Monday, February 15
2am rolls by on the clock, and the boys and I are driving from Oakland to Riverside. The crew is Josh Wlyduka, James Gates, Greg Hatch, Adam Yurchick, and myself. We are jam-packed in a Toyota Corolla, and things are getting dicey as Josh and I are pretty big guys, but everything becomes pristine as our favorite song blares over the iPod on random:
Romeo take me somewhere we can be alone
I’ll be waiting all there’s left to do is run
You’ll be the prince and I’ll be the princess
It’s a love story baby just say yes
If you didn’t know that was TSwizzle, I respect you less. If you did, I respect you more.
The moment of us singing this song at the top of our lungs made the trip already worth it. Who cares how I did in the Pro Tour now! Moments like this will be enshrined into my memory for years to come.
People ask me to try and explain what it was like. Think Team Extreme from Harold and Kumar. Except we are way more awesome than those guys. And we have good voices. At least, I do…
We arrive at Greg Hatch’s place around 7am, exhausted and ready to crash. My slumber lasts until 2pm, where I find everyone awake and ready to eat In N Out. I’ve never been to In N Out before even though I have been to California four times, so this trip was well overdue. Oddly enough, my first in experience was my best and my worst.
We head up and order a disgusting amount of food. It totalled $34 between four of us, but hey, don’t judge us. We were starving and I wanted to try a few things. Gates told me the play was to get a Double Double with everything, Animal Fries, and a Vanilla Milkshake.
For the record, Animal Fries are french fries covered with Thousand Island dressing, sautÃ©ed onions, and cheese. They aren’t on the menu, but apparently In N Out has a secret menu. When I ordered Animal Fries, they knew exactly what I meant, and the Animal Fries even have their own container that says “Animal Fries!” on them. So, why aren’t they on the menu again?
Everything sounded delicious and I had high hopes for the place. We pulled around to the pay window and no one was there. We waited for a while for someone to magically appear, but no one ever did. Gates figured we were at the wrong window and that we had to pay at the next one, so we pulled around. When we got to that window, someone was there shoving food out the window and into our car. When they finally got done giving us our food, the following exchange occurred:
In N Out: “You’re all good”
Gates: “We’re good?”
In N Out: “Yep all good. Have a great day!”
Wowowowowowow! Winner winner chicken dinner!
Look, some of you may find this pretty negative, but In N Out deserved this. The system at this place is just laughably bad (lady outside taking orders instead of talking into the microphone) and the employee who was supposed to take out money just ducked out. We tried (sort of) to pay, but they just wouldn’t let us.
It’s okay though, because my In N Out was complete garbage. My burger was mediocre at best, and I wasn’t digging the Animal Fries as much as everyone else was. In a way, it’s twisted justice that I didn’t like my food since I didn’t pay for it. It all comes full circle, people.
The rest of the evening was spent cubing infinite. Greg Hatch has a very good cube, and the man actually cubes all day every day. I have never met anyone who plays cube, or enjoys cubing, more than Sir Hatch. It was truly a pleasure.
Wednesday, February 17
Today was spent testing for seven hours. My plan was to play Vampires and dodge Jund, but that didn’t seem very feasible. I know the Japanese love to play Jund, and while trying to dodge the best deck is a fine plan sometimes, I didn’t feel comfortable trying to pull that off. Worse yet, I was losing to matchups that I felt were slightly in my favor. Losing to Eldrazi Green and Mono White did not feel good even if the games were close. If I was going to play a deck that lost to Jund, I had better be smashing everything else, and I wasn’t. It was time to move on.
Hatch was proxying up a White Weenie deck from Worlds that he really liked, and said I should give it a spin since there was nothing I really liked playing. The decklist was Rob Dougherty from Worlds:
There were quite a few things I did like about this deck, like how great White Knight is against Jund, and how you will never mana flood. But there were so many problems with this decklist that I had to take it to the shop.
1) 16 lands + Elspeth, Knight-Errant = Insanity. I’m not bad at math, but by no means am I great at it. One thing I do know is that 16 lands and a four-drop is asinine. The chances of Elspeth, Knight-Errant even being cast is just few and far between and it is a mulligan in your opening hand. That got cut immediately.
