In between Grands Prix Bangkok and Krakow, I managed to get a little under 48 hours at home. Long before I’d ever dreamed of going to the Invitational, and even before I knew there’d be a Grand Prix in Thailand, I knew I would be attending all the European Grands Prix, so I booked my trip to Poland in advance. Krakow was one of those few big events featuring Standard, which is my favorite Constructed format. I feel that in Block Constructed the possibilities are somehow limited, while in Extended the card pool is too big. It makes me sad when I look back and realize I’ve been playing all these major Standard events unprepared, because they were scheduled to conflict with other formats that needed to be tested.
Going into Krakow on Thursday morning, I had very little homework done. For a long time I thought I would be playing some kind of Green/Red deck, because it didn’t lose many cards with the rotation. I could still have the core of Tarmogoyf, Greater Gargadon, and Mogg War Marshal. Garruk Wildspeaker seemed awesome, and in my opinion it’s the best card in Lorwyn for Standard. At the Invitational and Bangkok, Raphael Levy also shared these impressions. In the comfort of my home, I checked the available decklists from States to catch up with what happened the past weekend, and to see if there was anything interesting I could play. I found the Blue/Black Mannequin deck very cute, and immediately built it, although I had to proxy everything from Lorwyn, Coldsnap, and Future Sight. As I had no opponent, I was reduced to battling the golfdish. Paulo Carvalho, my roommate for this tournament, was going to play a Green/Black Aggro-Rock style deck from a UK States Championship (therefore not too widely heralded), so I got the list and proxied that as well. Those were the decks travelling with me.
In times like this, when you don’t have time to playtest for a single tournament in the middle of a busy schedule, it’s very important to have friends, or people with whom you have a trusting relationship, who are playing the format and don’t mind sharing with you. Many of the Japanese Pros did not test Standard, but they received tuned decklists from their friends back home who were playing the format weekly. In my case, I have to thank Paulo Carvalho, who had been playing Standard almost daily with his friends at his local store, but also Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, Willy Edel, and Cristiano Pereira, who travelled directly from Bangkok to Krakow and spent the days before the Grand Prix playing Standard in Poland.
At the hotel in Krakow, I was rooming with Paulo Carvalho plus the twin brothers from Portugal, and in the room next door we could find the three Brazilians. On Friday, I was leaning towards playing the Blue/Black Mannequin deck, but my roommates never stopped telling me how bad the deck was. Since I didn’t have the opportunity to play a single game with it, I decided to follow their advice because they had tested and I hadn’t, and also because they were unanimous in considering the deck bad. From the little playtesting I managed, I realized the Green/Red just wasn’t good enough. The Green/Black aggro decks were just better, and had more punching power; they just seemed better overall.
After these conclusions, most of us settled on a deck. One of the twin brothers switched from Red/Green to a Predator deck. The other twin was settled on playing Goblins, and Paulo Carvalho had always been settled on playing Green/Black aggro. Eventually Willy Edel and Cristiano Pereira built an almost identical (and in my opinion slightly improved) Green/Black aggro that they were going to play. Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa wasn’t convinced by any creature deck, so he opted for Blue/Black Teachings. Eventually I became convinced that Green/Black was a solid choice, although I didn’t like the versions we had. Obviously, they were playing too many creatures. Nevertheless, we went to register at the site, and I bought the cards for the deck, and built it before going to sleep.
I don’t have that decklist with me, because I didn’t end playing the deck. I know it had a small Elf sub theme with Llanowar Elves, Wren’s Run Vanquisher, Masked Admirers, and Imperious Perfect, but also random good stuff spells like Garruk Wildspeaker, Profane Command, and Hypnotic Specter. In the morning I woke up feeling that I didn’t want to play and attack with too many creatures; rather, I wanted to play four copies of Damnation, since all the decks seemed so creature-intense. Putting together some ideas that occurred me while in bed, and borrowing cards from at least three different people at the hotel, I built a deck which is a merge between a Rack/Discard deck similar to Tarmo-Pox before the rotation, and the new G/B Planeswalker control decks. Of course, building the deck on the morning of the Grand Prix is a plan with many flaws, and I played a decklist with some errors in its build. I’ll leave the decklist I played the Grand Prix for now, and I’ll give you an updated and corrected version in the end of the article, already with many games played with it.
