Constructed Criticism – Salvaging The Wreckage

Read Todd Anderson every week... at StarCityGames.com
Wednesday, October 21st – I played the wrong deck. I made a huge mistake. We had convinced ourselves of something that was just not true, and moved all-in only to get instant-called by the nuts. We were unprepared, and we paid for it with our losses. There is not much else to say. But we must move forward and learn from our mistakes.

“I guess this was your reality check, huh?” Those words stuck in my head like peanut butter…

I’m an idiot. I booked my flight to Austin a day earlier than any of my friends, so I spent $60+ on a hotel by myself. Awesome. I also don’t know how buses work because I’ve honestly never ridden a bus outside of elementary school, and wasted $40 on cabs this past week. I also don’t know how to break formats.

I learned a lot about myself this weekend, and a lot about my Magic community as a whole. It needs to grow, or I need a change. Magic Online is my only real outlet for competition, or else I can drive two hours to battle some friends from the north who are decent. Without access to new cards online, I am literally in the dark when it comes to new formats. I didn’t really try hard enough to come up with a great new deck, and there were some particularly important cards that I literally didn’t know were good. For example: I sold a Dark Depths two days before the tournament for $10. The dealers at the site were buying them for $25-$30 when I arrived. Fail. I also discovered the Grove of the Burnwillows and Punishing Fire combo about an hour into the tournament. Fail.

A few days before the Pro Tour, I came up with an interesting deck that I thought was really good, but I got cold feet when I lost to a competent NLU opponent 8/10 games. Here was the list:

The sideboard was subject to change, but included Ethersworn Canonist for combo decks, Krosan Grip for NLU, Kitchen Finks for Zoo, as well as Kataki for Affinity. When I couldn’t beat the Blue deck, I gave up. I was a bit too results-oriented, and didn’t like the deck anymore, even though it put up particularly good numbers against the combo decks, and had a decent game against Zoo. If I have learned one thing from this tournament, it is that I need to playtest more with good players. When I was originally testing with this Doran deck, I was playing against very weak players, and thought that it was a great choice for the tournament because I was winning a lot. After playing about 30 total games against better players who knew how to beat the hate cards I played, it was obvious that this wasn’t the best deck choice.

After brainstorming for about 3 hours with two of my friends who were qualified for the PT, we had gathered enough data to suggest that people weren’t expecting any presence from Affinity. This led us to believe that Affinity could potentially be the sleeper deck of the tournament, as it usually is prone to break a format when people forget it exists. Upon deciding this, we constructed a decklist, and let our Will Cruse-bot go and buy everything we needed from the dealers at a much more reasonable price than we would have to pay (he’s good like that). After constructing 3 identical decklists, we were informed by a few local players that Affinity was not forgotten, and that a lot of players would be packing hate. We also were informed that Dark Depths was a real deck and we should be maindecking Pithing Needle or Path to Exile instead of the (really bad) Fatal Frenzy or Soul’s Fire in order to deal with the 20/20 Flier.

Here is the final list we all ended up playing:

Let me explain a few of our sideboard choices. The Chalices of the Void were primarily for Hypergenesis, but having a 3-1 split let us occasionally have out 2 problematic permanents for them to deal with. 2-2 might have been better but Chalice is free, and sometimes they can combo you before you draw your White mana source. The Tormod’s Crypts and Relics of Progenitus were obviously for Dredge, but the 3 Relics versus 2 Tormod’s were because we heard a lot of Dredge players were playing Nix in the sideboard to handle sideboard cards like Ravenous Trap, Tormod’s Crypt, as well as deal with Hypergenesis, Ancestral Vision, or even things like Myr Enforcer. This made us want to play more Relics, since it can also draw a card if you draw multiples, as well as making it harder for them to “get you” with Pithing Needle.

The Pithing Needles were primarily for Dark Depths combo, but could double up against decks like Thopter Foundry plus Sword of the Meek, or even cards like Engineered Explosives or Mindslaver coming from the control decks. Hurkyl’s Recall was for the mirror, or potentially any combo deck sporting a ton of artifacts, and Path to Exile was for the mirror and against aggressive decks (or anything with Kataki). After coming up with this 75, I was fairly happy with what we had constructed. But that’s when the wheels fell right off our wagon.

We had gotten the memo a bit late that everyone playing Zoo was running Qasali Pridemage, who is absolutely bonkers against us. Path to Exile is the format’s best removal, and is even more devastating to Affinity than other decks, since we run zero basic lands. These two factors certainly contributed to this debacle, but overall we just felt like our deck was outmatched by the competition. Free 2/2’s and 4/4’s aren’t what they used to be.

Both Cedric Phillips and Charles Gindy played Affinity (albeit different lists, I’m sure), and all five of us did absolutely horrible in the Constructed portion of the tournament. I had felt confident in our decision, as two top players had come to the same conclusion we had about the tournament. However, my tournament did not go as planned.

