I had quite an adventure the last few weeks. I went from home, to a ski lodge in Pittsburgh, to Seattle and back in the same day, and then to a Pro Tour. I lost playing for Top 8 of a Grand Prix, managed to acquire impressive (but opposite) records in the Constructed and Limited portions of the Pro Tour (9-1 and 2-4, respectively), and got to watch an exciting Top 8 where Josh very nearly became a Pro Tour Champion. It was a good trip, and our first exposure to what I think is a very good format.
I may write a trip report ala Webster if people would like, but today I’m going to stick to more Magic-related content. So much stuff happened on the trip that I would be doing a disservice to both the Magic and non-Magic aspects if I were to try and cover both in a single article, and I feel that the travelling part of the adventure will keep a little better than the actual Magic content.
First off, the last hurrah of Standard. I know that Innistrad is on the horizon, looking to transform Standard completely, but we have a little time left before that happens. We played Caw-Blade in Pittsburgh, and despite almost making Top 8 (and Yuuya winning), I’m going to say something that I’ve never said since Round 1 of Pro Tour Paris started:
I don’t think Caw-Blade is the best choice.
It isn’t bad, but it really isn’t good either. Deep into the tournament, we were looking around and realizing that we had no matchup we actively wanted to sit across from beside the mirror. Mono-red had adapted, and Timely Reinforcements were no longer enough; I think our combined record against Mono-red was something like 3-11. Splinter Twin was still tough (though not unwinnable), and I lost in a pretty lopsided fashion to Matt Nass when we played round five. I am exaggerating a little, since with [card]Mirran Crusader[/card]s (which Conley explains here), I didn’t mind the Birthing Pod or Valakut matchups that much, but they still weren’t insane for us.
Overall, we were playing a 55/45 deck that had somehow become a 45/55 deck. Instead of having even to favorable matchups across the board, with a lot of play in all of them, we now had even to unfavorable matchups across the board, which is not where you want to be. The balance had shifted from Nationals, where I think Caw-Blade was an excellent choice. Fixing that isn’t impossible, but it is difficult, and it seems like you can do better. Without any permanent source of overwhelming card advantage, you are playing what is essentially a control deck without a lategame, and other decks have caught up in technology to the point that you are now punished for it.
If I were to play in a Standard tournament now, I’d start by looking at Splinter Twin or RUG Pod, both of which I like more than Caw-blade. I still don’t like Valakut, and despite the resurgence of Mono-red at the Grand Prix, it still is a very beatable deck. Now that it is winning, the target painted on its head has made it vulnerable. Were I to play Caw-Blade, I would at the very least change the sideboard, though I still like our maindeck. Mirran Crusader is awesome against Pod and Valakut, and is actually pretty good in the mirror too.
Here’s the sideboard I’d look to use:[draft]3 Flashfreeze
3 Kor Firewalker
2 Timely Reinforcements
2 Torpor Orb
2 Mental Misstep
1 Revoke Existence
Having both [card]Kor Firewalker[/card] and [card]Timely Reinforcements[/card] puts Mono-red in a tough spot, since cards good against one are bad against the other, and you still have some Mental Missteps.
Having [card]Torpor Orb[/card], [card]Mental Misstep[/card], a [card]Deprive[/card], and a [card]Dispel[/card] makes Splinter Twin better than it was previously, and forces them to fight over some permanent-based solutions instead of just spells.
There isn’t a ton for the mirror, but there aren’t many good sideboard cards for that to begin with, and you still can side in a Deprive and a Dispel if you see fit.
To get back on track, after watching Yuuya win Pittsburgh (and Matt Nass double his number of GP Top 8’s), we headed to Philadelphia, which was in the eye of a hurricane…or completely unaffected, from what we could tell.
Modern and the Pro Tour
As seems to be a recent trend, I tested many decks for this Pro Tour, trying to find a really sweet one…and then played an aggro deck. Granted, our Zoo deck (which, as you most likely know, was championed throughout by the Dragonmaster himself, Brian Kibler), wasn’t just an aggro deck, and in fact was more of an aggro-control deck.
Before I get into the Zoo deck, here are the decks I tried and rejected:
Cloudpost – This deck seemed very bad. It was not only the most obvious deck, it didn’t seem great vs. combo, and the aggro decks that really wanted to beat it, could. It did murder control, but we expected there to be almost no control, mainly due to Cloudpost (and we were right).