My first version, the “still in the hotel room” version, had the two Liliana Vess main deck, and was playing with Grim Harvest main deck to use and abuse Shriekmaw and Augur of Skulls. When I built the version I submitted for the Grand Prix, the “at the Grand Prix catering tables” version, I decided to cut the silliness of Grim Harvest and Liliana Vess, because I wasn’t too sure of how good it would be to play with six Planeswalkers. I regret that now, as Liliana Vess is amazing. You can’t lose if you cast it and untap with it in play.
I already admitted having made some mistakes in the main, and the sideboard is probably even more random, as it’s a mix of cards I thought could be good, but also the ones I had available. For example, two Bottle Gnomes are replacing two Darkheart Slivers I couldn’t find. If by any chance I ended up doing well with this deck, I would stop believing in Magic and preparation.
I could’ve played some games during the three bye period, but I figured I had already submitted the decklist, so there was no hurry in trying the deck since I was now stuck with it for the rest of the tournament. I’d rather not find the problems in the deck too early, as that may demoralize me. I went for food at a Mall instead, where Kenji bought a soccer ball which entertained us until it was time to play.
Round 4: Raphael Levy
Raph was playing a Green/Black deck with Llanowar Elves and Boreal Druid, Ohran Viper, a small elf subtheme, and both Planeswalkers.
Game 1 I keep a decent opening: three Swamps, Thoughtseize, Stupor, Damnation, and another card I could cast (probably a Rack, because when I played Thoughtseize I forced the discard of Ohran Viper over Garruk, so my hand had no immediate way to deal with a turn 2 Viper – Raph had won the roll and opened with Elf).
He Thoughtseizes me, and forces the discard of Stupor. Unfortunately my draws brought me a pair of Garruks and no Green mana. I gain some time with Damnation, and I draw a Tombstalker, which was one of the best draws possible aside from the Green mana, but it only hit once because he tutored for Eyeblight’s Ending with Liliana Vess. Eventually his Garruk was too much to overcome, since I did not draw Green mana to play my copies.
Game 2, his first play is a turn 2 creature. I play Smallpox on my turn 3, leaving the board at two lands from my side, and one on his. He doesn’t have another land next turn, and only plays a mana elf. I topdeck a second Smallpox to leave him with no permanents on the table, and it wasn’t too hard to win from here.
Game 3 was the closest we had. I played Damnation twice to kill all his creatures, but I was having some troubles once again finding two Green mana to play Garruk. One turn before I played Damnation I had to make a really tough choice. I had Augur of Skulls with no mana to regenerate, and he was attacking me with Treetop Village plus Wren’s Run Vanquisher, while holding three cards. I chose to chumpblock. The three extra life would give me one more turn to draw something, since I was going to Damnation next turn, but I was staring at two Treetop Village I had no answer too. It was a really close call, I’m still unsure of the correct play. Despite having cleared the board a couple of times, as I foresaw, I lost to a pair of Treetop Villages.
3 – 1
Note to self: Find a way to deal with opposing Treetop Villages.
Round 5: Akim Akimov
Akim was playing the Snow Red control deck with Skred, Chandra Nalaar, and Stuffy Doll, played by Bill Stark at States.
I believe Game 1 favors my deck, unless they hit multiple times with Scrying Sheets. If they don’t, Rack and all your discard are amazing. I needed no more than a Rack and a Treetop to deal the damage after some successful discard spells.
I lost game 2 when a Stuffy Doll hit play, since I had no way to remove it. It slowed down my attacks long enough for him to play a big Molten Disaster to kill me. I kept a risky hand for game 3, with three Thoughtseize… that’s six free damage against a Red deck, but I was hoping all those selected discard spells would be enough to make his hand harmless. He kept a not-so exciting hand: I don’t recall the hand exactly, but as I was counting, it did not have many threats after a pair of discard spells.
4 – 1
Note to self: Find a way to deal with Stuffy Doll besides Thoughtseize
Round 6: Morgane Kelterbaum
As I was curiously checking Richard Hagon’s notepad, I paused on a sheet full of names to follow at Krakow.
“Who’s Morgane Kelterbaum?” I asked.
“She’s the JSS European Champion,” answered Rich. And now here I was, at her mercy, ready to have my ignorance punished.
