Back when I was still a submissionist for this here site here, then-editor Ted Knutson told me that in order to become a Featured Writer I needed to branch out more, to diversify. Okay, I said, I’ll try to do something different… but do not trust to hope in me ever writing about Constructed, for hope has forsaken those lands.
Constructed bores me. Always has, and to some extend it most likely always will. The problem, of course, is that to be a complete Magic player – especially one with Pro Tour aspirations – you need to play Constructed. You need to put in hours and hours of playtesting, you need to go through tons of article and data, and you need to come up with flashes of inspiration on occasion. I go through the articles, but that’s where it stops for me. I don’t remember ever thinking of a card or a deck as the solution to something. The other day we were doing some playtesting at The Games Club, and after two games I was bored and went into the bar next door to watch the football match. This is an attitude problem I really need to shed to reach the dizzying heights of making it on the Pro Tour.
How could I ever get anywhere in Constructed?
Well, thank Grozoth for Team Constructed.
A team would stop me from making my usual deck choice of some untested random homebrewed rogue concoction. Team events are more forgiving, especially if you have team-mates who are better at Constructed than you. The unified deck construction rule makes things interesting, too. You’ll only have a 1/3 chance of running into the same deck all the time, at most. Not to mention the fact that decks of the same archetype can be quite different depending on the rest of your configuration.
In a nutshell: This is the ideal format at the ideal time to show the world that I am serious about making it as a pro. Really serious. Winning a GP counts for nothing if I completely ignore half of Magic. So here is how one should go about becoming better at Constructed with an eye to an upcoming Team Constructed PTQ, like the one that was approaching here in London.
1) Team up with good Constructed players.
Months ago I formed a team with Simon O’Keeffe and Petri Nuutinen. They are both good players, but they are exactly like me. My Constructed rating is a whopping 1659, and my team-mates’ ratings are even lower. Isn’t that a good start. By the way, I challenge all of you to find someone who’s Limited and Constructed ratings are further apart than mine. My limited rating is 431 points higher than my Constructed. Go ahead, try to beat that!
2) Research the format thoroughly.
Sure, we looked at the results and decks from Honolulu. I read some stuff some people wrote about Standard. We saw the announcement of the communication policy and discussed the implications. I think Simon and Petri looked at the coverage from GP Madison, though I certainly didn’t. I spent the week after Cardiff on a perpetual high, and the only articles I read were the ones about me, and the ones that may have mentioned me. I read Knut’s article, but the only thing I remembered from it was that he called my victory in Cardiff “unlikely.”
It was nowhere near as unlikely as me winning a Constructed event, ever. I didn’t understand why Simon suddenly felt the need to test with and against Heartbeat, considering it really didn’t fit into our scheme. I was in constant surprise and bewilderment when things happened that everyone expected because they had read the Madison coverage. I wonder whether all these things would’ve seemed more important had I not been a GP champion. Another thing that bewilders me is how much I can read about Magic whilst at the same remembering awfully little.
3) Playtest like there’s no tomorrow.
I read J Evan Dean article about Ghazi-Chord, and for no very good reason decided that it was a reasonable deck choice, even though some of it overlapped with the B/W we were definitely gonna play. My thinking at the time may have been “ooh, it beats Zoo, awesome!” More likely is however that I thought, “this looks good, and it’s somewhat under the radar, almost rogue.” Point is, the moment I put this deck together I knew I was going to play it, and I didn’t care that I didn’t have a clue why.
So I did some playtesting. One game against Owling Mine, as played by a guy who had never seen the deck before, resulted in me believing it’s a reasonable matchup if I draw enough Elders and Wood Elves. Three games against Izzetron suggest it’s quite even. A couple of games against Zoo suggest the matchup needs shoring up. This was probably down to not having the Mortifys that were in the original deck; either way, the tech of Seed Spark I added seemed somewhat useful, but I thought an extra Wrath was strictly necessary.
On the Tuesday before the PTQ I played two games against Petri’s B/W deck and decided all the discard made the matchup awful and about my only hope was relying on the Bottled Cloisters from the board. I didn’t think too much about it, though, as I would rather see some Italian football players try to break the legs of some French football players playing for an English football club.
If you’ve kept count, I had played a grand total of ten playtest matches with my deck, a whole one of which was post-sideboard. That really isn’t an awful lot, especially considering how diverse the format is. The beauty of net-decking is that playtesting doesn’t have to be quite so rigorous, but then again I had to change the deck a fair bit to unify it with Petri’s B/W deck, and my limited testing would suggest that maybe it doesn’t play exactly like Evan said it would.
I mentioned to Simon at one point that I was considering switching to Zoo. He said I should stick with the deck I had tested and was more familiar with. I think the additional familiarity amounts to me knowing where in my myriad of Magic cards the ones for the deck actually are.
4) Finalise your decks early and know your sideboard plan.
