Feature Article – The Black Perspective: A Pro Tour and a Grand Prix

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Osyp “Joe Black” Lebedowicz is no stranger to high-level competition. However, he’s not attended many events of late, for a variety of reasons. Nevertheless, the two-week period that held Grand Prix: Montreal and Pro Tour: San Diego proved too much to resist, and today Osyp takes us through each event! He spins his usual tall tales, and brings us the latest build of his innovative G/W Tarmogoyf Block deck…

I’ve been very busy as of late, so I haven’t been able to attend that many Magic events. As a result, I haven’t had much to write about. However, over the past two weeks I’ve been to two different events, and I figured now is as good a time as any to start writing again.

The Thursday before Grand Prix: Montreal, a guy called me and told me he was planning on driving to the tournament, and he had space in the car. I hadn’t been testing the format that much, but Montreal seemed like it could be fun, and I couldn’t pass up a free ride. I told my friend about the trip, and he jumped on board. We decided to sleep at the guy’s house that night and meet someone else there the next morning. The guy was also throwing a party at his place that night, which made our decision easier. The party wasn’t too bad; a decent number of cute girls showed up, and there was plenty of alcohol. I’d say the highlight of the evening was when the cops showed up and several girls jumped over the balcony and ran off into the night. I asked why they bolted, and was told that some of them were still in High School and didn’t want to get busted. That sounds about right.

Since I hadn’t tested the format much, I didn’t really have a deck for the tournament. I figured I would just play U/G, or some awkward monstrosity with Wall of Roots in it. Luckily for me, Dave Irvine called me that night and told me about a deck he had been testing on MTGO a lot (and he was winning). It was a G/W beatdown deck, and he said it had good matchups against pretty much every deck in the format. That sounds about right.

I built the deck and played a few games, and it seemed solid enough. I really didn’t want to play U/B or Mono-Red, so I jumped at the chance to play an alternative that didn’t have Wall of Roots. I also figured if Wizards was going to go to the trouble and make a card as dumb as Tarmogoyf, then I certainly was going to play it. This is the list:

The Scryb Rangers were a last minute inclusion. They were originally Kavu Predators, and thank god for that change, because they were gold for me all weekend. The only thing good about Search for Tomorrow was that it made sideboarding a lot easier. There are some definite changes I’d make to the deck, but I’ll get into that later.

I started the tournament 8-0, beating Shouta Yasooka, Steve Sadin, and Stuart Wright along the way. All of them were playing Blue-based control decks (U/B, Mono-Blue, and U/w), and I beat three other U/B decks over the course of the tournament. In the final round of day 1 I got my first lost of the tournament, to a Mono-Red deck. I not only lost to Mono-Red with G/W, but my opponent even got a game loss for mis-registering his deck, and wasn’t allowed to use his sideboard. In general I think this matchup is fine, but I certainly was shocked by the loss since everyone told me I should beat that deck. Bladewing killed me both times, once with Grandeur… other than that, I don’t know what else to say.

The only other match up that I played more than once that weekend was the G/W mirror. On day 1 I played against someone from Argentina who was playing a card for card copy of the deck that won the GP. I managed to 2-0 him, but the next day I got 2-0’d by his teammate and the eventual GP winner when we were playing for Top 8. The winning list had a lot of things that I wish I had, like Llanowar Reborn and Temporal Isolation main. However, the main difference between the list I played and that list was the Scryb Rangers and Timbermare. I personally would not play the deck without those cards, because they won me countless matches. I used to hate Timbermare, as the card always seemed like such a “do-nothing.” Whenever people would call it a Lava Axe with legs… well, that just pissed me off more, because I don’t remember many people adding Lava Axe to their Constructed decks. However, on their own, those cards can steal wins in certain matchups. Together they can make life very difficult for your opponent, regardless of the matchup. I don’t think you need to play Edge of Autumn. I would rather just play more awesome threats. Tarmogoyf will always get there, don’t worry about it.

This is the list I would play now:

I’m not sure what the most popular version of G/W is, but I’ll go over some of my card choices in case they appear out of the ordinary.

