I Did It! – A Pro Tour Honolulu Report *Winner*

Mark Herberholz Wins Pro Tour Honolulu!

The illustrious Mark Herberholz joins our growing stable of Feature Writers, and brings a debauched account of Magic, mayhem, and Pro Tour success. Want the inside scoop on the hottest Standard deck? Come get it from the man who won it all… and lived to tell the tale. A fantastic read – for everyone except Jeff Cunningham.

I did it!

Well, I guess that isn’t entirely correct… I couldn’t have done it without the Beach House Crew, so I suppose that we did it. Without further ado, here is my tale of how I coined the title of the “luckiest man alive,” and won a Pro Tour.

Pro Tour Hawaii was coming up, and it also happened to coincide with my college spring break — boy, do I love MSU. I heard that a bunch of guys were getting a beach house for the three weeks preceding the pro tour, and the week following it. I made the necessary arrangements to stay there.

We set up a message board to bounce ideas off of one another, and as we are all basically washed up Pros who are far past our prime, we understand that while we are in Hawaii we will be doing a little bit less of the gaming and a little bit more of the boozing. I arrive Wednesday before the pro tour, and recruit Jose Barbero, Dave Grant, Sam Gomersall, and Jelger Weigersma for a little help in testing.

That night, we decide to pit our livers against the local bar. The local bar posted a winning record of 10-6 games. Some of the highlights of the matchup were:

  • When I started hitting on a fifty-five year old woman, who had more wrinkles than my private parts.
  • Jose B driving home and spinning the car through 180 degrees, and Dave Grant screaming at him to be let out so he can walk the mile or two home.
  • Jelger and I wrestling when we got back to the beach house, knocking over the table… that happened to house every single card Nassif had brought with him, carefully laid out for deckbuilding. Nassif was less than pleased.

If you watch the video of the beach house tour, when they come into my room and I am in bed? That is the aftermath of the night mentioned above.

Now for something Magical…

Our group had determined that the format would be Zoo, and decks tuned to beat Zoo with Faith’s Fetters, Loxodon Hierarch, and Wrath of God. I realized that I didn’t want to play Zoo; the mana is inconsistent, and we didn’t have the Bathe in Light tech. I also didn’t want to play our Three-Color Control deck, as it appeared to have some flaws to me. The deck was too reliant on drawing Phyrexian Arena. It’s a card draw spell doesn’t give you immediate returns, and sometimes, against the beatdown decks, those life points were to precious to give away while searching for an answer to their little monsters. Finally, the deck didn’t have what I consider essential to a control deck: any card that read “counter target spell”.

As those were our two best decks, I was left with few options. However, we had this Red/Green deck that had a bit of game versus our control deck. It had good mana, and a good curve… but it had all these clunkers in it. Rumbling Slum was too slow, and by the time I could play it the control player had already established control with a mitt full of removal so it was easy to answer. Llanowar Elves were just not doing enough in the deck, as I often went one-drop, two-drop, three-drop and didn’t need to ramp up to anything. Finally, Threaten was a too situational for me to really like.

After losing to Faith’s Fetters and Hierarchs for the thousandth time, I added some Flames of the Blood Hand to the deck. They prevented some of that evil lifegain, while also giving me a pretty nice finisher. Then I was annoyed when they played their dragon and I couldn’t attack through with all of my little monsters… so I added Frenzied Goblin in place of the Elves, which worked out great.

But it wasn’t until I was looking through my rare binder looking for potential sideboard cards — yes, ladies and gentlemen, that is how the pro’s do it – that I found a diamond in the rough that happens to be called… Giant Solifuge.

Wow! This guy slices, he dices, he even attacks the turn you play him… and he can’t be targeted. It was a match made in heaven.

I tried, unsuccessfully, to convince my teammates to play my build. I made such bold claims… that I would win the Pro Tour, that I broke the format, and so on. However, they all laughed at me and called me stupid. Haha, we’ll see who’s stupid on Sunday when the bill comes around for the celebratory dinner. (Turns out it was Nassif, because he paid while I was at the house showering before the night of drunken debauchery to follow my win… but I get ahead of myself.)

