Duel With Ruel – French Nationals Analysis

Grand Prix GP Columbus July 30-August 1, 2010
Wednesday, July 28th – Last weekend, Hall of Famer Antoine Ruel achieved one of his more elusive Magic goals at the fourteenth time of asking: his third-place finish sees him as a member of this year’s French National Team! Today, Antoine examines the post-France Standard metagame, and shares some advice on M11 draft. Congratulations, Antoine!

I played at my fourteenth French National Championships last weekend, which definitely makes me a veteran of the event. I placed in my second Top 8 there, and my third place result means I’ll be representing the French team at Worlds for the first time.

French Nationals had been the main failure of my “pro career” so far, and, thanks to Wafo-Tapa, who scooped to me in the third-place playoffs (we were paired against each other for the fourth time on the weekend, with a 1-1 record after 2 IDs), I finally achieved my main goal in Magic. Too bad that the association organizing the tournaments in France decided to invite an extra 25 judges (instead of the usual amount of 25, which was always more than enough) rather than putting some money aside for the players.

Julien Parez won the whole thing, piloting UW Control, facing Guillaume Matignon‘ s Pyromancer Ascension deck in the finals (the guy also lost in the finals of Pro Tour: Puerto Rico). They will be my two teammates in Chiba, and we will try to honor our countrymen with good results, and no strikes.

The Standard Format with M11

The format evolved with the appearance of Mana Leak. Playing first in a format with two-mana counterspells becomes very important. In my recent articles about matchups, playing first was often irrelevant. Permission decks are back in town, which means there’s one more deck type in the metagame.

The Titans, especially Sun Titan and Primeval Titan, create decks by themselves, such as Valakut Ramp or UW Control with Jace Beleren.

Obstinate Baloth makes some decks playable, as they now stand a chance against Red Deck Wins.

Destructive Flow and Mass Polymorph will probably be the key cards in some decks, but in a format with counterspells, I would not want to create a deck around six- and seven-mana sorceries.

Fauna Shaman found a home in Boss Naya, in which it is quite good. It also appears in some Mythic Bant builds, but decks cannot rely on it too much as it will obviously get killed or countered, likely twice for every three times it is cast.

Metagame Analysis

The French Nationals Top 8 consisted of one Polymorph, three Blue/White Control decks (no Black), one Naya Fauna, one Turboland, one Pyromancer Ascension, and one Red Deck Wins. Let’s take a look at the field:

Jund – 15% – 30
Red Deck Wins – 13% – 26
UW Control – 9% – 17
Bant Conscription – 8% – 16

Esper Control – 7% – 14
Turboland (UG) – 7% – 13
Valakut Titan (RG) – 5% – 9
RG Monument – 4% – 8
Green Eldrazi – 4% – 6
Mythic Bant – 3% – 5
Polymorph – 3% – 5
White Weenie – 2% – 4
Patriot Planeswalkers – 2% – 4
Naya Allies – 2% – 4
Naya – 2% – 4
Fauna Shaman Naya – 2% – 3
GW Ramp – 2% – 3
Vampires – 1% – 2
Fauna Shaman Junk – 1% – 2
GW Boss – 1% – 2
Grixis Control – 1% – 2
Summoning Trap – 1% – 2
Blightning Deck Wins – 1% – 1
Dredge/Reliquary – 1% – 1
W Monument – 1% – 1
RW Monument / Reliquary – 1% – 1
Boros – 1% – 1
WU Turbo Fog – 1% – 1
Naya Destructive Force – 1% – 1
Runeflare Trap – 1% – 1
Naya Planeswalker – 1% – 1
Junk – 1% – 1
Pyromancer Ascension – 1% – 1
Turboland Destructive Force – 1% – 1
Open the Vaults – 1% – 1

There were many different decks played in the event. As in any National Championships, many people who qualified through Regionals decided to run the same deck type for the main event, so there were not that many innovative decks.

We can easily consider that Esper Control and UW as the same style of decks, which makes it the most popular strategy with 31 players.

