This is my PT Paris report.
No one really had a lot of time to prepare for Paris, since the set was released not long before the event. My idea was to just meet earlier in Paris and play there – it seems that we always have better decks when we can meet in the place of the event and just focus 100% – but some people suggested meeting in San Diego first. In the end, that proved too difficult for me, for a variety of reasons, the biggest of them being that San Diego is in the opposite direction of the flight I was going to take, so it would not be cheap and it’d add 10 hours to my already long travel. We agreed that the other players would meet in San Diego and then we’d all meet in Paris a couple of days before, which was fine for me.
Before I met the people from Channelfireball, though, I got to test a little bit with other friends. We expected Valakut to be the most popular deck (which it was by miles), so every deck would need at least a decent matchup versus that for me to go on. Of the new decks, I was somewhat impressed by Kuldotha Red, though my version was somewhat slower than the version that would later be popularized by Gerry – in the beginning, I had [card]Goblin Chieftain[/card] and no Ornithopters, for example. The biggest problem I had with the deck was that you just couldn’t beat a mass removal spell; it would generally beat Valakut or UB, for example, but if they ever drew Pyroclasm or Black Sun’s Zenith you would just lose on the spot. Rather than dismiss it instantly like I would probably do if this was last year, I decided to change my way of thinking – the deck seemed really good if they didn’t draw mass removal, but how to make it good when they did?
I ended up not being able to figure it out, so I just gave up on the deck, but oh well, at least I’m proud of myself that I tried. Who was I kidding, really? I mean, don’t get me wrong, it is a powerful deck, but I am not going to put the fate of my tournament on whether my opponents draw Pyroclasm. Also, I have a very strong disliking for drawing a card like Ornithopter on my draw phase.
The other deck that looked like it had potential was some form of Tezzeret. I tried a UB control shell and an infect shell (infect being Inkmoth Nexus, Necropede, and Plague Myr), but they just lacked… something. My versions all had fewer artifacts than Chapin’s and Juza’s, so the Tezzerets often missed, which was extremely annoying. I had the feeling that a Tezzeret deck had everything to be the best deck ever, though, so I kept it “on hold” until I met everyone and then we could try different approaches.
I left for Paris on Saturday, and my 30 hours trip was made a lot more tolerable due to the fact that most of it was done in business class, because of my flying miles. The movie selection was really bad regardless, and the best I could come up with was “Megamind,” but that was fine because I slept for most of the time anyway.
I was arriving in Paris three hours after everyone else, so instead of cabbing to the hotel by myself (50 euros pff) I just took the train. Eirik Aune had given me detailed instructions on how to get there by public transportation, but I think he hates me because they were all wrong. Luckily I made my way there anyway.
I arrived in the hotel to find out that they had pretty much drafted the entire time in San Diego, but played no Constructed. That kinda sucked, because it meant that a) we didn’t have a Constructed deck and b) no one wanted to play drafts anymore and I had not drafted a single time. I really have no one to blame but myself, since it was my decision not to go, but the situation ended up not being good for me.
Regardless of that, though, I was able to leech a lot of their Limited practice through conversation, and Gabe even wrote a very elucidating post on Facebook since he ended up not being able to go. Their points were mainly that the format is slower now and that first picks were very important – if you open a bomb, stick with it. Before the tournament I got to do three or four drafts, which gave me some sense of what was better or worse than would seem at first glance, and overall they all helped me with pick orders of sorts.
We built a bunch of different decks, and, again, we’d jam them all against Valakut first. Despite my best efforts, we could not come up with a Tezzeret list that looked good, though I’m sure it is there somewhere, and if I had to break the format that was where I would look first – to me, Tezzeret is the card with the most potential in the current Standard. Someone came up with the idea of the BG Sword in the UW deck (I’m sorry, I think Caw-Go (or Caw-Blade) is a stupid name, the word “caw” just doesn’t sound good. I know, I’m way too picky with deck names. It’s better than Fae though; Fae is just the worst), and though I was skeptical at first, it was clearly very good once you looked at how the games played. After we found that out, we kept trying a bunch of decks with Swords and counterspells to abuse it.
