Chanting Through California – Pro Tour Los Angeles *28th*

Ruud finds wealth and fame in Los Angeles, visits the Price is Right, and shares his thoughts on the best decks in Extended.

I realize that this report might come to you a little late since you’ve already read about Gadiel and StarWarsKid and Grand Prixs and Pro Tour Qualifiers are rolling around. Well, I have this thing that takes up a huge amount of time nowadays—school. I’m supposed to be graduating next year, and I want to put school as my top priority this year, only missing out on classes for Pro Tours and the occasional GP. There’s a lot of group work in my studies this year, and in the selection process I was already know as Mr. Vacation, because of some Magic trips, and because I was a week late for my first class due to some highly needed R&R in Brazil. I tried to sell it to my teacher by saying that I got this unique chance to visit Brazil and that I hold the philosophy that travelling is the best way to expand my mind. He actually smiled and gave me the finger.

So you can imagine that I didn’t have a lot of time to test. Some of the Dutchies started testing in the summer. They found that Affinity was the best deck by far, but that got all sorted out with the bannings.

Since I took twelfth last year with Scepter-Chant, I first tried to rebuild that deck. I tried about three versions, but in they all kept losing to Affinity and Goblins, since you couldn’t find a Scepter fast enough. Muddle the Mixture seemed a fine answer at first, but turned out to be way too slow in testing. It only took one game of a Cabal Therapy hitting you just after Muddling an Isochron Scepter to come to this understanding. Here, the loss of Brainstorm hurt the most, leaving you with nothing to protect your hand from Duress and Cabal Therapy, while in the past you could easily set up the combo, or even trick opponents into naming the wrong card.

After tossing the deck, I didn’t test for a while, and our gauntlet consisted of well-known decks like Affinity, Goblins, Rock, UG Brain Freeze, Balancing Tings and Tog. Initially all our versions sucked, but adjustments were made to all of them, and they gradually came into shape. We added Patriarch’s Biddings to our Goblin deck, Olivier built Erayo Affinity, our Rock deck went Aggro, and the Tog deck switched its Scepters and Wrath of Gods for Pernicious Deeds. About this time, I started thinking about the format again, and realised that there must be better decks out there. I figured that there must somewhere be a broken Gifts Ungiven deck, and I talked to Rogier Maaten about this. He felt exactly the same way, and was already working on a list. I decided to leave this to Rogier, who was going to France with Julien, Frank and Jeroen to test with Olivier and Alexandre Peset. That left me free to focus on some wild ideas. This was the first I came up with:

4 Birds of Paradise
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Wirewood Herald
4 Wood Elves
4 Caller of the Claw
4 Nantuko Husk
1 Ambush Commander
1 Elvish Soultiller
1 Viridian Shaman
3 Cabal Therapy
3 Fecundity
2 Blasting Station
1 Phyrexian Altar
3 Verdant Succession

4 Overgrown Tomb
4 Llanowar Wastes
4 Wooded Foothills

13 Forest

This idea was based on a Rob Dougherty deck from a while back and goldfished pretty consistently on turn 5. It was also remarkably resilient against Wrath and Deed because of Fecundity and Succession. In testing, however, it just never really shined or put up some impressive numbers. I brought it to GP: Nottingham, where I played against Rogier’s Gifts deck. With Fecundity and Verdant Succession in play, I was just waiting for a sacrifice outlet, when Rogier played Sakura Tribe-Elder, searched out four lands, drew four cards, and went off by repeatedly sacrificing Eternal Witnesses. I think the exact point where I tossed the deck was when Rogier Mindslavered me, and then cast Fact or Fiction—twice.

