Ask The Drama – Drama’s Back

This past weekend, Jeroen teamed with Old School Pro Victor van der Broek, and they proceeded to push their way to the very top of the pile, only to fall at the final hurdle. Still, a Top 8 finish at a 666-team PTQ is a fine result… and Jeroen talks us through some of the more interesting deckbuilding points.

Hello readers!

You will not be surprised to hear that I am in a fairly good mood today. It’s been a while since I performed well at a Grand Prix – or at any Magic tournament in general – and I’ve got to say it feels pretty good! This does mean that today I will not be covering your questions — questions you should still send to [email protected]. Instead I will be telling you all about the Grand Prix, and letting you know why we did so well.

As I said in an earlier article, it all started after Worlds. I had made arrangements to team with Robert van Medevoort, who had just became Worlds Team Champion, and who was a great up-and-comer on the Dutch Magic scene. My falling of the train meant that I couldn’t count on eager Dutch pros to team with me, so he was definitely the best I could get. He also seemed eager to learn, which meant that I was willing to give it a try. Unfortunately, at the first trial we played together I immediately noticed that things weren’t running very smoothly. We both had very different views on playing Magic: I like to develop my board quickly, and like to curve out and in general play very aggressively; whereas he likes to lean back, and play around his opponent’s tricks. We went 2-3 with very good decks, and I took that as a sign that things weren’t going to work out.

This meant I had to go back out there and find a team-mate in a short period of time, with almost everyone taken. I then asked Victor van den Broek, an old school pro from as far as back as the Legion, if he was planning on playing. Vic had basically quit Magic, but as a poker pro that sometimes gets bored he likes to run the occasional MTGO draft. This meant that he knew the cards fairly well, despite not being on top of his game. That was fine, as that is not terribly important in 2HG. As long as one person knows what the cards do, the most important thing is for the two team-mates to be on the same wavelength as far as playing games goes. I knew from testing that Vic and I see Magic in very much the same way (we even played for Top 8 at Euros once with the same 75. He won).

During the next week we talked a lot about the format. Then went to the GP with no expectations because – let’s face it – we are a pair of dinosaurs.

Although I never tested with Victor, I had done a lot of local drafts with people like Frank Karsten, Bas Postema, Ruud Warmenhoven, and Quentin Martin, and had a good idea of what was good in the format. To me, it seems like Sealed Deck and Draft tend to be almost the same, with the only difference being that in Draft you take the best card in each pack to form a pool, while in Sealed Deck you simply get handed a stack of stuff. Heck, you even get more cards. This often leads to Sealed Decks being better then Draft decks, as you just get more shots at opening bombs. You will be playing every color anyway.

In general, the cards you are looking for are the most powerful spells in each color. Sure, creatures are important too, but with two opponents, they will always be able to deal with a guy. Card advantage is key, and being able to stop any spells gives you the flexibility you need. This means that, in order, the best cards for 2HG are:

Damnation — Card advantage that deals with every threat they can make
Sulfurous Blast — See Damnation. What it lacks in dragon-killing power, it makes up for with tutorability (Mystical Teachings much?)
Pyrohemia– Yeah, because if the card wasn’t dumb enough, they now gave it Double Strike
Desolation Giant – A slightly less absurd Damnation, because you need to play R/W, but it’s still about the same.
Draining WhelkCounterspells are amongst the best cards in the format, and if they are attached to a dragon, they are even better. By far the best creature [better than Jedit? — Craig.]

These are the cards we were looking for when we opened our Sealed pool, after a two-hour wait at the site. Although we only got one, we were fortunate enough to be handed a bunch of other cards from the top 10, as our Sealed pool was absolutely stacked. Here’s what the hits looked like:

My Deck (Seat A)

18 Lands
One of the things we figured out is that in this format, when one player is stuck on mana, it’s game over. You can never win two against one, so it is better to draw that one extra land then to not being able to play your spells.

2 Citanul Woodreaders
Card advantage is good.

2 Nantuko Shaman

2 Essence Warden
An absolute top card in 2HG, as they make control decks last so much longer, and devaluate fast beatdown strategies.

1 Scryb Ranger
This combos with so much, and is one of the best two-drops around.

1 Vhati Il-Dal
Not just great at dominating combat, this guy also combos with everything, such as…

1 Crovax, Ascendant Hero
Our first bomb.

1 Squall Line
The fact that this thing has virtual Double Strike means that it will finish games so often. Great with the Essence Wardens too.

Victor’s Deck (Seat B)

1 Mystical Teachings
The absolute key to the deck.

1 Sulfurous Blast
Wow, is this card unreal! Not only is it great at clearing the board, it also deals six damage for some ridiculous reason.

1 Bogardan Hellkite
The other part of the Teachings package.

1 Cancel
Stops bombs. One of the best cards in the format.

1 Empty the Warrens
To put it bluntly, storm is stupid.

1 Akroma, Angel of Fury
Not as good as advertised, but it is still a fine finisher.

1 Disintegrate
It’s funny how underwhelming this card was. Compared to Squall Line, this is just sad. Of course, it is still very good in the abstract, so we were happy to have it.