Grapeshot-Swath – I very nearly played this deck, and up until the day before the tournament, it’s what I thought I was going to. The deck was certainly good, but it was really borderline close to just not working, regardless of what the opponent did. PV talked it about it at length, but the final straw for me was when I went back and tested the Cloudpost matchup some more. I found that once they gained 2-4 life from [card]Glimmerpost[/card], I actually needed 7-8 spells to kill them, which put a ton of strain on the deck. Combine that with the chance that the opponent actually disrupts you, and I was no longer happy with the deck. Against decks that start at 15, it really is a turn three deck. Against decks that start at 20 (or even 22), it is more like a turn 4-5 deck that needs to get a little lucky. I didn’t like the sound of that. It’s very possible that the people who played [card]Empty the Warrens[/card]/[card]Goblin Bushwhacker[/card] (like Jeremy Neeman, who I died to twice in the tournament) are on the right track, but I’d rather not sleeve up [card]Rite of Flame[/card]s this time around. Mind’s Desire was an awesome deck; these decks are way more fragile and inconsistent.
Infect – The way we got the infect deck was pretty funny. I actually got a Facebook message from a good friend of mine, Stan, who hasn’t had time to play much Magic recently, seeing as he recently acquired twins. He said that he had a Modern deck he was messing around with, and kept winning with. Lo and behold, it was the same deck that Martin had just stumbled across and was very excited about. Unsurprisingly, it was the [card]Blazing Shoal[/card] Infect deck, in its first form.
Taking the basic idea that Stan had (and I’m sure other people figured it out too, but as far as I know he was the first to play it online), we made a bunch of different versions of the deck. They all had Shoals and Inkmoth Nexus, but the rest of the framework could be built a number of ways. We tried [card]Muddle the Mixture[/card], [card]Ponder[/card], [card]Preordain[/card], [card]Spoils of the Vault[/card], [card]Plunge into Darkness[/card] as tutors, and various combinations of [card]Plague Stinger[/card], [card]Blighted Agent[/card], and [card]Glistener Elf[/card] as poison delivery systems. We never got to [card]Peer through Depths[/card], but that is mainly because we stopped working on the deck after realizing how bad the Zoo matchup would be. I think the mono-U version that Team Mythic came up with was pretty good, especially against an unprepared field, but we weren’t optimistic that people wouldn’t have enough removal. This was another close call, but still not a deck I was looking to play.
And here we have it. Throughout the entire process, Kibler had been working on a Zoo deck, despite all the brokenness the format had to offer. It wasn’t a solitary effort, but he certainly was the most determined. Working in parallel is one of the better ways to function, since if either group breaks it, both benefit. I never really wanted to play Zoo, but Wild Nacatl just has my number these days. At the end of the day, I’m going to play the deck I think gives me the best chance, even if the deck is WW, Zoo, or something even worse (which I can’t really imagine, honestly). The Zoo deck (hereafter referred to as Catfish, since it’s a fish deck that plays cats) seemed good, and the sideboard was really awesome. We improved postboard against every deck, and by a significant amount. While other people side in Firespout, Kitchen Finks, and Obstinate Baloth, making their deck actually worse, we got to side in matchup-breaking cards like [card]Flashfreeze[/card], [card]Unified Will[/card], and [card]Gideon Jura[/card]. We did have a few spice cards in the board (1 [card]Bribery[/card], 1 [card]Rule of Law[/card], 1 [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card]), but everything else was tutorable, and I really liked how it ended up.[deck]4 Arid Mesa
1 Dryad Arbor
1 Hallowed Fountain
1 Horizon Canopy
2 Marsh Flats
4 Misty Rainforest
1 Sacred Foundry
1 Scalding Tarn
1 Steam Vents
2 Stomping Ground
1 Tectonic Edge
1 Temple Garden
1 Gaddock Teeg
4 Knight of the Reliquary
4 Noble Hierarch
1 Qasali Pridemage
4 Wild Nacatl
3 Bant Charm
2 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
4 Green Sun’s Zenith
4 Lightning Bolt
3 Lightning Helix
4 Path to Exile
3 Aven Mindcensor
2 Gideon Jura
1 Grim Lavamancer
1 Qasali Pridemage
1 Rule of Law
1 Tectonic Edge
2 Unified Will[/deck]
The Actual Tournament
After a last minute scramble for cards, the tournament kicked off. I sat down for round one amidst a sea of Cloudpost decks, but I luckily dodged them all. In fact, I played the opposite: a deck with 14 lands, a deck that tried to max out at having access to two mana total.
