Levelling Up – My Magic Invitational Tournament Report, Part 1 *Winner*

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It’s fair to say that, after the fireworks of last season, Tiago Chan has hit quite a Magical slump of late. His results have been patchy, which he candidly admits in his weekly articles. Of course, Tiago is supremely talented… this downturn had to reverse itself sooner or later. And if there’s a better place to kick ass than the Magic Invitational, I don’t know where it is! The first part of Tiago’s entertaining Invitational report is only a click away!

Following Pro Tour: Valencia, I had to pull myself together and continue my journey from Spain to Essen for the Magic Invitational. After that, it would be onward to Grand Prix tournaments in Bangkok and Krakow. Carrying a big bag full of clothes but an empty sack of expectations, I was a winner by actually having the chance to compete in this tournament. I’ve loved voting and watching the Invitational over the years, and now I was given such a huge privilege of not only watching, but playing with the best. The downside was that, with so many tournaments leading up to it (Block Constructed Grand Prix tournaments, Nationals, an Extended Pro Tour), I did not have time to playtest any of the wacky formats.

Even though I had some other ideas I preferred over my final submission, the card I settled on was the one I most wanted to see print, so that I could actually play with it. The basic idea is to have a card that can act as a land when you need it in the early game, and have some kind of effect later on. For design purposes, it was easier to have a Land with the Channel ability, rather than an Instant with a “Land” ability. You could have this:

The split card version:

Tap: Add 1 colorless mana to your mana pool
Counter target spell.

The instant version:

Counter target spell.
Discard “cardname” from your hand to put a land token into play that taps for one colorless mana. This ability counts as a land drop.

The land version:

Tap: Add 1 colorless mana to your mana pool
Channel, 2UU: when cardname is channeled, you may counter target spell.

I don’t think this card should be seen as a land. I picture it as a Counterspell that can help with mana screw at the beginning of the game. For deck building, I would treat it as a spell and not as a land. It ended up being a land because this way the card becomes simpler and cleaner.

On Monday I met most of the other competitors at the airport, and off we went for a week full of Magic. We arrived at our hotel at night, then went for dinner, drinks, bowling, and more drinks. Usually I’m not very good at bowling, with my Mr Burns style, but I did much better than usual.

On Tuesday, the Magic began. I had planned to wake up for breakfast, but ended up sleeping into the afternoon. Most of us spent the day drafting three-on-three booster draft, probably the most popular non-sanctioned format. Right before dinner I finally learnt the rules of Winston draft, and I started my first one with a random pile of Lorwyn cards at the restaurant’s table, but never managed to finish it because the food came. This was probably the closest I came to playtesting a format for the Invitational. Such preparations!

On Wednesday, I was in another three-on-three team draft when Mark Rosewater called us for the Auction of the People deck auction. You may wonder why was I playing so many drafts and not playtesting for the Invitational. The reason is simple.

The Auction of the People decks aren’t worth playtesting. There is no metagame. It’s sixteen different other decks from which you will randomly face three. Plus you don’t know the starting conditions of the matchups. For example, you may find that a certain matchup is very good for deck A versus B using the usual seven card and twenty life condition, but let’s say deck B plays Price of Progress and deck A went down to twelve life during the auction. Suddenly you have a one-card win “combo.” Plus, if playtesting a gauntlet of eight decks for a Pro Tour is so much work, playtesting sixteen when you will only play three doesn’t seem good time management.

The Cube Draft we were using wasn’t available for us until the end of the auction. As soon as we could get our hands on it, everyone jumped in at the possibility.

After learning the Winston Draft mechanics, I realized what things were important: card evaluation, memory, information, and luck, plus some other strategies I don’t know how to explain. It’s about being greedy at a certain point, and risking a lot in your picks. I ended doing some more drafts the following days.

Bring Your Own Block is also a format with no metagame, and so difficult to playtest since most of the competitors were being secretive about their deck choices. I decided to play along, and kept my deck choice a secret. This actually favored me, as I was a playing an obscure combo deck, Fecundity Altar.

As for Vintage, I was too afraid to even carry my deck, let alone shuffle it. At this point in proceedings I was going to play Goblins, and it didn’t seemed much fun… but I got to watch some games between GAT and Nassif’s deck, and they were actually interesting.

