This has been a stressful couple of weeks. Not only did I play host (which Nate Price describes here), I got to battle in a Grand Prix, try and break multiple formats, and then play in the last big Worlds. Additionally, Worlds was 15 minutes from my house, and would determine the Player of the Year race, so yeah, stakes were pretty high.
We all met in Oakland, where people starting trickling in about a week before San Diego. I felt like I was running an airport shuttle, as I picked up no less than eight different people from various airports (both OAK and SFO, even), and brought them back to my dad’s house. Keeping with Innistrad’s theme (and in reality, Halloween), there was even a werewolf sitting on the couch on the front porch. At one point, Conley took off part of it, leading to the following question:
Would you keep this hand on the draw?
(It was a unanimous snap keep, though PV asked what the matchup was)
Our testing didn’t go as well as we had hoped, mostly due to the fact that nobody except Wrapter had decks built when we first met, and all of his had 4 [card]Shrine of Loyal Legions[/card], regardless of what color they were. As a result, most of the first couple days involved us drafting, though we did do a reasonable job of learning the format. Since it was already on Magic Online, it wasn’t like we had no clue, but Limited has historically been this team’s downfall (check out my 3-3 and 2-4 records at the prior two Pro Tours for an example). Despite BenS being too lazy to show up, we still got good draft practice in, though not as much Constructed as needed.
For draft, the clear best archetype is GW aggro. You basically just want a good curve, 16-18 creatures, and a couple pump spells and removal. [card]Travel Preparations[/card] is obviously insane, and the main reason to be in this particular combination, but even if you don’t get any, combining cheap creatures with pump spells works out pretty well. Avacyn’s Pilgrim is also like cheating, and every game you start with one in play is comically easy to win.
I’ll let BenS write about the exact pick orders in more detail, but it basically goes [card]Bonds of Faith[/card], [card]Prey Upon[/card], [card]Travel Preparation[/card] over most creatures, and [card]Avacynian Priest[/card] followed by [card avacyn’s pilgrim]Pilgrim[/card], followed by [card]Darkthicket Wolf[/card]. The awesome thing about GW is that even the bad versions are pretty solid, whereas a bad U/b/r durdling deck almost never wins. Even if you are playing suboptimal guys like [card]Silvercoat Fox[/card] and [card]Abbey Griffin[/card], if you curve out and have [card]Spidery Grasp[/card]s and whatnot, you can easily win games against better decks.
As mentioned, one of the other archetypes is U/b/r Mill-yourself, which basically just tries to abuse flashback cards and guys like [card]Stitched Drake[/card] and [card]Makeshift Mauler[/card], enabled by [card]Forbidden Alchemy[/card], [card]Deranged Assistant[/card], and [card]Armored Skaab[/card]. This is a more powerful deck, since when it works perfectly it plays a stream of ¾’s for three and free spells, often ending the game with a ton of unused action, but it is way less consistent. Almost any 3-4 land hand in GW is keepable, but imagine a hand that looks like this:[draft]stitched drake
Victim of night
As much as like durdling and blue decks (in that order), I noticed that my records were way better when I drafted aggressive decks like GW or RB. For more info on the RB deck, Owen does a good job describing it here.
Having conquered draft, and finally having built a Standard Gauntlet, it was time to break it!
That, or run back our Nagoya deck, one of the two.
Our Standard testing was pretty funny. Despite what you might assume, I didn’t go in looking to cast Memnite, and started brewing with Forbidden Alchemy decks. As chronicled in my last Running the Gauntlet (parts 1, 2, 3, and 4), UB just wasn’t performing, and we tried out the whole range of Esper colors to try and fix it. Brad and I both worked pretty hard on various Solar Flare lists, but we ultimately conceded that they just didn’t cut it. It isn’t that Alchemy, or even control, are inherently flawed, but the cards just don’t seem to be there to make this kind of deck work. Being reactive in this format just doesn’t work, since all of the threats are so different, and so good. Building a deck that prepares to beat [card]Delver of Secrets[/card], [card]Memnite[/card], [card]Hero of Bladehold[/card], and [card]Inferno Titan[/card], with all reactive and incremental card advantage cards just doesn’t seem doable. I hope I get proven wrong, since [card]Mystical Teachings[/card]-esque decks are my favorite, recent results to the contrary beside, but we sure didn’t find one for this event. If the results are to be believed, nobody did, and even the winning deck was fairly proactive.
