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PV’s Playhouse – Fourth Time’s the Charm, a Worlds Report (Part 2)

Hello!

This is the second (and last) part of my Worlds 2011 report.

Draft 2 had way more people that I recognized, and I started with a [card]Fiend Hunter[/card]. After that I got passed a [card]Thraben Sentry[/card] with another to come, and though I am not in love with the idea of picking those so early, they’re fine cards and they solidified me into White. By the end of pack 1 I believe I had one Green card and the rest was White.

In pack two, I opened [card]Daybreak Ranger[/card] and took it, and then I got passed [card]Brimstone Volley[/card] and [card]Blazing Torch[/card]; Had my [card]Daybreak Ranger[/card] been, say, a Mayor instead, I think I would just have picked Torch, but with the Ranger I’m going to splash anyway so might as well take the better card. I took [card]Heretic’s Punishment[/card] next out of a pretty weak pack, which made me wonder if I should go RWg, but then Red quickly dried out and I stuck with GWr. In the beginning of pack three, I saw a [card]Kessig Wolf Run[/card], an [card]Avacyn’s Pilgrim[/card] and a RW Dual; I did a quick count and figured that the RW Dual would most likely wheel, despite Yuya also having opened [card]Daybreak Ranger[/card] across the table from me. Still, I resisted the temptation and took the Pilgrim – the Wolf Run is undeniably the better card, but I think in my deck the Pilgrim was much better, as I had multiple three and four drops. In the end, I did wheel the RW land, which I happily took. My deck ended up like this:

[deck]1 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
1 Daybreak Ranger
2 Villagers of Estwald
3 Thraben Sentry
1 Brimstone Volley
1 Fiend Hunter
1 Butcher’s Cleaver
1 Selfless Cathar
1 Ambush Viper
1 Spectral Rider
1 Traveler’s Amulet
1 Bonds of Faith
1 Moonmist
1 Gatstaf Shepherd
1 Abbey Griffin
1 Somberwald Spider
1 Orchard Spirit
1 Moment of Heroism
1 Prey Upon
1 Chapel Geist
1 ?
1 Mountain
15 other lands[/deck]

I am almost sure I played 16 lands and there is a card missing, and I think it is a [card]Darkthicket Wolf[/card] but I could be wrong.

I really liked this deck – sure, it had some suboptimal cards (like three), but it also had a ton of good cards, bombs and an overall decent curve – I felt like I wouldn’t need to get incredibly lucky to 3-0.

Then there was the matter of my sleeves… Even though I can’t for the life of me see anything through Channelfireball sleeves, apparently some people can, so it seemed for the best to not use them as to not risk a penalty. With my previous deck, I only had one flip card, so I felt comfortable with a checklist – every time I drew it I knew it could only be Outcasts. This time, though, there were 7 flip cards – checklists would certainly drive me insane. The thing was, if you could see through the black Channelfireball sleeves, what wouldn’t you be able to see through? Eventually, I found myself some Infra-Black sleeves that apparently Sheldon had pre-approved, so it all worked out and I didn’t have to use any sort of proxies. Speaking of Sheldon, we’ll miss you, you were always one of my favorite judges!

Round 1 I played against a very aggressive Red/Black deck, which is generally not the kind of deck you want to play against when you have a good deck yourself, since they can just kill you with a collection of last picks that leaves your first picks rotting in your hand because you can’t cast them (unless your first picks happen to be all removal). Game one I managed to stabilize at a relatively high life total, and then killed him with evasion, though there was an embarrassing moment in which I dropped a Brimstone Volley on the table while flipping my cards – I don’t know why I even do that.

Game two I was always on the back foot, and he destroyed me with [card]Nightbird’s Clutches[/card]. Game three I had an opening hand with [card]Selfless Cathar[/card], and I wondered for a moment if I should play it t1, since he had [card]Reckless Waif[/card] and I had no two drop – I figured that he only had one Waif so the chance of him having it wasn’t that high, and even if he did I could draw a two drop, and even if I didn’t that wouldn’t be horrible. He turned out to have the Waif, but on turn two, not on turn one.

I played a [card]Daybreak Ranger[/card], and he laughed as his next card was the equipment that gave his guys flying – he had a 5/1 and a 3/2 in play. He considered moving to his 5/1, attacking for 5 and then moving it back to his 3/2 as my guy had summon sickness, but decided against it and just passed the turn, and at some point I just overpowered him.

2-1
8-2

Round 11 I got paired against Gerry Thompson, also playing RB, and it was a covered feature match that you can find HERE – (for the record, I did not have a [card]Manor Gargoyle[/card] in my deck, he must have seen it wrong).

Our match went back and forth a lot – it was probably the most interesting match in the tournament, and I feel like I played well at some points and horribly at others – and there were a couple moments that are worth paying attention to. Turn two, for example, when he played a [card]Nightbird’s Clutches[/card] so that my Villagers wouldn’t flip – a lot of people wouldn’t do that, but it certainly seemed correct. There was a point in which I had a [card]Daybreak Ranger[/card] (flipped) and other guys, and he had a 5/1 snake. Then, with 5 mana, he played [card]Vampire Interloper[/card] and passed. The coverage said I didn’t want to risk [card]Brimstone Volley[/card], so I didn’t kill it at the end of the turn, but that was not the reason – if he does have [card]Brimstone Volley[/card], I can’t really play around it and not doing anything will just lead to more damage with the same end result; the card I was playing around was [card]Vampiric Fury[/card], my reasoning being that I was not going to attack with Ranger anyway, and I was going to play two spells on my turn, so I would be able to shoot it safely with the “small” side (two damage to fliers ETC). At the end of the turn, he played [card]Altar’s Reap[/card], which turned out to be a reason for him to play the Vampire, though I have no idea if he actually had the Fury in his hand at the time or not (I found out later that he had it in his deck).