Hedge Troll versus Serra Avenger
This was a tough one for me, since I love both creatures. I considered cutting the Riftsweepers and making room for everyone, but the problem is you need two-drops, and I refuse to get hosed by Suspend decks (Mono-Red, Mono-Blue, U/G). Hedge Troll was an awesome man for me all weekend, and I think it’s a great threat in the deck. The only reason I considered changing them for Avengers is because, in the mirror, having evasion is awesome. If people start to play G/W more and more, Avenger may be the correct card. However, from what I’ve seen in the recent PTQs after the GP, U/B still seems to be most popular, and G/W has fallen by the wayside more and more. If that’s the case, Hedge Troll is a much better threat in the deck. Against U/B you really want a three-power creature on turn 3 that isn’t a Call token. U/B has better answers to a token, and you can’t save your guy with Saffi if they Damnation on turn 4. Serra Avenger is just a turn too slow in that matchup, and its evasion ability is not really that relevant to make up for it. Being able to attack into Call tokens in the mirror is also something Hedge Troll has for it, so I think the positives Serra Avenger has in the mirror don’t outweigh what Hedge Troll has going for it in every other matchup.

Calciderm versus Mystic Enforcer
This deck won’t get to threshold. As a result, Mystic Enforcer is about as useful as Tiago Chan at a 2HG event. A 3/3 beater with pro-Black is still pretty good against U/B, but the more people are prepared for G/W nowadays, the more answers they’ll have for it (Pongify, Snapback, Take Possession, Temporal Isolation). Another annoyance is Vesuvan Shapeshifter. Against Mono-Blue, a Scryb Ranger with a Griffin Guide can end the game very quickly. However, if you have a Mystic Enforcer in play, a Shapeshifter can suddenly become a 6/6 flyer. Mystic Enforcer might be the better card in general, since it’s harder to chump block, but I think in this deck Calciderm has to be the better choice.

Disenchant versus Cloudchaser Kestrel
I know the temptation to play a 2/2 flyer with that ability is tempting, but please don’t. Disenchant is the superior card here, and I don’t even think it’s that hard to see why. Being able to kill an artifact like Coalition Relic or Triskelavus aside, the instant speed removal will be key in the mirror. There are times when they’ll Isolate your creature and go in for the kill, and if you have a Kestrel in hand it will do you no good. Another trick you can do with Disenchant that you can’t with the Kestrel is if they Isolated one of your creatures — let’s say a Tarmogoyf with a Griffin Guide on it – then you can attack with it, and they can’t block since it has shadow. Just Disenchant the isolation before damage resolves. I simply don’t believe the 2/2 flyer is worth the drawbacks.

Stonewood Invocation
Please play this card, it’s totally awesome!

Other than that, I think the deck is more or less like any other G/W deck you’ll run into. Here’s a brief guide to sideboarding:

Versus U/B (Yasooka’s list):

+2 Calciderm
+2 Disenchant
-2 Riftsweeper
-2 Griffin Guide

Versus U/B (Cheon’s list):

+2 Calciderm
+1 Temporal Isolation
+3 Disenchant
-4 Riftsweeper
-2 Griffin Guide

Versus Mono-Blue:

+3 Thrill of the Hunt
+3 Sunlance
+1 Temporal Isolation
-3 Stonewood Invocation
-4 Griffin Guide

Versus G/W mirror:

+4 Thrill of the Hunt
+1 Temporal Isolation
+3 Disenchant
-4 Riftsweeper
-2 Stonewood Invocation
-2 Calciderm

I finished the tournament 12-3, and placed 10th. Missing Top 8 on breakers stinks, but at least I got three Pro Points out of the deal, and since I don’t go to many events these days I need all the points I can get. I don’t really mind skipping events, but I still want to stay on the Gravy Train. I know the one time I fall of they’ll announce PT: Bahamas.

Another reason I attended GP: Montreal was because I had planned on meeting my teammate for the 2HG PT. You see, I really wanted to play in the PT with my good friend Phil Napoli. While I was a level 3, Phil only had one level, so we were forced to grind it out during the PTQ season. I was pretty sure Phil and I would either win a PTQ or at least Q on rating, so I didn’t bother looking for someone else in case we didn’t qualify. Obviously we didn’t qualify, and I’m left without a teammate only three weeks before the PT. I get on AIM and ask everyone if there’s a level 2 or higher out there without a teammate. At first Josh Ravitz says he’s willing to play with me, but then drops me a day later when Finkel agrees to team with him (I can’t say I blame him). Finally, after everyone gets back to me, my two options are StarWarsKid and some kid from Florida who I’ve never met or heard of before. After giving it a lot of thought, I decided to go with the kid I never met before.

