Levelling Up – Pro Tour: Valencia

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Going into Pro Tour: Valencia, Tiago Chan had nothing more than a vague idea about his weapon of choice. After a prolonged chat with Frank Karsten, he took up his seventy-five select and attempted to bring home the big check. Sadly, things didn’t go well for Portugal’s finest… and believe me, after some of the bad beats, that’s definitely an understatement! For more tales from Tiago’s table, read on!

There are many things you can lose in a Magic tournament other than your matches. Pens and dice, usually. Your Pro Tour competitor badge, sometimes up to three times if you’re distracted (like me). Your whole deck, if you’re Olivier Ruel. Your dignity, like many Magic players. Or, as I discovered in Valencia, your will to live.

Picking up where I left off last week, I wasn’t sure on which deck to play. I still had three more days between the day I submitted my article and the start of the Pro Tour. I knew if I was playing aggro it would be Red Deck Wins with Goyf, and I liked the Counterbalance/Top interaction but I wasn’t happy with any decklist running them. During those days, one of my friends built another deck packing both cards. This time it was a Scepter Chant deck splashing Green for Tarmogoyf and Loxodon Hierarch. The deck was apparently okay, since some Portuguese players decided to run it. As for me, I discussed the format with Frank Karsten, and he convinced me to try Enduring Ideal. At that point I hadn’t even played a single game of Ideal, but decided to give the deck a try. I played against a Boros deck and it had a winning percentage, above 60%. I then played against Counterbalance UBG, and it was also winning there. After one of my friends tried Ideal against Paulo Carvalho playing R/G and ended with a 15-1 score favoring Ideal, I decided to play it. It was winning against popular control and aggro choices.

The day before the Pro Tour I went for dinner with the Dutchies, and I copied Frank Karsten and Ruud Warmenhoven‘s list. On the way back to the hotel it was raining a lot, and I could barely see the way. I thought I’d accidentally stepped into a lake… but no, it was the city that was flooding.

You would assume that when the Pro Tour site floods and they have to delay it for a day, and when your shoes are completely wet and impossible to wear and you have no others, and it’s a holiday and you can’t buy new ones, things could only get better from there… but no.

Here’s the decklist I played:

This deck proved to be good, since Geoffrey Siron finished 9th playing the same list, and Frank Karsten (with the same deck) played Geoffrey in the last round. Ruud Warmenhoven also posted a decent score. I found it to be good, but a little bit inconsistent. Despite not posting a good result with the deck, some of my matches were very interesting and I learnt a lot from them.

Round 1: Domain Zoo

I lost the die roll, but his first creature was only a Goyf on turn 2. He didn’t slow me down with Molten Rain or Vindicate, so I was able to easily combo him out with Insidious Dreams for Draco and Explosion, because he took a lot of damage from Fetchlands and Dual lands.

Game 2 saw me going for the very same plan, but the turn I was going to play the Dreams I drew the Draco, which meant I lost.

Game 3 was my turn to go first, and I comboed him before he dealt me twenty, once again with Draco Explosion with the help of his manabase.

1 – 0

Round 2: Red Deck Wins splashing Goyf

This was one of the best matchups in playtesting, and the night before Paulo Carvalho was so dejected because he couldn’t win a single game against Ideal, so he was considering rebuilding his RDW sideboard to include 4 Krosan Grip and 4 Duress.

However, I lost the die roll again, as I always do in Constructed formats, and his draw was as follows: Turn 1 Kird Ape, turn 2 Tarmogoyf, turn 3 Molten Rain, turn 4 Molten Rain, turn 5 Blistering Firecat and I died. I could still go off with just one less Molten Rain in there.

Game 2 I mulliganed to five cards, and kept a hand short on lands. I’m running 21, so if you have two lands in five cards it’s good but short. He played a turn 1 Mogg Fanatic. His turn 2 wasn’t so good, as he just fired two Firebolts at me, but his turns 3 and 4 saw him play Molten Rain and Blistering Firecat, and I died shortly after.

