Feature Article – Learning From a Bad Tournament

The StarCityGames.com $5,000 Standard Open Series Comes to Nashville!
Monday, October 26th – Pro Tour: Austin was Marijn Lybaert’s worst tournament for quite some time. However, instead of focussing on the bad beats and sick topdecks, Marijn blames himself, and his lack of adequate preparation. Today, he outlines his preparation process for the PT, in the hope that we can avoid falling into similar traps…

Austin was my worst Pro Tour since I’ve been on the train. It’s actually only the second Pro Tour in three years in which I didn’t make Day 2. It’s pretty bad timing for such a result, as I had to skip Honolulu due to commitments at school, and as a result I now need to Top 24 Worlds next month (if I don’t manage to pick up any points in Paris) in order to stay on the train.

It might have been my worst Pro Tour since forever, but there is still a lot to be learned from it. Let’s start at the beginning: the preparation.

We started testing about a week before Zendikar was released. We had an almost full spoiler at that time. Christophe and Jan immediately said they wouldn’t be testing until they knew the whole set, but Pascal and I were eager to put up a good result, so we started early. Pascal made a Dredge deck, a Next Level Blue deck, and a Hypergenesis deck. I made Zoo, a UB Tron deck, and a Mono-White Martyr of Sands deck. Most of our lists (except for the Mono-White deck) came right off the net, and we (unfortunately) never put in the time to fix the decklists.

Our Dredge deck, for example, had Magus of the Bazaar, Greenseeker and Burning Inquiry from the beginning, and it was only until one week before the Pro Tour that we tried a different version with Hedron Crab (which was obviously a lot better). We never put in Glimpse the Unthinkable (despite me suggesting it several times), so our list was far from optimal. Also, I’ve always hated Dredge as a deck, so I just refused to play games with it. If I had, maybe I would have put Glimpse in it myself and seen how good the deck actually could be. Instead I just trusted Pascal, and he made a passable but definitely not optimal version. Result? He and Christophe played it, but they both put up a bad result.

Our Hypergenesis deck was just a disaster. We built Quentin Martin version, and it was far from optimal, with Shriekmaws to kill Canonist being the biggest joke. We never touched the deck again. It looked soooo bad… We even forgot to take the deck with us to our preparation weekend, and since everyone was too lazy to proxy up a new version, we never played a single game with or against it. Again, we could have tried to fix the list, but we just refused to do so.

The Zoo deck I made was probably the only deck we did change from time to time. It started out as Saito’s list from Grand Prix: Kobe before the rotation, but we quickly changed it to include Goblin Guide and Steppe Lynx. The deck was alright, and winning most matchups, but again we refused to put more work into it as no one was interested in playing a deck everyone was expecting. Again, we could have put some more work into it, and maybe have come up with something like Kibler and Rubin did, but nope… I guess we were just lazy.

The White Martyr deck we made was probably our best deck during testing. Mark Dictus put a lot of work into it, and I think he came up with a pretty good version in the end. Unfortunately, we were afraid of getting too many draws with it, so no one wanted to play that deck either. Here is what Mark ended up running (going 6-4 in Austin):

Rubin Zoo is going to change Extended for Worlds. The combined record these guys put up is simply amazing, and I think people will either play that deck or build decks to beat it. This White Martyr deck might be one of the decks that can beat the deck Kibler used to win the Pro Tour. It has a good early game with Kitchen Finks, Oblivion Ring, Runed Halo, Path to Exile, and Martyr of Sands, but also a very strong late game with Necrotic Sliver plus Emeria and Phyrexian Arena. Kagemaro, First to Suffer should probably be in there somewhere, and the sideboard could use some Castigate or something similar, but apart from that I think the list is a good start.

So, instead of working on the decks we already had, we started making other stupid decks. We made a Mono-Black deck without creatures (winning with Liliana and Sarkov); we made the worst Bant deck in the world (featuring 4 Troll Ascetic and 4 Lotus Cobra); we made a Hive Mind deck which was really good at doing nothing; and we revived Elves with 4 Boreal Druid, 4 Llanowar Elves, and 4 Elves of Deep Shadow (more on that later).

I also made a UW Tron deck which was pretty bad, but it had some good ideas in there. I really liked the idea of running Baneslayer Angel plus Chalice of the Void to protect it from Path to Exile. The manabase was awful, so I dismissed the whole Tron idea and made a UW control deck with Wrath of God, Vedalkan Shackles, and some counters / removal. The deck was okay, but the Baneslayers seemed to die every time I played them. It was the only deck I liked up until that moment, so I put some more work into it.

In the weekend before the Pro Tour, all the Belgians plus Frank Karsten rented a house to do some last-minute testing and drafting. We arrived on Friday, and none of us had any idea what to play. On top of that, all our decks were suboptimal.

Frank Karsten arrived with the idea of running a Highlander Blue Deck. Jan and Christophe came without any decks at all. They had yet to play their first games of Extended. Mark Dictus and Jelle Gyselinck wanted to play a Martyr deck, which was a great deck but boring to test against as all the matchups were either unwinnable or a walk in the park. Pascal Vieren, Robbert Menten, and I had no idea what to play. Also, everyone pretty much hated Extended, so we ended up running about a billion drafts and testing Extended for maybe 10 hours or so.

