Losing To Alex’s Proteus Staff: U.S. Nationals Day One

Yeah, you may have heard of some of those guys. Two veterans from Your Move Games. Then there’s Billy Postlethwait, who almost became the national champion. I didn’t recognize Mitchell Tamblyn’s name, but when Ted Knutson sat down behind me with his laptop, taking notes on Mitchell’s drafting, I knew that he had to be a pretty hot Limited player too. Needless to say, having only drafted this format twice, this was not the draft pod I was hoping for.

[Editor’s Note: I edited this normally twice, but the HTML conversion broke each time, so I left it with a minimum of formatting this time and it actually worked. Sorry for the inconvenience.]

I’m actually playing in Nationals. The phrase echoes in my head over and over again. It’s fifteen minutes before showtime. Eventually, I manage to focus and start registering my deck. I shuffle through some extra cards (options). Should I make any last-minute changes?

After going 6-0 in the Midnight Grinder, I feel quite confident in the decklist. But one problem kept coming up again and again: land screw.

So I make one tiny adjustment to the maindeck, cutting one Renewed Faith for a Secluded Steppe. Choosing what to cut is pretty easy, after all, Renewed Faith doesn’t really do anything. It stalls aggressive opponents and helps dig into your library, but that’s about it. I prefer Secluded Steppe, rather than another Plains, because I don’t like getting land-flooded in the late game.

But do I go for the big sideboard change? Last night, I came up with an interesting alternative sideboard plan. It seemed like Elf and Nail was much more popular than I anticipated. And with it being a tough matchup, I was hoping to squeeze some more answers into my sideboard.

At the same time, Goblins didn’t seem nearly as popular as I assumed they would be. Of course, this impression was partly because I didn’t encounter any Red Men during the Grinder. The usefulness of Circle of Protection: Red seemed pretty limited. What if I changed my board like this?

-4 COP: Red

+3 Exalted Angel

+1 Wing Shards

The Angels provide something invaluable against Elf and Nail: an early game-winning plan. Swinging with an Angel on turn 4 leaves Elf and Nail with precious few outs. A lightning-speed Tooth and Nail or a top-decked Duplicant are necessary before the Angel takes the game out of reach.

The plan against Goblins is a little trickier. Most Goblins splash Green and would sideboard in Naturalize, expecting COP: Red. Instead you bring in Angels and Wing Shards, making the Naturalizes dead draws and shoring up your defense against the early creature rush.

The new sideboard plan appeared really good, providing extra game against Elf and Nail, while punishing players for following the common Goblin sideboard plan. In the end, though, I chickened out and stuck with the COPs. After all, the alternate board was totally untested, and Exalted Angel can’t hold its own against Goblin Hordes like a Cloudpost-powered COP can.

Then I faced the Sacred Ground debate again. Similar to the COP debate, Weathered Wayfarer is just more flexible. It still helps against land destruction strategies, but also gives you a wrecking ball against opposing control decks.

Once again, I stuck with the original sideboard, fondly remembering that without Sacred Ground, I never would have won my round two Grinder matchup against Ponza.

Here’s what I registered for U.S. Nationals:


12 Plains

1 Secluded Steppe

1 Forest

4 Windswept Heath

2 Mirrodin’s Core

4 Cloudpost

3 Temple of the False God

2 Solemn Simulacrum

2 Mindslaver

4 Eternal Dragon

3 Renewed Faith

3 Pulse of the Fields

3 Wing Shards

4 Wrath of God

4 Akroma’s Vengeance

4 Decree of Justice

4 Oxidize


“>Circle of Protection: Red



“>Sacred Ground

1 Mindslaver

Standard (Rounds 1-3)

For those of you who don’t know about Nationals, it’s a multi-format event: Standard and Draft. For reasons that will become evident later in the report, I was less than enthusiastic about the latter. At least I get to start with my format of choice.

Round One – Erek A Caveny (92nd) Ponza

I win the roll and keep a two-land hand with Renewed Faith. Erek opens up with a Mountain but no play. Goblins with a slow start is what I’m thinking. It can’t be Ponza again.

Slith Firewalker on turn 2 confirms my fears.

