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Owen’s a Win – Power of Secrets

Pro Tour Gatecrash is in just under a week, and I have been spending every waking hour preparing for it. I have said this before, and I know other Magic writers are open about this as well, but for me I try hard not to reveal any information about my testing.

The Pro Tour is a totally different animal than any other Magic tournament, because everyone is on high alert for new technology. The played my first Pro Tour in Valencia, and it was just crazy. I know I personally added [card]Flaring Pain[/card] to my sideboard minutes before the tournament because I heard rumblings of combo players with [card]Moment’s Peace[/card] in their sideboard, which I thought my Goblin deck could never beat.

In all my rounds during the event, I didn’t play against a single copy of [card]Moment’s Peace[/card] and they were totally wasted slots.

Another funny moment from that event was people buying [card]Kami of Ancient Law[/card] and [card]Ronom Unicorn[/card] for $15 each because everyone wanted a way to remove [card]Form of the Dragon[/card] when there was a [card]Dovescape[/card] in play. The [card]Enduring Ideal[/card] combo deck was the story of the tournament, but it just shows how quickly and how drastically people will adjust their behavior based on new exciting information.

I often mention how important context is in Magic. Without getting into a drawn out explanation, it basically just means that if people commonly play [card]Lightning Bolt[/card], then a high-cost, three-toughness creature had better be pretty damn good to justify playing it. [card]Ray of Revelation[/card] is better than [card]Kami of Ancient Law[/card] at destroying enchantments until you throw a [card]Dovescape[/card] into the equation. [card]Shock[/card] is better than [card]Flame Slash[/card] when your opponent is at 2 life, but you would much rather have that [card]Flame Slash[/card] when your opponent slams down their [card]Lady Orca[/card].

In a field like the Pro Tour, you know that if you’re going to win the tournament you will have to beat someone on one of the major teams. If you can figure out what every person is playing on the big teams, then that’s 15 really strong players you can sideboard against.

Let’s say you figure out all of Team Fireball is playing Affinity (or Tempered Steel). It becomes really easy to convince yourself to sideboard some [card]Ancient Grudge[/card]s when you otherwise wouldn’t have. Since an addition like that is going to change the matchup a lot, and beating someone playing that deck is something you know you will likely have to do to have a really sick finish in the tournament, there’s incredible value to that information.

It’s insane what people will do to get the information, too. I can remember a few times where I would buy a card from a dealer booth minutes before a tournament, and watch people around me scramble to tell their friends what deck I was playing and who they thought I might be sharing information with. Then those people and their friends change their deck to beat me, and either get paired against me or someone playing the same deck as me and win, or get paired against the rest of the field and have to suffer with a handicapped list. Information is important and spreads quickly, so it’s important to be careful.

I used to experience the same thing at local tournaments. Imagine you play in FNM every week, and always get 2nd place to the best player at the store, who plays Caw-Blade. How many times do you lose to that guy before you decide to change your deck just to beat him? You know you can probably beat most of the other players at the store, and it’s not like that guy is going to stop playing Caw-Blade, especially since he beats you and everyone else with it week in and week out.

Now one week you switch and crush him and win the whole thing. What does he do? Does he show up with the same deck again knowing he will get paired against you and that he has lost before—presumably because of the changes you made? This is a good way to realize that metagaming can be incredibly helpful or incredibly hurtful. If you go too far overboard you might drastically change your sideboard then start to lose to some guy at the shop who plays Mono-Red.

The main difference here is at FNM you know it’s a 20-person tournament, and you know you will get paired against a certain person, and you know what that person will be playing. At the Pro Tour, with 400 players in the event, there is absolutely no certainty that the rumor you heard about a certain team’s deck is even true, that the changes you want to make will even help, or that you can afford to make changes to your deck and still be good against the decks you thought you were supposed to be good against.

Similarly, the importance of sideboarding cannot be overstated. Knowing when a sideboard card “just works” is huge. I was preparing for the Legacy Magic Online Championship series last month, and I was trying [card]Mindbreak Trap[/card] in the sideboard of my RUG Delver deck. It seemed like a perfect fit at first, since I expected tons of [card]Goblin Charbelcher[/card] decks as well as [card]Infernal Tutor[/card] storm decks.

I put three copies of the Trap in my sideboard and went back to jamming games, and I kept drawing the Trap in sideboarded games and still lost. When a matchup is really bad game one (and it was) you really want a sideboard plan that is effective, so adding cards that can win the game by themselves is awesome.