We all go to the site to pick up cards, and the word on the street is that everyone is playing control. This bodes well for me, as I have changed the maindeck to be heavily metagamed against control. Dinner was decent, the Drafts were good as I managed to Muddle Gabe Walls’s Mixture when he tried to Wrath away my team… but the greatest thing was Wizards setting up a separate line for registration for people with three or more Pro Player Club levels. Finally, someone recognizing just how big of a deal I actually am.

We all head back to get some sleep before the Pro Tour, and to do some last minute testing.

Darth Heezy

Before I get into the matches at the Pro Tour, I must inform the readers of a little feud I have with a certain Mr Jeff Cunningham. In his article discussing his choices for the Writers Ballot, he called me a “villain,” saying that I incessantly taunt him about my string of good finishes on the Pro Tour, and his string of very bad finishes at the Pro Tour. In all honesty, I have to agree with Jeff; I am indeed a villain. Perhaps the biggest villain to play the game, at the present moment. I am not a villain in the sense that Mike Long or Ryan Fuller were villains: I pride myself on the fact that I play the game as honest as it can be played. I refuse to cheat, and despise any who do. I am a villain in the sense that if I find a man teetering on the edge of spiralling out of control and going on “life tilt,” I take the chance to, well… give him a “little nudge.”

I am a villain in the sense that when I asked Jeff who he was staying with in Hawaii, he responded with “please don’t humiliate me”… because he knew the floodgates would open with an unrelenting stream of beats when I found out that he was staying with his mom.

I am a villain in the sense that I will time someone out on MTGO, even though it is quite clear that they had the game won… and it will be one of my best friends on the tour, Gabriel Nassif… and he will be sitting five feet away from me… and I maindecked Cremate versus him, because Sam Gomersall looked over his shoulder and told me he had Grave Shell Scarab in his deck. Hey, the semis of an 8-4 is the semis of an 8-4, friends be damned.

I am a villain in the sense that every morning I woke up to have wronged at least one person in the house in some way the previous night, and have no recollection of it at all – compliments of Bud Light and Jagermeister.

The game needs villains. It creates excitement… and everyone loves a bad guy.

Throughout this report I will give you a running update on how high the Jeff Cunningham Life Tilt Meter is running, along with his standing after every round in comparison to mine.

For the record, here is my decklist:

Round 1

Herberholz, Mark [USA] vs. Gutzmer, Jimmy [USA]

He was playing Owling Mine. This is essentially a bye for me. Rather than get into the play-by-play in most of these, I will just give you sideboarded information.

I sided in two Naturalize, two Tin Street Hooligan, and 1 Flames of the Blood Hand… for three Moldervine Cloak and two Giant Solifuge.


Jeff Cunningham 0-1
Life Tilt Factor 5%

Round 2

The official coverage didn’t list my pairings or results. I lost this round to someone playing Enduring Ideal. I sided the same as I did versus my Round 1 opponent, because he was playing a lot of Signets and Fellwar Stones. [For the record, it was Michael Strunk. He won 2-1. — Craig]


Jeff Cunningham 0-1-1
Life Tilt Factor 8%

Round 3

Heinikangas, Niilo [FIN] 3 vs. Herberholz, Mark [USA] 3

He was playing B/W control. I sided in two Naturalize, two Tin Street Hooligans (to hit his Signets), and one Flames of the Blood Hand, for three Moldervine Cloak and two Frenzied Goblin.

I ended up losing this round, due to a manascrew followed by mana flood.


Jeff Cunningham 1-1-1
Life Tilt Factor -5%
(He finally had a better record than me, but it was only a matter of time until reality hit.)

Round 4

Fernandez, Juan [USA] 3 vs. Herberholz, Mark [USA] 3

He was playing B/W aggro. I sided in two Tin Street Hooligan, two Naturalize, and four Umezawa’s Jitte… for three Flames of the Blood hand, three Moldervine Cloak, and two Frenzied Goblin.

Basically, you just want to win your Jitte war in this matchup. Moldervine Cloak is an invitation for your opponent to two-for-one you and they’ve already RSVP’ed. I managed to win this round.


Jeff Cunningham 2-1-1
Life Tilt Factor -5%
(Again Jeff still has high hopes here, although reality is waiting in the shadows…)

Round 5

Herberholz, Mark [USA] 6 vs. Silva, Francisco [PRT] 6

He was running Enduring Ideal again. I sided in my Naturalizes and Flames for my three Cloaks, as he accelerated his mana with Elders and Kodama’s Reach. I only managed to pull out this match due to him getting flooded in game 3.


