Forcing Green at Grand Prix: Hiroshima

When Julien made the Top 8 of Grand Prix: Hiroshima, many were surprised to see his name at the final table. Not because of his skill at the game – we all know he’s one of the best – but because of the location. His triple-Coldsnap draft strategy is undoubtedly a strong one, as Green is perhaps the strongest color in the set. Today’s article sheds some light on his performance at the event, and shares some tips and tricks for beating down with the wobbly monsters.

You must have been surprised to see my name in the Grand Prix: Hiroshima standings. I know that I was.

After deciding to change my goal for this season from reaching level 3 to reaching level 4, I spent 1200 euros to fly to Hiroshima and hopefully make some extra points. Kenji Tsumura was kind enough to offer both Pierre Canali (my travel partner) and I a place to stay for six days. This gave us the opportunity to visit Japan, as we might not have wanted to stay this long if we had to get an expensive hotel.

After an 18-hour and nearly sleepless trip from my doorstep to Kenji’s, I found myself surprisingly awake and decided to play some Constructed on Magic Online in preparation for Dutch Nationals, which would be held four weekends after the GP. Pierre and Kenji both seemed jetlagged (even though Kenji lived there), and passed out on the floor, sleeping for twelve hours straight. The first deck that I tried was Zoo, Yann Hamon list from the Top 8 of French Nationals. The deck is pretty straightforward and seemed good to me, as I suspected that a lot of players in our Nationals would play slow control decks. Four mulligans in two games quickly dropped me out of the 8-man, and I tried a deck that was saved in Kenji’s netdecks: U/G Snakes. I mulligan some more, but the deck still gave me stuff to work with showing its potential, but I lost again and went to bed.

We rose and shone at 6am (there’s the jetlag after all!), and Kenji began his daily ritual by joining a Coldsnap 8-4 queue. In all the Coldsnap drafts we did at Kenji’s place between Pierre, Kenji, Katsuhiro, and myself, I found that we rarely agreed on the first few picks, as a result of the high power level of the cards in the set. I also saw that the good Green cards kept on coming, and they weren’t in our colors often enough. I thought that it might be time to use a strategy that I never liked before, but in this format it might actually be viable: force Green whenever you can. Compared to how deep the color is, it is very underdrafted: in most drafts, cards like Bull Aurochs, Aurochs Herd, and Simian Brawler are easily eighth picks, which isn’t giving them very much credit.

Anyway, back to Japan. It was now Thursday, and we spent the day sightseeing. First, we went to the Shukeiien Garden, a peaceful and quiet place in the middle of the busy and loud city. After that, Kenji recommended the Miyajima Island to us, and I was amazed. Unlike my hometown of Amsterdam, the city of Hiroshima had a place that was left almost untouched by man; it was like a very small mountain town in the middle of nowhere, with only a few inhabitants. We spent the afternoon crossing the forest and climbing the mountains, and after that we met up with Masashi and a few other Japanese Magic players at a Korean barbeque restaurant. We decided to do a draft, but couldn’t figure out a place where we could play, so we ended up in a Karaoke room drafting and singing. We also went bowling, but I’d done that exactly once before in my life, and I managed to produce as little as 40 points. As it turns out, the Japanese love bowling, and we went again later that week, and I got my average up to a semi-respectable 100 points. Bowling was also another talent of Kenji, but what I remember the most is his bowling walk. If you’ve seen Jesus’s bowling walk from The Big Lebowski, that’s a pretty good idea of how Kenji celebrates his strikes. Could you imagine? [That’s an image that’ll stay with me for quite some time… Craig.]

