Having been out of the loop since Pro Tour Paris, I was left with no idea what to play at GP Dallas and a plane to catch in the morning. Fortunately,
Patrick Chapin was in town, and he told me that Luis Scott-Vargas had commented that U/W and RUG were the only playable decks. Such a rousing
endorsement from a credible second-hand source made it an easy decision to gather all the cards needed for both decks and leave on my 6 am flight
A comedy of Southwest-induced errors, sixteen hours, and a painful $74 cab ride later, I arrived at my hotel to find Patrick Chapin laying out his U/W
Caw-Blade deck in the lobby. He needed Gideons and Celestial Colonnades to finish off his deck, which made my decision on what to play easy. Feeling
silly for not already realizing that Oracle of Mul Daya is my only love, I shipped the cards he needed from my U/W deck and went up to the room to
rest. I slept easy, knowing my deck would be:
1 Oracle of Mul Daya
59 other cards
Asking around at the event site for a RUG list in the morning led me to Owen Turtenwald, who had convinced many others to run his version at the event. One hour before the event, I started
hammering out the details of my deck, a new record in personal procrastination. Owen’s list seemed tuned but was lacking a few essentials, which I’d
learned about after my many months of mastering the RUG style.
Twisted Image was great before Precursor Golem, and now that the Golem was industry standard, it seemed to be an auto-include. Everything I’ve
said about the card still held true (like winning the Titan battles by firebreathing and then becoming a 6/7), but now it had the added bonus of being
Ancestral Recall! The opportunity cost of a single mana was too good to not abuse, especially when Twisted Image could win games no other card could.
The third Precursor Golem ended up getting the nix for two big reasons:
First, since the beginning, RUG was more about style than brute force. Micro managing small advantages into an eventual, unstoppable threat meant that
the only win conditions I needed were three Inferno Titans and Raging Ravine. This new version just seemed like a ramp deck with a whopping eight win
conditions, where any one of them would be more than enough to finish a game.
Second, Precursor Golem was cut due to a secret known only by the best deckbuilders, one which I’ll now reveal.
Riddle me this: what would you rather have in a game?
Two Precursor Golems
There are few problems a second Precursor Golem will ever solve, while drawing three cards is something that can bail you out of many a bad situation.
Let us not forget how much of a blowout it would be if you and your opponent both had a Precursor Golem. Drawing eleven(!) cards for a single
mana is something we all want to do once in our lives.
Using this same logic on the sideboard, one can also easily take out the fourth Flashfreeze for a Deprive. They do the same thing against ramp decks,
but you can bring in Deprive against the mirror and control decks.
My experience with Obstinate Baloth is well-documentedâ€”he’s just a bad Garruk Wildspeaker, but maybe there were more Mono Red Aggro decks since Paris,
so I erred on the side of caution on this one. Owen was also crazy to run just three Forests with all the double green sideboard cards, so I cut an
Island for a Forest.
The seventy-five I shuffled up for Dallas:
The sideboard was as bad as it looks, but the only cards that are really touchable for games two and three are:
3 Lightning Bolt (take ’em out against control)
4 Mana Leak (Take ’em out against aggro)
1 Avenger of Zendikar (Out against control)
2 Precursor Golem (Out against Lightning Bolt)
1 Inferno Titan (Out against control and Mark of Mutiny)
4 Lotus Cobra (Out if they have ways to kill him like Cunning Sparkmage)
Rounds 1-3 Bye. Level 6 is sweet.
Round 4 Jason Clark (RUG)
Game 1: On the play, I turn 2 Explore, and my hand is four lands, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and Precursor Golem. Jason’s turn 1 Scalding Tarn and turn 2
Island make me fearful of Mana Leak, so I pass on turn 3 with four mana up. Jason’s turn 3 involves a very quick draw-go, discarding Inferno Titan to
stay at seven.
Give your opponent some credit. No one who is 3-0 in a GP is going to keep two land and all four- or five-drops. He probably kept a two-land Mana Leak
on the draw; it’s perfectly reasonable to expect to get a Preordain or land in the top three. Lightning Bolt is also a distinct possibility, as he had
the red source in the opener.
There are two lines:
Play spells, hope he has nothing, win.
Wait until you can play around the few cards he could have, win.
With this knowledge, what is the correct course?
Don’t play anything.