One interesting fact is that we actually built stuff we wanted to try, even if to dismiss it after 3 games. That is something people don’t always do, but it’s a good way to stop wondering what “would have been” and just get your mind on a different task. Our UG Sword deck actually endured more than 3 games, but in the end of a session we just had to realize we weren’t kidding anyone with it.
Another interesting point is one that Carlos (Pomão) made, having joined us for the first time this tournament. He said that it’s astonishing how focused we are – we just talk about Magic and people from Magic 100% of the time. Every discussion becomes a brainstorming session on a possible deck, and every topic ends up being twisted to something about the game or the people involving it. He talked about how at some point someone came up and asked who had won the Super Bowl, and then he thought we would go on to a different topic of conversation, but someone else just replied a name and then we kept talking about what we were talking about and no one even mentioned the Super Bowl again, whereas in any other group that would have spawned a passionate conversation for the next 30 minutes.
We do digress a lot to make fun of people continuously (such as when Brad broke a wooden chair in half and snap said very honestly “man, those chairs are weak!” and then we kept bringing it up every time even if it didn’t have anything to do with the conversation, like now), but that’s about that. I think this is what makes this group so enjoyable to work with, and so successful – for all our differences, in the end we are all very much alike, and we all have a very strong common interest.
The most promising deck was the UW. We tested a lot with it, first against Valakut and then against the aggro decks to make sure we weren’t harming this match too much by being focused on Valakut. This is the list we ended up playing:
“Why 4 Stoneforge Mystic with only two equipment?”- This is the question I got the most during the tournament, so here you go – Mystic is the most important card in the deck. The reason I didn’t like this deck before was that it just applied no pressure, so the opponent could just wait and blank all your Pierces and Leaks, but with Mystic for Sword they cannot do that anymore. This card changes the way the game is played completely, and your percentage against Valakut and other Control decks is so severely correlated to playing this on turn two that it would be extremely foolish not to play four. This card is your Bitterblossom – it is a way to apply pressure without having to tap out or invest anything else, so that you can still counter stuff. In fact, it is so much reminiscent of Bitterblossom that Luis, Owen and I all came up with this comparison independently (though that might mean you’ll have to read this in three separate articles; sorry).
I think no one other than us played four Mystics, but I am 100% sure that is wrong. Would you play Faeries with two Bitterblossoms?
The only reservation we had about four Mystics was that it was not very good against aggro – we tried Mortarpod and it was underwhelming, and Bonerhoarder was not good for anything other than the continuous jokes of the “how big is your Boner?” sort that would arrive anytime anyone played the card. It kind of reminded me of that Friends episode, in which Ross says “Homo Erectus” and Joey starts laughing because of “Erectus.” Then Rachel starts laughing too and he asks her “Erectus??” and she says “Homo!”
Web solved that by suggesting draft staple Sylvok Lifestaff, which made your guys trade with Goblin Guides and 2/2 Vampires and gained you a lot of time in the process. It is funny how Web goes – he stays silent for 3 days and then randomly comes up with something awesome. Having Lifestaffs meant we could afford to play four Mystics, because now you had an equipment that you wanted to search for against any deck. If you drew too many Mystics against control, it wouldn’t matter because you’d be winning with your one Sword and the fact that you had it meant you could afford to have a lot of cards that didn’t do anything else in your hand, and if you drew too many against aggro, they would be bodies for Lifestaff, so that was fine too. Against the aggro decks we expected the most (and in that we were wrong I guess, because Boros was the most successful of aggro decks), a 1/2 body is not even bad, and it also threatens Contested War Zones.
The sideboard was a bunch of good cards against aggro, and against most of them you just take out all the counters and become a tap-out deck. Game ones against the aggro decks were not very good (though certainly winnable), but once you got to add 4 Oust, 2 Baneslayer Angel/Elspeth, and 3 Ratchet Bombs on top of your Wraths, Gideons and creatures, the matchups became very favorable. I honestly think that, after board, we did not have any bad matchups – the worst was probably Valakut.
