The City of Light feels like home to me. Paris was the first foreign city I traveled to for Magic. Determined to qualify for the Pro Tour, in 2006 I
joined in the insane crush of players that were the side events at Worlds. The very next week, I won my first PTQ in Spain.
As I stepped out of the cab onto the streets of Paris, warmth grew in my soul. Paris is a place where I feel content and creative, unlike any other
place. With a Top 32 finish at the Pro Tour and the same at Worlds, my good feelings toward Paris have only grown!
The hottest crew in Magic (Matthias Hunt, Kyle Stoll, Dave Yetka, and associates from Minnesota) invited me to join them at a small flat they rented
near the site. After spending Wednesday testing with fellow Northwesterners, I knew that I wanted to play Valakut or a Tezzeret brew that my friend
Jesse Smith of 60cards.com and The Eh Team was working on. Talking to the Minnesotans at dinner over the smoothest salmon tomato cream linguine on
earth, it was clear Kyle was very happy with Boros and had Matthias on board as well. Valakut was one of the strongest choices. Sharing the wonderful
pasta with Valakut expert Brandon Nelson helped me realize I was happy to play the boogeyman at the Pro Tour.
One of the critical pieces that Brandon brought to my Valakut deck was Koth of the Hammer against control. Brandon did not like the uncounterable
creature plan much and felt as though Thrun just didn’t do enough. I’d been finding similar things in my testing. If I had known how powerful the new
sword would be in blue decks, I would have radically redesigned the sideboard or switched decks altogether. As it was, two Koths were a small bright
spot in a fifteen that otherwise disappointed me in most rounds. There just was not enough time between Besieged being spoiled and this Pro Tour for
most players outside the top teams to fully understand the format.
Our hesitation showed the morning of the event as cards continued to shuffle in and out of the sideboard. I wanted a second Avenger main, as it’s
essential against the decks with Mark of Mutiny for Primeval Titans. After cutting a variety of cards and being unhappy with all of them, I finally
just ran it as the 61st card. A Treespeaker also snuck into the sideboard on the theory that it was good in the mirror.
- 3 Lotus Cobra
- 1 Oracle of Mul Daya
- 2 Avenger of Zendikar
- 1 Joraga Treespeaker
- 4 Overgrown Battlement
- 4 Primeval Titan
Cobras and Slagstorm both in the main were designed to fool aggro players into overextending when they saw a Cobra, as no other list I’d seen ran both
Cobra and removal together in the maindeck. It was probably too cute but didn’t hurt me much in the event.
The main event started strong with a win against Kuldotha and another aggro deck. Facing EFro in round 3, I saw the first glimpse that something might
be horribly wrong. What appeared at first to be Kibler’s U/W deck from Worlds was soon using Stoneforge Mystic to cheat a sword into play. I no longer
had time to ramp past Mana Leak but was forced to act prematurely by the little unblockable eating away at all my resources. Although Koth stole game
two for me, the matchup was looking bad, and Eric won the round.
I was crushed by a different version of the same deck the next round, and the tournament was starting to look dim. I was able to redeem some hope by
beating the third Caw-Go deck in a row I faced in round five.
The highlight of these games was an interesting conversation with Gerard Fabiano. He deserves a lot of credit for developing a version of Caw-Go with
Sword completely separately from Channel Fireball. Most of the friends he used to travel with have left the game, and I can really sympathize with how
hard it is to travel alone all the time.
After going 3-2 in Constructed on Day One, I was completely sick of Swords backed by counters and Jace. Luckily, I knew that most people wouldn’t be
fully prepared for the Limited format. Pro Tours that take place before the new set has been released on MODO are a huge and rare opportunity to
outwork the rest of the players at a Tour.
I first-picked an Inkmoth Nexus out of a weak pack (I would’ve taken it over anything but the uncommon and rare bombs; I really like utility lands in
Limited, as they let you effectively play more spells without cutting land) and was passed a Corrupted Conscience and then was gifted a Flesh-Eater Imp
fourth. I thought this was a clear signal black was open. But we found throughout the weekend that Flesh-Eater was not valued as a rare bomb by many
players. Matthias was passed one sixth pick in his first draft. Thus, I shouldn’t have taken it as a clear signal. Black barely came to me from either
side, but decent blue cards helped me create a fairly solid control deck.
