Levelling Up: From Athens to Kobe, Part 3

The report from Day 2 of Pro Tour: Kobe arrives, and Tiago’s mad Time Spiral Limited skills come with it! Watch as Tiago shares the good times involved in running around Japan, then goes into phenomenal detail on each of his matches and talks about the drafts he wanted to have versus the drafts he got.

Saturday, the 21st of November – Day 2 of Pro Tour: Kobe

Round 8: Julien Nuijten – White Weenie
We had a fifteen-minute deck check, and we were still the first Feature Match to finish, as both the games took just a couple of minutes. With two Grapeshots, Feebleness, Strangling Soot, Orcish Cannonade, and Conflagrate, I could easily kill his key creatures and stop the initial rush. To make things worse for him, he was mana-screwed in one game, and played just four spells in the other.

7 – 1

Round 9: Bastien Perez – Blue/White
Games 1 and 3, he started with turn 1 Ancestral Vision… But I guess I have to write a little more about this round.

Sage of Epityr was widely seen as unplayable before the Pro Tour, but now it was seeing some action at the top tables. Bastien was also running it – and along with his two Dream Stalkers, he ensured a better quality of draws. The two 1/5s were also quite good at keeping my creatures quiet, and I died to Castle Raptors, as he had Momentary Blink to save it when I tried Assassinate it.

I won game 2 with Mana Skimmer and a Shadow creature that went past through his ground defenses.

Game three was well under control…. Until the turn where he drew 4 cards due to Ancestral Visions. That gave him enough gas to stall my attacks and race me. For the first time in the draft I got Magus of the Scroll into play, but I missed all three activations – one with three cards, and the others with two cards. I think if I hit two of those three activations, I could’ve won.

Or at least maybe I could have avoided losing right there.

7 – 2

Despite losing in the finals of the draft, I’m still okay, as I did 2-1. After my 3-0 start, with a 2-1 score at the rest of the pods, I would end with another solid result.

In between the rounds of draft 3, I had a quick chat with BDM about my late finishes, Player Club Levels, and the Player of the Year Race. The current way the POY race is structured makes the players not care about where they finish in it; it doesn’t feel like a race, except for the lucky few players who are fighting for the title. For the rest, it feels more like a Time Trial where everyone just tries to accomplish their own points and isn’t worried if they finish 6th or 9th.

For example: At this time, I had no idea who was the leader of the POY race or how many points he had. BDM informs me it’s Shouta Yasooka with less than fifty, so BDM was still counting me in… Even though, in my opinion, I’m just being counted on a technicality. As I’ve said countless times, this is not my race. He says that Shouta was not at the Top tables anymore here in Kobe, so the rest of the crew could take the chance to catch him.

I arrived at Pod #3 for Draft 4 and who am I passing to?

Shouta Yasooka, of course.

Draft 4
Robb Davis
Tiago Chan
Quentin Martin
Shouta Yasooka
Chin Wei Lance Yeong
Chris Ripple
Bryan Neufeld
Brian Hegstadt

I’m seated between Brian Hegstadt and Shouta. So far my decks were combinations of Green/Black/Red and I was still aiming to draft a Blue deck, but I was doing what the cards told me to. My first pick was a Cavalry Master, I followed it with red cards, but soon after and I’m once again drafting Green. I don’t recall the picks, as they are almost commons with nothing to highlight, but once again Green was passing and I made a good decision switching into it.

Deck 4:

This was my first deck that ran only 16 lands, and it’s easy to see why: It plays with two Search for Tomorrows, and if you count Keldon Halberdier and Durkwood Baloth in one-mana slot, then the most expensive creature is Nantuko Shaman… Which can be cast for three mana, if needed.

I was quite happy to have six spells with suspend 1, as I do believe all of them are really high picks. If you suspend a creature on turn 1, you’ll get it later in a crucial turn for free and have the mana available to play spells, which results in a huge tempo advantage.