On Wednesday, Luis and I moved to the level 8 hotel. I was somewhat wary of it after Japan, but this time it was really good – the hotel was very nice and was within walking distance of the site. For starters, they told us in advance that we could bring someone else – everyone generally sneaks someone in anyway, but by them making it official we didn’t have to worry about being thrown out, we were assured we were going to have two beds, and we had breakfast for two. Having breakfast is also a real plus – it is somewhat small in comparison to everything else, but it really makes all the difference. Details like those are what make the effort that I put into becoming level 8 seem worth it, because they make it seem like WotC actually cares instead of me just being a nuisance they have to deal with. We also got the hotel for the entire weekend, GP included, which was really good too, so this time I give big props to Wizards.
We then met Martin, who said he had a really good deck but we were not supposed to share. That put us somewhat in a weird spot, at least for me, because I don’t feel that me having a new deck and not sharing with the rest of the group was very elegant on my part. I remember when we were in Worlds 2006, my first year of “going pro,” and we didn’t really have a deck. Then Amiel came up to Carlos (who was in the team with me) and said they had a really good deck, but he wouldn’t be able to share with anyone else, and Carlos told him that if he would not be able to share it with us then he just didn’t want it. Their deck turned out to be really good, the UW Martyr one that Nassif played to the semifinals, so I would feel really bad about getting a deck and not sharing with anyone, Carlos least of all, when I was already committed to them. I decided that, if the deck was good, I’d just try to talk my way into letting them me tell some other people, and if that proved absolutely impossible, which was unlikely, I would just not play it.
Martin’s deck looked good, but it was clearly a very raw approach that needed a lot of tuning (as Luis mentioned, for example, that they didn’t know one day before the tournament whether they wanted Jaces or Preordains, two radically different cards) and we didn’t feel like jumping ship and into something uncertain when we were relatively happy with our deck.
As for our deck, we had only to debate our last sideboard slot, which we only found as pairings were being announced, despite Luis’s best efforts to prevent us from doing it by continuously asking “what do you think about this card?” and handing us a stack of Gruesome Encores. I’m sure he will be delighted to explain the joke in his own article, so I will not go too much in detail here because reading it twice would just be a gruesome encore.
That last slot ended up being Deprive.
Anyway, onto the tournament!
I got paired against Brandon Scheel in a fake feature match. Generally there are the feature matches that are covered on the website and then one or two more that are only to be watched, but ours went a step ahead by being one that was not covered and that no one could watch, since we were in a corner people didn’t have access to, raising questions about its purpose as a feature match. At some point later in the weekend they moved the lines a bit, so people could get closer and see.
It turned out he was playing Valakut, and despite losing the die roll (which I did an overwhelmingly number of times in this tournament, which sucks because this format is VERY play or draw dependent, a lot more so than any Standard in the last years), I had turn two Stoneforge Mysticand then Mana Leak for his Titan. Sword let me play Jace and Brainstorm into a second Mana Leak for his second Titan, and that was that.
We had more counterspells because of Valakut, but I still don’t really know if that is correct. Counterspells are really good against them game one, but games two and three they kind of change their angle of attack to Thruns and Gaea’s Revenges. Another awesome point of the Mystic plan is that it just blanks Thrun and it beats Gaea’s Revenge in a head-to-head fight, but sometimes if you don’t draw it you might just get counterspell flooded and lose to those cards. When you do draw Mystic, though, the only thing you’ll lose to is a Titan or Avenger (or Lightning Bolt, though pretty much no one was playing that, though more on this next week), so counterspells are the cards you want to draw. Oust is good now that they have a lot of creatures like Cobras, and I’d like to have more but I can’t think of anything other than Gideons to take out, and I don’t want to take out all of them.
Game two I again had turn two Mystic, but he led with Lotus Cobra into fetchland, Harrow, Primeval Titan (YEAH BECAUSE THAT’S REALISTIC). Then I passed with three up and Mana Leak, Sword, and Day of Judgment in my hand, and he played a Thrun with 4 up, which I Mana Leaked.