I drafted Green again that night, and while I wasn’t too happy with my deck I still posted a 2-1 finish. On Friday we went to the tournament site early, hoping to get some more practice drafts in. We did two drafts, and I was Green again both times. One of my decks was a bit unorthodox though, as it looked more like a semi-Constructed White Weenie deck splashing a few Green cards than an actual draft deck:

3 Kjeldoran Outrider
1 White Shield Crusader
4 Squall Drifter
1 Ronom Unicorn
2 Sheltering Ancient
1 Simian Brawler
1 Jotun Owl Keeper
2 Juniper Order Ranger
4 Gelid Shackles
5 Kjeldoran War Cry
2 Arctic Flats
2 Snow-Covered Plains
5 Forest
7 Plains

This deck looked really good to me, and it gave me a 4-0 record. Later I would find out that decks like this one aren’t that rare in Coldsnap draft, although this one is a somewhat more powerful than average. Green and White both have many good two-drops, and they combine well with a few Gelid Shackles or Kjeldoran War Cries, and there is also a Red variant of the deck in which Goblin Rimerunner really shines. The best thing about this kind of deck is that the cards that you value higher than other players – namely two-drops – tend to come round late because they’re not in such high demand and they’re very common. Therefore it’s not necessary to adjust your early picks too much, and a lot of cards will fit into either deck anyway (the normal deck or the weenie deck), like Shackles or Squall Drifter. Once you’re sure you’re in the deck, it’s crucial to pick up every copy of Kjeldoran War Cry that you see, unless you’re convinced that it’s going to come around the table and back to you. Multiple copies of War Cry can really make your two early drops win you the game, and getting your hands on 3-5 copies of them is essential for weenie decks.

After the drafts and dinner, we met up with current World Champion Katsuhiro Mori, who told me he’d never done a Coldsnap draft before in his life. When everyone went to bed, he decided to do some more drafts online and ended up drafting all night through, getting in 10 practice drafts should he make it to Day 2 without having slept. The next day, the GP finally started, and when I opened my Ravnica Sealed, I got very enthusiastic.

The cards I was most unsure of were Pillory of the Sleepless and Lightning Helix, backed up by a Godless Shrine to fix the mana a little. I thought long and hard about switching these three cards and a Plains for Swamp, Gruul Nodorog, Torch Drake, and probably Peel from Reality, but in the end I thought that my deck was good enough as a four-color deck, and I needed cards that I could cast consistently rather than Pillory and Lightning Helix. I did sideboard like this a few times, because all of my removal spells were based on damage and sometimes I thought I needed Pillory instead of damage, but in the end I think that I built my deck correctly.

Anyway, my deck held up fine, and helped me end Day 2 at a 7-1 record. I’m not going to describe the matches I played to you; instead I’ll talk about how I approached the format of Day 2: triple Coldsnap draft. This Grand Prix was my first major tournament that was played in this format, but I thought that not enough people would be drafting Green. I’d played in many different drafts with many different players, and most of the time felt like Green was the best color to draft.

The two best Green decks (in my experience) are Green/Red and Green/White. Both decks can be drafted in two ways: the mana acceleration/big guys plan, or the more aggressive plan. For Green/White, the aggressive plan is to draft as many two-drops as possible and as many Kjeldoran War Cry as possible, while Green/Red is often a snow-based deck with Skreds and Ohran Yetis. While I think the Green/White deck is usually a bit more powerful, I love to draft Green/Red because it has access to one of my favorite creatures in this format: Goblin Rimerunner.

If you’re drafting the other type of deck, your key common spell is usually Aurochs Herd. When you’re playing many expensive creatures, it means that you’ll play many lands and some mana accelerators, often resulting in a deck with 50% or more mana sources. If you have a few copies of Aurochs Herd, it prevents you from not being able to do anything with all your mana, just getting flooded. Once you hit six mana, you know you’ll have good spells for the next few turns.

Apart from Aurochs Herd there are many good fatties for this type of deck. Ronom Hulk, Arctic Nishoba, Phyrexian Snowcrusher, Kjeldoran Gargoyle, and Greater Stone Spirit are all good guys in your deck, but for the mana acceleration there’s only Into the North, Boreal Druid, and Coldsteel Heart. If you’ve done a few drafts, I think you’ll agree with me when I say that it’s much harder to get your hands on the acceleration spells than it is to get some fatties, therefore you should generally pick the accelerators higher. A tough choice you’re often faced with in the draft is between Ronom Hulk/Aurochs Herd and Into the North/Boreal Druid (the choice between a great fatty and an accelerator). I can’t really tell you what to do in such situations since you want a balance between the two, so it really depends on what you already have in your pile.

