Hi, my name is Anton Jonsson and this is my first ever tournament report. I’ve tried writing reports before but somehow never managed to finish one. If you are reading this I guess I finally succeeded.
Following last year’s Worlds in San Fransisco (and a mediocre finish), I decided to take a break from Magic. The next Pro Tour was Extended anyway and since none of the people left on Team Punisher wanted to go, so I didn’t really have a group to test with or even the urge to test for a Constructed tournament.
I did plan all along to go to Nagoya though, assuming any other Swedes I know would go. In the end it was me, Mattias Jorstedt, Simon Carlsson and Mikael Polgary that went, even though I was having second thoughts after repeatedly losing in every way known to man on Magic Online. I guess it was lucky that I booked the trip well in advance or I probably just wouldn’t have gone at all. Mattias had found a really cheap flight that he and Mikael had booked, so me and Simon booked the same one even though this meant I would have to fly through Gothenburg with stops in Frankfurt and Seoul before arriving in Nagoya (not exactly the fastest way to get there). Since I live in UmeÃ¥ (a city in the northern part of Sweden), I took a flight down to Gothenburg a few days in advance and stayed at Simon’s place. We left Gothenburg on Sunday the week before the Pro Tour and landed in Nagoya roughly 24 hours later.
Mattias had booked two rooms for us at a cheap hotel that was reasonably close to Nagoya Central Station. The rooms were small (obviously), but I had my own bed and for me that’s really all that matters. I spent the next few days before the tournament trying to get rid of jetlag (unsuccessfully), with only really one day spent touristing. This was my fifth time in Japan and it seems like we end up doing roughly the same stuff every time we go there – visit some castle, check out the shopping district (and not buy anything), check out some arcade, etc.
On Thursday most of us headed to the site to register (except Simon, who had been out partying the night before and was recovering from a hangover) and maybe get a draft done. We do one draft with my mediocre deck losing in the first round to Mattias’ mediocre deck. Thankfully, he loses pretty quickly in the semis and we head back to the city (the site was a 25-minute trainride from the central station) to get some food. Luckily for me we had no problem all week finding non-japanese food to eat. I’ve never “learned” to like Japanese food and trying out new food just before a tournament doesn’t seem like a good strategy.
After another night of interrupted sleep and another trainride, it was finally time to start drafting. As I sat down at the first draft table, I realized how much more confident I had felt one year ago at my first pod in Amsterdam. At that tournament I felt I knew more about the format than anyone else in the world. This time I felt alot more insecure, mostly because of all the losing I had been doing on Magic Online. It’s just really hard to know if your drafting strategy is sound when you keep losing the games you play.
Anyway, the first pod had Masashi Oiso and Simon as the only people I recognized. The coverage has me listed as being in seat one, which I’m sure is wrong. I think I was seat 3 but it might have been seat 4. I quickly settle into Blue and White, with both colors open on both sides. Blue/White is the only color combination without Black or Red that I actually like (with White/Green and Blue/Green being awful in my opinion). For some reason though, I’m just not getting any cards. I even had to first pick Kami of the Palace Fields out of a pack that had absolutely nothing else for me. Since the packs keep being “empty” when they get to me, I start picking up random arcane spells thinking I might be able to get some sort of Dampen deck or at least some sort of arcane-based jank. When the packs switched direction for the second time, my deck looked like a total disaster but then I luckily pick up a third-pick Dampen Thought, second-pick Teller of Tales (over Eerie Procession which I first regretted, but now I think it was the correct pick) and a first-pick Hikari. Later on I get a late-pick Reverse the Sands. I also manage to make a really bad pick taking Mystic Restraints over Eye of Nowhere seventh-pick since I just assumed the card I don’t take would bounce back to me anyways. Of course the guy to my left hates it, and I curse myself for being so sloppy.
In the end my deck turned out “okay” but somewhat unstable. I would have to get lucky to get two wins out of it and really lucky to get three. You can find the decklist in the Day 1 Blog of the coverage.
Round One vs. Miguel Vila Garcia (Spain)
Miguel had drafted a solid but unspectacular Green/Black deck. The first game he gets some beatdown going, but he’s not killing me fast enough and I get off Reverse the Sands putting him at one and me at 17 with a Kitsune Blademaster on my side and a few dorks on his side. My hand is Eye of Nowhere and Cage of Hands, so he has to leave a lot of creatures back unless he draws a removal for my Blademaster. He doesn’t draw any removal but Time of Need for Kodama of the North Tree thwarts my plans. Then he draws Rend Flesh the next turn and a few turns later we are shuffling up for game two.
At this point it feels like I will be exiting this tournament fairly quickly with the first game playing out in much the same way as alot of my Magic Online games. Somehow I rallied though, with Miguel’s draws in game 2 and 3 were well below average. I win both games with Teller and/or Hikari. Still haven’t spliced a single Dampen Thought.
