Day two was in the books as far as matches were concerned, but we still had the issue of not having our Modern deck locked down. We left the tournament hall and grabbed some Chipotle, which was the unofficial sponsor for the team during Worlds, as we ate there basically every day. Once that was done though, we had to get to work on Modern.
It wasn’t as though we just ignored the format. In face, we easily did way more testing for this year’s Worlds than the previous year at Worlds. The issue was that most of our ideas ended up running into dead ends, but not quickly enough to avoid time sinks. We worked on various Teachings builds, Esper control lists, and combo lists, but each one took so much time to assess that we kept losing a day here or a day there. Eventually, we decided that Past in Flames was going to be the deck to play and we invested quite a few days into tweaking and rebuilding it. It was the deck to play of course, until it wasn’t, as it was having problems with Splinter Twin, which we expected to be popular.
Next came Ad Nauseam and then more control lists, but time after time, we bricked. Now it was the night before Modern and we had very little to work off of. Luckily, Kibler had been working on a Zoo list for quite some time, so we had a fall back plan. That said, Luis decided Splinter Twin was the deck, so we all set out to build the deck and get some games in. A few hours later, enough people had their list together that we were ready to test. As you will eventually see on video, Luis even tells the camera “I will be playing Splinter Twin.” Of course, within the hour, and far too many losses to Zoo, that idea was scrapped, and we moved on once again.
It was certainly frustrating to not have a list as of yet. Frequent glances at the clock saw our hours slipping away which only grew our frustration even more. Zoo seemed like the de facto choice at this point, as we had some base for it already, many of the group had played it in Philadelphia just 3 months earlier, and we could customize it to fit the format that we expected. Now the debate shifted to whether Big Zoo or Tribal Zoo was the best choice. Kibler pitched his case for Big Zoo and Efro his argument for Tribal Zoo, so ultimately the team broke into two camps, but that was fine. At least we were making progress.
I went back to my room with the list Kibler had arrived at through his own testing, but I knew I would be changing it a little bit to suit my style more. I had pitched my ideas to the group, but for the most part, everyone had an idea of their ideal Zoo list so I just left them to their own devices. I wanted to include [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] as I thought the card would be very good against combo and control and I also wanted [card]Kitchen Finks[/card], as I thought it would be good against the heavy amount of Zoo we anticipated. Kibler was playing [card]Lightning Angel[/card], but I just was not a fan of the card. I had played Bant many times before to some success, so the closer my Zoo list looked like Bant, the more comfortable I was going to feel. After coming up with a sideboard from scratch, I eventually ended up with the following list, for which there is a deck tech on on Youtube.
[deck]4 Wild Nacatl
4 Noble Hierarch
2 Qasali Pridemage
1 Snapcaster Mage
4 Knight of the Reliquary
2 Kitchen Finks
1 Geist of Saint Traft
4 Path to Exile
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Lightning Helix
2 Bant Charm
4 Arid Mesa
4 Misty Rainforest
3 Scalding Tarn
2 Stomping Ground
1 Temple Garden
1 Breeding Pool
1 Hallowed Fountain
1 Steam Vents
1 Sacred Foundry
1 Horizon Canopy
1 Kessig Wolf Run
2 Gideon Jura
2 Kitchen Finks
2 Spell Pierce
2 Ancient Grudge
1 Ranger of Eos
1 Rule of Law
1 Mindbreak Trap
1 Seal of Primordium
1 Torpor Orb[/deck]
One thing I didn’t cover was the inclusion of the one [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card], which I have been asked questions about, as Kibler’s list did not include it. Basically I was looking to get a little extra value out of my [card]Path to Exile[/card]s, [card]Lightning Helix[/card]es, and countermagic. It is certainly not a good enough card in Big Zoo to include 3 or 4, like in tribal Zoo, which has [card]Tribal Flames[/card] as an amazing target, but you have enough value here that I liked the versatility of one, especially in boarded in games.
I went to bed at a reasonable time despite building the majority of my deck that night. Luckily for us, the team play was the first on the docket for day 3, so we would all get an extra hour of sleep or two. That morning, we had breakfast with the team like we had every morning prior and headed off to the site. Every morning we walked a little over a mile to the sight, up a pretty killer hill and along the ocean the entire way. It was quite beautiful and definitely woke you up, but today was different.
