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Ask The Drama — Road To Regionals: Jeroen’s Deck Clinic

Get ready for Magic the Gathering Regionals!
With under a week to Regionals, Jeoren clears out all the Standard questions from his bulging mailbag in this extra-long edition of Ask The Drama! He looks at a number of interesting decks sent in by readers and fans, and gives his opinion on their choices and builds. And who knows, maybe one of these reader-built decks will be the one to pilot you to Nationals!

Hello all, and welcome to this special edition of Ask the Drama. Last week I asked you if you had any last-minute questions regarding Regionals, and you responded en masse. Since Regionals is this weekend, I can’t really let anyone wait by saving a couple of these for later articles, so I decided to make this week’s edition extra large!

Ready?

Let’s go!

Wayne’s up with the first question:

I will be going to Regionals this Sunday (in Australia), and plan on taking a U/B Dralnu-free control deck.

I have played the deck a lot, both in real life and online, and have made a few adjustments over time to find a build that I am comfortable with. Since dredge reared its head, I have tested various versions and seen that I pretty much can’t win game 1 – its just too fast. Then, after sideboard, it’s the complete opposite. Go figure.

I have a list for you to check out. The maindeck competes very well against mid-range, control, and Dragonstorm decks, and is "okay" against Gruul… but it’s terrible against dredge…

3 Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir
1 Draining Whelk
1 Aeon Chronicler
1 Skeletal Vampire

3 Mystical Teachings
4 Think Twice
4 Remand
4 Rewind
4 Spell Snare
3 Cancel
3 Damnation
2 Repeal
2 Last Gasp
1 Sudden Death

4 Watery Grave
4 Dreadship Reef
2 Ghost Quarter
2 Swamp
2 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
1 Urza’s Factory
8 Island

Sideboard
4 Leyline of the Void
4 Bottle Gnomes
3 Extirpate
1 Seize the Soul
1 Last Gasp
1 Tombstalker
1 Pact of Negation

I am expecting to see pretty much the entire field, as a lot of deck types get played here. Angelfire will be around in numbers, as will Gruul, with a handful of Dragonstorm, Project X, and Dredge.

I have tried out Delay in the main, and I never liked it unless I had Teferi in play… and unfortunately I have cut Persecute from the board to fit in the Leylines.

I would love to hear any thoughts on the list. I’m sure it’s not optimal, but I would appreciate your honesty.)

Hey Wayne. Your deck looks very solid, and I agree with everything you say. The huge number of expensive counters definitely makes it so that Gruul is only an "okay" matchup, despite that fact that you dedicate a lot of your maindeck towards beating it. Cards like Last Gasp and Damnation are really only good against Gruul (well, and Dredge, but according to you that doesn’t matter), but they don’t raise the matchup percentage all that much.

A suggestion I would like to make is that you take out these limited answers and replace them with more global ones, like the third and fourth Repeal.

Also, you seem to have made great plans against the decks you expect. These decks seem to be Gruul, Dredge, and Dragonstorm (which you tend to neglect a little bit, since your matchup there is fine already… but without Persecute, it might be tricky) and the mirror, but you don’t really seem to have any plans for the rest of the field… namely, three-color control decks. You don’t really have cards against them in the sideboard, and your maindeck is tilted heavily towards beating creature decks.

Like Mike Flores has mentioned countless times, the threat of Detritivore is a real one, and it looks like this is also a problem card for you out of the sideboard. My suggestion would be to make sure you find some room in the maindeck and sideboard to battle the “random” control decks… like Angelfire, like three-color Detritivore, like U/R Tron. Those are the decks that you will not be able to beat very easily.

Eric Weeden hits us with the next question:

I am having trouble picking a deck for Regionals, and I was wondering if you could help me. I have been testing Standard for a few months now, mostly due to City Champs, and have narrowed down my possible decks to play to a small handful: Glare, U/B/r Flores (Go-Sis), Beach House, and Dralnu. I expect the top tables of Regionals here to be mostly control decks like Dralnu and Go-Sis, so I want to play a deck that beats those, but also beats the Gruul and other aggro decks in the first four rounds or so. I don’t want to play Glare because even though it will probably get me to 4-0 or so, I don’t think it has what it takes to beat the control decks the last three rounds. Beach House hasn’t lived up to my expectations to beat aggro or control, so that doesn’t appeal to me much.

