Good Beats: Taking One In The Chops

Pro Tour Chicago has come and gone. Combined, all the CMU guys brought home a whopping $875, broken down like this: – $0 Andrew Johnson – $0 Andrew Cuneo – $0 – $875 I can’t say we didn’t get what we deserved. Our playtesting regimen was not very good. I made a gauntlet of fourteen…

Pro Tour Chicago has come and gone. Combined, all the CMU guys brought home a whopping $875, broken down like this:

Aaron Forsythe – $0
Andrew Johnson – $0
Andrew Cuneo – $0
Mike Turian – $875

I can’t say we didn’t get what we deserved. Our playtesting regimen was not very good. I made a gauntlet of fourteen decks right after States, and I had hoped we’d play lots of matchups and flesh out a well-metagamed deck based on our data.

The Gauntlet:
Fires (flipped between Huey’s garbage version and the Georgia version)
Blastogeddon (Cali version)
Machine Head
Nether-Go (Randy Wright’s deck)
Mono-U Millstone (Brock Parker’s deck)
U/W Millstone (Geertsen’s Nordic deck)
U/W Prison (Brook North’s deck)
U/B Merfolk
Aggro Waters
The R/U/B (Sidd Rao’s deck)
Evil Eye Ankh Tide
Mono-W Rebels (Turian’s States deck)
R/W/G Good stuff (Mattais Jorstedt’s Nordic deck)

Boy, you’d think you could get a lot of information out of all those decks, right? Unfortunately, some of them never made it out of the box. Others were played once or twice and put away. None of them, save the Fires deck, were altered to be made better based on our hunches.

People don’t like playtesting very much, I guess. I kind of had a feeling coming out of the Team Pro Tour that CMU was not going to be the Center of Technology for Chicago, so I had asked Brian Kibler and Dan OMS, among others, about testing with them. Needless to say, they weren’t having it. So CMU was on its own.

Before States, Turian decided that Rebels had the most broken mechanic in Type 2, and since the Rebel decks from Pro Tour: Lin Sivvi still held up, that was his natural starting point. He won States in grand fashion, and even lobbied Omeed to keep his deck off the Sideboard. Omeed told him no way, which I guess was good, since if his States deck was withheld, I doubt we would have done any playtesting at all.

After a few short sessions, I decided that any Rebel deck we played had to have some kind of built-in resistance to Flashfires. (Across the world, hundreds of people were having this thought. We were keeping pace so far.) I then left it up to Turian to figure out exactly how we’d accomplish that. He came back with a deck that had eight green duals to support four Wax/Wanes and four Noble Panthers in an otherwise stock Grizzly Rebels deck. The Panthers, he claimed, were great in Rebel-on-Rebel matches, needing to be blocked by three 2/2s, and also great against Chimeric Idols, which he assumed would be everywhere. Sounded good to me.

So the two of us started playing ten-game sets against the Gauntlet, tweaking a card here and there. Mike Patnik, a Pitt student who was qualified and played with us a lot, and Mark Globus from Columbus were both working on Rebel decks as well. They were fans of the Defiant Vanguard, which Turian was not. Repeated testing against Fires showed Patnik and Globus to be correct – the deck needed a Vanguard. That might seem like a blatantly obvious choice in retrospect (every Rebel deck on Day 2 – save one – had Vanguards maindecked. The one that didn’t had Cho-Manno, Revolutionary), but our reluctance to add it showed that we were stuck in "Grizzly Rebels" mode, which was clearly the wrong approach.

The deck eventually came together to where it was working smoothly enough, and was winning most of the match-ups pre-sideboarded. It was about then that I ran into Brian Hacker on IRC, and we arranged a kind of info-sharing list between CMU and Brian, Gab Tsang, and Igor Frayman. Well, they were having about as much success playtesting as we were. We traded emails for a while, and eventually they just stopped communicating with us altogether. I guess they figured we weren’t being much help and bailed. Fat lot of good it did them:

Frayman, Igor 144th
Tsang, Gabriel 266th
Hacker, Brian 281st

Turian and I argued for a while about the sideboard… I was pushing for Armageddons to fight control, he wanted lots of Defender en-Vecs for the mirror matchup and against Fires. Mike also wanted Light of Day, but I talked him into having just one Lightbringer as an anti-black measure. None of the other CMU guys wanted to include Rebel Informer anywhere in the deck "because you might draw it." I do think the one smart thing we did was not including Aura Mutations, since anyone afraid of them would side out all their enchantments against G/W Rebels anyway. That’s what we planned on doing in the G/W mirror.