In game two, he started really aggressively and I was on the back foot, until he blanked for a while and I managed to stabilize. We played draw go for a couple turns, me with a couple big guys and him with [card]Moan of the Unhallowed[/card], and it looked like I was not going to win if he drew a [card]Nightbird’s Clutches[/card], but barring that or [card]Devil’s Play[/card] (or [card]Olivia Voldaren[/card] or [card]Bloodline Keeper[/card]…) I was going to be fine since I had Bonds in my hand. At some point he played a [card]Charmbreaker Devils[/card], which I killed with [card]Brimstone Volley[/card], but not before he returned a [card]Vampiric Fury[/card] to his hand. I was attacking for two every turn with [card]Spectral Rider[/card], and then I drew [card]Butcher’s Cleaver[/card]; Instead of equipping to the Rider, I equipped it to [card]Thraben Sentry[/card] (unfipped), which then attacked and traded for a token, my reasoning being that it would bring me out of the reach of a combination of Clutches plus anything – I felt like the game was mine already barring some shenanigan from him, and I was willing to sacrifice a good card to reduce the number of possible shenanigans (if the shenanigan is of the [card]Olivia Voldaren[/card] level, then it’s not going to matter, but if it’s [card]Nightbird’s Clutches[/card] level, then I can stop it).

He made a desperate attack with everything, and I double checked that his tokens were Zombies, thus not affected by the [card]Vampiric Fury[/card] I knew he had. Then I blocked his [card]Vampire Interloper[/card] with my [card]Chapel Geist[/card], instead of blocking a 2/2, and he played Fury, which was just super stupid on my part – I knew he had the card in hand and I did not even forget it, I just did not associate the vampire with it, since I was more concerned with the damage I was taking. It ended up not mattering, though, and I won the following turn.

2-0
9-2

This round was against Yuya, a fake feature match. Game 1 he started well, with a Pilgrim into [card]Orchard Spirit[/card]. I had a t3 [card]Chapel Geist[/card] and I blocked on turn four, since I had [card]Bonds of Faith[/card] for a potential Morbid guy and I would have to get past his pump spell at some point anyway, but he had [card]Ranger’s Guile[/card] and the Boar, which put me in a not so good position, but I was still able to Bonds the Boar and [card]Prey Upon[/card] the Spirit. He played an [card]Essence of the Wild[/card] as his last card, and I had [card]Fiend Hunter[/card] for it, which he was never able to deal with since he drew all lands after that.

Game two was a race, his guys against my Cleaver, and Cleaver won with some help from [card]Moment of Heroism[/card]. At some point, he passed his turn with a card in hand and a [card]Daybreak Ranger[/card] (no Red), and I had [card]Thraben Militia[/card] (5/4) and Axe in play, as well as an [card]Ambush Viper[/card] that I played to stop his Ranger from flipping. He was at 6 life, and I drew another Sentry. If I equip Militia and attack with both, he is just dead here. If he has something, however, (something being mainly [card]Rebuke[/card]), he can take two damage, going to four, and then I won’t be able to play my second sentry, which will give him time to play a guy that trades with Viper while flipping his Ranger for whatever it’s worth. He is still in a horrible position, but I couldn’t see how just playing Sentry and attacking was worse – I think the sequence of cards that beat me if I do that is much smaller. I played my guy and he traded with the Viper, going to 1 and dying next turn.

2-0
10-2

So, I was happy again! But there wasn’t much time to celebrate, since we did not have a deck for Modern, so we all got back and gathered in a room, 10 of us or so, to play and talk about it.

Our modern testing to that point had been rather limited, but not non-existent. At first, I imagined a control deck would have to be good, since [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] is so powerful, and the perfect complement to cards like [card]Esper Charm[/card] and [card]Inquisition of Kozilek[/card], as well as magnifying the great sideboard options you have. Still, back at LSV’s place, we tested some 4cc control deck and found it unable to beat Zoo consistently, which was awkward because everyone’s reaction when they saw it was “this is not going to beat anything that is not zoo”.

After GP San Diego, we had a new deck we liked – [card]Past in Flames[/card]. The deck was basically Grapeshot/Swath but better, since you were much harder to disrupt and you didn’t need both pieces – most of the time, finding [card]Past in Flames[/card] means you will eventually find [card]Grapeshot[/card] – but you were also almost a full turn slower. This was our list:

[deck]4 Manamorphose
4 Serum Visions
4 Peer Through Depths
4 Desperate Ritual
4 Pyretic Ritual
4 Seething Song
2 Lightning Bolt
4 Remand
3 Gifts Ungiven
1 Simian Spirit Guide
3 Grapeshot
4 Past in Flames[/deck]

I think the deck should have one more land, but this is probably not the most well tuned version anyway. The key card we had that other people didn’t was [card]Gifts Ungiven[/card] (by the way, how cool is that name? It’s probably my favorite name in Magic) – we started with one, then two, then three because it was simply outstanding in the deck. You might think that Gifts makes it too slow (t4 Gifts into t5 win), but that is not necessarily true, because you can afford to use a ritual to cast Gifts on t3 – if you do that, you will basically end up replacing the Ritual and finding [card]Past in Flames[/card], as well as fueling your graveyard to the point where you almost surely win when you do cast it. The most common Gifts pile is Ritual, Ritual, [card]Seething Song[/card], [card]Past in Flames[/card], but three rituals + [card]Simian Spirit Guide[/card] is fine if you have [card]Past in Flames[/card] already, or 3 Rituals and [card]Manamorphose[/card]. Once you play [card]Past in Flames[/card], you can flashback Gifts to find [card]Grapeshot[/card] if you need to, so it basically did everything we wanted it to do.

