Going for the Gamble – A Pro Tour: Kobe Experience Through the Eyes of The Cak

The Cak and his cohorts had an unusual tactic gong into Pro Tour: Kobe… Go Tribal. Yes, Slivers was the order of the day, but sadly it failed to light up the tournament with its synergy and power. Nevertheless, it is a potent strategy when handled correctly. Mr Pelcak discusses his time in Japan, and imparts a spot of wisdom for those looking to draft the Little Guys Who Share the Love.

It’s the day before the Pro Tour. Gadiel Szleifer and myself are thinking of ways to “break” the format in our hotel room.

Gadiel: “I’ve got it!”…

Hold on, I’m not going to give away our “tech” that easy. I’m going to make you read the introduction first. Fast forward to the Sunday prior to the Pro Tour. Gadiel “Never Lose” Szleifer, Star Wars Kid “Chris” McDaniel, “Straight up Gangsta” Mark Ioli, “Future Rookie of the Year Runner Up” Ben Lundquist, and “The Cak Attack” myself all have a flight leaving Chicago around 1pm. I am the first to arrive with Gadiel close behind me. We get something to eat, wait, wait some more, and realize that no one else has showed up yet. We board the plane, still nobody besides us two. I give Ioli a call and the following conversation ensues…

Me: Yo man where you at?
Mark: I’m on campus dawg, what’s up?
Me: …Are you serious?
Mark: Yeah, why?

At this point I’m thinking that this is all some big joke. I give Ben a call and apparently they booked their flight for the wrong day. We then hear over the intercom…

“Would Christopher McDaniel please report to gate C29 for final boarding”

What is going on here? Only two out of the five of us actually made it on the scheduled departure day. Chris actually missed his flight due to a short connecting time and was forced to stay in a Chicago hotel overnight. Oh well, the adventure must continue without them.

For those of you who have made the thirteen-hour “trek” to Japan before, I know that I have your sympathy. I don’t think thirteen hours has ever gone by slower in my entire life. However there are movies provided to you by the airline. Our choices were…

Pirates of the Caribbean
X-Men 3: The Last Stand
The Devil Wears Prada

Okay, so Pirates of the Caribbean is always a solid choice. X-Men 3 was okay the first time, but not something I was looking forward to watching again. Cars seems like it could be decent if I was five or ten years younger or something. I was pleased with The Devil Wears Prada, and I watched a bit of Poseidon and it was the worst thing I’ve seen in a while. The Titanic was already made into a movie, thanks. So I needed to find a new way to pass my time. I guess I’ll get my homework out of the way. Whoops, I knew I was going to forget something. If I could forget anything, homework would not be anywhere close to the top of the list.

I guess I’ll just get some sleep. Wait, I’m stuck in-between an overweight man from the south who wont stop talking about NASCAR and what would seem to be a Japanese model. So I decide to “spit some game”, but she ends up being married. I still get some useful information from her about where to go after we arrive though.

There’s about five hours left and I’ve just finished watching the 2005 National Crossword Puzzle Championships. My God, someone kill me now.

We finally arrive in Osaka and I practically push my way through the hoard of people trying to get off. All we have to do now is find the bus we need to get to Kobe. Oh, did I mention that nobody speaks English in this country? After asking approximately seventeen people, we find the bus we need and make our way to the Kobe bus terminal. Once there we find a taxi that takes us to Shin Kobe Oriental Hotel and we get some much-needed rest. Actually what really happened was Gadiel and I found the nearest Lawson convenient store and downed about twelve peach kirins each and wandered the streets if Kobe. Unfortunately not a single soul was around our hotel, but good times were still had.

The next couple of days see us getting a couple of drafts in, wandering the streets, drinking copious amounts of peach kirin, and more wandering. We also almost got to see Snakes on a Plane in a Japanese movie theatre, but it wasn’t coming out for another couple weeks. Man! How good would the “Get these snakes off this mother f*@%ing plane” line been in Japanese? O well, onto the tournament.

So back to the conversation I had with Gadiel the night prior to the Pro Tour.

Gadiel: “I’ve got it!”
Me: “Yea, what is it?”
Gadiel: “Five-color green. There are so many common fixers that nobody takes.”
Me: “Yeah, that seems really good actually, and you can play all the Timeshifted bombs that people ship to you.”

Long Pause…

Me: “What about 5 color slivers?”
Gadiel: “Yeah. Wow, that seems insane.”

Yes, you are reading that correctly. Five-color slivers was our answer for the tournament. We still wanted to make sure that the deck could hold up, so we did a practice draft that night seeing how the deck performed. The sliver deck we ended up drafted didn’t even seem that good, but yet it still crushed whatever we threw at it. We were set on drafting the deck.

The morning of the Pro Tour…

We wake up around 7am, meet up in the lobby with Ioli, Lundquist, and Kid, and then realize we don’t know how to get to the site! We run into a Malaysian Pro Tour competitor though and he says that it would be okay if we would follow him and Terry Soh to the site. Billy Moreno then decides he will be leading us to the site because he knows where it is; he just forgot the names of the stops. So whom do you follow?