Andrew Cuneo settled on blue/white early on and worked on it alone. Andrew Johnson had very little interest in playtesting at all; he built a few dumb decks and when it came to crunch time, he copped out and said he’d play whatever Mike and I were going to play. The unqualified players at CMU would show up on Tuesdays ready to draft and had no interest in helping with Type 2 at all, which I found pretty frustrating, but what could I expect? C’est la vie.

Here’s the deck we played:
Potato Geddon by Mike Turian and Aaron Forsythe
4x Ramosian Sergeant ———— 9 searchers
2x Defiant Falcon
2x Lin Sivvi, Defiant Hero
1x Defiant Vanguard
3x Steadfast Guard ———— 7 other Rebels
2x Fresh Volunteers
1x Nightwind Glider
1x Thermal Glider
4x Longbow Archer ———– 6 non-Rebels
2x Noble Panther
4x Parallax Wave ——— 14 spells
4x Wax/Wane
4x Crusade
2x Reverent Mantra
4x Rishadan Port ———— 24 land
4x Brushland
4x Elfhame Palace
1x Dustbowl
11x Plains

3x Wrath of God
3x Armageddon
3x Defender en-Vec
2x Lin Sivvi, Defiant Hero
2x Disenchant
1x Lightbringer
1x Random Orangutan

Before you ask, we found the Uktabi to be a pleasant surprise against Ankh-Tide, Waters with Idols and Diamonds, and U/W Millstone decks. Should he be there? Probably not. But he added a touch of character.

On to the matches. We’ll have story time later.

Round 1 was the nightmare matchup of all time… a Featured Match with my teammate, Andrew Cuneo. There’s nothing that can take the wind out of your sails than having to play a teammate out of 326 possible opponents in the first round. I’d have felt better about this match had it been against Jon Finkel. Well, Cuneo was playing U/W, like I said before, with a good anti-Rebel sideboard consisting of several Magetas and Last Breaths plus a Rout.

The first game was all me… I had a Sergeant in my opening hand but didn’t cast it. Instead I went turn 2 Bear, turn 3 Bear. He eventually had to cast a Blinding Angel. I dropped a Crusade and attacked, he didn’t block, and then I played a Falcon to prevent him from locking me out of the "Red Zone" with the Angel. He died during my next attack.

The Red Zone, as I’m sure you all know, is part of the new Featured Match play area, designed to make the game more understandable on television. Now I’ve forced several non-Magic types to sit through the ESPN2 shows from Nationals and Worlds, and I’m not convinced that just dividing the tabletop into colored sectors is going to do anything to help the uninformed follow the game any better. But they do look cool.

Cuneo’s sideboard dropkicked me in the next two games. He Last Breathed several searchers, and once Mageta hit the table there wasn’t a whole lot I could do. Cuneo won 2-1. I wasn’t sure how to sideboard in that matchup – probably because we didn’t playtest with sideboards. In game three, I brought in Wraths, and I felt like that was probably a good idea, since I killed a Mageta with one and an Angel with another. I felt that I needed to have my own Magetas to bring in, forcing him to Wrath them away. This wouldn’t be the last time I longed for the 3/3 Legend. This was going to be Pro Tour: Wrath. You’d better to be able to destroy lots of creatures in order to succeed.

Round 2 was against Mattais Kettil, playing Counter-Rebel, a deck type that CMU scoffed at. Mattais dropped a turn 3 Lin Sivvi against me in both games, and in both games I was short on mana. In game two, he had Lin Sivvi, Rebel Informer, and three other creatures in play by the time I could get three mana during my main phase. So I lost, right? Yes. There’ll be no Holy Pikula for me.

