“What’s going on here?”
Those are probably the words I uttered the most during the tournament. In Hebrew, it is a catchy two-word phrase.
About a month ago our national champion, Eviatar Olpiner, came over to my house for the weekend to test Legacy. We proxied up three decks, did an online draft, played about seven games, and went out to drink. We are young, and lack discipline. Testing requires a master, someone who is serious about the whole matter. We weren’t serious about preparing for this tournament. I have been to the World Championships five times before this one, and had never put in the time necessary to get a good result. The difference this time, at least for me, was that I was aware of this.
You know how there are some people who Top 8 their first or second Pro Tour? You know… “I’ve just won my first PTQ, let’s go to the Pro Tour… Oh look, I’m in the Top 8!” That kind of guy… I always wished I could be him.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, someone wins a PTQ, goes to the Pro Tour, and gets his head bashed in. 0-7 drop. 1-6 drop. Of course, he will play every round, after having come all this way. He goes back to the PTQ circuit, but hardly ever wins a PTQ again.
I wasn’t one of those guys either.
I was the “middle of the road” guy — the one who keeps qualifying for the Pro Tour, but never puts up a really good finish.
I gave up the dream of doing well at the Pro Tour, because considering the time I was putting in, I didn’t think it was likely to happen. And I didn’t want to put in more time, because putting time into Magic in Israel is very unrewarding.
Let me explain why:
1. There is one slot for every Pro Tour. This means that there will only be one person qualified, and therefore only one person serious about testing. This is something that can be overcome by having good friends who also play the game, and several of my better friends have certainly helped me a lot even though they weren’t qualified. But in general the entire preparation depends only on the will of one person — and preparing like this isn’t that much fun.
2. There is very little prize support. If you win a PTQ, you get 250$ to help you with airfare and travel expenses. A plane ticket from Israel to New York costs about 900$. In Europe and the States, PTQs award the winner a ticket to the event… not so here.
Part of the reason I am writing this report is in the hope that it will help make the situation here better. With my win in Worlds, Magic is getting more publicity here, and if it were made more feasible to play abroad I think there would be a great increase in the number of players, thus warranting the increased support that was given.
As for me, after doing badly in Yokohama two years ago, I stopped dreaming about the Pro Tour. Magic was taken down several notches on my list of priorities. It remained a fun hobby which I loved, but nothing more than that. I am studying Computer Science, Physics, and Philosophy at a university, and I have shifted my focus from Magic to that.
Still, I qualified for Worlds this year as a member of the national team, and Worlds is the one tournament where we do get our expenses more or less covered, due to the prize in the team competition. And if I’m going, I thought, I might as well test.
The people who ended up testing with me were Eviatar Olpiner, Orr Bildner, Niv Shmueli (trunks online), and Elisha Amir. Niv provided a pretty good list for a BG deck which we all played a lot online (10-15 eight-man queues each) and liked. We tested some Legacy, not really coming to any conclusions, and did some Lorwyn drafts online. I think it was Eviatar’s idea to add Doran, the Siege Tower to the deck. We tried it and it seemed to work okay, but the results were hard to see.
This is the pre-Doran decklist:
4 Birds of Paradise
3 Llanowar Elves
4 Troll Ascetic
4 Ohran Viper
2 Garruk Wildspeaker
2 Liliana Vess
2 Profane Command
3 Nameless Inversion
1 Eyeblight’s Ending
2 Masked Admirers
3 Treetop Village
4 Llanowar Wastes
4 Gilt-Leaf Palace
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
The first problem was that the original BG list was very good. It was only a few cards off from the deck with which Roel Van Heeswijk finished eighth at Worlds. A lot of games would end up having the same outcome whether Doran would be an Ohran Viper, a Troll Ascetic, or his legendary fat self.
When your deck is winning most matches anyhow, it is hard to tell whether or not your changes are good. Replays were not available on Magic Online while we were testing, so the metagame wasn’t evolving as much as it probably would have otherwise.
