Levelling Up: From Athens to Kobe, Part 2

Tiago continues his excellent series of reports from major events around the globe. Today is the story of Pro Tour: Kobe Day 1, in which Tiago posted an excellent record that set him up for a serious charge on the Top 8. Each draft is analyzed in depth, and each match is examined for play tips and strategy. Tiago is one of the most consistent players on the Pro Tour… his words will help your game immensely.

I left Athens on Tuesday afternoon and arrived at Shuhei’s house near Osaka on Wednesday after sunset. Ruud and Wessel were already there, as well as Kaji and Saito, plus some other Japanese players. One introduced himself as Shingo Kurihara, the other as Junior. The third one… well, I didn’t catch his name, but he was the Apple Guy because he ate half an apple for lunch and couldn’t eat any more. Soon, Shuhei was off to buy some Booster Boxes from a local shop (for a ridiculous low price when compared to Portugal). We got into an eight-man draft with three swiss rounds before dinner.

I opened a Durkwood Baloth and something Blue that was probably better, but I had in mind to force Green with Black or Red to see if it was really good, as Marcio’s result with it were impressive. The deck looked solid, but nothing spectacular. I lost round 1 to Shingo playing Red/Black, and round 2 to Ruud playing Blue/Green. Unsurprisingly, I was playing the other Portuguese in the 0-2 bracket, a scenario that happened a lot.

We went for dinner at an Italian restaurant, even though in Japan it’s more like a hybrid between Japanese and Italian, but I’m fine with that as I love both pasta and noodles. Afterwards, it was draft time again. I realized soon that I disliked the Green deck, both Green/Red and Green/Black. I could go Green, but only with the support of a White Weenie deck, as Strength in Numbers is excellent in the White Weenie strategy. This could be backed up by any color, although Blue works best, and Black a little worse than the rest. This time I drafted a Blue/Red deck and went 2-1, losing only to Shingo. Later, Saito called it a night but warned us all: “Practice restarts tomorrow at 10am. Two drafts before leaving for Kobe.”

Due to stubbornness between Andre Coimbra and I, we hadn’t booked any hotel rooms for Kobe, despite Ruud and Wessel booking a really cheap twin room near the Central Station. We decided to simply follow them to the hotel and ask for a room. Of course they were full, as were all the hotels in the surrounding area. Shuhei attempted to save the day, as he spent a couple of hours trying to book us a room through the Internet and phone calls. As we were walking to the Player’s Registration Party, Shuhei pointed at a hotel and asked if we wanted to check it for rooms. Turns out they did have a twin room but it was so overpriced. Andre Coimbra was outside with the rest of the guys, while Shuhei and I were at the reception. I had to make a quick call, and I decided we’d take it, despite the price, even though I needed to borrow money from the Japanese players. I made this call for two reasons. First, the hotel lobby was huge and we could easily fit more people in the room, as I knew two other Portuguese players that I was supposed to get together with at the registration didn’t have a hotel room yet. And second, because the huge hotel lobby was crowded with teenage girls with school uniforms, like it was some kind of convention.

After I went to the room with Andre Coimbra he starts questioning my primary reasoning, as the room was very small with only two single beds. We could fit the four of us in there, but there was no more space for the bags. And when I told him of my secondary reason… we went back to the lobby to find that all the high school girls had left. They’d been replaced with a Firemen Convention.

I felt like I’d attacked with two 3/3s into two 1/1s, with Hail Storm being cast after combat damage on the stack.

The player’s party at registration was nice, but as usual it was chaotic. I had the chance to join another draft, but I was tired of intensive draft sessions and I was settled into drafting either Blue/Red suspend or Blue/Madness, with a White Weenie strategy being a remote possibility, because the White Weenie strategy is one you either force or avoid. Instead I decided to enjoy the karaoke and some Japanese drinks with little alcohol. Andre Coimbra, however, opted to join a draft with seven other players he didn’t know, but right after they finished drafting we were all kicked out as they were closing the place. Andre suggests playing the draft in our hotel lobby. Our hotel was two minutes away from the registration site – we needed to cross the street and walk one block to the right.