When building control decks in this format, I look first for control magics or strong finishers. Then, I want as many defensive two-drops as I can get.
Perilous Myr is the cream of this crop, with Myr Sire, Necropede, and Wall of Tanglecord also being good at the role. If I can stabilize early, then my
more powerful cards will take over the game. I want a way to move through my deck and quickly transition to winning when their early rush is
neutralized. Thus, Trigon of Thought, Riddlesmith, and Sky-Eel School are strong. Finally, you need to survive their bombs because every decent deck is
going to have a few sick rares. This means counterspells, removal, or ideally control-magic effects are also important.
The biggest mistake I see people make building these decks (and every deck in the format nearly) is not playing enough land. With all the equipment,
Trigons, etc., there are plenty of ways to use mana at every phase of the game. Thus, it’s really a 18-20 mana format. But people try to play less than
normal because they have a lot of mana Myrs. Shaving lands seems like good card advantage until you run into an Embersmith or Arc Trail on your
double-Myr draw. In addition, just making land drops naturally is really important if your goal is to jump up the curve.
All the pieces came together well in this deck, and I was able to control my matches to win each of the rounds. I was relieved to recover from the two
losses in Constructed with a sweep of the draft. I was happy to find out that four of the six guys in our apartment made Day Two. These Minnesotans are
running really good.
The second draft was very strange. I started on sword and was passed White Sun’s Zenith with an uncommon missing. The only way I could read that was
that the person to my right really wanted to force infect or was leery of committing to a color pick 1. I love the uncommons in Besieged, but a bomb
rare gift like Zenith is not something to turn away from. Third-pick Corrupted Conscience, and I started to get excited. There would be no late
Flesh-Eater Imps this time, but the guy feeding me would send even more gifts in pack 3 with back-to-back Volition Reins. Not getting many playables
other than a Steel Hellkite and two Arrests out of pack 2 felt only fair, as my deck was stocked with power.
In my excitement over my great fortune, I lost track of my creature count, one of the most important things to keep an eye on in draft to avoid train
This deck was not an example of what you want to be doing in this format at all. I opened really well, got great positioning, and then did everything I
could to throw away the gifts I received. Lack of discipline led to super shaky picks like Furnace Celebration in the middle of pack 2 over Ghalma’s
Warden. My deck was desperate for dudes in the end, and the upgraded ox would’ve been ideal. At that point, I was still not positive what my second
color would be, with one blue and one red playable. Furnace Celebration can be super nuts sometimes. But I should’ve recognized how powerful the cards
I already had were and looked to support them instead of being distracted.
In the end, I was forced to play at least three cards I’ve never used in Limited before. The blue 1 /2 flier for two was actually a good man for me,
but I felt as though I should apologize every time I cast him. Salvage Scout ended up being critical, as I was able to reconstruct my sword at a key
time in the first round to knock a Golem Artisan out of my opponent’s hand. After that, he never popped his Nihil Spellbomb in games two and three,
which felt like another victory for the 1/1.
My slops transitioned over into deck construction, where I earned myself my first deck/decklist problem since the infraction got its new name. I
registered 39 cards, which meant that my back was up against the wall again in round two of the pod. But the bombs were enough to get me through.
The final round of the pod was against the player that was feeding me. He said he didn’t take the White Sun’s Zenith because he didn’t know how good it
was. Instead, he had Skinwing as his first pick. After I cast Zenith for the second time in the deciding game of our match, he said he realized his
I felt great after sweeping Limited for my first time at a pro-level event. I was suddenly at a high table, and every match of Constructed would be
I was eased back into the 60-card format against a G/W opponent who was color-cut game one and then mulliganed to five in game two. I didn’t handle
myself very well in this round. Perhaps nervous, I acted like the stupid American and chatted endlessly. I hope my opponent didn’t take my overly
friendly attitude the wrong way.
Then I was called to a feature match at table one. My opponent was a great guy, and I was really glad he made Top 8. The Belgian Magic community is
really awesome. Mark Dictus is one of the best guys on the Tour, and he organized a bus of players to come to the PT as a group. I think community
things like that are what make this game so awesome.
Despite a colossal misstep in tapping lands in game three, I was able to pull out the game against Boros.
