Levelling Up — My Invitational Report Part 2 *Winner*

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Last week, we read of Tiago’s less than stellar start to the 2007 Magic Invitational. A 3-2 record after Day 1 is not what dreams are made of… but all you need it a place at the table. Today, Tiago continues the story of his epic Invitational win, through Winston draft, Bring Your Own Standard, Vintage, and the finals versus Rich Hoaen. Sterling, inspirational stuff… Congratulations, Tiago!

When last we met, I’d finished the first day of the Magic Invitational with a 3-2 score, consisting of the 1-2 Cube Draft and the 2-0 in the first two rounds of Auction of the People. Day 2 had only four rounds, but plenty of Magic: three drafts and three rounds of Winston Draft. First we had to finish the Auction matches…

Round 6: Willy Edel, Legendary Puppets at 7 cards, 17 life

This round would be different to the previous two rounds, both of which saw me face opponents stuck with five-card opening hands. With initial card advantage being less relevant, the games would probably have a bigger strategic element. The way I saw it, I had four dead Circle of Protection: Artifacts, but Willy had four rather useless Betrayals since I was only playing six creatures. The key cards would be Aura of Silence, which was awesome against me (and he was playing three), plus the Karakas land, which taps for White mana or to return a legend to its owner’s hand. It nullified my removal, and weakened my Karn, Silver Golem a great deal.

I know I won the first and the third games. But since they were all very long, it’s hard to remember details. In two games, Willy drew multiple Aura of Silences to slow me down, but in one of them I drew Vesuva to deal with his Karakas. The final attacks in the match were done with man lands, and Urza’s Factory tokens. This should give you an idea of the time it took to play them out.

4 – 2

Winston Draft

Winston Draft 101: Six booster packs are opened and shuffled, making a total cardpool of 90 cards, placed in a singe face-down pile. Players randomly decide who goes first.

There are four zones from where you can draft cards. These are Piles A, B, and C, and the top card of the cardpool pile. The draft begins with a single card face down in Piles A, B, and C. The player picking first looks at Pile A. He may decide to draft that pile, or move to the next pile. If he chooses to draft it, he puts the card from the top of the cardpool in the now empty Pile A slot, and priority is passed to the other player. If he chooses to continue, he leaves the cards in Pile A where they are, and adds a card face-down to that pile from the top of the cardpool. Proceed to Pile B. Repeat the process of “draft the pile or continue.” If a player goes through Piles A, B, and C without picking one, he takes the top card from the cardpool pile.

Over the course of the Invitational, I actually came up with some strategies for drafting Winston, but they’re irrelevant for play at the moment, and kind of hard to explain since I don’t do this that much. I’ll reveal them once this format starts seeing play, but I’ll give two examples for now:

“The protected pile” – Pile C will be the one looked at the least, just because there are chances that players will be happy picking either Pile A or B, and then the draft goes back to Pile A. Let’s assume you’ve seen Pile A already with A number of cards in it, and you decline to take it. You add an unknown card to it. The same for Pile B. Say Pile C is only a single card deep, but it’s a good card you want for your deck. Don’t draft it. Take the random card from the top of the cardpool, as this way you are getting two free cards. One from the top of the card pool, and one that you add to Pile C, which you plan to draft on your next pick. Your opponent will look at the growing Piles A and B, and since you refused Pile C, he will assume it’s not worth it. Pile C is protected for you to come get it later. Even if an opponent goes through Piles A and B and takes the C, you are still getting more cards, the ones accumulating in either Pile A and B, plus the random card added after your opponent declined them.

“Getting free bonuses” – Let’s say the drafting is approaching the end, and you are not Red for sure, and it’s quite likely your opponent is. Pile A has just one card, unknown to both players. You look at it, it’s Tarfire. You aren’t Red. You either counterdraft it or move on. You decide to move, and Pile B has a Silvergill Douser that fits perfectly your Blue deck. If you assume your opponent is Red, and therefore taking the Pile A of Tarfire plus an unknown card, then you can get some bonus by not picking the Douser. You get a free card on Pile B, which you will draft after your opponent drafts the Tarfire. Plus, by adding the card to Pile B, you still get to pick this time and gain more information by looking at Pile C.

