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Breaking Through – Worlds Report Day 1: Tempered

Over the next few weeks, I plan on writing multiple articles detailing the time in and around the 2011 World Championships. This is the beginning of that journey.

Like we had come to expect by this point, testing for the Pro Tour began a few weeks out of the actual start date. This time we were fortunate to have the event held in the Bay Area, convenient as that was where 3 or 4 of our team members lived, meaning that living arrangements should be fairly easy to set up. LSV took charge here, securing us a place at his dad’s house for the week prior to the Grand Prix in San Diego.

The crew was a bit smaller than usual to start the trip, as some of the members had opted to go to Las Vegas for the tournament there, while others were recovering from their extensive travels to Japan and Santiago. Still, 8-10 of us happened to be the right number for a draft, so things would work out just fine.

The first few days were anything but ideal. We spent most of that time drafting, which was far from pointless, as our limited game always needs to improve, but being in that house, one couldn’t help but feel like we were spewing away time that we would need to hammer out what deck we wanted to play. Unfortunately, the call of the draft is a powerful one, and we all caved at some point.

I had decided to focus my deck efforts using MTGO as the medium more than real life this time around. Because I go through so many ideas and so many cards, constantly digging through my collection or proxying things, only to dismiss the idea a few games into testing just seemed like a giant punt. Instead, loading things up online, battling a little, and then tweaking them, seemed to be a much more efficient use of my time. I began the trip looking into a UB Skeleton control list, which will be the feature of a Rogue’s Gallery here soon enough, and kept coming back to the [card]Forbidden Alchemy[/card] decks as a result, even though most of us knew that they did not seem all that well positioned.

Still, there was time left on the clock, and you could see that everyone was focused on playing something they liked. LSV and I were jamming Blue decks. Wrapter was standing by Tempered Steel. Kibler was working on various Delver (aka, the Blue [card]Wild Nacatl[/card]) decks. And somewhere Matt Nass was working on tapping and untapping a [card]Nettle Sentinel[/card] to avoid “Elf Wrist” during the big show.

Idea after idea came and went. I worked on everything from [card]Heartless Summoning[/card]-[card]Genesis Wave[/card], to RG Big Mana decks, but kept coming back to various UB or Esper brews. The most promising of these was a [card]Midnight Haunting[/card] Esper list that will also be featured on an upcoming Rogue’s Gallery, so stay tuned for that. Luis was getting the feeling more and more that [card]Think Twice[/card] was just not something we could justify running at Worlds. When people were bashing you down with 3/2s for 1 mana, cycling on turn 2 was not very appealing. That went for the entire structure of the deck too, not just [card]Think Twice[/card] specifically. It is worth noting that when LSV is nay-saying Blue decks, you should probably take notice, as the guy would be willing to give up puns for an entire weekend just to be casting [card]Mana Leak[/card] (alright, to be fair that may be pushing it).

At some point, despite Josh championing Tempered Steel the entire time we were together, we actually started talking about it, you know, as a team. The theorycrafting started us in the right direction, finally getting us to admit that we may in fact be favored against most of the decks we expected to show up. RG looked tough, but we expected it to be lower in popularity than it was at any point prior in the previous 2 months due to other decks being bad match ups for it.

As we got to actually testing the deck, we quickly realized how good of a match up it had against things like Illusions, which was at an all-time high in popularity. It was also cruising past control decks of all sorts and had a favorable match up against Mono Red and token strategies. In fact, the only match up that we actively did not want to play against was GR Ramp, and even then, some builds were easier than others and the match up was definitely winnable. We kept dabbling in Modern during this time, but I will talk more about that when it is better suited to do so.

Going into San Diego, we were already pretty happy with our standard list and were down to just making tweaks and figuring out what the last card was going to be. It should be noted that our last card changed about 4 times a day for the 3 to 4 days leading up to day 1. Listing things it wasn’t is probably faster than listing what it was, but for a brief synopsis. It was a [card]Darksteel Axe[/card], [card]Shrine of Loyal Legions[/card], [card]Chimeric Mass[/card], [card]Spellskite[/card], [card]Hero of Bladehold[/card], Plains, [card]Glacial Fortress[/card], [card]Moorland Haunt[/card], and a [card]Silver-Inlaid Dagger[/card], all before being settled on as a [card]Mikaeus, the Lunarch[/card]. This decision was made the night before day 1, but it seemed fine, albeit unexciting. Regardless, through thick and thin, we had our list, and it was time to battle.

Now I know that play by play analysis is often the go-to formula for these types of things, but I am not going to rely on that exclusively. You see, some matches are noteworthy, and I will gladly break those down for you, but most matches are run of the mill or flat-out boring. I am not about to make up a bunch of scenarios and plays that I barely remember, which is typically what ends up happening when people do these play by play type of reports. I will gladly provide a short review of the rounds with more extensive coverage where it is warranted though, so hopefully this doesn’t come across as too brief of an approach.