The Auction

My favorite deck in the auction was the Illusions Donate combo, as none of the other decks seemed very good at stopping it. There were, however, two drawbacks. One: the deck played something like five or six dead cards. Two: if any decks started with more than twenty life, it would be necessary to attack a couple of times. Anyway, I liked some of the other decks too, the same as everyone… Reanimator, Survival, Elves, Test of Endurance, Ernham Geddon. The decks that resembled existing decks from the past. Basically, I was just going for a good deal, and see how things would develop.

The auction started in an aggressive manner. The first three decks were bid down very low. Kenji got the Mizzet Time Vault combo at five cards and nineteen life; Antoine picked up the Survival deck for six cards and twelve life; Shuhei got the Reanimator at five cards. I realized I wouldn’t be getting one of the stronger decks for a cheap price, so I came up with a plan. I resolved to stay active until the very end, and pick one of the two remaining decks for eight cards and twenty-five life. If everyone else went down to five cards, I just needed to win the dice roll and we’d be playing five cards versus nine, with mulligans and weak draws a lot more likely from their side. Meanwhile, I kept making some bids to try to lower the starting conditions of the other decks, but I was careful to avoid becoming committed.

In my opinion, the two worst decks were Minotaurs and Choose Your Own Destiny. I certainly did not want to play any of these, even at eight cards and twenty-five life. But I had a plan. When it would be my time to pick a deck to bid, I would name one of the weak ones, starting with the minimum bid of eight and twenty-five, so that the ten remaining people would bid on it and remove it from the final two decks. I ended up naming Legendary Puppets instead, because there had been some conversations about Choose Your Own Destiny being good if the opponent started low on life, so I figured someone would believe that. Things fell to pieces when I got rid of Legendary Puppets to Willy Edel’s bid of seven cards and a decent amount of life, and when Craig Jones grabbed the Choose Your Own Destiny deck, afraid of being committed to the Minotaurs.

The last two bidders remaining were Rich Hoaen and myself, with three decks up for grabs: Minotaurs, Transformers, and Cultural Exchange. I did not understand how the Brand worked with the Hunted creatures and some other interactions, so I went for Transformers, which was also very appealing to me as it contained four Wrath of God (awesome against almost all the other decks) plus four Disenchant. However, if Rich decided to “shock” me by bidding one life lower, I was ready to let it go. Turned out Rich knew the Cultural Exchange deck was good, and he wanted it at this point, so he let me have Transformers without a fight.

Afterwards, we did our practice drafts: one Winston, and one with the Cube we would be using. I drafted a Stompy deck from the Cube, and Gabriel Nassif locked me twice with Solitary Confinement plus Squee or Genesis. I figured aggro decks weren’t that attractive in Cube Draft unless in special situations, so I “dropped” from my draft pod.

Day 1, Thursday – Cube Draft + two rounds with the Auction decks

We arrived at the Spiel Gaming Convention, which was definitely a unique experience for a first-time visitor. So many exhibitor booths, so many visitors, so many games… and we were a part of it too, competitors in the Magic Invitational. I felt very happy about just being there, I had no goals for this tournament other than do my best and try to win my next match, which is my usually philosophy for every tournament. When asked on who I thought would be in the finals, I picked Shota Yasooka and Gabriel Nassif. Both happened to be in my draft pod, along with Steve Menendian, Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, Rich Hoaen, Frank Karsten, and Kenji Tsumura.

My first pack didn’t offer many options. It was weak for a Cube pack. The choice was between a Mana Drain and a Wild Mongrel. I don’t like creatures that much, and I had stated the day before that aggro decks usually aren’t very successful, so I picked Mana Drain, with Rich Hoaen to my left picking the Wild Mongrel. My second pick was Merfolk Looter, and from here it’s hard to remember as the card quality is much higher than a normal draft. I ended with a U/W typical control deck, with many elements similar to Constructed decks.

I don’t have much experience in Cube Draft. I was only recently introduced to it by my North American friends, when I visited them for North American Grand Prix tournaments. In Portugal, something similar to the Cube Draft exists, but it doesn’t have an ounce of strategy attached to it: they play it from the top, zero cards in hand, one pile only, with infinite mana available.

Round 1: Shota Yasooka, U/G

In the first game, I locked him with Opposition and Kjeldoran Outpost.

