[Editor’s Note — This article chronicles the preparation of the Belgian crew for their Nationals competition, held last weekend. Written before the tournament, it brings us a real-time insight into the team’s testing process. In next week’s tournament recap, we’ll see how this preparation was put into practice!]
Last year, pretty much like every year, I finished just outside the Top 8. With pro points on the line this year, making Top 8 has become an absolute must.
Traditionally, our regular playtest crew uses Nationals as an excuse to disappear for a weekend of binge drinking and degenerate parties, while our significant others think we’re playtesting for the tournament. This year, however, my girlfriend Kelly is coming with us to our annual retreat, which means we might actually be forced to get some testing in. Given the pro points available, perhaps that’s not such a bad thing.
Jan Doise took the initiative to rent a bungalow in the Ardennes for the weekend, where we’ll be spending our time testing and having fun. Without further ado, here are the stars of our crew:
Probably the most consistent player of the bunch. Makes Day 2 at every GP he plays, but never really shines on Sundays. And he can cook. Can’t really miss!
Christophe “The Machine” Gregoir
The resident Limited genius. Ask twenty random Belgian Magic players who is going to win Nationals this year, and 19 are going to vote for Xof.
Belgian’s most handsome rising star. Watch out Paulo Vitor, because before you know it, Pascal is taking up your spot as resident Pro Cutie!
Yeah, they’re brothers. Where Pascal has the looks, Peter has the brains.
I don’t think I really need to introduce Fried. Due to his new job, Fried is missing out on Nationals this year. But that’s not going to stop this playboy from a weekend of partying. (I may have forgotten to mention to him that we plan to test…)
Stijn Van Goethem
Another one of those rising Belgian stars, and a nice guy to boot.
No clue how he got in here, he’s one of our local judges.
Now that you know the players, let me tell you about the game. The rest of this article will be a collection of small blurbs, written by whoever feels like picking up the laptop (although I expect I’ll be doing most of the writing). Hopefully, this will give you an insight into our preparation process as it unfolds…
Marijn, Friday 18:30 — The first guys are starting to arrive at the bungalow, and soon enough we’re playing cards. The main goal, besides having fun, is to test Standard and find out if we can either break the format (ha!) or nail down the best decks in the field. I’m putting some of our early test results below, but we’ll be updating this throughout the weekend with more information.
Reveillark versus Doran: 3-0
Kithkin versus Elves 5-3
Mono-Red versus Kithkin 6-4
Mono-Red versus UW Reveillark/Blink 8-7 (post sideboard: 6-4)
Mono-Red versus Elves 7-7
Faeries versus Mono-Red 1-9
Doran versus UR Storm 6-0
Doran versus BR tokens 4-0
Reveillark versus BR Tokens 4-1
Marijn, Friday 19:00 — Last year I ran a similar blog for our local forum, and throughout the weekend, while writing the blog, I changed decks about seven times, so I really have no clue where I’ll be ending up. Last weekend, Grand Prix: Copenhagen provided an excellent testing opportunity which gave me a lot of insights into the Standard format. I played Reveillark, and if there’s one thing I learned about the format, it’s that the key probably lies in finding a Reveillark deck that survives the early game against RDW and aggro decks. Lark is just so insane late-game, and if you survive the early beats you’re practically sure to win the match. If they have a fast opening, however, you don’t really stand a chance. Nassif’s Lark version looks really appealing to me, because of its early game: he cuts the combo to play 8 bounce spells and 4 Momentary Blinks, along with Rune Snag, which really helps you survive those critical turns.
Anyway, I start off with Elves, RDW, or Reveillark on my mind for Nationals, but I’ll keep you posted as test results roll in and I change my mind. I’m really hoping our masterminds can find a good Reveillark build. More soon!
Jurgen, Friday 23:00 – After arriving at the bungalow on Friday and having dinner (with pancakes!), we’re up for a game of Pictionary. I get teamed up with Jan, who claims he never loses a game of Pictionary. That sounds rather promising, and we indeed get close to the finish pretty fast while the rest is busy failing, until we hit a streak of bad luck and Marijn and Fried’s team snatch the victory away. Peter and Kelly are probably the worst Pictionary team ever, and Pascal tried cheating the entire game. I should keep an eye on him at Nationals… Either way, good fun and cocktails were had by all.