Morgane was playing Kithkins splashing for Gaddock Teeg, with all the Kithkins one would expect plus Oblivion Ring and Militia’s Pride.
I lost game 1 because I drew five Green mana lands, and just one Black source. I was holding three Damnation and two Smallpox when I scooped my cards.
Game 2 she had a fast start with turn 1 “Isamaru” – Goldmeadow Stalwart – and turn 2 Wizened Cenn. Before I took control of the game, I was taken very low on life. This relegated me to defense. She made some plays I wouldn’t have made, and they dropped me to exactly one life. I don’t know if they were correct or not, but I stabilized at one life and turned the game from here. I believe I had Tarmogoyf and Augur of Skulls on defense, she had a Kithkin token from Militia’s Pride and Wizened Cenn, and attacked with both, making one attacking token. I blocked the Cenn with Tarmogoyf, one of the tokens with Augur, went down to one life, but she was left with only one token, and that freed my Tarmogoyf to offense. (I’m not 100% sure this was the play… if not, it was something very similar).
Despite her being on the play for the first time in the match, I always had everything under control thanks to back to back Smallpoxes that delayed her development, and a pair of clean-up Tarmogoyfs.
5 – 1
Round 7: Ondrej Hatala
Ondrej was playing a Green/Black/White deck with Doran, the Siege Tower.
I lost the die roll for game 1, and he started with just a land. I made a turn 1 Thoughtseize. I don’t remember what I chose for him to discard, but he was left with Nameless Inversion, two Call of the Herd, and lands including Gilt-Leaf Palace. On his second turn, he plays Gilt-Leaf Palace tapped. As he realized almost immediately after, he could have shown me the Nameless Inversion and have mana to play it on his turn 2. I was counting on him making the correct play and was set to play Tarmogoyf on turn 2. Since he played the land tapped, I went for Augur of Skulls instead, as he didn’t have enough mana available to kill it before untapping.
On his third turn, he’s facing Augur of Skulls, and has to choose between playing Call of the Herd or killing it with Nameless Inversion. He killed it, but suddenly he’s one turn behind, and next turn I play the Goyf. Having lost all the tempo in the game, and afterwards his hand to a Stupor, a Rack only speeds the inevitable.
Game 2 he played a turn 2 creature, which I can possibly handle by casting Smallpox. Since I only had those two lands, I decided against it.. He played a Doran, the Siege Tower, and then I really needed to reach 2BB to play Damnation. We both stalled on three lands for a while, but he had a five power attacker. Had I played Smallpox, I would’ve been manascrewed, but he would’ve also stalled on two lands for a while, preventing him to play Doran. Since I had Damnation, I thought it would be better to keep my lands in play, but Doran is such a fast clock that I never managed to cast it. On my last possible turn to draw the fourth land, I drew Thoughtseize and scooped my cards.
But wait… that was such a bad move. I should’ve played the Thoughtseize to see if he had any Dodecapods in his hand.
Game 3 I played a turn 3 Augur of Skulls and passed. At the end of his turn, he has two untapped mana, and he pauses for a fraction of second before he continues to his turn. Is it possible that he paused because he had the option to kill Augur of Skulls with, for example, Nameless Inversion? It is. If he’s in fact holding Nameless Inversion and declining to cast it, it means he’s not afraid of Augur of Skulls, so either his hand is rubbish or he has Dodecapod. He played Call of the Herd for his third turn.
I declined to sacrifice Augur right away, because he was still holding six cards, and I’d rather keep the Augur in play until the turn where I would play Damnation. This play not only “cleans” any jumping Dodecapod, but also ensures that the turn the board is swept, his hand is smaller and unable to replace threats. I played Garruk Wildspeaker.
The following turns are just a dance where nothing is happening, except him playing and flashing back Call of the Herds, and me declining to use Augur and play Damnation. His Elephants were crashing into my Augur, which regenerates, and my Beast tokens from Garruk. One turn I play a second Augur, which he kills. In my upkeep, the situation is this: there are no more Call of the Herds in sight, and he’s holding three cards. I sacrifice Augur, and down came two Dodecapods, leaving him with one card. I play Damnation, make a token with Garruk, and attack with Treetop, putting him in a very delicate position. I win shortly after.
6 – 1
Round 8: Antoine Ruel
Antoine was playing Blue/Black Mannequin, I assume identical to Olivier who made Top 8.