Round 1 – Brian Lynch, Affinity
Affinity is a pretty close matchup. Their best draws are nearly unbeatable, but they can be a little threat-light, and our deck is full of removal spells. Both games were pretty similar, which was fortunate for me. Brian dumped his hand on the board, but drew a number of Platings less than equal to artifact removal spells, and no Ravager until way too late. My stream of disruption never faltered, and I managed to win both games at fairly low life.
Against Affinity I just sideboarded in [card]Qasali Pridemage[/card], [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card], and the two Gideons, cutting Gaddock Teeg,
Round 2 – Gabor Kocsis, Splinter Twin
One of the most annoying things about this format is figuring out what your opponent is playing when they start with Steam Vents and cantrips. Gabor was all [card]Scalding Tarn[/card]s, [card]Steam Vents[/card], and [card]Ponder[/card]s, which narrowed his deck down to just Swath, Splinter Twin, or Hive Mind. No matter which he was playing, he could kill out of nowhere, but what I could do about it vastly differed. My hand wasn’t particularly interactive with the non-Twin decks, and he played a turn two Spellskite, so I assumed he was playing Twin. He in fact was, and I pressured him into going off into my two removal spells. He stopped one with Spellskite, but didn’t have a Pact of Negation for the second.
I sideboarded in all the counterspells and the Qasali Pridemage, cutting the Elspeths, a Knight of the Reliquary, the Lightning Helices. Elspeth and Knight are both pretty slow, and Helix only interacts with [card]Pestermite[/card] (which they sometimes board out anyway).
Game two was even less close, as he cast Ponder and shuffled three times, and never was able to even assemble the combo (partially because he had to keep playing [card]Pestermite[/card]s and Deceivers to chump with).
Twin is a matchup we didn’t test at all, though it wasn’t hard to figure out. If you could pressure them enough, they would have to go off without protection, at which point all your removal spells were game-ending. We also had [card]Gaddock Teeg[/card] and [card]Qasali Pridemage[/card] as [card]Green Sun’s Zenith[/card] targets, both of which stop Splinter Twin, though they do nothing against Kiki-Jiki. Our record against Twin in the tournament was looking pretty good until wrapter had the temerity to lose to it in the finals.
Round 3 vs Willy Edel, Zoo
This was a fake feature match, which is probably for the best. It wasn’t pretty to watch. Willy was playing Zoo, and his plan against Cloudpost was to play [card]Molten Rain[/card]s. That was good against Post, but not so much against the mirror, and him casting Molten Rain on my Stomping Ground while I had Elspeth in play was just embarrassing. His draw wasn’t great, and I dispatched him in short order. Not only does Catfish have more high-end threats, it has more removal for his threats. The aforementioned Elspeth was crucial, as was Bant Charming and Pathing all his Goyfs and Knights.
Sideboarding wasn’t that extensive; we were basically preboarded against Zoo. All I did was take out [card]Qasali Pridemage[/card] and [card]Gaddock Teeg[/card], adding in two Gideons. I thought about adding [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card], but decided against it; it only fights Noble Hierarchs.
Game two was even less close; Willy mulled to five, didn’t have red mana, and the Gidfather came out on turn six or so. Not only did he have to suicide a Goyf into my Knight, after he Bolted to kill the Knight, I used Gideon’s -2 to kill his other Goyf. I can’t count how many cards that put me up; if you were to use card prices, I think I made a new car on the deal.
Round Four vs Ronnie Ritner, Mythic Conscription (!)
At first, I thought I was playing the mirror. We both started with [card]Noble Hierarch[/card]s, but when he fetched out a [card]Breeding Pool[/card] to go with his [card]Temple Garden[/card], I became a little suspicious. I played an Elspeth, jumped Wild Nacatl, and things were looking good. That is, until he dropped an end of turn [card]Aven Mindcensor[/card], untapped, and played [card]Sovereigns of Lost Alara[/card]. Wow.
He smashed in, eating Elspeth with a [card eldrazi conscription]14/13[/card] Aven Mindcensor, and I was all of a sudden in a tough spot. My only saving grace was the [card]Path to Exile[/card] I masterfully plucked off the top of my deck, and was able to use to great effect when he attacked me next. He doubled up on Conscriptions, meaning that once the Mindcensor got Pathed, Sovereigns was nothing more than a 4/5 Exalted. My creatures were still bigger, especially considering the fact that [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] was a 7/8 (Planeswalker and Tribal Enchantment were both in the bin). Even his maindeck [card]Bribery[/card] wasn’t enough, since I Pathed the Goyf that he searched out. Tarmogoyf ate all his chump blockers, then ate him.