We also had [card]Quicken[/card] at first, which seemed like it would be good against control and other combo by letting you kill Instant speed ([card]Quicken[/card] + [card]Past in Flames[/card] and then flashback [card]Quicken[/card] for [card]Grapeshot[/card]), but I was not the biggest fan – you do need twenty spells if you’re killing them this way, since you can’t flashback [card]Grapeshot[/card] unless you have a second [card]Quicken[/card], in which case you probably have to play more [card]Quicken[/card]s than I would like to.

So, why didn’t we play this deck? In short, Splinter Twin – we did not feel like we had a good enough match against Zoo (it was not much better than 50/50) to justify the bad match against the deck that had just won the Pro Tour. The problem is that Twin can just tap out and kill you and you can’t do much about it, and they can also stop your combo with Dispels, Pacts and Remands. We also figured the SBed games would not go very well for us against anything, since no one looked like they had any clue what was going on, and when people don’t know what’s going on they usually jam generic hate in their boards, such as [card]Ethersworn Canonist[/card] or [card]Leyline of the Void[/card], and we’d be affected by pretty much all of those. There was also the non small matter of it being incredibly hard to play properly – many times I had to pause for a time period that would certainly not be allowed in a tournament, and we’d discuss plays and lay cards down as a simulation and take stuff back until we found the winning play. Normally, if the deck is good enough and you have time, it’s worth learning it to perfection, but with only a couple days left and testing being very limited (and spread across two formats), I feared I would not be able to play the deck with an optimal play/speed combination.

The next deck that showed up was [card]Ad Nauseam[/card]. We had tested Ad Nauseam for a very short while for PT Philly, but ended up dismissing it because it was just underpowered, but we decided to try it again. It turned out that [card]Phyrexian Unlife[/card] is insane, and we quickly made that a four-of – if you’re playing [card]Ad Nauseam[/card] and you don’t have four Unlifes, you’re doing it wrong. Soon the deck became an [card]Ad Nauseam[/card]/[card phyrexian unlife]Unlife[/card] deck, rather than [card]Ad Nauseam[/card]/[card]Angel’s Grace[/card], and we tried desperately to come up with something that would let us reliably find Unlife on turn three, since that would buy you so much time against aggro decks in an Illusions/Donate kind of way. Out came some [card]Mystical Teachings[/card], in came cards like [card]Plunge into Darkness[/card] and [card]See Beyond[/card]…

In the end, we just couldn’t make it work – when we tried to make it faster by removing Teachings, we lost to other combo and control decks, and when it was slower we lost to Zoo. In the end, we abandoned it and decided we’d play Twin – it was a combo deck that beat other combo decks and Zoo, after all, which was basically all we wanted to beat. And so we stood in a room, all of us, at 8 PM on Friday, trying to decide our list…

It’s hard to describe the chaos that reigned in that room; some people were building lists, some people were playing, some people were playing on Modo, some people were eating, some people were talking, some people were doing all of those at once; we even got visits from the guys who were doing some sort of video coverage of our testing, so I guess you’ll be able to watch it eventually, to our shame. At some point, even Rich Hagon joined us in our room, though he just observed – I don’t really imagine what he was thinking.

So, after we were done building multiple lists of Twin and developing this very clever Teachings sideboard, we decided to play some with it, and it didn’t take us very long to realize it just wasn’t very good – it was basically t2 Twin but worse, since you had [card]Sleight of Hand[/card] and [card]Serum Visions[/card] instead of [card]Ponder[/card] and [card]Preordain[/card] – We even had [card]Shrine of Piercing Vision[/card]! It was hard to find the combo and protect it, and there weren’t many incentives for playing it other than that it did well against other combo, so we ditched it. So, yeah, it’s Friday 10 PM and we don’t have a deck. Do you know what that means? It means we are all going to play Zoo.

We did not loathe playing Zoo, I suppose – I certainly didn’t, since I’ve played Zoo in multiple tournaments in the past, when I had no clue what to play. It was annoying to not have any edge over anyone in a format that seemed so exploitable, though – no one had a clue, we had every chance to be the only ones with a sweet deck, and we wasted it. Or I don’t even know if we did – maybe there wasn’t a sweet deck to be found. Still, we knew we couldn’t really go wrong with Zoo – if we played a Teachings deck, or Past in Flames, or Twin, it was very possible that the deck was just horrible and we’d fine ourselves with an expected record of 3-3 or 2-4, and with Zoo that would rarely be the case – worse comes to worst, you draw well and kill them t4 on the play. This is one of the great things about Zoo – you’ve very rarely “lost”, the chance to kill them is always there. In most Zoo versus Combo games, Zoo can actually race on the play, so it becomes a game of “do you have the hate piece” – if it doesn’t, then it is an even game – anyone can win faster. If Zoo does have its disruption, then it wins, unless they deal with it, in which case it’s even again. Regardless of that, though, the matter of which version of Zoo we’d play remained unsolved…

