When we last left our hero, he had just sat down for his first round and was about to finally get down to slinging some spells in Paris. Preparation
and a breakdown of the Grixis Tezzeret list can be found in Part 1.
As everyone took his or her seat, I was filled with a rushing sort of energy, waiting to be applied to some mental endeavor. There is nothing quite
like the feeling of being rested, refreshed, healthy, and confident. There are a lot of names one may apply to such a mental state, but for me, the
expression “Up-Time” feels very apt.
I’m always excited for Pro Tours, but this event was definitely one in which I had one of the most fun decks I’ve ever played at a Pro Tour. As I
examined my opening hand, I was filled with positive energy. Every opening hand with three lands, an accelerator, and a planeswalker is just so sweet!
My first-round opponent was clearly playing U/B Control, and when he tapped out turn 4 for Jace, the Mind Sculptor, he had no idea what hit him when I
followed with Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas. Tezzeret is just so incredible against blue decks, for a multitude of reasons. He obviously can kick the tar
out of Jace in the head to head, but that’s just the beginning. In this match, I actually let my opponent Jace for a couple turns because he had a
Creeping Tar Pit, and it wasn’t worth losing my Tezz to kill his Jace, even if I got a 5/5 out of the deal. Tezz is just that much better in the
Instead, I dropped the Tezz and used the +1 to draw an extra card, mostly just getting him to stick under countermagic. On the enemy’s turn, he
Brainstormed and sent in the Tar Pit to shrink Tezz. Then, on my turn, I got to plus him again, played some more mana, and used Tectonic Edge to
protect Tezz. A few more turns of Edging and playing more accelerators gave me a massive mana advantage that allowed me to take advantage of all the
extra cards I was drawing, while my opponent was bottlenecked, not able to play more than one card per turn on most turns.
Just as a note on sideboarding, I’m not one who uses a set sideboard plan. I frequently change my sideboard plans between games one and two, as well as
adjusting depending on “how I want to play this opponent.” My advice to people seeking sideboarding guides is generally to shuffle in all fifteen, then
take out the fifteen you want least. For instance, often I leave Treasure Mage in against control, and often I cut Wurmcoil. This opponent seemed like
he might have Memoricide, however. Additionally, I often cut both Slagstorms, but I thought he might have Precursor Golem in addition to Grave Titan.
Game two, a flurry of discard spells backed up by a Jace, the Mind Sculptor made short work of me. Inquisition of Kozilek on my mana and then Duress on
my walker left me quite off-balance, creating an opening for Precursor Golem. Game three was an interesting match that involved my starting out behind
a Jace, but Tezzeret let me catch up, though I had some trouble actually killing the Jace, thanks to removal. Eventually, he stuck a Grave Titan, but I
got Jace off the table and had to try to slow down the game with Tumble Magnets. Another Grave Titan made things kind of awkward, but an army of 5/5
blockers and Magnets bought me time to threaten Tezz’s ultimate (forcing the opponent into such an awkward position that he had to throw away his
One other interesting element of the Jace/Tezz face-to-face in the U/B matchup is the sometimes eventual need for the U/B player to bounce a 5/5 with
Jace, making it especially important to -1 a Prophetic Prism or a Magnet without counters.
My second-round opponent looked like a reasonable, civilized man, but his turn 1 Terramorphic Expanse made it clear he was anything but. I knew going
into Pro Tour Paris that Valakut was my worst matchup, amongst mainstream decks. I realize this seems a queer choice for a bad matchup, but it wasn’t
as if it was that bad, and Valakut isn’t that popular. Besides, I was really happy with my other matchups, and the matchup is actually
not too bad if the Valakut player isn’t familiar with the matchup. Additionally, I figured that Valakut would do poorly in this event, so if I could
just get through the first day in good shape, I didn’t think I would face that many, later in the event.
Why did I think Valakut would do poorly?
Valakut has been the deck to beat or one of the decks to beat for quite some time. After gaining Green Sun’s Zenith and Slagstorm, it was sure to
continue to be the most popular strategy, but I didn’t actually think that the likely new additions would make it that much better against the new
generation of decks. Rather, I thought the new additions would initially make it better against old decks and worse against new decks, until clever
Valakut players figured out how to tune their lists to beat the new decks (such as using Lightning Bolt and Acidic Slime, instead of garbage like Thrun
and Koth out of their board).
