When we last left our hero, he had just scrubbed out of Grand Prix: Kansas City after getting hit by a semi…
After drafting with Dave Williams, Gabe Walls, Gab Nassif, Heezy, and others, I went to LSV and Cheon’s room to crash. We went to the airport together and decided flying to Berlin would be ideal, considering the location of the PT.
LSV had scheduled his flight for the wrong day and had to spend a day at the airport.
Oh man, it must be so tough to be LSV.
Paul and I find each other at the airport in Berlin like a pair of star-crossed lovers. We use public transport to make our way to the Happy Bed Hostel, which turned out to be awesome as far as hostels go.
Our hostel was a very affordable sixteen euros a night, though if not for LSV’s shrewd negotiating I would have been forced to pay the “old tax.” This hostel charges a 19% tax for being over the age of 26. Which I am.
As an aside, I want you to consider for a moment just how much time changes things. Twelve years ago, I was one of the youngest players to play on the Pro Tour. Now, well over a decade later, I am definitely part of the “old school.” It is a little surreal to have been at every point on the spectrum.
As interesting as my age is, let’s go back to the hostel.
The hostel was home to vicious ping pong battles. While Olivier Ruel was definitely a ringer and hard to beat, Paul Cheon gets the Most Improved Award. I can’t believe how many Cokes ManuelB sharked out of us by pretending to not be so good!
I shared a room with Cheon, LSV, and Bucher, with Wafo, Oli, Antoine, and Matignon in the other room. Our room was on the third floor, down the hall from the 14 year old boys. The Frenchies lucked out, as their floor had the girls (18 year olds…).
Early on, the move was the free breakfast that the hostel provided. Unfortunately, around Day 5 or so, we arrived to breakfast an hour late and found flies circling the food. This was a bit of a turn off, and we decided to go ahead and find a different way to start the day from there on out.
We had been going to the grocery store to dine on rotisserie chickens (the kind that they get down with in Germany, where butter drips from chicken to chicken to chicken), but now we had free reign to experiment with the whole menu. While Manu and Cheon moved in on China Box Meals, I remained true and consumed a hen a day for fourteen straight days.
This grocery store was insane. They sold Kinder Eggs, which if you aren’t up on, you should be. They sold the worst grapes (I had forgotten that they make grapes with seeds…), but some of the random euro beverages are kind of sweet. It was also really nice to buy a hen for just a couple of euros, after being nearly broken by how expensive food was in Milan and Rimini.
I swear we actually played Magic!
We focused on Elves from day 1, with Manu and Olivier thinking that they were on to something big. We initially underestimated how many other people would play Elves, but by the time the PT had rolled around, I was pretty sure Elves would be the second or third most popular deck.
Manu and Olivier had devised a particularly fast brand of Elves that clocked in a full half-turn faster than any other list we had seen, with turn 3 kills the standard and turn 2 kills around 1 in 7 (usually on the draw). The major innovations were 4 Summoner’s Pact (the best card in the deck), Weird Harvest over Chord (not the change of which we are proudest ), and Elves of Deep Shadow instead of Hivemaster, as well as a Grapeshot kill.
We actually switched to Grapeshot when I played Manu and ended up in a board state where I had a Counterspell and Wrath in hand against his Roar of the Crowd kill. We briefly played 2 Grapeshots before switching to one and an Eternal Witness, when Cheon and Matignon came up with our second sickest Pact target.
The sickest target was obviously Big Mike, as anyone who watched the Top 8 can tell you. The way Mycoloth ended up in the deck is pretty funny.
A month ago, I was hanging out at RIW talking with Mike Jacob and our friend Dan Clark. I asked Dan why there were no Green cards in the case from Shards of Alara, to which he replied that there were none worthy. I suggested Mycoloth, a card I have liked from Day 1. It reminds me of Verdant Force, you know?
He laughed at me and said “No.”
I told him that I predicted Mycoloth would be in a competitive deck within three months. Paul, LSV, Manu, and I had no end of laughs about this as we played the Zoo match-up over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over. (Let’s just say that Zoo has a lot of trouble with Mycoloth, as you don’t have to go all in, and if he ever goes a turn without getting Oblivion Ringed or Bant Charmed, you can’t lose.)
