MOCS Tournament Report (Part Two)

Reid Duke (reiderrabbit) won big at Worlds after taking the Magic Online Championship down on top of $25,000. Here, he discusses how he improved his Innistrad Limited and how he chose what Modern decks to play.

When I arrived at the World Championships on Friday, I was treading water with a 3-3 record, but I wasn’t too down on myself. While one can always dream big, my modest goal for the event was to finish 10-8 and pick up the extra pro point I needed to level up. Besides, the Magic Online Championship was what really counted for me, and in that event I was standing in a tie for first place at 3-1.

Also, record aside, I simply couldn’t wait to draft with the pros all day! Since getting on the PT, I’ve considered my drafting to be a weak point, and this time I’d made it my goal to turn things around. I’d practiced nonstop, kept detailed notebooks, and gotten advice from anyone willing to talk to me.

Like always, a big part of my Limited preparation was endless discussion with my cousin, Logan Nettles, whom I’d been staying with preceding the tournament. We’d had a particularly heated and to-this-day unresolved debate about what the absolute best bomb in the format is for pack one pick one. Logan believed, like many, that the no-questions-asked best way to start a draft is with a Bloodline Keeper. I held firm that, while it was close, Reaper from the Abyss was the true king of Innistrad.

An argument like this, in the end, is always pointless. Clearly I’d never pass a Bloodline Keeper in pack one, and Logan would never pass a Reaper from the Abyss. Nevertheless, we waged full-scale war, firing hypothetical bombshells at each other during long car rides. I argued that the Keeper could be answered by some of the common removal spells while Reaper was nearly unkillable. Logan responded that Bloodline Keeper could win the game for the lowest mana cost of any bomb and that signaling value of the double-faced card was also important. To each his own…

Day Two: Innistrad Draft

Naturally, what did I see when I cracked booster pack A on that brisk San Francisco morning? The malevolent grin and ghastly, serrated weapon of Reaper from the Abyss! Complete with an ice cream cone stamp underneath his gauntleted left hand. Eager to capitalize on my good luck, I drafted a very strong W/B deck that also featured Skirsdag High Priest and what I could piece together of a morbid theme.

I won the first two rounds and was feeling great after I took game one against an unimpressive R/G werewolf deck. I had game two locked up with twenty life, a dominant board, and two demons that I had already made with Skirsdag High Priest. I played out my hand and passed the turn, ready to swing for lethal the following turn. My opponent drew his card—a Swamp—and played Olivia Voldaren, shooting one of my creatures and leaving me short of killing him. I drew a land, failed to end the game, and watched as all of his werewolves flipped, including an Instigator Gang that allowed him to kill me from twenty in one attack.

Miss Voldaren had shown up uninvited, unexpected, and unwanted, but I had thrown the game away with my own stupidity. If I had simply saved an irrelevant creature in my hand, I could have prevented the Instigator Gang from flipping. Agonizing over how I had let victory slip through my fingers, I forgot to bring back in my two Geistcatcher’s Rigs, which I had sideboarded out against what I had thought was an ordinary R/G beatdown deck. Sure enough, game three was dominated by Olivia, and I would have had a great chance to win if I had drawn a Rig to answer her.

I was devastated by the loss. It’s hard to say how my emotional state affected my second draft, but things didn’t go my way, and for the second time in a row I ended the day at 3-3. How could I go on! I’d set out to show the world that I could 3-0 a Pro Tour draft, and I couldn’t even pull it off when things were handed to me on a silver platter. We aren’t given second chances in MTG…

MOCS Day Two: Innistrad Draft

What did I see when the draft fired on that rainy Magic Online evening? The charming smile and beautiful, shining farm tool of Reaper from the Abyss! This time I would do it right! This time there would be no “piecing together” a morbid package. This time I would draft two Disciple of Griselbrand, a Brain Weevil, an Altar’s Reap, and a Blazing Torch to go with my Reaper from the Abyss, Morkrut Banshee, Falkenrath Noble, Bitterheart Witch/Curse of Death’s Hold, and Ghoulcaller’s Chant. This time, every single card would be exactly the tool I wanted for the job, right down to my Night Terrors and my Walking Corpse. And all this would come in a six-person draft pod, where I could expect my opponents’ decks to be slightly weaker than normal. It was perfect!

