The final month of my summer holiday consisted of Grand Prix Salt Lake City, Grand Prix Mexico City and Dutch Nationals. That’s quite a lot of Magic. On top of that we did a lot of testing for the Champions Block Constructed format for the Grand Prix in the Netherlands, while we were trying to break 9th Edition Type 2 at the same time.
It all started in early August, when most Dutch pro players left for Belgium to test in a bungalow resort for a week. The previous time we went there, we were preparing for the World Championships in Berlin in 2003. At that time, everybody played like 50 or more games per day (and we usually had more than 10 people around). This time was a little different, as Standard was the most important format, but Nationals was still weeks away. We knew that quite a big fraction of our testing would become useless as soon as Japanese Nationals were played, so there was no point to go crazy this time. Most of my time there I spent playing table tennis, tennis, squash, etc., so that was good fun.
After we got back in Holland, Jelger invited us to his parents’ place, for some more days of testing. Soon Frank, Julien and me were joined by ex-world champion Tom van de Logt and Kamiel Cornelissen, and we were in for a lot of Gifts on Gifts matches as well as trying to break Bram’s U/R Wildfire deck for Nationals. Between Frank, Julien and myself, I think we played more than 250 games of the Gifts mirror match before all of us were on the same level, and we could figure out most situations without having to think about them for minutes. As the rounds in GP: Salt Lake and Mexico would only last 50 minutes, I knew that there would not be much time for decision-making. After these testing-sessions, I knew exactly which hands to keep and which hands to mulligan. We also reached a point where we instantly knew what to do in any situation vs. White Weenie and in the mirror match before sideboarding, so my expectations for the GP’s were quite high.
I wasn’t that sure about Standard though – my Mono-Blue deck was winning most of the time, but wasn’t as powerful as the Gifts deck is in Block Constructed. Originally the deck contained 4 Thieving Magpies and 4 Chrome Mox; later on we switched to Jushi Apprentices. All the other decks in Type Two seemed either inconsistent or not powerful enough to me. Our Tooth and Nail deck, our Red deck, and our Urza-Blue deck were pretty standard – they didn’t have great matchups against other decks, and mirror matches seemed not that interesting. We kind of broke the Blue on Blue mirror by putting Miren, the Moaning Well in our deck, which helped a lot to avoid game-states in which both players have multiple Vedalken Shackles in play and still nothing happens. As soon as you get Miren going, you can just get rid of all opposing creatures, and win with your dudes. The Jushi deck is pretty good versus Red decks, which would probably be a very popular choice at Dutch Nationals. It is also fine versus Tooth and Nail as long as your sideboard contains either the Twincast package or some Boseijus to stop theirs from hurting you. While the Twincast package requires 8 sideboard slots (4 Twincast, 1 Uyo, 1 Sakashima, 1 Mephidross Vampire and 1 Triskelion), the Boseiju plan only needs 2 or 3 slots. The fact that Boseiju can help you out a lot against other Blue decks made sure that I wasn’t going to waste valuable sideboard space on some fancy copy-trick. We also had a great matchup in the UrzaBlue deck, as you will usually be able to counter all their relevant spells (which are just Memnarch and Mindslaver most of the time). This is the deck that I played at Nationals:
4 Stalking Stones
1 Miren, the Moaning Well
4 Vedalken Shackles
4 Spire Golem
4 Jushi Apprentice
4 Mana Leak
4 Thirst for Knowledge
2 Oblivion Stone
2 Journeyer’s Kite
2 Meloku, the Clouded Mirror
2 Boseiju, who Shelters All
1 Pithing Needle
4 Kaijin of the Vanishing Touch
2 Culling Scales
The only true bad matchup for this deck is probably the Black/Green Rats deck that was so popular in Canadian nationals. Aether Vial, Nezumi Shortfang, Hypnotic Specter, Viridian Shaman, Okiba-Gang Shinobi and Pithing Needle all spell quite a lot of trouble for a deck that relies on counterspells and Vedalken Shackles.
When we arrived in Salt Lake City on Thursday night, Kenji Tsumura and Masashi Oiso showed me their deck for Nationals. It was almost identical to the Blue deck above, so instantly I knew that we’d done enough testing. Salt Lake City was a bit odd for us Europeans. I think there were only 250 players in the tournament, which meant their 3 rounds of byes were only followed by 4 more matches on Day 1. A 2-2 record would mean you still got to play on Day 2! As I was a little tired from the 12-hour flight to America, I didn’t mind this easy start on our trip.