Kibler and Brad were championing Big Zoo, similar to the one we’d played in Pittsburgh. I didn’t like that very much, since I thought that without [card]Green Sun’s Zenith[/card] [card]Noble Hierarch[/card] lost a lot of its appeal, and, at the same time, so did the big guys, since you didn’t have Arbor anymore. Kibler tried a lot of permutations, the latest ones including [card]Lightning Angel[/card], but I just wasn’t sold on it – one of the biggest advantages of big zoo was that it naturally beat the “mirror” (the small zoo), but I honestly wasn’t even convinced it was true – they get [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card]s, which are huge since their [card path to exile]Paths[/card] (and [card]Deathmark[/card]s) are much better than yours, and you lose Zenith to win the late game. Back in Philly, everyone kept repeating that “big Zoo beats small Zoo”, but I had made Brad prove it to me (which he did) – you really don’t want to be caught in a preconceived notion that is wrong. This time it was the same, except no one actually proved anything; after playing a couple games against big zoo, I remained unconvinced of its ability to consistently beat the small zoo deck, and decided I’d play 5 color zoo myself – [card]Tribal Flames[/card] and [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] is a lot of damage, and I liked the “oops kill you” aspect that it gave me.

It was Efro who came up with adding [card]Knights of the Reliquary[/card] to the fast zoo deck, and that looked pretty good – we’d be a fast zoo deck, capable of all the blowout draws, but not entirely lost in the late game to other creature decks. The latest change came in the morning of the tournament, when we decided to swap [card]Kird Ape[/card]s with [card]Steppe Lynx[/card]es – originally we had 4 Ape 2 Loam Lion, but I thought Lynx had to be better so we made the swap.

I know, I know… we’re very disorganized. I guess most people would not expect our deck choosing process to be like this, but it was really just a bunch of educated guesses (and, well, some playtesting). It’s funny to read other people write about us, and the notions they have about us that couldn’t be farther from the truth – for example, as Kibler pointed out, on mtg.com:

“The Magic World Championships this past weekend featured the relatively new Modern format. No one was quite sure how the metagame was going to look, but 2011 Hall of Fame inductee Shuhei Nakamura certainly had put some work into the format. After going 6-0 in Modern with this highly innovative Gifts Ungiven deck, the famous Japanese deckbuilder has put a brand new archetype on the radar.”

The truth?

Friday, around 10 PM in our Facebook group:

Shuhei Nakamura
“Playtesting 30 min in my room. I’ve really no idea for play tomorrow, will play shota s GBRU gift , it can beat zoo and affinity …”

Also, in Gerrys’ article this week:

“We change decks at the last second for no real reason, and that is why ChannelFireball annihilates everyone else. They practice and stick to it.”

So, yeah, as much as I wish we were as organized as people seem to think we are, we are not – we really have to do a better job at it. I realize it sounds silly to say we’ve done a terrible job when we put four people in the t8, but that was mostly due to the fact that everyone else was also completely unprepared – I’d rather not lean on that in the future.

Alas, here is our decklist:

[deck]4 Arid Mesa
1 Blood Crypt
1 Breeding Pool
1 Forest
1 Hallowed Fountain
1 Marsh Flats
4 Misty Rainforest
1 Plains
1 Sacred Foundry
4 Scalding Tarn
1 Steam Vents
1 Stomping Ground
1 Temple Garden
2 Kird Ape
3 Knight of the Reliquary
3 Snapcaster Mage
4 Steppe Lynx
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Wild Nacatl
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Lightning Helix
4 Path to Exile
2 Spell Pierce
4 Tribal Flames
Sideboard
2 Ancient Grudge
2 Combust
2 Deathmark
1 Kitchen Finks
2 Mindbreak Trap
1 Negate
2 Ranger of Eos
2 Seal of Primordium
1 Torpor Orb[/deck]

Pretty standard, I think, other than two [card]Spell Pierce[/card]; we didn’t want to be completely hopeless g1 against some sort of combo deck, and they really shine against [card]Firespout[/card], which is a card that is much better against this sort of Zoo. I never actually played a Spell Pierce game one, though, so I couldn’t tell you how good they were.

The sideboard is an assortment of cards – we wanted different hate pieces because that’s harder to sideboard against and because we didn’t know exactly what other people were going to play.

This was the list most of us played; Ben, Kibler, Brad and Conley played a slow version, with [card]Noble Hierarch[/card]s, and the first three having [card]Lightning Angel[/card]. Martin (and I think Lucas) played Birthing Pod Melira, Shuhei played Gifts and Matt Nass played Past in Flames, despite all of us telling him it was bad, without any [card]Gifts Ungiven[/card], despite all of us telling him it was very good.

Round 13: Bant

I got paired against Wescoe, playing Bant. Game 1 I kept a sketchy 6 with a Lynx as my one drop, one land, and if I am not mistaken two [card]Path to Exile[/card]s – I think I should have mulliganed that, even if I knew Paths would be good against him. He mulliganed to five himself, which made my hand a lot worse (since I don’t want to Path his guys early now), but he led with [card]Sleight of Hand[/card] (what on earth?!), and then [card]Noble Hierarch[/card] but no land. I feel foolish about my [card]Steppe Lynx[/card] decision as it sits in play for three or four turns attacking for zero, but as I look to my side there is Luis attacking for approximately 50 with a couple of them against his opponents [card]Kird Ape[/card]s, so that made me feel a little better. Eventually I draw a second land and burn his Hierarch, and he never draws a second land himself.

-2 [card]Spell Pierce[/card] -2 [card]Kird Ape[/card]

+2 [card]Ranger of Eos[/card] +2 [card]Deathmark[/card]

Game two he was stuck on lands again, and though he had a [card]Shining Shoal[/card] removing Elspeth to misdirect one of my spells and a [card]Dismember[/card] to kill my [card tarmogoyf]Goyf[/card], I still killed him before he could find a third land. Two not very real games, I’m afraid.