2) Path to Exile is just really bad in this format. In my Kithkin playing days, you could ignore the drawback on Path to Exile because the deck has insanely powerful cards like Windbrisk Heights and Cloudgoat Ranger. Now, if you ramp a Jund deck up to Broodmate Dragon/Siege Gang Commander, or help any White deck get to Baneslayer Angel, you aren’t going to be able to overcome it. Path is also just a dead draw against both forms of control decks game 1.
After a good amount of testing, I settled on this decklist:
- 4 White Knight
- 2 Akrasan Squire
- 4 Knight of the White Orchid
- 4 Elite Vanguard
- 4 Kor Hookmaster
- 4 Kor Skyfisher
- 4 Steppe Lynx
- 4 Kor Firewalker
Happy with where I was at, I headed to sleep with San Diego the next stop on my road map.
Thursday, February 18
Sleep is just so good, but my slumber ended at 1pm. It was time to hit the road and give San Diego a piece of my mind. We all packed our stuff, took a few pictures of in front of Hatch’s place, and embarked on our hour-long journey. And what an amazing journey it was.
You need to understand that my drives in the midwest are like. Corn and grain is typically all I see, with a trucker here and an accident there. The drive to San Diego was picturesque. I didn’t know California had such beautiful mountains, nor did I know I could enjoy such amazing weather in the middle of February. It was just a great experience, which left me questioning why I haven’t moved there yet.
We arrived at the San Diego Convention Center a few minutes before the doors opened, and I got to testing with runner-up Kyle Boggemes. As everyone knows now, Kyle was on Jund. My White Weenie deck was handling him a little more than he liked, so he made a few changes to his decklist and formulated a plan to beat the deck. Looks like it worked out just fine for him, now didn’t it? Congrats once again, Kyle!
People saw me playing with Kor Hookmaster, and were interested in what I was thinking. I shipped the decklist to quite a few people, but they decided against such a radical deck one day before the Pro Tour, which was understandable. I was pretty happy where I was at against Jund. No other matchup mattered to me. People were trying to talk me off the ledge, but I decided to jump anyway.
The rest of the night was spent testing and enjoying the player’s party. A lot of people have been complaining about the player’s party at this tournament, and I kind of echo that sentiment. Instead of having the party being a catered free-for-all, it should just be a plated service so that each player receives a reasonable amount of food instead of players getting screwed. Clearly this is not their intentions, but I think with all the complaining going on (which is justified), they should consider doing it another way.
Friday, February 19
And so it begins!
Round 1 versus Alejandro Rico Bleda (Boros)
Game 1, my opponent starts with a Steppe Lynx and a Goblin Guide, and I am very pleased. Boros was a deck I expected to be under-represented, but on the off chance that I got paired against it, I would be heavily favored. All of my creatures are efficient, most have first strike, and my tricks are outstanding against them. There was a Harm’s Way blowout during this game, but Alejandro never drew Ranger of Eos and the game ended fairly quickly.
Game 2 was much of the same, as my opponent had Steppe Lynx deal 12 damage and then he puttered out, while I kept playing a bunch of creatures and resolved a Ranger of Eos. For all intents and purposes, this was practically a bye.
Round 2 versus Andrew Hanson (Jund)
Game 1, my opponent had a triple Vampire Nighthawk draw that I was trying to overcome with two White Knights and some other dorks. I was behind the whole game, but a Brave the Elements would have saved me if I ever found one. It came one turn two late, as I was finished off by the best uncommon in Zendikar.
Game 2 was one of my finer moments of the tournament. I had a Kor Skyfisher in play and I was sure my opponent had a Terminate or Lightning Bolt in hand, so I played my second one pre-combat to try and induce a Maelstrom Pulse. Andy took two from my Kor Skyfisher, and was happy to Maelstrom Pulse the pair of flyers. I had other ideas, and played Brave the Elements naming Black. Honor of the Pure came next turn and Andy was so far behind that he quickly conceded.
