Building for the Pro Tour, and the Power of Rituals

It’s Wednesday, and we all know what that means… another mailbag article from everyone’s favorite Rock-playing Pro, Jeroen Remie. Today’s reader-posed topics include the process behind preparation for Premier Event in a fledgling format, the proper place of rituals and luck in Magic, plus a grab-bag of miscellany to round it all out!

First thing we do today is take out our Jeroen Remie Pro Player Card. If you don’t have one, simply go here.

Notice anything?

On the back, maybe?

Something about the birth-date…

Yeah, baby – it’s my birthday!

Despite me getting closer and closer to the old people’s home each year, the day still makes me happy. It’s always a good reason for a party! That means this week’s article will be quite the party. A party full of excellent questions, asked by people sending emails to [email protected]. Last week I only covered one guy’s questions, so I’ll do my best to catch up this time.

The first questions are by StarCityGames.com very own Peter Jahn:

What was the most competitive / difficult Constructed Pro Tour to build and metagame for?

Which Limited season was the most challenging?

Hi Pete.

The most competitive format there always will be is the Extended format, so I will say the Extended Pro Tours. Wizards makes sure that these events are held after a rotation, and after a couple of new sets have been released. The sheer volume of cards and interactions you need to build around is overwhelming, which means that in advance the only thing you can really do is settle for building a passable deck, not even the best one in the format, since that is close to impossible.

What we do each time is see which decks survive the rotation, and then build those. Then we look at the new cards, and try and build decks around that, and then… well, you just start building more stuff. It is PTs like that that a true deckbuilder is invaluable, and probably the reason why the Japanese always do so much better at these things than any other.

The fact that you hardly know which decks are best means that others don’t either, which makes it hard (or impossible) to predict the metagame. That’s why most people will favor a deck with counterspells in formats like this, which you will see a lot more on the PT level than at PTQ levels. I myself often rely on my boys Duress and Cabal Therapy for the same reason. No matter what others play, these cards will seldom be bad.

As for Limited, Wizards has recently made it a habit to plan PTs right after releases of new sets, which makes it impossible to test enough for them. That makes PT: Prague by far the most challenging Limited PT to date, but I have a feeling PT: Kobe will be just as challenging, if not more so. Ravnica block in general has been one of the most challenging sets in history, making building Sealed Decks, and correct Sealed Decks at that, almost impossible.

Next up, Billy Moreno heterosexual lifemate, Kyle Sanchez:

Personally, I have a lot of rituals when I play. I always keep my score pad on the right, and the deck box right in front of it. I always have a bottle of water underneath my chair, and I always pee in between each round at any big event I play at. Always. I was curious if you have any similar rituals or superstitions.

I’m also curious of your view of the psychological ramifications if these rituals aren’t done. I actually lost my water bottle before round 13 at GP: St. Louis, and I lost. I’m not trying to say that I was jinxed because I didn’t have my water bottle… but psychologically I believe I had a losing mentality that could have caused play errors.

This sounds pretty silly now that it’s all typed out. Oh well.

Hi Kyle.

The reason you mention that losing a water bottle mentally throws you off your game, means that I make it a habit to have as few rituals as possible. If you are prone to this kind of things, you can only really make you more superstitious, and in the end this will hurt your game more then help. The only things I always perform ritualistically are things that involve shuffling. I always make seven piles when pile shuffling, I always rifle the same way, and I always cut my own deck after my opponent shuffles it.

It is something that can’t really be broken, as there always needs to be shuffling, and it is something that, by making it a ritual, will need less thought before a game.

Of course, there is stuff I favor when playing, like having my pad on the right (same as my deck), but that has more to do with being right-handed than anything else.