On the other hand, while this deck was fast and aggressive, it sure was lacking bombs. The best weapon here was the double Strength in Numbers plus the double Might of Old Krosa. Four pump spells plus two removal spells would back up the quick creature beats, with the trampling bonus being huge on the Baloths.

Round 10: Bryan Neufeld – Black/Red
I kept a hand a little heavy on lands for this deck – four, I believe – but it worked better than I thought. He cast Smallpox to take out my first guy, I sacrificed a land, and discarded a land, and soon I was with the regular amount of lands I needed to operate while he stalled back one turn, despite killing my lone guy.

Lands didn’t matter, though, as we both had enough to operate and we began to trade blows… But during the race I messed up and lost.

He had two creatures tapped on the board, Ironclaw Buzzardiers and Faceless Devourer. I was down to eight, and I had no way to stop them, as one flies and the other has shadow. I attacked him down to six and play another one, while I’m holding Might of Old Krosa.

On the next turn, he attacks me with both creatures down to four, and plays a blocker.

Now, if I attack with both and play Might on the unblocked one, he goes down to two, as both my creatures are two power. If I play it main phase, he will chump block that one, and I lose to those four-power unblockables. What I should have done was the turn before play the Might main phase for a plus four bonus and attack him down to two life right away instead of leaving him at six. Then I would play another two power creature, having two attackers for the next turn with him at two. Since neither Buzzardiers nor Devourer could block, he needed two blockers in order to win.

I felt bad for throwing away the game…. But luckily, the judges came to my aid and decided that it was a good time for a deck check, so I had around ten minutes to chat a little with Bryan, forget about the mistake, and tighten up a little for the next game.

In Game 2, I am the aggressor and he’s not racing, just playing some guys and doing some blocking, killing some creatures. At some point, he has seven lands, one being a Storage Land with two counters on it (the second one just added the turn before), and he has some cards in hand. I noticed he was just about to drop a land on the table…. But then he decides against it, holds it, and passes.

I count his mana, and he’s able to produce exactly eight, and I sense Bogardan Hellkite. I knew I had passed a Bogardan Hellkite, but wasn’t sure about Bryan’s seating. I estimated that if it was the same Dragon, he would get it sixth pick. Nevertheless, I had a strong feeling he was holding Bogardan Hellkite… But as you will see, the correct play was to make an all-out attack. He did have the Dragon, and dealt all five damage to my Durkwood Baloth… And I pumped it with Strength in Numbers.

Bryan makes the obvious blockings in my other creatures, but then has to decide what he wants to do with my big Baloth. He could block it with his Dragon, taking some trample damage, killing my Baloth in combat, and losing his dragon…. Or he could keep his Dragon alive, and take a larger hit in life totals.

He uses the Dragon to block another creature, and puts something else in the way of the Baloth. Through trample damage, I leave him at three life and finish the game with Rift Bolt.

On a side note: I would have made the exact same blocks as Bryan, because he really needed the 5/5 flier to win this game, and the blocks he made were the best he could in order to keep the dragon alive. Three life seemed safe, as he had only seen Orcish Cannonade in game 1.

After two very intense games, I don’t exactly recall the last game. Time was already called on the round, and we had a table judge clocking the extra time. I remember always having the advantage, since I feared that time would run out and the game would end up in a draw. Besides, when your turns are just attack with everything and play another creature, while your opponent has to think and make some math in his own turn, time seems to go by much slower. I believe the game ended with me buying back Wurmcalling.

I felt much relieved by winning the next two after throwing away the first.

8 – 2

Round 11: Robb Davis – Green/Red
In game one I had a good draw with multiple suspend spells in the first turns, so after a while I received those 5/5s and 4/1 first strikers for free. He had a Spike Feeder – which, along another random creature could double block one of my big guys and then do some tricks with moving the +1/+1 counters. Since he had to leave four mana open in order to be able to do that, I was just playing more creatures and not attacking.

Eventually, I had gathered a reasonable army and attack with everyone, I had a backup pump spell which cleared his board, along with some small casualties from my side. On the next turn he doesn’t play anything with seven mana open – but I attacked into his Havenwood Wurm anyway, as I had another pump spell. His life took some large hits in those two attacks, and soon we’re on to game 2, as my pump spells gave me too much board advantage.