After my match I head over to the player’s lounge. This was a very welcome addition to the Pro Tour in my opinion. To actually be able to just grab a banana or other random snack between rounds is invaluable since the days go pretty long. Just wish they had a little more “foodlike” snacks (sandwiches or whatever) instead of just candy and fruit.
Round Two vs. Aaron Hauptmann (USA)
Aaron has a really good White/Red deck with a bunch of samurais (including Nagao) and all the usual tricks. He basically crushes me game one while I get no action at all. Sometimes splice decks just crap out on you and in those situations you lose to almost any deck. The fact that Aaron had a good deck and a nice draw just made the game faster.
I might have game two and three switched up, but I think game two was pretty easily won by me while game three was insanely close. I play a turn 2 Peer Through Depths and get to look at Psychic Puppetry, Puppetry, Teller, Hikari, Ethereal Haze. This basically means that I have to draw either the last Teller and Reverse the Sands or somehow get alot of Dampen Thoughts off (which seemed unlikely, since my hand was light on arcanes and somewhat landflooded). Luckily Aaron has a slow start and by turn 5 I have drawn Petals of Insight. I proceed to play it three times, finding Teller + Sands the third time. His turn 7 attack brings me down to six and leaves him with Kami of Painted Road, Mothrider Samurai, Kabuto Moth and Kitsune Riftwalker in play. On my turn I can either switch my 6 life for his 20 or play Teller and hope he doesnt have an arcane spell when I try to use Psychic Puppetry on his Painted Road. I have a hard time seeing how I survive 3 turns after the Sands and get through with Teller twice, so I go for the Puppetry and luckily he doesn’t have any arcanes. Aaron makes a misplay here too in my opinion by attacking with the Riftwalker after I tapped down the other creatures. He knew from game one that I was playing Sands (used it as a desperation “Fog”) and by attacking with Riftwalker I went down to four and was able to burn down to 3. I switch my 3 for his 20 and kill him one turn later with a single attack by Teller.
At this point I start feeling better about my chances in the tournament in general. I guess this must sound weird, but for me the first few rounds always seem to dictate how the tournament will end. Maybe it’s just random or maybe its psychological. Whatever it is, I’m not complaining.
Round 3 vs. Chih-Hsiang Chang (Taiwan)
Chang had a solid Green/Black deck with most of the staple commons. His draws weren’t amazing though and mine were. One game I played two Hazes, both of which wrecked him and in both games I got either early Teller or Hikari or both. Blademaster did a lot of work in the game where I played two Hazes too, letting me kill something small each attack while fogging the damage from his bigger creatures. Blademaster is just so much better than a crappy River Kaijin in this archetype.
I really felt lucky to escape the first pod 3-0 with such a mediocre deck. Simon ended up 2-1 while Mattias had already 0-3ed and was out. Mikael was still clinging on with a 1-2 record.
Time for draft two and this table looked decidedly scarier than the last, with Jon Sonne, Josh Ravitz, Tim Aten and Terry Soh as names I recognize. Apparently this seemed like a good time for me to completely screw up my own draft. I’m in seat 8 and it’s looking like my wheel in the first pack is Counsel of Soratami and Soul of Magma. Terry in the seventh seat picks a Black card and both the cards I want are still in the pack. So I pick Counsel of Soratami. Then I pick… Orochi Eggwatcher?! I have no clue how this happened, although I guess I would have to blame a lack of sleep or temporary insanity. So I basically just signalled Blue/Green (one of the worst color combinations) and Terry obviously takes this as a sign to pick the Soul of Magma. This then leads to me jumping back and forth between colors until I finally settle on Blue/Red anyway (fighting Terry for Red). Apparently Jon Sonne on my left got really confused too since he wanted White/Green. It’s funny how much one goofgrab can screw up so much in a rochester draft. Luckily I’m a true master (read: lucky SOB) and end up getting 2 Glacial Rays and 2 Earthshakers to go with the bunch of arcane spells I pick up. I’m still kicking myself after the draft though. If I had picked the Soul of Magma then Terry would have gone into black/white and I could have gotten a third Glacial Ray. This deck is also covered in the Blog from Day 1.
Round 4 vs. Tim Aten (USA)
Tim drafted a solid White/Black deck. The games were rather unexciting though with his draws being pretty bad and my deck couldn’t really lose against slow draws. Alot of people seem to believe that Blue is the worst color in this format but just the fact that you can get splice-madness going puts it above atleast Green in my opinion. Granted getting 2 Rays is lucky, but 2 Rays in a Blue deck almost guarantees you at least a 2-1 finish.