After trying a bunch of the conventional archetypes, as well as Tempered Steel, we kept wondering why more people weren’t playing Steel. There were basically zero Tempered Steel lists on Magic Online, and it rarely showed up in any of the Grands Prix or Starcitygames Opens either. It wasn’t like the deck was a secret, and it seemed to crush both Illusions and all the Esper decks, as well as having respectable game against GW Tokens and Mono-Red. The only truly bad matchup was against RG with [card ancient grudge]Grudges[/card] and [card]Slagstorm[/card]s and [card]Arc Trail[/card]s, but that was a risk we were willing to take. In fact, we even wondered if we had missed something really obvious, and if there was a fatal flaw of some kind in Tempered Steel that we weren’t aware of.
The core was always:[deck]4 Memnite
4 Signal Pest
4 Vault Skirge
4 Glint Hawk
4 Glint Hawk Idol
4 Tempered Steel
2 Origin Spellbomb
4 Mox Opal
The fliers were just too good, so every cheap one available was locked in, as well as 4 Opals, 4 Steels, and 4 Dispatches. The main omissions from our Nagoya deck were the more expensive groundpounders, [card hero of bladehold]Hero[/card] and [card]Blade Splicer[/card]. Mainly it was that control decks in Standard had actual finishers, so just playing for the long game with Splicers and Heros was terrible against various Titans and the like. This also let us cut some lands, and become much more of a turn 4-5 deck.
The biggest breakthrough was the addition of the [card etched champion]Champ[/card], since he was insane against all the creature decks. Most of the deck was locked in for basically the entire time, and only the last few slots were very difficult.
Still, the last few slots were plaguing us. Let’s play a game: try and guess which of the following cards we didn’t try (or even consider) for the last slots.[draft]darksteel axe
Hint: there are only two cards we weren’t considering, as sad as that is, and one particularly unplayable Limited card was strongly advocated for by el Wrapterino.
As you no doubt have seen, our maindeck slots ended up being taken up by the last two [card]Origin Spellbomb[/card]s, since despite how slow they were, they were great with the Champ, since we wanted more 1’s to power him up. Plus, a random [card mikaeus, the lunarch]Mikaeus[/card] got in there, under the theory that he was powerful, could scale depending on how much mana you had, and uh, mise. He actually ended up being pretty solid for me, and even let me make one of those very sweet, “aren’t I smart” plays. I removed the last counter from Mikaeus to pump my team, but while that was on the stack, used [card]Moorland Haunt[/card], removing the only guy in my bin, Mikaeus, which then pumped the token (in a relevant fashion, even).
We were kind of already set on Tempered Steel by the time San Diego rolled around, though we had vague illusions of playing something else (though not actual Illusions; that deck is basically the worst). Kibler spent a ton of time working on a UR Delver deck, but it was a Shivan Reef short of being playable. You can’t go into a tournament with a 9 [card]Mountain[/card] 9 [card]Island[/card] 4 [card]Sulfur Vents[/card] manabase, since you are just playing Limited at that point. Even changing it to something like 12, 4, 8 doesn’t work, and until more lands are printed, I’d heavily advise against trying to play enemy colors without something like [card]Sphere of the Suns[/card].
San Diego was a nice break, and I am a huge fan of having a Limited Grand Prix the week before a Pro Tour, though I’d rather just not have a Grand Prix the week before, if that’s an option. Two weeks before is perfect, but a week does disrupt testing a fair amount. Still, changing it from Extended/Modern to Sealed was awesome, and I’m quite happy Wizards decided to do that.