Now, I wish I could say I Mana Leaked it because I wanted to trick him into tapping three so that I could Day the Thrun away, but that was really not the case – I simply forgot it could not be countered. I know, I suck. The moment he played it, I debated a lot on the decision whether to play Sword and maybe get one hit before Wrathing or to Leak it so that he would pay three and I’d get the Troll with my Wrath too, and never for a moment I considered that he would just stare at me and say “OK.” If he had paid it, I would have looked like a genius, though. Fortunately we were in a fake fake feature, so no one got to see it (I think/hope).
I Wrathed next turn but he had a Zenith to get another Titan which just would just have killed me regardless of what I did.
Game three I didn’t have Mystic, but he didn’t have a second land, and he discarded for many turns until I played Gideon and killed him (though at that point I doubt he would ever get back in the game even if he had hit it on, say, his turn four). I felt kinda bad for him, except I really didn’t, because I have no pity for people who keep one-landers and don’t get there. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes it actually is the correct decision, but not drawing a land is a risk you know you’re taking when you keep this sort of hand.
Round 2: Valakut
This time the games were very easy because I got very lucky. Both times I had Mystic into counters, and my opponent couldn’t really do anything. Game one he actually drew the four Titans, and discarded three of them to Sword before he died.
The only interesting thing that happened was when, at some point, he had three lands and two Battlements and I had a Mystic attacking with Sword. I untapped my lands and I had Mana Leak, Flashfreeze, and Jace in hand, and then I had to decide what to do. If I play Jace-bounce, then I lose to Harrow + land + Titan. If I don’t, he can play Gaea’s Revenge (which I didn’t really think would be a very common card because of Thrun). Normally, in such a dominant position, I will go for the play that does not lose me the game – it is more likely that he has Gaea’s Revenge than Harrow and Titan, but if he has Harrow+Titan I flat out lose, whereas if he had Gaea’s Revenge I am still fine, I just have to stop attacking with my Mystic. However, he just looked so much like a guy who had Gaea’s Revenge, and not really much like a guy who had Harrow + Titan. I don’t really know how to explain it, he just acted in a way that made it look like getting to 7 mana was really important and he didn’t really care about counters, so I played Jace and bounced a Wall. It turns out he had Gaea’s Revenge, which he ended up discarding some turns later to my Sword as I kept bouncing his Wall.
Round 3: RG aggro
My opponent got me slightly confused on game one, when he started (on the play, like every single one of my opponents, because I run very bad) with Khalni Garden and Memnite. I assumed he was playing a mono-green Beastmaster Ascension deck, but then over the next three turns he played Goblin Guide, Kuldotha Rebirth, and Raid Bombardment (!). I didn’t draw Wrath, so that just killed me.
I knew he had to have artifacts since he had Kuldotha Rebirths, even though he had only played Memnite, so I added the Offerings. I also think the UG Sword is better in the aggro matches, since you don’t really need more mana since you’re not countering anything, though that is debatable – I know some players preferred the BG sword.
Games two and three were very comfortable, because our sideboard really is good against them. Against, say, Boros and Vampires, Ratchet Bomb is not even very good, but against Quest and Kuldotha it’s insane. Both games I got Lifestaff (he had Hero of Oxid Ridge, which is really good against us because he stops our 8 dudes, but Mystic with Staff blocks him just fine), then some sort of Wrath effect, then Baneslayer Angel.
It is also interesting that, though we take out all the counters, they didn’t know about that. I watched Luis’s opponent in a very late round lose the match because he did not want to run his Koth into open mana, having seen Pierce and Mana Leak the game before, when Luis had no more of those left in his deck.
Round 4: Kamiel (Quest)
This was another fake feature match. He had played against my friend some rounds before, so I knew him to play quest, which is a bad match game 1 but good games 2 and 3. Quest is like their Mystic – if they have it in their opening hand their win % increased enormously against everything. The only difference is that when we don’t have Mystic we’re still a deck, and when they don’t have Quest they’ve “still got all these Ornithopters.”
He started with fetchland into Signal Pest and Memnite. This set the info to my head that he probably played Steppe Lynx, because otherwise there is no point in playing with fetches, and I didn’t think Lynx was standard in the Quest decks (though I might be wrong).
