There is something powerful about getting off a plane in Italy that helps it hit home… this is the World Championships of Magic. After a classically long flight across the ocean with about fifty other Magic players, we had finally landed.
You might wonder what sort of planning is needed to coordinate 50 Magic players to end up on the same flight to another country, but when you slide your perspective back a little, it is not surprising to learn that most of them did not have any plans with any of the others. What sort of strange twist of fate brought them all to the same flight?
This is the exact sort of “crazy coincidence” that has people wondering what sort of Machiavellian conspiracy must be afoot to explain how two, three, or even more groups can show up to a Magic tournament with the same extraordinarily unlikely technology. Spies? Leaks? Divine intervention? How do you explain Shota Yasooka and Michael Jacob arriving at such similar Dredge decks independently?
There are only so many ways to build a Dredge deck in Standard right now, so once you have addressed the issue of having the idea to build a Dredge deck at all, you realize that it is not actually that unlikely for several groups to build the same decks independently. When you go to the StarCityGames.com Spoiler Generator and type in the word Graveyard, how many Standard-legal hits do you think you get?
One hundred thirty three.
That is not that many cards to examine, so it is entirely possible that people that have never spoken could find the same answers as each other, as there are only so many logical ways to solve that particular problem.
How many flights do you suppose go from Minneapolis to Rome the day after the Grand Prix?
It is amazing how much difference a little perspective can have on what seems “Amazing and Improbable” versus what is “Commonplace and Expected.” The next time you encounter something that seems highly unlikely or an amazing coincidence, whether it is in Magic or anything else, try looking at it from this perspective and ask yourself in what other ways things could have logically unfolded. The world looks a lot different when you look at it logically, rather than just through the lens of whatever emotional state one may currently be experiencing.
A little too far out there? Okay, let’s get back to Rome. Decklists coming, I promise. Upon landing, a group of us approached Customs, and one of the guys asked me, “Are you going to have any problems?”
“No, it’s all good. Everything should be copasetic. I was here last year, and besides, this is Italy. They have a slightly different attitude than the U.S. about such things.”
We approached the line to go through Customs. There was an Italian man sipping a cup of coffee and reading a newspaper with his right hand raised, motioning for everyone to pass him. That was Customs. He did not look at us, demand any paperwork, or anything else. I am not saying this is how it should be, nor am I saying that I would have problems otherwise; I am just saying that this is a very telling glimpse into the Italian perspective.
To understand the Italian people, you have to realize a number of things about them and their culture. First of all, this is Rome. Rome. The capital of Earth. To say there is an implied superiority is a bit of an understatement, but it is not a snobbish take on it; rather, there is no need. These people live in Rome. Why would they need to rub it in?
The people here, they love their culture very much, and hold onto their traditions fiercely. Sometimes this is manifested in their dominance of the fashion industry (or any number of other luxuries). Sometimes this is demonstrated with shortcomings, such as the incredible number of people who still smoke cigarettes in Italy. Sometimes it is as subtly overpowering as the number of “cafes,” outnumbering all restaurants, bars, clubs, grocery stores, fast food places, and gas stations combined.
There is a rich history of cafes in Italy, places where people stand around sipping coffee, eating pastries, and smoking cigarettes. How many of these places would you think a city needs? In downtown Rome, they have at least two cafes on every block on every street. We are talking hundreds of cafes in a one-mile radius, and that’s no exaggeration. The crazy part is that each cafÃ© would have a couple people in it. Who are these people? Does no one in Rome work? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I am all about a culture where people take breaks from their job and walk over to the cafÃ© to hang out for a bit, but it is amazing to me just how much “hanging out” these people do.
It is impressive to see a city with millions of people hanging out at cafes, eating pastries, sipping coffee, and (unfortunately) smoking cigarettes. It really helps make for a place with a LOT of life to it, as you can always find people to converse with, just hanging out. Plus, if you like pastries, you are golden.
The thing is… I like cooked meat. A LOT. I eat a lot of meat all the time, and not many carbs. Italy has a reputation for great food, but let me just clarify… they have great PASTA. I can enjoy an occasional pasta dish to much delight, but eating pastries, pasta, and pizza, all day every day, has me craving meat.