The thing I dislike is that there is too much hidden information. For example, your opponent may draft all the six bomb rares from the pack without you even knowing, because you didn’t see them. Thankfully, a combination of these basic tricks, plus getting to look at better cards at better times, allowed me to 3-0 the Winston portion, because I had better decks than my opponents every time.

Round 7: Craig Jones

The deck I drafted:

Game 1, Craig Jones only had two colors, when in fact he was playing four. I was heavily mana flooded, until I saw a Ponder. The three cards weren’t that great, but they ensured I drew three cards in a row with no lands, and there was an evasive creature in there. I won the game when Craig only had two-and-a-half colors.

Game 2, I had a better board position. One turn, Craig attacked me with a flyer. I played Cloudthresher, killing it, and returned Shriekmaw to my hand with Sentinels of Glen Elendra. It was absolutely devastating.

5 – 2

Round 8: Gabriel Nassif

The deck I drafted:

In the first game, Gabriel only saw the bad half of his deck. I countered some spells until I played a big Benthicore. When it wasn’t big enough, I made it grow with Incremental Growth, boosting the rest of my team too.

In the second game, I curved out nicely with creatures on turns 3 and 4, plus Shriekmaw on turn 5. This gave me a huge board advantage.

6 – 2

Round 9: Paulo Vitor da Rosa

The deck I drafted:

Game 1 he had a slow start. His first plays were Runed Stalactite and Turtleshell Changeling. Meanwhile, I had already made some attacks. I had three creatures in play. He bounced my Cloudthresher Oak with Aethersnipe, but I replayed him. He attacked with the 4/4, then equipped the Turtleshell with the Stalactite. I topdecked an Oblivion Ring and made a big attack, which put him too low in life and confined him to defense for the rest of the game.

Game 2 I started with Wren’s Run Vanquisher on turns 2 and 3. He didn’t win the Clash on his Paperfin Rascal, so he lost the game right there.

7 – 2

At the end of the day, I was leading the tournament, but wasn’t feeling too comfortable when looking at the upcoming Bring your own Standard and Vintage portions. I had no clue how my Standard Fecundity Altar would fare, and I still had never played a single game of Vintage.

As for the Fecundity deck, it was already built. I made some minor tweaks in between the main and the sideboard, mostly because you need 75 cards in between main and sideboard, and the cards I had with me approximated 80, and that included some I bought in Valencia… so I knew I couldn’t change it that much. I wanted to play a combo deck, because it was an unknown metagame, it’s fun to play combo, and this was one of the few unbanned combo decks in the format. It was also the deck I used at my first Pro Tour, Worlds 2000, for a 4-1-1 score in Standard.

Vintage was more troublesome. I sleeved up a Goblins deck I saw on a Spanish website, and went to the Brazilians’ room to play some games. It went 50-50 against PV playing GAT, but on paper the deck looked quite bad, and it could also get some opening hands that did absolutely nothing. Craig Jones informed me he had two Vintage decks with him, and that I could use one the core of one, and Tim Willoughby made some phone calls to find the missing Power. This move allowed me to play the deck I intended to play in the first place, Hulk Flash, and also lend the Goblins deck to Willy who had no cards and was going to play Affinity.

Flash was my top choice because, in theory, it was the deck that interacted the least with the opponents, and since I’d never played the format, I wanted to play a deck that was only concerned about going off. I never found the Power 9 for it in Portugal… I only got a Time Walk and an Ancestral Recall.. So I decided to switch to the Spanish Goblins, because it only used four of the Power 9… I was only missing Mox Ruby and Sapphire, which I was going to replace with Wasteland and Volcanic Island. Due to lucky coincidence, I found out that my friend Anti Mallin had those cards with him in Valencia, and he agreed to lend them to me. Thank you again!

