The timing of my return flight from the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas was pretty lucky, since I got home on Thursday morning, and French Nationals started the next day. I had just enough time to cab back to my place from the airport, unpack, sort some cards, eat, shower, and pack before heading for the train station.
The tournament was held in La Rochelle this year, a nice little city by the Atlantic Ocean, and the site was well situated a few minutes’ walk from the station and from the pier/downtown. My good friend Damien was traveling with me, and we had three hours to test on the train. At this point, my preparation had consisted of one M12 draft in Vegas, a few StarCityGames.com articles, and a conversation with Owen Turtenwald, but I was pretty set on playing Valakut, since it seemed like the easiest and most solid deck in the format.
Damien’s weapon of choice for the weekend was a Koth Control brew, and I had my Valakut and the Caw-Blade deck that won in Cincinnati, so we played those matchups. Then we tried to brew a Mono Black deck, first relying on Vampire Nighthawks, Phyrexian Obliterator, and Lashwrithe. Then we tried a more control-ish version with Phyrexian Ragers, Solemn Simulacrum, Gatekeeper of Malakir, and some expensive cards like Grave Titan and planeswalkers.
Neither of those decks could beat Caw-Blade, so we quickly gave up; however MBC is the kind of deck that needs to be finely tuned to be competitive, so there might be a version that’s playable. The format is pretty hard to tackle, though, since the three most played decks seem to be Tempered Steel, Caw-Blade, and Valakut; they’re all pretty different.
I decided to build my Valakut deck following PV’s and Brad’s advice and ran twelve two-mana ramp spells as well as some Jens.
- 4 Solemn Simulacrum
- 1 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Oracle of Mul Daya
- 1 Avenger of Zendikar
- 4 Overgrown Battlement
- 4 Primeval Titan
The deck seemed to be beating Caw-Blade game one, and I was easily beating Damien’s brew too. We got to the site late in the afternoon and ran an 8-man draft with the usual suspects in which I drafted a very good B/G deck and won my first two rounds.
We decided it was getting late, and we needed to get some food. Damien and I found a nice hotel fairly fast, and we met up with the others at one of the tourist trap restaurants on the peer. The food wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good either. The portion sizes were pretty smallâ€”or maybe I’ve just spent too much time in the US lately.
We went for a walk by the peer and got ourselves some crepes (obv) before heading back to our hotel, as I wanted to get some games in with Valakut against Tempered Steel. Game one was almost unwinnable, but game two was very good after I boarded in some Nature’s Claim, Creeping Corrosion, and Pyroclasm.
From what I had heard and seen, it seemed like Tempered Steel might be really popular, and I decided to run Pyroclasm maindeck over Bolts even though they are inferior against Caw-Blade and the mirror. It saved me a lot of sideboard slots. I also considered just playing Mihara’s deck straight up since I figured he knew what he was doing but decided against it, since I was happy with the way the deck was performing.
As usual, I got my last few cards the morning of the tournament and agonized over my last couple sideboard cards. That’s what I end up running:
I helped Damien tune his deck, and this is what he battled with:
I get paired against the mirror for my first time playing the deck in a sanctioned Standard tournament, and he wins the die roll. He keeps a bad hand and doesn’t play anything on turn two, three, or four.
I mulligan to five and get mana-screwed game two but get a good draw on the play game three. He tells me it’s his first time playing the deck too and says he probably should have mulliganed in the first game, and I’m basically like, “You donâ€˜t say.”
Another mirror match; I lose the die roll. He has a turn-four Urabrask the Hidden into Solemn Simulacrum, which puts me in a bad spot. I’m sure I’m dead because he still has a bunch of cards in hand, but he doesn’t play more lands and doesn’t have a Titan either. I battle my way back with Titan and a Pyroclasm and play in a way such that I don’t lose to Urabrask #2 but lose to Mountain + Zenith. He forgets to draw off his Simulacrum but still gets there with Zenith into Mountain number five a turn before I can kill him.