Game 1 he played a land and said go, I tried a turn 1 Thoughtseize and saw a hand of Epochrasite, Phyrexian Ironfoot, and lands. I took out Epochrasite so that he didn’t have a turn 2 play, and because it can be troublesome later on. He drew, and played turn 2 Epochrasite, and a turn 3 Phyrexian Ironfoot. I made a turn 3 Stupor and hit two lands. He attacked and said go with four lands. I played something, which he Vensered. Then his next draws are Riftwing Cloudskate and Shriekmaw, which don’t allow me to control the board.
Game 2 I mulliganed a great hand containing only Black mana, and kept a six card hand with Riftsweeper, Viridian Shaman, Goyf, and only Black mana. I probably didn’t play a spell, but I might be mistaken. Maybe mulliganing again was a better call.
6 – 2
At 6-2 I strongly considered the possibility of Intentionally Drawing into Day 2. Whether you advance for the second day at 7-2 or 6-2-1, you need an amazing run to make Top 8, either 5-0-1 or 6-0, which is probably not happening. Call me pessimistic or realistic, either is fine with me. I’d rather make Day 2 guaranteed and play for money and Pro Points, which are so valuable these days.
Round 9: Miroslav Sevcik
I checked the standings and it seemed to me it was safe to draw into Day 2, as many 6-2-1 players would make it. I offered the ID at the table, and my opponent was ready to accept it. However, there’s nothing worse than offering an Intentional Draw to someone, indicating to that person that the Draw will guarantee him Day 2 or Top 8 or prizes, and then that person misses the cut and you don’t. It feels like you tricked them, so I asked him if he had checked the standings.
Turns out he was 75th, because he had no byes for this tournament. Since he was comfortable with the idea of playing for it, rather than risking – which seemed a wise decision – I was also fine with the idea of battling, and we shuffled our decks. If we had drawn, he would’ve finished either 63rd, 64th or 65th.
Miroslav was playing with a Red/Blue aggro deck with Mogg Fanatic, Mogg War Marshal, Greater Gargadon, Pongify, Riftwing Cloudskate, and burn spells.
After some attacks from both sides, the game is delicately balanced. He has Mogg War Marshal and Mogg Fanatic in play, plus Riftwing Cloudskate suspended with two counters, and Greater Gargadon with many many counters, holding no cards. I’m at seven life, holding nothing relevant in hand, just a Thoughtseize. In play I have a Tarmogoyf and a Rack. His life is X plus 8, where X is the power of my Tarmogoyf.
On his turn, he goes down to X plus 5 life from the Rack, he pays the echo of Mogg War Marshal, leaving only one or two lands untapped. The Cloudskate goes down to one suspend counter, while the Gargadon still has many. He draws a card for his turn, and attacks with everything, Fanatic, War Marshal and Goblin token.
Since the Fanatic can sacrifice at any point for a damage, I’m virtually at 6 life. Three 1/1 attackers to my sole blocker means I’m going to take at least two damage, going down to four. Next turn, a Cloudskate comes into play, bouncing my Goyf, so the next attack is lethal.
My first instinct is to block the Mogg War Marshal to put the second token in play, hope to topdeck Damnation to survive. This is a defensive play, allow me to live if I topdeck Damnation, but what happens after? The Cloudskate still comes into play, putting me at two life, I need to topdeck an answer to it, only Damnation and Shriekmaw, and later I would still die to Greater Gargadon. This play won’t win me the game.
I decided to block the Fanatic instead. My new plan involved hitting successfully with the Goyf, putting his life at 5, and topdecking a second Rack, and playing Thoughtseize revealing a non land card to discard it. So by blocking the Fanatic instead of the War Marshal, I don’t force him to put an untapped Goblin token in play, therefore decreasing his chances of blocking my Goyf. I know this play his highly unlikely to be successful, but while the first play is only unlikely to happen, the first play will just allow me to survive and then lose almost immediately after, this one has possibilities to succeed if it happens
So, one play is unlikely to happen, will keep me alive but then it’s almost guaranteed I’ll lose a couple of turns after.
The other play is extremely unlikely to happen, but if it happens, can win me the game.
I went down to three life after combat damage and him sacking the Fanatic. He passed.