This is exactly the kind of match that I was talking about earlier; he sideboarded in [card]Kitchen Finks[/card] and [card]Obstinate Baloth[/card]s, which were actually horrible. I had a quick Wild Nacatl into Elspeth draw, and this time he had no Sovereigns around to kill Elspeth.
Round 5 vs Brad Sheppard, Some Level of Blue
I came across one of the handful of control decks this round, as I soon figured out. He was wielding [card]Vendilion Clique[/card]s, [card]Spellstutter Sprite[/card]s, [card path to exile]Paths to Exile[/card], and [card]Engineered Explosives[/card], as well as [card]Cryptic Command[/card]s, [card]Mana Leak[/card]s, and [card]Spell Snare[/card]s.
I thought I was crushing him game one, but some of those nice removal spells I just mentioned made things look a little worse. It got to the point where we both had nothing in play, and my hand was the following:[draft]green sun’s zenith
Green sun’s zenith
I passed without casting anything, because I didn’t want to run into [card]Cryptic Command[/card], and instead got Vendilion Cliqued. He took [card]Bant Charm[/card], which cycled into [card]Lightning Bolt[/card]. Since he was at six, I tried to kill him right then, but he had a [card]Spellstutter Sprite[/card]. By going for it immediately, I played into Sprite and [card]Mana Leak[/card], but avoided Cryptic, which I was fairly certain he had. I probably should have waited, but as usual, I was rewarded by the second Bolt waiting on top of my deck. That one I slowrolled, waiting until he had to tap out to deal with my other spells.
After getting murdered game two by some Explosives and a pair of [card]Vedalken Shackles[/card], I decided to put in Gideons. I figured that although Gideon was soft to counterspells, if he resolved he was pretty good, since I didn’t have to expose him to Path if I didn’t want to.
Naturally, I resolved Gideon on turn four in game three, and he never found the white source needed to cast Path. The whole game I played around Spell Snare too, which was fairly easy to do.
Once again, I emerged from the Constructed rounds unblemished. However, unlike Nagoya, this time I would do better in draft.
Here is the draft viewer for Pod 1.
I guess the only thing I can say is that Conley may have drafted worse than I did, but that might not even be true. He at least was trying to react to the draft, whereas I was just trying to force it. My problems stemmed from Pick 1 Pack 1, where I took [card]Consume Spirit[/card] over [card]Vampire Outcasts[/card], [card]Gorehorn Minotaurs[/card], and [card]Dungrove Elder[/card]/[card]Cudgel Troll[/card]. I think taking Outcasts or Gorehorn is fine, but I was possessed by a desire to play mono-black, so I took Consume. That was pretty bad for the same reason most things I do in draft are bad: I have to react, not force. By committing to mono-black, I was pigeonholing myself, and for no good reason.
I do maintain that I was in a tough seat regardless, since no matter what I take (between Gorehorn and Outcasts, that is), I’m going to get pinched. Taking one of the green cards would have worked out fine, but moving into green P1P1 is probably as bad as taking Consume, regardless of how well it would have ended up working out.
In the end, I found myself the proud owner of a nice mono-black splash Garruk deck, with appropriately bad mana. I did have a [card]Solemn Simulacrum[/card], but that wasn’t enough to mitigate the damage.
I don’t exactly mean to just gloss over my draft rounds, but they really weren’t exciting. I got mauled. A lot. I lost to RB thanks to drawing running [card]Deathmark[/card]s, I lost to Jeremy Neeman’s vastly superior BG deck when he was to my left, and I beat Conley Woods in a nice 0-2 showdown. At least I did get to make 10 LSV Worm tokens with Garruk against Conley, which closed out the day rather admirably.
5-0 + 1-2 = meh
I’ll be back with the rest of the event shortly, but I’m going to call it a day here. Plus, it isn’t like I really want to write a report about M12 Sealed (GP Montreal is this weekend), so why not slowroll a sweet PT report if I can. If people are interested in me writing more about the traveling aspect of the trip, I’ll be glad to do so, but bear in mind that it won’t have quite as much Magic content as most of my articles.
Sample hand: My last RGD draft deck[draft]ogre savant
Best format ever, I swear.