My sealed was fairly unexciting, though I did get to [card]Charmbreaker Devils[/card] back [card]Army of the Damned[/card] a few times. Of course, by “a few times” I mean “my opponents immediately conceded to Army”, but I can dream, right?
I made day two at 7-2, and then proceeded to go 1-2 and 3-0 with two different draft decks. One was GW aggro and one was an incredibly durdly Jund deck. Guess which record goes with which deck.
Actually, my first draft was fairly interesting. I opened and slammed [card]Olivia Voldaren[/card], all while noticing that the guy two seats to my right was lucky enough to open [card]Daybreak Ranger[/card]. Oddly enough, he didn’t take it. I second picked [card]Morkrut Banshee[/card] out of a pack with zero red or black playables, despite the fact that the Banshee isn’t great, and resigned myself to drafting next to RG, since Daybreak got passed. Imagine my surprise when the next guy also decided to keep the day unbroken, and I got a third pick Ranger. What’s more, there was also a [card]Brimstone Volley[/card] in the pack. Curiouser and curiouser.
I really didn’t know which way to go, since there are valid arguments for either pick. It is almost assuredly better to start off with Olivia, Banshee, and Brimstone Volley than the first two plus Ranger, but getting a third pick Ranger is a HUGE sign. Both the people to my right couldn’t have taken green cards, and both would be well aware that I had, if I took the Ranger, so by taking Ranger I was putting myself into an almost guaranteed open color.
I decided that the signal was too good to pass up on, and took the Ranger. I’m still not sure if it was right, though green was very open, and I ended up getting multiple late [card]Gatstaf Shepherd[/card]s and the like. Still, my deck ended up too clunky, and the mana wasn’t great (surprise!).
Here’s the deck:[deck]2 Gatstaf Shepherd
2 Morkrut Banshee
1 Daybreak Ranger
1 Diregraf Ghoul
1 Uvenwald Mystics
1 Disciple of Griselbrand
1 Markov Patrician
1 Olivia Voldaren
2 Orchard Spirit
1 Hamlet Captain
1 Villagers of Estwald
2 Walking Corpse
1 Grizzled Outcasts
2 Victim of Night
1 Caravan Vigil
1 Prey Upon
1 Dead Weight
1 Spidery Grasp
1 Woodland Cemetary
1 Kessig Wolf Run[/deck]
It was just too heavy on creatures, even if most of them were decent ones. I also didn’t like the mana much, and kept going back and forth on the 8th Forest vs. the 2nd Mountain. Even though I ended up with the extra Mountain, I still lost two games to not having red mana, one with a lethal Wolf Run in play.
I rattled off a quick 1-2, which was not an auspicious start to the day. I was eliminated from even Top 32 contention, and had to 3-0 in order to make any money.
My second draft went way better, mainly because I moved into GW immediately and it was open. Hooray me! I didn’t force it, since that would also be bad, but I did bias towards it, and ended up drafting downstream from a guy drafting UB and then Craig Wescoe, who was locked into WW about since about 10 years ago. Sure enough, he slammed a [card]Thraben Sentry[/card] third, and went W/u, the only deck I’ve ever seen him draft in this format.
Despite some bad opens (I first picked [card]Gutter Grime[/card], a marginal sideboard card, in pack three), I got some good passes (a second pick [card]Geist-Honored Monk[/card] in pack three went a long way towards making my deck awesome). My deck was decent, and I managed to fairly easily 3-0, though there were some memorable moments. First, the decklist:[deck]1 Geist-Honored Monk
2 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
1 Voiceless Spirit
1 Chapel Geist
1 Abbey Griffin
1 Selfless Cathar
1 Grizzled Outcasts
2 Festerhide Boar
1 Midnight Haunting
1 Silverchase Fox
1 Villagers of Estwald
1 Darkthicket Wolf
1 Elder Cathar
1 Elite Inquisitor
2 Travel Preparations
1 Smite the Monstrous
1 Spidery Grasp
1 Prey Upon
1 Mask of Avacyn
1 Ranger’s Guile
I normally wouldn’t have even played 17 land in this deck, what with the two Pilgrim’s, but I was scraping the bottom of the barrel when it came to playables already. I do like the [card]Ranger’s Guile [/card]though, which I mention since I know that most don’t. It’s just a very cheap trick that can blank any removal spell, and if you have any halfway decent creatures I find that the Guile more than pulls its own weight. Against removal-heavy control decks, it’s actually awesome, and I almost always want one in my deck.