You might be saying “order a hamburger, or a steak, or some chicken.”
Good luck finding such things in Italy. Oh they exist, no question, but it is a rare and magical thing to find them, and it is not without great effort, as one does not just cook meat and eat it in Rome. I am resourceful, especially when it comes to finding cooked meat to eat, and it took me three hours to find a place that would sell me cooked meat without a reservation.
Anyway, if you are planning on spending some time in Italy and you are a carnivore like me, I highly recommend a little planning to make sure you have an idea of where you are going to find animals to eat.
You might say, “why not eat the Pizza?”
Well, of course you eat some Pizza (it is all Pizza, Pasta, and Pastries, all the time). It is just that Pizza in Italy is not the same as Pizza in the America. I am sure theirs is much healthier, as it seems like a totally different product than what I am used to in America, especially missing the “grease” element. Some people really go for this, but I know I am not alone in feeling that Italian Pizza is not my idea of Pizza. [I guess inventing the food counts for nothing… – Craig, amused.]
Their pasta, on the other hand…
You want to taste the best Italy has to offer? Order pasta from stone cold anywhere. There are sixty million people living in Italy. Interestingly, the list of inhabitants of Italy comprises sixty million of the sixty-one million best pasta chefs in the world. These people do not play, and I have never had pasta in Italy that was not world class.
Now, if only they served American sized fatboy specials…
So, among all of this pastry, pizza, and pasta eating, I found some time to sling some spells, Magic The Gathering style. I did not get to prepare for this event to the degree that I would like, nor did I have as much opportunity to play in person with people as I would have liked, but after some games with Michael Jacob and Gabriel Nassif, as well as chats with Ben Rubin, Brian Kibler, Paul Rietzl, Mark Herberholz, David Williams, Matt Sperling, Jaime Parke, and Johan Sadeghpour, I arrived at the following list:
I did not set out to play Five-Color Control, but tested Jund, Boros, Naya, White Weenie, Mono-White Control, Pyromancer Ascension, Summoning Trap, and Mono-Red, as well as a variety of Control and Cascade decks, without liking much of anything.
This build is a reasonable deck and has decent match-ups against the mainstream decks, but is perhaps a tad inconsistent. Oh Vivid Lands, how I miss thee!
I ended up posting a record of 3-3 in the Standard portion, going 3-1 against Jund, and dropping matches to Boros and Valakut. I punted my match against Valakut, as I found myself in a situation where I had Baneslayer, Ajani Vengeant, Double Negative, Cruel Ultimatum, and eight land including a Plains and an Arcane Sanctum that I had just played tapped. I was on seven and my opponent had a Goblin Ruinblaster, a Bloodbraid Elf, and a Chandra Nalaar with two counters.
What I should have done is play Ajani, shoot Chandra, and Double Negative whatever he does that is relevant. He would attack Ajani with the Goblin and me with the Elf, then I would untap and Cruel, leaving him with almost nothing and a huge supply of great options for myself.
Instead, what I did was cast Baneslayer. Part of me thought that I was still going to be able to cast Double Negative, as I mentally thought I had eight mana. As I was tapping the lands, I realized that I was going to be short a mana, but I didn’t stop myself, since there was also a part of me that was not giving my opponent much credit. After all, what could he really do that mattered anyway?
He played a Siege-Gang Commander, shot my Angel for one with Chandra, twice with Siege-Gang, and then attacked, leaving me with no outs.
1. Underestimating an enemy can be fatal.
2. If you realize you are about to make a mistake and would have to look foolish to stop yourself, STOP YOURSELF. You make look foolish in the short term, but trust me, having to live with the mistake will make you feel much more foolish in the long run.
I also lost a match to Jund where I was down a game and somewhat on tilt from mana screw, when I eventually found myself in the situation where my hand is Esper Charm and Lightning Bolt. My board is three Arcane Sanctums (one of which I just played this turn) and a Mountain. I mulliganed to five, and three Blightnings had been cast this game, but amazingly, I was still in it. My opponent was a little flooded (something like eight land at this point) and played a precombat Garruk (presumably to bait out the Double Negative he put me on so that he could pump his Leech).