It takes a certain sort of player to play Valakut, and usually you can tell the type. They own four Bloodbraid Elves, four Sprouting Thrinaxes, four
Putrid Leeches, four Savage Lands, and so on. I was willing to bet the vast majority (though not all) would add Green Sun’s Zenith and Slagstorm, then
just practice their Valakut decks against old U/B, old U/W, Vampires, Kuldotha Red, and so on. Meanwhile, I figured everyone in the world would put
Green Sun’s Zenith and Slagstorm in their Valakut gauntlet deck and practice against it more than against any other deck. The result? An entire
tournament full of well prepared and properly tuned anti-Valakut lists but unprepared Valakut players.
Valakut is an extremely strong strategy, and I surely expect it to make a resurgence, but it’s not the sort of strategy that you can’t beat if you try.
It’s a little obnoxious that countermagic and hyper-aggro are basically the only “good” ways to interact with it, outside of good land destruction
(which is only blue, these days). Moving forward, we’ll see Seas, less permission, less Edges, less discard, less Memoricides, less hyper-aggro, and
instead more artifact kill, more sweepers, more Tumble Magnets and Sun Titans, and so on. Valakut will make a resurgence, no doubt, but for last week,
I thought the field would be ready, and consequently, if I could get ahead of the event early, I thought I might play against a slightly lower
percentage of Valakuts than the field would normally produce.
Besides, remember the age-old Spreading Seas mantra: if you can’t beat ’em, hopefully they’ll get mana screwed!
All this theory is well and good, but the fact remained that my opponent was very clearly on Valakut. Oh, no question I sort of sat there trying to
will him into being Boros with a slow hand, but after fetching a Forest, I knew how it lay. I led with a turn 2 Chalice, into a turn 3 Chalice for two
as well as a Sphere of the Suns. This massive advantage was put to good use when I Treasure Maged for Mindslaver and played it.
An awful lot of people always just activate Mindslaver when they put it into play. This is fine for formats like Vintage, where every turn the opponent
takes could kill you. In lower powered formats, however, it’s often best to wait a little bit. If you’re not at risk of dying to your opponent’s next
turn, often the threat of Mindslaver is stronger than the Slaver itself.
Generally, as soon as you play a Slaver without mana to pay for it that turn, your opponent will begin emptying their hand of powerful cards that could
be used against them. If you then Slaver them, they will often have a lot less power to work with. Instead, you can just sit there advancing your board
and hold up four mana. This often creates the effect, somewhat, of Mindslavering them every turn. Obviously, they will keep using their cards against
you, but cards like Mana Leak, removal spells, planeswalkers with the same name, and so on are all huge liabilities.
When it comes to Valakut, this is an especially precarious position for them because they usually need to cast a Primeval Titan and then take another
turn to win. If you control a Mindslaver, they generally can’t ever get a Primeval Titan because it’s too likely you can make them kill themselves
outright with their own Titan. Now, here is the trick: if they don’t play a Primeval Titan, you don’t have to Slaver. You can just sit there and make
them slowly power up their own hand. As long as you don’t let them kill you in one turn, they will have little choice but to advance their board,
making it more likely that you will just be able to make them kill themselves. Meanwhile, you’re advancing your board. If you have any walkers, a Tar
Pit, or whatever, go ahead and do that. Often Galvanic Blast, Treasure Mage, Tar Pit, and so on ensure that the Valakut player won’t have to deal that much damage to themselves to kill themselves. Besides, if you ever play a Tezzeret, you can then Slaver them immediately, as you will have
a “free turn” leading into Tezzeret’s ultimate, which will generally always be fatal by the time their Green Sun’s Zenith for Primeval Titan gets done
My opponent knew conceptually what Mindslaver did, but the first turn that passed without my Slavering him prompted him to remark, “It’s very strange
playing against that card.”