Guillaume Wafo-Tapa decklist was probably the best in the tournament. He went 6-0-1 during the swiss rounds, then won his quarter finals. He then scooped to Matignon in the semis, and to myself in the playoffs, when he had two good matchups. Erwann Maisonneuve (Wafo’s buddy) went 7-0 with the exact same decklist, to finish in the Top 16, and he also won a LCQ with it the previous day. Our champ, on the other hand, said that his decklist was not the best possible build… it is quite hard to build the deck correctly, as it has so many good cards at its disposal.

Most people understood that they had to play either the Tap Out version of the deck or one with Mana Leak and extra counters, which seems strictly better. I really like this list. With its mix of two Condemn and two Path to Exile, and a total of six copies of Jace, the deck is really powerful.

Sun Titan seems to be the best kill in Blue/White Control, even if Canadian champ Jay Elarar was playing 4 Baneslayer Angel. The three Blue/White decks in the French Nationals Top 8 were running it, and their decks seem better than the Canadian builds in a large field, especially a field with fewer creature strategies and more control decks.

Jund was almost as popular as U/W Control. None made it to the Top 8, probably because after over a year of dominance, the metagame and Mana Leak finally found a way to beat it in significant numbers. On the other hand, none of the best players at the tournament played it.

Out of the 26 Red decks in the field, only one managed to reach the Top 8, but once again, most of the players running the decks were not pros, and they might have simply fell in the draft portion.

Bant Conscription’s results were a bit disappointing as well. Pierre Canali ended up ninth with the deck, and another pilot lost when playing for Top 8, but with so much Mono Red around, it is probably not the right time to play it.

Lucas Florent, the newest and most promising French Pro in the Top 8 with Turboland, he tested his version ever since Pro Tour San Juan and ended up with a build with no Primeval Titan and no Mana Leak. He went 6/1 during the rounds and lost against a good matchup in quarter finals, if you are interested in playing such a deck, I would recommend his version:

A few days before the event, a PTQ result from Japan appeared. The Top 8 included 28 Primeval Titans, and two different Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle decks met in the finals. The deck seemed pretty exciting until I was told that the PTQ was only 26 players, and that 80 Primeval Titans were played maindeck. A new archetype was born, and the only thing we knew was that it was good against other Green Titan decks. Still, maybe it is because some people did not see the results or did not want to play a deck with which they had not tested, but only nine people ran it in France. I can easily understand this, as the deck loses to counterspells, Red Deck Wins, and it also suffers if doesn’t draw Primeval Titan.

In the end, only three of the marginal decks posted a good result: My Polymorph deck, Matignon’s Ascension deck, and Boris Faivre’s Fauna Naya deck.

My goal, when I play in a Constructed tournament, is to run the best marginal deck possible. Thus, I started my testing by building all the possible decks that included 4 Ponder, 4 Preordain, 4 Explore, and 4 Rampant Growth, assuming that the engine of the deck would be sick.

The main problem was that playing a third color was very difficult, as the decks definitely need an Island on turn 1 to cast the Blue drawers and a Forest on turn 2 to use the mana acceleration cards efficiently. Also, Mana Leak is one of the key cards in the metagame, but playing many two-drop acceleration spells decreases the strength of the card and its impact on the games. Also, whatever my deck was, I would lose to Red Deck Wins, counterspell decks, and Titan Valakut Ramp.

I decided to see what could be done with just the 4 Preordain and 4 Ponder, which lead me to test combo decks. Howling Mine was an obvious choice as a card you always want on turn 2. Runeflare Trap seemed like a bad deck, so I went for Hedron Crab and Open the Vaults. The mill deck was okay, but considering that many people might play some Eldrazi cards that shuffle their graveyard into their library, and because the deck did not really have a Plan B, I quit testing it early. Open the Vaults is a deck that I’ve played a few times in real life tournaments, but the eight Blue card draw spells were not suited for it, as it does not necessarily have a Blue mana available on turn 1. With Mana Leak in the metagame, I wouldn’t play a deck which relies on a six-mana sorcery without acceleration or disruption.

