Feature Article – Topping Grand Prix: Chicago (1st)

Read Feature Articles every week... at StarCityGames.com!
Wednesday, March 25th – Fresh of his epic win in Pro Tour: Kyoto, Gabriel Nassif rocked to Chicago for a little Legacy action. Two days and countless victories later, he stood atop the Magical pile once more. Today, he shares his tournament stories and deck tips, alongside a bonus Extended Faeries list!

Fresh off my win in Kyoto, I was pretty excited to get to go Grand Prix: Chicago the following week, even though I didn’t have any expectations at all. This means there was not much pressure, which always feels good. I was looking forward to hang out with my friends, team drafting etc, as I didn’t really get to do that kind of stuff in Kyoto since I had to play the whole week (tough life, I know).

I tried to prepare a little, and met up with Manuel and Patrick at R.I.W. Hobbies in Livonia to play some games. I had my old Worlds 2007 Landstill deck built (the UBGW version), but it didn’t feel that great and I was worried that it was probably outdated since no one seemed to be playing it anymore. I then put together a Counterbalance-less chase rare deck, but cards like Meddling Mage and Tidehollow Sculler seemed too weak as you really want every one of your creatures to be able to do the job alone (a.k.a. Tarmogoyf and Dark Confidant). Manuel’s UW Counterbalance deck seemed interesting, but I didn’t feel too good about it either. After playing a few more games against Patrick’s version of Counterbalance with Intuition and Natural Order, I decided I wanted to play a more straightforward version of Counterbalance with Goyf and Bobby.

Here’s my report… I hope you enjoy it!

I get at the GP on Friday evening and the site seems pretty sweet. The hotel is linked with the convention center, and the rooms are really nice, especially for the price.

I run into LSV amongst others at the tournament site and ask him what he’s playing, and when he tells me “Counterbalance,” I ask him for his decklist. As I’m his closest opponent in the Player of the Year race, he logically ships it right away. It looks pretty good and exactly what I am looking for. We talk about the deck for a bit, and by talk I mean I ask him a bunch of questions about it. The one suggestion I make is to cut down an Island (from 3 to 2) to have access to more colored mana (i.e. a fourth Underground Sea), but it turns out it was probably a mistake… go me!

I wake up fairly early the next morning to get some breakfast, and we have time to discuss some last minute changes as well as the sideboard. At some point, I suggest running a sideboard of 15 one-ofs since I am staring down at something like twenty different cards I want to play (Heezy: “run it, run it”). Luis seems onboard at first, which isn’t really typical for him. At this point, under the Herberholz-Rietzl-Parke peer pressure, I cannot back down, and when Luis starts asking if we really can’t have two of this or two of that, I know it’s over and it is just a matter of time before he bails out.

I tell him I’m fine with that, I’ll get the glory alone when we both Top 8 and I am the only one with the silver bullet sideboard.

Obviously the fact that I just won the Pro Tour and that I don’t have high expectations for this GP played a role in my decision, but I also believed my sideboard was pretty good that way, better in some way then LSV’s and Paulo Vitor’s (who was also running the deck). We desperately try to fit an Umezawa’s Jitte in the maindeck, but to no avail.

Here is what I end up running in the GP after making sure I was allowed to run an Enlightened Tutor and that it didn’t go against the silver bullet spirit:

After the player’s meeting, I go back to my room to shower, shave, and rest a bit more, before going back to the site. I get there at the end of round 2, which leaves me some time to play the deck, get used to it, and get the brain flowing.

Round 4 versus Charles Gindy

This round was featured. I’m not exactly sure what I’m doing in game 1, as I have a ton of options, but I decide to try and set up Top/Counterbalance first and stabilize after. Charles gets me really low on life and in fairly bad shape, and at some point I have to raw dog a one on Counterbalance to lock up the game.