He attacked me, and we did the dance where he doesn’t pump, so I don’t Bolt. After knocking me to six, he made a token and passed. I shot the token with the Bolt, untapped, and drew Wall of Denial. I tried valiantly to make a comeback, but I can’t beat the Garruk, as he was also packing Burst Lighting.
After the match, Pro Tour Hawaii Champion, Kazuya Mitamura asked me why I did not Lightning Bolt Garruk. I explained that I thought I had fewer outs if I killed Garruk immediately, rather than killing the token, since if he had a Leech and a Beast, I was on a short clock indeed. He smiled warmly and asked why I didn’t Lightning Bolt Garruk inside of combat after the Leech dealt its two damage.
I could have killed the Garruk before it even made a Beast, which would have made my Wall of Denial enough to stabilize the game, albeit at a low life total. I would still have been a big dog in both the game and match, but a mistake is a mistake.
My match against Boros ended with me keeping a hand of Jungle Shrine, Mountain, Traumatic Visions, Traumatic Visions, Lightning Bolt, Earthquake, Wall of Denial on the draw, which is one Mountain away from perfection in this match-up. As you might guess, I didn’t get there, but perhaps the mistake here was playing Jungle Shrine instead of a third Rupture Spire.
My three wins against Jund were hardly surprising, as this was the primary match-up that I spent my playtest time on. Game 1 they have a lot of dead cards, which can help give me a nice edge. After sideboarding, it is much tougher, as their Terminates and Bituminous Blasts become Duress, Ruinblaster, Thought Hemorrhage, and so on, but the Spreading Seas technology that Michael Jacob had instilled in me was amazing.
Some readers may be familiar by now with Gerry Thompson (and whoever else built it) Spreading Seas deck that wants to Spreading Seas so bad, it Cascades into it and even plays Convincing Mirage so as to have MORE Seas to Spread.
He told me I should be playing this bad boy. I don’t know… I will try it, but obviously it is a little wacky. Seems kind of sweet, though, but I am not sure how it will fare against non-Jund decks, especially since it is now known.
The reason it is so good against Jund is the same reason I sideboarded Spreading Seas in Rome. Aside from just being a powerful card in general, it is totally amazing against Jund and their frail manabase. Of course, there are plenty of other fragile manabases these days (mine included), but turning a Savage Lands into an Island might as well be Sinkhole against Jund, and Spreading Seas even draws a card!
Jund’s manabase is even more fragile than it first appears, because they have to do things like run Mountains with Putrid Leech, as well as support double Red for Ruinblaster, despite so many Swamps, Forests, Verdant Catacombs, and Oran-Riefs. When Spreading the Seas, go after the Mountains!
You may be tempted by Oran-Rief, but generally, it is the Mountain that you want to Spread. Often, it is better to Spreading Seas the Mountain instead of even Rootbound Crag, because if they have a Rootbound Crag, a Forest, an Oran-Rief, and a Mountain, you can’t really keep them off their Green, so you might as well attack the Mountain so that if they play a Dragonskull Summit, it enters the battlefield tapped, buying you one more turn of no Ruinblasters.
Buying yourself time with Spreading Seas goes a very long way towards getting the game to a point where you can start doing things like Cruel Ultimatum or Sphinx of Jwar Isle, from which Jund just can’t recover.
A few more comments on this Four-Color Control deck are in order, I think. First of all, Nicol Bolas is really good as a finisher right now. I was finding that I needed help closing out games, as Cruel Ultimatum just wasn’t big enough against some decks, like Mono-White Control. Nicol Bolas is great against Mono-Green, Mono-White, Thought Hemorrhage, Baneslayer, and more. If you were wondering if there is a greater power still, there is.
In retrospect, I think I needed more card draw, and probably should have just sucked it up and played Divination. Aside from the card advantage, I missed the ability of cards like Mulldrifter to get me out of manascrew. Traumatic Visions helps a lot, but if you want to play four colors, I think you need even more to smooth out your draws.
