Black Magic – One Goal: Worlds Report

Thursday, December 16th – Sam Black had one goal for Worlds 2010: to make Top 32 and Level 7. 200+ matches of Standard, a sweet R/B Vampires deck, and a teched out Faeries deck with Wurmcoil Engine later…

Jet lag is a powerful force.

I just pried myself out of bed at the crack of 3:30 pm to start writing this article. I was supposed to write it yesterday, but after I got home from Japan, I slept from 5:00 am to 6:45 pm, at which point I was late to pick my girlfriend up from work, so I hurried outside to dig my car out of the snow that had accumulated while I was gone and brought her home. It wasn’t until after 9:00, while making dinner, that I suddenly remembered I was now late to write an article.

Fortunately, it’s nowhere near as bad going West as it is going East, so I didn’t feel like it was much of a problem despite not getting to Japan until the day before the tournament.

So, Worlds.

So close.

The week and a half leading up to Worlds was the most intense cram session I’ve ever done for anything, and in over 200 matches of Standard on MTGO, I felt like I learned the format as a whole better than I’d known any other format ever. At first, I felt like I didn’t know anything, and in an email inspired by Chapin’s article,

 when asked to describe my expectations for Worlds in the form of a Magic card name, I answered “Bitter Ordeal.” As I played more, I became much more confident, and going into the StarCityGames.com Invitational, I felt like I might do extremely well playing R/U/G in both events. When I posted a mediocre finish, my confidence was substantially shaken. I tested some more on Monday before leaving for Worlds and concluded that I should play R/B Vampires. R/U/G was the most fun deck in Standard. It had the most options and the highest potential for complex explosive turns, but a lot of its matchups were just extremely close. I felt like I had good tech and good plans across the board with Vampires. My decision may also have been influenced by the fact that historically most of my successes have been with tribal decks of some kind.

When I got to Japan, Brian Kowal and Alex West reluctantly showed Gaudenis and me their Mono-Green Genesis Wave deck. After watching it and playing a few games against it, I concluded that it was a real deck but nothing special, and I’d rather play the deck I knew all my plans with.

Thursday morning, right before the tournament, I ran into Ben Stark, Eric Froehlich, and a few others who were also playing R/B Vampires, and we compared lists and discussed sideboard plans. Ben convinced me to find a few copies of Demon of Death’s Gate at the last minute, as it was the best plan against Valakut, and I also decided to try the one copy of Sarkhan the Mad that they had in their sideboard.

I played against Valakut twice but never drew the Demon. Also, in six rounds, I believe I never drew a single card off of Dark Tutelage. My “tech” was Jinxed Idol, which performed pretty well; although it’s definitely a swingy card that’s somewhat difficult to play, and it does sometimes lose you games. Most games that I lost, all but one, involved getting my opponent to less than three life.

I lost game three against Brian Kibler with him at two life, and he was tapped out, and I had red mana and a Sarkhan the Mad in my hand. If I hadn’t had that card in my sideboard, or if I hadn’t chosen to bring it in, it would’ve been a Lightning Bolt, and I’d have won that match. I’m not sure if I was supposed to bring it in or not. Theoretically, planeswalkers are good against control decks, but I felt a bit like if he had stabilized at all, with cards like Gideon Jura and Elspeth Tirel, there was no way Sarkhan would get me back in the game. This is the danger of throwing in last-minute cards I haven’t played with.

My other loss in Standard was to one of the three Valakut opponents I faced. Sometimes they just get you.

So I finished the first day at 4-2. Nothing special, but after the previous weekend, it was about what I was hoping for. I was still on track for my Top 32.

You’ve probably noticed that I didn’t discuss six rounds of play there. I’m not trying to grind through the details of all eighteen rounds of this tournament, digging through old life pads to remember what I can of each round. This is a report of what stands out, which is primarily a memory of what went wrong and a little bit of what I was most excited about going right.

Going into Day 2, I was counting on finishing either 5-1 or 6-0, as I’d done in the draft portion of every PT, Nationals, and at least three of the Limited GPs I made Day 2 of this year. Even though I hadn’t really drafted since Nashville, I was still confident in my understanding of Scars Limited, and I’d be disappointed with two losses here.