And the deck would win, whether it was BG or BGW. At least in the eight-mans we did online. Green/Red Mana Ramp seemed a bad matchup, as did Mannequin, but those weren’t played very much, and everything else — Faeries, Wafo-Tapa Blue, Green/Red Aggro, Elves, other mid-range decks, and various rogue creations — all were good matchups. Doran was good against Mannequin, but he was very bad against one particular card that also showed up in some other decks — Wall of Roots.
Wall of Roots trades with Doran. Doran doesn’t like Wall of Roots. You would think he might, as they are both trees. But Doran is a sociopathic tree. He and other trees don’t get along — hell, he doesn’t even get along with himself. Have you seen what happens when you cast two Dorans? Let me tell you, it isn’t pretty.
Doran made Wall of Roots trade with your best creatures. In any matchups with Walls, while still decent, he was far from impressive.
Another card we weren’t sure about was Masked Admirers. Masked Admirers is a type of card I have encountered several times when designing decks, and always end up cutting from my decks towards the end. Similar to Yavimaya Elder and Solemn Simulacrum — Masked Admirers is always going to feel good when you play it. You get a reasonable body, you draw a card, and later you can return him to your hand.
But you never seem to have time to cast him again. In most of the games we tested, Admirers very rarely would hit the board a second time. So they were basically a 3/2 that draws a card for four mana. Not exactly what the deck wants to be doing, in my opinion. And if you want to pay six mana to play him again, I think you should be playing Urza’s Factory in your deck. And if you’re playing Urza’s Factory in GB, you have other problems.
Still, Elisha and Niv really liked the Admirers, and they had played the deck at least as much as me, so I wasn’t sure what to do. As the tournament approached I had less time to test, so I trusted Elisha and Eviatar when they said Doran was very good. There were several things up in the air towards the tournament, which you should probably know if you are planning to play the deck since these cards are the most interchangeable if you have something else you want to try out:
Troll Ascetic versus Ohran Viper: both creatures have their advantages. Viper trades with Tarmogoyf and Teferi, and looks threatening next to Doran whereas Troll Ascetic looks a bit silly. On the other hand, Troll tested much better in the mirror, and being untargetable was nice versus all the Shriekmaws and Cryptic Commands running around.
In the end we went with Viper mainly because that is what the Dutchies were playing (also, Viper sounds sleek and efficient, whereas Troll sounds clumsy and ugly).
I ended up going with my gut on the Masked Admirers and ditching them for the fourth Treetop Village and one black-bordered Hypnotic Specter. Eviatar played 3 Hippies and 3 Vipers, and Elisha played 0 Hippies and 2 Masked Admirers.
For reference, here’s my final Standard deck. I’m sure a lot of you have seen it, but I’d best include it anyway.
- 3 Llanowar Elves
- 1 Hypnotic Specter
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Ohran Viper
- 4 Tarmogoyf
- 4 Doran, the Siege Tower
- 3 Shriekmaw
The other Constructed format at worlds this year was Legacy. We didn’t expect people to test Legacy very much, and thought that if we did a small amount of testing it would be more than most people at the tournament. From what I heard when talking to people at the site, this impression seems to have been correct. I played around 30 matches of Legacy altogether, but this gave me a good feel for how the Threshold deck – which was supposed to be popular – operated. We were planning to play the following deck:
4 Swords to Plowshares
4 Force of Will
4 Dark Confidant
3 Jotun Grunt
1 Threads of Disloyalty
3 Sensei’s Divining Top
4 Polluted Delta
4 Flooded Strand
3 Tropical Island
3 Underground Sea
It has a good matchup against the Threshold deck, and when we tested it against decks that were supposed to beat Threshold, like the Mono-White Stax deck, it surprised us by doing really well.
The combination of Force of Will, Daze, Swords to Plowshares, and Thoughtseize, along with efficient creatures like Tarmogoyf and Dark Confidant, created a problem that even focused decks had trouble answering.