Earthquake over Wrath is hardly new or surprising, but I may have overreacted a bit to Mono-Green and Boros with four main deck. Still, they were good. Sphinx of Jwar Isle was great for me all day, and it is nice to be able to swap them for Baneslayers in many match-ups, such as Mono-Green, Dredge, and many Boros decks (actually, most non-Jund match-ups). The Sphinx of Lost Truths was okay, but you have to remember, he is much more about the library manipulation than the body since he always dies anyway. The upside to this is that he makes your Cruel Ultimatums much better.
Ajani Vengeant is really good right now, and is one of the best aspects of the White in the Deck. Don’t get me wrong, Esper Charm is the best card, but it can be replaced with Divination if you want it bad enough. Wall of Denial is one of the best features of White in a control deck, and I am not sure if one can make it without it, but perhaps Wafo-Tapa has found a way. Ajani is a tough one to replace as well, but Wafo may have found the answer with Sorin Markov. Here is Wafo’s Grixis control deck, which he took to a record of 4-2 (after punting one match, in his words).
Wafo-Tapa is one of my favorite deck builders of all time. Every tournament, Wafo and I share a moment where we swap decks to see what the other has come up with. Amusingly, when we did this during the Extended portion, Wafo started laughing and was embarrassed. I asked what was wrong, he handed me his deck box and said he was ashamed.
I opened it.
In Martin Juzaâ€˜s words… “Really?”
He said that he had been unable to make control work in Extended, and gave in to the fear. At that point, he was 0-2 in Extended and said that he deserved his fate.
Anyway, I was impressed by Wafo’s build, as it is much lighter and leaner than mine. Its curve is so low, and he manages to fit in an unbelievable number of card draw spells, despite this day and age of Blue sucking. The thing that really struck me, and had Nassif and I shaking our heads, was the main deck Flashfreeze. Why didn’t we think of that? We tried main deck Celestial Purge and main deck Deathmark. Why not Flashfreeze, which is obviously the only good counterspell in the format?
We ended up with four in our sideboards and not surprisingly, we boarded them in every round. Nassif, Herberholz, and Williams did not like anything that they had come up with, and ended playing my Four-Color deck as well, but none of them did particularly well, pointing to the deck just not being good enough (at least in this form).
Wafo’s deck looks interesting, but like many of his decks, it doesn’t try to control or contain everything. It has some permission, it has some removal, it has card draw, it has an endgame, but there are many problems that he just can’t really deal with.
That might be okay. That might be the way you have to play control these days.
Anyway, I like his deck and might be playing something similar to it in the upcoming State Championships. I can’t make any promises though, because as long as people like me keep playing control, no matter how bad the Blue cards and other reactive cards are, things will never get better. Blue has a history of taking over the game, and it is only with great effort on WotC’s part are they able to restrain it from totally dominating all of the other colors. I was talking with some of the R&D guys this weekend, and their thinking is that as long as people are still playing Blue cards, how bad could they really be?
Look at the game’s history.
Best Color in General
1995- Red or Green
2000- White or Blue
2002- Blue, Black, or Green
2003- Red or White
2004- Balanced (if you can call Mirrodin block balanced)
2005- Balanced (Kamigawa may have been a lame block, but the colors were reasonably balanced)
2006- Balanced (Ravnica had strong Blue decks, strong, R/G, strong B/W, and more)
2009- Which bring us to today, and explains why it is hard to have sympathy for Blue.
Anyway, as much as I enjoy Blue cards, I am interested in winning, and will be going to greater lengths in the future to explore non-Blue, or even non-control decks. I realized this week something that many people have been telling me for a while. I used to put a lot of energy into building beatdown decks and midrange decks, not just combo and control.
If I had spent the same energy trying to improve Jund that I spent making a control deck, who knows what I would have come up with?
