Before I begin, I’d like to make a few introductory comments. First, I think people can relate to me, and take me as an example proving that you can do well at Magic without dedicating your entire life to it. Second, everybody likes to talk about themselves, and I’m no exception.
After a disappointing Pro Player Club Level 5 last year (at Level 6, you basically get paid to play, and I was one point short), life finally caught up with me. I’ve a job, a very patient girlfriend, nine hours a week of German lessons, and my wonderful family & friends in Italy that deserve a visit sometimes (I live in Germany)… and last year was busier. After playing only one GP, and the Pro Tour in Austin, I was sitting on 6 PT points with no desire to qualify, no goals, and no connections. But Worlds in your home country was too much to pass up, and once again, the Magic bug got me.
I only play online. Sure, it is less fun than playing in real life, but time-wise there is nothing better, and having something at stake keeps everybody focused. However, it was still too time consuming. So, to learn the basics of the formats, I started to read everything I could find, using my spare time (train trips, lunch breaks, etc.). The hard part is to discern whether an article or a writer is actually worth your time. My rule of thumb is to ignore everything with “best,” “bye,” and “always” in it. (As a side note, this website is full of excellent writers, especially if you take new ideas with a grain of salt.)
I also studied decklists to learn more about particular matchups. If you compare two decks, card for card by casting costs, you should be able to see how a game would go most of the time, especially if there is no trump. Of course, this is far from perfect, especially if you misconceive a card, but it’s still better than a game where someone draws three copies of something. Another important step is to check sideboards and strategies, and see what questions people are trying to answer. It shows a deck’s weak spots, and what niche is left that could be filled. Maybe one day I’ll go write an in-depth article on this topic.
After some testing, it was clear to me the only “real” decks were Jund, Boros, and Cobra decks going large instead of using Cascade (either Junk or Naya). Control decks looked underpowered, and were incidentally hated out by Blightning, Goblin Ruinblaster, and Duress. The same went for Mono White Control. It was well positioned, but too dependant on Emeria, the Sky Ruin to risk. Boros already had the most extreme (and best) aggro strategy. A Red burn deck would have been promising, except the burn cards have legs (Ball Lightning, Hellspark Elemental, Elemental Appeal…), and that’s what you should exactly try to avoid with such a deck. Something like UR Magnivore would have been amazing, except we don’t even have Stone Rain. Back then, to me, if there was something good it wasn’t obvious at all.
I still tried everything, simply to Epic Fail most of the times. Planeswalkers? Blightning and Maelstrom Pulse. Big creatures? Terminate and Path to Exile. Wanna win an attrition war? Go Cascade or Ranger of Eos first, because Blue card draw is inferior. Wanna have the fastest clock? Go Boros.
What the format lacked at the time was cheap sweepers. Even Control wouldn’t use more than a couple of copies of Day of Judgement. Jund only had a few Charms, and people still had to catch up with the power of Earthquake. This is what I ended up playing:
The general idea is that you are resilient to most removal, as either your guys are cheap, they’ve already completed their job (Ranger of Eos, Knight of the White Orchid), or they are hard to answer (White Knight, Conqueror’s Pledge). On paper it looked slightly underpowered, but synergies made up for it, and a simple manabase means fewer losses from mana draws.
The deck went through various configurations, and I’m still not sure which is correct.
– Green was the most promising splash, as Knight of the Reliquary is amazing, and Scute Mob and Lotus Cobra are also pretty good. In the end, I liked my Orchid and Lynx too much to mess around with tapped lands and Forests, and stayed Mono White.
– Baneslayer Angel was exploding on sight, as expected, and as soon as I swapped from Emeria the Sky Ruin to Gargoyle Castle it was an easy cut. Wall of Reverence was pretty good, but Junk and Boros were easy matchups and I didn’t bother keeping them in the end. Brave the Elements was pretty random, being dead in hand or blowing an opponent out. I liked them more post sideboard than main, when they overload with removal, but squeezed a couple in for surprise value. Oblivion Ring could have easily been Journey to Nowhere, but at the time Eldrazi Monument was getting popular, and since the deck has a hole in the three-drop department the extra mana didn’t hurt too much.
