Conley Woods had been touting how he had broken the format for about two weeks now, and I was pretty sure I was going to put my faith in the kid. Yeah, he’s let me down quite a bit this year, as the decks he provided for both PT San Diego and PT San Juan were fairly awful. His PT Amsterdam deck, which he claims was great because he went 8-2, was just okay in my opinion. However, he was so convinced this deck was amazing that I wanted to put my faith in him. He and David Williams decided to run a set of games that night against 4-Color Control and Jund, and if Conley’s deck was winning, we would play that. Otherwise, we would play a Flores Grixis Control/Combo deck.
Well, the games didn’t appear to be too close, and Conley’s deck was kinda rolling, so I had the kid devise a sideboard plan, and I would try to figure it out in the morning. Here’s the final 75 we went with:
The deck was
covered in a deck tech
by Conley already, so again I won’t go into too much detail. Against most decks, you’re looking to blow up their lands and either beat down with mediocre creatures or combo kill them by going infinite with Necrotic Ooze (get infinite mana with Devoted Druid in the graveyard along with either Quillspike or Grim Poppet with another creature in play).
I’m going to be honest… going into round 1, I wasn’t even entirely sure how my deck worked, but I figured I could figure most of it out on the fly. Do not try this at home.
Also, for the first time in a long time, I felt somewhat nervous. The last time was in high school when I was going to ask a girl out. Not even before the WSOP final tables or at other huge events have I ever really felt a pit in my stomach. Making Top 8 at Worlds meant so much to me, and I knew I was now underprepared, putting all my faith, effectively, in someone else’s deck.
Round 13 Feature Match: Mateusz Kopec (POL) Jund
Game 1 I know he’s on Jund, so when he mulligans and I have a rather terrible but Blightning-proof hand with Makeshift Mannequin, I keep. His draw winds up being absolutely awful with no green mana, which I see when I Thoughtseize him and see triple Putrid Leech and Kitchen Finks. I play random creatures, Mannequin back what dies, and finish him before he can do anything good.
Game 2 his draw is poor again. I blow up a couple lands, then search up Reveillark and put basic Mountain on top with my Primal Command, so his board is now just two Fire-Lit Thickets. He plays a third Thicket, not able to play any spells. I use my Reveillark, targeting Fulminator Mage and an Acidic Slime to put him back to one land. He’s never in this one.
Round 14 Feature Match: Christopher Wolf (AUT) 4CC
This was my fourth feature match, third in a row, but the first one to actually be
Game 1 my hand is mediocre, and he’s able to counter my first Fulminator Mage but not the second, which doesn’t do much since he Esper Charms in response, so he has plenty of resources. I have quite a few four- and five-cost land destruction options, and when I Thoughtseize him, I leave him with just a Cruel Ultimatum. Unfortunately, I miss a couple land drops, so he quickly ticks up to six mana and threatens to end the game. I hit land number four and start using Ooze as Fulminator Mage to keep him below seven. An Acidic Slime gives me a little clock, and a Reveillark brings back two Mages to keep his land count down when he casts Volcanic Fallout. A Thornling does a little damage, and a Mannequin brings back Acidic Slime, which, alongside a Tectonic Edge, makes sure he only has four lands and no Vivids or ways to make white or red mana.
IN: +2 Duress
Game 2 my Duress reveals three Cryptic Commands, which are enough to keep him in the game against my mediocre draw. He gets up to ten lands and apparently kept in Cruel Ultimatum against my land destruction deck; the Ultimatum in combination with Vendilion Clique kills me.
Game 3 I lead with a Fauna Shaman before he has mana to counter, and he has the Path to Exile, as I hoped. I don’t have another land in hand, and I can’t really operate on two lands, since I can’t cast any LD spells or search up something like Devoted Druid and cast it. My hand does, however, have another Fauna Shaman, so I’m able to get a couple Fulminator Mages and force him to counter or be land light.
When he casts his Vendilion Clique, he takes my Makeshift Mannequin instead of my Necrotic Ooze, allowing me to discard a creature to grab Devoted Druid and get my Ooze online. Since I already have Quillspike in the yard, when nothing relevant happens on his turn, I’m able to cash my Druid in for Molten-Tail Masticore. I untap, show him how Devoted Druid + Quillspike make my Ooze 987654321/987654320, use that to make a ton of mana with Druid’s ability, then activate the Masticore enough times to kill him. My first combo kill was fun!