Day 3 – Bring Your Own Standard and Vintage

This is the decklist I submitted:

Round 10: Jelger Wiegersma, Mirari’s Wake

Game 1 I Duressed on the early turns and saw two Deep Analysis, Mana Leak, Cunning Wish, Wrath of God, and land. I took out the Wish, and played around Mana Leak, getting both Saproling Cluster and Fecundity into play. During one turn in which he only had two mana open, I tutored for Ashnod’s Altar to get the combo going, drew my deck, and made a lot of mana. For safety, I still played Duress, only to see the path clear, and so I shot a very large Blaze.

In game 2 my early Duress saw two Mana Leak, Wrath, Decree of Justice, and two lands. I took out the Decree and played around the Leaks. I managed to get in play an Ashnod’s Altar and Saproling Cluster, but not the most important piece of the combo, the Fecundity. When Jelger found a Mirari’s Wake he started making 2/2 tokens from my Cluster, putting me on a serious clock. I had the Blaze in my hand, so I made lots of tokens so that I can use them next turn to fire a big Blaze. I drew Academy Rector, played it, sacrificed it for the Altar in order to get Fecundity, since this kill condition was safer… but he Wished for Stifle to counter the Rector’s trigger. The Wish would’ve stopped any of my plans for success.

Game 3 I started with plenty of acceleration: Elf, Priest of Titania, and Bird, with a turn 3 Academy Rector. A Duress revealed a very good hand against my Enchantment win plan: Ray of Revelation, Mirari’s Wake, Mirari, Mana Leak, Circular Logic, and land. I took out Ray of Revelation. Since he had no defense against creatures, my Saproling Burst was threatening, so he flashed back the Ray to destroy it. I tutored for a second one and played it, and he Wished for the removed Ray of Revelation to destroy it, but I responded by sacrificing the Rector to High Market, getting Fecundity and drawing seven cards from the Saproling Burst.

Meanwhile, I kept attacking with the Elves, and a second Rector. One turn Jelger tapped for Mirari’s Wake, leaving Brushland open as a safety to flashback the second Ray of Revelation. End of turn I sacrificed the Rector to the High Market, getting my third Saproling Burst, and made three tokens. I attacked with everything, and he was forced to flashback the Ray to kill the Burst, taking damage from my other attackers, the Brushland, and one mana burn from the Wake. I had the Blaze in my hand, and with all that damage, it was lethal.

8 – 2

Round 11: Raphael Levy, same deck as Jelger

The good thing about Raph and Jelger being so obsessed in keeping their deck secret was, when I beat Jelger, I really hoped to play Raph. The matchup seemed winnable.

Game 1, Raph had a Compulsion and was cycling some cards. I was playing some combo pieces. One turn he played Mirari’s Wake, and sat on just one or two untapped lands. I played the final combo piece, he had no way to stop it, and I went off.

Game 2, I had a possible turn 3 kill. I decided to Duress before going for it a little later. He had absolutely nothing, but I miscounted and I was missing one mana (or one card in my hand that would generate that extra mana with the Cluster and Altar). I had to combo him next turn, so I pass. Thanks to Compulsion, he had two or three shots to topdeck Ray of Revelation, but he didn’t find it.

9 – 2

Round 12: Antoine Ruel, UB Psychatog

Such a bad matchup… so many counters, Force of Will, and Shadowmage Infiltrator.

Game 1 he countered two key spells, played a Shadowmage and drew many extra cards, and used them to kill me with my own Saproling Cluster.

Game 2 I was on the play, with a turn 2 Defense Grid. He Force of Willed it. I tried a Fecundity or a Rector, which he Counterspelled. Later, a Shadowmage Infiltrator drew him tons of cards, finding him the inevitable combo of Upheaval and Psychatog.

9 – 3


This was the decklist I managed to submit, thanks to the help of so many people.

God bless Craig Jones!
God bless Tim Willoughby and his British friend!
God bless their Queen!
God bless all the British people! [Easy now, Tiago… – Craig, amused.]

My Vintage experience now stretches to four matches, but I feel the deck could replace one of the non-land mana sources for another Elvish Spirit Guide, as it goes past Sphere of Resistance and Chalices for Zero. Perhaps Mox Pearl…?