Game 3 was the most frustrating of the tournament for me, as I felt so far ahead and lost. On turn 3, I was able to Devout Lightcaster a Vampire Nighthawk, but Andy had another one ready to go. My plan involved building a board presence and then playing Kor Skyfisher on Devout Lightcaster and blowing up the second Vampire Nighthawk. I had numerous creatures with two Honor of the Pure in play, but Andy had a Maelstrom Pulse to blow up my new Crusades. I was still ahead, but that made things a little more difficult. My next turn was spent attacking with Devout Lightcaster with an Exalted trigger, but Andy peeled a Lightning Bolt to screw up my awesome plan. A Malakir Bloodwitch came to the party, and now things were downright bad. I still had the chance to draw Brave the Elements, but it never showed up. There were a lot of things happening this game, and I was quite surprised when I lost because I was so far ahead on the board, but Jund can catch up quickly. Some timely topdecks from my opponent made life tough for me, but that’s all a part of the game.
Round 3 versus David Felske (Jund)
David Felskie is my nemesis. I have never ever beaten him in a sanctioned match of Magic, nor have I ever beaten him in a casual draft. Now was my chance to get redemption on the grandest stage of them all.
Game 1 was complete insanity. I kept a one-land hand with Steppe Lynx, Knight of the White Orchid, Plains, and four other cards. This was an easy keep for me, as this hand normally pans out, and I did have another one-drop in my hand. I didn’t draw a land for four or five turns, and David spent his time casting two Blightnings and some other garbage. Around turn 5 is when he cast a Rampant Growth to get his sixth land with one card left in his hand.
“Well, here comes Broodmate Dragon next turn…”
Actually, it wasn’t Broodmate Dragon. It wasn’t anything. David drew nothing for many many turns. I didn’t think it was possible for Jund to blank this much. The relevant cards he did draw did not handle my protection creatures, and when my attack for lethal was good for game, I was totally stunned. Not sure how I pulled that one out.
Game 2, David had a turn 2 and 3 Putrid Leech, but was stuck on two mana.
“Looks like you broke your curse.”
“I’ll believe it when the game is over.”
The game was far from over. David started to draw some lands and I was putting enough of a clock on him. Before I knew it, Siege-Gang Commander had shown up, and things were getting nasty. I peeled my second Harm’s Way which sealed it, as his Siege-Gang activations were terrible from him and great for me. I made it out alive in a match I almost certainly didn’t deserve to win.
This match was a feature match that wasn’t featured. EFro was playing a GRW Control deck with land destruction elements to handle Jund.
Game 1, I started off pretty aggressive, but EFro was beginning to stabilize. Acidic Slime blew up one of my Plains, and the deathtouch was extremely relevant. Now I had to alter my gameplan and take it to the skies. Baneslayer Angel had other ideas, and now I was in miserable shape. In case you don’t remember my decklist, I am drawing d-e-a-d to Baneslayer Angel. I tried to trick EFro into blocking with his Acidic Slime one turn so I could Harm’s Way the damage to Baneslayer Angel, but it was not to be.
This game was kind of funny because his deck is not supposed to beat me game 1. He had a lot of cards like Goblin Ruinblaster and Acidic Slime that are not good against the deck I was playing but were good against the format. With my back against the wall, I was pretty sure I was going to lose the match, but anything could happen.
Game 2, EFro spent his time mana-flooding while I was barely able to assemble enough creatures to kill him. I couldn’t afford to play around Day of Judgment if he had it anywhere in his decklist, so I kept playing creatures and attacking until he died. On the last turn of the game, I drew the only Harm’s Way left in my deck to kill him. Ding!
Game 3, I considered re-sideboarding, but knew that nothing in my sideboard was going to change the fact that I was in a terrible matchup and that I needed to get fortunate to win.
“I guess you have to mulligan a bunch for me to win.”
EFro mulliganed down to five, and I was able to explode all over him with a Steppe Lynx. The game was over before it even started. At the end of the match, EFro showed me his deck, and I could not believe I had won a single game, let alone two. The matchup was actually miserable for me, as he had four Day of Judgment in his main deck. But hey, I’ll take what I can get.
Round 5 versus Tomomi Shiraishi (Jund)
Game 1, Tomomi mulliganed to five, and while he put up a good fight with Bituminous Blast, five cards with Jund just isn’t going to get it done against my protection creatures.
Game 2, Tomomi mulliganed to six and had a turn 2 Putrid Leech, while I had the following:
When you’re running good, you’re running good!
It was time to booster draft, and I was happy to do so. My plan going into the booster draft was to force Mono-Green and adjust as necessary. The first pack I opened had an Oran-Rief Recluse, with a Primal Bellow and then a bunch of mediocre cards. I took the Oran-Rief Recluse looking to table the Primal Bellow. It probably wasn’t likely, but there was literally nothing else good in the pack. My next pick was a Baloth Cage Trap, followed by a Territorial Baloth, and then a Grazing Gladehart over a Greenweaver Druid.