As soon as Andre leaves the registration site, he starts walking to his left, telling the rest of the guys in the draft to follow him.

At this point I’m questioning myself… where’s he going? After ten minutes talking about it with the other Portuguese guys, we finally decide to fetch him, and start walking in that direction. Needless to say, the other seven guys in the draft weren’t very pleased with Andre’s direction senses, and they chose to abandon the draft before playing.

Fast forward to the first draft…

Friday, 20th of November – Day 1 of Pro Tour: Kobe

My goal for this day, and let’s say for this Pro Tour, was to make Day 2. Right now, the structure of the Limited Pro Tours (with the cut at 4-2 after two drafts) means there’s little room for mistakes. It may seem like a shy goal, but you need to make Day 2 before contemplating anything else. Once there, my philosophy is this: whatever extra winnings come, they’re welcome. Of course, this is my view for Limited Pro Tours, as my view for Constructed Pro Tours is not like this at all… and for Grand Prix tournaments, it is completely the opposite.

For the first draft, I have to stress how important it is to post a 2-1 result at least. If you score less than that, you go to the second draft with the need to sweep 3-0, and lots of things have to go your way. You need a good deck, good draws, you can’t be manascrewed, and you can’t face unwinnable matches for the next three rounds.

My first pod was… actually the coverage doesn’t list the pods. For the rest of the drafts it’s quite easy, as I’ll just check the standings, but no such thing for draft 1. I remember I was being fed by Osyp Lebedowicz, and Shu Komuro was also on the table.

I first-picked Psionic Blast: it’s creature removal, it’s Lava Axe, it’s worth twenty dollars, and more important… it’s Blue. I second-pick Viscerid Deepwalker, as I love all the suspend spells for one mana, and I think they’re all high picks regardless of what they do. If you suspend them on turn 1, you’ll get a free spell later, and that’s a huge boost in tempo. Through the rest of pack 1 I only drafted Black cards, making me worry a little about the Blue. I opened my second booster with the rare being Spectral Force and the purple Sacred Mesa. With only two Blue picks so far, and about seven Black, it might be a good thing to abandon Blue. I felt Green was more open and picked Spectral Force… and besides, Sacred Mesa functions better with a reasonable amount of Plains, and I wasn’t sure how much white I would get after that. From here, the draft was pretty much settled as Green came abundantly like I expected.

For a Green deck, I was satisfied with this one. It lacked a little on removal, but with such good creatures, you don’t need to kill all the opposition monsters… just a selected few. The mana curve of the deck is also tight, having multiple drops on turns 2 and 3, and from turn 4 and on, all the creatures are a big threat. It also had a bomb in Spectral Force, and in my humble opinion Mindless Automaton is an amazing creature as well as a madness enabler. Those who don’t like Mindless Automaton haven’t faced one in Limited for sure. I was hoping I could get the 2-1 to ensure a more relaxed draft 2.

Round 1: Osyp Lebedowicz – White/Black
Osyp was feeding me in the draft so when I saw Plains I knew he had the Sacred Mesa. The first game was quite unexciting, as he mulliganed and drew only Plains. In the second game I locked his lone Swamp with Mana Skimmer and he lost both games holding cards costing double Black, like Faceless Butcher. I managed to pump Mindless Automaton to a 6/6 in combat; he dealt with it, but I drew three cards. It looks a lot more impressive if you’re involved in that game, either controlling or facing the Automaton. Just watch out for Split Second.

1 – 0

Round 2: Yujian Zhou – Blue/Green splash Black
Game 1 was a race that I closely won due to Urborg Syphon-Mage. He had a shot to win the race in an all-out attack, but I had the Ashcoat Bear to stay alive. I strike back and he had Wipe Away. I think he should’ve used that Wipe Away more aggressively, but it allowed him to stay alive. In game 2 I draw Spectral Force for the first time in this draft, and I just had to attack with it, having a Scarwood Treefolk on the defense. When facing Spectral Force, you take the first eight, then you breathe for a while… the next eight is tougher, and finally you’re forced to block it. He blocked with all his guys, but I had removal to wreck the math, so he lost them all, and the match.