Round 13: Frank Karsten, Hulk Flash

I won the die roll, and he mulliganed a couple of times. We both played cautiously, by Merchant Scrolling for Force of Will, but I had more cards, and I knew I had enough permission to force through his cards in hand when I tried to combo.

Game 2 he started with a Leyline of the Void. I started with Mox Jet and a fetchland. I cracked it to play a Virulent Sliver, and used the Black mana to tutor for a second one. I remember still having a single Force of Will protection at some point. I poisoned him to death before he could go off.

10 – 3

With two rounds remaining, I’m tied for first with Rich Hoaen, with four people behind us with five losses: Ruel, PV, Shoota, and Shuhei. For me, PV and Shuhei are no threats, as even if they win out and I lose the two rounds, I’m still in, as I beat them both so I win on tiebreakers. Antoine and Shota are two of my three losses, so I don’t have that luxury against them… if they catch me, they pass me. A win in my next round locks me in for the finals.

Round 14: Guillaume Wafo-Tapa, Blue/Red control

A typical Guillaume Wafo-Tapa deck… infinite counters and some man lands.

Game 1 I won the roll, and tried for a turn 2 Flash. It resolved. I fetched a Hulk. He Stifled the Hulk ability. I Force of Willed it, so he Force of Willed right back… but I had a Pact of Negation to ensure the Hulk triggered.

So insane. He had the Stifle and Force of Will, and still died on turn 2.

Game 2 he went first. Chalice for Zero slowed me down, Standstill slowed the game, and he started attacking with Mishra’s Factory. I gathered what I could to try to go off, but he had too much counter power: Counterspell, Force of Will, Pyroblast, and Stifle.

At this point, Willy Edel passed by and told me the good news: he had taken down Shota Yasooka, so my only remaining threat was Antoine Ruel. After I shuffled, PV made it official: he had beaten Antoine Ruel, making me a lock for the Finals.

I still won game 3… I played a Flash on turn 2. Guillaume had the Stifle, but I had the Force of Will, and he had nothing more to stop the combo.

11 – 3

Round 15: Kenji Tsumura, Stax

We split the first two games. In the third game, we reached the following point: I’d Duressed Kenji two turns ago, and he had one card in hand that I don’t know. At the end of his turn, I Vampiric Tutor for Chain of Vapor, to take out one of his blockers. Why? Because I had sided out one Virulent Sliver, so I can’t force enough poison through with that blocker in the way, and I’m dead next turn. On my turn, I played Chain of Vapor on it, and tried to Flash-Hulk… but that unknown card was Pyroblast, and I lost. If there were still four Virulent Slivers in the deck, I would’ve tutored for Duress instead, and won the third game.

11 – 4

Day 4 – The Finals

Going into the Invitational, it never occurred to me that I would be in the finals… I was just happy to be there. Once I finished the second day in the lead, with only two formats remaining, I thought, “why not?” And the strange thing is, once I finally made it, I desperately wanted to win. The reason is that second place finisher at the Invitational gets absolutely nothing. No glory, no money, no Pro Points, not even an invite. Just a story. Remember Jeff Cunningham? He’s a good player, a popular Internet writer, and he was involved in a hot debate prior to last year’s Invitational… he made it all the way to the finals and then that was it. I hoped Rich would go the same way as his countryman.

I won’t go into much detail about the final, since the games are all covered. Instead of trying to describe the games, I will just comment on what I was feeling.

Winston Cube Draft

I had a small disadvantage, as Rich was more experienced with the Cube, and card evaluation is really important here. I ended with an awful manabase, and I was convinced I was going to lose, but the power level of the Cube wasn’t that high with only six packs included. That kind of cardpool is too small for the combos to work.