“Ponza?” I ask incredulously.

“It’s my answer to the metagame,” Erek replies.

Whatever, I think to myself, remembering my testing against Affinity, and watching Ponza go about 50-50 in that supposedly favorable matchup.

Then I get hit with Molten Rain, followed by Demolish. Maybe I underestimated this deck. Flashback to my first grinder match against Ponza go through my mind. Not again. Come on, this isn’t happening.

I watch helplessly as the Firewalker grows to 6/6. And the funny thing is that it’s not the land destruction that gets me, it’s my inability to draw any non-Akroma’s Vengeance removal.

But I do have Pulse of the Fields. It keeps me in the game until I finally cast Akroma’s Vengeance to destroy the huge Slith, stabilizing at twelve life – go Pulse of the Fields.

Erek doesn’t look the least bit concerned and drops Arc-Slogger. Of course, he’s been storing up all sorts of cards in his hand while watching me get tortured by the Slith.

I miss my seventh land drop and pass the turn.

Another Slith joins the Arc-Slogger and they both jump into the red zone. I feel the tide turning and cycle Decree of Justice for three Soldiers, but Erek has cover for his creatures. Before I declare blockers, he hits two Soldiers with Electrostatic Bolt (Damn! I thought that card was dead in this matchup) and shoots the other with Arc-Slogger. So the Beast and Firewalker drop me to seven life.

I finally draw Wrath of God and play it, taking out Erek’s whole team. On his turn he plays a third Slith Firewalker, taking me to six life. You’ve got to be kidding! Then a second Arc-Slogger follows up. I Pulse back up to ten life at the end of his turn.

The Firewalker knocks me down to four life, and I elect to not Pulse of the Fields at the end of his turn, knowing that he can Arc-Slogger me for the win in response.

On my turn I rip Akroma’s Vengeance, and have enough mana leftover for Pulse of the Fields to boot. It’s time to take control and win this one. I cast Vengeance and Erek Arc-Sloggers me twice in response (with too few cards left in his library to kill me with additional activations). With the Sloggings on the stack, I cast Pulse of the Fields, but Erek has responses…

He taps two Mountains

Casts Shock

And another Shock.

That’s exactly lethal damage. Losing to Electrostatic Bolt and Shock, that’s not right. What a messed up game! My deck struggled to produce removal spells while his pumped out a never-ending stream of creatures.

I scoop up my cards. Not the way I wanted to start off the day, but I can’t be angry. I’m playing in Nationals for the first time ever, and I just had one hell of a game of Magic.

-2 Mindslaver

-1 Akroma’s Vengeance

+3 Sacred Ground

Game two starts like this:

Me: Land

Erek: Mountain

Me: Land

Erek: Mountain, Slith Firewalker (Me 19)

Me: Cycle Eternal Dragon during the end of his turn.

Me: Land

Erek: Mountain, Attack for two with Slith Firewalker (Me: 17)

Me: Cycle Renewed Faith during the end of his turn (Me: 19)

Erek: Cast Dwarven Blastminer

Me: Land, Wrath of God

Erek doesn’t draw a single land destruction spell this game. My Wrath of God is crippling, and from there I easily win the game with Pulse of the Fields and Angels, despite having to deal with a multiplying Avarax. Along the victory path, I see Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] for the first time, which leads me to change my sideboard.

-3 Akroma’s Vengeance

+3 Circle of Protection: Red

I had no idea that he had so many (3!) Dwarven Blastminers in his sideboard, and in retrospect, taking out all those copies of Akroma’s Vengeance might have been a bad idea, since I need to sweep every Miner off the board. But his deck is low on threats, and one active COP basically prevents him from winning.

Game three starts off pretty well for me. For the first time in the match, Erek doesn’t have a turn 2 Slith Firewalker, while I manage to get out a second-turn Sacred Ground.

Culling Scales comes out right on schedule for Erek, and I don’t have Green mana for the Oxidize in my hand.

I untap and make a horrible play, my first huge error of the day. I cast one of the two COPs in my hand. Now Culling Scales gets to destroy two of my game-winning enchantments. Erek destroys Sacred Ground first and starts blowing up my lands.