Add the fact that with the fetchlands and deck manipulation you were usually seeing three new cards every turn, and the deck had game against all three decks we threw against it. And if a deck beats the three other decks in your gauntlet, it’s got to be good, right?
The purpose of the trip was to have fun. Orr, Eviatar, and I have been friends for a long time, and we boarded a plane a week before the tournament, and planned to stay a week after. There were few expectations for the tournament, and not much excitement surrounding it. We went to visit an old (and Magic playing) friend, Nadav Zivelin, in Boston the week before the event.
Boston was great, although extremely cold. I will spare you most of the details of a very entertaining trip, since this is a Magic article, but for the first time in all the Pro Tour related trips I have taken, I was actually traveling and not playtesting before the tournament.
We went to see an NBA game, walked around the city a bit, saw Harvard, and throughout all this were very, very, very cold. In Israel we are not familiar with such temperatures, and in most cities it doesn’t snow, ever.
We got back to New York two days before the tournament, and spent the day of the player meeting, getting the cards we were missing for our decks at Neutral Ground. At this point Elisha Amir (national team member number 3) joined us, but national team member number 4 was yet to be found.
Anyhow, on to the tournament?
Round 1 versus Gallegos, Moises A from Mexico, playing a UW merfolk deck
Eviatar, our national champion, was sitting at the same table as me, and I kind of felt sorry seeing him struggle versus a Mono-Blue Control deck. At one point he played Garruk when his opponent had a Teferi in play, and his opponent responded with Guile, Pact of Negation. So the board at this point was four lands, an Elf, and a Bird for Eviatar… and Teferi, Guile, and Garruk for his opponent.
No, he didn’t forget to pay for the Pact.
Meanwhile I was left playing what felt like a very easy matchup. Tarmogoyf and Doran are both much bigger than any creatures the merfolk deck plays, while Inversion, Ending, and Shriekmaw can easily kill any merfolk lords or Sygg River Guides that come my way. Both games were complete blowouts as I drew multiple Tarmogoyfs and Shriekmaws, all of which resolved as I was always ahead both on mana and board position.
Round 2 versus Pi Siang, Yu from Taiwan, playing GR Big Mana, the worst matchup for our deck.
The reason the matchup is bad is that Molten Disaster, Siege Gang Commander, and Bogardan Hellkite are all very strong against the GB deck. With their Incinerates, Tarmogoyfs, Garruks, and Wall of Roots, it is hard to put a lot of pressure on the GR deck before it starts hitting its bomb plays, all of which trump the GB strategy.
Game 1 He got a threat-light draw, playing out 2 Wall of Roots, 2 Tarmogoyfs, Garruk, and a Fertile Ground. Garruks traded with no harm done. Meanwhile I had Doran, a Goyf of my own, and an Ohran Viper, and by Shriekmawing and Profane Commanding his Wall of Roots I kept him off 8 mana throughout the game. Without a Siege-Gang or the mana to play the Hellkite in his hand, Doran, Shriekmaw, and friends were slowly but surely able to put it away.
Game 3 I had the god draw – turn 1 Birds, turn 2 Doran.
Turn 3 attack and trade it for your Wall of Roots? Doran doesn’t like that card…
He was once again a bit threat-light. I had an Eyeblight’s Ending for his Siege-Gang Commander, and a Garruk that he Incinerated. A Thoughtseize later and the game reached topdeck mode with me having a 3/3 beast, an Elf, and a Pendelhaven, and being on a high life total, while he was on 10 with two Siege-Gang tokens and five lands in play. I drew Liliana, which fetched a Profane Command that killed him on the spot.
Round 3 versus Iher, Kaupo from Estonia, playing UB Reanimator
Game 1 I kept a slow hand on the draw because it had a Thoughtseize, some removal, and a Garruk, and pretty quickly found out that this hadn’t been a very good idea. Iher’s hand had a red Akroma, a Tombstalker, a Body Double, and a Shriekmaw.