Look at Manuel Bucher, who has set aside the card draw, the permission, the defenders, the sweepers, and instead shows up with Bant aggro in all formats. I am not a big fan of the G/W/u deck he played in Standard, but it is decent, and it certainly performed well for him. Big props to Manu; like LSV, he was long heralded as the next up-and-comer to bust out, but it has taken him a few years to finally break into the Top 8 of a Pro Tour. Like LSV, I suspect that finally breaking the jinx will do wonders for his mental game, and I would not be surprised in the least to find Manu in the Top 8 of San Diego. He is playing the best Magic I have ever seen from him, and now that he has a Top 8 out of the way, I think he will be more relaxed and in the zone.
Before the tournament, Olivier said that he picks Manu to Top 8, and says that there are maybe 5 players in the world that are playing at his level right now. He might be right, time will tell.
While we are still on the topic of Standard decks, I want to take a few minutes to examine the Naya Lightsaber deck with which Andre Coimbra won the World Championships. Andre is a very strong player, and was armed with a cutting edge “Big” Naya deck, courtesy of one of the all time greats, Michael J. Flores.
- 4 Ranger of Eos
- 4 Wild Nacatl
- 4 Woolly Thoctar
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 4 Bloodbraid Elf
- 4 Baneslayer Angel
- 1 Scute Mob
MichaelJ had been laying low on the deck building front for a bit, focusing on his family and work, but in recent months has been coming back with a vengeance. I wrote about his dedicated cascade deck here, where MichaelJ had unveiled a novel strategy that ended up putting two people in the Top 8 of the StarCityGames.com $5000 Nashville Standard Open a few weeks back.
Now, Flores has unleashed another monster, packing so many proactive powerhouses that it is somewhat surprising to find that there was room for all of them, and as four-ofs. “Isn’t this just another midrange deck?” you might be asking. No, and here is why…
This deck has the best card advantage in the format. Ranger of Eos? Bloodbraid Elf? Ajani Vengeant? These are the new ways to gain card advantage. Lightning Bolt, Path to Exile, and Ajani Vengeant are among the best removal, and Baneslayer Angel, the good Woolly Thoctar, and Scute Mob are incredible end-game threats.
Can you build a deck that can prey of the saturation of fat creatures in Naya Lightsaber? Sure, but that is not the point. Naya Lightsaber does not aspire to be the focal point of the format; it is willing to let Jund be that. It just shows up in Jund’s world and preys on the fact that the entire metagame is designed to beat Jund, not Naya. This is not to say that Naya doesn’t beat Jund, as it does have edge over it. This is more a reflection on the fact that people can’t just go around playing tons of cards to beat Naya, like Day of Judgment, Journey to Nowhere, and so on. You can play some of that stuff, but the more of that you play, the harder Jund will be, and with 34% of Worlds competitors packing Jund, and a full 50% of the Top 42 Standard decks being Jund, it is safe to say that the format still revolves around Jund.
Flores’s deck is built around the theory that creatures are so good right now that you can base a winning strategy on just summoning the most strong creatures, and in the words of Jamie Wakefield, the last fatty they don’t deal with kills them. Without good combo decks to force aggro decks to be interactive, we find a format where decks like this are possible.
If you are looking for a good alternative to Jund for States, I recommend checking out Naya Lightsaber. When I was in Bucher’s hotel room, with Olivier and Antoine Ruel helping him test for his Top 8 match-up against Terry Soh, also piloting a Naya deck, we couldn’t help but notice how much more we liked Andre’s list than Soh’s. One of the most compelling aspects of the Naya Lightsaber is the fact that it is literally a list of the best Red, White, and Green cards in the format.
Bloodbraid Elf, Ranger of Eos, Lightning Bolt, Baneslayer Angel, Path to Exile, Noble Hierarch, Ajani Vengeant… these are the best of the best. It used to be that the Five-Color Control decks had the most powerful cards, and that was how they made up for the inconsistencies in their mana. Compare the power level of the cards in this deck to my Four-Color Control deck. To think, I showed up with Essence Scatter, Double Negative, Oblivion Ring, Traumatic Visions, Negate, and more. If you can’t even play the most powerful cards, you have to ask yourself what advantage your control deck really has…
After a disappointing showing in the Standard portion, I managed a 2-1 record in both of my draft pods, leaving me out of contention before Extended even began. I played well in the draft portion, but I was disappointed to have finished 4-2 in what I thought was my best format. I am not sure I could have changed the outcomes of my matches, beyond talk of “draft better” etc, but perhaps there were errors I did not see. I know that I certainly made some “judgment calls” during the draft that, in retrospect, were not ideal, but it is always hard, since you are trying the best you can, and if you count it as a mistake when a pick doesn’t work out, are you supposed to count it as a mistake when a pick works out but was actually wrong?