After the Scales destroys itself, I manage to barely cast the second COP with my battered mana base. COPs aren’t very good when you don’t have lands in play. Erek proceeds to destroy every land I have in play. After I manage to dig up a lone Plains, he casts Dwarven Blastminer.

Now it looks like I’m basically locked down. I start knocking the top of my deck and…

Miraculously, it starts to produce a string of basic lands and cycling cards. Eventually, I manage to Wrath away the Miner, but not before the Dwarf hits me several times. My recovery from helplessness is only possible because Erek doesn’t draw the right threats to complement his disruption – a common problem for Ponza and a reason I avoid the recent incarnations of this archetype.

Erek aggressively mana burns himself to make life as difficult as possible for me and keep me nervous about Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]. I find out that he has the Pulse the hard way. By now I’m at eleven and he’s at thirteen.

The second Culling Scales appears, but this time I have a Windswept Heath in play and Oxidize in hand. I destroy the Scales at the end of Erek’s turn and I can see the doubt in his eyes; he can tell the game is slipping away from him. It looks like I’m going to pull off an impossible win.

We trade blows for a while. I’m clearly in control, but I need a little more mana to win this game safely. It’s just a matter of time, though. He can’t compete with the raw power of my spells and COP has him locked up.


Damn, maybe I do have problems. Erek is at six life and I’m at eleven. I have two Decree of Justice in hand and Pulse of the Fields, but I’m afraid of tapping out and getting killed by burn spells and hasty men. Erek hits me with Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] regularly, but each time I prevent the damage with my COP.

(Turn 1) I play a land and pass the turn.

(Turn 2) Erek plays an Arc-Slogger, easily the last creature I want to see. At the end of his turn, I cycle Decree of Justice for five tokens, leaving two mana open for COP just in case. Erek Pulses me once, and I prevent the damage.

(Turn 3) I play Temple of the False God and send in the Soldiers. Erek shoots two with Arc-Slogger, and blocks a third. Two little guys get through and take him down to four.

(Turn 4) Erek Starstorms (topdeck!) away my two Soldiers, casts Slith Firewalker, and decides not to attack. He passes the turn, and I realize that he’s playing for the draw. At the end of his turn, I cycle Decree of Justice for eight Soldiers, tapping out. It’s a risky play, but I’m at thirteen life, he doesn’t have much mana free, and he only has enough cards left in his library to activate Arc-Slogger once.

(Turn 5) I send in my eight men and hope for the best. Erek Arc-Sloggers one of them, Shocks another, and blocks two of them. Four Soldiers manage to run the gauntlet, and four damage is exactly what I need to win the game and the match. What an unbelievable way to start the day, coming down to the wire. Erek and I shake, talking about how great the games were.

Boy am I glad I sideboarded in those COPs!

Games 2-1, Matches 1-0

Round Two – Matt L Schmaltz (164th) U/W Control

The matchup God or Goddess is not on my side today. Of all the decks to run into, why this one? According to magicthegathering.com coverage, there were only 6 U/W Control decks in the entire tourney (3.4% of the field). And I get to play one of them. What a treat.

I start game one thoroughly prepared to lose. Luck seems to be on my side, though. Two quick Cloudposts and Solemn Simulacrum help me get Eternal Dragon recursion going a turn or two before Matt. The Simulacrum even hits him once before getting wiped away.

Things look even better when I draw my first Mindslaver. Matt plays a Cloudpost of his own, and that gives me the magic number thirteen. Matt has exactly four mana open (two of them Blue sources), since he returned his own Dragon to hand.

I’ve got to go for it. If he doesn’t have Rewind, I should win this match right here. I cast Mindslaver and…


My hopes of winning sink. At the end of the turn, Matt casts Thirst for Knowledge, discarding Damping Matrix. He even does another Thirst for Knowledge during his turn, probably trying to make land drops, ditching another Damping Matrix. At the end of his turn, he announces that he’s entering his discard step.

“Okay,” I reply.

He discards Wrath of God. Then I attempt to cycle Eternal Dragon at the end of his turn. He stops me and explains that I can’t do that during this step. I don’t bother calling a judge, since I know he’s right and it’s a stupid error. Nevertheless, Matt’s a really nice guy and lets me cycle the Dragon anyway, as long as it doesn’t happen again.