In game 1, there was a key moment. Rich had a Soltari Monk with Loxodon Warhammer. I topdecked Triskelion, which completely turned the game in my favor. It evened up the board position, nullified his threat, and was a solid defense against anything upcoming, and it made my clock faster. Then, at one point when he has Rogue Elephant, Deranged Hermit, and Loxodon Warhammer, I had an Anger in my graveyard… and topdecked Akroma, Angel of Fury for the last two remaining points (although I had eight outs, so roughly a third of my deck would win me the game). With Rich at two life, and my with nine mana available, I could draw for the win: Akroma, Fledging Dragon, Ghitu Slinger, Siege-Gang Commander, Fire/Ice, Sulfuric Vortex, Upheaval, or Time Spiral.

I was then demolished in Bring Your Own Standard, but I believe the matchup to be a little better than what the games demonstrated. In game 1 I drew lots of mana and Rector with no way to sacrifice it, and in game 2 he comboed me out very quickly.


With the score tied at 1-1, it was Vintage that would decide the Championship. Whoever won the dice roll should win everything… games 1 and 3, the match, the final, and the title.

I won the dice roll.

My opening for game 1:

Mox Pearl, Lotus Petal, Summoner’s Pact, Flash, Virulent Sliver, Demonic Tutor, Elvish Spirit Guide.

Rich’s opening hand:

Sphere of Resistance, Mox Jet, Wasteland, Barbarian Ring, Chalice of the Void, Ancestral Recall, Sundering Titan

I knew I was playing against a deck with no Force of Will, so I kept, played my hand on the table, and we were on to game 2.

Rich started with Leyline of the Void, Mox, Mox, Thorn of Amethyst, City of Brass, and Goblin Welder for his first turn. Quite good.

I had land, and I tapped it to pay for a Mox Jet, then tapped the Mox to pay for a Black Lotus.

Rich played turn 2 Sphere of Resistance, and turn 3 Chalice for Zero.

On my turn 3 I played Duress, paying three for it. Gabriel Nassif pointed this out as a huge mistake. Rich had one card in hand… and because of my match against Kenji, I was alerted to the danger of Pyroblast. My intuition told me it was the dreaded counter. After all, he had one card and didn’t play it… so it had to be Pyroblast, as he needed me to play a Blue spell first.

But Gabriel Nassif was right. If that card were Smokestack or Tangle Wire, I would’ve just lost right there on the spot, because he had Goblin Welder. Thankfully, it was just a Sundering Titan. I don’t have much experience playing Vintage, or knowledge about Vintage decks and the metagame, but I should’ve seen that.

With a Brainstorm, I found lands and got rid of the useless cards. Then, with a Leyline, two Sphere of Resistances, one Thorn of Amethyst in play, I paid nine mana for a Protean Hulk, hard-cast, thanks to Black Lotus.

Rich had taken some damage from his City of Brass, so after a couple of attacks, he has to chump with one of the Goblin Welders. I was holding Force of Will plus a Blue card, so I was confident. Then he chumped with the second, and the tournament was over.

I felt extremely happy, not only because I’d won something that I never even thought I’d ever compete at, but also because I avoided the dreaded loss in the final. I still haven’t come to terms with what it means to have won the Invitational. About my card submission… I’m more excited to get the chance to play with it, than the “immortality.” I guess I’ll see things a little differently as soon as it hits me. It’s a great honor to be immortalized on the list of Invitational winners, and I hope in the future people won’t see my name as a fluke, and I’ll join such greats as Kai Budde, Jon Finkel, and Bob Maher.

I have a theory that when the title is more prestigious, the list of winners is stronger. I know I’m several steps below most of the past Invitational winners. I hope that in the future I’ll be able to continue performing well, in order to maintain the pride of the Invitational Championship. Interestingly, the only two Championships I’ve won in my life – Portuguese Nationals and the Magic Invitational – did not award money or Pro Points, but both conveyed immortality to the winner in one way or another. However, while in Portuguese Nationals history I am of the big names – when someone wins it, people say, “you joined a list that houses Tiago Chan, Frederico Bastos, Kuniyoshi Ishii and many others,” – now I’m the one who joins a list of such big names and great players. This is a motivation for me to continue playing, hoping to improve every day… so I will keep trying for now.

Thank you for reading!