On the surface, it might look like ordinary manascrew. But I felt that the reason I lost was much more tangible – I didn’t have enough Lin Sivvis in my deck and I didn’t have enough land, either. Kai Budde Rebel deck – white with a splash of green – had four Sivvis and 26 land, compared to my two and 24. The average number of Lin Sivvis per Rebel deck on day two was way over three. As for land, Jakub Slemr was quoted in a Rebel-on-Rebel Featured Match asking for "six lands and a Sergeant" in his opening hand, and most Rebel decks were built with such a possibility in mind. So it was no wonder that other Rebel decks would go straight to three mana against me and drop Lin out. And I’d lose.

Being 0-2 after two rounds can only mean one thing for me: The onset of a migraine headache. I was given a big white pill by Ellen Koberer and then had some lunch at Sbarro with Finkel, Steve OMS, Terry Borer, and Dan Clegg. Finkel commented on the Nightwind Glider in my deck, asking why it was there. I guess he had a point. But who cares… I had to go 5-0 in order to make second day and wasn’t about to give up due to a lack of confidence.

I played David Alexander in round 3, and he was with "Void" or "Machine Head." I beat him handily in two straight. Now there are a lot of fans of this deck out there, but it really isn’t very good. Your control card – the big bomb – is a five-mana sorcery that kills maybe one or two creatures in play and leaves the rest alone. Who cares if it destroys artifacts? Five mana – blow up your Idol. Take five more from Blastoderm. What is Void supposed to do against a board of Sergeant, Falcon, Lin Sivvi? Uh, like, kill one of them and hope your entire hand costs three. If you want control, stick to blue/white. "Where are the black decks," you ask? There were ten black/red decks playing on Day 1, and just one on Day 2. The black decks were visiting the Sears Tower. I felt that devoting ANY sideboard cards to this deck would be a waste. Dark Ritual: Banned in Extended, worthless in Standard.

At this point, Cuneo was 1-2, Kettil was 1-2, and Alexander obviously was 0-3. My first two opponents had beaten me and no one else. So I had the worst possible tiebreakers after three rounds.

I played Derek Lazarski in Round 4 and Tomohide Sasakawa in Round 5; both had G/W Armageddon decks. If there was one deck that we could handle (aside from Machine Head), it was Blastogeddon. I beat Lazarski in the first game, and he made the mistake of sideboarding out his Armageddons. I was stuck on three land for five turns in the second game, but eventually drew a fourth and Wrathed away two Blinding Angels, a Blastoderm, a Bird, and a Vine Trellis. Good night. The games against Sasakawa were funny. He attacked with an Elf early in the first game, and I blocked with my lone Sergeant (surprise!). In response to him casting Wax, I cast Reverent Mantra, naming "green." Elf died, and the game was decided right there. He never got past three land after that, and was discarding four-mana spells as my Rebels assaulted him. In game 2, he had three Tangle Wires out against me – at the same time – and he lost. Tangle Wire isn’t so hot against a deck that can increase its number of permanents in response to the Wire going on the stack. If you plan on playing Type 2 in the near future, I recommend putting your Tangle Wires away unless you have a very reliable anti-Rebel plan (like Bob Maher’s Ankh-Skies deck).

After the fifth round, my headache was gone; I was back in the running and feeling confident once again. Then I sat down against Tony Dobson.

Dobson – playing Rebels with black for maindeck Tsabo’s Decree – smashed Andrew Johnson in the first round. This was more than likely an auto-loss for me. I needed a severely lucky break, and got one when they repaired the round. Whew. My real round 6 opponent was Nicolai Herzog running Counter-Rebel.

Nicolai, of course, got out Lin Sivvi before I did, and things were looking grim. We both fetched out large armies, but his were a little more disposable than mine due to Sivvi’s recursive ability. At one point he drops a Parallax Wave and sends lots of Rebels my way. I block a few and he uses the Wave to fade his own guys out once damage is on the stack. I counterattacked with the slim hope that he would Disenchant his own Wave to give himself more blockers. Luckily for me, that’s just what he did. Our armies smashed into each other, and I dropped my own Wave and removed his Sivvi from play. Eventually, I had my own out and was digging furiously, finally amassing enough power to kill him.