2 – 0

Round 3: Riccardo Neri – Blue/White
This round went to three games, and in all three he had turn 1 Ancestral Visions. I don’t remember which one of us won which, but we split the first two games. The one I won he mulliganed and despite having turn 1 Ancestral, he missed some land drops, including the turn where he drew four cards. I won the third where I was heavily mana flooded, but a well-timed Spike Tiller, who turned some lands into 3/3, made the board a little more even and allowed for some creature trades. I dealt the final damage thanks to Urborg Syphon-Mage times two, as I also had Scryb Ranger, so every turn I was activating the Mage, and then the Ranger, untapping the Mage and returning a Forest to my hand to discard it for the mage.

3 – 0

I had my goals set on making Day 2, so I just wanted to win one more as soon as possible. I set my goals by steps – for example, I don’t think about Level 5 until I have reached Level 4 of Pro Players Club. So when I got the fourth needed victory for Day 2, I’d get a small sense of mission accomplished… but I could as well become a little more ambitious, and have new goals depending on the state of the second draft. After the draft, I did became a little more ambitious. After all, one player from our Pod was disqualified so everyone was guaranteed Day 2, and my deck turned out to be quite good.

Draft 2

Rogier Maaten
Malo Willefert
Ryousuke Aoki
Christian Huttenberger
Carlos Romão
Tiago Chan
Chris Fennel
André Coimbra

In this draft I was passing to my friend Carlos Romão. I’m not exactly sure who was feeding me, but through the elimination process it was either Ryousuke or Malo, and by the colors of their decks, I would risk it on Malo.

I started the draft with Sudden Spoiling. It’s rare, seems like a bomb, several players had it in our test drafts and they all praise it. Truth be told, every time I play with it, I still haven’t abused it, but nevertheless it’s a first pick. I don’t dare to say automatic, because there are now purple cards to consider, but there aren’t many purples you would take over this. I followed it with Stormcloud Djinn – I think I’ve already mentioned that I like Blue in this format. I third picked something Black, and moved into Green with a fourth pick Penumbra Spider. There were no signs of Blue, and I got the feeling that Green was underdrafted once again, and it paid off in pack 2. I opened Sengir Nosferatu. Nice seating. The pack marked with A had Sudden Spoiling and the pack marked with B had Sengir Nosferatu… I mean, there’s no possible way to miss it. Then Carlos passed me a booster with Call of the Herd, and afterwards very solid Green cards, but a little shy on Black.

There are two more situations worth of mentioning. Like I said in the first draft, I think Mindless Automaton is really good and I absolutely love the card. I had two in this drafted that were passed to me. I didn’t pick the third one, because I thought my deck was so good already that the only way I could lose was manascrew, so I picked Search for Tomorrow.

In the early morning, I was happy with a 4-2, but since I started 3-0, since I had this deck, and since there was a bye at our pod, I would be pretty disappointed with anything less than 2-1. I had three bombs – Call of the Herd, Sudden Spoiling, and Sengir Nosferatu – plus the two Mindless Automatons, three suspend spells for the first turn, all backed up by a solid creature base. Here are some cards I would like to talk about:

Feebleness: In Quick Questions I ranked this in second place in the Black commons, which is a little high, but it does belong in the Top 5. It’s cheap, it’s instant, and unlike damage spells, this can act as a reverse pump spell in combat. If you block a 4/4 with a 3/3 while holding a Sudden Shock it’s a disadvantageous trade, but if you have Feebleness then it’s a good trade. There’s also the metagame reason. Right now the top Blue common is sort of a tie between Looter il-Kor and Errant Ephemeron, and the top White common is between Temporal Isolation and Amrou Scout. Feebleness is your best answer for Looter and the Scout before they became active, which means, it will deal with two of the top commons in the set before they have any impact on the game.

Thallids: I hate the Thallid ability, as it takes forever to have a small effect. Exceptions are the Sporesower Thallid, a four-mana 4/4 (that’s how I see him); and the two-mana Thallids, simply because they enter on turn 2 so it means they have a saproling ready on turn 5. Paying three for a three mana 2/2 is below average, and to have him alive by turn 6 means he just stood there not attacking or blocking. The Shell-Dweller is a fine body by itself, and he’s great against White Weenie, while the Deathspore Thallid is the one with the most influential ability so far, and can single-handedly dominate many matchups if played on turn two.