Round 1:

I got off to a pretty good start this tournament, despite the opposite actually happening. In round 1, game 1, I found myself on the unfortunate side of a mulligan to 5. It definitely did not sit well as my first action of the tournament, but there was not much that I could do about it. This did make it feel twice as good when I ended up beating my opponent both that game and the next to jump out to a 1-0 start to Worlds. One issue with Tempered Steel is always its ability to mulligan and still stay above water, but if nothing else, my first round showed me that that was possible. Oh, did I mention that this came against our worst match up in RG? Yea, this one felt good, gotta admit it.

1-0

Round 2:

I played against Jesse Hampton this round, fresh off of his top 8 performance in Philadelphia. He was playing Esper control, similar to Solar Flare but without all of the dumb graveyard interactions. This time our match went to 3 games, but I still felt pretty good in each of them. Game 2 was a tough one, as he resolved multiple [card]Timely Reinforcements[/card], [card]Day of Judgment[/card], and [card]Oblivion Ring[/card]s, but game 3, a risky keep on his part led to an easy win.

2-0

Round 3:

Speaking of easy wins, this match against Ian Spaulding was hardly exciting. A bit of mana screw out of him in both games made these hardly fun to watch, but a win is a win I suppose. He thought the match up was good for him, while the team tended to think UW was favorable for us, but none of that debate was settled here as he barely got to play Magic.

3-0

Round 4:

I played against a Chilean team member this round named David, and the match up was quite unique. Game one saw him play some of the typical Tempered Steel stuff, like [card]Vault Skirge[/card] and [card]Etched Champion[/card], but he didn’t play too many spells, and his mana base was quite different, with a Red source never making itself known. Game 2 showed off why that was the case, as he cast 3 [card]Galvanic Blast[/card]s and a few [card]Arc Trail[/card]s, clearing everything I played. [card]Flayer Husk[/card] was another interesting card this game, but I still could not make out exactly where things were going. Game 3 only presented me with more questions and no answers. He played an [card olivia voldaren]Olivia[/card] this game, but I had a [card]Dispatch[/card] before it could get out of hand. The list seemed quite strange and definitely unique, but I never got to see exactly what it was trying to accomplish.

4-0

Round 5:

I played against Raphael Levy playing Esper control in a feature match this round, so for those interested, you can read all of the specific bits over on the mothership. I managed to fight through [card]Day of Judgment[/card]s, [card]Gideon Jura[/card]s, and [card]Midnight Haunting[/card]s quite well this match, and it just added to the confidence I had developed with the deck so far. I definitely had some favorable draws at times to be sure, but our sideboard plan worked out quite well and I always felt like I was presenting a wide array of questions that he could only hope to answer and every slip up on his part put me farther and farther ahead.

5-0

Round 6:

I honestly cannot remember what the match up I played against this round was, so I will leave it at that.

6-0

To be honest, I wish I could have gone into more depth about each of my matches, not just that final round, but I don’t think I could if I tried. My games were a blur and nothing really seemed to stay in my memory like it normally does. I could feel this effect take a hold of me as I played, but I didn’t bother to try to rectify the situation because it did not feel wrong at the time, and looking backing, I don’t think it was. It was different though.

People often tell stories about how they became this different person during some tournament in which they had success, but I have never been able to relate to that until now. I have had success in the past, but never with the level of focus and determination that I had during this one. I felt a little strange even. Typically, I am very outgoing and vocal, but I could feel all of my energy shift to the games I was playing and the idea of winning. Outside of my matches, I came across as very lethargic and cold, and I apologize to anyone who felt that when they interacted with me, but I truly was in a haze. My mind was only on one thing.

As I will detail more for day two, I am hardly saying that it was all me. I certainly got lucky at times and a few things went my way that I would not expect normally, but for what I could control, I did. It was certainly a new me, and I hope to revisit that place again in the future.

That night, it was all business for me. We didn’t officially have a Modern deck yet, and I wanted the team to do well in that leg of the competition. I know I came across just as cold and deliberate that night as any other time, but my intentions were in the right place. We had to maximize what little time we had left, and I was not afraid to be the bad guy if it meant prodding the team along into doing just that. Our team is awesome in that we are all such good friends, but when work needs to be done, you have to set that aside and do what is right for the good of the group rather than save face. Luis is often in charge of this role, but I felt the need to step out this time. I don’t think I necessarily did it the best way that I could have, but again, I was barely thinking, I was reacting. It was a strange place to be.

I went to bed that night much easier than I could have anticipated. I have gone X-0 at many high level tournaments, from Pro Tour Amsterdam, to a handful of Grand Prixs, and I always have trouble getting to sleep the night thereafter. That night was different. I was different. I did a little research on Modern now that I had some time to myself and lay down, with barely a word spoken to Efro who was sharing the room with me. I could hear my Deck Tech playing from a computer on the bed next to mine, but I didn’t care. I faded into sleep. Another day awaited me, and another 6 wins were waiting to be had.

Conley Woods

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