2-0
11-2

Luis and Conley both won, putting us at 1st, 2nd and 3rd with no one else at x-2, which meant one of us would play against Conley and one of us would get paired down.

Round 14: bye

Well, ok, not bye – I got paired against Conley and he scooped, since he needed a draw in four rounds. Thanks Conley, I feel like I should pay for your dinner at some point – next time we go to Chipotle it’s on me! (though no double meat, it’s not like I became a millionaire…)

12-2

Round 14: mirror

This round I got paired against Luis, who had lost his round and was sitting at 11-3. Some people asked if I would scoop, and I considered it – if I scoop, we both need to go 1-1-1, and he is likely to get paired against Conley in the later rounds. If I win, I need to go 0-2-1 and he needs to go 2-0-1. I think that the best interest in terms of value for the team is for me to scoop – that gives us the highest chance of two top 8s. I think that, if Luis was in my spot, he would have scooped – not many people would, but I think he would have. Deep down, though, I always knew that was not going to happen… As much as I appreciate the whole Team aspect that we’ve built over the past few years, and want us all to do well, Luis especially, I knew that if I conceded and missed it I would never forgive myself – I would feel miserable for the rest of my life, wondering if I had just thrown away my shot at World Champion. Not to mention that my mother would probably spank me if I scooped myself out of t8 too… so we played.

It was a feature match that you can see here. They named our decks counter-cat, but don’t let them fool you, we were playing Tribal Zoo. Also notice how my shirt matches my wristband… I’m so fashionable!

Game one was very interesting; my hand was good with [card]Wild Nacatl[/card] and [card]Steppe Lynx[/card] on the play, but he had Nacatl and two Lynxes, and soon I was on the back foot. He was kinda flooded, which wasn’t entirely bad because of the Lynxes, and at some point he made a play that made me sure he had [card]Lightning Helix[/card] in hand, so I had to chump his cats with my Goyfs to avoid dying to the burn spell, which he eventually cast to finish off a Knight. At some point, I was at 5 life and he was at 6, and he had Lynx + Fetchland + Ape in play to my nothing, and I drew [card]Lightning Helix[/card]. He drew, played another Fetch, and attacked. I took it, the idea being that if he doesn’t pump then I just want to Helix him and try to topdeck another burn spell, or at least I force him to sacrifice a land if I’m going to kill the Ape, which puts him down to 5 and vulnerable to a topdecked [card]Tribal Flames[/card]. The alternative would be to Helix one of his guys during my own turn (likely the Lynx), but at the time I thought that was worse, as I felt like making the game even when he is a drawstep ahead of me, has a guy in play and has already drawn half the lands in his deck was not a winning proposition. As he was thinking, the judge told me I had to play faster, which was kinda awkward since I was just waiting for him. He ended up sacrificing a land to “kill” me, so I Helixed the Ape. Then I drew [card]Tribal Flames[/card]. 😀

-2 [card]Spell Pierce[/card] -2 [card]Kird Ape[/card] -1 [card]Steppe Lynx[/card] +2 [card]Deathmark[/card] +2 [card]Ranger of Eos[/card] +1 [card]Kitchen Finks[/card]

He started game 1 with Nacatl, and then on my turn I had to pause and consider my options. Normally I would think about the land drop as I consider keeping my hand, but the fact that he played Nacatl and I suddenly had the choice of Bolting it t1 or not made me pause. It did not help much that I was working under the assumption I had a basic Mountain in my deck – my choice would have been simpler if I knew I had to take two damage to burn his Nacatl no matter what. Still, the whole process probably took no more than 30 seconds. Once I had decided to bolt it, which resulted in me playing fetchland and passing the turn, the judge announced I was being given a slow play warning.

“But I took 30 seconds!!”
“But it was your first turn!”

I argued that I was thinking on what I was going to do next and next, so that I did not have to think later – it’s the same if I think longer and then crack two fetches or if I think, crack one, then think more and crack another. He said he had already told me to play faster, but I pointed out it was actually Luis he had told to play faster. He was not satisfied, and I asked if I could appeal, and he said yes and he would bring Sheldon. I asked him if we should continue playing while he was gone, so it wouldn’t look like I was fishing for even more time to think (though at that point my decision had already been made, since I had played a land and passed the turn), but he said we should wait. Sheldon came by and asked what had happened, then he talked to the judge and withheld it, since it was a judgment call and he had to trust the table judge. I guess if I got a slow play warning on turn 1 with Zoo, thank god I decided to not play [card]Past in Flames[/card] or I’d probably have been out of the tournament by then…

Later on, I got home and had to read on twitter that “PV called a judge on LSV for slow play”. Really?!

Anyway, I digress… the game was a drawn out affair and he was clearly winning when I drew the one [card]Kitchen Finks[/card] to stem the bleeding, but then he drew [card]Path to Exile[/card] and I died. He mentioned “we were not even on topdecks yet”, but hey, it’s not my fault he wasted his at a time he needed it less.