After Nottingham I started working on even weirder decks, trying to exploit the Dredge mechanic. I had one list that was really close to Billy Moreno’s list but I somehow insisted on running bad combo cards like Empty the Catacombs and Sutured Ghoul. A few days and a few bad combo decks later, I had some time to test again. I was meeting test monster Frank Karsten, has-been Jelger Wiegersma, and new PT regular Roel ‘huh?’ Heeswijk. After a night of goldfishing decks like Combo Affinity, I reached some conclusions regarding our gauntlet:

  • Wrath of God is insane since most beatdown decks have no back-up plan (like Aether Vial, or Patriarch’s Bidding).
  • The control decks are bad, since they can’t take full control of the game
  • Most decks play fair. I shouldn’t.

With these conclusions in mind I wrote down a new Scepter list on the train to Eindhoven. This is what it looked like:

3 Orim’s Chant
3 Force Spike
2 Opt
4 Counterspell
4 Fire / Ice
2 Mana Leak
3 Absorb
3 Cunning Wish
3 Fact or Fiction
4 Wrath of God
4 Isochron Scepter
1 Decree of Justice

3 Chrome Mox
4 Flooded Strand
4 Shivan Reef
2 Sacred Foundry
3 Adarkar Wastes
5 Island
2 Plains
1 Tendo Ice Bridge

This list went 17-1 vs. our gauntlet. I had my deck.

Even though it lost a lot of games after boarding to Affinity, and especially Goblins, I was still optimistic. I knew how to play it and I only lost against the most hateful boards out there. The other option at that point was Rogier’s Gifts deck, our best deck at that point, but I didn’t really like it since it only had 4 Gifts and 2 Facts as real action cards, was sporting 32 or 33 mana cards, and really needed Farseek or Tribe-Elder turn two against aggressive decks to even be in the game. Besides those choices I heard Antoine was really happy with his Tog list, but I hate playing Tog and tend to play worse control decks—ones that lose horribly to any Tog list—instead. With hindsight I would still play this deck; in the complex field of Extended, you really have to go with what you know best.

I arrived at the hotel where the Dutchies were staying, but saw no one in the lobby. The next day, Frank and I would share a room with Kamiel, but I still had to find a floor somewhere tonight. I asked the front desk what room my friends were staying in, but he didn’t recognise any of them. Only after spelling and writing down every possible Dutch name did I find out that the room was booked in Roel’s name, and that Americans cannot have a clue on how you pronounce it. I lit up when he finally found the room, and asked him to call it for me, but alas, no one answered. Just as I was set to leave them a message and crash for a yet unknown number of hours in the lobby, he randomly handed me a key to the room!

Sleeping in your friends hotel without them knowing: Free of charge.

The surprise when my friends entered the room and found me chilling on one of their beds: Priceless.

Wednesday morning, I met up with Gerard and some other pros to go to The Price is Right. I thought the free ride with Eugene Levin was a mise, but regretted it when I saw the driving of the other limo in our caravan. In addition to constantly changing lanes and generally trying to lose us, the driver made a two mile detour for no reason, and ran the old “signalling a right turn, then cutting an unexpecting driver in the left lane instead” gambit.

The guys the rode with her told me that the driver was as scary as she was hilarious. She gave Gerard an autograph, told stories of how she became a millionaire and recently bought this taxi company, and the 6,000 bodies that had been pulled out of a park we passed. When Herberholz called Gerard to ask where the hell they were going, she snatched his phone and starting screaming at Heezy. At one point she allegedly asked GWalls if he wanted her to hit a car, but in the end, she just missed it.

Gabe loved it so much he tipped her a twenty.

At the game show, we were almost kicked out since we showed up with less than the promised twenty people and the crowd controller had had just about enough of “frat boys like you”. Yeah, imagine a crowd of Magic players, including people like Gabe Walls, Jeroen Remie and Neil Reeves, all wearing Gerard Fabiano fanclub shirts as frat boys. Right…

Eventually, Gerard talked a couple into wearing a shirt and we got in.

We had a three hour wait, so I killed some time by catching up with my Hoosier friend Nate (or “Nathaniel”, as his name tag said) while Gabe and others were watching girls playing cards. No one had any idea what game they played or what any of the rules were, but hundred dollar bets soon followed. Two minutes later there were twelve Magc players yelling at these girls to win, still without any one of us having any idea what was going on. We needed one of the girls to tell us who had won.