1 – 1

Round 3: Jim Davis, playing Goblins

I played Jim earlier this season at GP: Dallas, where he was also playing Goblins in Extended, so it didn’t surprise me when I lost the dice roll and he opened with turn 1 Mogg Fanatic and turn two Goblin Piledriver. I played turn 2 Burning Wish for Pyroclasm, in case he followed with Goblin Warchief attacking for eight damage. He missed his third land drop, and could only play a Mogg War Marshal and attack putting me at 15 life. On my third turn, I can either play Pyroclasm or Pentad Prism to go off next turn. I did some quick math, and he could deal me ten damage if he paid the echo, or eleven if he didn’t pay and played a third land and Goblin Warchief. He paid the echo and attacked for ten, putting me at five. I played Ideal next turn, and facing that scenario I went for Form of the Dragon, then Solitary Confinement. I won, but maybe I should’ve played safer and gone first for the Confinement, since I could lose if he…

Played a third land, and Skirk Prospector.
Tapped his remaining two lands and sacrificed the War Marshal token for mana to play Goblin Warchief.
Sacrificed the War Marshal and the incoming token for two mana and played Goblin Sharpshooter.
Tapped him to put me at four, sacrificed Piledriver for mana, untapped Shooter, tapped him to put me at three, sacrificed Mogg Fanatic to put me at two, untapped Shooter, tapped him to put me at one, sacrifice Prospector for mana, untapped shooter, tapped it to kill me.

Most Goblins list play between zero and two Sharpshooters. I played as if he wasn’t holding one. Fortunately he wasn’t, but it was an unnecessary risk.

Game 2 I comboed him early, and since his draw did not have Piledriver and Warchief I was still at a healthy life. I went for Dovescape, to protect myself from stuff like Naturalize or Krosan Grip. Then I followed it with Confinement, and Form, and Arena for a full lock.

2 – 1

Round 4: UBG Control

This round I won my only dice roll of the tournament, so I got to play first.

I mulliganed to five cards, but it was quite good against no disruption. Two Lotus Blooms, Enduring Ideal, Chrome Mox, and Pentad Prism. If I draw a colored card for the Mox, or a land, I can play Ideal on turn 4. I drew a colored card, but no land, so on my third turn I played Chrome Mox in case he had Force Spike, so I can pay one mana for the two Lotus Blooms. He played a Pernicious Deed on his turn 3, and blew it for zero in my upkeep, getting a four-for-one after my mull to five.

I lost.

Game 2 I mulligan again to five cards. He played turn 1 Duress, turn 2 Goyf, and turn 4 Pernicious Deed keeping one Blue open. I had Sulfur Vent, Ancient Spring, and Tinder Farm. I was holding Insidious Dreams, Duress, Dovescape, and Condescend. His life was 14 thanks to two fetchlands making dual lands untapped. I decided to risk it and go all in, since my hand was not strong. I sacrificed Tinder Farm for two mana, tapped the Sulfur Vent and Ancient Spring and played Insidious Dreams discarding the two cards I can’t cast, keeping a Duress. My plan was to put Draco and Erratic on top, and next turn sacrifice Sulfur Vent and Ancient Spring for BWUR mana to play Duress plus Erratic. He had the Force Spike for the Dreams, which was game over.

I could’ve played Condescend for one on the Deed, as I had two mana untapped and one tapped land, to force him tap that Island, but I did not have the Dreams at that point. It was my draw. If I did that, I would have one less card the turn after, so I couldn’t play Dreams to set up the combo and still keep the Duress for protection, so I’m not sure I would’ve made this play even if I already had the Dreams. With the information I had, I made the play that I thought gave me the best chance to win, even if it wasn’t a very good chance. After all, I was in a bad situation… I had to try the all or nothing.

2 – 2

Round 5: Scepter Chant

Game 1 I found a Boseiju early before he got a Scepter Chant lock. Then I played Ideal with Boseiju protection. First I got Dovescape. Then Solitary Confinement, Arena, and Form of the Dragon in this order, and he conceded.

Game 2 I Duress him on turn 1 and I take a Scepter. Multiple Thirst for Knowledges or Fact or Fictions came later, and he recurred the Scepter with Academy Ruins, playing it and imprinting Orim’s Chant. I had outs, but he had Exalted Angel, so I didn’t get many turns to find them before I lost.

Game 3 started with approximately seven minutes on the clock. A draw was really bad now, as the cut for Day 2 was 7-3. He mulliganed to six cards. I played a turn 1 sac land, and turn 2 Gemstone Mine. He had a Flooded Strand and six cards in hand. I decided to play more aggressively, since I really wanted to win the game, and didn’t want to draw. I sacrificed the land, tapped a Gemstone and played two Seething Songs. If he has Orim’s Chant, I lost three cards, and take seven points of mana burn… but he doesn’t have it, and a Form of the Dragon resolves. Two turns later, he had three lands and said go. I played Burning Wish for Duress and cast it, taking out Thirst for Knowledge and leaving two Fire/Ice, Scepter, and some lands. He cycles one Ice at the end of turn. His turn he main phased a Thirst for Knowledge discarding Scepter, played a Mox removing Counterspell, and said go. I played Solitary Confinement, and he Counterspelled it. On his turn he played a final draw spell, and conceded.