I roll him game two on the play and win game three after I rip a source of green on a crucial turn to be able to cast Green Sun’s Zenith after he destroys my two Forests with Acidic Slimes. He tells me after the game he did indeed have a second Urabrask and that he ripped the Mountain to win game one.
I beat a Caw-Blade deck fairly easily, as he doesn’t have good enough draws and gets pretty flooded in game two.
I mulligan to five game one and don’t make it to my third turn against a Tempered Steel deck splashing blue. My draw is good in game two, but I’m still not in great shape, and he’s representing a counterspell. I manage to get rid of one of his creatures with Valakut so that we have the same number of creatures. I’m then able to resolve a Primeval Titan.
He starts off game three with a Nexus and an Overseer. I decide not to Pyroclasm it away on turn two, since I’m also holding a Nature’s Claim, and he plays a second Nexus on his third turd, activates both, and pumps, giving me two poison counters.
I Pyroclasm on my third turn and get one of his Nexuses with the Claim. He plays another Overseer on his next turn and gives me another two poison counters and three more on his next turn while I’m busy ramping. It seems like he might be holding a counterspell this game too, but my second Pyroclasm resolves despite his having an Overseer and two mana up to my zero creatures. I also resolve a Tumble Magnet. I have three mana left and decide to cast my last card in hand, Explore, and I draw Nature’s Claim off it.
He draws, plays a Signal Pest and a Glint Hawk Idol, and has one card left in hand. I have seven poison counters and am at nineteen life. He activates his Nexus to attack. I decide to Claim it right away saving a Magnet counter in case he draws something dumb like a Hero of Bladehold, but he Mana Leaks it, putting me on a three-turn clock.
I didn’t put him on Mana Leak because he would have been able to counter my Titan in game two if he had one, so I figured he was playing Unified Will, which seems to be the superior and most played card in that sideboard’s deck. It might have been a bit greedy though; he was representing a counterspell in that game.
I brick out and lose to his Nexus when my Magnet runs out. My top card is obviously a game-winning Zenith for max rub-ins. Should have played around it!
I open a pack in which the four best cards are Incinerate, Volcanic Dragon, Assault Griffin, and Aven Fleetwing. I really don’t like picking a red card there, but I thought the Dragon was too good to first pick anything else. Having more experience now, it turns out it’s probably the fourth best pickâ€”or maybe Iâ€˜m just results oriented.
I get passed an okay red card in a pretty unexciting pack, then decide to move into blue over green. I end up with okay cards after pack one, but the packs are just terrible for me, and I end up with a pretty crappy deck lacking synergy.
Going back, I think it’s between Incinerate and the Griffin, and the white card might be the pick given the rest of the pack.
On top of having a mediocre deck, I mulligan eight times, never curve out properly, and don’t win a game. I’m really upset and can’t stop thinking about my misplay against Tempered Steel and what could have been. It always sucks when you pay the maximum price for your mistakes, and it really feels like one of those.
I end the day at 3-4 but decide not to drop, since I can still make top 16 if I win out, and I really enjoyed playing Valakut. We go out for dinner at a way better place after some research on the web, and I drown my sorrows with a few glasses of wine.
I instantly pass out back in our hotel room, dead tired, but wake up at 6 am, victim of the jetlag. I dork on my laptop for a couple hours before heading to the site.
I open Angelic Destiny, which I first-pick, but I have to pass a Serra Angel. I second-pick Honor of the Pure, then pick an Incinerate, but I’m also passing some good white and red cards. I feel like I’m going to get screwed, but the packs are good to me (I get another Incinerate, a Chandra’s Outrage, and a second-pick Fireball). I end up with just enough playables, still having to play a couple subpar cards.