Game three I was on the play and I had a slow hand. He played a t1 Nacatl and I had [card]Tribal Flames[/card], [card]Tarmogoyf[/card], [card]Ranger of Eos[/card] and [card]Path to Exile[/card]. Normally I would not [card]Tribal Flames[/card] a Nacatl, since we had Goyfs and Rangers and those are normally more important, but not playing that meant my first play was going to be on turn four, since I’m not just going to run Goyf into [card]Lightning Bolt[/card] – by then, I’ll have taken too much damage and I’ll be too far behind, so I just killed it, which let me play Goyf on turn 3 (which he in turn killed with [card]Tribal Flames[/card]). I had an interesting choice when I had to fetch for my fourth land – it could either be a second green, to play the two Nacatls I was going to get, or a [card]Blood Crypt[/card] for my domain. Since Goyfs were 4/5 and I expected him to kill my two guys anyway, I opted for the Black (so that a future [card]Tribal Flames[/card] would be able to finish Goyf), but I ended up regretting that later. Eventually he played two [card]Deathmark[/card]s on my guys and finished me off with big guys of his own.

1-2
12-3

I was not incredibly sad about this loss – I was still in a good position and I’d rather lose to a teammate than to anyone else. I certainly felt like this was a much better outcome than me conceding, even if conceding has its own benefits and the end result is the same.

Round 16 I got paired against my eventual downfall David Kaplan, also playing 5c Zoo. G1 we both mulliganed (him to 5) and I kept a hand of Goyf, Goyf, Goyf, land, Path, Helix, on the draw; my first draw was the fourth Goyf, and he missed his second land drop while I found it (^^). I played a 1/2 Goyf on turn two, though I might as well have placed it directly in the graveyard with the speed he Bolted it – I wonder if he was thinking something along the lines of “n00b did no one tell him he is not supposed to play a 1/2 Goyf in the mirror?!??”

Eventually I played a second, third and four Goyfs, this time all 3/4s, and he took so long to find his second land that it didn’t matter.

I sided the same as against Luis

Game two was horrible – I think it was the game I played worst in the entire tournament. I mulliganed into a one lander again, but this time I did not get there, discarding to hand size once before I found it. Luckily for me, he was not doing anything either – he seemed to be terribly flooded, but he also had a bunch of cards in hand that had to be removal spells. I found my third hand and declined to play my [card]Knight of the Reliquary[/card], since I wanted to wait until I found lands so that it wouldn’t die to [card]Tribal Flames[/card], but that play was godawful – I had so much in my hand, I wouldn’t even mind trading a Knight for a [card]Tribal Flames[/card] at that point, and it’s not impossible that he just doesn’t have one – I should probably be worrying about my life total anyway, even though we were both very high.

My play became even worse when I found my fourth land and decided to play [card]Ranger of Eos[/card], which led me promptly to discard phase with 8 cards in hand; since that was the case, I found a Lynx and discarded it, to “thin my deck out of bad cards”. Had I played the Knight, I would have had another Nacatl as a bonus. The game went on for a while, and at some point my hand was Path, Path, Tribal Flames, Snapcaster, Snapcaster, and he produced a [card]Thrun, the Last Troll[/card]. *insert “really” exclamation*

I tried to race it with blocking and Helixes (I even drew another [card]Tribal Flames[/card]) but in the end it didn’t work out, since I did not have infinite mana. There was a point in which I could have [card path to exile]Pathed[/card] his [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] and blocked his Thrun with my own Mage, and instead I just blocked the Snapcaster, which ended up being really bad as I died with two Paths still in hand, and the four life would have helped wonders. There was also a point in which I could have tried to kill him with [card]Tribal Flames[/card] on my turn, but if he had Helix plus anything else then his counterattack would have killed me, so I instead played another Snapcaster for Helix, but even that wasn’t enough as he had [card]Slaughter Pact[/card] for my blocker, [card]Tribal Flames[/card] and two [card]Lightning Bolt[/card]s to kill me. Later on I lamented my choice of not going for it, but he said he was also holding Helix, so it wouldn’t have mattered.

Game three was a much better game, with both of us grinding the other out with removal (he also had [card]Deathmark[/card]s), but [card]Ranger of Eos[/card] managed to pull it off.

2-1
13-3

That put me in the t8 with a draw, and very likely with two losses too. My next round opponent, Richard Bland, wasn’t able to draw, though, so we played.

Game one he mulliganed to five and dies after playing one spell (happened a lot on day 3 against me, not that I am complaining. I also mulliganed a lot more than usual, though less so than my opponents, so maybe the Zoo decks just mulligan more).

Game two he led with land, go, and I had two [card]Wild Nacatl[/card]s in my hand. I wonder for a while if I should play against [card]Punishing Fire[/card] and just say turn 1 go, since I had watched a British guy play with [card]Punishing Fire[/card] in a side event at GP SD, but I figured too much could have changed since then and it’s really much worse for me if he doesn’t have it and I hold my guy, so I played [card]Wild Nacatl[/card] t1 and it promptly got [card]Punishing Fire[/card]d (with a [card]Grove of the Burnwillows[/card], no less). Now, thinking back, perhaps it would have been right to hold it because that stops him from going Bolt into Goyf – this or the mere suspicious of him having [card]Punishing Fire[/card] in his deck might not have been enough individually, but both together maybe would. If I had an alternative in hand ([card]Kird Ape[/card]), then I would have played it first, since the cost is minimal, but it’s possible I should have held it anyway. I don’t even remember if his first land came into play tapped or not, though…

In the end, I drew two [card]Knights= of the Reliquary[/card]s, which were big enough to trump both his [card]Punishing Fire[/card] and his [card]Gideon Jura[/card], and I locked myself in t8.

2-0
14-3

Round 18 I got paired against a Dutch guy with [card]Ad Nauseam[/card], a guy I had never seen before. I could have IDed, but instead we played; that generated some controversy which is why I address it here.