Round 5 vs. Jon Sonne (USA)
Jon ended up going White/Black in the end (the combination I thought he was going for the whole time, I was really surprised after the draft when he told me he actually wanted White/Green). His deck seemed a bit slower than Tim’s and I really liked my chances. He wins the dieroll and lets me go first. I felt like a child on christmas. If you glance back at my decklist you will see just how slow my deck is. If my opponent has a two-drop and a three-drop on the play I might just lose because I can’t ever catch up. This is much more unlikely if I’m playing first.
I win the first game handily (he manaflooded) and he still lets me play first for game two. I can’t recall what happened in game two, but I lose in some unspectacular fashion (manaflood maybe). The third game really shows how insane splicing Rays is, with me holding a seven-card hand and him having 2 cards and no real pressure on the board. It takes me a while to win, since he keeps playing threats, but in reality the game was over for a long time.
Round 6 vs. Josh Ravitz (USA)
Josh was probably the one guy I talked the most about Kamigawa Limited before this Pro Tour. Both me and him seemed to share the same horror-stories from Magic Online and we tried to help eachother figure out why we were losing and what we could do to stop it. This match was featured, so I won’t go into detail (it was pretty uninteresting anyways, since his Red/Green deck couldn’t deal with Earthshaker and I played it turn 6 both games). Josh also let me go first, citing the fact that he needed me to manascrew if he was going to win. I don’t like this logic at all. First of all I think he underestimated his chances with a fast draw going first (like turn 2 dork, turn 3 Houndmaster). But most importantly, if I go first I might actually win even though I stall on lands for a turn, but if I stall one turn going second, it is just so much worse for me. Then again, I am one of those players that never let my opponent go first, so it might just be that I am missing something here.
In the end I guess it wasn’t very surprising that I went 3-0 with this deck. It turned out to be the best deck I drafted all weekend. Mattias and Mikael were both out of the tournament at this point but Simon had drafted another very good deck and 3-0’d putting him at 5-1.
Draft three was another strong table featuring Murray “The Mauler” Evans, Tiago Chan, Adam Horvath, Josh Ravitz and champion-to-be Shuu Komuro. I quickly settle into Black/White in seat 4, once again managing not to fight anyone next to me. The draft turns out okay for me with the top half of my deck being really good, but I also have to play some not-so-exciting cards. After the draft I show my deck to Richard Hoaen who loves Black/White jankdecks. His comment was that I “would obviously 3-0”. I wasn’t quite as confident myself. In this draft Murray firstpicked Kitsune Blademaster over Kabuto Moth with me getting the leftover Moth. I must concede that Murray’s strategy seemed to serve him well in this PT, but I still consider that one of the worst picks I saw during the whole Pro Tour. You can find the decklist for my deck in the Day 2 Blog.
Round 7 vs. Murray Evans (Canada)
Using a page out of Eisel’s book, here is the matchup that proved how bad his pick really was. I’m mostly kidding, but it was pretty funny to match his turn 3 Blademaster with my turn 3 Moth and then watch his whole boardposition crumble. The second game he stalls on land and I have the Befoul to make sure he can never recover. These games really remind me of my Magic Online games, except now the roles are reversed with my opponents getting the shaft instead of me. To use a semifamous quote; “It’s easy when you get hit by the deck.” [To be fair, Murray said he screwed the pooch in this draft – it accounted for the only defeats he had in the Swiss, and he 0-3’d. Oof. – Knut]
The first day ended somewhere around 9 pm and me and Simon took the train back and had a quick dinner at the Hard Rock CafÃ© before heading back to the hotel and a nice soft bed. I find it quite astonishing just how physically and mentally tired I get from a whole day of playing Magic. Granted I’m not in the best physical shape, but I would imagine that most players feel pretty exhausted after a 12-hour long day of playing. I have absolutely no trouble falling asleep. but once again I wake up way too early (at 5 am or so). Atleast I have a lot of time to eat breakfast and get ready. Another uneventful trainride and we are back at the site with me playing against the only other undefeated player.
Round 8 vs. Ryouma Shiozu (Japan)
This match was also featured and I don’t really have much to add to what BDM wrote in his coverage. Basically the first game wasn’t a game at all with him stalling on lands for way too long. The second game was pretty close, with him drawing a few lands where a Seshiro would have either won him the game or atleast led to a much more complicated situation for me. My draws keep stalling on 5-7 lands and it’s just really really hard to lose when that happens.