Jeff Cunningham 3-1-1
Life Tilt Factor -5%
(Wow, how can he keep this up? I can only assume he is on top of the world…)

Round 6

Chu, Sylvester [HKG] vs. Herberholz, Mark [USA]

He is playing U/R Magnivore. I side in one Flames of the Blood Hand for one Moldervine Cloak. This matchup is pretty bad for him, as he just blew up my lands while not answering my creatures.


Jeff Cunningham 3-1-2
Life Tilt Factor 0%
(What’s that? Is that…? Could it be? Our old friend… Reality? I think it is! Hold on Jeff, your in for quite the ride.)

Round 7

Herberholz, Mark [USA] 12 vs. Sugiyama, Yuuya [JPN] 12

He is playing Owling Mine. Need I say more?


Jeff Cunningham 4-1-2
Life Tilt Factor 9% (Jeff finally starts to realize that Day 2 is a distant hope, and that it is more than likely that he will draw again.)

Round 8

Herberholz, Mark [USA] 15 vs. Irvine, David [USA] 15

Dirv and I are friends, having seen each other at quite a few tournaments. He was playing B/W aggro, and I sided as I did above. I manage to screw him in two of the three games, and pull out the match. Ah well… sometimes it’s nice to be the luckiest man alive.


Jeff Cunningham 5-1-2
Life Tilt Factor 12% (Why did the tilt factor go up when he won, you ask? It’s due to the simple fact that making Day 2 only gave Jeff hope of finishing well. We all know hope is a cruel thing to give to a man like Jeff.)

Round 9

Sugiki, Takafumi [JPN] 19 vs. Herberholz, Mark [USA] 18

He was playing Owling Mine… wow, this is getting nice. Either I get paired against byes, or I just lucksack my opponents out of the match by their poor draws.


Jeff Cunningham 6-1-2
Life Tilt Factor 12% (A win to start the day seems like a good omen for poor old Jeff…)

Round 10

Yurchick, Adam [USA] 21 vs. Herberholz, Mark [USA] 21

He was playing U/R Magnivore. I sided as stated earlier. I won this round; basically, my deck is an auto win versus pretty much any control deck.


Jeff Cunningham 6-1-3
Life Tilt Factor 16% (Jeff obtained his third draw of the tournament. I can only assume he is reeling from the blow he just took from reality. Man up, Jeff… Reality is just getting warmed up.)

Round 11

Canu, Franck [FRA] 24 vs. Herberholz, Mark [USA] 24

This is a feature match. Franck is playing the BGW control deck that all of my team-mates ran at the Pro Tour. Against this deck, I sided in two Tin Street Hooligan, two Naturalize, and one Flames of the Blood Hand… for three Moldervine Cloaks, and two Frenzied Goblins.

Game 3 I mess up, but my deck rewards me with three topdecks in a row for the win. I guess this is just my tournament…


Jeff Cunningham 7-1-3
Life Tilt Factor 8% (Jeff rattled off a win, here to try and claw his way back to mediocrity.

Round 12

Herberholz, Mark [USA] 27 vs. Ruel, Olivier [FRA] 27

This is another feature match. Olivier is with B/W aggro. I side as stated above. I mess up game 1 and discard poorly, when I should’ve relied on drawing another land and held onto all of my burn spells. I lost the match, and now have my back to the wall if I still want to make Top 8.


Jeff Cunningham 7-2-3
Life Tilt Factor 15% (The tournament is nearing an end and Jeff just lost out on Top 8 – and more than likely Top 16 – contention. I honestly think I can see the bruises on him from the beats that Reality just laid upon him. It is only a small consolation to him that I lost my match.)

Round 13

Herberholz, Mark [USA] 27 vs. Wright, Stuart D [ENG] 27

This is another feature match. Stu is running with Zoo – the same decklist Craig Jones played. We don’t play a real game, as we both get screwed and then in game 3 he mulligans and never has more than one land. I feel kind of bad, as it sucks when you’re in contention for Top 8 and you lose like that… but hey, I’ll take it.