Guillaume Matignon Pyromancer Ascension deck would have been an interesting choice, but when he gave it to me, I was already working on Polymorph. As I did not want to lose against Celestial Purge or Maelstrom Pulse, I kept it as a potential B choice (with Red Deck Wins) in case my deck wasn’t good enough.

I started working on Taufik Indrakesuma’s decklist, which reached the finals in Grand Prix: Manila. After a few games, I realized that the deck was really good, and started wondering why it had not broken through yet. I asked a handful of pros what they thought about the deck, and most of them answered that they would not consider playing a combo deck that lost to a Lightning Bolt. They all were very wrong. First, the deck is control with a combo kill. Second, the deck is really good at keeping the tempo, and you can earn enough time to protect your win condition. I think that this is the main reason why the deck is not played: it is heavily underrated.

With 4 Preordain and 4 Ponder, you dig into your deck a lot, so you do not need too many token generator cards. I decided to drop to two Awakening Zones, as the tokens do not help against many decks, and you do not want to tap out with a counterspell deck. Anyway, even against UW Control, it is tough to hard cast Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, and the card does not necessarily win, as it has many cards to sacrifice (Wall of Omens or Elspeth, Knight-Errant tokens), and it can bounce it with Jace, the Mind Sculptor, exile it with Oblivion Ring, destroy it with Day of Judgment … .

Cutting two copies of the enchantment almost turns the deck into a Mono Blue Control deck which relies on many counterspells to slow the opponent down. Such a deck had disappeared from Standard for years, and I missed it.

I also decided to drop to two Everflowing Chalice, which resulted in a lack of acceleration, to slow my opponent down at the same time. Instead of playing Polymorph with two mana up, I would just do it with one and either a Spell Pierce or a Dispel to protect it. Playing 4 Ponder, 4 Preordain, and 4 Jace, the Mind Sculptor means you have easier access to anything you need in the deck.

The sideboard was tougher to build. The 4 Obstinate Baloth were insane against Mono Red and Jund in testing (how would he know a Polymorph deck runs this card and thus sideboard his Blightning out?). But I needed to adjust the mana for it, resulting in playing 3 Forest and being sometimes screwed for Blue mana. Thus the card Polymorph wasn’t as good anymore, so I decided to put some Mass Polymorph in there to compensate, to get rid of my plant tokens and already-cast copies of the 4/4.

Here are my results:

Round 1: Sylvain Lauriol (already won 3 Nationals) – Summoning Trap — 2-1
Round 2 : Noham Maubert (multi-time Pro Tour player) — Turboland — 2-0
Round 3: Nicolas Duguet— Bant — 2-1
Round 10: Julien Parez (the new champ) — UW Control — 2-0
Round 11: Gabriel Teddy (for the second time) — Jund — 2-0
Round 12: Gregory Pierron (for the second time) — UW — 1-2
Round 13: Wafo (for the third time) – ID

Quarter Finals: PJ Meurisse – Red Deck Wins — 3-1 (I hardcast Emrakul, the Aeon Torn game 1 with 2 counters as backup)
Semis: Julien Parez (again!) – UW — 2-3
Third place playoff: Wafo-Tapa (for the fourth time) – he scooped to me, but I probably would have lost.

Total result:
6 wins and 2 losses.
16 games won, 8 games lost.

Of course, Polymorph does not break the format, but it is still a safe choice in the metagame. I expected a lot of Red and Ramp decks, against which is was excellent.

The deck is between 65% and 45% against the field. Its worst matchups are UW(b?) Control (which is still okay) and psychotic decks such as Raphael Levy token deck, featuring 4 Sarkhan Vol main deck (WTF!?).

I know that the deck is much better when your opponent does not know how to play against it. Now that I’ve produced a second good result with it, I presume that lots of players will give it a try or just test against it, and the win percentage should decrease a little. It is still a good choice if you do not expect many control decks.