When the show finally started it was pretty awesome. Bob Barker is the greatest host ever. He declined a $6.99 offer to join the Gerard Fabiano fanclub (free cheesecake on Gerard’s birthday!). Some forty minutes later there was another break and the Bob Barker fanclub emerged. Bob one upped Gerard, offering a $4.99 membership, with free cheesecake on your birthday.

The highlight, of course, was when Heezy got on stage. When we heard, “Mark Herberholz, come on down” we all went wild, but not nearly as wild as Heezy. They loved him instantly, and after beating three housewives in a bidding war on a china set and cabinet he was on stage, going completely nuts. Tune in December 9 at CBS to see what happened there….

Afterwards I had little time to test. I had some schoolwork that I had to e-mail Thursday night. I made a few small changes to my list and ended up playing this:

The fourth Force Spike was needed to improve the Affinity and Goblins match-ups, and I found Lightning Helix to be the best sideboard card there. I couldn’t run more since you just don’t have cards to board out. You absolutely have to keep your Fact or Fictions in, since you want to be able to play as a regular control deck sometimes, using counters, Wraths and card drawers to get to an endgame where you can kill with Decree of Justice or Flaming Gambit. This way you don’t have to rely on Scepters, which is good, since everybody will be gunning for them. It was clear that Scepter-Chant was the best game one deck, but after boarding people start bringing the hate. With all the hard counters, you can still lock them out by getting Scepter and Chant and just countering every Putrefy they throw at it.

I knew beforehand that the deck was going to be worse than it was last year, when nobody expected it. Still, I wanted to do well, since I haven’t had a bad Extended finish in four Premier events. If our gauntlet predicted the field well enough, I’d be fine, assuming I didn’t face a lot of Affinity and Goblin decks sporting the full hate package. I’ll provide you with a quick round-by-round, highlighting only the interesting bits.

Round One: Sebastian Gulinski—Boros Deck Wins—Draw

I quickly locked him in game one at a safe sixteen life, but lost game two to his abundance of instant burn spells. I decided to board out the Chants and be the control deck. I made a lot of one-for-one trades but never saw my Facts. I still remained above twenty, thanks to Helix and Absorb.

With time is running, I went for it, making six Decree tokens. He killed two straight off with spells, and drew into double-Blinkmoth Nexus to hold the others off. On my last turn, I was holding two counters. I Pithing Needled his Blinkmoths, and had him dead on board in three turns. I reminded him that a draw was a loss, but he refused to concede.

Karma is rough, though, and when we sat next to each other at 4-2-1, I reminded him of the draw. He smiled, then received a match loss for marked sleeves.

Round Two: John T Pelcak—Dragonstorm—Win

The Cak is one of my favorite children on the Tour. We talked about how we have won nothing in the last year. Cak turns out to be the only pro I know who makes less money writing articles than me. He started with three Balancing Act lands, played three Cabal Rituals on turn 4 to Dragonstorm. I countered one, and a pair of Kokusho, the Evening Stars and Rorix Bladewing take me to four. I ripped a land, and Cunning Wished for Echoing Truth. The second game was even more humiliating for John. Nothing happened for a while, and he scooped when I countered his Desperate Ritual, spliced with another one.

Round Three: Yann Hamon—BUG Tog—Win

I sat next to Frank and asked him if he knew what the Frenchies were playing. Frank told me Tog, in Dutch, but Yann understood it and was angry about this, since he just played Frank. A judge told them that there’s no penalty for doing this. I decided to be a nice guy. I told him what was playing. I quickly lost the first game, where my Chrome Moxen and Wraths were easily outclassed by Standstills and counters. After boarding, Yann couldn’t handle Meddling Mage; he made some mistakes, and was screwed some.