Marijn, Saturday 01:30 – Around midnight, we start a Lorwyn draft, and I was reminded how random that format can really be. When my first pick Mulldrifter is followed by a second pick Smokebraider, the rest of the draft becomes a no-brainer and I end up with an insane deck featuring double Mulldrifter and double Smokebraider, as well as Pyroclast Consul, Nevermaker, Spitebellows, and Incandescent Soulstoke. Sadly, I lost my semi-finals versus the playboy from West-Flanders (Pascal, in case you wondered). Pascal’s Elves end up taking down Xof’s Green-Black tribal madness deck of Faeries, Treefolk, and Elves in the finals.
Xof, Saturday 16:00 — Saturday afternoon, time for the planned mountain-bike session. I can’t say I’m expecting to really shine at this stuff. Really, my plan is to head back to the bungalow and playtest some Standard with Pascal, who was injured. Anyway, I’m pretty happy I went along. After about ten minutes of biking, Stijn, who had been claiming he’d kick our asses… fainted. Yup. He fainted. Went down like a rock. And started snoring. It was pretty scary at first, but we had a good laugh at his expense when it became clear he was going to be okay. He’ll be hearing about that one for a long time to come. I went back with Kelly and Stijn, to make sure he was okay (I love it when a plan comes together). Later on during the bike ride, Fried fell off his bike, and those that finished the 23km tour through the hillside of the Belgian Ardennes were exhausted, while the rest of us enjoyed some pancakes. Really… what a grand idea, grabbing seven Magic players to go mountain-biking.
Pascal, Saturday 22:45 — After the crew came back from mountain-biking, we had a BBQ. Our chef Jan succeeded in making black sausages twice in a row, and we ran out of cola, but the sausages were edible when combined with enough sauce, and we still had white wine to replace the Bacardi-cola, so all was fine. After dinner, we start up a small Standard tournament. I’m playing the UR Storm deck, because I’m not yet sure about what to play at Nationals, and I’d like to test this deck because it looks really fun. I’m not sure how consistent it is, but we’re about to find out! Round 1 I’m paired against Jurgen, who’s playing UW Merfolk, a deck he’s never played before (like any other deck, really). I go off on turn 5 in game 1 and turn 4 in game 2 with Pyromancer’s Swath plus Grapeshot, while he never sees a counterspell the entire game. Pretty boring and not really a relevant test result, but I’m 1-0 and hope to see some more resistance in round 2.
Xof, Saturday 23:15 — I hate Magic and I wish I was doing something else.
Pascal, Saturday 23:15 — Poor Xof… my second round wasn’t that exciting either. I’m paired against Marijn, who’s playing Elves. In the first game, my mulligan to 5 screws me out of the game. In the second game, Marijn’s sideboard plan works out as he Mind Shatters my hand away the turn before I would have gone off. 0-2, a 1-1 record, sad panda. I’m still unsure about what I’m playing at Nationals, but I’m starting to think Reveillark may be a better idea than a deck that can act as randomly as this one. I also don’t like RDW, since I don’t think there’s going to be a single decent player who isn’t prepared for that matchup. Talking about RDW, in my final round I get paired against Jan who’s playing that very deck. Game 1, I decide to go off on turn 5, though I needed some extra gas to really get there. The three cards I drew while going off were supposed to provide me with that, but I only saw lands. I end up making a disappointing 8 tokens with Empty the Warrens, which I have to use to chump Jan’s creatures. Needless to say, I lose. I think this is really a problem with the storm deck: at some point you need to decide to go off or not, while not knowing what exactly your hand is: between Ponder, Perilous Research, Chromatic Star, and especially Manamorphose, there simply is too much uncertainty.
Jan, Saturday 23:45 — I have a pro testing tip for you! If you feel like doing something funky, try to sideboard in random cards during testing, and see if they’re any good. Fun is insured, and it teaches you to think outside the box.
Fried, Sunday 0:00 — Just sharing some thoughts on the UW Blink deck by Gabriel Nassif. Except for Marijn, who claims to have known all along, no one seemed to have any faith in the deck. However, so far, it has really turned out to be a blast. But I think it’s a deck you need to “get.” I’m not arrogant enough to claim that I fully do, but this is how I see it:
The deck’s main goal is to stay alive until you slowly overwhelm your opponent with the card advantage provided by Cryptic Command, Mulldrifter, Ancestral Visions, Momentary Blink, Reveillark…
Unlike the well-known Lark deck, you don’t have the lock. But there’s often a point where the game swings in your favor. The trick is to take advantage of that change in momentum and abuse it to win the game before you lose the upper hand.