All I wanted was to win the first two matches, since I felt I could relax at that point (wrong). With four rounds left, I only needed four points to make Top 8, effectively a 0-0-4 record, or 1-2-1. Of course, I’d been in this position before, needing four points in four rounds after an X-0 start at GP Atlanta 1932 and missing, so anything was possible (cue awful foreshadowing)…
Round 15: Love Janse (SWE national team) Elves
Game 1 I look at my opening hand… three lands, Devoted Druid, Fauna Shaman, Necrotic Ooze, another creature. Win-and-in round and I open with the stone nuts. Then he announces a mulligan… how sweet it is to run good! He opens on Llanowar Elves and turn 2 Elvish Archdruid. Turn 3 he casts Regal Force, drawing five, and turn 4 he Thoughtseizes me and Primal Commands my land away, Shriekmaws my creature, and effectively kills me. Nice.
Game 2 my draw is okay; I kill a couple things and resolve a Necrotic Ooze to go with my Fauna Shaman. At this point, he just concedes, even though I’m two turns away from killing him (and that’s only if I have a creature in hand), but I’ll take it!
Game 3 we both are in mid-mulligan, and I ask if he has any interest in drawing. I don’t think this is a “bad” matchup, but now that it’s down to one game and he’s on the play and who knows how well my deck mulligans (I sure don’t), it seemed +EV to only need 1-2 from here on out. The other benefit of drawing is the possibility of getting paired down against someone who can’t make it and who might concede. He doesn’t seem to understand what I’m asking and says he still thinks we need to win one more (yeah, I know), so we shuffle ’em up.
His draw is quite insane again; although mine is good. I actually have him effectively dead next turn after I discard Devoted Druid using Fauna Shaman for a Necrotic Ooze, which can turn into Grim Poppet and kill his board, but he has Fauna Shaman, so he can get Shriekmaw and blow up my combo if he doesn’t mess up. He only has two cards in hand, so if they’re both lands or blanks, I’m just going to win, but he’s in the tank.
At this point I know he doesn’t have Primal Command, since it just auto-wins (by putting my only land that can produce colored mana on top,
it’s a Murmuring Bosk, so I can’t even play it untapped!). I assume he’s figuring out if he should cast Regal Force and gamble or search up Shriekmaw. Four minutes pass, and he casts Primal Command (what!?!?), and now he’s tanking over what to get again. Shriekmaw clearly leaves me with zero mana and puts me dead next turn, but maybe he doesn’t see it?? My lands are Bosk, Twilight Mire, and Tectonic Edge, so if he gets something else, I get to upkeep Fauna Shaman, and if I draw a land that enters the battlefield untapped, I can Ooze him out. So four more minutes pass, and he finally gets a Regal Force (without enough mana to cast it).
Then he evokes Shriekmaw, the other card in his hand… yeah, he just tanked for nine minutes with the stone nuts to leave me with no board. I was realllly mad at this, as it’s just pretty gross etiquette (at the very least in poker and most facets of life) to savagely slow-roll someone with the nuts. He apologized after the game and again before the Top 8 and again after the Top 8, so I guess it was unintentional, just super awkward. Since I only needed a 1-1-1 from here on out, I had to shake it off ASAP.
Round 16: Guillaume Wafo-Tapa (FRA) 4CC
Playing for Top 8 of Worlds, you don’t really want to face the master yielding his favorite weapon, but them’s the breaks. Unfortunately, this match wasn’t even remotely close.
Game 1 we both mulligan, and I have a potentially sick hand with turn 2 Devoted Druid on the play and Acidic Slime turn 3, but he has the Mana Leak. I have a Quillspike to follow it up turn 4, but he has the second Mana Leak. Unlucky, and I have no more game, so he quickly pulls away.
IN: +2 Duress
Game 2 I keep a very sketchy hand with all mana producers and a Molten-Tail Masticore with two lands. Turn 1 I play Birds of Paradise into turn 2 Thoughtseize to clear the way for my Molten-Tail Masticore as well as a Devoted Druid. I land a turn 3 Molten-Tail Masticore with regeneration mana up, holding back two cards while knowing he has Volcanic Fallout in hand.
Of course, he draws Esper Charm that turn, making me discard and killing Molten-Tail Masticore he resolves Volcanic Fallout and then casts Jace, the Mind Sculptor. In the meantime, I’ve drawn all four Devoted Druids and all four Birds of Paradise, and I end up drawing eighteen mana sources out of twenty cards drawn (in addition to Thoughtseize/Molten-Tail Masticore) and just scoop before Jace goes ultimate.
I’m just going to forego the whole back-against-the-wall, bad-thoughts-swirling stuff here. You all know how I felt.
