Hello everyone, I can’t describe what a big pleasure it is for me writing for ChannelFireball, and now thanks to my recent Top 8 finish at PT Journey into Nyx I’m finally able to do so!
I’m Andrea Mengucci, from a little town in Italy. My previous accomplishments aren’t that notable, my only previous Pro Points are from two GP Top 16s and some PT Day 2 appearances.
I qualified for Pro Tour Journey into Nyx by winning a Standard PTQ in Italy with Mono-Blue Devotion. My success with the deck came by the massive preparation I did for GP Vienna 2013. I tested the deck for weeks on MTGO while discussing strategy and sideboard plans along with game plays with a lot of friends. At the GP I ended up 10-5 (after a 10-1 start), a result that really frustrated me since I was hoping to put a good finish after such a great start. Regardless, I was feeling very good with the deck and my near-Top 64 motivated me enough that I was ready to crush the upcoming PTQ season. In fact, I won the PTQ just two weeks later.
My preparation for previous Pro Tours was usually split between testing a little Magic with Italian friends and hanging around the Pro Tour city, but for this one I wanted to shake things up. I had the pleasure to test with a group of guys from Massachusetts, Team ThroughtheGate, of which I already knew Gerard Fabiano and Mike Sigrist. It was a great opportunity, not only because I could greatly improve my Magic skills, but also my English, while having a great life experience.
With the Italian group we used to draft in paper, which is slower and took a lot more time than the MTGO ones. My Limited practice was essentially to stay in the hotel room, watching and talking about the draft one guy was doing.
The deck choice wasn’t too difficult for me since I was on Naya even before Journey into Nyx was spoiled, since I thought it had a very good matchup against Mono-Black Aggro, Mono-Red, UW Heroic, and all the aggro decks that were populating MTGO at that moment. It had a bad matchup against Reanimator and a close one against Esper/UB. Even with these two matchups, we believed the metagame would be populated mostly by aggro decks, so I started tuning it.
Eventually the metagame read was totally wrong, since there were no aggro decks, no Esper, and no Reanimator. That’s what happens if you are playing a Block Constructed Pro Tour and you aren’t on Team ChannelFireball.
Thus, my deck list was based on a wrong metagame call and I ended up having 7 cards in the sideboard I never boarded in. This is what I registered for the event:
Originally I was playing 2 Destructive Revelry and 3 Banishing Light, but Master of the Feast really got me in testing, so I decided to add a third copy of Revelry. Eventually it was a good choice since there was a lot of Junk Constellation in the hall, but no Master of the Feast.
Also I regret the choice of playing 4 Polis Crusher and 0 Polukranos, World Eater, since every time my opponents played Polukranos or Reaper of the Wilds I felt ages behind. Joel Larsson chose to play 1 Polis Crusher and 4 Polukranos, but I think that decision is too aggressive since it’s still a legendary creature that you don’t want in multiples. I would split it 2-2.
In retrospect I should have put Ajani and Fated Conflagration somewhere in the sideboard. Ajani is totally worthless against aggro decks and doesn’t shine against UB/x decks either, since it applies no pressure to the board. However, against green-based midrange it’s totally insane, letting you break through the stalemates that those games commonly become.
Fated Conflagration is huge against Naya in particular since it deals with the two most important threats: Stormbreath Dragon and Elspeth. I never thought to add it in the sideboard so if I had to play the deck tomorrow, I would definitely add 2. Actually, if I had to play a Block Constructed tournament tomorrow I don’t think I would play this deck again.
The lesson I learned about Constructed here in Atlanta is that you should never trust the MTGO metagame, even if it is the only source of data. The lists you can find are very few tuned and Block is such an open environment that you should explore every possible strategy.
For Journey into Nyx/Born of the Gods/Theros Draft, I usually follow two rules and try to not deviate from them: No red, no BW, every other combination I’m comfortable drafting, looking especially for UG–BG–UW–GW–UB in that order.
I consider blue the best color in JOU and green the best color overall.
The best commons in JOU are Sigiled Starfish and Golden Hind. Blue has 4 premier commons and in order I think are: Sigiled Starfish, War-Wing Siren, Cloaked Siren, and Hubris. The best uncommon is Hour of Need.
My pod wasn’t easy. I recognized Pro Tour Born of the Gods champion Shaun McLaren, Worlds 2012 winner Tzu Ching Kuo, and Trey Van Cleave, who I knew was part of Team Revolution
I was seated to the left of Tzu Ching Kuo and opened what I think is the best common: Sigiled Starfish, along with Scourge of Fleets. The 7-drop isn’t that terrible but I think it’s way worse than Starfish. Next I had to choose between Satyr Grovedancer and Colossal Heroics. I’ve never played with Colossal Heroics before but The Captain (Mike Sigrist) told me it is a very good card, so I decided to listen him and pass the good 2-drop. Third pick I was surprised to find a Fleetfeather Cockatrice, which I think it’s the best card that UG can possibly have, so I cemented on UG and found that itwas very open, since it seems like no one was drafting green and I received a 10th-pick Satyr Grovedancer.