I now needed three things:
1- Draw a second Rack
2- Hit with Tarmogoyf
3- Discard his remaining card with Thoughtseize.
I drew and saw a second Rack staring at me. Good, two to go. I attacked, he did not sacrifice the War Marshal to Greater Gargadon to make a token, so the Tarmogoyf successfully hit and put him at 5 life. I played Thoughtseize, having only three life remaining and needing to see a non land, and he responds by Pongifying his Goblin token. I played a second Rack and passed. He had a Riftwing Cloudskate coming into play on his upkeep, but there was no way out against two Rack, since he’s the active player his triggers go to the stack first, meaning my two Rack will resolve first.
I don’t recall game 2, but it was close, hard, and well fought, I remember him having a Sower of Temptation with Greater Gargadon, but Damnation cleans pretty much everything.
7 – 2
After the round, it’s the usual scenario at Grands Prix. It’s close to midnight, everything’s closed, the site is so out of reach, and no Taxis are in sight. I considered myself blessed because we managed to randomly get a cab in the middle of nowhere, and because the Hotel bar still had some snacks after hours, and because my three roommates – none of which made Day 2 -, fell asleep and did not spend the whole night talking about random stuff like licenses to own a Samurai Sword, or the Female World Champion of Tri-Athlon. The next morning I joined the Brazilians to share a cab, as they all made Day 2 as opposed to my three roommates. I arrived at the site at 7:30am, and after a while the pairings were up.
Round 10: Adam Krajco
Adam was playing Kithkins with Mana Tithe. It’s an easy matchup if you have normal draws, and if they don’t have a Gaddock Teeg you can’t answer, It’s still beatable, but a lot harder. The matchup was good, Gaddock was not a problem (either because he did not show up, or because I killed him), and to make things worse for him, I believe he mulliganed, which is very good for the discard/Rack deck.
8 – 2
Round 11: Nicolay Potovin
Nicolay was playing the Russian Red/Blue aggro deck named CSKA, due to that team’s jerseys being those very same colors. The deck featured Greater Gargadon, the usual Goblins, Looter il-Kor, Threaten, and Sower of Temptation plus Burn, so it seemed very important to have Greater Gargadon.
Nicolay absolutely and easily crushed me in two quick games. In the first I delayed a Tarmogoyf for a turn in order to grow him to survive burn spells. When I did it, he stole it with Threaten and sacrificed to the Gargadon. I probably should have played it on turn 2 and let him spend mana and burn on it, but I needed it, so I hoped he did not had a way to gain control of it. Without the Goyf, I was an easy prey the following turns: he threw some burn at my other creatures, sacrificed all his permanents to Gargadon, and killed me with it in two attacks, I failed to draw Damnation or Shriekmaw.
Game 2 I opened with Rack, but never dealt a single point with it, because he played Jace on turn 3. He always had a full grip, and I had a dead card – the Rack – even though it took him a while to kill me.
8 – 3
Round 12: Christi von Kalkstein
Christi was playing Mono Blue Pickles.
I made a Thoughtseize on turn 1, taking out a Rune Snag, to ensure a Stupor on turn 3 if he didn’t topdeck another one. The Stupor on turn 3 resolved, and since he did not suspend an Ancestral Visions in the early turns he was too low on cards to fight back.
Game 2 I played turn 1 Thoughtseize, seeing two Rune Snag and some other cards. I took something else, because I had Eyes of the Wisent for the next turn, which he countered with one of the Rune Snags. I managed to resolve Liliana Vess, and he did not have pressure on the board. I just needed to make sure I didn’t get locked. After a while he’s down to zero cards and I have a Garruk, so it’s only a matter of turns before the scenario forces him into a concession.
9 – 3
Round 13: Eldar Tagi-Zade
How unlucky! There were only three players running the Blue/Red CSKA deck, which seemed a bad matchup for me, and I run into two of them.
Game 1 he suspended a Gargadon on turn 1, and it was deja vu. I won game 2, and I must say I was shocked as I have no idea how that was possible.