Phantom Wurm: In theory, this card seems quite solid, and sometimes (most of the time) it can be a real nightmare for an opponent to deal with. However, I wasn’t so sure about him, and after the rounds I looked back and concluded that the Wurms were unimpressive. They were still at the top end of my curve, and along with the Sengir, they were the only creatures that cost five or more. But I’m sure they have to be better than my experience with them shows.

Round 4: Malo Willefert – Blue/Red Slivers
I won both games, but I don’t remember the order in which the occurred. In one of them I played turn 4 Sengir Nosferatu, and despite him having a Telekinetic Sliver, I had a Gemhide Sliver of my own nullifying the Telekinetic, tapping his sliver at the end of his turn. I killed two other unexciting slivers, like the Screeching Sliver and the Two-headed Sliver, with Feeblenesses, and played even more solid creatures to back up the Vampire. The other game saw my opponent play a turn 2 Looter but I had Feebleness, and then I killed another one with another Feebleness… which is fair enough, as I have three Feebleness for his two Looters. He stalls a while on two mana, as he kept with two lands and Looters, and just plays out two Screeching Slivers. When he drew lands, I had already big guys on the table.

4 – 0

Round 5: Rogier Maaten – White Weenie
In the first game I kept a slow hand; the first spell I played was Penumbra Spider, but I also had Sengir Nosferatu to follow. The other spell in my hand was Sudden Spoiling, so I guess that’s a keeper, but not against White Weenie. I still get a two-for-one with the Spoiling, but eventually I died to his swarm of two-power guys while holding three Phantom Wurm in my hand. During sideboarding I take out two Phantom Wurms for some cheap spells – Skulking Knight and an off-color morph, Weathered Bodyguards. By the way, if I unmorphed it with the Gemhide Sliver it was probably game, but mostly I brought it in to be a three-mana creature instead of a six-mana equivalent.

For game 2 I have another slow hand, but I mulligan it away. The six-card hand isn’t much better, but I don’t want to go to five on the play. His Amrou Scout stuck around until the end, and gave him almost infinite minions as I never drew a Feebleness. I did draw the single remaining Phantom Wurm. I guess if I had drawn all my Feeblenesses instead of my Wurms (I had three of each) I could’ve won, but it’s just a supposition. A turn 2 Feebleness would’ve probably saved me around eight damage, and they can kill his Amrou Scout.

4 – 1

Round 6: Carlos Romão – Black/Red
I wasn’t happy to play Carlos, but on the other hand the matchup seemed good against Black and Red as I had Call of the Herd, double Penumbra Spider, Sengir Nosferatu, Nantuko Shaman, and double Mindless Automaton. If he wants to spend removal spells in these creatures, I will definitely win the attrition war. While shuffling I warned him that I hadn’t drew the Call of the Herd yet, and obviously I had it in game 1. I managed to apply some beatings, but eventually he deals with all my guys, and draws fewer lands than me, so the attrition war plan isn’t working. I won later with Sudden Spoiling, with the turn going something like this:

I have some creatures to attack, and Carlos only has Ib Halfheart, Goblin Tactician untapped, but lots of Mountains. I attack, and play Sudden Spoiling turning his Goblin legend into a 0/2 with no abilities and no chance to respond, and I’m able to get my creatures through.

I lost game 2 when Carlos killed my Sengir Nosferatu with Goblin Skycutter and Fire Whip, and then I had to chump-block a Keldon Halberdier for many turns as I didn’t draw a Feebleness. Penumbra Spider provided some turns of respite, but I only managed to draw into another Penumbra Spider, and with no solutions to the 4/1 (or even for the rest of his creatures, which included Flowstone Channeler and Phyrexian Totem), we’re on to game three.

Carlos played turn 2 Prismatic Lens, and I made a turn 3 Call of the Herd again. He killed it with Strangling Soot, and the flashback elephant met the flashback Soot so no advantage for me… though I did squeeze through some damage points. He probably didn’t play much, as I won this game without playing anything else spectacular.