I loved a number of games I watched that ended with Mycoloth, but since they all involve LSV, I won’t steal his thunder. One story I do want to share is the Mycoloth pool. Manu, LSV, Cheon, and Oli almost had a pool where whoever had the biggest Mycoloth in the tournament would win a Euro off the others. Aside from not doing it because gambling is bad, they didn’t do it when they realized that one of them (guess which one…) would actually risk a Top 8 just to see if he could get away with a 36/36 Mycoloth.
I tried telling the Mastermind GerryT about our sick Mycoloth technology, but he was not impressed. Oh Gerry, come on man… Big Mike is SO raw!
I was never really on the Elf band wagon myself, as I went from “unimpressed” to “unwilling to play the mirror all day” rather quickly. I spent a lot of time and energy on my Next Level Gifts deck, and felt it was a strong choice. In retrospect, the Wish plan is much less impressive when you take Affinity out of the equation, since it is not that good against Elves, Fae, or Zoo (which are pretty much the three biggest decks).
While I played many different incarnations, this is what I ended up with:
Before I explain key card choices, I would like to explain something about my preparation. I honestly thought Affinity would be bigger than it was, because in a world without Elves, it should be. Also, I thought traditional control would struggle without a metagame known well enough to tune your deck to beat. The field ended up looking pretty narrow, which is why I felt that I could pick a deck like my Gifts deck and do well with it.
NLG has several engines, the first of which is Gifts Ungiven. Aside from being one of the best card drawers in the format, it is a powerful finisher (as it sets up Life from the Loam, Worm Harvest, and two cycling lands).
Although it is important to note that this is not a “Gifts Rock” deck (a poorly named deck if I ever saw one), there are many lessons that can be learned from this so-called archetype.
The truth is that these styles of Gifts decks are descended from Kamigawa Block Gifts decks which actually play nothing like true Rock decks (which in turn playing nothing like true Junk decks… God, I wish Adrian Sullivan, one of the game’s premier historians regarding deck theory, would write an article on names for Magic decks and why they mean something. Sligh is NOT Ponza!).
The most important thing to remember is that you need a lot of one-ofs so that you can Gifts for four different answers to the same problem. This is why you see such a wide range of cards choices, though Eternal Witness certainly helps with Gifts piles.
The second most important thing to remember is that your most common Gifts pile is actually going to be Loam and three land or Loam, Worm Harvest, and two land. Many players instinctually reach for the cycling lands, but it should also be considered that a fetchland can add a land a turn to your side of the table.
Other great lands to consider include Academy Ruins to set up Shackles or recursive Explosives (with the power of Dredge), Ghost Quarter to serve as mana-denial or a way to put cycling lands that you already played into your yard, and Wooded Bastion to set up a Worm Harvest when your mana is far off to start with.
Gifts for lands is so powerful against Counterspell decks, because once you do it, all the lands are uncounterable and there is no Counterbalance to shut down our Loam. Cycling lands ensure a steady stream of card advantage and Worm Harvest provides a fantastic way to convert excess lands into game-winning threats.
Zoo, Doran, and other Tarmogoyf decks just can’t beat you once you start Harvesting Worms. Even if you have to chump block three or four creatures a turn, you are making more and more worms. Usually, all you have to do at this point is not die to Tribal Flames or my bane, Gaddock Teeg.
An aside on Gaddock Teeg – I played against an Elf player on Day 1 when I was 5-1. He had won the first game, but I was in total control of game 2. I ended up in a position where I had so many game-winning cards that I didn’t know what to do with myself. I literally had no idea how I could lose, yet I proceeded to do just that when I blew a Firespout on a random guy when I could have easily used a different card.
My opponent seized this opportunity to Chord out a Gaddock Teeg, leaving me with a Wrath of God, a Chalice of the Void, an Engineered Explosives, a Slice and Dice, a Worm Harvest, a Gifts Ungiven, and a Life from the Loam that proceeded to dredge every land answer to Teeg.
How embarrassing. I went on life tilt and ended Day 1 at 6-2 with two punts as my losses. Still, the deck performed well, and at least it was player error on my part that cost me. I have on many occasions designed decks that are too hard for me to play. I like to think that I design decks that a better player than me would be good with.