On my turn I return the Dragon to my hand. Matt takes his turn and hits me with his own Mindslaver. Damn, I didn’t think he had room for them maindeck (I later find out that he only has one in the maindeck). In response to Mindslaver’s activation, I cycle Decree of Justice for six tokens, drawing my second Mindslaver off the cycling – ouch!

Matt takes my turn and messes me up really badly. He casts my Mindslaver, Oxidizes it, and cycles Decree of Justice for zero, drawing an Akroma’s Vengeance, which he fortunately doesn’t have enough mana to cast. What he doesn’t get to do, though, is sweep away my Soldiers with my own removal spell.

Matt doesn’t kill my Soldiers on his turn and surprises me by casting Eternal Dragon. I still need a really good topdeck to have a chance at winning this one. Those five Soldiers aren’t going to cut it against Pulse of the Fields and Renewed Faith. I untap, and draw…

More Soldiers.

I pretend to be disappointed and march my tokens into the red zone, taking Matt down to twelve. Then I play another land. On his turn, the Dragon takes me down to thirteen, and then he casts Akroma’s Vengeance. At the end of his turn I cycle Decree of Justice for exactly twelve tokens.

I untap, return Eternal Dragon to my hand, draw, and roll in with my Soldier army. I wait for Matt’s Renewed Faith or Pulse of this Fields.

They don’t come and he scoops up his cards.

-4 Wrath of God

+3 Duplicant

+1 Mindslaver

I leave the Oxidzes in, just in case. Maybe he’ll get greedy with an early Mindslaver, assuming I side out Oxidize. Or maybe he’ll leave Damping Matrix in to screw with my Mindslavers. Who knows? Wrath of God is probably as useless, though now that I think about it, I probably should have kept the Wraths in, since they’re my best (and still poor) answer to Weathered Wayfarer, which might get boarded in (not in his board, luckily).

Matt mulligans his opening hand game two. Now that’s the kind of start I like to see. Once again, I get lucky with Cloudposts and Jens. The Sad Robot gets in some crazy beats, taking Matt all the way down to eleven (Flooded Stand for the extra odd point). In the meantime, I thin Plains out of my deck as rapidly as possible.

At the end of one of my turns, Matt Pulses himself up to fifteen life. Then during his turn he casts something I never imagined seeing…

Future Sight. This could get ugly really fast. I have to make my move before that enchantment blows me away. I don’t do anything impressive during my turn, wanting to leave all my mana available for the end of his turn. He untaps with Future Sight in play and doesn’t win. At the end of his turn I make eleven Soldiers.

On my turn, I march in and take Matt down to four life. At the end of my turn he makes a Soldier army of his own and I end up taking nine points of damage from the team, dropping to ten. Then he clears the board (topdeck?). So it’s a race, but not really, since he has Pulse of the Fields and I don’t.

What I do have, though, is another Decree of Justice. At the end of his turn, I cycle it for another eleven tokens. On my turn, I attack for the win. But once again I’m counting on him not having life gain. I know he has the Pulse, but if he has Renewed Faith too I’m screwed.

Matt sacrifices Flooded Strand to get his fourth White mana source, going down to three, then he casts Thirst for Knowledge, discarding two irrelevant non-artifacts. He Pulses himself once, going to seven, then again, going to eleven.

And he shakes my hand.

What a match! I stole a win from U/W Control. Quick Cloudposts and drawing more Decrees than he did made it all possible, but there were also some important play decisions that factored in. I cycled Eternal Dragon much more aggressively than he did, improving my draws substantially. He, on the other hand, held back a little on the Dragon and even cast it early one game. It turns out that after fearing life gain all those times he had only two copies of Pulse of the Fields and no Renewed Faiths.

Games 4-1, Matches 2-0

Round Three – Luke C Koleczek (88th) Elf and Nail

Game one is pretty stupid. Luke gets totally mana flooded. When it looks like he’s going to pull out of it with Skullclamp, I ruin that plan with Oxidize.