M11 Draft

I must admit that I was shocked to learn that M11 Draft would be not only the Limited format of choice at French Nationals, but at Pro Tour: Amsterdam too. I have drafted almost every basic set since 4th Edition, and even if M10 was almost playable, it was still far from being competitive. I played my first two M11 drafts on-site at French Nationals the day before the tournament, and I read the spoiler list a few times, thinking that the format was simply bad and easy to learn (especially since I had played more than forty M10 drafts). I was wrong. Yes, I gained an understanding of the format quickly because the cards are basic, but the format is much more interesting than I expected. There are actually many tricks, and some good synergy, such as Act of Treason / Bloodthrone Vampire / Fling / Reassembling Skeleton / Viscera Seer, or even strategies that mill with Tome Scour / Jace’s Erasure / Foresee / Jace’s Ingenuity / Preordain.

The rares and great uncommons still win, but there are many removal spells with which to handle them.

I usually have two plans going into an M11 draft:

– Draft bombs, and build a deck around them.
– Draft a weenie deck that will kill people as soon as possible.

I usually decide to draft one color in the first pack and take one or two cards in all the others to keep my options open for the second pack uncommon or rare I might pull. This means that when given a choice between two cards of a similar power level, I’ll take the one in my main color even if it is a little weaker, while taking any cards that are much better than my mono-color option to optimize the second pack.

In my opinion, even if I have not drafted a lot of M11, the strength order of the colors is:

1 — White. It has the best weenie cards, and I love Excommunicate is such strategies, which is a card that wheels.
2 — Red. Removal, good creatures, good aggression.
3 — Blue. Lots of flyers, and Mana Leak is pretty good.
4 — Green. Fixers and big guys, but it’s very slow and has fewer bombs since Overrun was not reprinted at uncommon.
5 — Black. Very strong if Mono-Colored; the more Black cards you have, the better it will be, although a splash for Doom Blade is rarely bad.

My first deck was a Constructed standard White Weenie deck featuring Serra Angel, Angelic Arbiter, Pacifism, Honor of the Pure, two Armored Ascension, Brittle Effigy, and two Excommunicates. I went 2-1, losing the finals against Wafo-Tapa’s deck to two horrible draws and a mistake due to a bad knowledge of the set.

My second draft was terrible. Here is the masterpiece:

8 Forest
9 Plains

1 Sacred Wolf
1 Spined Wurm
2 Sylvan Ranger
1 Yavimaya Wurm
1 Vengeful Archon
2 Squadron Hawk
1 Silvercoat Lion
1 Assault Griffin
1 Wild Griffin
1 Infantry Veteran
1 Stormfront Pegasus
1 Siege Mastodon
1 Roc Egg
1 Steel Overseer

1 Giant Growth
2 Mighty Leap
1 Inspired Charge
2 Pacifism
1 Excommunicate

I could have played Mind Control and 4 Islands, but with such a deck I would rather just have regular draws and try to punish mana-screwed guys.

I had three “real” win conditions:

Vengeful Archon (I cast it once, decided not to attack Wafo-Tapa into his third Assassinate, and decked him).
Steel Overseer + Mighty Leap (never managed this combo).
– My opponent being either terrible or screwed.

I obviously went 3-0 with this pile.

I guess playing a stable aggro deck with pump spells is enough to beat up anything when games are going your way. I still made a mistake in the build: I played Silvercoat Lion rather than Grizzly Bears in a format with Black Knight. That was just dumb, but I tend to assume that Grizzly Bear is a bad card while the Lion is a decent White creature.

Overall, your success in the upcoming Nationals competitions will depend on the Standard portion of the event. Anyone should be able to post a 4-2 result in M11 Draft (or more) by drafting and playing better and/or opening some good stuff.

In my opinion, any single deck you choose to play will be a good choice, but you have to know the metagame and build a good sideboard. Wafo-Tapa’s deck seems like the best deck to play by far, as Wafo and his friend went 19/1 with it (including the LCQ). If you are an aggro player, I would recommend you try Raphael Levy token deck, and Red Deck Wins remains a strong choice. As a combo player, any deck from Pyromancer Ascension, Polymorph, or Turboland will be good. I do not like Mythic so much in the current metagame, but with the right pairings, it can win any tournament.

Next week, I will test against Oli with Wafo’s Blue/White deck versus Matignon’s Pyromancer Ascension, as both decks look really good.

See you in Chiba!

Antoine Ruel