Game 2 he mulligans and he’s a little mana-tight. He still slows me down a little with two Lightning Axes, but he just lost four cards to take down two of my creatures. Soon we had achieved card parity in our hands, but I had enough mana to operate properly, and won with random creatures.

9 – 2

Round 12: Chris Ripple – Black/Red
I lost game one to Kaervek the Merciless. I was attacking in the air with Ironclaw Buzzardiers, because the ground was pretty messed up with multiple creatures from each side.

He played Kaervek, and I continued attacking with the flying Buzzardiers, since his life was at one digit only. I played a Keldon Halberdier, thinking that a 4/1 first striker could attack into the 5/4…. And he uses the ability to kill my Buzzardiers.

I had played a lot against that card here in Portugal, and all my opponents were using it to deal damage to me equal to the casting cost of my spells! They never targeted a creature, so I assumed it could only target the opponent.

I don’t know what he had in hand, but I had basically just lost one of my ways to win that game. None of my removal spells kill Kaervek, and the pump spells lose much of their value with Kaervek in play.

In game two, he played a turn 2 Phthisis that I answered with a turn 3 Weatherseed Totem. Not the card he wanted to see, as right now I wouldn’t play any other creature until Phthisis resolved…. So he’s forced to drop some creatures to the board, like Flowstone Channeler and Buzzardiers. I attacked every turn possible with the Totem, having the race on my favor. Phthisis resolved, and he had to kill one of his guys and take four damage. By this time I had a hand full of gas, of course, and he’s at a really low life and I have a Totem 5/3 that tramples.

10 – 2

Wow. 3-0 with this deck. At this time of the tournament, that was quite good. The deck didn’t look too good on paper, but the four pump spells really made the difference. I also felt I had that luck you need to 3-0 – you know, opponents having troubles, drawing the right cards, things going my way. And I had given away one game, and possibly two if we count the one where I lost the Buzzardiers, but I don’t know if he could deal with it or not.

I was obviously very happy, and it looked like I only needed to 1-1-1 the last pod (or, God forbid, 2-1) to make the Top 8 for sure. The important thing, though, was to win the first round; then you can figure it out if you are can draw once, draw twice, or if you have to play. Losing it, simplifies a lot of your math, as you have to play.

Draft 5:
I arrived at Pod 1 and find some familiar faces: Portuguese countrymen André Coimbra and Brazilian friend Willy Edel. We started joking with the other players and the Sideboard staff that no English was allowed at the table, as well as no Japanese. Communication was only allowed in Portuguese.

To reinforce that theory, the last player to arrive at the table was eventual champion Jan-Moritz Merkel, and I noticed something familiar in him. I asked to see his cap… And indeed, it was a Portuguese National Soccer Team cap! I like him already.

Bastien Perez
Masami Ibamoto
Tiago Chan
André Coimbra
Willy Edel
Jan-Moritz Merkel
Bram Snepvangers
Tomoharu Saitou

Being seated in between Bastien Perez and Willy Edel led me to a decision that made my heart cry on the inside: I was going to force Green. (I should’ve known that this plan always fails.) I remembered being in a talk on Friday afternoon with the Brazilians when Willy arrived and I asked about his deck. He slammed it on the table and said to me: “I only draft this.”

It was Blue/Red.

Quite frankly I don’t remember when this conversation occurred – it could have been any draft, since all his drafts in the weekend were Blue/Red. I had already played Bastien Perez some rounds before, and he was packing Blue/White, with some good card synergy, so I assumed and hoped that he would go Blue once again, I mean, who doesn’t like to be Blue? So I planned on forcing Green/Black. Besides, I had drafted this combination twice in four drafts and it had served me well.

My first pick in normal circumstances would be Giant Oyster… But since I was forcing Green, I took Sporesower Thallid and passed the Oyster and a Spiketail Drakeling to Willy. I think that my plan of forcing Black/Green went perfect, as I think I finished with one of the stronger decks at the pod.