Round 9 vs. Nao Atsuta (Japan)
Nao had a really good deck. Probably the best deck in our pod. Just one problem though – he was Blue/Green. I’ve seen so many “insane” Blue/Green decks lose to mediocre decks just because their draws don’t come together. Or it loses to stuff like Moth, Diviner etc. The fact that my deck had two Kitsune Diviners (one in the board) and a Moth made this matchup pretty bad for Nao. The first game he never gets anything good going. I can’t really remember the details but I think Nagao + Shizo, Death’s Storehouse took it down. I seemed to be winning game two comfortably too, with a Diviner holding down Moss Kami and my fliers killing him. Then he spliced Consuming Vortex on Consuming Vortex and suddenly he had me dead on the board if the top card of his deck was a land for Feral Deceiver. It seemed a little weird that he played this way, since it meant he was dead to my fliers next turn but maybe he thought it was the only way he could win. I was holding Hideous Laughter so if the top card was a land I would have to play it and then I probably find myself in a situation where I can’t race anymore. Luckily he doesn’t have a land on top and he just scoops.
After this match I make a huge mistake. In my mind I’m already thinking about playing on Sunday. Thoughts like “there’s no way I don’t win atleast 2 out of my 5 or 6 next matches” are going through my head. This just isn’t the way to approach any tournament. The trick is to just win the next match. Nothing matters except the next match.
Draft 4 really shows how the face of Magic has changed. Granted this tournament is in Japan, but still it is a testament to just how much better asian players have gotten, with the pod containing 5 Japanese players, 1 Malaysian, 1 Portuguese and me. This is also when Osyp put his “curse” on me saying I wouldn’t make Top 8. He was obviously kidding when he said it, with me and him having a history of friendly trashtalk from tournaments before. Still, he seemed to geniunely regret saying it before the swiss was over.
I once again find myself drafting some combination of White, Blue and Red. Both my neighbours are Green/Black and my seat for all the other colors are fine, with my seat for White being exceptional. Once again, much like my first draft of the tournament, I’m just not getting any cards. I get some okay Blue stuff but none of the really good White or Red cards. Once again, I find myself picking up random arcane cards but this time I don’t get two Rays to bail me out. I do end up with 2 Earthshakers again, but my deck is sickeningly slow and I have to play a bunch of crap like Thoughtbind and such. Also, at the other side of the table ridiculous cards are being opened, such as 2 Melokus, Nagaos etc. After the draft I have a really bad feeling where suddenly it seems like I will have to get lucky to even go 1-2.
Round 10 vs. Masashiro Kuroda (Japan)
Kuroda had drafted a really solid Green/Black deck with lots of removal and quality creatures. Still, this felt like one of the matchups where I could actually win. Assuming his draw was somewhat slow, Earthshaker could probably win this one for me. Thats exactly what happened in game one, but in game two and three his draws were just too good against two pretty sketchy draws for me and Kuroda hands me my first loss of the tournament. This match was also covered here.
Round 11 vs. Ryouma Shiozu (Japan)
Great. Ryouma had been drafting Blue two to my right and while his deck was slow just as mine, he had all the tools that are good in this matchup. Also my Earthshakers promised to be less than spectacular since most of his good creatures were fliers. Mystic Restraints doesn’t really match up well against Teller of Tales and Thoughtbinds were useless against a deck where everything I really wanted to counter cost five or more. None of the games are really close and I lose quickly. Also at this time I start feeling like I’m playing poorly. During Day 1 and the first two rounds of Day 2 it really felt like I was playing very well but suddenly it seemed like alot of my decisions turned out wrong. I can’t really point to any one thing that was particularly bad, which only served to make me more annoyed. I try my best to refocus and do my best to win the last match of this pod, meaning I would only need one win in the next pod (once again making the mistake of not approaching the tournament one match at a time).
Round 12 vs. Shuu Komuro (Japan)
Shuu had a decent Green/Black deck splashing Blue for Meloku. It’s interesting to note here that you really get punished for drafting a bad deck when you have more points than the rest of the draft. My 0-2 deck was facing Shuu’s 1-1 deck and the round before my 0-1 deck was facing Ryouma’s 1-0 deck.
Luckily for me Shuu’s deck really craps out on him in game one. Before game two I look through my sideboard trying to find something to board in instead of atleast one of the Thoughtbinds, since they felt pretty bad in a matchup where I probably have to win before he draws Meloku unless I can draw my one Hinder. I finally find an Uncontrollable Anger, which seemed suboptimal with 13 creatures in my deck, but I figured I would have to get lucky anyway and boarded it in. Like a true master, my turn 3 River Kaijin blocks his turn 4 Order of the Sacred Bell and Uncontrollable Anger leaves me with a 3/6 beatstick. The Kaijin later gets joined by an Earthshaker and they go all the way before he can find anything relevant.
I actually felt lucky to get away from that pod with a 1-2 record and once again fall into the trap that I will “easily win one of the next two”. I mean, I was probably in even if I lost the first two and then won the third!