You see, I could say that no one is entitled to an ID – if you want to be in the t8, then fight your way there (or play against a friend, like me, though I did end up not needing that scoop anyway). If I ID with this guy, then he is going to get in over someone else – it is not like I take away from the community by beating him. Yes, I did dream crush him, but, had I given him an ID, I would have dream crushed Wescoe instead. Why is he more deserving than Wescoe? Without knowing either person, I should just play him and let the better person get it. I could say that, if you don’t like it, then when you are in this position you can feel free to do it differently, but as long as it’s me I’ll do as I please. Were I to say that, I would not exactly be wrong.

But, alas, this is not exactly how I feel – if it was, I probably wouldn’t even bother to explain it. I am not opposed in any way to scooping or IDing with people – in fact, at Worlds in Memphis, I was already in so I scooped Antti Malin in the top 8 in the last round, and he ended up winning the whole thing. I had never seen him before, and I didn’t get anything for doing it, but I still did it, because it is what I would like people to do for me. Sure, if I am 9th, then I would like people to play and “dreamcrush” for me, but when you go into the last round and end up finishing 9th, you know that this is a possibility, you were prepared for it; on the other hand, when you need an ID and are not paired down, you feel like you are already in. My friends congratulated me on the t8 two rounds before, when I actually needed a draw; no doubt his friends also congratulated him, no doubt he thought he was in the t8, and then he wasn’t.

Some people asked why I played; there were many reasons, though only one of them is truly meaningful, and that was to help my friends. Before the round, I was told that I should play, so that Owen and Ben would have a greater chance of getting in. In my mind, things could go two ways – either I would beat those people, who would then tie with Ben and Owen, and Ben and Owen would make it over them, which was valid and worth it, or those people would tie with them and still finish ahead of them on breakers, in which case they would make it and I would have done no harm. There was no way for me to know that Craig Wescoe would rise from the catacombs of table 27 to claim a spot in the t8… other than, of course, looking at the standings, which I never did. Basically the standings didn’t matter to me, so I didn’t look, and when my friends told me I should play, I played. I was not the only one – Conley had been playing since round 14 when he didn’t need to, and Luis also played his last round when he could have IDed, but Conley’s opponent made it anyway and Luis lost, so I was the only one who actually managed to dream crush the opposition.

Other than that, there are a couple other reasons to play, though they are all very small – first, you get to play first in the t8 games. It ended up being irrelevant, since Luis lost, but had we both IDed (or I IDed and he won), then it would have mattered, and I would be giving away the chance of playing first in the mirror in our eventual semis match, which is very important (despite what his last round opponent in Nagoya might have you believe, when he chose to draw first). Then, you get a higher prize payout (which again wouldn’t have mattered since Luis lost, but at the time I couldn’t know). And, finally, I got more Planeswalker points this way… if this match is the reason I can go to this new Worlds tournament, then it will have been worth it.

But, again, I don’t think those are enough – I played to help my friend and if I knew I was not going to, then I wouldn’t have played. I regret not IDing – I wish I could go back and ID with him, not because I dislike the fact that Wescoe made top 8 (ironically enough, it’s his second t8 based on dreamcrushing people – he only made it in San Diego because Luis wanted to go 16-0, if I recall), but because I think it makes for a healthier environment when people give each other those common courtesies.

So, back to our game…

Game 1 he killed me on t4; G2 I killed him on t4 (though he had [card]Angel’s Grace[/card], so he died t5). I sided:

+2 [card]Mindbreak Trap[/card] +1 [card]Negate[/card] +2 [card]Ancient Grudge[/card] +2 [card]Seal of Primordium[/card]

-4 [card]Path to Exile[/card] -3 [card]Lightning Helix[/card] (on the play)
-3 [card]Knight of the Reliquary[/card] (on the draw)

Seal is awesome against him; Grudge, not so much. It still kills [card]Pentad Prism[/card], and might get a Lotus if it happens to come off suspend before he has the kill, but in the end it just seemed better than what I had.

Game three was interesting – I kept a bad hand, with a Lynx as the only card I could play and only one land, but a [card]Mindbreak Trap[/card] and a [card]Spell Pierce[/card]. It is possible that the fact that I did not need to win weighted some in keeping it…

The game was not very fast – I started with Lynx and missed my land drops, until I eventually found another land and played some more guys. In his last turn, he tried to go off with [card]Ad Nauseam[/card] + Grace, which I [card]Spell Pierce[/card]d; he had the pact, but then I had [card]Mindbreak Trap[/card] for free and he died.

It turned out Josh won his win-and-in, but Owen and Ben were not really close to making it. Luis lost what was perhaps the most important match of the tournament – the one to knock Junya Yanaga out of the top 8. We knew he was playing a deck that destroyed us (and apparently everyone else), so his was the “dreamcrush” we actively wanted to win, but it was the only one we lost. Oh well, I guess it was up to Josh to stop him.

We were lucky enough to be seats 1, 2, 3 and 5, which meant we wouldn’t play in the quarters – or perhaps I should say unlucky enough, since it turns out we would have done much better had we been forced to play against each other, then at least one of us would have won. We went to a fancy place for dinner that night, in the company of Josh’s family, and the service was horrible. Just felt like I should mention it.

As for my match… I didn’t test. None of us did, except for Josh, who declared that his match was very bad – the rest was basically matches we had already played. We expected Conley to win, me to win, Josh to lose, and anything could happen with Luis, since his version was pretty good against us, with four [card]Gut Shot[/card]s, three [card]Mortarpod[/card]s, four [card]Blade Splicer[/card]s and two [card]Naturalize[/card]s.

