, here’s one from the Esper deck I accidentally loaded when trying to test yesterday:

I accidentally loaded the Esper deck I used to join 8-player queues while Paul Cheon was streaming with Esper. It was an experimental build.

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