Unfortunately for me, Big Z was also drafting Mono-Green right next to me, and windmilled the Primal Bellow second pick. The rest of the draft, we were both fighting for position, and both of our decks turned out mediocre. Here is my first deck:
2 Gnarled Pack
2 Grappler Spider
1 Hedron Scrabbler
1 Oran-Rief Recluse
2 Turntimber Basilisk
1 Grazing Gladehart
1 Timbermaw Larva
1 Graypelt Hunter
1 Lightkeeper of Emeria
1 Territorial Baloth
1 Baloth Cage Trap
1 Bestial Menace
1 Shepherd of the Lost
1 Cobra Trap
1 Nimbus Wings
1 Journey to Nowhere
1 Strength of the Tajuru
Round 6 versus Stephen Murray
This match was one of the most unholy beatings I have ever witnessed. I got completely destroyed. Stephen had a sick Black deck splashing at least a Mysteries of the Deep. He had three Vampire Lacerators, two Bloodghasts, a Mind Sludge and a bunch of other goodies. Both games were spent with me trying to figure out how he got such a good deck, and how anyone was ever going to beat him. It was ugly, folks. Trust me.
Doubt was starting to creep into my head. I wasn’t sure how good my deck was. I thought it was above average. Not great, but good enough to win a match. If I went 0-3, I was going to be devastated. I had to snap out of all my negative thinking, and go back to being positive. I needed to get two more wins and keep my chances of Top 8 alive!
Round 7 versus Zohar Bhagat
Game 1, I mulliganed down to five, but was making a storybook comeback. I had to keep a one-lander with Explore, and I got there with my draw step and with the Explore. Zohar kept the pressure on with his B/R deck, and I had to make some unfavorable trades, but I was getting back into the game. Heartstabber Mosquito put a giant dent in my plans, but I was able to even overcome that. It was my good friend Bladetusk Boar that put an end to my comeback. I needed to peel Journey to Nowhere to handle it, and it was on top of my deck the turn it died. Rats!
Game 2, I was ahead in every phase of the game. I had enough time and life to even play Journey of Nowhere on the land his Corruption Zendikon was enchanting and Narrow Escape it with the effect on the stack.
Game 3, Zohar was in the tank about going down to five cards, but decided against it. The only relevant thing that happened this game is that he played a Corruption Zendikon on his Swamp turn 2, and I had the Journey to Nowhere for it. After that, I was able to play Bestial Menace, and everything else that I wanted, and cleaned him up in short order.
Now locked for Day 1, I was relieved, but still had work to do.
Round 8 versus Davide Grimaldi
Game 1, Davide never found a second Black mana, and I won pretty quickly.
Game 3 went incredibly long. Davide was sitting on a Living Tsunami and four lands for many turns, when I finally decided to make my move and tried to Oran-Rief Recluse it. Davide had the Summoner’s Bane, and I had to trade my Turntimber Basilisk for it. This game went long. I mean, very long. So long that I couldn’t cast Bestial Menace with Oran-Rief, the Vastwood in play because Davide had two Blood Seekers in play. That is how long this game went.
We were both drawing to our outs. He had Permafrost Trap to win the game, and I needed to draw Strength of the Tajuru. Finally, I drew the instant speed Overrun, but a judge was all over my case for playing slowly. I turned to the judge, gave him a sarcastic “fine,” and turned all my creatures sideways. Davide snapped blocked with all of his guys, and it was time to make myself look like a giant donk. I had never played with Strength of the Tajuru before, so I brought up a land to each of my creatures to make sure I understood how multi-kicker worked. The look on Davide’s face was pretty good, since he knew what was coming.
“Multi-kicker = 5 and X = 3.”
The concession came quickly afterward.
6-2 and extremely pleased, I headed out to dinner with some friends, and called it a night. Next week, I’ll detail the second draft (Summoner’s Trap + Iona, Shield of Emeria much!?), my last five rounds of Constructed, and what other trouble we caused in the best city in the world.
Also, don’t think I forgot about the Dredge primer. That’s coming too!
Until next time!