Yeah, it isn’t even close.

As promised we reach the site thanks to Soh and company, and wait a good two hours for the tournament to start. I guess they don’t have pods posted from the Pro Tour. I don’t think that anyone was to name in my pod besides Masashiro Kuroda. Here’s how my first deck ended up…

Besides the fact that I didn’t see any Might or Fury Slivers, I think this deck turned out to be pretty solid. With fourteen Slivers in the deck, odds of getting a ridiculous Sliver draw are pretty good, although there are only two Slivers in the deck that pump power, which happen to be the most important ones. I still felt confident enough that I was going to be able to pull at least a 2-1. I did have triple Penumbra Spider in the sideboard that I planned on bringing in against White/Blue and Blue/Black decks. Let’s see how the tournament went…

Round 1: Jan Doise

I start out game 1 with a Green Seeker followed closely by a Gemhide Sliver. Jan manages to suspend a Duskrider Peregrine on turn 2, but by turn 4 I have added Shadow Sliver and Bonesplitter Sliver onto my side of the board. He can’t find an answer to either one and I run him over shortly after.

I board in three Penumbra Spiders because he is Blue/White, and I figured Slivers would have a problem dealing with flyers without drawing Spinneret Sliver.

Game 2 starts out very similar to game 1 with me casting some early Slivers and him suspending Peregrine on turn 2 once again. However, my all-in plan is foiled by a Psionic Blast on my Shadow Sliver and I lose too much of the team to stay in the game.

Game 3 I mulligan to five on the play, but still manage to cast a turn 3 Verdant Embrace through a turn 1 suspended Search for Tomorrow and a turn 2 Gemhide Sliver. He shakes his head in dismay and plays a measly morph on turn 3. I bash for four, accumulating tokens in the process and pass the turn. He draws, smiles and casts Cloudchaser Kestrel. Seems about right. At this point I have something like three cards in my hand, a Gemhide Sliver, and three 1/1 Saprolings to his five cards in hand, morph, and Kestrel. The mulligan to five set me back way too far and I am soon overwhelmed by the card advantage.

Record: 0-1

A round 1 loss is always disheartening, especially when it happens like this. I was still confident that I could win the last two rounds with my deck.

Round 2: Aaron Blanco

Aaron informs me that he has a game loss entering this round because of some registration issues. I felt bad, but if anyone knows about getting game losses for mis-registering, it would be me. And trust me, it’s not a good feeling. However the game that Aaron and I actually played was very uneventful. We both get a decent amount of creatures on the board, but I eventually break through with a Two-Headed Sliver combined with many other Slivers including Bonesplitter Sliver and Fury Sliver.

Record: 1-1

After round 1, round 2 was pretty anti-climactic. Round 3 would pretty much determine my fate for the rest of the tournament. Needing to 2-1 the second pod wouldn’t seem too far-fetched, but a 3-0 would. Here we go…

Round 3: David Larsson

I recognize David’s name from the European Grand Prix circuit and other random tournaments. David is Blue/Black and game 1 is very tight as he stalls the board with a bunch of morphs and uses some removal to kill some key Slivers of mine. He puts on a lot of pressure with flyers, but I fight back with a Bonesplitter Sliver combined with a Two-Headed Sliver and some other random guys. On the last turn of the game, I cast a Shadow Sliver and he unmorphs a Fathom Seer floating two mana. However, there isn’t an answer in the two cards and we move to game 2.

Game 2 is fairly even to start the game, but he starts to get flooded towards the end of the game and two of my three sideboarded Penumbra Spiders decide to make a showing, which turned out to be very strong against his deck. He puts up a fight with a Phyrexian Totem, but Firemaw Kavu makes a timely appearance and he concedes revealing three lands in his hand.

Record: 2-1

Whew, after losing round 1 I manage to squeeze in two wins to finish at a respectable 2-1. Both Gadiel and Mark finished 1-2 with the Sliver strategy, but both of them believed the deck was still viable so we all planned on drafting it again.

My second pod featured Osamu Fujita, Jasper Blaas (I’m like 90% Dutch too ya know!), and that was about it. Here is what I ended up with…

I’m still not sure which of the two decks is better. They both contain an ample amount of Slivers (fourteen again, for that matter) and they both have their bombs (Squall Line / Verdant Embrace and Bogardan Hellkite / Fiery Justice). However, I believe that the most important Sliver to have in a Sliver-based deck is Gemhide Sliver, which the second deck contained zero copies of. It’s essentially better than Birds of Paradise would be in the deck, and it isn’t hard to get multiples of either. I actually didn’t see a single one in the second draft because I would have easily taken it over pretty much anything else. Hopefully this deck was good enough to get me the two wins needed to make the second day. Let’s see how that one panned out…

Round 4: John Cooke

John was a couple of seats to the right of me in the draft, and he brought a solid White/Red deck to the table. Game 1 John starts out with a Cloudchaser Kestrel, morph, Benalish Cavalry, and Flamecore Elemental. My side of the board contains a Two-Headed Sliver, Watcher Sliver, Spinneret Sliver, which I then follow up with Might Sliver on turn 5 and Fury Sliver on turn 6. John fights valiantly, but the combination of Might and Fury Sliver is just too much for him.