Apart from the odd “omg! We need to play Heartbeat/Zoo/Siege Wurm.dec!” moment we were actually quite good at this. I’m not sure how much rhyme or reason our choices had, but they were made fairly early. Petri had a modified version of Antti Malin’s Orzhov aggro deck – modified by Antti himself — while Simon played Osyp’s Izzetron deck almost card for card, and I’ve already discussed where I stood and why.
It’s questionable whether this is actually a good thing. Heartbeat could have been good in the line-up; that is if any of us could’ve been bothered to figure out how it works. Maybe we did everything right in this respect, as picking up the difficult-to-play Heartbeat deck the week before the PTQ, also invalidating one of our other deck choices, would in all likelihood not have helped us one bit. At least Simon got to know the deck a bit and could tell me what to name with my Extraction. Not that it mattered or anything.
5) Define your team.
This, on the other hand, is where we truly excelled ourselves. This is clearly the most important aspect of Team Constructed. Come up with a good team name, a battle cry, and other ways to gain a psychological edge on the opposition.
The origins of the Cult of Grozoth are, of course, shrouded in mystery. Only truly old-skool religions have things like prophets and burning bushes. In the beginning, there was Grozoth. Then everyone began to follow Him. And those who did got to rejoice for He bestowed upon them riches and the winnings that they so desperately craved, and they in turn praised His name and he smiled, and His violent smile destroyed a million cosmoses, and His heart that was racing due to the love He felt created millions more, and the universe was at peace, until such a time came where it was required of Him to smite some unbelievers or something…
Coming soon — The Bible of Grozoth. Marketing tie-ins are extremely important for a successful team.
So anyway, we came to the PTQ with a team name sorted, we had a battle cry (“Grozoooth!!!”) and we had laminated Grozoths around our necks. Don’t even bother showing up to a team tournament if you don’t have all of these things sorted out beforehand. Laminated Grozoths are especially good, because you can use them to bless your opening hand before every game, like I diligently did. Blessing your library when you need a topdeck is so much better than knocking it. See it from the library’s perspective. If someone wants you to come up with the goods, what would you rather get? A knock on the head, or a blessing from almighty Grozoth?
Incidentally, I took very little note of any of this in any of our opponents in the actual PTQ. To be honest I took little note of anything in the PTQ; I was just in the zone. Simon told me he and Petri were discussing things all the time, whereas I was just playing my game. I didn’t even notice that they talked to each other at all.
I’ll give a quick rundown of what happened in the PTQ. For reference, here’s my decklist:
- 4 Sakura-Tribe Elder
- 4 Wood Elves
- 3 Yosei, the Morning Star
- 4 Loxodon Hierarch
- 4 Selesnya Guildmage
- 2 Angel of Despair
- 1 Ghost Council of Orzhova
My team-mates’ decklists, as well as the rest of the top 4’s can be found here.
Round 1 versus Chris, playing Heartbeat
I don’t think Heartbeat is a particularly good match-up for me, but they made the mistake of adding this mighty deck to their configuration without taking enough time to figure out how to play it. At one point in game 1 he went off and I was very close to conceding, because I didn’t feel like watching him masturbate with his deck for so long… but then I thought perhaps he’ll screw it up. Lo and behold, that is what happened. After he transmuted a Drift for Maga, then Weird Harvested for just one more Drift and did the maths he could only play Maga for nineteen, and I was on twenty life. I had Yosei on the board and, thanks to the Harvest, a second one in hand. He was dead before he got to untap again.
Game 2 he mulliganed down to five, and before he found a third land I had already destroyed the first two by Chord of Calling out both Angels of Despair.
Simon killed his opponent with a Blaze for fourteen to the head in game 1 – even though a Persecute naming Blue netted five cards – and with Annex/Solifuge in game 2. Petri also wins for the 3-0 sweep.
Their team used the tired old naming clichÃ© of ‘Two X and a Y’. Where Y = Grozoth. Big mistake! There’s only one true Grozoth, and he doesn’t share team names with the losers on the team! No wonder they lost!
Round 2 versus Callum, playing Eminent Domain
If you play the lottery once in your lifetime, you are more likely to win it than to win with this deck against Eminent Domain.
In game 2 I came back from two Wildfires, but then the third one was the backbreaker. I think the only chance I might have against this deck is if he either mulligans to five on the play or I play a turn three Extraction in game 2. Otherwise, not a chance.
Simon beat their Heartbeat player easily by noticing he was going for the man plan in game 2, but Petri lost to some straight G/W Greater Good thingy. They seemed to be the one team we encountered who were actually set up to beat us.
Round 3 versus Gordon, with Heezy Street
Game 1 I crush him. Game 2 he gets me to four life, but fails to topdeck Char or Flames of the Blood Hand. This is fairly typical for the match-up between my deck and Heezy Street or Zoo. We again sweep.
Round 4 versus Mike, playing Zoo
Simon keeps playing Heartbeat and I keep playing Zoo, while Petri plays a lot of mirror matches. Wouldn’t this format be a lot better if there were way more 50-50 match-ups?