Turn two he attacked and thought for a long time before playing another Signal Pest. I took that as a sign that he had another one-drop to choose from (he had no other land), and I associated that with Glint Hawk, so the following turn I blocked the Memnite with my Hawk, in an attempt to set him back even more by having to bounce one of the one casting cost guys. It turned out Steppe Lynx was the other one casting cost card he had, which made a lot more sense for him to think on turn two than Hawk.
He played a turn three Quest, but he got stuck on one land for a long time. If he had drawn it in the first four or so turns, he would probably have beaten me. At some point I activated Jace to fateseal him to make sure he was not drawing a second land, then activated Gideon so that his only creature, a Steppe Lynx, would have to suicide itself into my Squadron Hawk, and at this point we both knew we were done.
I don’t really remember the last card I boarded out. I think I took out one Lifestaff, which is probably wrong because it lets my Hawks trade with his Glint Hawks, even if the life gain is not nearly as important. Jace is much better versus them, though, since they don’t have burn or haste.
Game two I mulliganed two one-landers to 5, and he was stalled on one land again. He played three Glint Hawks and I Wrathed when he had four cards in hand. Then, on his turn, he played Signal Pest, Ornithopter, Ornithopter, Ornithopter. Talk about sandbagging your powerful threats uh!
I Wrathed again just because I could, and then he was pretty dead. I think that, contrary to game one, he doesn’t win this one even if he is not stuck on one, since he never really had much to play anyway.
Round 5: Vampires
I didn’t know what my opponent was playing, so I kept a hand that was pretty bad against Vampires – it was something like:
and three lands.
Perhaps I should have mulliganed it – this hand is really bad against aggro decks, though I reasoned that Pierces would not be useless on the play versus both Quest and Kuldotha Red. Against Vampires, though, the counters are all really bad – you don’t really want to keep your mana up for counters against them. Of course each situation is different, but in general you just want to tap out for one of your creatures or planeswalkers rather than keeping up counterspell mana. When practicing for Worlds I thought Dark Tutelage was too scary for you to let resolve, but you can’t really wait with Spell Pierce up and have them play more guys instead, so you just have to hope they don’t have it. With Swords now, you can actually race it a lot more often, too.
I don’t swap swords against Vampires, because of protection from black and the fact that you don’t really want to mill their Bloodghasts.
Game two I had a lot of early defense, which let me resolve Gideon and Jace, and a second Gideon once he killed the first with his two ‘Ghasts, and Lifestaff kept my life total up.
Game three I kept a hand that I think I shouldn’t have:
This hand doesn’t really have what I want, and it will just die to an aggro draw, which was what happened. Sure, I have a Preordain, but I cannot play it on turn one unless I draw an Island or Seachrome Coast, and Preordain on turn two is bad to dig for your two-drops – Ratchet Bomb, Hawk and Mystic (though Mystic less so) are all much much better on turn two but kinda slow on turn three. I also knew he had Go for the Throats on his deck, from game two, so I couldn’t just hope to buy time until Baneslayer. If any of the lands produces blue on turn one I think this is a keep, and if Baneslayer is Elspeth this is also a keep (Elspeth is much better versus Vampires, whereas I feel Baneslayer is a little bit better against other creature decks, and much better against the likes of Mono-Green. It is annoying if they Mark of Mutiny it postboard, but I really don’t think they should have that card in their decks against you if you have 1 or 2 Baneslayers). As it was, though, I think both choices are defensible, but I think mulliganing is correct.
I ended up having to Preordain Gideon to the bottom, despite him being one of my best cards, because I was just dying to my opponent’s 2/2s and needed something fast. I played DOJ on turn 4 but he had a Tutelage and a Bloodghast going and I was never really in the game after he revealed a Go for the Throat on his Tutelage.
4-1 was a result I was happy with – I knew Vampires was one of our worst matchups (we have no removal that stops Bloodghast now, making him as much of a problem as he was for UB decks), and I even kept a lousy hand, but I managed to beat everything else despite not really playing optimally.
I’m going to end this here today, and next week I’ll bring up the conclusion of my PT Paris tournament, including how I got to cast Jace, the Mind Sculptor on turn 3 and how I accidentally cheated my opponent (no, they are not the same situation!).
I hope you’ve enjoyed this, and see you next week, here or in Denver!