Game 2 John mulligans on the play, but manages a turn 4 Griffin Guide on his Blazing Blade Askari. I fight back with some random slivers and a Fury Sliver, but John has Temporal Isolation for it. Spinneret Sliver combined with Fury Sliver makes sure that I stay in the game, and once I get up to eight mana, Bogardan Hellkite makes a timely appearance to steal the game.

Record: 3-1

After starting the day with a loss, I’ve come back to within one win away from Day 2. The nerves start to kick in, one win away from Day 2. I have been in this position three times already before this, and have failed each time. How did that saying go? Fourth time’s the charm…?

Round 5: Robb Davis

Robb starts out the game with a turn 1 Shadow Guildmage, which is very scary for me as I am staring down at a hand containing three creatures with one toughness. However, he doesn’t have the Mountain right away so I don’t have to play around the Guildmage. Robb plays a Telekinetic Sliver, which seems good for me because it basically means I have Opposition on my side of the board. Robb plays a Basal Sliver, and the only Slivers that I am drawing are Might and Fury. Robb makes an awkward attack, which gives me a glimpse of hope, but then he casts Walk the Aeons and I lose on his extra turn.

Game 2 is very similar to game 1, but Robb manages to find a Mountain on turn 2 for the Guildmage, completely shutting down my early game. He plays Telekinetic Sliver again, but I find Fiery Justice for the Guildmage and start going to town with Slivers. Robb makes another awkward attack putting me low on life, but I realize he only has two Blue mana, so in combat I tap an island with one of my Slivers and he realizes he can’t cast Walk and the game is over.

Game 3 is rather anticlimactic compared to the other two games, as my draw is very weak compared to his and I just get run over by card advantage.

Record: 3-2

This is it, playing with my life on the line once again.

Round 6: Christopher Graham

Chris tells me he is from Australia, which is always a good sign.

Game 1 starts out very slow for him. I get in some early beats courtesy of a Two-Headed Sliver and a Flowstone Channeler, but he stops the beats with some guys of his own. He kills the Two-Headed Sliver, but I cast a turn 5 Might Sliver followed by a turn 6 Fury Sliver. Even his Sengir Nosferatu is no match for my team of giant double-striking Slivers.

Game 2 Chris has to mulligan his opening hand. I see Eugene Levin in the background chanting “Five! Five! Five!” Well, it worked and he mulligans down to five cards. He keeps his five and I debate whether or not to keep a five land, Greenseeker, Bonesplitter Sliver hand. I figure because he is on the play and down to five cards, I cannot take the risk of also going to five, so I keep. I also have the Bonesplitter Sliver, which is a key part of my deck. He misses his first couple of drops once again and I begin to thin out my deck with the Greenseeker. I cannot apply enough early pressure and Chris eventually stalls the board with Uncle Istvan and a Phantom Wurm. Just as I was about to break the game wide open with a Fury Sliver, Chris peels Verdant Embrace and puts it on his Phantom Wurm. Great, not a single card in my deck can deal with that. I figure my only chance is to keep thinning my deck with Greenseeker and hopefully find the Bogardan Hellkite. The game goes on for an actual thirty minutes before I draw the Hellkite. At the end of his turn I cast the Hellkite killing two of his Mana Skimmers. Chris’s next draw…? Sengir Nosferatu. Right. I concede the game with about ten minutes left in the round because I figure my deck is fast enough to win in that period of time.

For game 3 I keep an opening hand of Two-Headed Sliver, Flowstone Channeler, Watcher Sliver, two Mountains, and two Plains. This hand is fine in this situation because it’s fast and I figure I also have some late game potential incase the board gets stalled or something. The beginning of the game looks fine for me, but my first three draws are all land and Chris starts adding his own creatures to the board. By turn 6 I have added five lands and another Watcher Sliver to my hand while Chris was busy casting spells like Verdant Embrace and Sengir Nosferatu. My only out is Bogardan Hellkite, but it never shows and I fall to his Sengir.

At least I’m getting accustomed to going 3-1, 0-2 at the Professional Tour level. Better luck next time!

Looking back…

So what about Slivers as a draft strategy in general? Would I draft it again if I had the chance?

Probably not.

The deck is too fragile to removal spells to be considered top-tier. Don’t get me wrong, Slivers can be extremely powerful, but a timely Strangling Soot or even Snapback can put you from a dominating position into a losing one. A great example of this was in round 1 where I was attacking for lethal, but my opponent had one removal spell so I lost the game instead. Another problem with the deck is that the most important Slivers (Bonesplitter and Might) are solid creatures by themselves and people will generally pick them up early on in the draft before you get a chance. There is still a lot of potential for this deck in Time Spiral draft, and I will continue to explore possible archetypes through the next couple of weeks on Magic Online.

Until next time…

John Pelcak