The kids name was Steve Wolansky, and he came, once again, as a recommendation from Dave Irvine. Dave said that Steve was a Limited expert, the leader in this year’s rookie of the year race, and a protégé of Ben Stark. That sounded good to me, and I called Steve to confirm.

I hate drafting, so I only did a total of four 2HG drafts prior to the PT. I wasn’t worried though, because my teammate told me he’d been drafting a lot and was confident. That sounds about right.

The Thursday before a PT is always my favorite part, because there’s no pressure and you just get to meet up with all your friends. As I was making my rounds, I ran into Jeff Cunningham and Peter Szigeti. Most of you probably know who Cunningham is, but Peter might be more of a mystery as he comes from a time when the Pro Tour was a much more fun and interesting place. Now I won’t go as far and say the PT was better with PTR around, but it certainly wasn’t boring. PTR’s story is an interesting one because it ends at the same time that the PT as you may know it began.

When I first started playing on the Pro Tour the year was 2001. My first event was New Orleans, and Kai was winning his 8th Pro Tour or something equally ridiculous.

Sidenote on Kai:

This was an actual conversation I had with Kai recently.

Osyp: Hey Kai, what’s up?
Kai: Hey Osyp, WoW’ing DI
O: Sounds about right, excited about HoF?
K: Yeah I guess, free trip to NYC
O: Mise
K: Finkel will probably play too since its in NY?
O: Yeah probably… You, Finkel, and Kenji in the same room, should be awesome
K: Who’s Kenji?
O: He’s the next you
K: Really? How many PT’s has he won?
O: None
K: …
O: He has a lot of Top 8s.
K: Oh yeah? How many? 10?
O: No, 5
K: …
O: Well, they’re calling him the next you
K: Is his middle name Kai or something?
O: He’s good
K: Yeah I’m sure, but there can only be one Kai
O: lol
K: maybe he’s the next Nico

End Sidenote

The Pro Tour was a much rowdier place back then, and Wizards began to take notice. I’d say it was around 2003 when TOs started to notice PTQ attendance was decreasing. Concerned, they contacted Wizards and asked them if they could look into why this was happening, and if it was a trend. Wizards hired a marketing firm to research the issue, and they discovered that the reason PTQ attendance was decreasing was because many people were afraid to attend PTQs. Both adults who played Magic and parents of younger children who played claimed that the PTQs were no longer fun because of all the obnoxious teenagers in attendance. Wizards realized that pro players have a strong influence on younger players, not only in how they play, but how they behave. If a teenage player sees Pro Players acting like jerks, they are likely to mimic that behavior at the PTQ level. As a result, the PTQs started to be full of *ssholes, which drove away the normal people looking to have a good time. This was turning into a huge problem, and Wizards was pressured to make some changes. They realized that the best way to combat this problem was to take out the source.

I suppose you could blame the players for the decline, but Wizards must shoulder some of the blame. I mean, if you’re going to hold back-to-back PTs in Amsterdam and New Orleans, what do you expect?

Wizards decided it was time to turn the PT from an R rating to a PG. The best way to do this was to eliminate all the bad eggs on the Pro Tour. At PT: Kobe 2004, Wizards rounded up four of the biggest troublemakers (or, at least, who they viewed as troublemakers) and sat them down for a meeting. At that meeting they told them that the next one of them to cause a raucous or create a scene would be banned from Magic. Now I won’t divulge who those four players were, but I will say that one is on the Hall of Fame now, another is a former U.S. National Champion.

Wizards’ stricter policies and no-nonsense approach worked, as the PT became a much more stable and pleasant environment, and PTQ attendance increased over time. Today, the biggest commotion you’ll see is Frank Karsten and Julian Nuijten having a tickle-fight in the Feature Match area. I think the changes Wizards made were for the good of the game, but part of me still misses the times when a Searing Flesh could be used for toilet paper.

I finally met my teammate, and we discussed strategy a little before I met up with John Fiorillo and company for dinner. I must say San Diego is one hell of a city. This PT marks my third trip to the city, and I’m constantly surprised by how perfect it is. The weather is always warm and dry, there are plenty of awesome bars and restaurants to frequent, and the women… oh, the women. I was talking with GP: Columbus Champion Steve Sadin about all the gorgeous women around, and asked if he noticed that many of the ladies were very well endowed. Steve replied with the line of the tournament:

Yeah, it’s like someone cast Giant Growth on all their breasts!
Steve Sadin, 2007

If you think you’ve heard Steve say something equally awkward, mail your submissions to:

Steve Sadin Awkward Comment Contest
PO Box 114
New York, NY 11021

The Top 3 submissions receive a foil Counterbalance and a “40 Year old Virgin” t-shirt (medium).