10  Swamp
17 lands

Bitterheart Witch
Brain Weevil
Diregraf Ghoul
Disciple of Griselbrand
Falkenrath Noble
Morkrut Banshee
Reaper from the Abyss
Silverchase Fox
Slayer of the Wicked
Vampire Interloper
Walking Corpse

Altar’s Reap
Blazing Torch
Bonds of Faith
Butcher’s Cleaver
Corpse Lunge
Curse of Death’s Hold
Ghoulcaller’s Chant
Night Terrors

Armored Skaab
Corpse Lunge
Forbidden Alchemy
Furor of the Bitten
Ghoulcaller’s Bell
Hanweir Watchkeep
Kessig Wolf
Makeshift Mauler
Pitchburn Devils
Prey Upon
Purify the Grave
Riot Devils
Rotting Fensnake
Runic Repetition
Traveler’s Amulet
Urgent Exorcism

In rounds one and three, I defeated SEVERUS and Toffel in tight, three-game matches. The highlight of the tournament, though, was in round two against Ponza’s powerful Jund deck which featured enough removal to kill every creature in Innistrad twice over.

reiderrabbit vs. Ponza

Down a card because of a mulligan, the game started out badly for me, but I eventually stemmed the bleeding and began to make a comeback. Or so I thought. I played Night Terrors and saw Olivia Voldaren and Into the Maw of Hell! At the time, I had only weenie creatures for Into the Maw of Hell, but I was stuck on lands and only had one Plains. Moreover, the last thing I needed in this sort of a matchup (and after a mulligan) was a two-for-one. Talk about two bad options! Still, I took the Olivia.

The game proceeded with not much action, as Ponza conservatively opted to trade weak creatures back and forth rather than burn his Into the Maw of Hell. After I reached six lands, I drew my Reaper of the Abyss but wasn’t willing to throw him away so easily. I passed the turn, and he played a Tormented Pariah. I drew a blank and was faced with yet another awful decision. I could pass back and let him flip his werewolf and hit me to three. I would then be in range of Brimstone Volley or basically any creature, and I would only have a Bonds of Faith to answer his werewolf. That’s always a risky proposition since it becomes a lethal attacker if it ever transforms back to human. Alternatively, I could play the Reaper into his removal spell, and at least the werewolf wouldn’t flip, and I’d have another turn to find an answer. However, I couldn’t see any reasonable route to victory besides sticking the demon, so I passed the turn once more.

Neither one of us drew creatures, so I had to Bonds of Faith the Rampaging Werewolf and hope for the best. Another turn passed, and finally my patience was rewarded: Brain Weevil! I took out his Into the Maw of Hell and was ready with my Reaper for the following turn. Unfortunately, Ponza also played a creature, and with him at seven and me at three, I couldn’t even attack with Reaper. I drew a Blazing Torch, equipped, and stayed on defense. When Ponza couldn’t get through, I shot him to five at the end of the turn, untapped, and attacked for the win.

I 3-0ed the draft and now had a combined record of 6-1. Unfortunately, though, I couldn’t shake that annoying “flying man,” who had managed the same record. With so many others also hanging near the top, anything could happen on day three.

In last year’s MOCS, things worked out so that I could have made the finals with a 7-4 record, since there were so many of us clustered at 5-6 and 6-5. This year, though, it would not cut it. If I was to go 2-2 on day three, I might make the finals, but I might not. There was even a scenario where I could go 3-1 (9-2 overall) and miss, if someone close behind us went undefeated and flying man beat me on tiebreakers! Nothing was guaranteed, and every win would count.

Day Three: Modern

I always knew that Big Zoo was the Modern deck for me. What I didn’t know, however, was precisely what the decklist should look like. There were no tournament results to use for guidance, and there were many questions to answer. How many Snapcaster Mages? Punishing Fire and Grove of the Burnwillows? What curve toppers?

Baneslayer Angel

The latter was the biggest question. For testing purposes, the initial version of Big Zoo that I tried featured one each of: Bloodbraid Elf; Elspeth, Knight-Errant; Ajani Vengeant; Gideon Jura; and Baneslayer Angel (I don’t like Ranger of Eos). It was quickly apparent that Baneslayer Angel was the best. While the others are all situationally good within the context of a good hand, they all pale in comparison to Baneslayer’s ability to turn around a game and to win singlehandedly.