After playing two games with Zoo, Jan asked for a different deck, and I handled him my Elves deck (bad idea, Marijn, bad idea!). Jan ended up playing Elves the entire weekend (and at the Pro Tour) without touching any other deck.

No one was interested in playing Zoo or Hypergenesis, so those decks were barely tested, except when we forced Christophe to play them to see if our decks could beat them. It didn’t take long before Christophe got bored of them too…

Luckily, we had Frank. He was the one making decent decks, while we just refused to do so. First, he came up with a better version of Dredge. The deck didn’t have Glimpse yet, but at least it was running Hedron Crab and Life from the Loam, and no stupid cards like Greenseeker and Magus of the Bazaar. The deck was definitely good, but we were never playing games with sideboards so we had no idea if the deck could survive against a bunch of hate spells. The second deck Frank came up with was a B/g Hexmage-Dark Depths deck which killed on turn 4 most of the time, and sometimes earlier. The deck was about 50-50 against Zoo, Dredge, and NLU (before sideboard, of course), but was beating Affinity and Tron quite easily. This was our version:

The deck was great, but no one except Frank and I were really interested in playing it. On Wednesday, already in Austin, Frank came up with a Bu version (running Gifts Ungiven, Vendilion Clique, and Tolaria West) which could sideboard into a Thopter FoundrySword of the Meek deck. I liked the idea so we spent some time testing it, but at the player party everyone was talking about Dark Depths, and people were buying Temporal Isolation and Celestial Purge everywhere, so in the end I chickened out. Frank played the deck, and went 3-2 with it.

Another deck Frank came up with was an Affinity list supporting Thopter Foundry. The idea was simple: run as many artifacts as possible, and don’t run stupid cards like Soul’s Fire because they will just make the deck inconsistent. Job Martens, a friend of Frank, played the deck and started out 5-0, but his drafts went pretty badly. For the record, here is his list:

On Saturday, during our testing weekend, we played a tournament with our gauntlet decks. We usually do that to get familiar with our deck and sideboarding. These were the first games we played after board, which was kind of awkward as obviously no one had thought about their sideboard before. Our Dredge deck, for example, was sideboarding fifteen cards against everything to avoid being wrecked by graveyard hate. I ran the UW Control deck, and I might have been the only one who had at least searched the internet for some sideboarding options. I ended up winning that tournament, getting a bye in round 1 as Frank was not interested in playing, beating Dredge and its awful sideboard in round 2, and beating Jan’s Elves in the finals.

Talk about good preparation… this isn’t it!

So, up until the Thursday before the Pro Tour, I had no idea what to play. I wanted to play Dark Depths, but at 11pm I changed my mind once again, as it was clear that everyone knew about the deck and they would be packing sideboard against it. I still had the UW Control deck which I had been tuning and tweaking for some time, so I went back to that as I thought it was a good choice if a lot of people would be running Zoo and Dark Depths. This is the list I ended up running at Pro Tour: Austin:

Boy, what was I thinking? I guess I was just hoping that I would only be paired against Zoo, Dredge, and Dark Depths, as my deck was just awful against almost everything else. For example, I had 13 cards (2 Chalice, 3 Threads, 2 Vedalken Shackles, 4 Path to Exile, and 2 Engineered Explosives) I needed to sideboard out against Tron, with only 4 Meddling Mage to replace them. In the mirror it was even worse, as I also had to sideboard out 3 Spell Snare there. Obviously I got paired against both, and on top of that I had to play against some weird Doran deck without any one- or two-drops, against which I had no sideboard at all (nice Threads and Spell Snares there…). Also, the deck definitely needed one maindeck Relic of Progenitus so I at least had a chance against Dredge game 1.

Another problem with the deck was that Chalice of the Void just doesn’t work so well when you are running 4 Path to Exile and 3 Spell Snare yourself. Putting Chalice at one is pretty good against Zoo, but not if you’ve got seven dead cards yourself at that time. Not being able to cast Path to Exile meant I was dying to Treetop Village and other big guys like Knight of the Reliquary, so I had to play Chalice for two most of the time (which didn’t work very well with Spell Snare either). To top it all off, I even lost to Zoo once because my opponent was maindecking both Qasali Pridemage as Gaddock Teeg, while sideboarding another nine cards (including Pithing Needle against my Explosives). Both games were close, but he topdecked another burn spell to kill me when I was about to take control of the game with Ajani. At least I won round 1, beating Dredge (or Dredge beating itself, like it sometimes just does).

The next day, I played my first PTQ in 3 years, with Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa Black-Blue Dark Depths deck. I went 2-2, losing to some weird UGR Gargadon deck and Zoo, after which I dropped.

Pro Tour: Austin might have been my worst tournament in a long time, but I had a great time and learned a lot from it. I also placed third in the video contest, which won me a nice camera. Check out my movie here. All the other Belgians failed to put up a decent finish, so I can only hope we’ll be better prepared for Worlds so we can put up a strong finish once again. I’ve definitely taken a few lessons from my terrible preparation here… I hope you can do the same.

Thanks for reading!