This is my deck list from SLC:
- 4 Sakura-Tribe Elder
- 1 Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni
- 1 Meloku the Clouded Mirror
- 2 Kokusho, the Evening Star
- 1 Myojin of Night's Reach
- 1 Hana Kami
- 1 Ghost-Lit Stalker
- 4 Kagemaro, First to Suffer
In round 4, I started off with a double mulligan into 3 Lands, Gifts and Kagemaro. My opponent’s draw wasn’t that amazing fortunately, as I just Gifted for Exile into Darkness and killed all his White creatures before Kagemaro did him in. Game 2 showed that you can’t lose to White Weenie as long as your draw is decent, so I was up to 4-0. In the next round Adam Chambers was waiting for me in the Feature Match area. He also brought a Gifts deck to this tournament, but didn’t do as much playtesting as we did. Game 1 I could almost come back in the game, because he passed priority after putting Myojin of Night’s Reach into play. This play is way too dangerous most of the time, as you can easily get wrecked by Sickening Shoal and a graveyard recursion effect or a Gifts Ungiven in response. That’s what happened there, but it didn’t matter as Adam recast his Myojin two turns later (and instantly removed the counter this time) to leave me with no hand. Game 2 I lost to a quick Godo, while I couldn’t find enough Kokushos and Goryo’s Vengeances to kill him in time. Losing to Chambers was fine though, as I only needed one more win for Day 2, and this way Adam made his first GP Day 2. I played against a mono-Blue deck in round 6 and a Gifts deck with maindeck Godo in round 7, and won both matches, so I ended the day at 6-1.
That night we had dinner with the Japanese, Gabe Walls, Gadiel (who was paying for the meal), and some more Americans at some place called Wendy’s (or Applebies, or Jim’s – I forgot, but I’m sure they’re all the same). Everybody there qualified for Day 2 (Tim Aten was the only one we could think of who missed the cut), so Day 2 was going to be a lot more difficult than Day 1.
Round 8 I got paired against Jelger, who played the same 75 cards. The turn after I got Myojinned game 1, I drew Gifts Ungiven with 8 lands in play. I found my own Myojin, and won that game. I lost game 2, but had the most action in game 3 where I took 2 mulligans and he took 3, so I won.
In round 9, Kenji was waiting for me. Kenji and I did a lot of block testing on Magic Online together, so I knew what was in his deck, and that I was in for a really tough match. I didn’t really mind losing to him though, as Kenji paid over 2000usd to get to this Grand Prix (where the first prize was only 2400usd).
I won the next two rounds, and then lost to Antonino, who showed me that the Mono-Blue deck wasn’t as bad versus Gifts as I thought it was. A win in round 13 against Richard Hoaen would still mean I was in Top 8, or so I understood. After winning in like 15 minutes (because of my good draws, and possibly because Rich didn’t mulligan 4 Land, Hokori, Jitte, Konda’s Banner hand), I found out that I was likely to end in ninth position. Jon Fiorillo was still playing for Top 8 at that moment, and when he lost game 2 in extra turns, his match ended in a draw, and I received a pleasant gift.
In the Quarters it was Kenji again. I hit 8 mana plus Myojin first in game 1, then saw Kenji take 3 mulligans to start game 2, and still lost the match! My opening hand for game 2 was: Forest, Swamp, Island, Tendo Ice Bridge, Gifts Ungiven, Kokusho and Goryo’s Vengeance. I believe mulligan decisions usually should not be affected by the number of mulligans your opponent took that game. This hand was extremely borderline, yet a hand that we agreed on keeping, so I kept. Kenji’s triple mulligan still made up for a turn 6 Godo, turn 7 Meloku and turn 8 Meloku, which was too good for me. In the final game, my hand got discarded on turn 7. My next 3 draw steps yielded 2 Goryo’s Vengeance and Sickening Shoal (with double Kokusho in the graveyard) – the only problem was that I had just 3 Swamps in play. To deal 15 damage, I first had to splice both Vengeances to the Shoal (killing a Meloku token), to put him at 5, then cast the final Vengeance to block his 7/9 Meloku with Kokusho to finish Kenji off. Unfortunately, this last-ditch effort didn’t kill Kenji, as he simply unattached Tatsumasa from Meloku, and I didn’t draw a Vengeance or Hana Kami the turn after.