After the draft I asked Willy: “Did you draft Blue/Red once again, like you always do?”

And he replies, “I don’t force Blue/Red – who told you that?”

I just left laughing, and at home I heard Willy saying this in the podcasts: “Chan knows I always force Blue/Red, and he passed me the red cards.” Willy ended Black/Red, sadly, but I reviewed his draft in the draft viewer and it didn’t hurt me at all; I didn’t want his Black picks in my deck, as I had better picks for me in those packs.

I would advise you to review my draft with draft viewer. It’s a really useful tool; I used it myself to review my draft a couple of times, as well as Andre Coimbra draft (I was with him at his laptop checking the coverage) and Willy Edel’s draft (just to see if we had clashed in the Black). I might have made some arguable picks… But if you consider that I was forcing Black/Green, then I think I drafted correctly. I reviewed my draft a couple of times already and if I had to do it again, I would’ve made the exact same picks again. I was really satisfied with my deck, even tough I don’t like Green.

You can review the draft here. And you can leave your opinions about the draft, telling me about the different picks you would’ve made. I’ll try to read and answer any questions in the forums, even though this isn’t drafting with Richard Hoaen.

I think this deck is balanced, with a fair share of diverse removal spells. It has solid creatures… But maybe it lacks a bomb. For both Athens and Kobe, I wanted to force Blue and avoid Green – and I ended up with five Green decks and zero Blue decks out of seven drafts.

I love it when a plan comes together.

Round 13: Bram Snepvangers – Blue/White
I won the die roll and led with a turn 1 Search for Tomorrow. Bram played a turn 2 faced-up Coral Trickster, and I played a turn 3 Thallid Shell-Dweller. Bram played nothing on his turn 3 and passed.

On my fourth turn I resolve the Search for Tomorrow, get a Mountain and play Stonebrow, Krosan Hero – and Bram meets it with Cancel. On his turn 4, Bram plays a Crookclaw Transmuter, makes my wall a 5/0, killing it in the process, and attacks with his Coral Trickster. Nice turns for Bram.

I played the Squall Line, taking down the flier, and Bram played more fliers: Fledging Mawcor and Riftwing Cloudskate. A Mindless Automaton from his side means I can’t even race on the ground (I’ve already said how much I like the Automaton) and we move to game 2.

I started game 2 with a second turn Greenseeker, after starting with a forest, so it’s pretty obvious what my draw had been. Bram made a turn 2 suspend of Riftwing Cloudskate. On my turn 4, I don’t have a fourth land, so I activate Greenseeker – and his ability is met with Trickbind! So I pass the turn on three lands and no other play.

Bram was also not doing anything, so it could be Cancel or Crookclaw Transmuter in his. Finally I draw some lands, and I’m able to abuse the madness in my hand. I had Nightshade Assassin, Gorgon Recluse, Pit Keeper (returning the Assassin, which I believe met Cancel in the first time) and Assassinate.

When I played the Assassin by the second time, Bram only had a morph, so I target it with -2/-2. I made a painful face…. But luckily it was Coral Trickster and not Fathom Seer. Later, I had about five creatures on the table, to Bram’s one, but he plays Ixidron. I just attacked with them all the turns, and after some attacks and blockings, the board is down to a single morph from my side that couldn’t unmorph… But Bram had taken a lot of damage. I was able to deal the final points with Trespasser il-Vec.

Bram started game three with a morph on the third turn and Ancestral Visions on turn 4. I had Pit Keeper on turn 2, and suspend Nantuko Shaman on turn 4. On turn 5, Bram didn’t play anything else; he just had a morph and an Ancestral Visions still waiting outside.

He passes the turn with mana open: Either he doesn’t have anything and needs to refill with Ancestral, or once again he has Cancel or Transmuter. I attack with Pit Keeper and Nantuko Shaman, and he plays Transmuter, switching the power of itself to take down the Pit Keeper. I took Bram’s tapped-out opportunity to play Stonebrow again, but he killed it with Psionic Blast.