Go-sis is a deck more my style(midrange) but I am not very familiar with it, which worries me. Dralnu is the deck I have been playing for the last month or so, and I have been doing very well with it, X-1ing or better most local tournaments I play. The only thing that worries me is that those tournaments don’t feature the better players in the area generally, and I am not sure I can pilot the deck perfectly for eight rounds plus Top 8. My question, then, is this: put yourself in my shoes… what deck do you play? Dralnu, because it is the best, or one of the other decks?

Basically you are giving your own answer here. You want to pick something out of the four decks presented: one which isn’t good in the metagame, because it can’t beat control decks (Glare); another which is a difficult control deck that you have no experience with (Go-Sis); a third that you say doesn’t beat anything, so why would you pick that (Beach House); and a fourth that is a top tier deck, that not only does very well in this metagame, but is also a deck you have a lot of experience with (Dralnu).

To me, this isn’t very hard at all. You say you are worried that you might not have the playskill to beat the top players, but this remains the same no matter what deck you play. This means that if you fear you might not have the base skills, the only way you can compensate is test the hell out of a deck and make sure you know what to do in every situation. This leads to playing what you know. Especially if that deck is the best deck out there, and there are no advantages to be found because of a wide open metagame.

Play Dralnu!

Bogdan Volostrigov from Russia asks the next question:

You answered some of my questions back in February (regarding Boros list for a PTQ in Norway). Since then I returned to Russia and am determined to qualify for Nationals this year. I have several questions regarding the deck choice and possible modifications of R/G/W-Zoo for upcoming Regionals.

A little background first.

Last week I played in the first Regionals in Russia of the season (St Petersburg) and went 2-3 with this list:

3 Birds Of Paradise
4 Kird Ape
4 Boros Swiftblade
4 Watchwolf
4 Sulfur Elemental
4 Giant Solifuge
4 Lightning Helix
4 Char
3 Rift Bolt
3 Moldervine Cloak
2 Stonewood Invocation
4 Stomping Ground
4 Temple Garden
4 Sacred Foundry
3 Karplusan Forest
3 Gemstone Mine
3 Boros Garrison

Sideboard
4 Loxodon Hierarch
4 Thrill Of The Hunt
4 Honorable Passage
3 Seal Of Primordium

The “scouting reports” by my teammates revealed that the metagame will be control-oriented and overloaded with Dralnu and Tron, so the deck was a fine choice. Despite the mediocre (and highly disappointing) result, I still think the choice was fine. All the losses were 1-2, and the games were extremely close.

The deck is very fast and brutal. It plays arguably best aggressive creatures and also has a number of cute and powerful synergies, like:

Sulfur Elemental + Swiftblade
Sulfur Elemental + Watchwolf
Moldervine Cloak + Swiftblade
Moldervine Cloak + Birds (won me a game against RG Beats)
Stonewood Invocation + whatever creature (and a BEATING with a Swiftblade).

And so on.

Sideboard is geared with Blood Moon in mind (going proactive with Seal), and with extensive package against R/G (Thrill + Hierarch). Thrill allows me to kill their Call of The Herd tokens without a card loss, and this was crucial in testing. Passage is for Dragonstorm.

I slaughtered U/W/r-Tron in Round 1, and Dralnu in Round 3 (opponent scooped embarrassingly to his own Slaughter Pact in game 1. However, he was at one life and I did have some spare burn in hand).

The losses came from U/B Snow Pickles in round 2 (opponent drew 3 Phyrexian Ironfoots in both Game 2 and Game 3), RG in game 3 (very close game 1 and Magus of the Moon plus Moldervine Cloak – with my Rift Bolt in Suspend – in game 3), and Solar flare in round 5 (he had 2 Circle of Protection: Red in game 2 – one was nailed by a Seal – and outdrew me with 3 Compulsive Researches in game 3, having cast two Wraths and every Mortify and Condemn in his deck, and he still finished the game at 1 life).

Now, back to business.