As I opened the second pack I found the best card in Born of the Gods: Eidolon of Countless Battles, and since Tzu Ching Kuo passed me the Cockatrice 3rd it was easy to tell that he is on white. I thought for a second of hate-picking it, but I dislike doing that in an 8-man, so I took the solid Swordwise Centaur over it. Then I took Sudden Storm—the best trick for UW and UG, and I was very happy when I received a second copy.
I got a very late Perplexing Chimera, which I think is a pretty good card but others are perplexed trying to figure out how good it is.
The third booster provided me two bounce spells that I think are key cards for the archetype. I ended up with 2 Voyage’s End followed by a Nemesis of Mortals, which is a top uncommon in Theros and really lets you go nuts with a lucky Satyr Wayfinder. Pick 3 I chose to take Nimbus Naiad over Horizon Chimera, since I thought it actually might wheel seeing how my two colors were open. It did and I was also able to grab another one very late as well.
I had a lot of choices and eventually registered these 40 cards:
Round 1: Shaun McLaren
I was definitely not happy when I saw the pairings, but you know, it’s the Pro Tour.
They called us to the Feature Match area, but I knew nothing about “The King of The Hill” when I sat down.
He was playing a UR control deck. The first game was very close. I was attacking with impunity into his blockers representing some kind of trick (that I also had). He was worried about being blown out by what I was holding, and when the Aerial Formation finally came it was already too late for him.
The second game he chose to draw, and I played a Swordwise Centaur on turn 2 and Satyr Wayfinder on turn 3 while he didn’t play a single spell until the fifth turn. He was really behind so with a Voyage’s End on his creature and Gainsay for his Sudden Storm the game was set.
Eventually he revealed me that he had the Nullify to counter my Swordwise Centaur if he would have been on the play. Since I was lacking any other aggression, getting my Centaur countered would have made for a longer and different game.
My friends told me that after this win I had become the King of the Hill, and now I would play in the Feature Match area until my first loss. I was thrilled with the idea of staying under the cameras and that certainly helped me find the focus to continue winning match after match (of course a little luck helped too!). Playing every match under the cameras puts on a good show for the Italian community, who was constantly cheering me on through Facebook. It was an awesome feeling to be supported by so many friends and acquaintances. Magic is not a mere individual game after all.
Round 2: Trey Van Cleave
He was playing BW, a color combination that I really dislike. The first game I went like this:
Turn 2: Sigiled Starfish
Turn 3: Nessian Courser
Turn 4: Horizon Chimera
Turn 5: Horizon Chimera
Turn 6: Fleetfeather Cockatrice
Turn 7: Archetype of Imagination and technically swung for leathal, but he played Glimpse the Sun God and left the card on top after scrying.
At that point I realized that I should have held something in hand in case of Extinguish All Hope/Fated Retribution, but it was too late, he went for the wrath and left me with nothing but 2 tricks in hand, He was empty-handed too, so after a bunch of draw-go for both of us, I eventually drew some flyers before he could finish me with his ground guys.
The second game he was way more aggressive, with Favored Hoplite turn 1 followed by Mortal Obstinacy, but my Voyage’s End slowed down the game end eventually I won thanks to double Sudden Storm that really shut down his race.
You can see the second game starting from 38:52 here.
Round 3: Olivier Duport
Oliver was playing a good UW aggro deck, with multiple Wingsteed Riders and Hero of Iroas. I managed to win the first game thanks to Sudden Storm. In the third game he missed his 3rd land drop and didn’t cast many spells.
The deck was great and I drew well. It’s not the first time that I went 3-0 in a Pro Tour draft, but now that it happens in the first part of the day it feels a lot better starting with a 3-0! At this point the whole Italian community was on fire for my performance and they were hoping I would continue to keep up the “King of the Hill” title.
Round 4: Lee Shi Tian – Junk Constellation
It turns out that this matchup was the first and the last I played in the Pro Tour, since his deck list is the same as Num Song Wook’s, who I played against in the Top 8.
In the first game I drew very little action: Polis Crusher and Xenagos, the Reveler were answered by Hero’s Downfall and Banishing Light, meanwhile Lee was drawing a lot of cards thanks to Eidolon of Blossoms and hitting many land drops from the top with Courser of Kruphix. Eventually I drew Elspeth, Sun’s Champion and he had no more answer to it, he just drew some cards, and died due to the Emblem.