My teammate basically told me we should be drafting U/G and R/B if possible, and he wanted to draw first if possible. I knew nothing, so I was comfortable letting him make all the decisions in the draft. We started the tournament 4-0, before hitting a speed bump in the final draft of day 1 and going 1-1. Our decks were not only bad, but we also both made a crucial mistake in the last match. As I walking home I started to wonder how we drafted and played so badly despite playing well the rest of the day, and I came to the conclusion that I’m getting old. 27 may not be old in the regular world, but in the Magic World it’s pretty much ancient. I’m waiting for Wizards to put out an AARP newsletter for us. I used to be able to play tight for an entire day, but more and more I’m noticing once those final rounds roll around I start to get real tired and sluggish. I used to be able to play eight rounds then go out and drink until 4am. Now I was sitting in my room on Friday night eating Wendy’s alone, ignoring the text messages I was getting from Herberholz to go out and party so I could go to sleep at a reasonable 10:30.

I was determined not to let this happen again, so I started drinking coffee the next morning, and didn’t stop until the Starbucks closed at 4. We went 1-1 in the first two drafts, but we managed to step it up in the final one and 2-0 the pod to secure a place in day 3.

I was happy I didn’t let the fatigue kick in the final draft, but the overflow of caffeine left me hyper and itching to hit the town. After a large dinner at a seafood Mexican restaurant where many fish tacos were had (I know, right), we hit up a club called Moose McGillicutty’s. When I say “we,” let me be more specific. The crew included Matt Rubin, BrettC, Dave Irvine, Chad Kastel, Nicky Fiorillo, and Phil Napoli. Mothers, I hope you locked up your daughters.

I was pretty drunk and put on a dancing exhibition that can only be described as remarkable. Dave spent the majority of the night hitting on a girl that looked like Renee Zellwegger’s uglier brother. While BrettC… well, BrettC tried to pick up a girl who was sobbing in the corner. It takes a real man to hit on a girl who’s clearly emotionally vulnerable.

We make our way to this other bar to meet up with some gamers, and it’s there I meet Patrick Chapin. When I first started on the PT, my main testing group was CMU, and now it’s Mike Flores, so one way or another I’ve always had people talk to me about Patrick Chapin. I had never met him until this weekend. I must say, he’s pretty awesome. Not only does he have a wealth of interesting ideas about Constructed, the man can pop and lock with the best.

I get harassed by the fuzz as I walk back to the hotel, and don’t get to bed until 4am. At this point I get a cramp in my leg and can’t get to sleep. I only hope my teammate is getting a good night’s rest.

Our record is 8-3-1, so we know that we cannot make Top 4 and are only playing for 6th place. That’s still a lot of money though, so we’re still motivated to do well. We open our first pack and see a Sedge Sliver. We end up taking two removal spells and shipping the Sliver to our left. We realize that the team to our left will probably go Slivers now, and try and cut off as many as we can… however, sometimes that can be difficult. Our decks are pretty good, but I stall on two lands and we get rolled by the Sliver team, who go on to win the pod. We win our next round and finish the tournament in 12th.

I’m not going to bother going into any draft details, since I don’t think anyone cares. But I will say that my teammate Steve Wolansky is the absolute nuts, and will Top 8 a Limited Pro Tour by this time next year. I was not only shocked by how good he was, but by how focused he was during the match. He did a lot of little things that got us a edge here and there. One example is whenever the match was close, and our opponents would have only a few cards in their hand, he’d say to me “you take the guy on the left.” This meant he wanted me to stare at their Player A while he stared at Player B as they both drew their card. You’d be surprised how much information you can gather by doing something simple as that. Nine times out of ten our opponents just gave away what they drew, and sometimes it made a huge difference in a decision we had to make later.

All in all, the tournament was a lot of fun and I am happy that NJ was able to bring the title home. Chris and Jacob are good guys and I’m happy they won, but I’m even happier that for the rest of their lives they’re stuck with the lame title of “Sliver Kids.”

Later, y’all,

Osyp “Joe Black” Lebedowicz