By the time the Worlds rounds came along, my five-card split had changed into three Baneslayer Angels and one Gideon Jura. I drew the Gideon a few times over the course of the tournament, and—wouldn’t you know it—I wished it was Baneslayer every single time. Here’s the list I used for the MOCS:

Now, looking back on the main event coverage, it seems that other players didn’t go through the same process that I did. Using ctrl+F for “Baneslayer Angel” yields two results from among the successful Modern decklists: one copy in an Esper control deck and one copy in the sideboard of a Big Zoo deck. Even as I write this, I know that very few of my readers are going to believe me about how good Baneslayer Angel is. Logical thinking might suggest that she’s too slow for the combo and control matchups and too easy to kill in the grindy creature mirrors. That’s simply not how things play out in real life. No one ever complains about topdecking a Baneslayer in any matchup, and having her live in a creature mirror makes for so, so many easy wins.

If you want to win the first Modern PTQ next season, be the one person to listen to this lovesick lunatic and play Zoo with four Baneslayer Angels. The only thing that complicates the issue is that Gideon beats Angel in a straight-up fight. But until Gideons are everywhere, Angel is simply much better against everything else.

The sideboard I used in the MOCS is not what I would recommend for a large event but was the product of the twelve-person metagame. I didn’t expect to face Affinity or Splinter Twin, and I expected Zoo, Jund, and bizarre control decks to be overrepresented.

I won’t go through a round-by-round of my Big Zoo day. While I certainly had some great and close matches, describing them would quickly become repetitive. I would lead with Wild Nacatl and overrun Splinter Twin decks, which are easy matchups for careful Zoo players, contrary to popular belief. Or I would slam Baneslayer Angels and steal games from opposing creature decks.

I went 7-3 over the course of the day; 4-2 in the main event and 3-1 in the MOCS. Surprisingly enough based on my decklist, all three of my losses were Zoo mirrors. Terry Soh 2-0ed me in the main event, plain and simple, but I made mistakes in the other two matches that I lost. In a tight game three, I Lightning Helixed my opponent’s Snapcaster Mage, allowing him to Path to Exile it in response to counter my lifegain, and then burn me out on his turn. If I had simply targeted him with the Helix, I would have won unless he topdecked an additional burn spell. In the MOCS, I made a bad one-land-on-the-draw keep and, again, ended up losing in three close games. Who knows if I could have been 9-1 with the deck if I had played better? I strongly recommend it.

When I started out 2-0 in the MOCS on day three, my friends began crowding around to tell me that I had locked up my spot in the finals, but I didn’t want to hear it. There are no intentional draws on Magic Online, so I had to play out the Swiss rounds regardless, and I wanted to do it with no distractions. The final round ended up being one of my hardest fought and most rewarding wins in a rubber match against Toffel, who’d been more than a worthy opponent throughout the weekend. He was piloting a very unique and very awesome Vedalken Shackles Control deck, and I had to use every tool in my arsenal, including my one-of Moorland Haunt, to beat him in the post-sideboard games.

Finally I could breathe a sigh of relief! I’d played twenty-nine grueling rounds, and my reward was that I would get to play one more tomorrow. I could breathe a sigh of relief, but there wasn’t time for much more than that, as it was already past eleven, and I had to prepare my deck for the finals at 8 am the next day as well as hopefully find a little time to eat and sleep.

The Battle of Wits

I did find time to eat, but sleeping was too much to hope for, and I didn’t get a wink. We got to choose completely new decks for the finals, and the guessing game was simply too much for me. Even after settling on a deck and closing my eyes to sleep, I tossed and turned all night with haunted dreams that my opponent would bust out some new deck and take me completely off guard. In one particularly devilish nightmare, team Channel Fireball gave him their secret, unbeatable, mono-green Orchard Spirit beatdown deck (in Modern), and I got smoked 2-0 without ever having a chance. Thankfully that didn’t come true.

My opponent was Florian “flying man” Pils, and I knew that he had played Storm Combo in the main event and Big Zoo in the MOCS. Was he the sort of man who would switch back to his deck from the morning? Was he the sort of man who would throw Rock two times in a row, even if I went Paper the first time? Was he the sort of man who would put the poison into his own goblet or his enemy’s?