Body Double was binned, and we traded some cards with me taking damage from my lands and his Akroma.
My own Shriekmaw evened the board, but I knew Tombstalker was coming down next turn, and had only two outs in my deck against it. Fortunately for me Iher drew Merfolk Looter and decided to play it instead.
On my turn I topdecked a Thoughtseize to take out the Tombstalker, and Inversioned his Looter. Over the next few turns Iher failed to draw anything of consequence, while I had drawn a 56 Tarmogoyf and had 2 Treetop Villages.
Game 2 Iher did get to loot about five times, but failed to draw any reanimation spells. Meanwhile I was killing his Looters with various removal spells and Serrated Arrows, and attacking with random dorks. A few blank draw steps later and I had won my third round.
Now this was a bit strange for me.
“What’s going on here?” I thought. I had not expected to have a positive record in Constructed, and after three wins, it couldn’t really be avoided. A few years ago in this spot I would have been psyched. I would also have been nervous during the games. Here — I really wasn’t. It felt the same as playing at a prerelease or an FNM draft, probably because I didn’t expect to keep doing well.
Eviatar and Elisha were 2-1 and 1-2 at this point, playing the same deck as me.
Round 4 versus Fior, Elton M from Brazil, playing a GB deck
Elton was playing what seemed to me to be an excellent version of the GB deck. His deck didn’t play any Elves or Birds, instead playing a full set of Treetop Villages and Llanowar Reborns. To make up for this he had 12 two drops — Wren’s Run Vanquisher, Tarmogoyf, and 4 maindeck Riftsweepers. His deck was consistent, efficient, and powerful, and Riftsweepers are good against a lot of the decks in the format.
Game 1 he won thanks to Llanowar Reborn. The counter let him play a turn 2 44 Vanquisher which I couldn’t Nameless Inversion. This put me under a lot of pressure, and a few turns later I had a 56 Goyf, he had a Treetop Village, and the life totals were 10-1 in his favor. The problem was that all my lands except for Urborg were painlands. I drew an Eyeblight’s Ending, allowing me to attack with the Goyf and giving me a good shot at winning the game, but on his turn he drew Profane Command and killed me.
Game 2 I got a good draw, but took some damage from my lands and from a Tarmogoyf and Treetop Village. A few turns later I had a significant board advantage, with Ohran Viper, Nath, and 2 Elves facing down an empty board, but only on 5 life. Elton dropped a Tombstalker, which would kill me next turn barring a topdeck.
I drew a blank and attacked with Viper and Nath, thinking that if Tombstalker blocked Nath I would also be able to draw Inversion off of the Viper to win. Elton didn’t block, and I drew Birds of Paradise. I dropped Garruk and the Birds, and after Elton failed to topdeck a removal spell the game was mine.
Game 3 was a blowout. I had a turn 3 Nath of the Gilt-Leaf while Elton stalled on three lands, and my hand was all spells. With only a Troll Ascetic in play and stuck on three lands, Elton scooped when Garruk joined the Nath I had in play.
Round 5 versus Doise, Jan from Belgium playing Mannequin
Game 1 and I won my first die roll of the tournament, and got an insane draw:
Turn 1 Birds
Turn 2 Doran
Turn 3 Garruk, untap two lands, Thoughtseize you, Elf
With no Damnation in sight, the game ended a turn or two later.
Games 2 and 3 were both close but ultimately out of my reach, as Jan drew multiple Epochrasites and Damnations, and the way I had sideboarded — leaving in Tarmogoyfs and Vipers — meant I had a lot of trouble dealing with those cards. Both games seemed to be going well, but in both he had the bounce/removal that he needed to turn the board around and win in the end.
Elisha and Eviatar had both gone 3-2, which meant the record of the Doran deck was 10-5 overall. Small sample size however, so it doesn’t mean very much.
See you on Wednesday, when I’ll tell you the tale of my drafts…