I drafted an exceptional W/R non-metalcraft deck in the first draft. Full of good removal and synergies involving Glimmerpoint Stag, three Glint Hawks, a few Necrogen Censers, a Tumble Magnet, and some creatures with great “enter the battlefield” abilities like Oxidda Scrapmelter and Razor Hippogriff. Unfortunately, in the third round, I stumbled on mana a bit in game one and couldn’t get my cards into play fast enough to stop or race his two Tel-Jilad Fallens with a Tumble Magnet. Game two, I managed to ultimate Koth of the Hammer, and the third game was looking great when I used Turn to Slag to kill his Contagious Nim with Accorder’s Shield and Grafted Exoskeleton, destroying all of his nonland permanents. He untapped and played his last card and Carnifex Demon, and I lost.

In the second draft, I started out a little tilted by a first-pick Leaden Myr. I don’t like mana Myrs very much, but the next best cards in the pack were things like Vedalken Certarch and Ghalma’s Warden that I wouldn’t normally want to take before around ninth pick. Second pick, I took a Corpse Cur, but I didn’t really see any infect. A few picks later, I took a Molder Beast and didn’t see any more green, followed by a late Sky-Eel School with no more blue to follow it; the rest of my picks were mediocre black cards, most of which were probably Bleak Coven Vampires. In pack 2, things started to turn around when I opened Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon, and then I moved into red for an Embersmith that somehow came to me around pick 4 or 5. When I opened a Steel Hellkite in pack 3, I finally started to feel like I might be scraping a reasonable deck out of this draft, and I ended up with a deck that was solid but not quite as good as my first one.

After casting a few Dragons, I’d managed to avoid disappointing myself by hitting my 5-1 and going into Day 3 in seventeenth. If I could find a good Extended deck, I could actually Top 8 this tournament, and I had a reasonable shot at my Top 32 with just a 3-3.

I talked to a lot of people and seriously considered other decks, but without having played Extended much, maybe 20-25 matches total, I just couldn’t bring myself to play anything but Faeries.

I woke up at around 5:00 am Saturday after having spent Friday night verifying that I didn’t want to play R/G Valakut or U/B Polymorph and had an epiphany about how I thought Faeries should be built for this tournament. I was expecting a lot of Jund and 4-Color Control, and I was afraid of Jund. I realized that they basically can’t beat a Wurmcoil Engine, so I wanted to play some main. In order to feel safe playing a six-mana, sorcery-speed card, I wanted more discard to make sure that I wouldn’t lose because I tapped out, so I cut some Mana Leaks and went to three Inquisitions of Kozilek and two Thoughtseizes main. Because Mistbind Clique was no longer my big finish, I went down to two of them. The decreased glut at four and the increased discard allowed me to work a Jace, the Mind Sculptor into the main. The value that Wurmcoil Engine bought me against creatures and the abundance of discard allowed me to work two Glen Elendra Archmages into the sideboard to take the Wurmcoil Engines slots as a trump against 4CC, which I could consistently resolve by using my discard first.

I loved the way it all fit together and the way each choice naturally came out of the previous choice. I felt like I had a tight package, and I was ready to take this tournament down.

In the first round, I played against Elves, one of my best matchups, I thought. I won game one and felt like the match was over. I cut my Bitterblossoms and Mistbind Cliques and overloaded on removal, leaving planeswalkers and a couple Wurmcoil Engines in to win the game eventually.

In the old days, this would’ve worked perfectly, and I would have trouble losing. Vengevine is a serious game changer. I kept a terrible hand with three discard spells and all tapped lands on the draw, which meant I couldn’t use my discard until he’d already resolved a Fauna Shaman, and I couldn’t kill it before it started finding Vengevines. I should have realized that my hand might’ve been good on the play or if my lands entered the battlefield untapped, but as it was, the hand was just awful.

For game three, I realized that sitting back on my removal and trying to play an attrition game wouldn’t work against Vengevines, and I needed to actually kill him, and I brought the other two Wurmcoil Engines in from the board. He had a good draw with a Vengevine, and things were looking grim when he played an Elf into an Elvish Archdruid, returning his Vengevine to attack for ten. Fortunately, my last cards were Deathmark for his Elvish Archdruid and Sower of Temptation (another card I felt comfortable playing because of the heavy discard suite) for his Vengevine, and now we both had no hand, and I was at five but stable. He drew Regal Force for four cards, and I was no longer in it.