Next Regionals is next week, and it will be held in Tver, a city 150 km from Moscow, and the meta is believed to be aggro-dominated (with about 30 to 40 Moscow players attending). Also, a Dredge deck is expected to be on the rise. Therefore, I consider several changes to the deck:

1) I want to swap Solifuges for Hierarchs. Hierarchs single-handedly win games against aggro, while still serving for five in control matches (thanks to Sulfur Elemental). It is also good against COP: Red. Do you think the loss of a hasty untargetable beatstick will be a huge issue for the deck?

2) As Dredge is believed to be on the rise, 4 Jotun Grunts seem like a good addition. The question is, what to remove from the sideboard, as all the slots seem irreplaceable? Should I drop Solifuges entirely then?

3) What do you think, is Moldervine Cloak better than Griffin Guide? I tested Guides in the slot of Cloaks, but NEVER drew them in 10 games in a row. I guess Cloak is better with Birds and Swiftblade, but Flying seems like a trump in the aggro Mirror, and the Griffin token is also nothing to sneeze at. What is your opinion?

4) While the manabase works fine (Birds do help a lot), I still have issues with Blood Moon. Do you think it is possible to incorporate at least a few Basic lands? Also, Keldon Megaliths looks very much like Der Gas in this deck. What to remove for them? Do you have any other ideas regarding Blood Moon Issue, besides Seal of Primordium, Birds Of Paradise, and Basic lands?

5) Do you think Riftsweeper is good enough against Dragonstorm to deserve inclusion in the sideboard (instead of Passages)? What about Parallectric Feedback?

6) Overall, I think the deck is very powerful and customizable to some extent. Do you think it is viable in the current metagame? What possible additions to the deck I might have overlooked?

Hey buddy. You’ve got a whole lot of specific questions, so I’ll dig in. One thing off the bat though, right now you are running a very aggressive deck where the Birds of Paradise look very out of place. They don’t attack, and with the rainbow manabase you don’t really need them, except for casting one of your late-game four-mana game-breakers… and they can wait. They seem like a natural fit for a three-color deck, but in a deck as aggressive as this you want all your cards to deal damage, which the birds do not. As for your questions:

1) If you believe the metagame is very aggro-oriented, making that kind of swap seems very good. It makes your control matchup worse, by maybe 5-10%, but it will raise your aggro matchup by more. If it is all aggro you expect, then making your deck more midrange is a perfect solution. You could also start the elephants maindeck, and then bring the Solifuges in from the board. If you are afraid of CoP: Red, you might want to change your Seals to Krosan Grips though, to assure you that they will resolve. They are slightly worse against Blood Moon, so pick yer poison.

2) Jotun Grunt is only okay versus Dredge, and certainly not the end-all card, but it can definitely raise your matchup slightly. Note that aggressive decks like this are already one of Dredges worst matchups, so devoting too much sideboard space to it is probably not necessary. Four Grunts might be overdoing it, but playing three and cutting a couple of the cards you have now (for instance, one Hierarch/Solifuge, one Thrill, and one Passage) may work wonders.

3) Griffin Guide seems better against Wrath and in the mirror, and Cloak seems better versus combo decks and the like. Since I already mentioned maybe cutting the Birds, Cloak becomes worse, and you might want to take a look at playing the Guide. In the metagame you expect (a lot of aggro decks) I would go for the Guide.

4) Now I never expected to hear a Russian guy say Der Gas, but in doing so you made my day! As for your question, Blood Moon does indeed look like a problem for your deck, and not something a simple change of a couple of lands will fix. I think you should just forget about it, and hope that they do not draw it in one game, and that you have too much pressure in the others for it to be good enough. You can still play a bunch of your burn, and win with the creatures you have in play already. A thing to keep an eye on is that a lot of people have switched to Magus of the Moon over Blood Moons, and that probably means you should be less worried about it because you can just kill that guy. Your manabase looks fine as is, and I wouldn’t change a thing just because of Blood Moon.

5) A lot of people have been running Riftsweeper, but I am not sure what is better against Dragonstorm as I have not played straight Zoo as much as R/G, and in Gruul it isn’t really an option to play Honorable Passage. I just don’t know, and I would suggest testing to find out.

6) I definitely think it is viable, as are a lot of decks these days. The way you describe your metagame, I feel it might be great to play it with the Hierarchs, so you have a more midrange gameplan, and break the metagame that way. Of course, then you have to hope to play as many aggro decks as you expected. It certainly seems like you put a lot of good thought in the deck, and know what you are doing. Good luck!