Round 17: Shuuhei Nakamura (JPN) U/G Scapeshift
I knew Shuuhei was playing “U/G Scapeshift.” I did not, however, really know what that meant. I tested Prismatic Omen Scapeshift before PT Amsterdam, but it was still R/G. I asked Conley what to name with Memoricide before the match, and he said “Scapeshift,” but I was quickly able to deduce that was wrong. The deck really can’t function without the Prismatic Omen.
Game 2 I’m able to control his hand with multiple Duress effects, taking away his Cryptic Command and Prismatic Omen and leaving him with nothing but two Scapeshifts while I start to assemble my combo. He ends up casting the first Scapeshift with only six lands in play and no Omen, sacrificing four of his lands for two Valakuts and two Misty Rainforests, essentially setting up if he draws an Omen to go off. I decide to use my Shaman to go get a Fulminator Mage, taking out a Valakut and putting myself in a spot where I’m fairly certain he has no outs. A turn later, he scoops to Ooze beatdown.
Starting 6-0 and 12-2 has some nice, added benefits, and one is having the best tiebreakers. At this point, I’m guaranteed to play against someone who is either already at forty points or can draw to lock up Top 8, and if I somehow get turned down, has an outside shot to lose and be in.
Round 18: Paulo Doritos (BRA) Intentional Draw 13-4-1
We did it :)
Unfortunately Janse’s win in the last round bumped me down to fifth place, which meant, under the new rules, that my opponent would have the choice of who played first in the Top 8. This was a pretty big advantage in the matchup against U/B Control, as even though I’m still be favored, going first game 1 gives him a significantly higher chance of winning (especially if he draws Spreading Seas).
I was able to get some delicious Lotteria with Sperling, Williams, and Conley before heading back to the room to test a little. The matchup was going quite poorly with Conley losing almost every game with Vampires against Sperling, playing U/B, but I assume that had more to do with the players than the decks. BenS stopped by for a little bit to discuss what he felt was the best strategy, and I went mostly with what he said. Originally, we weren’t planning on bringing in the Vampire Nighthawks, but the Viscera Seers are so weak in the matchup that drawing any was a complete liability. The Nighthawks’ being Disfigure proof, adding potential life gain, and being able to trade with a Grave Titan made them the call. I also decided the morning beforehand that I would play one Skinrender over a Gatekeeper of Malakir in games where I was on the play. It has protection from Consume the Meek and Disfigure, is great when they play a turn 3 Sea Gate Oracle on the draw, and can potentially also trade for Grave Titan.
So despite the testing going poorly the night before, I went to bed feeling super confident. I knew that all the matchups in the Top 8 were good for my deck and that I would just find a way to win. Sometimes you just have that feeling, and I was excited to be in that state right then. Unfortunately, that mood changed at around 5:30 am when the laser light show began.
I had been splitting a rather nice hotel room with David Williams, Noah Boeken, and Conley Woods, who was on the couch. Things had gone well with no problems to speak of, other than Noah constantly complaining about how mad he would be if I snored and then snoring violently every night while I was apparently silent. Having dropped from the tournament at 5-5, however, Noah decided to get drunk and apparently told David he wouldn’t be returning to the room that night, so Conley took his bed.
Returning home drunk at 5:30, turning on the lights, and seeing a man he barely knew in his bed, Noah freaked out. He started screaming nonsense, flashing the lights on and off, and just going nuts. I had some outs to falling back to sleep if just the lights got turned on in the middle of the night with maybe a little bit of screaming, but lights flashing repeatedly really messes up your brain. Several phone calls in Sputnik (or Dutch, unsure) and computer smashes later, the jig was up. I was going to have to play Top 8 on almost no sleep and in complete anger and frustration.
Ben Stark is a big advocate of never staying with more than one person during a tournament and making sure that person is respectful and quiet. I’m not sure it needs to be taken to that extreme, but please make sure, if you’re going to be playing in an event that’s important to you, that you stay with people you trust. That night is not an experience I would wish on my worst enemy.
So Sunday morning rolls around; I shower up, put on my button-up shirt,* and borrow Conley’s sports jacket to do battle.
* Side mini-story: I had played in nineteen World Poker Tour events without so much as cashing in a single one. Before Foxwoods in 2009, I decided to bring the very same shirt with me, you know… just in case. I guess I kinda had a feeling. That tournament was my first cash, and I went on to make the final table and finish fourth. This tournament is the first Magic tournament of my life I’ve brought a button-down shirt to, and it just so happened to be the same shirt.
The Top 8 is
of course covered,
and games 2 and 3 are on video, so I’ll just say a few things.
I actually think I’d win game 1 on the play with the exact same hand; although it’s not really relevant, since I had kept a one-land hand that I would’ve mulliganed had I not been on the draw. He had the stone nuts with turn 1 Inquisition of Kozilek to take my only one-drop and then a Spreading Seas turn 2, so it wasn’t at all a game.