The last draft of the swiss was basically the same pod as the one for draft 4. Frank Karsten and Vasilis Fatouros replaced Nao Atsuta and Tiago Chan, but everything else stayed the same. I was in seat 6 and once again i start out drafting Blue/Red. Its looking really good when I get a third-pick Ray (Vasilis took Kumano over it and Terry Soh took an in-color card over it). In the next pack however Soh picks the Red Honden over Innocence Kami (he was Black/White but he did already have the Honden of Cleansing Fire) which kinda sucked for me since I also had the Blue Honden. My deck seems to be shaping up nicely, but a lot of good cards are being opened left and right making for a lot of scary decks. When pack 9 gets opened, I somehow thought it was pack 8 and going to the left so I sigh deeply when I see that the pack is very strong including another Kumano. It gets a bit embarrassing when I realize that the pick is on me and that the Kumano is still there, but I don’t really mind embarrassment as long as I get a bomb rare. In Terry’s third pack he opens a Glacial Ray, but because of the Red Honden, he already has a splash and picks up the Ray in a pack which was pretty weak in Black and White. In the end my deck is good, but once again too slow. I just can’t seem to get the Blue and Red cards that make for a more aggressive deck, which is the archetype I prefer. My six-drops are really heavy including Earthshaker (once again), Sire of the Storm and Godo to go with his maul. I almost cut Godo and Tenza, but didn’t really have anything exciting enough to play instead. Once again I was hoping for slow starts from my opponents or just to draw Kumano and have him do all the work.
Round 13 vs. Shuu Komuro (Japan)
Once again, this match was covered so I won’t go into much detail except to say that this is one of the dumbest matches I’ve ever played. The first game wasn’t that exciting with him having no answer to Kumano, but both games 2 and 3 were completely retarded. In game two I play out Godo as my last non-land card in hand to match his Moss Kami but he has the removal for it, and suddenly I’m drawing to my one out in the deck: Kumano. I draw the land I know is on top and peek again with Deceiver, intending to scoop when Kumano stares back at me. So obviously Kumano swings the game around, but the turn before I kill him he rips Devouring Greed to go with his one spirit in hand to take the game. I guess if I had waited to kill his Gutchwrencher Oni until his upkeep, then I most likely win the game but that means he has another turn to draw a removal for Kumano, and the only way the play is incorrect is if his one card in hand is a spirit and his top card is Devouring Greed.
Game three was also weird, since I somehow manage to come out blazing. Shuu keeps topdecking cards though while I’m drawing into excess land. In the end however I lose because of sloppy play. I figured I had at least eight mana in play when in fact I had only seven. This meant that I didn’t play one of the lands in my hand and then get screwed when i draw Sift Through Sands into a six-mana creature. If I hadn’t made this mistake, then I guess Shuu wouldn’t have made the Top 8 and someone else would have won the whole thing. It really is the small things that decide tournaments.
Round 14 vs. Frank Karsten (Netherlands)
My heart sank when I saw this pairing. There were a bunch of good possible pairings for me this round, with Vasilis Blue/Red deck being especially weak. Frank’s deck however, was a total beating. I think the whole match took less than ten minutes, and that included two mulligans from Frank in the first game. My draws weren’t exactly stellar but they would have had to be really good to compete with Eight-and-a-Half-Tails and friends.
Right after the match, I realize that I might just be out of contention. No one was really sure how many people at 11-4 would make it and when I look at the standings, my tiebreakers don’t seem as insane as I thought they would be. I try to push the whole thing out of my mind though, since it really doesn’t matter. I have to win the next round, that’s all that matters. I talk to Jeroen and Osyp, who are in the same situation and we end up cheering each other on, saying we have to win so we can be 9th, 10th and 11th. This actually helped me regain my focus I think and once pairings for round 15 go up I, feel pumped and ready to play.
Round 15 vs. Kentarou Ino (Japan)
This match was also covered and there isn’t much to say except that I was lucky to draw Kumano both games and that he didn’t draw his Yosei or Uyo early in game one. Actually he was also severely manaflooded that game. I would like to point out how the coverage makes it seem like I made a mistake when I didn’t counter Mystic Restraints on Kumano when in fact it wasn’t a mistake. The only thing I care about at this point in the match is to give him as small a window as possible to cast a dragon, since that is the only way he can win. Kumano being tapped or not doesn’t matter at all.
Once my match is done, I try to figure out where I’m going to end up. The coverage staff tells me that unless tiebreakers change too much I will be 8th and Osyp 9th. So I wait. I realize that this is the first time I’ve had to wait and hope for tiebreakers to see if I’ll make Top 8 or not. It really seemed like an endless wait before they announce the standings. And of course once they have the standings they can’t just tell me either, instead they put a camera in my face and slow roll the whole thing. Once they announce that I’m 8th, I can finally breathe again. The usual high-fives and an information meeting for the Top 8 players follows, before we head back into the city in search of food and sleep.