Frank Lepore is next:

I usually don’t do this, but every year it seems I take the wrong deck to Regionals, or I end up picking something rogue at the last minute.

Anyway, this year I wanted to play something Black and Blue, with ways to control the board and gain life. These seem like solid strategies against the top tier decks. I was thinking about Dralnu, but I found something I liked a lot better in the StarCityGames.com open 1K tournament. The deck was played by Bryan Upham to a "5th" place finish. It seems pretty solid, and after board it looks like you have plenty of ways to battle Dredge and Dragonstorm. I also took out one Persecute and made room for a 4th Tendrils in the board. I’m thinking about cutting either one Urborg or one Signet – as 24 lands and six Signets seems mighty hefty – for possibly another Detritivore. The deck seems like it plays the best creatures, and a stuck Korlash is pretty unopposed without a Wrath. I also don’t know how solid the Bottled Cloister would be, maybe something like another Compulsive or a Consideration might be better.

Anyway, if you get the chance give me a reply and let me know your thoughts on the deck in general or some of my suggestions. Great column and I hope you’re doing well!


Hey Frank. This deck looks like a three-color variation to the Beach House deck, running the Dimir House Guard tech to fetch your silver bullets. That’s why the Cloister is in there, to go get some lasting card-drawing with your House Guard. We played that thing back in the first versions too, and it is very good, especially since there are no instants in the deck.

The deck obviously has some results backing it up, getting 5th at the 1k tourney, so you know that it is fairly good. I think tinkering it too much before testing the deck is wrong, as the one thing I think you cannot do is cut lands or Signets, since they are what makes the deck tick. You survive until you set up a huge Chronicler, and all the while keep drawing land and making your Korlash bigger. Cutting land makes it less likely your Chronicler will be as big, and that the deck will work efficiently. Adding another Detritivore also doesn’t add that much, since that is one of your silver bullets, and the difference between 6 or 7 is not that big, especially since it’s not great in all matchups. I think you could definitely add some in the board though, as the Detritivore mirror can be rough.

The deck seems very focused and every card has a purpose, and I wouldn’t start cutting and changing cards before testing.

Samuel Alaimo is next:

This is a deck that I have been tuning for a while now. I call it 20:20:20 Rakdos. I have a great game against control decks, and my aggro matches are about 50/50 (Depending on how much Confidant damage I take). I know the deck inside and out, but I am unsure of the sideboard for Regionals.

4 Blood Crypt
4 Rakdos Carnarium
4 Sulfurous Springs
5 Mountain
3 Swamp

(As of now, I am missing 2 Blood Crypt so I am playing a Swamp and Mountain in their place. Honestly, I really don’t notice the difference)

4 Giant Solifuge
4 Dark Confidant
4 Rakdos Guildmage
4 Scorched Rusalka
4 Shadow Guildmage
4 Char
4 Rift Bolt
4 Demonfire
4 Volcanic Hammer
4 Seal of Fire

Sideboard:
4 Leyline of the Void
3 Cruel Edict
4 Deathmark (Kills that pesky Spectral Force)

4 Rise/Fall (To have some game versus Dragonstorm)

I can see wanting more instant speed burn against Tendrils (I have eight ways to off a guy being hit between Seal and Rusalka. The deck is all about tempo with its sixteen one-drops (which make the Karoos playable). What I am asking is, with an expected field of Dralnu and Dragonstorm, do you think that I have a chance at Regionals?

Sixteen one-drops? I only count eight real ones, and four Seals….

I remember this deck testing for last Nationals, and I also remember that it was very powerful there. The bad part about it was that it had a pretty rough matchup against Gruul and Zoo decks, which weren’t that big last year, but are huge now. The Meloku- and Wrath-based decks from back then are replaced by removal-heavy and counter-heavy decks that eat decks like this for breakfast. You need to have a Dark Confidant to have a shot there, and with Spell Snare everywhere he isn’t an auto-resolve. I think the format has left a deck like this behind, as Dragonstorm and Gruul eat it for lunch, and Dralnu doesn’t have a horrible matchup against it. If you can’t beat the Big Three, you shouldn’t play the deck.