Round 1 I lost the game on or before turn 4 both times. Hypergenesis is and was a real deck at that tournament, and it just crushed me with its nut draws two games in a row. Game 1 he resolved a turn 2 Hypergenesis and dealt me 18 damage. I couldn’t quite kill him on the swing back and we were moving to sideboard very quickly. Game 2 I mulliganed into a hand with Chalice of the Void, one land, and a few one-drops. I proceeded to miss my land drop for about two turns, which gave him plenty of time to draw his Ingot Chewer, and drop Hypergenesis for 23 damage on turn 4. Sigh.

This was definitely not how I had wanted to start off my tournament. We had considered the risk of maindecking Ethersworn Canonist over Path to Exile, and ultimately decided that Path was generally a better choice. Wish I had decided differently (obviously).

Round 2 I played against a control deck with Thopter Foundry plus Sword of the Meek. Game 1 I beat him on turn 5 before he can set up, and we move to sideboard. I’m feeling a bit better about my deck now, and hope to clench one of the next two games. But, Affinity actually can’t beat Wrath of God, and especially so when you mulligan into oblivion. I sided in Pithing Needle, and mulliganed to 6 on the draw. I keep a one-lander that doesn’t draw a second land until about turn 4, even off Chromatic Star. Even when I draw the land, I “combo” draw out with Springleaf Drum and Arcbound Ravager into two Thoughtcasts. He untaps, plays his combo, and Wraths. He then proceeds to play another Wrath, followed by another Wrath. I can’t keep up, even though I’ve drawn all of my Thoughtcasts, and I lose quickly when he kills my Needle with Engineered Explosives. Game 3 has me mulliganing again into a one-lander with Springleaf Drum and two Frogmites. The draw is fine if I draw a land in three turns. Unfortunately I don’t draw land soon enough, and he plays an early Tezzeret, and can defend it with Wrath of God and Engineered Explosives long enough to ultimate me with 7 artifact lands and Thopter Foundry plus Sword of the Meek.

0-2 now, and hoping to win out, but I just feel like my deck is much less powerful than others in the format. If I lose again in the next round, I should probably throw in the towel and salvage some rating points.

Round 3 I play against UB Tron. This is my best matchup, I think, but I still lose games 2-3 after getting absolutely crushed by Slaughter Pact and Damnation. I tried to play around the Damnation, but literally couldn’t since he was threatening Mindslaver lock on the next turn. Turn 5 activate Mindslaver is pretty good against me.

I sold my Arcbound Ravagers immediately, and threw my deck into my bag after dropping at 0-3.

I played the wrong deck. I made a huge mistake. We had convinced ourselves of something that was just not true, and moved all-in only to get instant-called by the nuts. We were unprepared, and we paid for it with our losses. There is not much else to say.

But we must move forward and learn from our mistakes. No one got lucky against me. My opponents weren’t international superstars. I made bad decisions. Figuring out what to take from the situation is what I must do in order to do well at Worlds. If I don’t learn anything from it, then I’m doomed to repeat the mistakes I made.

Our entire National team failed to make Day 2. This tells me one thing: we were all under-prepared. We made bad decisions and ultimately failed to put up the results that were expected of us. If we are to be successful in Rome, we have to start playtesting now. We have to figure out how to break the formats now. We have to draft a hundred times and play a thousand matches with all sorts of decks against all sorts of other decks, and we have to want to win. I thought I wanted to win Austin, but after learning just how alone I was in my preparation, I learned that playing in a vacuum is actually worse than not playing at all.

Adam, Gindy, and I are all planning on playing tons of Magic Online over the next month in preparation, and I’ll probably arrange to meet them early in Rome so we can play live for about a week or so before the tournament. Hopefully we can come up with some great ideas and change how the world is looking at us now, because I’m looking at us now and I am not impressed. Being a decent player is not going to be enough, and even though it is a bit late, I know that now. The reality check has sunk in, and I will not fail make the same mistakes in Rome.

On a lighter note, the weekend wasn’t a complete disaster. I qualified for the Magic Online Live Series Draft Challenge, winning at minimum $250. This paid for my plane ticket at the very least, but I had to sell a lot of cards in order to stay afloat this weekend. I had a chance to win big ($2,000) but lost in the quarterfinals of the Top 8 to my friend Korhedron, who drew his second Hedron Crab to deck me when I had lethal on board (after milling most of my deck with a different Hedron Crab). After the match, we shook hands and he apologized for topdecking me. It happens, and to be fair I had topdecked a Lavaball Trap in game 1 to destroy his team and take the game, so it was justified. With $250 and 16 MTGO packs in my pocket, I was feeling a little bit better.

The weekend was a blast, as I got to see a lot of old friends, meet some new ones, and eat some great food. I didn’t wander too far from the Event Site, since our hotel was close by and most of my interests were close by on 6th Street. Apparently, there is a stretch of about 2 miles where there is nothing but bars and tattoo parlors on 6th Street, giving me ample amounts of beer to drink. This was not to say that there weren’t a decent number of awkward things in Austin. Aside from the hobos that line every corner, the place was pretty cool. I could have ventured around to see more of the city, but traveling is not what interests me: Magic is what interests me. Magic is the reason I go to distant places and cities I’d never otherwise visit. Magic is what brought me and my wife together. Magic is how I’ve made most of my longest lasting friendships.

It’s a great game, and I hope I never stop playing it.