I continue with my streak of bad draws, as I mulligan into an okay hand but get stuck on three lands with all 4CC cards in my hand. My luck turns around however, and I win the next two games pretty easily. I get paired against Antoine Ruel next round, and he beats me with his sick mono-black deck (Grave Titan, Jens, Diabolic Tutor, Consume Spirit, double Drifting Shade, double Sorin’s Thirst, etc…). However he scoops to me since his girlfriend is in town, and he doesn’t especially feel like battling more.
My third-round opponent gets mana-screwed twice, and my chances of top 16 are still alive after the first draft.
I have the nut opening hand for game three (three lands, Pyroclasm, Battlement, Titan, ramp spell) but tank a bit so that he might not put me on Pyroclasm. He mulligans to five or six, and I demolish him. He actually asks me if I really hesitated to keep, and I tell him it was just an act.
I get paired against U/W, but he is stuck on five lands for most of game one, and I’m eventually able to resolve a Titan or a Zenith after he has to double Mana Leak my first threat. I actually thought he was playing U/W Control and boarded in a useless card or two, but he was Caw-Blade.
He’s stuck on four lands in game two but has three Hawks out this time, so I’m on a clock. However I’m able to go off before he kills me.
He mulligans to six on the play, but I have to go down to five. He turns out to be U/W control, and game one is very long. I’m able to keep his Batterskull in check for a bit with a Tumble Magnet, and he has multiple Spreading Seas and Tectonic Edges to take care of my Valakuts. On the last possible turn, I rip Zenith and tutor an Avenger up, getting thirteen tokens. He’s at 18 with a Batterskull and an active Colonnade, but it’s not enough as my tokens are 2/3s on my next turn.
He gets a good draw on the play with Jace Beleren for game two and wins pretty easily despite my decent draw. For the second time in three rounds, I get the nut hand in the deciding game with a turn three Oracle backed up by my miser’s Summoning Trap into Primeval Titanâ€”followed up by another Titan after he Oblivion Rings the first one.
I get paired against Damien, and he offers to concede, since he figures I might be interested by the extra PT point. We get a feature match despite being out of contention and decide to play for fun.
I roll him game one; he gets me with Ignus game two, and I win a really close game three where he might have messed up, since we were playing kind of fast. I had a train to catch.
He ended up 5-3 with the deck (arguably 6-2 if he had played better against me), actually beating the two other Valakut decks he played against, losing to U/W control twice. I think he said he wouldn’t change a single card in the maindeck, possibly adding a fourth Goblin Ruinblaster and more Ricochet Traps in the sideboard for the control matchups. He said he might cut some Pyroclasms but was probably being results-oriented since I don’t think he got paired against Steel, Elves, or any other horde deck.
I was pretty happy with my own decklist, and I’m not sure what I would change. It’s possible you want more Oracles then Simulacrums. Cultivate might be decent too. I think the Viridian Corrupter in the sideboard is a bit too fancy, and I’m not sure if Baloth is needed either.
I didn’t get a chance to play Memoricide, but I think they’re good even though I’ve heard mixed reviews, and I think you might want another couple cards for the U/W matchupâ€”maybe a second Thrun and a second Trap. I thought the Caw-Blade matchup was good, but I’m not sure it’s the case anymore after seeing the winning list from the Seattle SCG Open. The mediocre cards against Valakut got replaced by annoying cards like Spellskite, Jace Beleren, and Dismember. There’s a chance, given the format, that you might want to run a Nature’s Claim or two in your maindeck since all your tough matchups have very good targets, and you can recycle them on your Simulacrums if they’re dead. They’re most likely going to suck in the mirror match unless your opponent is running Khalni Heart Expedition, but Claim seems really great right now.