I sided in two Rumbling Slum, four Umezawa’s Jitte, and two Tin Street Hooligan… for three Flames of the Blood Hand, three Frenzied Goblin, and two Scab Clan Mauler.


Jeff Cunningham 7-3-3
Life Tilt Factor 23% (At this point, Jeff can see his hopes crumbling in front of his eyes. He is on a one-way ticket to Pro Tour Purgatory… for a lifetime stay.)

Round 14

Herberholz, Mark [USA] 30 vs. Komuro, Shu [JPN] 30

This is yet another feature match. Shu is playing Gifts/Greater Good control. He mulligans to four in game 3, and I roll over him.

Is this true? Am I really doing it? Am I really the luckiest man alive?


Jeff Cunningham 7-4-3
Life Tilt Factor 36% (Right now, Jeff is praying to whatever deity that will listen for me to get mana screwed, have a heart attack, poop my pants… whatever it takes for me to lose next round. At this point, Jeff isn’t picky. He is just hoping for a loss on my part, so he can still look himself in the mirror on Sunday morning.)

Round 15

Jones, Craig [ENG] 37 vs. Herberholz, Mark [USA] 33

Craig is guaranteed a Top 8 spot, even with two losses. We are sometime acquaintances, so I ask him to concede to me so I can make it into Top 8 myself. Craig refuses saying he wants more control matchups to make Top 8. This upsets me, because I would scoop to him if the situation were reversed.

We end up drawing game 1 due to a Char. Then, while sideboarding, Craig realizes he isn’t the type of person to wreck someone’s dreams… he has a change of heart, and decides to concede. I thank him profusely, and silently promise my firstborn child to him.


Jeff Cunningham 8-4-3
Life Tilt Factor 62% (Even though Jeff rattled off a win here, I am more or less a lock for top 8 as I only have to draw my final round. I tell Jeff about how Craig conceded to me… and I think he found Craig in the bathroom and urinated on his shoes.)

Round 16

Warmenhoven, Ruud [NLD] 36 vs. Herberholz, Mark [USA] 36

Not only do I get to draw into the Top 8 this round, but I also get to draw in with one of my good friends. Yay!


Jeff Cunningham 8-5-3
Life Tilt Factor 85% (Jeff lost his last round, and failed to make it into the money. On top of that, I drew into top 8. I looked around to gloat about my ride on the Stairway to Pro Tour Heaven, but couldn’t seem to find him. I later found out that he was crying in a corner, yelling at his deckbox, “Why! Why have you forsaken me?”

Top 8 coverage

Quarterfinals, versus Oysp Lebedowicz

I tested this match the night before until I was too tired to think. It came down one thing: if I get turn 1 Kird Ape with a Forest, he can’t really win. Other than that, it is fairly even.

I managed to get some good draws, and beat one of my friends. In this matchup you might think that Blood Moon is insane, but in testing we found that it was just not proactive enough to warrant a slot unless I was on the play.

After the match, Osyp said he hoped I didn’t side in Jitte, so maybe that is another option for this matchup.

Semi-finals versus Tiago Chan

This matchup was basically a bye, although Tiago’s sideboard was heavily geared towards creature decks. His sideboard was the only reason he won a game, coupled with a slow start by me.

In this matchup, you should mulligan aggressively into a one-drop, two-drop hand. Having fewer cards doesn’t really hurt you, as he will just refill your hand.

Finals versus Craig Jones

I knew this match was a coin-flip. It would come down to whoever got the better draws. Craig was plagued by some mulligans and poor mana draws, but such is the case when you play a three-color deck with a low land count.

In the fifth and final game I keep a hand of three Moldervine Cloaks, three land, and one Dryad Sophisticate. I figured that if I draw any creature, or if Craig taps out on his turn 3, I can Cloak up my guy in safety. I did indeed draw a guy, and Cloaked him up to victory.

If you refer to the webcast, the announcers were saying that I should’ve Cloaked up my Dryad. This is absolutely awful. First of all, it gives Craig plenty of time to draw into a Char, and I will most likely lose my draw step to dredge the Cloak. However, if I Cloak up my other guys, this turns my random dudes into threats. It quickly forces Craig into chump-blocker mode, while also leaving me the alternate option of landwalking with my Dryad.