Nevertheless, I can’t screw around. I have precious few non-mana-crippling ways to stop Kamahl, Fist of Krosa. While Luke floods on mana, I cycle Eternal Dragon until there aren’t any Plains left in my deck.

Eventually, he casts Fierce Empath, fetching Kamahl, Fist of Krosa, but he waits a turn before casting it, no doubt wanting to have the maximum mana free so he can animate my lands in response to any board sweepers I might play. It’s the moment I’ve been waiting for, and one of the few reasons why I have this card in the maindeck:


There are so many ways to wreck Elf and Nail with Mindslaver it’s ridiculous: Viridian Shaman their Skullclamp, Duplicant their Darksteel Colossus, search out zero creatures with Tooth and Nail, or – my favorite – forcing your opponent to draw so many cards from his Skullclamp that he has to discard all his business spells at the end of turn.

This Mindslaver is merely solid, not spectacular. To my delight, there is Tooth and Nail in hand, but I have enough mana to cast it with entwine. Luke admits that he should have Toothed last turn, but he wasn’t expecting Mindslaver. So all I do is cast Tooth, elect to search out just one creature (Triskelion), put it into play, and shoot Kamahl to death. (To my surprise, I don’t see a single Darksteel Colossus in Luke’s deck, but there are two Kamahls). Then I debate whether or not to Viridian Shaman the Trike, but why leave my opponent with a 2/2 beater instead of a 1/1 artifact creature? I tap Luke out and take my own turn.

On my turn, I make five Angels. Luke nails one with Duplicant on his turn, and chump blocks another two Angels on my turn with Birds of Paradise, but it only delays the inevitable.

-3 Pulse of the Fields

-1 Akroma’s Vengeance

+3 Duplicant

+1 Mindslaver

Deciding what to cut for the fourth card is tough. You need the Wraths as an early answer to Wirewood Symbiote, and Renewed Faith is important as a storm enabler for Wing Shards. But Akroma’s Vengeance is your only answer to Vernal Bloom, which cannot be allowed to stay in play. I probably should have swapped out a Renewed Faith instead, since Oxidize can help charge up Wing Shards against Darksteel Colossus. I’m assuming that he must side in Colossus against me (turns out I’m wrong).

Other than life totals, my notes for game two are non-existent. Luke slowly chips away at me until I’m down to eight. His life goes from twenty to eighteen (Solemn Simulacrum strikes again) to seventeen (mana burn) and suddenly down to the negatives (Angels).

I remember having to Wrath away a Wirewood Symbiote on turn 4 to keep Wood Elves from going totally insane, and Vernal Bloom comes into play and stays there, with me unable to draw Akroma’s Vengeance. I think Luke even Mindslavers me, but all that doesn’t really matter. Luke doesn’t have an explosive early game.

With Wing Shards, Mindslaver, and Duplicant after boarding, Elf and Nail needs a really good hand to beat MWC+g. If entwined Tooth and Nail doesn’t go off by turn 6, Elf and Nail doesn’t really have a chance.

Games 6-1, Matches 3-0

Limited (Rounds 4-7)

Winning a difficult match versus Ponza. Pulling off the nearly impossible – certainly improbable – win against U/W Control. And just now defeating my most challenging normal (metagame) matchup. I’m walking on air. I think back to Jamie Wakefield famous tournament report about how he qualified for the Pro Tour with Secret Force, how he got this unstoppable feeling and knew it was going to happen. There may be 11 rounds left, but I’m feeling pretty damn good after sweeping Standard.

Hell, I might be the next U.S. champion. All I need is some divine intervention in the draft portion of the tournament.


Let me tell you briefly about my draft game. Considering that I never practice drafting more than a couple times a year (if that), I’m actually pretty good. Of course, that doesn’t cut it at Nationals.

After grinding into Nationals, the only Magic I played the Thursday before the main event was two side event booster drafts, my first drafts in Mirrodin block. No, not my first drafts with Fifth Dawn. My first drafts in the block, period. I didn’t win a single match.