Simon finished the tournament 10-5 at 20th place (after a big mistake in the last round without which he would have ended 12th or something). The interesting part is that he drafted Blue in all five drafts, and all his decks seemed completely ridiculous. Granted, he kept getting some lucky picks, but I still think alot of people underestimate the power of Blue. Simon was pretty pissed that he had played so sloppily, but still happy with a nice finish that qualifies him for both Philadelphia and London.
Anyway, we struggle to find a place that serves Western-style food which has tables available and finally find it at The Outback some 25 minutes walk from our hotel. We order way too much food, and once we are done eating me and Simon leave for our hotel, leaving plenty of money behind for the Norwegians that ate with us to pay the bill.
We take a cab back to the hotel since it’s already late and I want to get as much sleep as possible. Falling asleep is no problem at all, since I’m exhausted and luckily (for the first time all week), I don’t wake up before the alarm clock. At breakfast I hook up with Jarno Harkonen and Vasilis Fatouros, the other two Top 8 players staying at the same hotel. Jarno is an old-timer from Finland which means he’s friends with all of the Finnish Magic players I know (Walamies, Hovi, Nieminen etc) so we talk a bit about this and that. Both he and Vasilis are new to the whole “playing in a Top 8”-thing, but neither of them seemed overly nervous. Then again, I think I was the least nervous in my first Top 8, so maybe that’s how it is for most people. It’s just easier to relax when no one expects you to win. Then again it’s also more likely that you are too satisfied with just being in the Top 8 that you don’t care enough to win the quarters.
For me it’s a different story. Coming into this Top 8 there was no way I was going to be truly satisfied with anything less than first place. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not actually arrogant enough to think my chances of winning are that big. Even if I am the best player there, my chances can hardly be much better than 15% or so. But still, in my mind getting 2nd or 8th was basically the same thing. Maybe it’s just silly, but after all the shots I’ve had, I really wanted to be a Pro Tour Champion. Also, I was unhappy with my level of play during Saturday, and wanted to prove to myself that I can pull together and play well when it matters.
We arrive at the site at 8.30 and basically just sit and wait for half an hour while they are getting cameras ready and such. Finally they bring us up to the draft table and seat us. We didn’t know beforehand who we were playing (they changed this last year in Amsterdam to prevent collusion), and I end up opposite Kuroda. The other quarters in our bracket is Terry Soh vs. Frank Karsten, which makes this bracket the decidedly “tougher” one. Since Kuroda was first in the swiss, he gets to choose his seat. He uses conventional wisdom to put himself in the 4th seat and me in the 8th. I don’t really mind that much, since it seems like I can often get a Blue/x deck in the late seats and its usually pretty easy to make sure you have a good seat for whatever colors you are drafting.
The whole draft is covered in detail in the live webcast and you can see the decks as well as a short analysis in the coverage. I get into Red in the first pack and then later move into Blue, since its pretty open around me and those are the cards that were coming to me. I could just as well moved into White/Red, but there weren’t many White cards in the draft. Kuroda started White, but then kinda moved back and forth before deciding on Red as his support color. It did become apparent pretty early that he was drafting to beat me though, and once he started picking Sokenzan Bruisers early it became even more obvious. The Bruisers didn’t really scare me that much though, with all the Soratami-effects in my deck and the fact that they are really slow.
My plan became one of beatdown and luckily I was able to get several of the cards that make Red/Blue beatdown work (Teller, Kami of Fire’s Roar, quality fliers etc). I figured his combat-tricks wouldn’t be that good if I could get pressure on him, since he would have to play his creatures before he could leave mana up for the tricks, meaning I could kill them with Yamabushi’s Flame. There were a few weird picks in the draft, but nothing really outrageous (Murray never had the option to pass Moth for something much worse, since he wasn’t White). It did piss me off a bit when Vasilis took Kumano though. Don’t get me wrong – I wasn’t very surprised when he picked it. I just don’t think that it was the best pick for him at that point, but that he didn’t realize that since the draft was changing direction, he wouldn’t have the opportunity to cement his Red. Or maybe he thought I could somehow get out of Red, but I had way too many Red cards at that point to switch.