In the second he started with turn 1 Llanowar Elves, turn 2 Rishadan Airship, turn 3 Blastoderm, turn 4 Plow Under. I never recovered from that start.

In the third game he started once again with Llanowar Elf, turn 2 attack and Rishadan Port me, turn 3 Blastoderm, turn 4 Kodama of the North Tree. I did get a Story Circle naming Green into play, but with Rishadan Port and two big Green creatures attacking me, it was a losing proposition. On one crucial turn I had no White mana available after combat, and died to a very large Hurricane.

0 – 1

Round 2: Rich Hoaen, R/G

Game 1 he mulliganed, and started with Mogg Fanatic. I started with Ophidian. Turn 4 he blocked the Ophidian with Fanatic, and played Might of Oaks on it, which I countered. He didn’t follow with more creatures, and I started drawing cards from the Ophidian, while all he drew was lands.

Game 2, I sided in many anti-aggro cards like Story Circle, Radiant’s Dragoons, and Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender. I drew them all, plus a Genju of the Fields, Mother of Runes, and Morphling, so I had too many good cards versus aggro for him to mount an efficient challenge.

1 – 1

Round 3: Steve Menendian

He won the roll and started with Thoughtseize. He saw Eternal Dragon, Tithe, Morphling, and lands, and took out Tithe. He followed with Dark Confidant and Necropotence. I still played Akroma’s Vengeance later in the game, but I was very dead at that point.

For game 2 he had Stromgald Crusader and Hypnotic Specter. He slowed me down with Sinkhole. I started taking some hits and discarding. I tried to race with Phyrexian Processor, but his creatures flew, and I couldn’t block with the tokens I made. A Smallpox put me even further behind, and Profane Command finished me one turn earlier than expected, but even without it I would’ve still lost the race.

1 – 2

Mere minutes before the next portion of the tournament began, we got to actually hold our auction decks for the first time. I played some games against Raphael Levy, and was disgusted by the amount of times my deck drew Circle of Protection: Artifacts. I also learnt that the activation cost was two and not one, so it only comboed with Time Bomb, and not with Barbed Wire. I guess I should post the decklist for you guys see what I’m talking about:

There were many things I liked in this deck. The four Wrath of God and four Disenchant. My starting values of eight cards and twenty-five life. The fact that it was almost a control deck, not playing many creatures. But unfortunately, CoP: Artifacts was quite bad, and the manabase was a little shaky. The perfect solution would have been to turn those 4 CoP: Artifacts into lands, but sideboarding wasn’t allowed.

Round 4: Evan Erwin, Test of Endurance

Thanks to my four Disenchants, I was one of the few players that wouldn’t scoop to Test of Endurance or Scepter-Chant lock.

I won the games in which I chose to be on the draw, games 1 and 3. That was basically my nine cards against his five. In one of them he was also kind of manascrewed. I played Jester Scepter and hit four lands in five cards, which isn’t very good for the Jester Scepter but quite handy against a manascrewed opponent. I don’t remember how I won both games, as I dealt more than 100 damage, and it took forever.

I do remember I lost game 2 by mulliganing from eight cards down to five. None of the hands had lands, but they all had CoP: Artifacts. If only all the bad cards were lands… I am very excited with the idea of playing with Denying Channel in the future, as I hate manascrew but like to do something with extra mana if flooded. With the channel, I think I can play Constructed decks with more than thirty lands.

2 – 2

Round 5: Shuhei Nakamura, Reanimator

Another opponent with only five cards. He had to go through some work to put a fattie into play, like playing Careful Study to discard it, then Intuition for three Reanimates, while all I had to do was Wrath it away. It seemed easy, but it wasn’t. We played many more games afterwards, and the final score was close, but for the record, I got the 2-1 win. I lost the second game by mulliganing from eight cards down to four.

3 – 2

Day 1 was over, and the action would continue the following day, with the final round of Auction decks plus three Winston Drafts. I was in the middle of the pack here, but in the second day, things went very well for me. For now, I’m going to take a pause, because I’m in Bangkok for the Grand Prix and there are huge puddles of water in my room. Water is falling from the air conditioning in the ceiling.

As in Pro Tour: Valencia, my shoes are soaking wet. So unlucky!

Thank you for reading, and join me next week!