To make matters worse, look who is in my first draft pod:

Pod 2

1 Shvartsman, Alex (9th)

2 Majlaton, Alex (42nd)

3 Humpherys, David (7th)

4 Postlethwait, William (4th)

5 Rust, Frederic (58th)

6 Tamblyn, Mitchell (22nd)

7 Marsh, Corwin (61st)

8 Famiglietti, Lou (146th)

Yeah, you may have heard of some of those guys. Two veterans from Your Move Games. Then there’s Billy Postlethwait, who almost became the national champion. I didn’t recognize Mitchell Tamblyn’s name, but when Ted Knutson sat down behind me with his laptop, taking notes on Mitchell’s drafting, I knew that he had to be a pretty hot Limited player too. You can find Knutson’s report on Mitchell’s draft here (http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=mtgevent/usnat04/dr2).

Here’s what my deck ended up looking like:


8 Island

6 Plains

4 Mountain


Wayfarer’s Bauble

Healer’s Headdress

Thermal Navigator

Wizard Replica

Baton of Courage

Myr Quadropod

Spire Golem

Thought Courier

Trinket Mage

2 Neurok Prodigy

2 Wanderguard Sentry

Razor Barrier


Leonin Squire

Pteron Ghost

Loxodon Mystic

2 Electrostatic Bolt

Spikeshot Goblin


Relevant Sideboard:

Healer’s Headdress (boarded in every time)

2 Vex

Before I even try to explain the draft, I need to create the proper atmosphere so you can understand what I am was going through. It’s my third time ever drafting Mirrodin block (thanks to two drafts the day before), and I’m at U.S. Nationals sitting with a number of extremely skilled Limited players. The draft runs like a machine. Everything is timed with excruciating accuracy, thanks to this announcer’s soporific monotone with a British – I think – accent. [Actually I think it was ze Germans. – Knut, trying hard to remember that far back]

Pick up your first pack of cards. Do not look at them.

Shuffle them, and place them face down on the table in rows of three.

Pick up your cards.

Five seconds remaining.


Shuffle your cards, pass them to the left, and place them in face-down rows of three.

Pick up the cards to your right. There should be fourteen cards.

Five seconds remaining.


[Repeat this a million times]

I was nervous. What if I screwed something up? I was having a hard enough time shuffling, passing on time, and getting them into neat rows for the guy next to me, not to mention picking the best cards and reading signals. Meanwhile, the guys around me have probably memorized common runs.

So drafting was intense and I wasted a lot of energy on trying to comply with the rigorous timing and structure of everything.

I took Spikeshot Goblin as my first pick, and was delighted when I got Electrostatic Bolt as a second pick. But, I should have looked more closely at the pack and taken Icy Manipulator. I think I was still too freaked out by the whole process and its formality to focus on the right picks, so I went with what jumped out at me. The E-Bolt is the same color as Spikeshot Goblin! Whoopee! And a Bonesplitter to go with Spikey, this is too good!

I also scooped up Razor Barrier and Wizard Replica, leaving me with non-Red options for the future, but I should have noted the lack of quality White spells getting passed. Nevertheless, I ended the Mirrodin pack very happy with my spell quality, though I noted that I was underpowered and lacking in the creature department, something that I hoped White would compensate for (a foolish assumption, given signals) in future packs.

Darksteel proved pretty disastrous. (Mitchell, feeding me from the left, moved into White wholeheartedly, enticed by a first-pick Razor Golem.) I switched to Blue, taking Spire Golem from my first or second pack. But everything else that got passed to me was merely solid and unspectacular. White and Red totally dried up.

Fifth Dawn put me back in the game. Baton of Courage and Thought Courier came out of my first two packs, followed by some solid stuff like Healer’s Headdress (2!), Leonin Squire, Trinket Mage, and Wayfarer’s Bauble.

I made one big mistake in deck construction: not playing the second Headdress. I knew it was good, but for some reason I insisted on playing a dorky creature instead. Considering my lack of drafting, I was pretty happy with how the deck turned out, but it massively lacked in one department: quality creatures. Removal will only get you so far. You need to back it up with solid threats.

Round Four – Mitchell E Tamblyn (22nd) W/u

Game one goes pretty well. I get slow start, but by turn 4 or so I find Spikeshot Goblin, which Mitchell has no way to remove. A creature stalemate ensues, but I gradually ping away at Mitchell, shooting him for a total of twelve damage with Spikey. What I would give for Bonesplitter or Trinket Mage.