The next questions are by Derik Solberg, concerning a couple of draft topics:

1. Demonfire or Rakdos Guildmage first pick in RGD? You’re already R/G/B.

2. What would you change in this triple-Coldsnap draft deck?

1 Gutless Ghoul
1 Chill to the Bone
2 Zombie Musher
2 Rimebound Dead
2 Disciple of Tevesh Szat
3 Chilling Shade
3 Frost Raptor
3 Rimewind Taskmage
2 Rimefeather Owl
1 Skred
1 Surging Flame
1 Phyrexian Ironfoot
1 Coldsteel Heart
2 Tresserhorn Sinks
1 Frost Marsh
3 Snow-Covered Island
3 Snow-Covered Swamp
3 Swamp
5 Island

Relevant Sideboard:
1 Feast of Flesh
1 Balduvian Dead
1 Gristle Grinner
1 Rimescale Dragon
1 Rimebound Dead

The question is do I go with a heavier splash for Rimescale Dragon, even though I already have two ridiculous seven-drops and it’s kinda hard to splash? I could easily cut one Island for a Mountain and be good with it. Also, does either of the two Black fatties deserve merit? I didn’t play the Feast of Flesh because I felt it would only deal with utility creatures like Squall Drifter (against which I already had outs). I did, however, win the draft with no losses, but I’d like to know if I could have made the deck better. Skred for 11 FTW?

Hi Derik.

Question 1 is easy: Demonfire all the way. Both cards have the ability to win you games by themselves, but Guildmage gets killed easily, whereas Demonfire cannot be answered (mostly), with all its nifty special abilities. When it comes to comparing cards like this, I tend to favor the more versatile, less fragile ones. It’s a simple rule, but it works more often than not.

As for question 2, I feel you built your deck correctly. It’s always hard to comment on how to build a draft deck, as the real building begins during the draft, and not after. Your reasoning on not playing Big Dragon is completely correct, as another seven-mana win condition in a fast format like this is not needed at all. If I were to play the Dragon, I would probably cut an Owl before anything else.

Since you didn’t lose a game, it seems like you have nothing to worry about. I do fail to see how a Skred for eleven can ever win you the game. Seems like it will just kill a creature really dead.

To finish, another boatload of questions by one Ray Bechtel (who probably thought he’d sent me the most ever…).

1) Has your opinion on Coldsnap changed since the set was released? I know you were dissatisfied with it in the beginning, and I’m curious if time has changed your opinion.

I still do not like the set, as I feel drafting it gets stale really fast and it’s not a good format, but I also haven’t lost a match in Coldsnap draft in a long while, which means I have a good grasp of the format. I don’t really mind drafting it because of that reason.

I am also sick of RGD as a format, so basically it is better than nothing. Just believe that I am really looking forward to Time Spiral.

2) Standard Champs is coming up in October, and I plan to go (Mainly because it’s close by, and I like playing Magic). The thing is, Time Spiral will be Standard legal a mere week before the event. This will kick Champions block out of Standard. I fear that Champs will be similar to Regionals – a new set in the mix that no one has time to figure out, test, or get. So it’ll mostly be the tried and true. My question is: what Standard decks do you think will be powerful after rotation?

I have been playing a lot of Standard in MTGO queues lately, as my Nationals performance reinvigorated my game. I have been having great results with Flores’s KarstenBot Babykiller deck, and have already cut most, if not all, of the Kamigawa cards from the deck. The deck is a lot better than it looks, and I feel it can be one of the best decks come Champs.

Other than that, the removal of Jitte looks like it will mean a lot of decks will no longer be viable, and other decks will be more viable then ever. Make sure you take this into consideration when choosing what to play.

3) What is your opinion on set spoilers? Do you think they help or hamper the anticipation of a new set? Do you think they are useful in preparing for a Prerelease or Release tournament? On a related note, do you think people take certain events too seriously?

I think spoilers are a fun way to boost the hype for a new event. Gaining knowledge of a couple of cards a day makes you really want to see the new set, and make you more excited. Knowing most of the cards is, of course, very helpful for any tournament, but I agree with you that studying the spoiler really takes a lot of fun out of the prerelease experience. Doing this definitely means you are taking these prereleases too seriously, as they are intended to be purely fun tourneys.

Sometimes, though, you’ve gotta win those packs. I always glance over the spoiler to see what is going on in the set. It’s really hard for me to value cards anyway, when I’m not seeing them in the flesh (so to speak).