The next two rounds I lost to Wargate. I’d known about the deck, having played against it a number of times on MTGO, but I’d been convinced that the metagame would look a certain way based on the national teams and what people told me they expected, and I ignored what I’d seen online. Unfortunately, what I played against much more closely resembled what I’d seen online—two Wargate decks, no Jund, focus on control and combo over aggro. Basically, my cleverly metagamed Faerie deck probably was very good at what I built it to do, but that didn’t give me any real game plan against turn 1 Valakut, turn 2 Prismatic Omen. Both of my matches went to three games, as all of my losses in this tournament had, but the deck was just too good at finding and protecting its pieces.

At 0-3, I was pretty tilted and losing a lot of hope. I didn’t know if I could still make it or not, and I think I’d largely given up. I managed to beat a G/W Hideaway deck by getting a little greedy about making him make the plays I wanted him to make. I used a Thoughtseize to see his hand, and I knew he had Summoning Trap and Baneslayer Angel. I had a Sower of Temptation in hand, and he had a Great Sable Stag in play. I didn’t kill his Noble Hierarch because it was his second white source, and I wanted him to cast Baneslayer, but it was also his sixth mana, and I might be in trouble if he went for an end-of-turn Trap instead. Fortunately, he played the Baneslayer Angel, probably thinking he wanted the Trap in case I countered, and I played Sower and won.

In the second-to-last round, I played a mirror match against a member of the Slovakian National team that eventually won the team portion of Worlds. In game one, he cast Broken Ambitions, and going into game three, he commented that he wasn’t sure how to sideboard for this matchup. Despite my grim outlook on the tournament as a whole, I allowed myself to get embarrassingly overconfident in this match, as I had in my first round against Elves.

In the third game, I didn’t give him nearly enough credit. I was way behind on the board, but he had no hand, and I had a Cryptic Command and a Spell Pierce, and I could exactly kill him after using the Cryptic Command to tap his attackers. He had a Creeping Tar Pit, a Mistbind Clique, a Bitterblossom, and some tokens. He’d been attacking with the Creeping Tar Pit, and his attack wasn’t lethal without it. I assumed he would animate it, and then I could tap his team and draw a card. Instead, he went to combat without animating the Creeping Tar Pit, and I realized that, while I wasn’t technically dead to that attack, I couldn’t win if I let him attack, and I had to go for it. I tapped his guys and bounced his Creeping Tar Pit, but he’d drawn Mana Leak. I accepted that I was dead, not even bothering to use my Spell Pierce to make him tap enough that he couldn’t attack with the Tar Pit to get another draw step.

If I’d just used the Cryptic Command on his upkeep, I’d win unless he drew a blocker or removal; by waiting, I was gambling on him misplaying to let me draw a card that was completely superfluous to my winning but gave him the same outs plus any counterspell. The play was just terrible and was made due to some combination of not respecting my opponent, being out of practice with the deck, and generally being on tilt in the tournament.

I won my last round, but I don’t remember anything about it. My tournament ended with that mistake.

I finished 55th with good enough tiebreakers that I would’ve been around 30th with one more win.

There was nothing I could do about it at this point though; I just have to end this season with 39 Pro Points.

And that was my tournament.

When I imagined writing this article, I think I maybe envisioned talking more about my experiences outside of the tournament. About how I ate at the same sushi restaurant everyday because finding vegetarian food in Japan is extremely difficult, and there, I could just order several avocado rolls. About sleeping in the internet cafe because all the hotels in the area were booked Saturday night. About board gaming with Alex West, Gaudenis Vidugiris, Mike Turian, and Bram Snepvangers Saturday night and about dinner and gaming with Richard Garfield and his son Sunday night, but I’m just not the storyteller that can seamlessly weave these details into a story about a tournament. I didn’t want to be in Japan—I’ve been there enough that it’s more inconvenient than exotic. This trip was about a Magic tournament with a specific goal where I narrowly fell short due to a few of my own mistakes. It was disappointing, but all I can do is try again next year and congratulate those who did better than I did.

In particular, I’d like to congratulate a pair of Guillaume’s who have always been exceptionally friendly and who must have had the best possible weekend meeting in the finals. 

Well done.