This round Simon was actually playing against a deck that used Elvish Piper to get out huge monsters. Simon wins by stealing his opponent’s Autochthon Wurm and Verdant Force, with Keiga and Confiscate. The Timmy in me rejoices at the thought.
Round 5 versus Ian, with some GUB concoction with Ninjas and Cutpurses
This doesn’t look like a good matchup when he crushes me in game 1 with a turn 2 Cutpurse and countermagic backup. The additional removal in games 2 and 3 makes all the difference though. Game 2 is the first time the Guildmage pulled his weight. After the first two Guildmages both get Putrefied, the third one sticks and the One-Man Gang goes all the way.
His deck was scary, because he had so many creatures that you can never afford to let hit you, and Mana Leaks and Remands to stop your removal. Of course, a single resolved Pyroclasm kills everything they’ve got.
Simon beat Ghost Dad with Blaze and Meloku, and Petri lost a close quasi-mirror, so for the first time we win without sweeping.
Round 6 versus My Two Dads
A quick look at the standings reveals that there are only five teams who can get to thirteen points or more. We are paired up and don’t have the worst tie-breakers of the lot, so we happily accept their offer of ID.
Their team had that name because one of the guys on their team was fourteen and the other two were much older, and it’s a reference to some godawful TV series. There was a fairly heated argument about whether that TV series was about two gay blokes who had adopted a son, or whether there was another series like that and whether anyone would want to watch that. [Noooo, My Two Dads was a cheesy sitcom about two male parents looking after their daughter. The mother of said daughter had died without determining paternity before her untimely death. Starring Greg Evigan and Paul Reiser, and Florence Stanley as the judge who lived upsta… I’ll get my coat. — Craig]
Personally, I think 99% of all TV series are things nobody could ever want to watch, yet they all find an audience.
4-1-1, 3rd place
Semi-final versus Paul, playing Zoo
In game 2 I’m down to four life and have him dead on the board next turn, even if he gains some life. He needs to topdeck Char or Flames or he’s lost. He takes the top card of his library and slams it on the table, Craig Jones style, and…
It’s the Lightning Helix!
Moral of the story: If you don’t want to topdeck the Helix, don’t slam it Craig Jones style.
Simon also wins comfortably against Ghost Dad (with Blaze and Invoke on consecutive turns!) and after a long wait Petri’s irrelevant match ends in a loss for us. Either way, we got to the final of the PTQ with no luck involved whatsoever. Obviously.
Final versus Tom, playing Zoo
This was Quentin Martin team, who I crushed repeatedly last weekend on my way to the GP Cardiff title, so they clearly didn’t stand a chance. Their team name was “Drinking, Drafting and Quentin.” There are many worse team names, but at the very least they should have called themselves ‘Drinking, Drafting and Quenting’. That would have class.
My match was actually pretty close, and may well have come down to me winning the dice roll. Game 1 he might have gotten me into burn range had he gone first, while I was busy Wrathing. Instead, I had gone first, and played the first of my two Wraths on a healthy 12 life, then gained back some more with a Hierarch and a Fetters.
Game 2 I actually lose as I can’t find a single one of my four Wraths in several turns of topping and shuffling. Game 3 my draw is pretty nuts and his is pretty average, and my turn five Yosei goes all the way.
Soon thereafter Petri overcame Stuart Wright Greater Gifts deck and eventually Quentin managed to become the only person on the day to beat Simon. Interestingly, it was also the only match Quentin’s Niv-Mizzet control deck won all day. Not that it did him any good. Our individual records on the day were:
Me 6-1 (in Constructed!)
So we qualified for PT Charleston with our average Constructed rating of 1637. I also completed the hat-trick of winning 2HG champs, GP Cardiff, and this PTQ on three consecutive weekends. Saying I’m on a roll is quite an understatement.
So, do I have many lessons here for people eager to qualify for Charleston? Probably not. I’m good at Limited, so the win in Cardiff was down to that. This win I think has to be considered a pure fluke, in a format that is rather susceptible to that. There are just too many one-sided match-ups. Too many matches are decided before the players even sit down, and that is almost regardless of playskill and attitude. Team Constructed would be so much better if all the match-ups in the format were between 50/50 and 65/35. Sure, we positioned our decks well, with me playing against Zoo a lot and Simon not facing Zoo ever, but a lot of that was just guesswork.
I, however, am not complaining. This freak of a format allowed me to qualify for PT Charleston and for English Nationals (2 pro points in Charleston guarantees me level 2 in the club). Me and my friends.
I am looking forward to the Pro Tour. Block Constructed is exactly the format that Team Constructed is ideal for, with its restricting card pool and general dearth of viable decks. For the first time I get to explore a truly virgin format. Perhaps I will get to love Constructed after all.
Maybe, just maybe, one of these days pigs will fly. Are you a believer yet? I know I am.
Grozoth has truly blessed me. May He bless you too!
darkheartothorny on StarCityGames forums and MTGO