Samuel also had a bunch of other questions that didn’t involve Regionals, so if you would still like those answered Samuel, be sure to resend them to [email protected]

Next up is a question from a guy who shall not be named. He asked a bunch of questions and supplied a bunch of decklists, and finished up with a "I’d rather you didn’t post my decklists if you answer my question."

Well, I’m sorry, but I can’t really answer your queries without them… so instead I’ve done the next best thing and removed your name. That way, you can still keep your tech secret from your friends, and tell them you’re gonna run a Tempest precon at Regionals!

I’m sitting on a dilemma at the moment. I have one week until Regionals, and I haven’t finalized my decision on what deck to play. I’m down to three contenders, but I have reservations about each. I was hoping you could give me some advice. I’ll list the deck’s I have built (without my super secret sideboard tech, of course). Could you tell me which one you would play through 10 to 11 rounds of Regionals?

First up is RDW V2.0

4 Scorched Rusalka
4 Greater Gargadon
4 Keldon Marauders
4 Mogg War-Marshal
4 Sulfur Elemental
2 Tombstalker

4 Char
4 Browbeat
4 Rift Bolt
2 Sudden Shock
2 Demonfire

4 Graven Cairns
4 Blood Crypt
3 Sulfurous Springs
1 Molten Slagheap
2 Keldon Megaliths
8 Mountain

Pros as I see them: Extremely fast deck, that isn’t overly taxing on the course of a full day of play. Has good matchups versus Dralnu and Dredge (Sac outlets negate lifegain from Tendrils and remove Bridges). Has good post-board strategies versus Dragonstorm (Super Secret Tech).

Cons as I see them: Dragonstorm Game 1 is almost an auto-loss, and the Gruul matchup is bad – I’d say 70/30 game 1, 60/40 Games 2 & 3 – as their creatures are just better.

Second, I have my version of Dralnu, which is the following:

3 Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir
1 Draining Whelk
1 Skeletal Vampire
1 Aeon Chronicler

3 Mystical Teachings
4 Think Twice
4 Mana Leak
4 Rewind
4 Tendrils of Corruption
3 Damnation
2 Spell Snare
1 Extirpate
1 Slaughter Pact
1 Sudden Death
1 Pact of Negation
1 Venser’s Diffusion
1 Careful Consideration

4 Watery Grave
4 Underground River
3 Dreadship Reef
3 Tolaria West
2 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
1 Desert
1 Urza’s Factory
4 Island
2 Swamp

Pros: Good matchups against pretty much everything, post board at least. Not one single terrible matchup in the lot.

Cons: Fifty-minute Rounds, I’m afraid how many draw’s this deck will lead too in short rounds. Very difficult to play correctly 100% of the time over the course of a long day.

And finally, Dredge…

4 Magus of the Bazaar
3 Lore Broker
2 Drowned Rusalka
4 Stinkweed Imp
4 Golgari Grave-Troll
2 Golgari Thug
4 Narcomoeba
3 Flame-kin Zealot

3 Dread Return
4 Piracy Charm
4 Bridge from Below
2 Life from the Loam
1 Darkblast

4 Gemstone Mine
3 Gemstone Caverns
4 Watery Grave
2 Breeding Pool
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
3 Dryad Arbor
3 Island

Pro’s: Very fast, Doesn’t have a bad matchup game 1, It pretty much rolls everything unprepared for it, and punishes anyone keeping a sub-optimal draw.

Cons: There is going to be a ton of hate for this deck at Regionals. Playing through the hate can be vexing at times (to find the win), but it is still winnable.

Thoughts?

I am undoubtedly going to repeat myself a little here, but in order to make a decision, I will be looking at what you say about your matchups against the Big Three, and as a tiebreaker use the Almost-As-Big Number Four, Dredge.

Deck number 1 you say has a bad matchup against two of the Big Three – the most popular ones, probably – and a good match against Dralnu. It also has a good matchup against Dredge, which I am not sure about, but I will take your word for it. The main problem I have with it is that it is just a Block deck in a format of super efficient decks.

Deck number 2 is your standard Dralnu deck, which, as you say, doesn’t have any bad matchups. The only real problem is that you are afraid to not be able to play the deck fast enough. You have a couple of options, then: play faster or don’t play the deck. No one can play any deck perfectly for an entire game, let alone a round, so don’t worry about the mistakes you make..