One last note on day 1 of the competition. I have a few words to say on the Charles Gindy situation. At risk of the topic taking over this article and thread, I would like to limit my discussion of the topic, since there is so much more pressing to talk about and everything that needs to be done with the Gindy situation is being done. There is plenty being said debating the relative importance of the various factors elsewhere, but let me tell the short version.
I was sitting next to Gindy during round 6 of the Standard portion. Gindy drew a couple of Lightning Bolts to edge out a win against a Mono-White control deck with his Jund deck. The opponent was in disbelief that he had lost, and was very upset. Gindy then asked him why he didn’t assign two damage to a 2/2 wolf when Gindy activated Master of the Wild Hunt. Gindy had a 3/3 and had “assumed” that the opponent was assigning two damage to that creature.
The opponent was furious, believing that Gindy had cheated him. A judge was called, and after examining the case, they judges decided to DQ Gindy on account of Fraud (misrepresenting his cards). This, of course, disqualified the U.S. team from the team competition, and was generally a pretty unfortunate situation. While we cannot undo the DQ, we can look to see what we can learn from the situation.
First of all, it should be noted that Gindy’s 2/2 wolf was actually tapped, and could not legally receive any damage in that situation. In fact, the game state was not only perfectly legal, it was the only way things could be. No cheating took place, and after learning of this information later, it sounded like the judges would have not DQed Gindy had they known this about the game state.
Was this a mistake on the Judge’s part?
No. The truth is, even though Gindy thought what he was doing wasn’t cheating (I know Gindy, and he is no cheater), and even though Gindy wasn’t actually cheating, it wasn’t for the same reason. The reason Gindy got DQed was because when he was talking with the judges, he inadvertently confessed to a crime he didn’t even commit.
You could say it was foolish of Gindy to point out his opponent’s mistake in that case, and you would probably be right, as what was there to be gained? Sign the slip and dip. What is the difference between this and my infamous Profane Bluff? Well, with the Profane Command play I made, I was not misrepresenting my cards at all, and did not tell my opponent to “rub it in.” Rather, I explained the situation to make sure that everything was resolved in the moment, rather than have my opponent come back later after being told by a friend of a friend of a friend a version that has changed as a result of telephone.
Maybe Gindy was trying to help his opponent, but the awkward thing is that the play Gindy “thought” he had pulled off crosses the line. Let’s say that Gindy’s Wolf had been untapped (and keep in mind that this was another big mistake on Gindy’s part: by not understanding how his cards work, he was unable to properly explain or understand what was going on). Would Gindy’s play have been legal?
No. That is the exact thing they DQed him for. What was wrong? Gindy’s opponent MUST choose where to deal the 2 damage. It is possible for a Kibler/Angel of Despair like mistake, but clearly in this case, Gindy knows that the opponent must make a choice. Does he have to make his opponent choose?
Yes. Yes he does. His card says it. His opponent is every bit as responsible, but the opponent doesn’t know. If you let your opponent bin his Tarmogoyf in combat, a Tarmogoyf that should not die, you are both letting the game state become illegal. But if you know and don’t say anything, you are cheating.
What could Gindy have done? In this case, he needed to have his opponent make a choice about how to assign damage. If he was going to try to actually pull off the play that he thought he was, he needed to do something to get his opponent to indicate how damage was being assigned.
For instance, what if Gindy had activated the Master of the Wild Hunt, tapped his wolves, and said that he was targeting the 2/2 creature that he targeted. The opponent goes to bin his guy, and Gindy says, “are you dealing the damage to this wolf?” picking up the wolf token with a +1/+1 counter on it.