In the first round, I battled the guy passing to me, playing a very average UB deck. He got me pretty good one game with [card]Runechanter’s Pike[/card] and a few timely removal spells, but the other two games I played around his [card]Frightful Delusions[/card] and his draws weren’t great.
The first funny thing that happened in the draft was in round two, when I battled Wescoe. I went turn one Pilgrim, go. He played a [card]Champion of the Parish[/card], which seemed fitting. I passed on turn two with no play besides a land, and he responded by slamming [card]Spectral Flight[/card] on his champion and sending in.
For the first time in history, every ability on [card]Spidery Grasp[/card] was relevant at the same time. I tapped my Pilgrim, cast Grasp, untapped it, it now had reach, and it was the perfect size to ambush the Champion without dying. HAUMPH.
The blowouts didn’t end there, as I managed to [card smite the monstrous]Smite[/card] a Spectral Flighted [card]Galvanic Juggernaut[/card], and win fairly easily from then on.
After losing a quick game to Spectral Flight on Spectral Rider (which shouldn’t really grant the bonus, since the Rider is already spectral, #flavordraft), I managed to win a fairly uneventful game three.
Another classic moment happened in game two of the last round, when I was battling against a very clunky RG deck. After winning game one, I sided in [card]Gutter Grime[/card], since we did a bunch of trading. His draw game two looked terrible, and I curved out perfectly. All was going according to plan, and I decided that [card]Festerhide Boar[/card] really needed to come out, instead of a useless Gutter Grime, so I played the Boar on turn five. Yeah, let’s just say that what happened next was entirely predictable.[card blasphemous act]All my guys took 13[/card], and I shamefacedly played a Gutter Grime on an empty board, then died without playing another creature.
Luckily, game three featured plays such as him casting [card]Gnaw to the Bone[/card] for zero, all so he could [card]Harvest Pyre[/card] a [card]Midnight Haunting[/card] token, but accidentally putting [card]Rolling Tremblor[/card] on the board instead of the Pyre. He got to cast the Pyre, since it was an obvious misclick, but it was certainly awkward. Also, judging by the kind of plays he was forced to make, it’s probably pretty obvious that I was in no danger of losing that game.
I finished San Diego in the Top 64 (I can only assume, since I never actually checked), and we headed back up to the Bay, this time with San Francisco instead of Oakland as our destination.
After successfully guiding the team through the not-so-complicated public transit system that is BART (it’s honestly like herding cats), we checked into the Travelodge that Conley found. I say Conley, of course, since it was under renovation, and the “office” was just in a random room of the motel, with luggage being stored in the bathroom and a bed used as a filing cabinet. Yep, classy.
The guys got settled in, we battled a bunch more Standard, and PV and I went back to Oakland (since there was no way I was going to get a hotel when I lived so close). A few more days of testing, many arguments, and various shenanigans later, and we were finally ready for days 1 and 2. Notice I didn’t say day 3, since under no circumstances should you be under the impression that we had a Modern deck, something I’ll undoubtedly talk about in more detail.
Here I must leave you, but I’ll be getting the other installments up quickly, so you won’t be waiting a week in between each.
Also, here’s a real life sample hand from the Worlds draft deck of someone who won a Pro Tour within the last two years (name omitted to protect the guilty party).