You see, with my play, should Craig ever draw Bathe in Light I would have already established dominant board control by forcing him to chump to stay alive.

In the last turn, I did make a mistake in attacking with the Dryad – which I realized as soon as I put it into the Red Zone. It gave Craig an out to draw into Bathe in Light to win… which he thankfully didn’t. However, in my defense, if he did draw it with my Dryad on defense, he could set me up in a horrible attack the next turn by making all of my Moldervine Cloaks fall off my guys.

Ah well, sometimes it’s nice to be lucky… or unlucky, however you would like to look at it.

See here for further top 8 coverage, along with how I sideboarded.

Final Results

1 Herberholz, Mark [USA] $40,000 25

83 Cunningham, Jeff [CAN] 3
Life Tilt Factor 100%

I have successfully ruined my arch-nemesis life. He was later sighted at the Hard Rock Cafe drowning his sorrows in some Mai-Tais. I walked in with my trophy and novelty check, and silently slid the trophy under his face as somewhat of a joke. I can’t be sure, but I am fairly certain that I saw a single tear fall into it.

Jeff just looked at me and asked, “why?” and, “how?” I just smiled and he ran away to sleep in the hotel room with his mother.

I finally did it! Would I play the deck again given the chance? Obviously, I must answer, “yes” since I won, but I think that my deck broke the metagame wide open. My team knew every deck in the format, and worked out how everyone would perceive the format perfectly. Them establishing the metagame allowed me to break it. They are the reason I won. I would have never have thought about this deck without their help. I even brought my Blue and Black cards with me on the flight, and had to run around searching for Flames of the Blood Hand the morning before the tournament.

I do think that my deck will still be very good in Standard. However, I think the format will shift, and the Owling Mine decks will die out. B/W beatdown will rise up, as it is a bad matchup for my deck – they happen to play Descendant of Kiyomaro. So who knows… maybe that’s the deck I’ll build on MTGO to run in the 8-man Constructed queues.

Now we come to changes I’d make to the deck. The maindeck was everything I wanted, and more. If the format does indeed shift to promote more beatdown decks, I can maybe see playing Volcanic Hammer over the Flames of the Blood Hand, but that is only a “maybe” – the Flames are so good versus control.

The maindeck is fine, as I’ve said. The sideboard, however, is an utter bag of crap. Blood Moon is too slow, and not proactive enough for the deck. I would replace those with two more Rumbling Slums (for the creature matchups), and possibly two Cavern Caryatids, or maybe even Orcish Artillery versus the B/W aggro decks. I was less than impressed with Jitte, and only activated it once during the whole tournament, but I can’t see anything else being better versus aggro… and having them combats their Jittes.

As for the other highlights of the trip…

  • Watching Nassif topdeck Flame Fusillade in our fun Draft, and slam it on the table to Wrath of God his opponent while screaming “Justice!” over and over again at the top of his lungs.
  • Hearing Franck Canu ask, “how do you for use that play?” Wow, Franck’s English is unreal.
  • Watching Antoine Ruel get kicked out of a bar for being too French. No, I’m not joking… he literally got kicked out for being too French. As they were throwing him, out he kept yelling, “but I’m French! I’m French!”
  • Watching Nassif defend his new nickname – Dancemaster – at the nightclub, after shedding the old one — Bluffmaster. The kid was doing the Running Man on stage!

To finish, a the shameless plug:

Vote for me for the North American Invitational Ballot!

If elected, I promise to cut taxes and increase health care. Well, either that or I promise to play every Invitational match inebriated, and I’ll vomit on Mark Rosewater shoes.

Just please, vote for me.


The game needs a villain.

Manabase of Steel


Villains don’t beg, though. So, vote for me or I will disconnect on every last one of you on MTGO, only to reconnect having slow-rolled the burn spell I just peeled for the win.

Also, if you have the desire to look into the drunken shambles that is my life, check out my blog and see if I am truly worthy to go to the Magic All-Star Game and entertain you.

Oh yeah, and I was on the Price is Right.


Mark Herberholz
herberheezy on MTGO

In closing, as a final testament to how far Jeff has fallen, here is an IM I received from him, just the other day…

ffeJ-C: If you level 6, can I please sleep in your bathtub?