Game 3, he started with Mogg Fanatic, I started with Thoughtseize, and saw another Mogg Fanatic, Mogg War Marshal, two Psionic Blast, and one land. I took out one of them, and planned on casting Viridian Shaman on turn 3 hoping it was good enough to stop his army of 1/1s, but he drew Pendelhaven. When he was holding three cards I played a Stupor on him, and he discarded two Psionic Blasts and kept a third one. With a Rack and some spells I managed to deal him some damage. I played Damnation one turn, so I could become more aggressive, but he drew Mogg War Marshal which gave him many blockers, then Phyrexian Ironfoot, and then he just killed me.
9 – 4
Round 14: Maris Greiers
Maris was playing Blue/White snow Control.
I won the first with the usual combination of discard and Rack, and also because he didn’t always hit snow with Scrying Sheets. I lost the second to Crovax, Ascendant Hero and Sacred Mesa, two cards to which I had no answer, except the forced discard.
I mulliganed for game 3, and kept a one lander. I discarded twice… meanwhile he got a Sacred Mesa into play, and was paying the upkeep cost and accumulating tokens to attack me. I drew lands, and made two Goyfs and a Viridian Shaman, killing his Coldsteel Heart. Some creatures were Condemned, some killed by Pegasus tokens, some dealt damage. They key point was when I managed to resolve Liliana Vess, then tutored for Damnation and Rack… like I said, she’s a winner if you untap with her in play.
10 – 4
I did not have time to properly check the standings, since there were too many players around the board, but it seemed it was a safe choice to draw and guarantee Top 64, some money, and one Pro Point. My opponent had checked them and thought the winner of the match could possibly make Top 32, while the loser could still probably end in the Top 64, so there was no reason to draw.
Round 15: Petr Nahodil
Petr was playing Blue/Black madness with Looter il-Kor, Merfolk Looter, Vexing Sphinx, Thoughtseize, Nameless Inversion, Haakon, Gorgon Recluse, and Nightshade Assassin.
Game 1 I mulligan to five cards, and his Looter il-Kor madnessed some creatures out. He had a growing army, and his Thoughtseize had forced the discard of my best card (probably Damnation).
Game 3 I die with three lands in play only, so the spells I managed to play were limited, but he had the Haakon and Nameless Inversion set up, so it wasn’t looking good for me anyway.
10 – 5
Turns out half of his predictions were true, as I managed to squeeze in 64th place for a cool consolation prize, with the 10-5 records going from 59th to 77th. The week before I went 8-6 in Bangkok for 1 pro point and $150, and now I went 10-5 in Europe for 1 pro point and $100. Grands Prix are so hard in Europe, and I think I now agree with Craig Jones. It costs me the same to fly to a major hub in the USA, as flying to a non capital city in Europe like Strasbourg, so it almost pays off to choose the American GP over the European GP, if both happen to be scheduled for the same weekend.
Right now my build is like this:
I’m constantly making changes, and I have two tweaks on the horizon. I may add a third Nameless Inversion, as it deals with the creatures Damnation can’t kill, like Treetop Village and Stuffy Doll, but also with the early creatures you want immediately dead, like Ohran Viper, Shadowmage Infiltrator, and Hypnotic Specter. Most of the time I also feel the need for an extra land, the 25th, but I’m still unsure on what to cut.
Looking back I think the match against Raph Levy could’ve gone differently if I had ways to deal with Treetop Village, and my loss against Antoine was a little unfortunate. I’ll be the first to admit that both the Blue/Red and the Blue/Black decks that beat me on Day 2 are really tough matchups I don’t want to face, but so far they aren’t in big numbers in the metagame. At first I was a little too concerned about the Dodecapods in the sideboards, but not only do you find zero on the Top 8 decklists from Krakow, but many of my opponents had them and they didn’t deal me a single point of damage during the Grand Prix, thanks to Damnation. The difference between this deck and the old TarmoPox is that this is a control deck, so you don’t need to start attacking the opponent’s hand immediately. You can let them develop their game for a while because you have a powerful reset tool, which also deals with Dodecapod – Damnation. It’s quite good when you clean the board and your opponent has nothing in hand, or you have a Rack on your side.
Of course, in Gunslinging, where I played most of my games against real opponents. you play best of one, so I found no Dodecapods. Even so, I will test this deck against the new decks from this Grand Prix, like the U/W Pickles and the Mono Blue Guile, and depending on the results, I might even run this deck at Worlds. If it was held the day after Grand Prix: Krakow, I wouldn’t hesitate.
Thank you for reading, and see you in Daytona Beach!