The next two games were testament again to how poor our sideboard was in the mirror match. Herzog played both Mageta and Rebel Informer (which sat in his hand the entire first game), and either of those cards is too much for me to handle effectively. I lost those two games pretty badly. Herzog finished the tournament strong, winding up 16th overall. He had the Informer in his main deck, and drawing it didn’t hurt him noticeably in the first game. Sure, it limited his options a little, but I do think it was a card we should have explored a little.

My Round 7 foe was Steve OMS, who I knew was with Fires. Even if I won, I couldn’t finish high enough to get the third Pro Tour point, so I played the game pretty poorly. I think our deck can handle Fires (Turian had a great overall record against it), but I had poor draws and an even poorer attitude that round. Steve beat me 2-0 and finished high enough to get three points, which is good for him.

Sometimes you get your butt kicked in Magic and you can’t understand why. Luckily for me, I COULD understand. My deck was about six to eight cards away from an optimal build, and my sideboard was off by another four. That’s all it takes sometimes. I think if we had playtested better, our deck would have come out looking more like Kai’s version. I’d like to be able to say, "We’ll get ’em next time," but we’ll have to wait and see.

In general, the field was "ready for itself," and having a good or bad deck wasn’t necessarily the only factor in determining how you finished. Here are records for people playing the same exact decks:

40th Turian, Michael $875 5 pts.
198th Forsythe, Aaron 2 pts.

But you knew that one. Here are some others:

63rd Taylor, Eric $510 4 pts.
313th Fermenti, Aaron 2 pts.

5th Finkel, Jon $9,000 12 pts.
140th OMS, Daniel 2 pts.

And my personal favorite:

1st Budde, Kai $30,000 32 pts.
325th Hothow, Dominik 2 pts.

Yep, the guy who won was playing the same deck as the guy who finished third-from-last. And Hothow is no slouch, having made the Top 8 at Worlds this past year. So you needed a good deck, and you needed the right matchups as well. I’d like to see the match-ups of 10th place finisher David Jafari and 31st place finisher Travis Turning, both of whom played what I’d consider ill-tuned Rebel decks based on the field. I’d be surprised if either of them played in very many mirror matches.


The CMU crew – plus Globus, Patnik, and Brian Kibler – had a nice dinner of Chicago deep-dish after Day 1. My wife, Anne, and I got to do a little sightseeing of the city on Saturday afternoon – the view from the John Hancock building was amazing, and Marshall Fields makes every department store in Pittsburgh look like the Compton Swap Meet. But those activities are not how to salvage a good Pro Tour gone bad.

The way to do that is by "money drafting." For those who don’t know, money drafting is generally a booster draft between two teams of two, three, or four members sitting alternately around the table. After the draft, each person plays all the members of the other team until one team wins the necessary number of matches (five for three-on-three, for example). The winning team gets to keep all the cards, plus they each get a predetermined amount of cash from a member of the other team. Hence the term "money draft." Brian Hacker has an excellent piece somewhere on the Dojo archives about his ten favorite money draft moments. Check it out.

When I arrived in Chi-town Friday night (and found out Cuneo won the Masters Gateway tournament – easily the best news of the weekend), Turian, Johnson, and I did a warm-up three-on-three versus Tom Shea (owner of TJ’s Collectibles in Massachusetts) and a couple of his young friends. Low stakes – $10 a head. We won 5-0. A good start.

After Day 1, late at night, the tournament area looks like a Who’s Who of people who failed to advance. Kyle Rose, Mike Long, Chris Benafel, Chris Pikula, Ryan Fuller, Ben Rubin, Mike Bregoli, Dave Humpherys, and many others were there in the depths of the Hyatt, trying to win a little cash and regain a little pride. After Cuneo and Johnson won a couple bills off of Rose and Joe Weber, I got in on a little action with them – the Car Acrobatic Team versus the OMS brothers and Igor Frayman for $35 a head.