My games were not very exciting, with the exception of the last. They’re all covered, so I won’t dwell on them much – I won a normal game 1 with poison, lost a normal game two when I would have killed him the following turn, and lost what I think was a normal game 3 too. I sideboarded:

-4 [card]Glint Hawk[/card] -4 [card]Signal Pest[/card] -1 [card]Mikaeus, the Lunarch[/card]

+3 [card]Hero of Bladehold[/card] +3 [card]Spellskite[/card] +1 [card]Timely Reinforcements[/card] +1 [card]Glacial Fortress[/card] +1 [card]Oblivion Ring[/card]

Then, game 4, I kept this hand:

land, land, [card]Vault Skirge[/card], [card]Vault Skirge[/card], [card]Tempered Steel[/card], [card]Dispatch[/card], [card]Dispatch[/card]

I think there are two ways to play this hand – the first is to play a Skirge turn 1 and hold the second Skirge, and the second is to not play any of them – in no condition I am playing both into Arc Trail. There is also the valid option of mulliganing it, which I am not completely against, but I think that’s the worst one.

Against Red, if you have [card]Tempered Steel[/card] in your hand, it’s usually right to wait until you drop it, as to blank most of their removal – my opponent had access to four [card]Arc Trail[/card]s, four [card]Gut Shot[/card]s, three Blasts, a [card]Spikeshot Elder[/card] and three [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card]s, so I chose to wait. I don’t know if this line was right or not – it felt like the right thing to do, and when I asked the people on our team what they would have done, most said “wait” but some said “play Skirge t1”, and, honestly, either could be right. My plan with this hand was to [card]Dispatch[/card] an eventual turn 1 [card]Stromkirk Noble[/card], to tap it, since that would buy me a lot of time, but I thought he had sided them out anyway, so it wouldn’t be necessary. Kaplan, if you’re reading this, how did you board? From what I reverse engineered, I would guess four Nobles, two Berserkers and one [card]Volt Charge[/card] for 4 [card]Dismember[/card], 2 [card]Arc Trail[/card], 1 [card]Manic Vandal[/card], but it could really be any combination of those…

Anyway, the end result was that I waited and never drew a third land, dying with two Skirges in my hand. Yay.

So, ended my 2011 Worlds Championship – the last Worlds. I will certainly miss it, since Worlds was always my favorite tournament – if it wasn’t for Worlds, I doubt I’d be a professional player. At least now I know I get to keep my record forever – this was my fourth Worlds top 8, which is more than anyone else has or will have.

In the end, we all lost except for Conley, who won and then lost. That prompted a lot of people to ask “why”, and it was interesting to watch people come up with a variety of reasons, when the real reason was that we played close matches and things didn’t go our way…

For example, I saw people saying that “known information is bad for Tempered Steel”, but is it? Sure, people are not going to keep a super slow hand, but in this format, where the most popular decks are GW, Illusions, Mono Red and Mono White, can you afford to keep a slow hand against an unknown opponent? I don’t think you can, so that doesn’t change much. And the specifics of our decks are really not important – as we’ve mentioned before, all but 7 of the slots were locked, and people can just figure them out – the rest is cards like [card]Origin Spellbomb[/card] that is not going to radically change the way they play or sideboard. Basically, if I play Plains, [card]Signal Pest[/card], and then die, they’re going to sideboard and play almost exactly the same as if they had my exactly decklist, so it is not a problem that they did… now, compare it to my opponent – knowing that he had four [card]Gut Shot[/card]s was huge, as was knowing the number of [card]Arc Trail[/card]s and [card]Manic Vandal[/card]s. Against Junya, we found out he had [card]Slagstorm[/card]s and Blasts, and not [card]Arc Trail[/card]s and [card]Ancient Grudge[/card]s. Against Wescoe, we found out he had [card]Mana Leak[/card] and [card]Leonin Relic-Warder[/card]. Against Bland, we found out he had four [card]Gut Shot[/card]s, which prompted Luis to bring [card]Spellskite[/card]s he otherwise wouldn’t, etc… so, I think this aspect actually benefited us rather than harming.

Then, people say “Tempered Steel gets worse after board” – true, if they are prepared for it, which most people were not. My opponent had only one [card]Manic Vandal[/card], for example – I’m not so sure it got much worse for me, even though he also had [card]DIsmember[/card]s, which were pretty good against our sideboard plan. Luis said [card]Spellskite[/card]s were better than anything Richard Bland was bringing, too. So, yeah, though on average you will get worse after board, that is because you’re so good game 1 against almost everything – getting worse does not mean you become bad.

So, that was basically it – we had close matches, advantaged for us I would say, and in a better day I would have beaten Kaplan and Luis would have beaten Richard Bland, and the headlines would have been “Channelfireball dominates” instead of “Channelfireball fails” (though I guess Junya Yanaga would then beat one of us in each round in the t8 and end up being World Champion anyway). Tempered Steel was a great deck – it outperformed every other popular deck by miles. People say “those players would have won with anything, that speaks of their skill and not the deck”, and though we certainly feel flattered that you would think so, it is not true – I would guess our average combined win percentage in Pro Tours to be lower than that of Tempered Steel’s (60%ish) (though I actually have no clue), but even if it isn’t, that is always taking into account that we play very good decks – the moment we play a bad deck, it’s certainly going to drop, we are good players but we do not work miracles. Tempered Steel was not a bad deck, it was an awesome choice that exploited a flaw in the metagame, we did awesome overall and the fact that we all lost in the t8 does not change that.

Next week I’ll talk about the changes I’d make to the deck, and my view on the new Standard format, but the short answer is that I do not recommend Tempered Steel.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this, see you next week!

PV

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