After several weeks wasting money on MTGO, I started to win. A lot. Control decks usually didn’t have the right answers, and Luminarch Ascension was a beating. Junk decks lacked card advantage, and 8 spot removal spells were plenty to handle all their Angels. Boros was also very easy, since they are forced to waste time and burn on your early guys, and Pledge is a nightmare for them (I think I lost two games in ten matches against Boros). Jund was slightly favorable, as long as they didn’t overload on sweepers. My opponents were getting stuck on two colors, while my humble Plains would never disappoint me. I even “mised” against a Fog deck because I drew plenty of Oblivion Rings to stop his Howling Mine and Font of Mythos.
Of course, this was biased by surprise value and un-tuned decklists, but my MTGO Constructed rating got close to 1900, which for me is quite a lot, considering how sloppy I play online.
Two weeks before the tournament, I sent the decklist to a bunch of Italians. One of them tries it against a Fog deck, obviously loses all the time, and gives up on it. I guess “14 Plains” doesn’t sound too sexy.
One week before the tournament, I contract stomach flu, but worse. Think of a bad side effect, and I had it. Things get to the point that I move my flight from Monday to Wednesday night, and I travel while I can barely keep food inside me. Now my girlfriend doesn’t believe me when I say “It’s just an hobby, darling; I play to see friends.”
Once in Rome I meet up with the Italians, have some good times, and for once I hope they have some good tech for Standard: they shared an apartment for a whole week, with half of the expenses paid by a sponsor. But after a few minutes I start to feel dubious about some of their statements. Everybody wants to play Boros, “because Jund is easy.” It doesn’t take me long to find out they
didn’t play after sideboard, and their lists were old and rough. What really happened is they just drafted and played Cube all the time (which doesn’t surprise me a single bit). The organizer even made a rule that it was mandatory to play Constructed until 5pm… so they started to wake up at 2pm.
Late that night, six of us moved to Mario Pascoli’s apartment, where I’m somehow able to get a bed all by myself. I’m good at Diplomacy. Some more jokes and a short night of sleep later, and we move to the Convention Center for Day 1 of Worlds.
Once there I meet even more old friends and the rest of the Italians. I talk about my deck and I receive some surprised looks; apparently, they weren’t even able to share all the decklists they had. One of them even decided to switch to it at the very last second, and finishes building it while seatings were already up for ten minutes.
Now you know why Italy have never won a Pro Tour in 16 years, something small countries like Portugal and Switzerland have. And we surely don’t lack players: our PTQs average 180 people, and we’ve had a few over 300.
The highlights from Day 1:
Round 1 — 2-0 versus Carvalho, Marcio [PRT] — Jund
I start well by forgetting a couple of Soul Warden triggers. I blame Magic Online for this. Luckily, they are not optional. Anyway, my brain wakes up, he floods while I draw Rangers and Pledge, and I win both easily.
Round 2 — 2-1 versus Weng, Ruei-Yi [TWN] — 4c Cascade (with Baneslayer)
In the first game I start slowly, and a Enlisted Wurm into Day of Judgement makes his life easier than needed. Game 2 he stalls a couple of turns on four mana, and when he clears the board I’ve Pledge + Honor of the Pure to seal it before he can play his hand. Game 3 he doesn’t draw much cascade, and he is forced to use his resources in awkward ways to stop my Luminarch Ascension and my Elspeth.