The draft went pretty well. I was solidly U/W/G for two packs, and was rewarded by opening the White Master in the third pack. God, I love it when a plan comes together. Each team goes off on its own to build their decks under the honor system that no cards will be exchanged or added to the decks. Neither I nor anyone that has been on my team has ever done such a thing (although I know it happens), and we know our opponents would never do such things, either – which is part of why they’re such pleasures to draft against, win or lose.

As we were building our decks, Chris Pikula came over and told us that Igor’s deck was insane and there was no way any of us could beat it. Igor’s deck was R/B with Void, a mother lode of Shivan Zombies, and lots of targeted removal. To top it off, all three of us had Plains in our decks and Igor had a Marauding Knight. Times were hard, but we were up for the challenge.

After one round of play, we were down 0-3. Steve O had knocked me out with a well-timed Scorching Lava on my Elephant. Cuneo lost a Duelist-Puzzle-like match to Dan – the final game involved a Phyrexian Infiltrator when both players had access to UUUU4. Igor beat Andy J like he stole something. Truly bad times for Becky.

But we rallied hard in the second round. Cuneo’s Teferi’s Moat allowed him to slow the match vs. Igor down sufficiently enough to pull it out. Andy beat Steve, and I got the Master into play vs. Dan when it counted. So it was a 3-3 ballgame.

In round three, Andy lost to Dan. Cuneo and Steve seemed to be settled in for a long one, so I had to concentrate on Igor. I don’t know what happened, but his deck didn’t perform. I had out Blind Seer – who is not only great fun but a total beating as well – making his pro-color guys worthless, whereas mine were solid gold. His deck may have been insane, but mine came to play – putting Igor and his "amazing 3-0 deck" at 1-2. Cuneo beat Steve with four kickered Ardent Soldiers – how can you stop that? – so the good guys won, collected our booty, and hit the sack.

Of course, you hope you never need to money draft during a Pro Tour. You’d rather be in the Top 8 and sleeping while everyone else trades twenty-dollar bills in the basement. But if that doesn’t work out, I recommend the world of the money draft – or "street Magic" – where the level of intensity of play is rivaled only by the level of trash talk.

On Saturday, we were back for more. Turian and I teamed up with Scott Johns and lost a close one to Jason Opalka, Chris Benafel, and Mark LePine (who came to Chicago thinking he was qualified when he was not. Blame Wizards – they erroneously sent him a Players’ Packet). If I had drawn an Island EVER in game 3 versus Benafel, that match would have been ours.

After that, the four CMU guys – Turian, Cuneo, Johnson, and me – took on Baby Huey, Matt Linde, Benafel, and Ben Rubin. Amazingly enough, it wasn’t even close. We won the first round 4-0, and it was no problem to get the fifth win shortly after that. I won’t bore you with details.

Our last draft of the night was a horrible experience. It was the four CMU’ers again, this time against Benafel, Weber, LePine, and Noah Boeken. The experience couldn’t have been worse. Their team was SO SLOW. They’d watch each other’s turns and comment and cheer and talk smack. We eventually pulled it out in a tiebreaker round (no thanks to 0-2 me), but the whole thing took SEVEN HOURS – from 2:30 until 9:30 a.m. Now we had drafted against LePine, Weber, and Benafel before throughout the weekend, and nothing awful had happened. But throw Boeken into the mix – or, more specifically, the Boeken-Benafel combo – and it became the worst money draft of my life; no jokes. I know that personally, I plan on staying away from that dynamic duo in the future. It was the hardest $40 I ever earned and left a definite sour taste in my mouth.

I got no sleep and kind of walked around on Sunday like a zombie. But that aside, I came out ahead $85 on the weekend, plus tons of cards. So even though I – and most other CMU’ers – sucked bad in the PT, I felt like we made up for it a little in the trenches.

Alas, we still sucked in the PT.

We’ll get ’em next time.

Aaron Forsythe