I decide to board out all my Tarmogoyfs in game 2, and keep all the controlling cards in, and I quickly have Charles under the Top/Balance lock again, but he has a Nimble Mongoose out that’s threatening my life total. I finally draw into something relevant, namely a Perish, but I decide to wait one more turn to try and get a Force of Will on top of my deck in case he has his own. I figure I’d rather get to manipulate my deck a bit more and give one more draw phase then go for it right away (he has four or five cards in hand at that point), but I fail to find any copies of the five-mana counterspell, and my Perish gets countered by his Force of Will on the next turn. I ask him if he could have countered it a turn before and he tells me no, that he had the counter but not the Blue card. My play cost me game 2, but I’m fairly confident it was still correct even if it didn’t pan out.

My draw is superior in game 3 and there isn’t much he can do. Even though I drew better in the match, it seems like my Vedalken Shackles and Sower of Temptation made a pretty big difference.

Round 5 versus Jeremy Bylander

Jeremy is playing a RGW Zoo deck but I don’t remember much of the match. Game 1 was pretty close, but game 2 he keeps a good one-land hand but doesn’t draw a second mana fast enough to have a shot
Round 6 versus Mykie Noble

Mykie has to mulligan once or twice and opens with some Black and Green lands. I decide to play a Trygon Predator on turn 3 despite being light on Blue cards and having a Force of Will in hand. I am also not sure of the relevance of his ability since I still have no idea what my opponent is playing. He plays a Kitchen Finks on his next turn, and I untap and cast Counterbalance. I choose to not Swords the Finks yet, and pass the turn. He attacks and cast Natural Order, sacrificing his 3/2. I am so excited to get to use my Daze on such a powerful spell that I forget to use my Counterbalance freebie. I shrug it off… what are the chances that I have one of the two Sower of Temptation on the top of my deck anyway? I untap and draw for my turn… a Sower (shocker)… and decide to play it instead of saving it for my Force of Will, since all he’d have at that point is 4 lands in play. On his next turn he plays a Dryad Arbor and Natural Orders again… awkward. I activate Counterbalance, reveal a Swords to Plowshares, and at this point, I’m pretty mad at myself for making something like seven mistakes in a row to lead to this situation. Fortunately, I am still running like God, and all he can get is a Hellkite Overlord since he drew his Progenitus. I swords the Overlord, and at this point he is completely out of gas, and I have Force of Will mana up anyway.

Game 2 is pretty lopsided as he mulligans again, and my draw is pretty much perfect.

Round 7 versus Brian Six

Brian is playing RGW Zoo too, and he gets me down to two or three life in game 1 before I can stabilize and drop Counterbalance/Top. He still has a few turns window to draw a Fireblast before I draw Force of Will, but he fails. He actually decides to scoop despite the fact that he doesn’t know I drew Force of Will and could still be drawing live to Fireblast. I don’t remember much of game 2.

Round 8 versus Kurtis Droge

Kurtis is playing Blue Zoo, and game 1 takes a while before I can safely stabilize with two copies of Sower. Game 2 seems like it’s looking good but it quickly slips away as he has all the cheap disruption spells he needs to push his little monsters through.

Game 3 is really close and keeps swinging back and forth, mostly due to him drawing two key Krosan Grips but time is called and it seemed like I might have won if I had a couple more turns. On the second additional turn, I attack in a way that if he messes up, I can attack him for the win on my last turn, but he plays it safe and good. Turns out he drew his third and last Krosan Grip on the third turn, and that if he played the way I was hoping he’d play, he would have won. Obviously, he couldn’t guess he’d draw his one outer and he made the correct play, fortunately for me.

I am kind of so-so about a draw at this point, as I figure I’m gonna get paired against a lot of slow decks (possibly mirror matches) from now on, and I am not sure that’s what I want. To be honest though, I don’t really know what I want to get paired against. It seems like my deck is solid versus most of the decks but has no real great matchups.

Round 9 versus Paul Rietzl

I get paired against my friend, so at least one of us will still be undefeated, which is always a consolation. He gets good draws backed up by double Wasteland in games 1 and 3, and there is nothing I can do about it.

7-1-1 doesn’t feel nearly as good as 8-0-1, but I’ll take it. I go to bed pretty exhausted and get a decent night’s sleep, especially for a GP.