The deck has multiple plans: sometimes, you’re able to just bounce lands three times in a row and win on your tempo advantage. This is where the Boomerangs really shine. We weren’t really sure about the Boomerangs for anything other than this however. Wrath of God just seems a better way to survive the early game — it also just fits better in the curve. Anyway, if you don’t have the opportunity to bounce lands early on, the deck offers a myriad of possibilities to win on sheer card advantage. Blink plus Reveillark, Ancestral Vision, etc. Just for your convenience, here’s our current decklist:
4 Mystic Gate
4 Adarkar Wastes
3 Riftwing Cloudskate
3 Aven Riftwatcher
2 Venser, Shaper Savant
4 Ancestral Vision
4 Cryptic Command
3 Prismatic Lens
4 Rune Snag
4 Momentary Blink
2 Wrath of God
1 Archon of Justice
1 Wrath of God
2 Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir
2 Crovax, Ascendant Hero
2 Pact of Negation
3 Faerie Macabre
Marijn, Sunday 09:30 — While the others are still sleeping, I’ll give you a small update. Yesterday I spent most of my testing time with Elves, but the pointy ears failed to really impress me. The deck isn’t bad, but it doesn’t have any real edge over the two most played decks: the RDW matchup is only slightly in your favor, and the Reveillark matchup is just bad. You simply can’t fight the insane card advantage they create. One thing I did learn about the deck is that Slaughter Pact is a real must. We started with a version that didn’t have them, but when we put in three Pacts it soon became apparent how good they were. Against RDW they answer Magus of the Moon, and versus Reveillark it’s your best answer against Sower of Temptation, especially if they have Greater Gargadon suspended (using the Pact before the trigger resolves will ensure your creature never reaches the other side). This is the decklist we ended up with after testing:
4 Gilt-Leaf Palace
4 Llanowar Wastes
4 Treetop Village
2 Twilight Mire
3 Chameleon Colossus
3 Civic Wayfinder
3 Kitchen Finks
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Wren’s Run Vanquisher
2 Garruk Wildspeaker
3 Slaughter Pact
3 Eyeblight’s Ending
4 Profane Command
3 Murderous Redcap
1 Kitchen Finks
3 Mind Twist
2 Sudden Spoiling
3 Faerie Macabre
Today I’ll be testing the UW Blink deck, which won the tournament yesterday in the capable hands of Fried.
Fried, Sunday 16:00 — After an egg and bacon brunch, we played a SHA-SHA-EVE draft. For Jan, this was his first experience with the format, which was still largely uncharted territory for the rest of us as well, so we were hoping to gain some insights. I decide to go for mono-Red, and I’m lucky enough to be the only Red drafter at the table, so I get shipped all the Red cards. Sadly, I’m not going to play Nationals this year, because winning both the Standard tournament yesterday and the draft today leaves me feeling rather good about my chances.
Marijn, Sunday 17:00 — Time for the results of my twenty test games with Reveillark versus RDW. We had expected the matchup to be in favor of the control deck, but after our first ten (pre-board) games, the result was 5-5. We think the problem is that we weren’t able to find a good split between cards that allow for early game survival and still leave you with enough steam to win the late game. Often, after stabilizing, the Reveillark deck was unable to finish in time while being stuck with cards that had become irrelevant, like Rune Snag. This gave the Red deck enough time to topdeck a second (or third) Demigod to finish the game. Other games were lost because RDW just was too fast, while the Reveillark player was holding a grip of big-mana stuff. After sideboarding, the matchup appeared to worsen a little, because Faerie Macabre is just really good against the Lark deck. We’re still not really sure what the correct sideboard plan is. We tried siding out Ancestral Vision, but that was clearly wrong because it made the late game really troublesome. Condemn was really good to side in, of course.
I think that Body Double might solve some problems. I still remember from Grand Prix: Copenhagen that I was winning games solely on the back of that card because RDW has no real way of handling it once a Lark is in your graveyard. Sure, after sideboard they have Faerie Macabre, but Body Double doesn’t target so it should always end up with a decent option to copy.
I guess it’s time to wrap things up. I’m afraid I still haven’t made up my mind yet about what I’m going to play. Elves, Reveillark and RDW are the most likely options still. Let’s hope the next few days bring counsel. At least we all gained some insights on the format.
That’s it for this week. I hope you’ve enjoyed this little special about our testing weekend, and hopefully I can come back to you with a â€˜Nationals – Winner!’ report next week or so. Thanks for reading, and feel free to post your comments on the forums.
[Editor’s Note – . Next week, Marijn takes us through the Nationals tournament itself… see you then!]