Deck number 3 is a Dredge deck, your standard fare, with the usual pros and cons.

So which deck would I play? I would go with Dralnu. But then again, I play pretty fast and am not afraid to run into time issues. I would definitely never play the first deck, as it just looks underpowered.

If you don’t feel comfortable playing it, and are afraid of the clock, then by all means play the Dredge deck, as they really both are very viable. It just comes down to what you are most comfortable with.

Last up, Koby wants input:

Last year in Champs I took a U/W Control deck to a 1st Place finish. Back then the metagame was so easy, but things have changed. Now the metagame is even with the Big Three – those are supposed to be the decks to beat, and I find myself with a bit of a problem. I read Flores’s article about his new deck Go-Sis, but at the end he posted a U/W Control deck that Chapin modified, and I picked it up as a base deck. This is how my deck ended up:

2 Calciform Pools
1 Urza’s Factory
4 Hallowed Fountain
1 Tolaria West
2 Mouth of Ronom
2 Snow-Covered Plains
5 Snow-Covered Island
1 Boreal Shelf
2 New Benalia
1 Dreadship Reef
4 Adarkar Wastes
4 Aeon Chronicler
1 Akroma, Angel of Wrath
3 Court Hussar
4 Rewind
4 Remand
4 Think Twice
4 Wrath of God
3 Spell Snare
4 Repeal
4 Rune Snag

Sideboard
3 Jotun Grunt
4 Riptide Pilferer
3 Circle of Protection: Red
2 Shadow of Doubt
3 Sacred Ground

Now on to my doubts.

1. How can I make the Gruul matchup better? Last year it was easy, but now with Sulfurs being around it’s a bit difficult since we lost our win condition Sacred Mesa.
2. Should the Hussars stay?
3. Against Dredge, which is better: Tormod’s Crypt or Grunt? Perhaps splash a touch of Black for Yixlid Jailer?
4. Against Dralnu, all it matters is skill… that will win the war. So should I take out those Hussars and play Teferi?
5. Is Sacred Ground better than Pull from the Eternity against Detritivore?
6. Is my manabase okay?

Sorry to ask so many questions but I haven’t been in so much chaos ever. I’ve always done pretty well at Magic. I started back in Regionals 2005 with a Top 8. That was my first tournament, and I Top 8ed. Then I followed it with a 12th place finish in Regionals 2006, shortly after becoming 2006 State Champ. Now my goal is win a pass to Nationals. Please help me make my dream come true. (That sounded girly… sorry.)

1) The Gruul matchup is rough because it is hard to kill them after you survive for a while, and then they burn you out because you cannot finish them off. This means that the best way to beat Zoo is play more durable kill conditions. An option is more Akromas, but a card that has really been picking up speed is Crovax. He basically cannot be killed, and he stops a lot of the threats Gruul plays. Two copies of Crovax backed by some Faith’s Fetters should make that matchup a lot better.

2) That depends on what you want to replace them with. Hussar is a very good card in a vacuum, but if you don’t have the room, don’t play them. I like them in the deck right now.

3) In a deck that plans on beating down, and where the four damage is an asset, I like the Grunt a lot. It stalls the Dredge deck and gets in for eight points at the same time, giving you exactly what you need. In this deck though, the four or eight damage doesn’t really do anything, making it just a slow and bad answer, which they can simply wait out before going off again. I like Crypt a whole lot more. I am not that big a fan of Jailer, as he is great by himself, but dies to a card that every Dredge deck packs as a four-of: Darkblast. The last thing I’d do is splash for it.

4) Just straight up swapping will not work, as they fill completely different roles and could mess up your curve. If all that matters is skill, why would you play cards specifically for that, when it doesn’t change much. Crovax is also very god in this matchup by the way.

5) Sacred Ground seems better if all you care about is Detritivore, but most of those decks also play Aeon Chronicler, which it does nothing against. Maybe a mix would be best?

6) Your manabase looks okay, though I am not too sure about all of the random "comes into play tapped" lands… New Benalia seems to have a very mediocre effect, and I am not sure if it’s worth it.

And that’s it for this year’s Regionals articles! I wish all of you good luck, and please drop a note with how y’all did (or questions, of course) at [email protected].

Good luck… and you know what they say in Viking Quest…

VICTORY!

Jeroen