Aside on Sheer Joy
There is a lot of joy in this world. One of greatest joys I have ever experienced was a long-time dream of mine that I never knew would actually come
to fruition. Guillaume Wafo-Tapa is well known for his permanent response to “How many cards in your hand?” (The answer is always seven.) Wafo
loves to draw cards more than any man alive. As such, one of my dreams was to someday Mindslaver Wafo-Tapa. In the testing leading into Paris, that
dream became a reality.
Every game in the room came to a halt when word spread that Mindslaver had resolved (we had been fighting over Jace on Wafo’s turn). As the crowd
circled around, Wafo tanked for a few minutes devising a plan. He then began the process of trying to Mind Sculpt himself into a player that could not
kill himself. I just played draw-go for a while and hung out. Wafo started laughing when it became clear I wasn’t Slavering him until I was ready. Now
the chess match began. He had to identify how long he thought I would hold out before Slavering, as he can take a little more liberty with his “keeps”
if he’s sure I won’t Slaver him next turn.
Meanwhile, I was primarily waiting until I drew a planeswalker, so that when I Slavered Wafo, I could leave him crippled and then at least follow it up
with something sweet. Slavering someone without a follow-up may make them discard four cards and Fog them, but then you’re back to a fair fight. It’s
imperative that you have some way to actually start making a profit after the showdown.
After a few turns, I found a Jace of my own and was ready to Slaver Wafo. Using his Jaces to kill one another (as well as using Beleren’s -1 ability to
force target player, me, to draw a card) and Preordain to get rid of his best cards left him powerless and tapped out. I casually dropped my own Jace,
and he quickly conceded. The great part about Slavering someone that always has seven cards is that there are always so many insane plays that you can
make with their hand!
Eventually, my opponent tried to make forward progress and ended up killing himself. On to game two.
I don’t always bring in the third Duress, and I don’t always board out the second Tumble Magnet. Additionally, if my opponent seems like the type who
has Lotus Cobra (for instance, he plays Misty Rainforest and never plays Cultivate, or he just plays a Cobra), I keep the two Pyroclasms.
Game two, I had a pretty reasonable draw, though I was just too slow for a turn 4 Titan. Game three, I played my turn 1 Tar Pit and shipped the turn,
planning on playing a Sphere on two and a Tezzeret on three. My opponent played a Raging Ravine on turn 1, and a smile crept across my face. I had
Spreading Seas in my hand…
Valakut is notorious for playing a relatively small amount of green mana, considering they are a Mono-Green deck. Often, they won’t play their Forest
until they’re ready to make a second green mana with Cultivate or Khalni Heart Expedition or Overgrown Battlement or Harrow (a card that must be kept
in mind if you’re going to make ’em spread ’em). Other times, they won’t have a Forest, instead relying on Terramorphic Expanse or Evolving Wilds to
find their green during your end step. Valakut players are very used to playing against Spreading Seas and know that playing an Expanse on turn 1 is
generally the best land they can play.
When a Valakut player leads with Raging Ravine, they may act confident, but this is often a sign of weakness. It means they don’t have an Expanse, and
in fact, they may have no other green at all (if they don’t have a Forest in their hand). I Spread the Seas, and my opponent sighed, and I knew he was
beat. On his turn, he played Valakut the Molten Pinnacle. I went back to advancing my board. By the time I finished him off on turn 6, he had not yet
cast a spell.
If you can’t beat ’em, hopefully they get mana screwed!
Round 3 R/G Infect
My third round was definitely somewhat unexpected. A turn 1 Rootbound Crag, followed by a turn 2 Copperline Gorge into Necropede brought a raised
eyebrow from me. I was planning on playing a Sphere of the Suns, which would allow me to play a Chalice and a Pyroclasm next turn and have a massive
mana advantage, as well as potentially snagging an additional creature, or I could just drop a Tumble Magnet next turn to “ensure” that I got two guys
with my sweeper.
However, my inner Darkest Mage was screaming at me at the top of his metaphorical lungs. “Pyroclasm it, now!”
Why would I do that? I don’t have another land. If I play my Sphere this turn, I will have two additional mana next turn if I want it, be able to get
more value out of my sweeper, get to use a Magnet, and more. All sorts of good things come to me if I just wait one turn. If I blow the Pyroclasm now,
I won’t be any further ahead next turn, and then I’d just be in this spot again next turn when he drops his next infect creature, if he is even playing
an infect deck. For all I know, he might be playing some weird Machine Red deck or something.