The problem is that I was adding ANOTHER reactive card to my deck, and having [card]Spell Pierce[/card], [card]Daze[/card], [card]Force of Will[/card], and [card]Mindbreak Trap[/card] leaves you with many hands that just sit and wait for the opponent to combo off hoping it’s good enough. My deck doesn’t have all that fast of a clock in general, so it’s hard to put a ton of pressure on before they can find a way out. The Trap is atrocious against [card]Gitaxian Probe[/card], because you can never blow them out with the surprise factor, and those decks usually run [card]Cabal Therapy[/card] and [card]Duress[/card] as well.

It did not take me long to make the move to [card]Arcane Laboratory[/card], which was amazing. I liked it because the combo players that were beating me know I have all the cheap countermagic, so it’s almost suicidal for them to consider combo’ing off on turns one or two, and when you know you will get two free turns, a three-mana card that says “I win” becomes much more appealing. I usually use my early turns to cast [card]Ponder[/card] and [card]Brainstorm[/card] to dig for the [card]Arcane Lab[/card] and get the lands to cast it (since having three lands in play is no easy feat for an 18-land RUG deck).

For those of you interested, I’d like to share the RUG Delver list I used in the Legacy MOCS. I didn’t perform all that well, but I liked the deck a lot, and if there were a Legacy tournament soon I would play it for sure. It is loosely based on Saito’s list from GP Denver, with which he finished in the Top 16:

[deck]Main Deck:
4 Ponder
4 Delver of Secrets
4 Nimble Mongoose
4 Brainstorm
3 Spell Pierce
2 Spell Snare
3 Thought Scour
4 Lightning Bolt
2 Forked Bolt
4 Daze
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Force of Will
4 Wasteland
3 Tropical Island
3 Volcanic Island
4 Misty Rainforest
4 Scalding Tarn
Sideboard
4 Grafdigger’s Cage
4 Submerge
3 Arcane Laboratory
1 Mindbreak Trap
2 Sulfuric Vortex
1 Ancient Grudge[/deck]

I left Saito’s main deck exactly the same, aside cutting a land and adding a [card]Thought Scour[/card]. I liked [card]Thought Scour[/card] because of its interactions with [card]Submerge[/card] to actually kill a [card]Tarmogoyf[/card]. My sideboard is quite a bit different, but that’s what made me think about including this deck list, since it really illustrates the importance of both metagaming and sideboarding.

I still played one [card]Mindbreak Trap[/card] over the fourth [card]Arcane Laboratory[/card] for many reasons. I like having a mix of different sideboard cards, because it makes you very hard to sideboard against, I like that if I happen to draw one [card]Arcane Lab[/card] and one [card]Mindbreak Trap[/card] that it will be far more effective than drawing two copies of [card]Arcane Lab[/card], and I like that [card]Mindbreak Trap[/card] is just better against the less popular but still very real other version of combo in Charbelcher.

I expected quite a few Dredge decks in the field, so I added 4 [card]Grafdigger’s Cage[/card]s, which I liked because you could draw into it at almost any point in the game before you were dead, and it would have a profound effect. Being able to shut off [card]Ichorid[/card], [card]Narcomoeba[/card], [card]Cabal Therapy[/card], and [card]Dread Return[/card] is really sweet. [card]Leyline of the Void[/card] was exclusively my choice for hating on graveyard strategies, but because my deck has [card]Ponder[/card] and [card]Brainstorm[/card], I feel like I can use [card]Force of Will[/card], [card]Daze[/card], and [card]Wasteland[/card] to prolong the game and my library manipulation to let me keep more opening hands and dig deeper for specific sideboard cards—like ones that can shut down an entire strategy for only one mana.

The two [card]Sulfuric Vortex[/card] are my favorite cards in the sideboard because they are a threat against control decks that just fight on a completely different axis than any other card. People always seem to have [card]Swords to Plowshares[/card], [card]Terminus[/card], [card]Perish[/card] and other cards that either fight my creatures or try to generate card advantage but I have played many games in which my opponent will be overly focused on my creatures, allowing me to resolve a [card]Sulfuric Vortex[/card] that can go the distance alone. I even played one match where I cast it and had an opponent at 14 life, and it just slowly whittled down his life total, even after he assembled his [card]Counterbalance[/card]/[card sensei’s divining top]Top[/card] combo with a [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card] in play.

I hope this article was helpful if a little scatterbrained. After the Pro Tour and its necessity for discretion, I will be back at the normal routine of writing about my most recent tournament and strategies for Limited.

Owen Turtenwald
qazwsxedcrfvtgbyhnuj on Magic Online
OwenTweetenwald on twitter

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