I can’t seem to punch through with my fliers, though. Things get worse when Mitchell casts Acquire and puts Spire Golem directly into play from my deck, and his Razor Golem clogs up the ground. Due to mana flood, I can’t eke out any advantage in creature army strength, either. Eventually, with Mitch at four life, my Spikeshot Goblin clock forces him to make a daring attack. It takes me down to five. At the end of his turn, I Spike him down to three. I really need to pull something good on my turn…


Since he attacked me, I can get in some beats with my fliers. I count up the damage. No matter what I do, I’m one point short. It’s all because of that damn Pteron Ghost he topdecked last turn.

I pass the turn, and he attacks for the kill. For good measure, I Spike him down to two.

After the game, Mitchell points out that if I used Spikey to kill his Pteron Ghost rather than going direct to his dome, I would have removed the key blocker and won the game in the air.

I realize he’s absolutely right. There was a way to win. I just got too fixated on always pinging him with Spikeshot Goblin and didn’t recognize the correct play.

I’m really pissed at myself. Throwing away games will do that to you. I try to shake it off and focus on game two.

Game two isn’t even a game. Mitchell plays solitaire. I mulligan a no-land hand. Then I stare at a slightly better one-lander. I have Mountain, Electrostatic Bolt, Leonin Squire, and Thought Courier. All I need is a Plains or Island to be okay. I take a moment to decide. Any non-Mountain will let me play out creatures, and I can cast E-Bolt to buy time against any early threats Mitchell might have. I take the risk and keep my hand.

I never draw a second land.

Mitchell makes my mana screw even more painful by casting the Icy Manipulator I passed him and using it during my upkeep to tap down my only land.

Games 0-2, Matches 0-1

Round Five – Lou W Famiglietti (146th) W/B

Lou is unhappy with his deck. Hopefully that’s a good sign. After all, the more matches I lose, the easier they should get, right? We both commiserate over how insane our draft pod was, and eventually we get started.

Game one I’m playing first and I stare at a one-land hand that reminds me of the game I just lost. I throw it back and get something decent with two lands. I drop an early Bonesplitter and then fliers start coming out of the woodwork for me: Neurok Prodigy, Wizard Replica, Spire Golem.

Lou starts slow and his Dross Crocodile gets Purged. Essence Drain merely stalls my Bonesplitting aerial assault.

Game two starts off well, too. I get a second turn Thought Courier that stays in play for the whole game and does insane things for me. Topdecking my third Island allows me to drop Spire Golem the next turn.

Meanwhile, Lou opens up with Auriok Glaivemaster, Vulshok Gauntlets, equip Gauntlets and swing for six. That race suddenly turns around when I Unforge the Gauntlets – the best Unforge of the day for me.

On turn 5, Lou casts Farsight Mask. Whoa, I wasn’t expecting that. Suddenly, my attack plan changes entirely. I can’t have him drawing cards like crazy while I chip away at his life total with Spire Golem.

I skip several attack steps, using the Looter to build up a solid army. Spikeshot with Bonesplitter on it helps me handle any threats Lou produces. Then, once I have an overwhelming board position, I finishing Lou off in two massive strikes.

Games 2-2, Matches 1-1

Round Six – William (Billy) S. Postlethwait (4th) W/G/r

Game one I’m playing first and mulliganing again. Arggg, what is going on with this deck and its mana base? Isn’t seventeen lands enough? My mana curve is actually pretty good, too.

At least I get off to an aggressive start with fliers. Billy stalls me with Thunderstaff, but he doesn’t find a way to deal with all my fliers in time.

Game two goes similarly. Interestingly, he elects to draw rather than play, which is fine by me since my deck is faster and wins with inexpensive fliers. Basically, things go similarly to game one, except for three important differences.

· First, Tangle Spider ambushes me as I’m pushing through the final points of damage.

· Second, when Billy makes his counter attack, one of his guys does a Ferocious Charge.