How did we jump ahead so far? Let’s back up again.
Long before the PT ever started, we went on a pub crawl. Actually, two pub crawls.
One of these pub crawls included Cheon, LSV, Manu, and Oli. We started the night at an alleged “pub” that was in reality little more than a stand selling overpriced shots in a back alley behind a restaurant. Fortunately, they bribed us with a free keg. Unfortunately, we only had one beer before they ran out of beer on account of 87 people splitting the keg.
The group of 87 left the “pub” and headed to the next stop. One of the traditions of this pub crawl was to do shots of Orange Juice and Vodka at the halfway point between each destination. The bad news: the shot glasses were half-sized. The good news: we got to refill them several times at each stop.
When did my tournament report turn in to a Heezy Street Adventure?
Our tour guide was of questionable judgment, and to prove this I would like to point out that at one point he handed me a liter of vodka with instructions to pour shots to a group of twenty or so.
Aside from any risk of my being the wrong person for the job on account of embezzling booze to my fellow wizards, I was probably the wrong guy for one very important reason…
Pour shots? Have you ever seen my steady hands…?
Nevertheless, I did my best and everyone was happy. On to “Pub 2.” This place was a little bar down a flight of stairs with approximately 192 people in a space the size of a car. Shots were two-for-one, and the drinks flowed.
Olivier met a girl (well, three actually, but he ended up settling on one). Cheon was very popular with a certain subsection of the bar-goers. LSV and I enjoyed a plethora of drinks. I slipped off to the men’s room.
While I was using the facilities, a flash goes off. I see that the person 2 down was “SURPRISE!” taking a picture of the person next to me. While he was using the bathroom. Nice.
I left with due haste, returning 20 minutes later to try again. This time, I was standing there, taking care of business, when the person next to me said, “What are you playing?”
I didn’t think too much of this, as we are all drunk at a bar, though it is a fairly awkward thing for a man to say to another man at the urinal. People say a lot of stuff, I suppose.
“I know who you are.”
Okay, I figured out the joke at this point, but he continued.
“I am not weird, I swear.”
To which I could do nothing but respond with “Sure, usually when people say that to me, it is a good sign of how unweird they are.”
It turns out that he was another player competing in the tournament, which prompted us to switch into code. From that point forward, whenever we talked about decks, we talked about our “Zoo Deck” complete with the best creature in the format, Isamaru (our code-word for Nettle Sentinel.) It wasn’t too bad when we discussed Jitte in the board, although it may have been a little ambitious to speak of our “Zoo Deck” goldfishing turn two-point-nine…
I meet a pro tennis player, and we get to talking. She is apparently top 100 in the world, or was at one point. We get to talking about work, and it comes out that I am a pro card player. She has never heard of Magic, but let’s just say it blew her mind to hear that I finished second in the world at my primary game. I am pretty sure she would have been blown away had I told her I was second in the world at Lincoln Log Cabin Construction.
The point is that I had her write her facebook info on my left arm, as she was cool and I wouldn’t mind looking her up some day. I have a sharpie on me at all times, so this was an easy feat. The reason I tell you this is because, as I got progressively more drunkerer, I decided to keep the game going.
A random British girl battled me on the dance floor, leading me to have her write her info on my other arm. A couple of girls from Israel about to begin mandatory service were looking for one last wild time, earning them the top and bottom of my left hand, though I didn’t plan on being a part of this wild time. I was more interested in the sport of it all at this point.
I even managed to get a girl to write her name on my leg on the bus home from the final club, though with only her first name, I doubt I will see her again…
Regardless, we left the second bar, continued with Screwdriver shots, and moved on to a very high class bar with 7 Euro drinks that seemed out of place considering how reasonable the drinks were everywhere else.
At one point, I was on wing-man duty for Cheon, with LSV backing me up (who can actually run some hell of a game at the bar). We sit down next to three young ladies who turn out to be teachers. I ask Cheon to pick his, and not surprisingly, he picks the one that could pass for a Hollywood actress. (I swear I am not objectifying these women! I LOVE women, all women, I am just helping draw a mental picture, since Hollywood actress probably conjures a mental image for you).