Out of respect for the voices in my head, I studied my opponent long and hard. He sure did look happy to be here. He also seemed to be trying very hard
to not look at his hand.
He binned his guy, took his turn, played a land, and then shipped.
I went back to doing me, and over the next few turns, I made sure to never let the eventual Ichorclaw Myr ever hit me. A Tezzeret later, the game was
over. Later, I found out that he had both Groundswell and Assault Strobe. Good read.
Astute readers will notice I seem to board out Treasure Mage in most matchups, which may lead one to wonder why play it at all. First of all, game one,
I have two Treasures against everyone, whereas I generally have only one after board (keeping Slaver against control and Wurmcoil against aggro). This
makes it just a naturally stronger game one card. Additionally, I need to be more proactive game one, and Treasure Mage is very proactive. After
boarding, I can adapt my strategy to be much more reactive. Next, the Tezzeret engine is very tight, so it’s often difficult to board out many cards. A
card that’s somewhat good against everyone game one but gets worst after board is a perfect fit.
My plans also change, after board. For instance, against Valakut, I love Slavering them game one. After board, however, Acidic Slime makes it hard to
pull off again. There’s nothing wrong with a card that you board out against everyone (and the corollary, there’s nothing wrong with a card you
sideboard in against everyone). The key is to just maximize your win percentage.
Game two got kind of strange when he dropped a Livewire Lash, which I knew in theory worked well with infect, but I’d never actually played against it.
I was on a Tumble Magnet draw, but things got hairy when he dropped an Ichorclaw Myr with plenty of mana. I started taking two a turn, as he’d pump his
guy just to “Fireblast” me. I knew I couldn’t take much more of this, so I decided to try Galvanic Blasting the Myr, which ended poorly for me. When
your opponent has five mana, five cards in hand, and they’re mostly Vines of the Vastwood and Groundswell, you aren’t winning this fight.
Admittedly, I played pretty badly this game, as I should have Galvanic Blasted his Myr when he tried to equip it and at least drew out some of his
pumps then. That’s one of the classic advantages of playing rogue decks. If your opponent doesn’t know how to play against you, they don’t know how to
play against you.
Game three, I opened with a turn 1 Duress and saw Canopy Cover, Canopy Cover, Groundswell, Vines of the Vastwood, Rootbound Crag, Forest, Ichorclaw
Myr. Err, I guess I take Vines of the Vastwood. Canopy Cover, eh? Obviously I have six sweepers, but that is still a card I just don’t have experience
playing against. He ended up dropping the Myr on turn 2, which proved a mistake when I immediately killed it, stranding a hand full of pump spells in
his hand that could’ve been used to protect it.
Round 4 RUG
Round four, I squared off against the RUG deck. I had a feeling during testing that RUG was the most mainstream deck that I didn’t get any games in
against, but I certainly thought about it quite a bit and discussed the theory behind it at great length with the RUG deck’s creator, Michael Jacob. It
proved a very interesting matchup, revolving around fighting over planeswalkers and my trying to keep him off of Titan mana. Game one, I managed to
mana screw him by killing his mana creatures and hitting with three Tectonic Edges. Eventually, we found out who wins in the match of Tezzeret versus
Game two, he got too far ahead of me with Cobra into Jace, which I had to react to, letting him stick Frost Titan into Frost Titan. Game three,
Tezzeret going to four loyalty was just too hard for him to beat, as I started “tome-ing” every turn and trading my cards one for one with him.
Round 5 BUG
I was optimistic when my opponent led with Creeping Tar Pit, as U/B is one of my best matchups. His turn 2 Forest changed the equation, however, as I
hadn’t spent a lot of time working on the BUG deck, lately, though I did play it at Pro Tour San Juan, last year. His discard offered a better
dimension than the burn of the RUG deck, but in the end, he still couldn’t deal with a Tezzeret (he was on Titans, not Vengevine). The final game came
down to this interesting race where he had several Titans in hand (info courtesy of Duress), but I had an active Jace and was trying to keep him off of
land (he had only four land at this point, only one of which was blue, and I was quickly gaining loyalty).