Round Four: Stuart D Wright—Domain Gifts—Loss

In this matchup, I should look good pre-board, and fight an uphill battle post-board. Unfortunately, I double mulliganed the first game, and mulliganed again in the second. I couldn’t put up a fight.

Round Five: Blake E Quelle—Heartbeat—Loss

The first game took really long as I Chant-lock him early on but didn’t draw any finishers and decided to not risk anything and just counter or Chant all his Cunning Wishes and Early Harvests. His last two cards were Cunning Wishes and he got decked since my whole grip was counters. Second game I keep a mediocre hand and get wrecked by Echoing Truth, Third game I am severely flooded and Blake manages to go off holding one card at some point.

Round Six: Rogier Maaten—Dutch Gifts—Win

Just as in the other Gifts match-up, this is really good before boarding, but gets much worse afterwards. Game one Rogier actually got Gifts off, and Scepter was nowhere in sight, so I had to win with Decree. I made some guys, stalled him some turns—with Ice and Force Spike keeping him from casting Wrath—and managed to kill him just in time with Gambit. Second game, Rogier kept a questionable hand without Blue mana and only Blue spell. He was never in the game.

Round Seven: Genki Taru—Heartbeat—Win

I started off with a triple mulligan, but Genki needed a lot off time to put it away. Post board he didn’t have a lot of hate and Meddling Mages easily took it down.

Round Eight: Mauro J Kina—Heartbeat—Win

I think I mulliganed here again on the play, and never hit my third land drop. Frown. It was do or die time, but Mauro was nice enough to present me a 61-card deck in game two. In the third game I made a quick Fire/Ice Scepter, meaning he had to act fast. He did this by casting Heartbeat, which allowed me—despite being stuck on three lands—to make a Chant Scepter and still be able to activate both in his upkeep. This was enough.

Day 1: 5-2-1.

Round Nine: Tomoharu Saito—Scepter-Chant—Win

This was supposed to be a mirror match, but with the Japanese, you never know. I had him under Chant very early on, and he hadn’t done anything for a long time, so I figured he was just running lots of sorceries and creatures.

Around turn 15, however, he Chanted me at end of turn. I thought for a while and decided to Chant him, holding a spare for his upkeep, and then he tried Fact or Fiction. I countered, and then Tomoharu showed me… Brain Freeze! It was for about half my library, but I still had ample win conditions so it didn’t really matter that much.

The second game he stalled a bit on land but all I had going was a Meddling Mage. I decided to go aggro, and quickly got him low, but had to make some weird Fact or Fiction splits and counter cards like Fire/Ice. He eventually stabilized with Exalted Angel, and it looked bad for me, but I drew into Scepeter and Fire/Ice. That made me the control player again, prompting Tomoharu to start countering Scepter activations. This wasn’t a very good long-term strategy and I quickly outdrew him and won with Decree.

Round Ten: Marshall D Fine—Scepter-Chant—Draw

Both games, I started from a disadvantage with inferior hands, but Marshall didn’t play optimally, and both games I was able to come back. I almost won the first when I went all in on Gambit, but I got Force Spiked for the win on turn 30. I won the second on the back of Decree. There’s only 2 minutes left and Marshall rather draws then tries, so we draw.

Round Eleven: Akihiro Kawamura—Affinity—Win

The moment he played a Citadel I regreted cutting the Kataki’s from my board, as I didn’t expect a lot of Affinity. I did get Scepter with Chant on turn 2. He had a slow start, but he found a Needle, so I needed a Wrath or Wish soon. I got both over the next couple of turns, and won just in time, with counters for Shrapnel Blast to spare. Second game, I decided to be tricky, after I see him boarding a ton of cards. Sure enough he started Needle, Pyrostatic Pillar, Cranial Plating over his first turns. I, however, boarded out my Scepters, laid a Mage on Enforcer and started the beat down. He died 7 turns later.

Round Twelve: Emilio López Campos Sr.—Scepter-Chant—Win

The round before, I saw Emilio play Gerard so I knew I was up for another mirror. This one was easy, though. He started, went for turn 2 Scepter, but I had the Force Spike. On my turn, I laid a Scepter on Fire/Ice, which took it home.