As a Hall of Famer myself, I get to vote this year as part of the Selection Committee, so my vote counts double. Here is who I will be voting for:
His statistics speaks for themselves: 5 Pro Tour Top 8s (tied for 8th), 17 GP Top 8s (tied for 4th) including 3 wins, Player of the Year in 2008, and 6th in lifetime Pro Points with over 400. It will come as no surprise that he is one of my least favorite players to sit across, as he just doesn’t give much away. He’s also a super friendly guy and one of the first Japanese players to spend a lot of time with non-Japanese players, traveling to almost every tournament for the past few years. A no-brainer pick.
Anton didn’t get the love he deserved last year, and if he has to wait one year for a second shot, 2011 should be his year. If he “only” has 9 GP Top 8s and 1 win, he has as many PT Top 8s as Shuhei even though, just like him, he’s eluding a win; however he accomplished all of those in only 31 appearances. He was considered one of the best players in the world before he retired from professional Magic, being especially proficient at Limited, even though his first PT Top 8 appearance was for Extended in 2001, and two of his nine Grand Prix Top 8s are also in Constructed. In August 2010, he attended GP Gothenburg and finished second, which qualified him for PT Paris in which he finished 46th, showing that he still has it. I made the unfair choice of not voting for him last year, which I won’t repeat.
Steve’s candidacy probably suffers from the same syndromes as Anton’s but possibly amplified. Anton and he both had a five-year long professional Magic career, but Steve’s came in the early years of the Pro Tour. He has an astonishing four GP wins out of 10 Top 8s, a ratio only third best to Kai’s and LSV’s if you count people with more than 5 GP Top 8s. He has 3 PT Top 8s, including a win, for which he had to fight tooth and nail, since he beat Mike Long, Terry Lau, and Jon Finkel in the quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals respectively.
Just like Anton, he proved he could still compete with the best if he cared when he won the Two-Headed Giant GP held in Massachusetts in 2007 with Matt Wang. He has shown in the past few years that he still cares and loves the game, showing up to a few events, and I think has played in some PTQs, trying to make it back on the Pro Tour.
I had actually voted for him in 2009 but left him unfairly out of my ballot last year, voting for great playersâ€”but not all of them more deserving then Steve O. He definitely gets my vote this year.
William “Huey” Jensen has 4 PT Top 8s (1 win), 8 GP Top 8s (2 wins), and is one of the few players to have won a PT, a GP, and a Masters (even though for obvious reasons, it is harder to achieve nowadays). He is also one of the few players to have beaten Kai in the elimination rounds of a Pro Tour when he won Pro Tour Boston in 2003 with lifelong best friends Matt Linde and Brock Parker. He has also proven his skills at the poker tables with two WSOP final tables, including a 2nd place finish in 2007. He happens to be one of my best friends in the game, and I’ve witnessed firsthand that he is one of the most talented players to ever play the game.
It’s no secret that Heezy was one of my best friends on the Pro Tour before he went in retirement a year or so ago. The first time I played with him was in a money draft, and he demolished/ridiculed me, but I got him back soon after when we got paired in the first round of PT New Orleans. I declined his 5% split offer, beat him, and went on to finish second. If you read the last series of his great MTG articles here, you know the story didn’t end so well for me.
Mark has 4 PT Top 8s including a win in Hawaii as well as 4 GP Top 8s, and he has it all. He is a very good Limited player, an even better Constructed player, and has a great understanding of the game, which permitted him to come up with his winning PT deck in a ridiculously short amount of timeâ€”just by listening to what the beach house members and I had to say about the format. Having tested and battled countless hours with him, I can say he makes my top ten list for best deckbuilders of all time with ease, having contributed to and having had the best deck for the Constructed portion of a PT more than once.
He is the most fun person to hang out with I’ve met playing on the Pro Tour, not close; he is a very talented writer; and he’s even a national TV star, having appeared on The Price Is Right alongside Bob Barker.
Some people might think this vote is somewhat biased, but I think personal experience is a part of the Hall of Fame vote to some extent, and I have repeatedly witnessed how great he is at the game and truly believe he deserves his place.
Have a good one and good luck for those of you playing in Nats or PTQs.