I kept him off balance for a moment, but eventually he was able to start dropping Titans. However, by that point, I had enough defense to weather the
storm and put away the game with a Tezzeret ultimate.
I sat down at the first draft pod, ready for a challenging table containing Ben Stark, Martin Juza, Lucas Florent, Conrad Kolos, and more; I knew I was
planning on sticking with MJ’s Ichor Wellspring strategy. It’s not that it’s broken or anything. It’s just that I was getting really good results with
it and poor results with other strategies. As such, even if it’s just that I’m weak with black and green, I’m trying to maximize my wins today. Later,
I would have plenty of time to practice drafting other colors (and over the course of the weekend, I ended up getting in half a dozen more “pride
drafts,” often drafting black or green for the practice).
You can follow each pick with
the draft viewer
Mirrodin Besieged pack
I love Ichor Wellspring more than anyone other than MJ, but I pick Corrupted Conscience over it pick one, pack one, every time. Control Magic effects
are really good. This pack had a number of sweet cards, none of which were red, meaning I would keep an eye out for whether I could make a good
move at it, locking up sweet red cards in pack two.
Hellkite Igniter is not my favorite of the bomb rares, as seven is a lot. Still, he gets the job done and is the clear pick here, though it’s
disappointing to pass Blisterstick. The Shaman isn’t insane or anything, but he does help lead one of my neighbors into red.
I like Morbid Plunder a great deal, but it’s black, and I would be happier with U/R. Besides, the Spine is the clear first pick here, especially since
I’m red and will have a lot of opportunities to find sacrifice outlets.
Here’s where I make one of my least favorite picks of the draft. I tend to prefer Ichor Wellspring to Burn the Impure, though it’s quite close. My deck
was already so slow that I erred on the side of early defense, but I wonder if I should’ve stuck to my guns. I also really didn’t want my neighbor to
move into red, so the pick is probably defensible.
And fortune smiles upon me! This made me feel a lot better about the earlier Burn, but this wasn’t unexpected, as Ichor Wellspring was generally
underrated by everyone.
Yes, I probably won’t play Shriekhorn, but I really want my neighbors to be firmly in black and green, so I pass the Nested Ghoul and Tangle Hulk.
Friendly drafting is generally better than hate drafting in individual drafts!
I wondered if I should take the Slasher and would have for sure if I had the second Ichor Wellspring. As it was, I decided to take more early defense.
Doing it! I felt such a rush when I saw that Ichor Wellspring; there’s just no describing it. Would have liked that Rusted Slasher, now, but how was I
to know that I’d table the best card in the pack?
Spin Engine is a very aggressive card, whereas the Couriers are fine blockers, and I need early defense.
Again, I wanted the sacrifice outlet, but I really needed the early defense. Still, with two Ichor Wellsprings and a Spine, I really needed to be sure
to pick up Ferrovores and Oxidda Daredevils. I just couldn’t stomach another six-drop with how much endgame I already had.
Pick 13: Shriekhorn
Pick 14: Caustic Hound
Scars of Mirrodin pack
More much needed removal.
A true gift, as Volition Reins is one of the absolute best cards in the format, in my opinion.
A must for my Wellsprings and Spine.
Yes, a rare draft, but I’m really, really sure I’m not boarding in those two.
Pick 11: Auriok Sunchaser
Pick 12: Oxidda Daredevil
Mise! Everything is just turning up, Patrick!
Pick 13: Screeching Silcaw
Pick 14: Melt Terrain
Scars of Mirrodin pack
Removal is good, but bomb rares are even better.
Just what the doctor ordered! Helps fill out my midrange, provides power, card advantage, and removal.
An excellent removal spell and sweeper.
Clone Shell is a defensible pick, here, often, but I didn’t expect to have that many creatures in my deck.
Really not sure if this is right, but I had enough removal at this point that I wanted a little more card advantage.
Pick 13: Ogre Geargrabber
Pick 14: Screeching Silcaw
Sucks to be that guy to have to break this into a third part, but I guess I’m that guy. Grand Prix Denver is currently out of control…
Tune in tomorrow for the actual conclusion!