I’d be willing to go as far as to say that I force Green in this format, and it’s actually a viable strategy. I’m rarely in Blue or Black, and unless I really can’t get my hands on anything in the other colors, I’ll always pick the Red, White, or Green card. This drafting strategy might seem a little extreme, and it is, but as long as I think that in an average draft cards like Simian Brawler could come round the table, I’ll hope to pick Green cards first. Even if I open something like Void Maw or Rimefeather Owl, I’ll be inclined to pick a card like Ronom Hulk over them, and I can be pretty sure that my left-hand side neighbor will be happy to pick up such a powerful rare.

With all of this in mind, I went on to Day 2 and sat down at a very good draft pod. I open a booster with good cards in all colors, but the best card is Mouth of Ronom, a card I love to first pick not only for its colorlessness, but also because of its raw power. The next pack gave me Boreal Druid over a bunch of Blue cards, and then I got another Mouth of Ronom. The packs quickly dried up, which is rare in Coldsnap drafts, but I did get a fifth-pick Gelid Shackles, and my plan to go Green/White had started.

The second round of boosters started off a little better, as my first five picks were Ohran Viper, Kjeldoran War Cry, Snow-Covered Forest, White Shield Crusader, and Bull Aurochs. After that, the Green cards outnumbered the other colors. Boreal Centaur, two Simian Brawlers, and a Squall Drifter rounded out a decent second booster.

The third pack really made my deck. I started off decent with Boreal Druid and Centaur, and then got passed a third-pick Jotun Owl Keeper. I’m a huge fan of this card: it’s a 3/3 for three mana, and its ability has been more of an advantage than a disadvantage to me. Combined with Kjeldoran War Cry it can result in an easy kill, no matter what your opponent’s board is. After the Owl Keeper I picked up another Druid and Into the North to search my Mouths out of my deck, and then there was another Owl Keeper, coming into my pile sixth pick like it’s no big deal. I round out the pack with some more guys and a very late third War Cry, and apart from a few cards I don’t really like to play maindeck, my deck turned out great:

3 Boreal Druid
1 Squall Drifter
2 Boreal Centaur
1 White Shield Crusader
1 Bull Aurochs
1 Into the North
1 Ronom Unicorn
1 Ohran Viper
2 Jotun Owl Keeper
1 Frostweb Spider
1 Karplusan Strider
2 Simian Brawler
1 Boreal Griffin
3 Kjeldoran War Cry
1 Gelid Shackles
1 Swift Maneuver

2 Mouth of Ronom
1 Snow-Covered Plains
1 Snow-Covered Forest
7 Forest
6 Plains

Bad luck didn’t get in my way, and on the back of my great three-drops I posted a 3-0 record. At this point I needed just four points out of three rounds to make Top 8, therefore I didn’t plan to do anything crazy. My first booster again made it easy for me: Ohran Viper. I liked it before this event but I’d never played with it before, and I have to say that it’s much better than I thought. After that came Boreal Centaur, then Bull Aurochs, and then there was a very weak booster and I decided to pick Sound the Call over a Snow Forest hoping to pick up a few more later. Mouth of Ronom and Phyrexian Snowcrusher finished off pack one, and I’d hoped for a bit more, but the boosters were just a little weak.

The second booster gave me Ronom Hulk over Juniper Order Ranger, a pick I regretted when two Arctic Nishobas came to me, and I wasn’t too happy about the Hulk/3 six-drops. I already had many fatties at this point and no accelerators, and I couldn’t really afford to pick up any more Hulks or other six-drops. After that came Bull Aurochs, Sound the Call and a very late Skred (over Sound the Call), finally putting me in a second color. The card I regretted passing actually came back to me, and a very late Juniper Order Ranger changed my second color again. 14th pick I mysteriously got my third Sound the Call back, followed by a 15th pick Earthen Goo, again making me question my second color.