5 – 1

Having made it into Day 2, I didn’t had any particular goals. I had 28 Pro Points at the moment, with 30 guaranteed if I finished PT: Kobe without being disqualified. I had Level 4 locked, and Level 5 was so far away, so I didn’t set any goal like Top X or Top Y. I just wanted to win rounds – the more, the better – and whatever score I finished with, I would gladly take.

Draft 3

Julien Nuijten
Hayato Ishii
Jan Doise
Michael Bernat
Bastien Perez
Tiago Chan
Chris Fennel
Thomas Enevoldsen

I was receiving from Jan Doise and passing to Julien. My first two picks were Strangling Soot and another Black card. I was then passed a third pick Sedge Sliver and decide to go Black/Red to optimize both the Sliver and the Soot. I don’t like Black/Red. First, because it’s a greedy combination; it’s quite likely that both of your neighbours are drafting one of those colors, as everyone usually wants a color with removal. Second, because the creatures in Black/Red are usually average, and unless you are ultra aggressive with turn 2 2/1, turn 3 3/2 and then kill the first creatures your opponent plays, it doesn’t play well. Because the removal spells are one card for one, and you need to kill a lot of creatures as your own are average, so eventually you’ll run out of removal and have weaker creatures on the table. Sometimes with Black/Red I like to draw because of the extra card. But hey, at least it wasn’t a Green deck, for the first time in Kobe… and I had already drafted a Green deck at Grand Prix: Athens.

The deck ended up looking quite solid. Thirteen creatures and nine removal spells, the highlight card maybe the Magus of the Scroll I opened in pack 3. I really loved the double Keldon Halberdier, as they fit nicely in the curve and allow you to have your mana available for removal. My score with this deck would depend largely on the matchups I would be paired against. For example, I don’t think I could ever lose against White Weenie decks.

About Assassinate: it’s obviously a very good removal card, though probably better in Blue/Black decks. In Red/Black the value decreases, as it can’t remove blockers. You still have to take one hit from the creature, and it can’t kill creatures with activated abilities that require tapping, as they are usually used on the end of turn. It’s still a good card that I pick highly, but I didn’t find room for it on my Top 5.

About Flamecore Elemental: usually I leave this card in the sideboard – the exception is in Red/Black decks, where it’s a decent creature. It’s as big as it gets in the common slot of these colors, and it hits pretty hard if you can clear blockers out of the way.

Round 7: Hayato Ishii – Blue/White splash Black
My opponent had Prismatic Lens and was splashing for Strangling Soot. His deck didn’t impress me a lot, with the best card I saw being clearly Errant Ephemeron, which won him a very close game 2. I had won game 1 with Faceless Devourer and Trespasser il-Vec, and won a once again very close game 3 where I managed to kill two of his creatures with GrapeshotIcatian Crier and Tolarian Sentinel with summoning sickness that blocked my Mana Skimmer. He was left with a single Coral Trickster. On his last turn, he plays something just to cantrip, draws Jedit’s Dragoons but doesn’t have enough mana to play it, and I win.

6 – 1

I finished Day 1 of another Limited Pro Tour 6-1, making a total of four out of the last five Limited ones, but somehow I never made it to the Top 8 in any so I simply hoped this good performance would continue into Day 2.

When chatting with the other Portuguese players, I told them it would be good to post a 4-2 score in the first six rounds of Day 2, as it would enable me to be playing for Top 8 with two rounds to go. After Day 1, everyone was beaten, and the plan was to have a small bite and go to sleep, as I don’t sleep very well when I eat a lot.

Almost everyone wanted to have American junk food. I personally dislike junk food, and never eat it outside of Grand Prixes and Pro Tours, so those hamburgers and fries taste like Magic cards to me. I was up for something light, so Julien and I went looking for a Japanese restaurant. We entered one with no English menus, and ordered some dishes by the photos. He was also 6 – 1 at the same pod, so obviously we played each other in Round 8…

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

My goal for Day 1 was… well, to make Day 2. I’d done that, and I was in a good position to make a charge for Sunday play. Join me next time when I cover all my drafts, decks, and matches from Day 2 of the tournament.

Until then,

Tiago Chan