Round 10 versus George Temple

George doesn’t show up on time for game 1, and I figure I’m gonna get a match win since it’s daylight savings and he must just be one hour late, but he shows up a couple minutes into the round. It turns out one of his roommates took forever in the shower. Nice.

He is playing a version of Landstill with Counterbalance and Top, which is probably a pretty bad matchup, but I seem to be in pretty good shape in the first game since he is missing more land drops than I am after he dropped a Standstill, but he eventually draws into some Factories. I am still in okay shape after I break the enchantment at the end of his turn, but things just go downhill as his spells are just better then mine, and his Spell Snares prove to be too much for me to overcome.

I get a Shackles into play in game 2, and he plays Standstill again. We play draw-go for ever, and at this point I am hoping for a draw but he attacks with his Factory. I’m like “what the hell?!” This is either very good for me or his has some sick plan, but he had just forgotten about the artifact. I steal the land, he has to break his own Standstill, and we get into a bunch of counter wars. Eventually he is the one with Counterbalance and Top in play. There isn’t much time left on the clock though, and my Shackles buys me enough time so that he cannot kill me within the extra turns.

Round 11 versus Jason Newill

Jason opens with Island after I won the die roll and lead off with Sensei’s Divining Top. He tries to Stifle my fetchland activation, but I Force of Will that and have the choice between playing Dark Confidant or dropping a Counterbalance. At this point, I think he might be playing Merfolk, I don’t have a third land and my hand isn’t great, so I decide to go with Bobby instead of opting for the less explosive but safer play. I really don’t think I can lose the game with either play anyway, but he untaps, plays Phyrexian Dreadnought plus Stifle, and I die a couple of turns later, unable to find a Swords. Awkard.

I get good draws in the next two games, including a key Threads of Disloyalty, and still take down the match despite my questionable play. I ask LSV and Mark after the round what they would have done. Luis says he’s not sure but would probably have played the Confidant too, whereas Mark says Counterbalance, not close. I am pretty sure he is right, as he could have a million cards to kill my Bobby anyway, like Swords, Lightning Bolt, and so on.

Round 12 versus Philip Yam

Philip mulligans once or twice and I Force his Aether Vial. I follow up with a Tarmogoyf and a Top, and all he can do is get a couple Mogg Fanatics into play. He can never overcome his bad start and we move on to game 2.

He gets a good draw in game 2, and I lose despite drawing my one Engineered Plague as well as my Forge-Tender and my Darkblast. There is one key play where I can stabilize when he cycles Gempalm Incinerator to kill my Tarmogoyf. I Darkblast his Goblin Lackey in response then activate Top to dredge Darkblast. I must mill an artifact, an enchantment or a sorcery for my Goyf to live, but I miss and he rolls me.

Game 3, my draw is solid and his crappy as he doesn’t really draw any gas. I get a couple of guys out, and eventually Forge-Tender equipped with Jitte. I get to Daze a Patron of the Akki, which always feel good. I think this is the only match really where I wish I’ve had a “real” sideboard. He seemed to be pretty upset, and legitimately so, but at least I think he end up making Top 16 and qualifying for the PT.

Round 13 versus Jamie Parke

I get paired versus my good friend Jamie, and he actually offers to concede to me if I think I have a better shot. It is always awkward, since obviously, the free win would be nice, but it just doesn’t feel right. He seems to believe that his performance so far is just a fluke, but I tell him we should just play.

I get a Dark Confidant into play in game 1, but he strips my hand with a bunch of Duresses, and keeps Pondering and Brainstorming, shaking his head after every spell, but I don’t have much going either. I get a second Confidant into play despite being low on life, and I end up just dying to them after he uses Tendrils on me for 8 or so. Playing the second Bob might have been a mistake, but I surely would have lost the game anyway, and I think I needed to try and draw into Counterbalance/Top.

I get some pressure on in game 2, and he tries to go off with Ad Nauseam but no mana up (and having already played a land). He doesn’t get there, and just dies on my next attack phase. It seemed like he could have just stopped at something like 7 or 8 life, passed the turn, untapped and killed me, but he said it wasn’t the case.