The only way I can lose is if he actually does have multiple Mana Leaks and Lightning Bolts, and I walk right into them. Turn after turn, I wait
patiently while I flood out, and he draws spell after spell. Eventually, I get to seven and play Jace, the Mind Sculptor and fateseal. Jace dies to two
Lightning Bolts, but Precursor Golem does him in, and he shows ineffectual Mana Leaks at the end.
Game 2: An uneventful early game eventually reaches a critical juncture. My soul read of Jason tells me his two-card hand is Mana Leak
and Inferno Titan, and he has five lands out. My board is eight lands, and my hand is also Inferno Titan and Mana Leak. Three of his lands are tapped
from Exploring into a Lightning Bolt to kill my Jace, the Mind Sculptor. The two lines are:
Do nothing. With a little acting, I’m certain Jason will be convinced my hand is two blanks. When he draws a sixth land, he’ll walk into a counter,
leaving me with an Inferno Titan vs. Mana Leak, a great position.
Cast Inferno Titan, Mana Leaking his Mana Leak. If Jason topdecks a land, he can cast his Titan, and we’re left at an even board state. I’ll be left
with whatever random card is in my deck as my only business. (I’ll be forced to attack, and he’ll block, because Jason could rip a Lightning Bolt and
kill my Inferno Titan on his attack.)
Both lines are defensible, but I decide to take my chances and hope he doesn’t draw a sixth land by going for it, Mana Leaking his Mana Leak. Jason
does rip the land and plays it along with his last card, Inferno Titan. Our baddies trade, and my ripped Halimar Depths reveals Jace and Inferno Titan
on the horizon, which he has no answer to.
This match had key decisions that led to my win, and I reveled that I had not lost my touch in the month of inactivity.
Round 5 Dustin Just (R/G AggroKutz)
Game 1: Valakut is a horrible matchup, but due to some questionable card choices like Viridian Emissary and Hero of Oxid Ridge, my removal-heavy hand
is great. Back-to-back four-mana 4/2s are dealt with using a single red, and Inferno Titan plays clean-up duty.
Game 2: Dustin double accelerates into a turn 4… attack with Raging Ravine. He has five cards in hand, six mana, and is not visibly frustrated, so I know he has a Primeval Titan. The two-of Lightning Bolt shows the upstart Raging Ravine who’s boss, and for the rest of the game, I try to keep
counter mana up. Dustin never misses a land drop with Cultivate, and soon even double Mana Leak does not stop a Primeval Titan.
Game 3: Dustin suffers from a classic case of Tunnel Vision, way over attacking into a Jace, the Mind Sculptor with three Viridian Emissaries one turn
(when I have a Lotus Cobra) and the next not attacking with Hero of Oxid Ridge because Lotus Cobra could block it down, despite the fact I’d go to
three life with four Mountains, Valakut, and two Viridian Emissaries on his side. Instead, I go to seven life from blocking, Inferno Titan comes down
to kill the Hero and Emissary, and as usual it’s lethal the next turn.
Round 6 Matthias Hunt (G/W Vengevine)
This feature match was covered by Wizards here.
Round 7 Shuuhei Nakamura (U/B Control)
This feature match was video commentated on GGsLive here (scroll to the bottom of the playlist). It
was pretty well commentated, so give it a look.
In my eight years of professional Magic, this was my first time playing against the Japanese pro. This is likely due to his being near the top tables,
while I’m struggling to make day two in most events.
Game 1: My incredible mana flood is only matched by my ability to rip Precursor and Avenger at the perfect times.
Game 2: An Oracle of Mul Daya comes out early the turn after Shuuhei’s Duress, leaving him with perfect information sans the one card I drew that turn,
Precursor Golem. Things get even more interesting when Twisted Image is revealed, and I don’t use it for value on resetting Oracle of Mul Daya for
multiple turns. This leads to a scenario where I bait a Jace into a Stoic Rebuttal and then Precursor/Twisted Image him out of the game.
Games won by Twisted Image: 1
Round 8 William Postlethwait (U/W Control)
Billy P. is a ringer in both this game and the one where he won Worlds. I have a lot of respect for him, and I know his play style, so I expect some
sort of control deck.
In between games, I see Billy take out three cards for three others. I get the sneaking suspicion they’re Condemns, as I played around them game 2, but
I could not be certain.
Game won by Twisted Image: 2
Round 9 Alex Bertoncini (RUG)
I don’t believe I’ve ever started a tournament 9-0 before, so I was looking forward to a new personal record. Sadly, I lost the die roll in the mirror
match, something that’s especially important for RUG.