Cheon picks his girl, and LSV and I separate her from her friends. We start working on the friends and Cheon starts talking to this random girl that we’ll sum up as “Not a Hollywood Actress.” He later claims she kept complimenting him, so he didn’t want to stop talking to her, and I don’t blame him!
We ended up on a train with the four of them, and somehow the seven of us were splitting a liter of Vodka. This didn’t last long though, as we reached our final destination, Club Matrix.
This club was very strict about letting in drunk people, but we fooled them. Cheon did a little mingling with the locals, whereas I just went bananas with the breaking and pop-n-locking. LSV, Manu, and Olivier went home a little early.
What’s that, Craig? Magic? Yeah, yeah… this is a tournament report. You gotta tell the stories, not just the decklist.
It should be noted at this point that we only went out partying twice in 18 days, with the latter of the two being four days before the PT, leaving us with plenty of time to recover.
The PT rolls around, and we move from the hostel to our respective living quarters for the actual tournament. Manu, Brian DeMars and I rented an apartment that was about a ridiculous on a scale of “r” to “ridiculous.” We had booked the smallest apartment that we could, but they accidentally doubled booked it. We were asked if we would mind staying in an apartment that is twice as big.
One Player Meeting in a discotheque later, and we go to sleep for the night. I can’t tell you how nice it was to have been in Berlin for weeks already, to prevent jet lag.
With the help of a little Calypso music, we awake to battle in the PT. Here is the real quick rundown of my matches:
Round 1 I crush Zoo. Turn 1 he plays Nacatl. I play an untapped Hallowed Fountain. He plays Kird Ape and Nacatl on two, playing around Spell Snare. I reward him by playing a Mox and an Engineered Explosives.
Round 2 I play Rich Hoaen in a feature match, defeating his U/b Faerie deck. He appeared a bit mana flooded, though my Gifts plus Worm Harvest combo seemed very hard for him.
Round 3 I am against U/R Grapeshot Storm. Game 1 he Desires for seven and fizzles, straight up. Game 2 he Desires for seven and gets mana card drawers. He chains Manamorphoses and Ponders and Peers until he eventually gets a Storm of 15 or 16, which is precarious for a player such as myself, who is only on 16.
He Ponders and keeps, to which I nearly scoop. Still, we have plenty of time, so I wait. Then he casts Manamorphose. What is he waiting for? Then he Ponders again, and I realize the sweet, sweet truth. He kept a Ponder with Ponder on top, because mise. I still had hope! This time he shuffled! I knocked on his deck and he ended up fizzling with a Storm count of 21.
Must be nice to be me. Oh wait… it is!
Round 4 I lose to Zoo, probably because I didn’t Spell Snare his Dark Confidant when he was at 6 life. I thought Jitte was the only way I was going to lose.
Round 5 I defeat Elves. Game 1, I have a turn 2 Engineered Explosives followed by Wish for Grand Arbiter. Game 2, I lock him out quickly with Gifts for EE, Ethersworn Canonist, Loam, and Ruins, after stabilizing.
Round 6 sees me defeat another Faerie deck, this one without Black.
Round 7 I play against another Elf deck, but this time tilt and lose to Gaddock Teeg.
I win my final round of Day 1, this time against a B/G Death Cloud deck that just couldn’t beat Gifts for Loam. I did lose a game to Deity of Scars though. How embarrassing.
Day 1 ends with me at 6-2. Not too bad, but not too good either.
Round 9, I beat another Zoo deck, this time Charles Gindy in a fun feature match. Gindy is a great up and comer, and he’s also great fun.
Round 10, I am forced to dispatch another B/G Death Cloud deck. When did this deck take up a place in the metagame?
Round 11, I am paired against Gadiel and his U/b Faeries deck. I am a little light on mana and never catch up with his turn 1 Bitterblossom. A tough loss, as it makes me torture myself for punting two matches on Day 1, as now if I drop one I couldn’t win anyway.
Round 12, I get turn 2’ed by Elves, ending my run at Top 8. Disappointing, no question.
Round 13, I defeat another Elf deck… nothing too interesting. I may be out, but I am gonna give it my all.