The board was Nantuko Shaman for me and morph for him.

After Psionic Blast, Bram passes. I Play Hunting Moa, giving a +1+1 counter to my Shaman, and attack for four, leaving Bram at seven life. On his turn Bram plays Jedit’s Dragoons and goes back to eleven. I pay the echo on the Moa, play Yavimaya Dryad giving one forest to Bram in order to have a two damage clock per turn, going up to three when the Moa died.

Then the Ancestral Visions resolved. That was very bad for me, as the board was kind of even, with Bram still in two-digit life totals. I took down one of his fliers with Squall Line, while continuing my attack with the Dryad. Bram had Momentary Blink to save his Dragoons in combat, while gaining four more life, and then played a second Dragoons.

I was now very far from winning with a Dryad, because he could still flashback the Blink again for more life. Meanwhile, he found a Triskelavus to finish me off, and one turn later I conceded, as he had much more life than me…. And also a combo with Academy Ruins and Triskelavus.

Even though I lost, I have to admit it: It was a fantastic match, worthy of a Top 8 berth.

10 – 3

Round 14: André Coimbra – Black/White
Elimination match. One of us would be out of contention by the end of the round. One of us had to lose.

And it turned out to be me.

Andre had solid draws in both games. In the first one I tried to race him, as I had Squall Line, but a Tendrils of Corruption and a Temporal Isolation wrecked the math for me. In the second hand I mulliganed on the play, but I had Viscid Lemures in my hand that both of us had sided them in. I stalled on lands for a while, and Andre manages to play his Viscid Lemures before I did. He keeps attacking me with that for three damage a turn…. And when I’m finally able to get rid of that, I’m at really low life, but the board is completely controlled, and now I had a Viscid Lemures of my own on the table.

I swing a couple of times, but then there’s a turn Andre plays morph. He’s Black/White, so it could be Soul Collector or Weathered Bodyguards…. But I knew what it was before he flipped. I knew what it was right when he played it. I know how Andre loves Liege of the Pit, first or second picking it, and I’ve seen him play with that card very aggressively during this weekend. And indeed it was, I passed, and when he went through the motions of untapping, upkeep, draw, I had confirmation that indeed it was.

He attacked me and I was out.

Now that I was mathematically eliminated from the Top 8, at least I felt happy for Andre and hoped that he could make it…. But he played and lost. If you see, there’s no possible way he could’ve drawn into Top 8, as the top 4 players would’ve drawn among themselves, I would play Masami Ibamoto at the 0-2 bracket and that left Andre with only Saitou to play.

10 – 4

Round 15: Masami Ibamoto – Green/Black
We checked the standings before the round and the situation was this:

  • Win to get in Top 16;
  • Draw to get in the Top 24;
  • A loss to get in the Top 32.

We consider drawing, as it would be frustrating for the loser to end the Pro Tour at 30th, winning only around $1500. (“Only.” – The Ferrett) We were deck checked, so we got up to see the board where the prize payouts were announced, but were intercepted by Head Judge John Shannon.

We tried to explain him we weren’t going to check the standings, but somehow he didn’t believe us and explained he couldn’t allow a hundred players to get up and go check something whenever they wanted. So he stayed around for a while and ordered us to start playing.

A funny situation came out when he insisted that we start playing, and we couldn’t because our decks had been taken away for deck check. Eventually our decks returned, and we decide to play rather then draw, as we would be getting more money with a Win and a Loss than with a draw. After some intensive shuffling, we’re ready for the play…

But the match lasted no longer than five minutes, as my deck delivered the nuts and I don’t think Masami attacked me a single time. Right on time, deck.

11 – 4

It left me with plenty of time to check Andre, but unfortunately he lost. Funny thing; right after he won against me, he was satisfied, but I was obviously disappointed. Now it was his turn to be disappointed, while I had gotten over it, and came back from a precious win. A couple of hours later, the frustration faded away, and we realized we did a great Pro Tour for Portugal, continuing the good streak of results for our country since Worlds 2005.