I think he mulligans in the third game and I get a quick Counterbalance/Top out which seals the deal.

Round 14 versus Gaudenis Vidugiris

Gaudenis is playing Merfolk, which is bad for me, but he gets abysmal draws both games. He mulligans to five in the first, and then draws something like 10 lands 4 spells game 2. Nothing interesting there.

Round 15 versus Josh Utter-Leyton

This was the feature match, and it is well covered on the Mothership. I felt bad, since Josh hadn’t qualified for the PT yet, but what can you do?

So, I mise my way into back-to-back Top 8s, which feels pretty awesome. I’d like to mention at this point that Mark Herberholz has 25% of me, just as he did in Kyoto, so he pretty much has me in the hardlock at this point, since :

– I’m behind on splits so I need to chase my losses.
– I cant risk breaking our arrangement karma wise.

As they say, that’s game boys.

The Top 8 is fully covered, but I’ll add a few comments.

It was pretty sweet to have a look at Dave Caplan’s decklist, since it seems his deck becomes much worst once you know exactly what’s in it. The matchup becomes easier if you know what to play around, and thus don’t risk getting wrecked by a Stifle or keep a land-light hand hoping he doesn’t pack Wastelands.

I think I kept a pretty bad hand of Top, Swords, Ponder and four lands on the draw game 1 against James Mink. He kept his seven-card hand fairly confidently, so I should have probably mulliganed any hand with no Force of Will or Daze in it. Pretty ironic, as he mentioned how mulligan decisions were half the skill (maybe referring to his own deck) before the match started.

Game 3, he mulliganed to five and I kept a hand of Island, Polluted Delta, Tundra, Underground Sea, Ponder, Krosan Grip, Sower of Temptation on the draw if I recall properly. I’m not sure if this was correct, but I figured since he only had five cards, I was in okay shape against everything since I had Grip for Chalice and access to double Island plus Sower if he had a quick Blood Moon effect. He led with Mountain, and I decided to just play my fetchland and say go so I could sac it to get my only other Island if he had a turn 2 Magus/Blood Moon. If he didn’t, I could maximize the interaction of Ponder with the shuffle effect, and if he had a Chalice of the Void for one, I still had the option to fetch for a Tropical Island and Krosan Grip it later. Once again, playing the Ponder on turn 1 might just be better, but I decided to take the safer route.

I got the superior draws in the finals once again, but Andy seemed pretty exhausted. He was not saying much, and I think he messed up in game 2 when he didn’t play his Krosan Grip with my Dark Confidant effect on the stack. I had kept a 3cc on top for a while, but on my upkeep, I activated my Top and actually considered leaving the 3cc on top before I drew from Bob, since I thought he might go for the Grip then (I knew he had it from his Counterbalance activation), but eventually I decided against it. He seemed pretty tired, so I thought he might miss the play, and drawing my 3cc was pretty bad for me at that point.

His version seemed superior in the mirror match, but not having Daze when he was on the play, and not having any cheap removal for Dark Confidant (even though he has Spell Snare) definitely end up hurting him.

I’m not sure what I’d change if I had to play the deck again. It seems like people playing the deck weren’t happy with the Ponders, but I don’t remember them being bad, and having an extra two spells to cast on your first turn along with the 4 Sensei’s Divining Tops and the Brainstorms seems good. It also seems like the deck might be one land short, but I’m really not sure, I obviously ran far above average, as I only had to mulligan four times or so in the whole tourney, and I almost always got there when I kept land-light hands so it’s hard for me to say. The Trygon Predators were not really impressive, but the fact that they have a casting cost of 3 and that they’re Blue is really important. Maybe they could be replaced by Threads of Disloyalty, as the one copy in my sideboard was amazing for me every time I drew it, and it’s obviously insane in the mirror. One Krosan Grip maindeck is probably the right number too, so you could go something like: -2 Predator, -1 Ponder, + 1 Island, + 2 Threads.