I think that in that situation, the opponent very likely would have said “yes,” and Gindy would have pulled off his move. The difference? He would be following the rules.
Now don’t get it twisted. Gindy is no cheater, and he did not mean to break the rules. As it turns out, he didn’t even actually break the rules either, but he thought he was doing something that is actually illegal, even if he did not realize it. Some people would let this break them, but Gindy is a strong man, and he will rebound.
There are a number of valuable lessons to be learned here, not least of which is to know the rules of the game before you play. Not everyone can know all the rules all the time, but one vital rule to understand is that if you are going to try to use mind games, then you’d damn well better understand what you need to be doing to make sure that that’s what they are, because bluffing is encouraged, but fraud is a crime.
I am sure they will not ban Gindy, and hopefully his good name will not be tarnished by this unfortunate misunderstanding. Remember, Martin Juza was DQed not too long ago, and he is as far from a cheater as you can get. Martin learned from the situation and bounced back. He did make a mistake, even if he was not trying to cheat, and though the floor rules were changed as a result, the rules are the rules.
Long story short: Gindy did not cheat and is not a cheater. However, he was guilty of making a number of amateurish mistakes with regards to procedure, and definitely created the situation he found himself in. I think on some level he felt guilty about the play he thought he was making, as well he should, and that caused him to confess, when the actual crime of which he was accused… he did not commit it.
Just like if you go in front of a judge in a courtroom and plead guilty to a crime you did not commit, if you tell a judge that you are doing something illegal, you risk penalty, even if you did not really do it. Be mindful. Be aware. Be tricky if you want, but be honest and stay within the confines of the rules. As long as you are mentally operating from a place where you are staying within the framework of the rules, you will save yourself a lot of potential trouble when mistakes happen.
For instance, I was mistaken about a Counterbalance ruling after being misinformed by another player. I asked for a ruling and ended up getting the same wrong ruling the player had given me. Was I at risk of being DQed? No, because I was not trying to misrepresent my cards at all. I will go to great lengths to try to trick an opponent in a game, but I would not intentionally allow something illegal to happen. I followed the correct procedure by calling a judge and asking for a ruling. I think that the next time there is an issue, Gindy will go the extra mile to make sure that the correct procedure is being followed, such as getting the opponent to acknowledge where damage was being assigned.
Going into Day 3, I needed an Extended deck and had played almost no Extended between Austin and Rome. As I said, I was less prepared for this event than any other Pro Tour in recent memory, and despite some last-minute brewing, I decided to avoid playing something crazy and untested, instead updating my Austin deck, which I knew to be better than my performance indicated.
- 4 Mana Leak
- 3 Gifts Ungiven
- 2 Vedalken Shackles
- 4 Thirst for Knowledge
- 1 Tormod's Crypt
- 1 Chalice of the Void
- 2 Chrome Mox
- 2 Engineered Explosives
- 1 Life from the Loam
- 1 Muddle the Mixture
- 3 Spell Snare
- 1 Spell Burst
- 1 Sword of the Meek
- 2 Cryptic Command
- 1 Firespout
- 1 Bant Charm
- 3 Path to Exile
- 1 Thopter Foundry
- 3 Punishing Fire
I ended up finishing 4-2, though at least one of my losses was a pretty bad punt against All-In Red. A lot of people think it is better to try to convince themselves that they didn’t make any mistakes, or at least any mistakes that mattered, but I think that being afraid to face your mistakes hinders you a lot more than the comfort it affords is worth.
In game 3, my opponent had a Blood Moon in play and cast a Simian Spirit Guide. In my infinite wisdom, I used my last Mana Leak on it, despite being at 20 life. Why? Sure, I had no answer to it, but I had plenty of time to find one, and even with Blood Moon, it is easy for my deck to answer Grey Ogre beatdown.
I did play well the rest of the day though, defeating Mono-Red Lava Spike, Hypergenesis, Dark Depths, and Rubin Zoo. My only other loss was a heartbreaker against another Rubin Zoo deck, where I mulliganed, didn’t play a land on turns 3 or 4, and still almost came back to win, before succumbing to a Baneslayer Angel when I had to tap out to play my own and my opponent revealed that the last card in his hand was a Path to Exile.