1 Brine Elemental
Stopping two players from untapping is even better than stopping one.

1 Prodigal Pyromancer
Combos with both Scryb Ranger and Vhati in our pool. These iterations won us a number of games by themselves.

2 Cradle to Grave
We decided to splash for this card alone (and the for flashback of Teachings), because it is so good at dealing with pretty much everything. It fits perfectly into a deck that dislikes tapping out, such as this one.

We went 6-0-1 without any byes. The draw came to Boom / Bust, which we never saw coming. It ended up putting seventeen of Victor’s land in the bin (we had been working Dreamscape Artist all game). Had he drawn his nineteenth land to play Sudden Shock and two Cradle to Graves, we would have won that game too.

Happy with the fact that Day 1 was cut down from nine to seven rounds, we headed home at around 1am, to get a couple of hours sleep before heading into the Draft day.

Draft was interesting because although Vic did know some (or most) of the cards, he was in no way able to actually draft and talk about all the cards available. This meant that our draft process was rather odd. To quote Victor:

“It’s like I am watching you draft on MTGO. You pick the best two cards, and occasionally I chime in and say something like, ‘how about that one?’”

Of course, this is a pretty big exaggeration. We did talk a lot during the draft, but I definitely did most of the work.

Like I said earlier, draft is very like Sealed, except you need to look a little closer for the possible synergy available, as your power level is usually lower since you receive fewer cards. Everyone generally plays all colors, so the format does devolve into taking the best cards most of the time.

In Draft 1 we had the following decks, which we piloted to a 1-1 record:

My Deck (Seat A)

18 Land
1 Torchling — I guess it’s a bomb, almost.
1 Cancel
1 Mystical Teachings — a lot worse without a Sulfurous Blast, but still pretty darn good.
2 Cradle to Grave
1 Mindstab
2 Dream Stalker — When backed with some stuff to bounce, like Shaper Parasite and Reality Acid, it is very strong. As is the Acid by itself.
1 Grapeshot — Wow. Just that good.

As you can see, not very exciting overall.

Victor’s Deck (Seat B)

1 Stormfront Riders — Big fliers are good, as are multiple tokens.
1 Akroma, Angel of Wrath
1 Teneb, the Harvester — Boom booms. The actual bombs of our pool were in this deck, which is why we made sure this deck drew an extra card.
1 Prismatic Lens
1 Weatherseed Totem
1 Yavimaya Dryad — And we still played 18 lands.

In this draft we went 1-1, losing to a Pyrohemia (so dumb) and a huge Ignite Memories on a hand involving Riders, Akroma, and Teneb. We won the next one pretty luckily, as we peeled Teneb exactly when we needed it and were on a virtual one life for a couple of turns before we managed to get a Teneb-resurrected Urborg Syphon-Mage going.

These decks weren’t strong, because we felt we had focussed a little too much on card advantage and not enough on removal. We decided to change that aspect in the next drafts.

Our second draft was by far the best of the three.

Once again, I played the Green deck in Seat A, which was good since that meant the U/R deck had the bombs:

My Deck (Seat A)

1 Spectral Force
3 Mire Boa
2 Urborg Syphon-Mage — Our roads to victory were set.
1 Harmonize

1 Mwonvuli Acid-Moss — This card is not only great acceleration, it also gives you a shot at winning easily through color screw.

Victor’s Deck (Seat B)

1 Sulfurous Blast — We have never lost after casting this card… although we did beat two teams who played this card in our last draft!
2 Mystical Teachings — Yeah! More Blasts! The funny thing is that without the Blast this deck would have been U/B and the other deck R/G, but with the Blast we had to build it like this. Three Blasts are better than one.
2 Cancel — I’ve never felt this safe.
2 Strangling Soot — plus a million other removal spells.

Our plan worked perfectly in this draft, and we easily crushed all our opponents. We still needed to win two rounds after this to make Top 4, thanks to the two cut rounds at the end of Day 1. Time to open more Blasts!

We did open another Sulfurous Blast, but this time we had no strong Blue cards to go with them, and definitely no Mystical Teachings. They are so strong we would have first-picked them.

My Deck (Seat A)

1 Verdeloth the Ancient
1 Thelonite Hermit — We opened both in our first pack, and it doesn’t get any better synergy-wise than this. We slammed both.

Too bad that was about all for this deck. We built a G/W deck, with stuff like double Saltfield Recluse, some 0/5 walls, and some support spells.

Victor’s Deck (Seat B)

1 Sulfurous Blast
1 Demonic Collusion — We didn’t have Mystical Teachings, but we wanted something to get the Blast.

1 Magus of the Arena — Not as bombalicious as I thought it would be.
1 Volcanic Hellion — Sure, you will never pay the upkeep, but it is a fine removal spell.

1 Dread Return — My favorite combo ever, with the Hellion…
2 Nightshade Assassin — … And with these.

All the Black removal you can want ever, but nothing else of import.

While the first round in this draft went well, the second was where the wheels finally fell of our wagon. We were defeated by the eventual champions, and the coverage of our final match can be read here. It was a back-and-forth affair, and we were upset to lose as we’d come so close.

Overall, despite many problems at the event and with the organization, the GP was a great success for me. Hopefully it’ll be a fine springboard from which I can push back to Level 3 status!

Just don’t call it a comeback… yet.

See you next week!