I had just beaten the last once-defeated. Now all the people with two losses including myself needed a win and a draw in the last three rounds to be in
the Top 8. I sat at fourth in the standings, the highest I’ve been at a Pro Tour.
The next round was against a strange Bant brew. In game one, I correctly read a Mana Leak off Birds despite no blue sources, taking the game with the
extra mana my Cobra made from Expeditions. Game two, I was playing around Mana Leak again and got a second Overgrown Battlement with Zenith to out-ramp
the counter. Then Linvala completely silenced me. I might have over-boarded around her game three, but he got blue sword going too fast, and my Titan
couldn’t kill all his Wolves before they mauled me.
If I had to lose the next round, I was glad it was to Ben Stark, a solid player and all-around good guy. I’ve enjoyed being at events all over the
world with Ben there. The last time we played, he knocked me out of the WPN challenge in San Juan and went on to win the event. I reminded him of that,
and I made sure we promised that whoever won the round would sweep the Top 8. I was very happy to see he made good on our agreement.
By then, my old auto-wreck back injury was acting up. I tried really hard to focus on one round at a time, and I don’t think that the pain and
discomfort affected me too much in the two win-and-in rounds. But by the final round of the event, I could not sit up at all. Luckily, my Vampires
opponent made pretty short work of me.
It was a great event for me with 22nd place to follow up on 20that Worlds. It would be easy to be heartbroken at losing the last three in a
row, but I was still pretty giddy from the nine wins before that and also glad to be back at the apartment.
By the morning of the Grand Prix, I was throwing up and only wanted to sleep. Almost every American got sick in or after leaving Paris. My issue was
apparently the back injury combined with an old, itchy gall bladder, trying desperately to adjust to the fine French cuisine.
I opened a mediocre to weak Sealed pool with really spread-out cards and only one bomb. At 4-0, I was wandering the hall, hoping to convince myself to
drop. Matthias urged me to take at least one loss before bailing, and my next opponent was more than happy to oblige.
Sixteen hours of sleep later and I was ready… to sleep some more. Perhaps it’s for the best that I didn’t Top 8 this event. Over the eleven-day Magic
marathon of Paris and Denver, Tom Martell and Brian Kibler both made Top 8 while much sicker than I was. But it sure didn’t look like either of them
was basking in the moment.
The list I played in Paris would’ve been great at Worlds but was simply behind the times once Besieged emerged.
Going forward, Valakut is still a very powerful engine that deserves respect and a place in the metagame. It’s by no means dead, but it does need to
evolve. Before taking the deck to another major event, I’d need to spend some major time completely reworking the sideboard to address the new
generation of aggro-control decks. Cobra is a super strong card, but the deck might be facing too much hate to be pure combo right now. I certainly
wanted to see Lightning Bolts all night and would’ve been happy to have a backup copy of Acidic Slime in the 75.
This is the list I would work off of.
- 1 Acidic Slime
- 3 Lotus Cobra
- 1 Oracle of Mul Daya
- 1 Avenger of Zendikar
- 4 Overgrown Battlement
- 4 Primeval Titan
Highlights of the weekend were spending time with the Minnesota crew, who totally relax at events while still putting their best effort into
succeeding. It’s great to see all their hard work paying off with strong finishes in Atlanta, Denver, and the Pro Tour.
Meeting Santiago De Paoli at a hostel and helping him Top 50 his first Pro Tour was amazing. I love helping players enjoy their Pro Tour experience,
and it felt really good to be there high-fiving Santiago as he qualified for his second.
I was very proud to be invited to wear the StarCityGames.com shirt at future events by Evan and Steve. Star City has gone through an incredible turn
around in the last six months, and I’m humbled to be invited into the place where Magic lives.
It was great to see the fabulous Top 8.
Patrick Chapin: I owe him so many thanks for helping me understand how to network many years ago. Tom Martell: I’ve gotten to know him and how to judge
when a GP is too big when we’re not next to each other at the player meeting. I would also like to thank my girlfriend, Heather Craig, who continues to
support my Magic career even when it means being far away on my birthday and Valentine’s Day.
Last year was rough. I made a make a lot of mistakes in and out of the game and did not put up any results before Worlds. I’m trying to learn, play
better, and be a better person, and I feel like it’s starting to pay off.Â