Quarterfinals vs. Masashiro Kuroda
During deck construction, BDM and Randy asked me what I thought of my matchup and at that point it seemed like I was only a slight underdog. Granted, I had missed a few cards in Kuroda’s deck and it was a bit better than I thought it would be, but the matchup clearly didn’t favor him as much as BDM and Randy thought it did. However, the way the matches played out was obviously not a fair sample of how the games between us should go. He had a monster draw in the first game that I need alot of luck to beat, but in games two through four, he either drew too many lands, or had really slow starts, or a combination of both. Game three was the closest one, where I miraculously come back from a board with basically nothing against his 4/5 mountainwalker. Kuroda finally attacked the 4/5 into my two-power blocker with no tricks in hand, which let me kill it with Yamabushi’s Flame. Kuroda asked me afterwards if I thought he should’ve not attacked and instead waited for another trick. I’m still not sure what I would’ve done in the same situation, but maybe waiting is the right play, since I can’t really do anything when I have to keep so much mana up to keep the attack from Bruiser at bay. Then again, I might just draw an answer while he waits (pretty sure that at least Eye of Nowhere was left in my deck), which makes this strategy less appealing.
The only match still playing after mine was done was Karsten vs. Soh. On one hand I’m hoping Karsten wins, my feelings being that he had definitely earned something better than losing in the quarters. On the other hand, my matchup against Soh seemed better. In the end, Soh managed to trick Frank in the fourth game and takes the match. Afterwards Frank asked me what I would’ve done and I am honestly not sure. I think the big problem for Frank was that he forgot about Soulless Revival. I am sure if he had remembered that Soh had that, then he could’ve done the math and realized that he loses to that one card. After that, it just comes down to a decision whether Frank can afford to play around that card or not.
After the quarters we get treated to a free lunch, a buffet with lots of Japanese and Western food. For the first time in almost a week, I get to eat a real lunch. At this point we also get the complete decklist of our semifinals opponent. The way they do it is that they sequester the whole Top 8 before the quarterfinals, to ensure that no one in the Top 8 gets outside help in remembering exactly what his opponent drafted. But since its not really feasible for them to keep us sequestered throughout the day, they just hand out decklists for the semis and finals. Looking at Terry’s list, I am not very worried. His deck isn’t all that fast and most of his removal can’t kill any of my really good creatures (Teller, Earthshaker). Earthshaker in particular would almost always be game over. Still, his deck had a lot of high quality spells so it’s not like I thought it would be too easy.
Semifinals vs. Terry Soh
Terry wins the first game comfortably. I start out manascrewed and then manage to find manaflood before dying. The good ole doublescrew. Games two and three go much better for me and I am able to win comfortably. The really interesting game is the fourth one, and if you look at the webcast, you can see that both of us are thinking for extended periods of time. Basically what happens is that I am able to bring him down to three, thanks to Kami of Fire’s Roar and Guardian of Solitude making blocking impossible for him. The last attack kills my Fire’s Roar though and he gets Scuttling Death back. Basically I am out of gas at this point and playing from the top of my deck.
The last two turns of the game literally took forever and Terry even got a warning for slow play. He makes what I believe was the defining mistake of the match in the first of those two turns. When he plays Pain Kami, he had the option of making my River Kaijin unable to block. If he does, then he either gets in three points of damage with Villanous Ogre or forces me to trade one of my creatures for it. Since he instead chose to target my Houndmaster, he can’t really attack that turn. This means that the next turn I have either three extra life or one extra creature. At this point he can either say “go” and hope I don’t draw a spirit/arcane or a Yamabushi’s Flame, or he can attack and hope that I screw up my blocks. In the end he went for the all-out attack and he almost made me not block Scuttling Death and go to one. In the end though, I make what I am sure is the right decision and block, leaving him with no outs (except bluffing a Rend Flesh, which he couldn’t possibly have since he would have cast it on his turn instead). The commentators on the webcast said that he could have attacked with only a few creatures (Pain Kami and Scuttling Death), but this doesn’t help since it just leaves me with more creatures for the counterattack. Terry played really well all four games except for that one mistake, but one mistake is sometimes all it takes. [The text coverage is here, including the interminable last twenty minutes. – Knut]
After the match, I realize that I have just gotten closer to my goal than I’ve ever been before. I also realize that even if I lose at least I’ve still broken new ground. Once I started looking through Shuu’s decklist I had to be realistic – his deck was obviously much more powerful than mine. The one thing I seemed to have going for me was his three-color manabase and the fact that he had almost no early drops, meaning his deck would be insanely slow whenever he didn’t get one of his 3 Sakura-Tribe Elders. I didn’t really have that much time to analyze the matchup beforehand though, since they wanted to get the finals underway as soon as possible.
Finals vs. Shu Komuro
Thinking back at my feelings as I sat down to play the finals is almost surreal. I never gave a single thought to the money I was playing for. I know this sounds like complete bullsh** but it’s actually true. Before writing this report, I spent the time looking through the webcast-archive and for some inexplicable reason, I felt more nervous watching the webcast than I did while actually playing, which seems completely ridiculous. Maybe I was nervous that I would look like a complete moron or something.