Until this point, I had remained mostly stoic since Worlds had started. My typical jokes and feel-good nature were held to a minimum and I was limiting my reaction to things, instead taking everything as though it were the same. I didn’t do this consciously, and even as I have mentioned before, I was a little apologetic for how it translated to my interactions outside of the tournament area. Finally, along this walk though, my mind started to wander.
Normally, when a player has a successful tournament, they write about how they took it one match at a time and ignored their record etc. For this particular tournament, I can’t say I was ever unaware of how I was doing, but I can say that I never let it impact me, positively or negatively. Each win just blurred into the next (as I assume losses would have as well) and I just wanted to keep playing better and winning more. Finally, reality hit me.
As I walked up that hill, fear finally crept into my range of emotions for the first time all week. I was 12-0. Historically, 13-4-1 qualifies for top 8, which means realistically, I would only need a single win in 6 rounds to be a lock for the top 8. Some may find comfort in the ease of the task, but for me, it made it all that much more intimidating. There is no shame in losing a basketball game to Kobe, losing to your 6 year old cousin though, that’s pretty embarrassing. Maybe it was a the idea of piloting a deck that had never been play tested, or the idea that I might finally lose, or the idea that I had been in similar positions to this before and have not held my composure as well as I should have, but most likely it was a combination of these things, and the first hint of emotion in 3 days was bond to be a powerful one.
I made the rest of that walk silently, working out the details in my head. Not the math on what I would need to do to top 8, but rather the internal dialogue that would beat this fear into submission. I had done all I could to be in the position I was in and I was not about to let my humanity play spoiler to that. I still had a few hours until play started, and fortunately was able to calm myself before then. That moment was bound to come eventually, and I was proud that I did not let it take me over. Now, it was time to battle.
This match was covered by the mother ship, so you can head over there to get the detailed scoop. I played against Mathias Hunt who was piloting a Death Cloud rock deck. In game 1, I got stuck on a bit of mana, but a surprise [card]Negate[/card] off of [card]Noble Hierarch[/card] and [card]Kessig Wolf Run[/card] countered his Garruk, which was a huge swing for me. After that, [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] came down and got in 10 damage while on route to killing a [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] thanks to the Wolf Run and I was able to (Kessig Wolf) run away with the game. Game 2 was a more typical Zoo draw where I got in a few damage, but he began to kill all of my creatures. At the end of his 3rd or 4th turn though, with him at 14, I aimed a [card]Lightning Helix[/card] at his face, and visible concern crossed his face. Next turn saw me cast a [card lightning bolt]Bolt[/card] and second Helix, followed by another Bolt and a Snapcaster on Bolt, to burn him out from an otherwise comfortable life total.
I was in the position where I only needed a single draw in 5 rounds, so when I got paired against Paulo this round, it just made sense from a team standpoint to scoop to him, so I did.
Another round where my memory has apparently failed me. I played against Ian Wood who was playing a Zoo variant with [card]Threads of Disloyalty[/card] post board. I lost game 2 due to the aid of a little bit of mana problems, but outside of some individual plays, I don’t remember much from the other two games.
I played against Yuki Yoshioka who was playing [card]Past in Flames[/card] with [card]Empty the Warrens[/card]. In game one, he went off for 8 tokens on turn 2, which slowed me down but he was forced to chump block for the next X turns. During this time, I was able to determine his blocking habits, which was important. While I have just been building up creatures and lands, and throwing burn spells at his face, he once again goes for another batch of goblins and passes. Luckily, I have set the game up in such a way that when I attack next turn with a large [card]Kitchen Finks[/card] due to multiple exalted triggers, and he blocks with a single goblin, as he had been every turn, I tutored up [card]Kessig Wolf Run[/card] with my [card]Knight of the Reliquary[/card] and trampled over for the win.