Second game he went aggro with Mages, and I got dangerously low on life before I played a Scepter with Chant. He was temporarily out of gas, and I could then safely Fact into pain-free land and stuff to protect the Scepter. I got everything I needed before he dared to make a move, and two large Decrees finished it.

Round Thirteen: Bernardo Da Costa Cabral—Golgari Madness—Loss

I have known Bernardo for a long time and it sucks to play a friend while both are still in top 8 contention. The games were very lopsided, as in both I mulliganed into mediocre hands and had to watch Bernardo go nuts and eventually kill me.

Round Fourteen: Dennis Johannsen—Rock—Win

I think the last time I last to a Rock deck in Extended was in 2002. Nowadays, they are a bit more aggro. Dennis gave me a run for my troubles, but eventually Wrath trumped all efficient creatures and a Scepter with Orim’s Chant with counter back-up trumped his entire deck.

Round Fifteen: Gabriel Nassif—Balancing Tings—Loss

Ouch. The master himself. Gabe was still down a bit from losing his feature match, and even though this looks all right on paper I have no margin for error here.

I basically needed an early Chant-lock game one and an early Mage or Scepter post-board to win, but got neither the entire match. I lost the first when I couldn’t recover from an Obliterate. I won the second when Gabe was flooded (even for a twenty-eight-land deck) and when the first Mage turned up on turn 20 or so, I quickly controlled the game. The third game saw me start terribly with no action whatsoever; I gave Gabe ample time to set up a perfect hand, Obliterate and then have the better recovery. He played it safe, since he could, and won on the fifth extra turn.

Round Sixteen: Jun’ichirou Bandou—Affinity—Win

I asked Shu Komuro what he was playing since he’s holding a list, and whether my opponent is any good and he just point at the Japanese guy next to me and tells me it’s him. Awkward. We exchanged deck pleasantries (“me Scepter-Chant, you Affinity”) and went to our table.

The first game I won easily on the back of Wrath of God and a Chant lock. I decided to pull the Scepters again, since there was a good chance the Japanese all ran the same list.

The second game went pretty well. He was in a situation where he had to draw a threat on the next turn, or give me the opportunity to Fact and wrap it up. For four turns in a row he did this, so I never got to Fact, and I lost because his last three threats were an Arcbound Worker, and his third and fourth Ravagers. Frustrating…

I told myself to tighten up, and I thought for a while whether I should put my combo back in. He didn’t show any sideboard cards in the twenty something I saw game two, so I decideh to bring the combo back in. This turned out to be a good move, as I get Scepter-Chant on turn two and he hadn’t played a Needle yet. He did so on his turn, putting me in a position to topdeck a fourth land to Wrath very soon. I didn’t draw it on my third turn, and he played a Somber Hoverguard. After some math, I decided my best plan was to let it through, and Wish for Echoing Truth. This way I could still be in the game if I never drew the land.

I took some damage, Wished, and didn’t draw the land. I passed and he played Cranial Plating. I had a counter, but figure that I had to go for it and Truth his Needle. This would kill me if he had a Shrapnel Blast, but otherwise I had to rip a land, and spend the next turn in the same position since he had Nexus and two more guys. I decided to play for the win, went down to four and Truthed his Needle. I did draw the land, but still had to go for the Chant lock. I was pretty sure at this moment that I was getting a Shrapnel Blast aimed at my head in his upkeep, but to my surprise he didn’t have it and even scooped two turns later when it turned out he had nothing in his deck except for Needles. Yay.

Total record: 10-4-2

So I end up in 28th place netting me a fine $1500 on top of my $500 level three benefits. I also manage to scoop up about $75 in money drafts over the weekend so I can be happy. I’ll probably be back in my not-ever-winning slump soon enough, but hey, maybe Pelcak can win something then. At least I got my own Player Card already!