The second game I went nuts:
Turn 2 : Sylvan Caryatid
Sometimes Naya is just unbeatable. It’s basically impossible to catch up to certain starts.
Round 5: Socrates Rozakeas – UB Control
Socrates was a very kind opponent from Greece whom I had the opportunity to speak with in the days after the PT and I really liked him.
You can see the end of Game 1 from 14:24 to 17:10 here.
I tested this MU a lot, and I found that Prognostic Sphinx is very hard to beat. The only way to win is by deploying threat after threat and hope that they don’t 1-for-1 with every of your cards. The late game feels terrible since they prevent dead draws thanks to the Sphinx’s scry. The first game I was very lucky to draw Lightning Strike the turn before dying, but if he attacked the turn before with both Sphinxes I wouldn’t have had that out.
Again I heard of people going crazy about my topdecked Lightning Strike. My deck was helping me fulfill my dream of a big PT finish, and I couldn’t betray the people cheering me on from home.
Round 6: Andrejs Prost – Naya
For round 6 I was under the main camera so you can find the entire match here.
The first game was very close, we played the same spells but eventually he drew one more Dragon than me and took the game.
In game 3, on my turn 3 I had plenty of choices: 1) Play Courser , 2) Xenagos > token, 3) Xenagos +1, pass.
The first one is probably the safest since I’m able to play around Lightning Strike + Xenagos to keep my Xenagos alive. The second one is worse since it doesn’t play around Lightning Strike and I make him use his full turn. The third one (the one I chose) is only bad against Lighting Strike + Xenagos since my Xenagos would survive multiple turns and take over by ramping into Dragon and Elspeth.
I ended up choosing the third, so I could keep my Xenagos alive 2 turns with 1 counter on it. The commentators really didn’t understand my choice, but in I think it was the right one.
Round 7: Joel Larsson – Naya
Joel is a player that I’ve always looked up to, since I played against him a couple times and he always outplayed me. He’s very good and also a very cool person to joke around with.
The third game was very interesting, he chose to chump-block with Arbor Colossus against my Stormbreath Dragon, and that choice cost him the game. He could afford to take 7 damage and then monstrous Colossus to kill my Dragon—now it was a race between Dragons and Colossus, and eventually I won it since I was attacking first and he must stay back on defense.
I couldn’t believe what was happening to me, staying at the top was indescribable. Hearing your name as “The King of the Hill,” and hearing from everyone that they are rooting for you and that I was representing Italy was very emotional for me.
Round 8: Patrick Chapin – Junk Midrange
This was an interesting match filled with a lot of choices, and I really regret that I wasn’t able to find immediately the right ones.
You can see the entire game here.
Let’s go deep in game 1:
I decided to go with Stormbreath Dragon, +1 Xenagos, and monstrous Polis Crusher, so that I kill the Courser and he can’t hit the land drop to play his Elspeth. I’m sure he can’t play Elspeth unless he drew an untapped land the same turn he played Courser and flipped Temple of Malady from the top, and I suppose he isn’t playing many untapped lands. So I took the risk, monstrified the Polis Crusher and sent the team. He took it and fell to 8.
He untapped and attacked with Brimaz, King of Oreskos and the hasty token Xenagos. I didn’t think and snap-blocked Brimaz, King of Oreskos with my Courser of Kruphix, letting Xenagos drop to 4 counters. But I shouldn’t care whether Xenagos is at 2 or 4 counters, I should care more about the Cat token remaining untapped as a blocker. My worst case scenario is that he plays an untapped land and Elspeth, but if I block the token and he plays Elspeth, which is already obliged to -3, he would be dead on board.
He did in fact play Elspeth, thanks to Mana Confluence, falling to 7 life points and wiping away my 2 big guys, with just Brimaz, King of Oreskos and his token in play, and Elspeth at 1.
I think the right play in retrospect is:
Banishing Light on Brimaz, Xenagos 0 and attack with Courser and Satyr token on his Elspeth. I keep 5 points of burn in case he plays another Elspeth, and in that case I can go: Elspeth +1, Xenagos +1 to play Lightning Strike + Magma Jet on Elspeth killing it and being so ahead on board that he can never catch me, just wait to ultimate Xenagos with another in hand.
But I didn’t choose this line of play, I went all in on burning him down, but he had Courser and flipped a land off the top recovering from that position. I was really frustrated and got tilted, playing a Lightning Strike on a Courser of Kruphix that didn’t receive any damage during the combat step.
I cleared my mind and continued to game 2. It was a tough match, we arrived at an empty board both, he drew Elspeth, and the game was over.
This is how I lost my crown of King of the Hill, I had been dethroned by “The Innovator,” but the PT was still long and I was all fired up to get my title back!