Round 14, I defeat yet another Zoo deck. Seriously, the games may be epic, but in the end, it is really just play tight Magic and if you don’t mess up, Control should win.
Round 15, my opponent is Japanese, so I turn 1 Engineered Explosives for one. He kills me on two.
Round 16, my final match is yet another Zoo opponent. I may have punted this one, as I eventually reach a game state where I have Academy Ruins with Shackles and Engineered Explosives in the yard. My hand is Spell Snare. My opponent has been holding two cards and has only two land, one of which makes Red. My life total is seven and my opponent has a Kird Ape.
I activate Ruins, putting Shackles on top and then into play. This leaves me with two mana, which I use to steal the Kird Ape. I guess what I should have done was acquire and blow Explosives, or at least just take the hit from Kird Ape and hold up Spell Snare mana. I steal the Ape, and he drops the Red mana he just drew and shows me a Tribal Flames and a Helix. I should have played around this. Frustrating.
The long and short of it was the deck performed well, though it may have been a little too difficult for me. I don’t like to think of myself as a bad player so much as a player good enough to know how bad he is. Still, 50th place is not too bad, just disappointing considering I ended up losing four of my last six.
The Top 8 was particularly exciting to watch, but I want to wait until other writers get a chance to share their perspectives before chiming in with mine. Besides, could this article be any longer?
I think this deck is very much worth working on for the PTQ season, especially if Nettle Sentinel or Glimpse gets banned. It may need to be reconfigured for the field you expect to face, but this engine has a lot of potential.
Against Zoo you primarily Gifts for Loam plus Worm plus 2 Cycling lands, or Firespout plus Wrath plus EE plus Glittering Wish. I like to sideboard out Wishes in this match-up, making a common Gifts Pile Kitchen Finks plus Loxodon Hierarch plus Spell Snare plus Eternal Witness.
Sideboard out the Wishes, as well as a Chrome Mox on the play or the Stifle on the draw. Voidslime is also bad.
If you should ever happen to face Affinity, remember the game revolves around Wishing for Gust. Game 1, you just try to survive with cards like Spell Snare buying you time to “combo off.”
After sideboarding, bring in the Grudge, the Kataki, Kitchen Finks, Loxodon, and the Bant Charm, taking out Voidslime, Stifle, Firespout, Shackles, and an Engineered Explosives. Keep the Gust in the board to Wish for. Gifts for Grudge, Kataki, Wish, and Eternal Witness.
Against Storm, you may Wish for Voidslime or Grand Arbiter or Gaddock Teeg depending on the board. Bring in Grand Arbiter and Voidslime as well as random spells in place of board sweepers and Shackles.
Against Elves, I boarded wrong throughout the tournament, boarding out all of my Finks and Goyfs. I wish I had kept two Goyfs in. It is fairly straight forward to see which cards I brought in. The only real Wish targets after board are one Firespout and the G/W creatures. Also board out Shackles.
Against U/B Fae, you should look to take out most or all of the Wishes, as well as stuff like Wrath of God. Vedalken Shackles is key, and one of the best Gifts piles is Vedalken Shackles, Academy Ruins, Loam, and a cycling land. It is really hard for them to beat an active Shackles.
Slice and Dice also shines in this match-up. Please, remember that you must be tempo oriented, as time favors you. Your Gifts will generally trump anything they could do, if you can ensure you’re relatively okay when you cast it.
Were I to play this tournament again, I would move away from Affinity hate and play more cards like Slice and Dice that are good against Fae and Elves. Chalice of the Void also sucked.
If anyone has any specific questions about my Gifts deck, please feel free to ask in the forums, and I will do my best to respond.
Thanks again, guys… you have been great. I am off to Atlanta for another GP. (Limited? When will I ever learn…?) I should be here my usual time and place. It is going to be my 100th art
icle here at StarCityGames.com, and I want to use it to review my first 99 and talk about the past two years.
My time here at StarCityGames.com has been absolutely incredible, and I look forward to many more years of writing. I would not be as keen on writing as I am if it wasn’t for my incredible reader-base that has been so supportive over the years. You guys are a true pleasure. See you next week!