Regardless, as you probably know by now the finals went to four games, with my deck not really having fast enough starts in game one and three, while game two was a complete slaughter, since his deck came out way too slow against my sideboarded Zo-Zu, The Punisher. Game four is again looking really good for me, with my two fliers going uncontested and his Order of the Sacred Bell not looking like it can possibly race. I stall a bit on lands, but its not really hurting me since I’m still ahead. One turn he burns Consuming Vortex on my Fire’s Roar, signalling Hisoka’s Defiance. At this point, I can either play around it and cast Mystic Restraint on his Sacred Bell, or draw out his Defiance and get Teller down next turn (assuming I draw a land). It just felt like the extra four damage wouldn’t really matter (assuming I don’t draw the land I just play Restraints the turn after), so I went with the Fire’s Roar.
What I hadn’t counted on though was that he could have both Defiances, which is what he cast when I drew land five for my Teller. It’s still not very bad for me though, I’m still ahead in the race and the Flame in my hand means he’s dead next turn. I figure if his one card in hand is a Kodama’s Might, then I die if he draws Glacial Ray. I forgot about his Teller of Tales but there still wasnt any better play for me at this point. All the other plays either give him more turns to draw something or more cards he can draw to atleast stabilize. Still, when he cast the Teller and the Might to win the game, it took me a couple of seconds to realize I had lost. It was basically like someone had punched me in the stomach. Once again Shuu had topdecked in the last possible turn to win a game which I felt he had no business winning. Looking back at it now, it still feels like I played the game correctly, but sometimes the correct play is not the winning play. This is a big part of what makes Magic an interesting game in my opinion. It’s also a big part of what makes Magic a particularly cruel game at times.
After the match was finished everything moved pretty fast. Sixty seconds later, I was holding the second-place trophy and getting my picture taken (somewhat in the background of course, since Shuu was the winner and I was the first loser). I can’t remember ever having more mixed feelings than I did at this point. On one hand, I was really happy that I progressed further than I’ve ever gotten before, but on the other hand, I was really pissed to get this far and then not win. Shuu is a very worthy champion – I played him three times over the course of the weekend, and I didn’t see him make any bad plays at any point. His play in the finals seemed “perfect” from my point of view at least, while I was making small mistakes, so from that viewpoint I guess I deserved to lose.
Once all the ceremonies are done, I hook up with the Swedes and a bunch of other people. Lots of congratulations and handshakes/high-fives follow. We stick around at the site for an hour or so before heading back to the city. Usually after a good finish like this one you are “supposed” to go out partying, but I guess I really am getting old since I only felt like having a nice dinner and then head back to the hotel to get plenty of sleep before our long trip home. In the end, it’s just me Simon and Mattias eating at the Hard Rock (again). After a few hours, the disappointment of losing in the finals starts disappearing and is replaced with a stupid grin on my face, finally realizing how much money I had made. I fall asleep before 10 pm that evening and somehow wake up almost completely rested at 6 am. We check out from the hotel and begin our 24 hour trip home.
Most of you probably heard by now that Nagoya was the last Rochester Pro Tour. I think this is a really good idea. Booster draft is not only a more skill-intensive format, it’s also a lot more fun. Rochester drafts are often just drafts for the first 4-6 boosters, after which it turns into some warped kind of Sealed Deck where everyone just picks the best card in their color.
Finishing in second place probably means that I’m going to all the rest of the Pro Tours this year. My plan going into Nagoya was to only play the Limited Pro Tours, but now the prospect of the End of Year payout means I almost “have to” play them all. I guess that explains just how much Constructed bores me, although I must confess that this Block Constrcuted format is looking a lot better than Mirrodin Block. And Extended is still the most interesting Constructed format out there. Too bad Standard is still stuck with that whole Affinity nonsense.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this report or atleast found a tidbit of useful strategy in it somewhere. For me the next stop is Atlanta, so if you are qualified or just in the area, I guess I might see you there. Hopefully I might break my awful streak at Team Pro Tours (three played and not a single day two).
Proud Member of Team Punisher
Former Ambassador of the Mullet
Oh yeah I guess I need some Props and Slops:
– All the Swedes that went to Nagoya and of course all current and ex-members of Team Punisher.
– All the “Pro Tour Regulars” that make each event fun. These events would be so boring without people like Osyp, Gabe Walls, crazy Mark Zajdner as well as the less flamboyant people that are just fun to hang out with (you know who you are).
– Also props to those that really help keep my spirits up even when I started losing and playing badly. Rich Hoaen, Jeroen Remie, even Josh Ravitz in his own grumpy way, as well as all the Swedes of course.
– The coverage reporters, for not making me look bad.
– I’m a lover not a hater.