4) I went to my first PTQ this last weekend, down in San Jose. I was shocked by the attitude a lot of the players had. I’m not entirely unused to that; I’ve been playing for a long while now. I assumed that at something like a PTQ they would be more professional. However, many of them were unreasonable and just struck me as downright crazy… Ripping up cards, cursing, the whole kit and caboodle. If you’re sitting across from an irate player, how do you normally deal with them? Why do you think players act like this? Has anyone on the Pro Tour ever gotten extremely angry in a game?

Whenever a problem arises, I always do what anyone should do (something I see a lot of players not doing), and that is call a judge. Ripping up cards is insanity, and should never happen in a game. It’s illegal.

What you need to understand is that at PTQs there are no real professional players: just a lot of “wannabes.” They act like they think is cool, and think they are a lot better than they actually are. This kind of player will never make it big, but does ruin the experience for a lot of people. Just ignore these dudes. I do.

Of course, when playing for a lot of money, tempers will sometimes rise, even at the Pro Tour. People tend to be a lot more mature than the PTQ kids, so it never actually gets out of hand. Stricter rules also help, as do better judges.

Like I said, the most important thing to remember is: always call a judge if anything comes up. If you are not happy with the current judge, appeal to another one… always do this.

5) How was your trip up the California coast? Did you stop in Ft. Bragg at all? If you did, what was your opinion of the place? If you didn’t well… then… um… pretend this about Rav-Gpt-Dis sealed or something.

My trip was a lot of fun, and we saw a lot of cool things. One of those things, though, was not Ft. Bragg. To be honest, I don’t even know what that is or where it would be. Uhm, yeah… uhm… you should take the Demonfire.

6) What sort of online resources do you use for discussion about Magic, if any? Chat programs, forums, e-mail groups… or do you just use good ole face-to-face communication?

A group of Pros (including myself) use, in no particular order: Magic Online, AIM, MSN Messenger, e-mail, real life communication, websites, forums, and (most importantly) mIRC. Chatting with your peers all over the world is a great way to gain information on cards, decks, and draft strategies.

7) Has… has anyone ever asked you for your autograph?

Yes, this happens at almost every tournament, especially since I got my own Pro Player card.

8) Are there any particular players that you actively DESPISE? Players that, when you see them, make you want to beat them with the vigor of many rabid bears driving cars?

Yes, there are. I don’t like cheaters, but in general there are only one or two people I really can’t stand, because I felt they wronged me in the past. Unjust at that. I am not gonna name any names, but they are on the Pro Tour.

9) Related to the spoiler question from earlier… What do you think of Wizards cracking down on Spoilers? I don’t visit/post on MTGSalvation too often, but I do know that one of the moderators was sent an e-mail saying "Take this picture down or get sued." Another regular user reposted the picture, and was sent a similar e-mail. Do you think Wizards is being too strict, or are they doing what’s within their right to do?

I don’t feel they are being too strict, as they are only trying to protect their own copyrights, etc. They are not against spoilers, as they spoil their own cards all the time (previews). Having spoilers out three weeks before the event is simply not the way it was intended to be, and something needed to be done to put an end to it.

10) I don’t think you’ve failed any of us. I enjoy your column. The question is, do YOU think you’ve failed us?

Nah, I never felt I failed y’all. It was just a cheap guilt-trip thing to get more questions. By the way, I am now getting a huge amount of questions, so thanks for that fellas!

11) What is your favorite food?

Chinese. I love me an Orange Chicken and Chow Mein.

12) Is a lot of sleep before a tournament a good or a bad thing? Too much sleep can dull the senses, and too little sleep can actually make you a bit sharper. Or so I’ve heard. Do you think this is true?

As far as I know, the more sleep the better. Just make sure that you get up in time, so you will have time to wake up properly. If you give your senses an hour or two to wake up, that should be plenty. I really feel that not sleeping well, or being hung over, just hurts your game.

One last thing… Do you think Friday Night Magic is worth attending for practice, or do you see it as a more of a fun time?

FNM is not good practice. The level of competition is just too low because of the lack of real prizes. It’s all for fun and casual players. If you want practice, go to bigger tournaments or stay home and test with your buddies.

That’s it for this week, boys! I am off to celebrate in a big way, and this weekend I will be going crazy at those prereleases. Be sure to keep those questions coming to [email protected]!