Round 3 — 2-0 versus GÃ¶rtzen, Simon [DEU] — Junk (GWb Cobra + Baneslayer)
Game 1 he draws only a couple of big guys that I deal with, and Pledge and Ranger of Eos give me plenty of gas to alpha strike. Game 2 I’m stuck on four mana, and he has two huge Knight of the Reliquary beating me down. I miscalculate, chump a Knight, and go to 1 instead of 2. I draw a fetchland (oops), make a token with Emeria Angel, and play Ranger of Eos for 2 Soul Warden. I chump some more, while he plays a second Baneslayer (I killed one before). I draw removal from the top, play my two Soul Warden, and chump one more time (since now I can use the fetchland). He plays another Baneslayer, but again I draw another removal spell. He plays Liliana, searching for his final Baneslayer, but I can finally play Pledge and gain 12 life, and attack Liliana. The game then drags on for several turns, with me playing Pledge, Ranger of Eos, making tokens with my Emeria Angel, and him playing a couple of Wall of Reverence and some irrelevant stuff like Cobra, while attacking with his Baneslayer. We get to a point where he’s at 72 and I’m at 44. I finally draw a couple of copies of Honor of the Pure, start to attack for 40 and win in a couple of turns. The game was much more complicated than this, but I guess this story was already confusing enough.
Round 4 — 2-1 versus Stone, Dennis [BEL] – Jund
Game 1 I start with Lynx, Lynx + Path to Exile, Knight of the White Orchid + Fetchland. He stabilizes at three life, but a Gargoyle Castle finishes him off. Game 2 we play a bit, but a Double Dragon kills me easily. Game 3 I start with a Lynx, a couple of Devout Lightcasters, and Brave the Elements. He double Blightnings me, but I find Celestial Purge for his Bloodbraid Elf, I’ve Brave for his Bolt, and my guys go the distance.
Round 5 — 1-2 versus Reitbauer, David [AUT] – Jund
Game 1 I’ve the ground stalled, thanks to a couple of Soul Wardens that make attacking unappealing for him. I start to break through with an Emeria Angel beating down and making tokens, but his Master of the Wild Hunt starts to slowly take control. I don’t draw Brave the Elements or Honor the Pure to kill him in time. In the final turn I make a strange suicidal attack, trading my guys for his three Sprouting Thrinaxes… but there was no Martial Coup on top.
Round 6 — 2-0 vs. GrÃ¤fensteiner, Tobias [DEU] — Boros
Game 1 I kill him while at 19, and game 2 at 33, racing a turn 5 Baneslayer. Yeah, Soul Warden is that good against Boros.
So, after playing my worst Magic in ages, I’m sitting on 5-1 in 10th position, dead tired. My friend went 3-3, playing against five consecutive Jund decks (must be fun…) and horribly punting the last one.
Next time I will touch briefly on my embarrassing Day 2 drafts, go in deep on Extended, and share a couple more stories.
Thanks for reading…
PS: I didn’t know where to put them in the article, so here are my (generic) sideboard strategies:
This is where the sideboard plan can vary the most. It depends on how many sweepers they have, sometimes they board out Blightning or creatures, Lynx is worse going second, etc. You never really want to play Path to Exile before turn 5, and I could even see taking all of them out (sounds odd, I know, but you have plenty of good alternatives).
Lynx is quite bad, but chump-blocking is actually a plan against them since you have plenty of gas to take over anyway. Oblivion is of course mediocre, but it removes Elspeth and it’s important to keep the board clean as much as possible, to mitigate the turn they go big with Goblin Bushwhacker.
Versus Naya or Junk
-1 Ranger of Eos, -4 Steppe Lynx, -2 White Knight
+2 Soul Warden, +1 Journey to Nowhere, +2 Elspeth, +2 Celestial Purge/Brave the Elements (of course, Purge for Thoctar and Brave for Maelstrom Pulse)
Lynx is not bad per se, but since you are favorite in the long game you don’t really need to go aggressive. Note Flores (Coimbra) Naya has so much card advantage that my previous statement might be wrong against it.
Of course, if their sweepers are Red rather than Day of Judgement, you should put in the third Brave the Elements.
As I mentioned, Brave the Elements gets better after sideboard, that’s why the third almost always enters.
PPS: I want to close with a provocative statement to discuss in the forums: isn’t Baneslayer Angel, on average, the worst (!) card in Flores Naya? It’s the only target you will happily Terminate or Path to Exile, other than Thoctar (which is still vulnerable to Bituminous Blast and can be handled in many ways).