In game 2, I brought in all of my combo hate and got a fairly normal start. He ends up starting to go off around turn 4 or so, but I have [card]Spell Pierce[/card] and [card]Mindbreak Trap[/card] in hand, so I feel pretty good. He goes to cast a [card]Past in Flames[/card] as his 4th or 5th spell this turn, and I make a mistake here by [card]Mindbreak Trap[/card]ping it. I forgot that he had 4 red mana floating, so he was able to just [card]Empty the Warrens[/card] afterward. I definitely should have countered the [card]Past in Flames[/card] with the trap, as the possibilities afterward are too varied, but I should have [card]Spell Pierce[/card]d it first, depriving him of two mana, so that he could no longer cast Empty that turn. He ends up making 10 tokens, as I [card]Spell Pierce[/card]d a copy of the Warrens. Next turn I attack him down to 7 and when he doesn’t block, I realize he has [card]Goblin Bushwhacker[/card] in hand. As a result, I play a post combat Finks to put me back to 20 life and pass. He untaps and misscounts, playing the Bushwhacker and attacking all out. I have 2 blockers, so I block, and take 18. He had apparently forgotten to record my 2 life from the Finks (I think) and I had lethal the next turn now that all of his creatures were tapped.
I ended up playing against LSV this round, and despite him being in the top 8 with a draw, I decided to scoop to him to have the bracket more favorable for the top 8. At this rate, we could effectively stack the bracket so that me, PV, and LSV were 1, 2, and 3, meaning we would not have to play in the first round. Getting Wrapter into 4th or 5th was also a possibility if we were to all play next round. In addition to that reason, we had Owen and Ben who could both sneak into the top 8 if we managed to knock people out. This left the three of us playing, despite it not being the conventional thing to do. There were too many potential benefits for the team if we all won, and while it sucks to have to inform your opponent that you will not be walking them into the top 8, the team, and my friends, had to come first.
This would be the third time I played against David Caplan, and it definitely sucked to inform him that we would be playing. The good news for him, was that his tie breakers would only improve if he lost, meaning there was a very good chance he would still make it into the top 8. I don’t remember much from game 1, although I know I mulliganed to 6 but still came out firing with [card]Knight of the Reliquary[/card] and some [card]Tarmogoyf[/card]s. We both used up removal, as is typical of the Zoo mirror, but ultimately I had a few more threats than him and took it down. For game 2, the game went along as normal, until at one point, he kills my lone creature, untaps with a [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] in play, and plays Elspeth, making a token. My empty board looks pretty bad at this point, but his Path, plus it being turn 5, meant I got to untap and play a [card]Gideon Jura[/card]. Gideon picked off the Goyf and I passed with 1 mana up. He naturally went to jump his token so that he could kill the Gideon, but I had a Bolt at the ready to save him and rid him of his only creature. Next turn, Gideon went active and killed the 6 loyalty Elspeth, putting me in firm control of the game and the match.
Finally, 3 long days of battling were complete, and I managed to escape with an all but untarnished record due only to my two concessions. I knew that there was still a lot of work ahead of me that night and the next day though. Everyone kept coming up to me and congratulating me, and I probably didn’t handle that as politely as I could have. I was not rude, and I appreciated all of the support, but I wanted to win, so I didn’t feel like I had accomplished very much yet. I knew that in a few days, win or lose, the thought of performing so well in the Swiss would sink in and I would be proud, but for now, amidst the controlled chaos, my mind was not willing to accept this as an accomplishment. I was very aware of how I was coming across to other people, and constantly worried that they would think I was giving them the cold shoulder, but in reality, I just remained in this trance like state.
That night we went out to a nice dinner with the whole team. We have a tradition that anyone who top 8s a Pro Tour buys dinner for the team either the night before the top 8, or the night of it. Fortunately, since we had 4 members in the top 8 this time, we didn’t have to spend too much, as we all split the bill, so I definitely got off easy on that one.
We worked out sideboard plans and discussed everyone’s chances in the top 8. Our bracket carving had worked out in at least one way, as Wrapter sneaked into the 5th seed, meaning that no one on the team would be playing against each other in the quarterfinals. We all thought Paulo would win his match, as it seemed the easiest according to our testing. Luis and I were favorites, although neither match would be a cake walk, with Luis having a significantly more difficult time than myself. And Wrapter would need to pull off a miracle to win, although it was certainly possible. And with that, we broke off into our respective rooms and sleep followed shortly thereafter. Sideboarding plans ran through my mind and kept me awake a little longer, but with the thought of [card hero of bladehold]Heroes[/card] and [card]Dismember[/card]s, I finally dozed off…