As for me, I had mixed feelings. I was happy for the Top 16, for the Pro points, for the boost in the Player’s Club Levels. After all, when I left Portugal ten days before, I was a Level 3, and now I was almost guaranteed a Level 5. But I felt that I was really close to the Top 8, probably closer than Nagoya 2005 where I finished 9th and missed Top 8 on tiebreakers (tied with 7th, 8th, and 10th). In Kobe, I just needed to win round 13. I had a tough round and a great match, and I realized the Top 8 had been much closer than I had thought.

I now have three Pro Tour Top 16s, and six Grand Prix Top 16s. I’m sure there are players out there with more Top 16 finishes, but I don’t know who, as the Top 16s go unnoticed. For the points, the money and the Levels? Yeah, it’s a great finish. For career purposes? They count as zero. I’m not complaining, though, as these finishes have given so many good things. I wish I could make a Top 16 at Grand Prix: New Jersey or Yamagata; I’m not even asking about Worlds.

Another cool fact is that I’m starting to get some recognition in the Limited chapter. I’m nowhere near the big sharks when it comes to drafting, but I’ve been playing for a while and I only won money once playing Constructed, and you can probably figure it out where it was. So, yes, I see myself more of a Limited player instead of a Constructed. It doesn’t mean I’m awesome at Limited – really, far from it – it’s more that I usually play crappy decks in Constructed.

On Sunday I tried really hard to ruin my reputation as a Limited player. I teamed twice with Billy Moreno and Fro Sanchez on side drafts and I went 0-3 in the first, and 1-1 in the second (1-5 was the team score). I had good draft decks, but they were… how do I say…

“Hey, Billy! When you go to a shop and buy a TV or some sort of electronic device, and you arrive home and it doesn’t work, you need to go to the shop to change it, how’s the word for that?”


“That’s the word I was looking for to describe my decks today.”

The Magic ended on Sunday, but Andre and I stayed with Shuuhei a little more, since our flight was leaving on Tuesday night. On Monday we went for lunch with Shuuhei, Shouta, and some Japanese guy (who also played Mahjong in addition to Magic), to a Kobe beef restaurant. It was so much better going with them, as they knew the places to go and what to order.

Everyone told me that I had to try the Kobe beef. I couldn’t imagine what was so special about a steak, but now I recommend it. You have to try it! It’s delicious, the meat seems like it melts in your mouth.

Later, it was time to leave back to Shuuhei’s place in Osaka, and since we were his guests, he invited one of his friends to come over in order to do a two-on-two draft. Other than that, we went for dinner in a Kaitan Sushi restaurant…. And once again, it was delicious with a moderate price. Japan is so much more enjoyable when someone is guiding you.

For Tuesday, Shuuhei had planned for us to get up in the morning, but I woke up at noon and Andre slept until 3 p.m. Shuuhei planned a sightseeing trip to Old Kyoto before going to Osaka Airport. We got ready as fast as we could and Shuuhei and his friend drove us to Kyoto.

I’ve been to Japan six times, and every time I say to myself that I have to go to Kyoto, at least to see a couple of temples, old Japanese streets, and cherry blossom trees, but every time I fail to do it for one reason or another. It was a really nice visit, though it was a little hurried as we had to leave for the airport around eight p.m. We still had time to have dinner in another traditional restaurant, where we had to take off the shoes at the entrance and store them in some wooden lockers. If there’s ever a Pro Tour: Portugal, I have so many people to welcome – I need to return the hospitality they’ve been providing me. Shuuhei is in that list as well, right near the top.

And here I finish this series of articles, where I shared some thoughts, my decks, my rounds, many play mistakes, hopefully some of the more interesting play situations and experiences (I couldn’t possibly write down all the interesting episodes that happened, or this article would be endless). In between Grand Prix: New Jersey, Grand Prix: Yamagata, and Worlds in Paris, I’ll expect to see you guys around this month.