3 – 2

Round 6: Dredge

Game 1 he mulliganed and kept a weak hand with Putrid Imp, Cephalid Sage, Coliseum, and no dredge cards. This gave me some time to set up my combo. I played Ideal for Dovescape, then for Form and Confinement.

Game 2 I kept five lands, Ideal and Tormod’s Crypt. I can play an Ideal turn 4, and the Crypt buys me time. He played turn 1 Cabal Therapy for Crypt and hits. On turn 2 he played the Imp and the dredge enablers, but he doesn’t kill me on turn 3 or flashback the Therapy. I untap, drew, and play Ideal with a Seething Song I had drawn. This time I got Dovescape, Confinement, then Form.

4 – 2

Round 7: Shouta Yasooka, Blue / Green control splash Black

His deck played Spell Snare, Counterspell, Fact or Fiction, Sakura Tribe Elder, Eternal Witness, Sensei’s Divining Top, splashing for Pernicious Deed.

Game 1 he took four damage early thanks to the fetchlands and duals, to keep searching with Sensei’s Divining Top. One end of turn he taps out for Fact or Fiction and a possible Top ability… when I caught him all tapped out, I played Insidious Dreams for three, putting Boseiju, Erratic Explosion, and Draco on top of my deck, winning the game two turns later.

Game 2 I keep a one-lander on the draw, including Lotus Bloom, Ideal, and two Duress I can cast. I failed to draw a land for a few turns, and even after playing the Lotus, which he destroyed with Putrefy, and two Duress, I have to discard. At some point he had eight lands, including Urza’s Factory, so he started making 2/2 tokens. After another Duress, I left him with nothing but Spell Snare, so thanks to a Seething Song I have mana to play Form of the Dragon immediately, but not the Ideal. I played Form of the Dragon. His next draw was Pernicious Deed, which he played. The Form did five damage to him, but then he destroyed it with Deed and eventually won with the Factory tokens.

Game 3 I once again caught him tapped and responded with Dreams for two: Boseiju and Ideal, since his life was above sixteen. He had a Top, so with some fetchlands and Sakuras he did lots of looking and searching. I drew the Boseiju, played it and passed. After some more Top activations, he found an Extirpate. He targeted Dreams in my graveyard, and shuffled my deck. My draws weren’t that good, and soon an Eternal Witness that was already on the table threatened to kill me. When I was at six, I had to make a decision. I was holding Take Possession and some irrelevant cards I was never casting. I had two sac lands, two Gemstones, and Boseiju. If I played Take Possession on the Witness immediately, I’d lose one sac land and need to draw an Ideal and another land to win, but I’d gain more turns. If I passed the turn, I’d simply need to draw the Ideal, but I’d have only one turn to find it because the Witness would put me at four, and then at two… and then I can’t use Boseiju.

I decided to play Take Possession to gain more turns, taking damage from Boseiju down to four because I only had those lands. Next turn I draw Ideal, but I need one more sac land to cast it. Next turn I draw Boseiju. He played a Sakura Tribe Elder. I drew another Boseiju. He attacks me down to three, then to two, putting me further away from winning… and then I lose.

4 – 3

Round 8: Roel van Heesjwik, WBR Scepter Chant

Game 1 he mulliganed to five, and had a very weak draw. One turn I had ten mana in play and I was holding two cards: Ideal and Phyrexian Arena. If I played Ideal, I’d fetch Dovescape first, but then I’d need Solitary Confinement protection before going for Form of the Dragon, to avoid losing to possible tokens he could create with Dovescape. And to have the Confinement in play so early, I’d need to get Phyrexian Arena, but it was in my hand, so I’d need to play it before the Ideal. No problem, I had ten mana. I sacced the Lotus Bloom and three sac lands and played Phyrexian Arena and Ideal, but the Ideal is countered by Mana Tithe, leaving me just with an Arena and Gemstone Mine. I didn’t manage to recover, since he also started drawing two a turn with Dark Confidant. Basically, I lost because I drew Phyrexian Arena, needing it on the table eventually and not being able to fetch it with Ideal.

Game 2, thanks to a Lotus Bloom, I safely played Ideal early in the game past Mana Tithe, and won shortly. He played a turn two Dark Confidant and revealed Draco for 16 damage. Such Roel, such Draco, but it probably didn’t matter as I’d resolved Enduring Ideal at that point.