It should be noted that I sideboarded in Baneslayer Angel against almost all of my opponents, and with so much artifact destruction around, it is very possible that it would be better to take out the Gifts, Thopter/Sword, and Loam, and just be a Baneslayer Angel deck from the gate. I am not sure what card draw can replace Gifts, but maybe just playing more Cryptic Commands is the ticket. Here is a brew that I came up with after the tournament…
I haven’t played any games with this beast yet, but if I have to play in Extended PTQs, I think I might try something like this. All in all, I was pretty happy with my choice for Extended and, not surprisingly, I like the format a bit more than Standard.
I was looking at LSV’s Gifts deck in Rome, and it is a possible place to explore if you want to go the other way with the deck. For reference:
So, after finishing 11-7, I ended up just outside the money at 80th place. No question it was a disappointing tournament, and it is a painful gift to be so much better at understanding Magic than actually playing it (forcing me to be painfully aware of just how many matches I am punting).
Of course, I am making plenty of mistakes in-game, but as a general strategy, I am playing the best I know how in any given game, so the fact that I am consistently finding myself in situations where I am not able to play my A-Game has me considering if I am perhaps making a different kind of mistake.
All in all, my deck selection over the past year has been very good, and I have built and played a lot of decks of which I am very proud. My play has been very strong at times, but has also been plagued with inconsistency and moments of physical ailment impairing my focus and mental state.
I have to do something about this.
I am not a victim, and I will not sit by and blame jet lag, fatigue, stress, or any other external factors when I know darn well that these are all things over which I have some control. Next year, I resolve to extend my preparation for events to include things like making sure I have enough food to eat, lodging figured out beforehand, stressful situations resolved so that they are not hanging over my head, and getting to tournament locations early enough to become acclimated to them. In addition, I am going to refocus my attention on taking Grand Prix tournaments as seriously as Pro Tours. Too often, I have inadvertently turned Grand Prix tournaments into social functions, showing up and playing but not pouring my heart into them the way I would a Pro Tour.
I am going to return to winning at Magic, and part of that includes winning at Grand Prix. This year was a wake-up call that I want more out of competitive Magic than just coming up with winning decks and helping teammates do well. I enjoy the thrill of competition and being under the lights on Sunday. Magic is a lot harder than it was 13 years ago, and I am not a player than can just show up and coast through. It is going to take hard work and dedication, as well as honest self-examination and an open mind, to return to the winner’s circle, but it is important to me, and I am determined to elevate my in-game play to where it is when I am focused, when I am in uptime, and then raise it even further than that, learning from Nassif, Yuuya, Juza, PV, LSV, and Saito what I can, what makes them truly great right now.
I am currently not qualified for Pro Tour: San Diego, as failing to make it to Kyoto has left me a couple of Pro Points short, but again, I am not victim. I had opportunities in Hawaii, Austin, and Rome, and did not capitalize on them. If I have to PTQ, so be it. I will grind the PTQs with all my heart. I will be a champion again, and there is no shame in honestly facing my shortcomings and my low points. My deck building has been strong this year, but I have to refocus some of that energy on improving my technical game. Perhaps starting to play MTGO will be in my future, as that was one of the ways Kai and Kenji became the best technical players in the game’s history. Neither of them is as talented as Nassif or Finkel, but their hard work made them perform at a level that is every bit on par, and often better, than them. Perhaps I can channel some of my dedication to the game, my willingness to work hard, into elevating my technical game the way they did.
Maybe that is an ambitious undertaking, but I will do my damnedest to elevate my game to their level. I know the past few pages of this article have been a bit introspective, and I am not even sure how useful they will be to you, but I know that they will be useful to me, which I believe will make me a better resource to all of you in the year to come. Thank you all for your support, your suggestions, and your criticisms over the past year. Writing for StarCityGames.com is truly an honor, as is competing in the Magic Pro Tour.
What’s my New Year’s resolution?
I am going to win a Pro Tour in 2010.