Game 2: When Lotus Cobra doesn’t die in the mirror, Part 2. Lotus Cobra, Copperline Gorge, Raging Ravine, Island, Scalding Tarn, Preordain, Jace on the
draw. Sadly, my Preordain misses, and his Cobra/Bolt/Jace pounds me.
Game 3: My fourth land never shows up.
Not the perfect 9-0 I was hoping for, but good enough. Mediocre pizza and root beer give me the energy to sleep and start day two off, hopeful that I
can grab 4-1-1.
Round 10 Matt Nass (UW Caw-Blade)
Game 1: I keep Preordain, Explore, two lands on the play, never draw a third land. Matt decides to just run Jaces and Gideons into my fist full of Mana
Leaks (not following my round four lesson) instead of making me discard to hand size. I almost come back and win when he runs out of gas, but he rips
his sole Sun Titan.
Game 2: This one goes back and forth until he again has Sun Titan as his last card. My sideboarded Deprive mocks me, as I only have three blue sources,
so I cannot cast Jace, bounce, and counter on its way back down.
Round 11 Harrison J Greenberg (G/W Beats)
Game 1: Fauna Shaman runs rampant and buries me with plants.
Game 3: Jace bounces Vengevine while Precursor does 21.
Â Round 12 Justin Bates (U/W Control)
I sit down for this round in usual fashion, unfurling my awesome Hinata playmat and rolling a pair of D6 to determine who goes first. Justin seems
confused to be playing against me and asks me what my record is. Hardly a secret, I inform him that I’m 9-2. Justin thinks and says, “That sounds
right, I’m 8-0-3.”
Wonder what deck he is playing? Thanks for the info, brah.
Game 1: I keep a hand of triple Lotus Cobra, four lands on the draw. Sure enough, my first two Lotus Cobras get Mana Leaked. My third sticks, and with
Mana Leak for his Gideon and a Preordain for Jace, the Mind Sculptor, the win is easy.
Game 2: Justin telegraphs Condemn with his nonchalant attitude about Lotus Cobra and Precursor, so I don’t send the Cobra on turn 3, and only two of
the three Precursors are sent later on. Two Condemns are blown while Precursor and Raging Ravine take him and Gideon out.
My opening hand game one was almost certainly a mulligan against a random opponent, but knowing he was U/W made it a snap keep. Don’t give away this
sort of info, folks.
Round 13 Ryan Mclane (R/G Valakut)
Game 1: Pre-sideboard games against Valakut are all about just nut drawing and hoping he does not have it. For the first time in my life, he did not have the second Primeval to kill me after a pair of Inferno Titans killed the first mama jamma. Man, I run good.
Games won by Twisted Image: 3
Round 14 Gaudenis Vidugiris (UW Caw-Blade)
Game 1: Gaudenis does not do much, as Precursor on turn 5 and a Jace on turn 6 (playing around Spell Pierce) do him in.
Game 2: I mulligan into a two-lander and am never in it.
Standings show a draw will get me into Top 8. Hopefully, I won’t get paired down…
Round 15 Owen Turtenwald (RUG)
Game 1: Owen wins the die roll and leads with an Italian BMT on Flatbread. Cheese. Toasted. Plain. I feel I can do better than that.
Game 2: My turn, and I go Italian BMT, Pepper Jack Cheese, Toasted. Lettuce, Tomato, Spinach, Pickle, Cucumber, Salt and Pepper, Oregano. Italian
Dressing. Owen is left in the dust.
Game 3: We both run the double Peanut Butter cookies and drink, and with that, a draw is called.
Sheldon runs a tight ship, and unnecessary delays for deck checks are bypassed in favor of just giving our decks to the opponents to peruse before the
Round 16 Austin Bursavich (U/W Caw-Blade)
This match is covered by Wizards here, but the match was horrible, so don’t bother.
My second and third worst draws of the tournament happen in Top 8, and I’m easily crushed.
Twisted Image won me three games, so I suggest you all give it a serious look.
The way back to Detroit was a calamity, as there was not a single open seat on any flight to Detroit from anywhere. Luckily, I remembered Megabus from
my PT Amsterdam trip and for twenty bucks got back to Detroit from Chicago.
Lessons to learn
One: Never listen to a Southwest agent. They are all clueless.
Two: When your opponent is mana screwed, and you’re a control deck, be patient.
Three: RUG is awesome.
Four: Twisted Image is the Real Deal.
Bonus Top 8 profile picture!
No one can fight the tide forever.