Games 2 and 3 are covered. I won game 2 rather easily despite a Grave Titan hitting play, thanks to Feast of Blood, and game 3 I thought I was going to win after I Duressed him and didn’t see anything of note. I was getting a little excited ’cause winning that game would leave me as a huge favorite to take the match (which was worth at least $10k, since I now had 39 points and would level me to 7), but he had the Jace and hit the Grave Titan while I bricked out.
Game 4 I’m not sure if I made a couple bad decisions — that’s where being tired really cost me. My ability to read people has to be one of my greatest strengths, but it doesn’t work so well when you can barely keep your head up. I kept a one-land hand on the play that seemed pretty great if I hit a land and potentially good enough if I didn’t. I believe it was:
I led with the Pulse Tracker, and he cast Preordain. I missed my land drop and decided that there was a decent chance he had two relevant cards against my hand, and I didn’t want to cast the Duress and not put more pressure out there in case he had Spreading Seas. I also wasn’t 100% sure on the number of Ratchet Bombs that were now in his deck, as he had yet to cast one in the game. I don’t know how he could ever not board them all in, even though they’re not great against me, but he had already cast Duress and Mana Leaks in previous sideboarded games, which absolutely should be boarded out. So I cast the Pulse Tracker; he cast Ratchet Bomb and had turn 6 and turn 7 Grave Titans to make sure it was never really close. Dream dead.
My draws were absolutely terrible in the Top 8, so it was disappointing to go down like that, but Guillaume played great and was nothing but a class act. I was happy to see him go on and take the title. The most frustrating part I think is finishing with 39 Pro Points… I guess those are the breaks when you don’t really play much the first half of the season!
I spent a couple of extra days in Japan with David, staying at the ANA Intercontinental in Tokyo, which was an absolutely amazing hotel with multiple Michelin restaurants inside. We had some phenomenal dinners and had a pretty amazing view before flying balla style back to the States in first class, thanks to DW, after a huge “debrockle” trying to find available flights. Things worked out perfectly though, which is always super nice.
Okay, this part may suck for a lot of you, but there are a lot of people I really feel I need to thank right now. My apologies in advance, as this novella is already epic in length…
David Williams — one of my best friends, pretty much the entire reason I even went on this trip or got back into Magic more seriously this year. Dunno if you know how bad it is for a guy like me to fly coach across the Pacific, so I’m really glad I didn’t have to do that. Also, don’t know if you know how big a pain it is to book three hotels across the country when everything in the entire city of Chiba is supposedly booked and nobody speaks English, so having someone take care of all of that is sick. Also, we figured out the Japanese train system, so that’s just unreal.
Patrick Chapin — another one of my closest friends who I’m super happy I got to know pretty well while living out in Michigan. Patrick really got me more interested in Magic again while living out there and has been nothing but positive support and motivation over the years. He’s always there to help out and is nothing but a positive presence in my life and the Magic community.
Conley Woods — possibly the most demented person I know, also one of my favorites. Worked diligently to make sure his friends had the best deck available, and was even willing to sit out Day 3 of Worlds, so that his friends in contention could use his cards to succeed. Already one of the best storytellers around at a super young age and has got nothing but a bright future. Love this kid.
Ben Stark — always smiling, always positive, super good friend. Worked the hardest on making the Vampires list the best it could be and one of the sickest Limited players alive.
Brad Nelson — something about him made me think I wouldn’t like this kid before I met him, totally wrong. Just the right mix of cocky/confident, just a superb guy, and the best player in the world (tied with PV). Nothing but respect for a man who works as hard at his craft as this guy does.
Yeah, this seems to be getting out of hand; gonna make â€˜em short ‘n sweet.
LSV, Web, Wrapter, Martell — hosting people in their home city and physical homes, made the testing possible.
Scott Larabee and WotC — getting me back into the game, much love.
Brian Kibler — Hall of Famer in every sense of the phrase.
Everyone else who contributed to the testing — Owen, MJ, Corey, Paulo, Juza, Nassif, Brock, and more.
Nicole — everyone needs a cheerleader.
Judy — hers may be crazy, but we love her.
Megan Holland — super supportive friend for years, waking up in the middle of the night to check on me, doing everything to follow coverage, wishing me good luck at all times, and always being upbeat. Check out mtgmom.com if you know what’s good for ya.
Steve, Patrick, and Evan for consistently recruiting me to join this squadron.
And everyone for reading this much; hope it was mildly useful and not too boring. Like I said, I’m still trying to rediscover how to write about this game, so hopefully it won’t take me too long.