The Top 8 in Salt Lake City was very good, and Antonino, Frank, Kenji, Gadiel, Gabe and I all picked up some valuable pro points. Before the trip to the USA started, I figured I needed 2 or 3 pro points to make it worthwhile, so I was happy I already achieved that goal.
Salt Lake was followed by five days in New Jersey, where we stayed with Gerard Fabiano. He showed us all the things that he liked about America, ranging from large shopping malls to Hilary Duff. We could still buy U.S. Open tickets in Jersey (even though they were 70usd now instead of 40), so we took a field trip to Flushing Meadows and saw Mauresmo played Karakantsheva as well as Blake vs. Andreev in the gigantic Arthur Ashe stadium. Even though the matches didn’t take long, I still had a great time seeing lots of players there.
Then came GP: Mexico, where there were almost as few players as GP: Salt Lake. Again, a 2-2 record would do for Day 2. We made a few changes to our maindeck, as I really wanted an extra copy of Ink-Eyes and Meloku in the main. Kokusho and Hideous Laughter were easy cuts. Again, at the end of day 1 I was 6-1, this time losing to Billy Postlethwait with Mono-Blue. On Day 2 everything went wrong, and I lost 4 out of 6 matches (to Julien, to Jon Sonne (mono-Blue) and to 2 Mexican players (playing mono-Red and Mike Flores‘ super deck)). At first I was pretty disappointed at failing to make Top 32, but Julien’s win and the Mexican enthusiasm made me feel good soon enough. That night we had an original Mexican dinner with Olivier and Christine, which featured all kinds of dishes I never saw before, and even some French cake.
Finally came Dutch Nationals – my favorite tournament of the year. This was the one event in which I’m afraid to lose, and in which my Constructed record was 20-2. This would be the first time I was qualified for Worlds before Nationals started, so I guess the pressure was a little less this year. Still, winning Nationals is quite important, as you get to be the national champion for a whole year and as it means pro points in the team competition at Worlds.
In the first round I played against Benjamin Vliegenthart, who played Urza Blue. Games 1 and 3 I started with a turn 2 Jushi Apprentice, which is hard for them to beat. Benjamin struggled to find his Urza set in the first game, and in game 3 I had Rewinds through Boseiju to put the game away.
Then I squared off against Roy van Oever, who brought a mono-Green deck. I never played against such a deck in this format, so I was unsure what to expect. My draws were solid in both games, featuring multiple Shackles and Spire Golems to stop his quick Troll Ascetics. However, in both games Roy played just 4 lands, and had more than 8 action cards in the first 6 turns. In game 1 he followed his turn 2 Troll with turn 3 and 4 Viridian Shamans and turn 5, 6, and 7 Creeping Molds (maindeck!). I got crushed the same way in the second game.
That was my first loss on Fay 1 in three Nationals, so I knew this year was going to be different from the previous editions.
Round 3 I got to play a White Weenie deck, which is a matchup you shouldn’t lose. Fortunately I didn’t.
Drafting it is then. While playing Constructed at nationals has always worked for me, Limited is a little different and this year would be no exception. My first deck was all right, even though the creature line-up wasn’t impressive (featuring Moss Kami, Scaled Hulk and double Okina Nightwatch, with just two three-and 2 four-drops). The 2-1 record I ended up with coming out of this pod was acceptable. My one loss came to our soon-to-be National champion Douwe van Noordenburg.
A 2-1 record was needed in my second draft pod to remain in contention. This time I ended up drafting Blue between two other Blue drafters, but still ended up with a reasonable deck. I won the first match versus Raymond Veenis, then lost to Niels Noorlander, and played the elimination match against Robert van Medevoort. After a quick first game, my deck let me down and I played just six spells in the next two games.
So, I was out. Missing Top 8 for the first time in three years was pretty disappointing, but that’s Magic. I’m glad Wessel made the team though, as he will probably reach level 3 for 2006 now. The National team is pretty solid, unfortunately Bas kind of quit Magic this year, and Douwe lives in the very north of Holland, so we don’t see him all that often. Wessel has a Top 8 finish in this year’s team Limited Pro Tour, so he should be able to lead to team to a good finish.
That’s it for now. I should be getting back to university after missing the first two weeks traveling to the U.S. and Mexico. I will probably write some articles about Ravnica and the new Standard format soon, and hope to see you all in Los Angeles.