The only thing for certain was that Florian knew what I had played the previous day and that he wouldn’t come unprepared to beat a Baneslayer Angel. Jorg “Ponza” Unfried, a close friend of Mr. Pils, had played Jund to great success on day three, and Jund is quite strong against Big Zoo and my build in particular. To simplify things for myself, I decided to prepare for a “metagame” of 25% Big Zoo, 25% Storm, 25% Jund, and 25% “other.”

For a while, I considered switching to Affinity or a crazy combo deck just to catch him off guard. However, it wasn’t cheap tricks that had gotten me this far, and I didn’t want to put the trophy in the hands of Florian’s sideboard or the luck of the draw. It struck me that Jund was a rock solid deck that could beat any of three deck choices I thought Florian was likely to make. In particular, if he went with Jund, I would be prepared for the mirror match while he wasn’t. Jund was where I had started my testing for Modern way back when Liliana of the Veil was first spoiled. The deck had shown promise, though I missed Wild Nacatl and Baneslayer Angel too much to pursue it. After seeing some people do well with Jund in the main event in Worlds, I decided to put my faith in it.

reiderrabbit vs. flying man (The Finals)

This is the deck I played in the finals of the MOCS. It’s not the list I would enter a large tournament with, nor is it the list I had been testing on my own. It’s tailor made to be as good as possible against Big Zoo, Storm, and Jund. I’ll have a suggested decklist sometime in the coming weeks.

I arrived to see a monumental Liliana of the Veil banner set up behind my computer, and I knew I’d made the right choice. Florian ended up sticking to Big Zoo, which gave me an advantage in the way our decks matched up, but only a modest one. His list in particular had two maindeck Elspeth, Knight-Errant, which is the scariest card a Zoo deck can play against Jund.

Fittingly, the match was brutally close. In game one, the one game that I thought I was going to win, Florian made an epic comeback to beat me despite my Punishing Fire combo being online. Game two looked bad for me, but I cascaded into a Terminate to kill a Knight of the Reliquary before things got out of hand, and I won from there. In game three, my opening hand was something like: three lands, Tarmogoyf, Liliana, and two Bloodbraid Elves. I knew I could win if the game went long, but the game going long came into question as Florian led, on the play, with Wild Nacatl, Tarmogoyf, and burn for my Tarmogoyf. If he had had a strong follow-up, like an Elspeth, I would have been toast. It turned out that I was able to barely hang on with my Bloodbraids until I was able to slam my one-of Grave Titan and win the game from there.

Personal Notes

I never thought anyone could match up to the fine group of people that I played the 2010 MOCS with. However, each and every one of the players this year was a true gentleman, and it was an honor to be counted among them. The level of talent was also through the roof! If Magic Online was allowed to field a national team, Japan would not be holding that giant novelty check right now. Jun’ya Iyanaga and David Caplan proved that with their top four finishes, and half a dozen more of us finished in the money beyond that. Congratulations to all of them!

This win’s been like nothing else in my life to this point. The MOCS is a tournament with huge sentimental value for me personally, but I also never understood how many people knew or cared about it until I finished playing. It was definitely the most handshakes I’ve ever had in my life! When I got home, I learned that my family and neighbors, who don’t know the first thing about Magic, were crowded around a computer screen watching the finals and going, “Is Reid winning?” “I have no idea!”

A list of thank you’s could go on for pages, as I really owe this win to everyone who’s encouraged me and helped me grow as a player over the past seventeen years. I need to give a special thanks to Tommy Ashton, though, who convinced me how good Jund was and helped me build my decklist for the finals. In particular, the Punishing Fire combo really brought the deck a new level of endgame potency that I hadn’t found in my own testing.

Thanks also to Joe “FoundOmega” Spanier who’s been one of the only testing partners I’ve met who could match my endless hours. He also leant me nothing short of about a thousand dollars worth of MTGO cards that gave me a crucial flexibility in what and when I was able to test. I called Joe at 4 am Eastern time the night before the finals and begged him to trade me the Jund deck. He wasn’t too thrilled, and he called me some names I can’t publish here, but, like usual, he came through nonetheless.

Thanks, as always, to my readers. Your advice, encouragement, and criticism is much appreciated whether it’s through the StarCityGames.com forums, Magic Online, Facebook, or anywhere else. Thanks for sticking out the extended tournament report, too! I’ll be back next week with some Standard and Modern deck techs.