Game 3 he had an early Scepter with Chant, so I’m locked but with outs… two Fire/Ice (and I’m already holding one) plus Ideal. In one of his turns I played Ice on the Scepter. It resolved, but on my upkeep he played another Orim’s Chant from his hand. I had to pass. Then he played Duress on his turn. I was holding 2 lands, Dreams, Ideal, plus two cards. I played Dreams for three, keeping only the lands since I was being targeted by Duress. I put Fire/Ice, Condescend, and Enduring Ideal on top, in that order. Duress resolved, he saw two lands, played Dark Confidant and passed with only one fetchland and another land untapped.

On my upkeep, he didn’t activate the Scepter, so I assume he wants to activate Top at the end of turn and possibly break the fetchland, but mostly he did this because I played too predictably, putting a Fire/Ice on top (which was the correct play). I could’ve made a much riskier play, of putting the Ideal on top first, followed by Fire/Ice. If he doesn’t use the Scepter, then I just play the Ideal which he assumes is a Fire/Ice and I win. If he doesn’t use the Scepter then I gave him a free turn to dig for a third Chant, and I risk losing to a Duress.

I made the safe, and better, play. I drew the Fire/Ice and passed. On his turn I tapped the Scepter, which resolved. I tried to go off in my turn, but indeed he had the third Orim’s Chant, and I was now hard locked with no outs.

Should I have made the riskier play? The one I made guaranteed me the win unless he has the third Orim’s Chant. I like these odds, even though I lost. That would be a bet I would always call. But the other play would got me the win simply because of the following circumstances:

My opponent having the third Orim’s Chant.
My opponent playing a Dark Confidant the turn after I played Dreams, keeping only one fetch and one land untapped.
My opponent knowing I would make the play that would give me more chances of winning.

The reason why I wouldn’t make this play is because even if he knows I have searched for Fire/Ice first, he would simply have used the Scepter in my upkeep just because he can play it safe. This risky play would only work if he’d played spells on his turn before.

4 – 4

Round 9: Domain Zoo

He had a good draw, including a turn 1 creature and turn 2 Boros Swiftblade. I made a Lotus Bloom and two sac lands on my first turns, and I had Sulfur Vent untapped at one stage so I could Fire/Ice if needed. He attacked with both guys and played Gaea’s Might on the Boros Swiftblade, I responded by sacrificing Sulfur Vent for UR mana and killing it with Fire, preventing twelve damage. On my third turn, I just played a land. He didn’t kill me on the fourth turn, and on my next turn the Lotus came into play. I sacrificed both sac lands in my upkeep to play a Dreams for Erratic Explosion and Draco. I drew the Erratic Explosion and played it with the Lotus Bloom. He had already taken damage from dual lands and fetches, as Zoo usually does.

Game 2 he was on the play, and he mulliganed to three cards. He played turn 1 Fetchland and passed. I played Sulfur Vent. He played turn 2 fetchland, and passed. I play Duress. He responded with Lightning Helix. He shows just a Steam Vents. He has Godless Shrine and Stomping Ground in play, plus Steam Vents in hand, and that’s all. I’m at seventeen.

He killed me before I went off.

He drew a creature, plus Gaea’s Might, plus Tribal Flames.

Game 3 I’m on the play and I mulligan to five cards, with very few lands. He has a solid start and kills me very quickly.

4 – 5

At this point I was a little upset with Magic in general (nothing in specific), so I marked the drop box. It’s not like you have much time to decide if you want to drop after you lose. On one hand, I certainly didn’t feel like playing any more Magic, after nine rounds and some unfortunate plays, but it was not a deliberate action… rather, it was an “impulse drop.”

On the other hand, I am a Pro Player. And with one more win, fifteen points would earn me one more Pro Point. I’ve clearly stated time and again that my goal for this season, and for my career, is to Top 8 a Grand Prix. That’s the reason I travel so much. Sure, I’m not doing it to achieve any specific pro level, but even so, the points are worth so much nowadays. When I play a Grand Prix with 1200 players and I’m out of contention for Top 8, I feel so happy to get one or two Pro Points… and in Valencia I gave up on one point that was just a single win away. I feel I don’t deserve to be considered a Pro Player because of this, and it would be well deserved if I finished this season with 29 or 39 points, just missing out on leveling up.

Thank you for listening my mistakes. I hope you can learn from them, and avoid making them yourself. I try to learn, but every day I find new mistakes to make.