As I wasn’t sure yet on my second color and most of my cards were Green anyway, I decided to try to pick only Green cards, getting another two playables out of my sideboard: 2 Martyr of Spores. I was also ready to pick Sound the Call over anything, since I already had three. My first booster was weak, only offering me my fourth six-drop in Aurochs Herd, but after that things got more exciting. I got passed packs with the good Green creatures, but I picked Sound the Call three times, and a Kjeldoran Outrider. But what good are six Sound the Call when you can only play one per turn?

Thrumming Stone came in the sixth pack and I happily took it, and then two more Sound the Calls were passed to me!

What started out as a reasonable Green deck splashing White ended up terrific, with eight copies of Sound the Call and Thrumming Stone to speed things up a little:

3 Martyr of Spores
2 Bull Aurochs
1 Kjeldoran Outrider
1 Boreal Centaur
1 Ohran Viper
8 Sound the Call
1 Juniper Order Ranger
1 Ronom Hulk
1 Aurochs Herd
2 Arctic Nishoba
1 Phyrexian Snowcrusher
1 Thrumming Stone
6 Plains
11 Forest

My luck didn’t change, and I picked up the necessary three points in the first round, allowing me to draw in the next round. When I saw that Ichiro Shimura was my opponent, a good friend of me on the PT, and that he still needed a win, I wanted to concede to him. He told me not to, and explained to me that if I would lose this round, I might have had to play the next round, since I could easily get paired down. It was especially this sportsmanlike gesture that made me feel sorry for his manascrew in the third game, and I’m glad he won the next round and made it to the Top 8 anyway. My last-round opponent and I play the last round for fun, and one of our games included me using Thrumming Stone to ripple out all eight copies of Sound the Call and still losing. I got him down to five, but then he’d stabilized with a Rimescale Dragon, tapping about 12 of my creatures. I’d set up my deck using the Stone, and I knew that I would draw Ronom Hulk just in time, but unfortunately he drew the Panglacial Wurm, leaving me with no solutions.

For the Top 8, I wanted to apply the same strategy as I did in the rest of the event, and while I can’t recall the draft, my deck turned out to be quite good. I remember the other drafts in this report better, as I was able to track down my picks since I still had my cards and the GP stamps on them (it allows you to see which card came out of which booster), but I’ve lost my Top 8 deck.

5 Boreal Druid
1 Boreal Centaur
2 Bull Aurochs
1 Goblin Rimerunner
2 Simian Brawler
1 Ohran Yeti
2 Ronom Hulk
1 Rimehorn Aurochs
1 Lovisa Coldeyes
1 Phyrexian Snowcrusher
1 Aurochs Herd
1 Arctic Nishoba
1 Resize
3 Surging Flames
1 Lightning Storm

2 Snow-Covered Forest
7 Forest
7 Mountain

Unfortunately, I had a bad matchup in the Top 8, as he had five Feast of Flesh. Normally the first Feast isn’t so good, but when your opponent’s got a first-turn Boreal Druid each game, even the first copy is very good.

If you’ve read the coverage, you can see that in the first game of my quarterfinal match, cumulative upkeep was forgotten one turn. I probably would have won the game had he sacrificed his Krovikan Whispers, but when it happened, I was already concerned with the second game and didn’t really pay attention since there was no way I would win that game. My opponent had no cards in hand, so he definitely would have paid the upkeep, and the table judge didn’t say anything either so my opponent just paid his upkeep half a second after he’d drawn his card… I wasn’t even sure he’d seen it yet. Anyway, looking at it now I should have asked the judge what should happen, but he probably still would have won the match had I won that game. He just had a very good matchup.

I’m happy with my drafting strategy; it really paid off for me in the tournament, and has paid off for me on Magic Online. So the next time you sit next to me, please stay away from Green!