As for the sideboard, even though I thought mine performed well, it is surely not optimal and maybe something like…

2 Enlightened Tutor
1 Energy Flux
1 Krosan Grip
1 Threads of Disloyalty
1 Tormod’s Crypt
1 Relic of Progenitus
1 Planar Void
3 Blue Elemental Blast
1 CoP: Red
2 Engineered Plague
1 Umezawa’s Jitte

… could be good, if you want to try out the Tutors and have Energy Flux for the Affinity matchup (if it is actually played).

If you want something more straightforward:

3 Engineered Plague
2 Krosan Grip
1 Threads of Disloyalty
2 Relic of Progenitus
2 Tormod’s Crypt
4 Blue Elemental Blast
1 Umezawa’s Jitte.

Goblins is a pretty bad matchup so you need some help.

Relics and Crypts are there for Dredge.

You have access to some more Threads and Grips for the mirror, but don’t need to overload your sideboard with cards for it since you don’t have much to board out anyways.

Jitte seems like a good one of to have and it could easily belong to the maindeck.

You could fit an answer or two for Progenitus if you are worried about it but people will probably be choosing a more straightforward Counterbalance build after the GP results. I had a miser’s Perish in my board but CoP: Red is interesting as it helps you in a lot of matchups and stops the 10/10 pro everything creature but it is always a dangerous card to rely on as it’s a blow out until you get blown out (by a Krosan Grip for instance) and you probably want something more active like a Blue Blast.

Props :

– Wizards for picking such a nice site
– Jason Ness for being one of the top head judges (even though he ruled against me in the quarters!)
– LSV… way to give me your decklist so I can pass you in the Player of the Year race, you idiot
– The usual people for all the good times.

Bonus extended decklist :

4 Spell Snare
2 Stifle
4 Mana Leak
4 Thirst for Knowledge
1 Cryptic Command

4 Spellstutter Sprite
2 Trinket Mage
3 Vendilion Clique
2 Venser, Shaper Savant
2 Sower of Temptation

2 Chrome Mox
1 Relic of Progenitus
3 Umezawa’s Jitte
1 Engineered Explosives

2 Threads of Disloyalty

1 Hallowed Fountain
1 Steam Vents
4 River of Tears
4 Island
1 Minamo, School at Water’s Edge
1 Oboro, Palace in the Clouds
3 Seat of the Synod
1 Academy Ruins
4 Mutavault
3 Riptide Laboratory

Sideboard :
1 Riptide Laboratory
2 Engineered Explosives
2 Flashfreeze
2 Future Sight
1 Hurkyl’s Recall
1 Negate
1 Pithing Needle
1 Sower of Temptation
2 Threads of Disloyalty
2 Trickbind

I wasn’t going to post this, but my friend ran this list in two PTQs this weekend in England and made Top 8 twice. Unfortunately, he lost in the quarters then semis, but he said he felt he had no bad matchups, and that he liked the list a lot (the sideboard Recall should probably be another Sower). It is based on Mark Herberholz Los Angeles deck, and isn’t anything revolutionary even though it is different then what most people are running nowadays. I feel like the numbers are pretty good and figured I’d throw it out there if some people still need to PTQ and are struggling to find a good Faerie build.

The only thing I’ll say about the deck is that you should make sure that you have a decent amount of practice with it, as it (and probably the Extended format in general) is very unforgiving. I feel like it might still be the best deck (I haven’t really played since Worlds, only occasionally on MTGO) but your win percentage takes a serious blow at every mistake you make. My friend also said you can easily draw in 50 minute rounds, so make sure you play the deck at a good pace, and don’t hesitate to call a judge if you feel your opponent isn’t playing fast enough. You could consider a fourth Vendilion Clique maindeck to kill people faster, and it’s a really good card even without its clocking factor.

It should be noted that I finished writing this just before I got to read Patrick’s article. Chapin’s build seems pretty sweet; the Disrupting Shoals seem really good, and the mix of Mana Leak and Condescend is interesting too. I should also mention that I never tried Ancestral Vision in the deck, at least since before PT: Berlin, so I could easily be wrong about not running any copies.

Feel free to ask any questions you’d have on this article in the forums, and I’ll be more than happy to answer and discuss them.