· Third, a Darksteel Ingot gets Shrapnel Blasted at my head. In short, I got from an apparently safe fourteen life – so letting two attackers through seemed safe – to exactly 0 in one terrible twist of fate. Meanwhile, Billy is at four, due to take lethal damage next turn.

The third game is a really long one. Yet again, Billy draws. This time I don’t get out a fast offense and we both hunker down in a creature build-up. Then Billy taps seven lands and plays a bomb… Luminous Angel!

She and her flying minions take me down to three life. It doesn’t help that she is protected by Loxodon Anchorite. I keep fighting, and thanks to Spikeshot Goblin and Bonesplitter I manage to finally kill the Angel (with help from E-Bolt) and get things under control.

I start pinging away at Billy’s White fliers, after managing to dispatch the Anchorite. Then, just when I’m about to pull off a win in a really close match, I proceed to make a series of horrible play errors and throw the game. I forget to use Spikeshot one turn. I fail to realize that Thermal Navigator can gain flying and chump block by sacrificing an artifact. And most flagrant of all, I forget to tap down Billy’s attackers twice with my Loxodon Mystic.

Yeah, losing like that is pretty demoralizing. I feel like crap. Billy makes it easier by being such a friendly and humble opponent. Thanks, man. I really appreciate it.

Games 3-4, Matches 1-2

Round Seven – Alex Shvartsman (9th) U/X

Sweet, my first celebrity matchup. How cool would it be to be able to say,”I beat Alex Shvartsman?”

I don’t get to play first this time, but at least I finally have a good opening hand. Once again, I get some early fliers. Things heat up with Spikeshot Goblin. But Alex has an unlikely answer…

Proteus Staff.

He explains that everyone tells him he shouldn’t be playing this card. That doesn’t stop him from activating it and targeting Spikey, though. To my relief, the first card I reveal is Spire Golem – arguably an improvement for my flying bombardment plan.

Alex wastes mana Staffing my good men, but I just have more creatures than he can handle and win pretty easily.

Game two, Alex goes first. This is the best game of the bunch. We both have solid, though not amazing draws. Nevertheless, nothing breaks through a creature stalemate like two copies of Leonin Bola and Proteus Staff on the other side of the board. Okay, maybe it doesn’t change anything in terms of sheer numbers, but it wrecks any sort of qualitative parity.

Eventually, I manage to Unforge a Bola, but it’s too little too late. And I don’t even get to kill the little dork either, since Alex taps one of my men in response, causing the Bola to fall off his creature.

Unable to do anything important with good creatures or even keep them in play, Alex beats me easily.

Game three I’m playing first again, but it doesn’t matter. Tempo isn’t enough when you’re short on gas. My mediocre draw doesn’t develop. I draw about two lands for every spell I see. Alex, however, comes screaming out of the gates with Somber Hoverguard, Spire Golem, and Qumulox or Quicksilver Behemoth. He even gets the Proteus Staff going again – that’s three games in a row! I never even scratch him.

Limited: Games 4-6, Matches 1-3

Constructed: Games 6-1, Matches 3-0

Combined: Games 10-7, Matches 4-3

I just barely finished up with a winning record, which was kind of disappointing after such a great start in Standard. My Limited deck wasn’t that bad. It was definitely capable of a respectable, though lackluster, 2-2 performance. Unfortunately, I lost a couple of close games and matches. Most of the time when my deck was not doing its feast or famine thing with mana I was making awful play mistakes.


Am I that bad of a player? No, or at least I hope not. Part of the problem is merely my lack of experience with the format. But there’s a broader problem that is more easily corrected. My biggest problem was that I didn’t read enough cards in Limited. I mean pick them up, and study what they can really do. Rather than examine cards rarely seen outside of Limited play and ponder their interactions and ramifications on games, I kind of ignored them and pretended like I understood them – similar to how I never bother reading cards in Standard, since they’re all familiar. A classic example of this was my misplay with Thermal Navigator against Billy.

So here’s my deep thought and mindblowing advice: remember to read all the cards when you’re playing Limited.

Despite ending day one on a low note, I felt pretty good. I had some great matches that came down to the wire. I had a winning record going into day 2. I played against a famous player. And I lost to Proteus Staff.

Thanks for reading, and take it easy,


[email protected]